"No!" Harry screamed inadvertently as though the sound had been ripped from his throat. "Where is she Mipsy?" The small elf led Harry out to the smaller ballroom beside the one they were in. Harry noticed several lines of bodies and was reminded of the Great Hall during the final battle. He felt ill; his stomach was churning uncomfortably and seeing a child no older than ten with blood all over her still face he turned and vomited.
Mipsy cleaned it with a snap of her fingers. "Master Harry I don't think you should go on."
"Thank you but I must." The elf hesitated but nodded at him and continued leading him through the room. They came upon Andromeda's body, and Harry couldn't help but think she was sleeping.
"Mipsy thinks it was the killing curse Master."
Harry nodded, unable to speak as he gazed down at the woman who had given him so much in the past few months. Finally he lifted himself off the ground. "Mipsy please find out if we can take her body home, and then do so." The elf nodded and walked away. Grief filled Harry; he couldn't help but wonder why all the adults in his life had been ripped away from him. He couldn't help but feel guilty; it was like he was a curse to be around. The small elf returned, informing Harry of the fact that they couldn't remove the body until it had been inspected. Harry nodded, understanding the aurors need to prove her cause of death. "Where is Mistress Daphne Mipsy?"
"She's not here Master. Mipsy can sense her close by though. Mipsy thinks she is at St. Mungo's."
Fear flooded Harry's heart once again. "Take me to her immediately." Mipsy nodded, leading Harry from the room and back to the ballroom. They quickly walked to Hermione who was still holding Justin on the floor.
"Mipsy be transporting Master, Mistress and Mistress's friend." She explained. Harry nodded in consent, angry that Justin hadn't already been seen to. Hermione stood, ready to levitate Justin's body when needed and they quickly popped into St. Mungo's.
The smell of blood pervaded her senses, pulling her back to consciousness as she gagged. She could feel a wound bleeding on the side of her head, but knew it wasn't the cause of the smell. It smelt like death and more terribly, death by exquisite torture. Although dark, it wasn't hard for her to guess at her location, the thought of it making her head swim. It was silent, giving her time to consider the terrible irony of the situation she now found herself in. Previously she had lorded over these halls and now she was chained to the wall in the dungeon. Soon sleep took her once more.
The hospital was mayhem, people were running around screaming and the craziness made Harry's head spin. Casting a sonorous charm on himself Harry yelled, "Calm down!" Everyone turned towards Harry and seeing their hero calmed slightly. "Everyone needs to work in an organized manner or nothing will be done properly. Now those with the direst injuries come to the left side and those with the less dire sit on the right. This way the healers will be able to direct you to the correct floor." People began nodding around him and Harry felt the confidence of leading under pressure slip over him. "People who aren't injured but simply with a family member should stay with this person until they are settled in a room and then return to give a statement to the aurors." The head healer nodded towards Harry gratefully and he helped Hermione move Justin to the left side of the room. The healers quickly transported him to a room, hopeful that he would be fine if they could remove the beam without other injuries occurring. Eventually the siblings were kicked out of the room and Harry gathered his sister into his embrace once more. "I want you to wait until Justin's parents arrive and then have Mipsy take you home."
"What? No!" She exclaimed. "His parents will not be able to understand the practices of Wizarding healing and they won't be able to make the best decisions based upon their bias towards muggle healing. I'm going to stay; they will need a witch to guide them through the process as Justin can't himself."
"Hermione I know that you want to help, but I would feel much more comfortable if you went home. Terrible things happened tonight."
Hermione softened immediately, "Harry what you aren't telling me?"
Tears welled up in his eyes and he stared down at his feet. "Aunt Cissy was taken by whoever attacked us tonight." Hermione gasped her hand flying to her mouth as tears rapidly began forming. "And Hermione…Aunt Andy is dead."
"No," she sobbed, collapsing into Harry's arms. "How could this have happened? The Ministry was supposed to have amazing security. Why..?" She choked out, her tears wracking her body.
"I'm so sorry Hermione; these things always happen around me, I'd understand if you want to distance yourself."
Smack! Harry raised his hand to his cheek tenderly, feeling the red, inflamed skin from where Hermione had slapped him. He gazed at her in disbelief causing her to blush slightly. "Not everything is about you Harry Potter! It is tragic that she died but it is in no way your fault or because she cared about you! Now pull yourself together. You need to find out what happened to Daphne and you need to save Narcissa. Any of the Death Eaters would have reason to capture her and their intentions cannot be good. Contact Madam Bones and then go find Daphne and the rest of our family." She hugged him tightly, surprising him once more. "I love you even when you're a git. Now go!"
Harry nodded meekly; he hadn't been the subject of one of Hermione's lectures since sixth year. He quickly apparated back to the Ministry and sought out Madam Bones. Finding her engaged in conversation with an auror he impatiently waited until she acknowledged him. "Duke Black, what can I do for you? As you can imagine we are rather busy."
"Narcissa has been captured. Any supporter of Voldemort's would have reason to torture or kill her and I need your help getting her back."
Amelia's eyes widened in disbelief. "We are still trying to account for everyone at the ball tonight, but it is possible there is more than one hostage. We will not know until morning, but I will contact you immediately before any actions are made."
Harry nodded, not pleased with the answer but understanding that it was the only one Amelia could give at the current time. "If you need to contact me I'll most likely be at St. Mungo's." With that Harry walked back to the atrium and flooed to the hospital. Once there he went to the main desk and asked about Daphne. He was told he could go to her room and he practically ran there.
Harry softly knocked on the door and it was opened by a very disgruntled Gaia Greengrass. "Where have you been?" She screeched at him.
Harry glanced at her, impatience welling inside of him. "I would like to see Daphne please."
"Why weren't you protecting my daughter? You should have been here as soon as she was injured!"
Harry grunted in annoyance. He swept past the woman and into the room. Daphne's dress was lying on a chair, cut apart and covered in blood. Harry hesitated, not sure if he could handle seeing someone else in a dire situation. "Harry…" Daphne gently called him from the bed. Her tone was full of need and concern and Harry spun to face her. Her face was deathly pale, cuts marring the perfect skin on her cheeks. Her hair was slightly singed and she had a very pained expression. Harry rushed to her side, and sitting on the bed hugged her gently, burrowing his face into her hair. "How is Astoria?"
"Safe, she and Draco are back at Potter Manor." He felt her let out a breath and knew she was relieved at the news. "Daph, I'm so sorry you got hurt. I thought you would be safe with the Minister that's why I left. What's happened?"
"I was hit with some ancient hex that turns your organs into mush. Luckily none of the important ones have changed yet but the healers don't appear to be that hopeful." Harry slumped against her, hiding his face from her and her mother. "Harry this isn't your fault, you were protecting the people and couldn't have known the Minister's guard were incompetent. I have hope that I will recover from this."
Harry pulled back and stared into her eyes, searching for a sign that she was sincere. He smiled and whispered, "Then I shall have hope as well. I'll search through the family library, if there is a text on this curse I'll find it."
Daphne smiled as well, then caught sight of his suit and grimaced. "Harry I'm so sorry, my dress was irreparably damaged. It cost so much and I ruined it."
Harry chuckled, "It's not your fault it was ruined Daphne. Besides, money is no true object and whatever the cost it was worth it to see how beautiful you looked Daph." The two sat in silence for several minutes before Harry abruptly leaned forward, his mouth next to her ear. "Will you be alright if I leave to take care of the aftermath of tonight? I'll return soon I promise."
"Of course," she whispered in return, "I know you are needed."
Harry kissed her hand gently and eased himself from the bed, making his way towards the door. "Where are you going?" The shrill voice of Gaia Greengrass called to him once more. "You have been here under ten minutes."
Frustration mounted once again inside Harry, he really didn't need this right now. Spinning around he glared at the woman. "Lady Greengrass, the healers will not allow me to stay much longer, as Daphne and I are not engaged or married. Beyond that I have a duty to help the Ministry sort out what happened tonight. Then I am going to check on your other daughter who is currently under my care along with her fiancé. I will take my leave now." He stiffly nodded at Daphne who looked appalled, and stormed from the room. Taking a deep breathe in the hall to calm his nerves Harry quickly apparated back to Potter Manor. "Winky," he called. When the elf appeared in front of him he questioned, "Has anything been heard about Narcissa?"
"No Master Harry, she is still missing."
Harry nodded slowly, considering his options. "Please visit Neville and request his presence here in half an hour if it suits him. If he doesn't agree please return and inform me at once." The small elf nodded and left quickly. Harry made his way to his godson's room and picked up the sleeping child. He cradled Teddy to his chest, thinking on all of the misfortunes that had befallen the poor child. Harry shook his head, clearing his thoughts, and satisfied that Teddy was safe he laid him back in his crib before making his way to where Astoria and Draco were.
Harry knocked and was greeted with a quiet, "Enter." He walked in slowly, trying to make no noise. Astoria rose when he entered and questioned him, "How is my family? What happened to everyone else?"
"Daphne is in hospital being seen by the best doctors and everyone else in your family is safe."
Tears of relief streamed down Astoria's face. She approached Harry and knelt at his feet. "Your Grace, I cannot fully express how thankful I am that you are in our lives. You saved us all by your defeat of the Dark Lord, you kept my family from shame when grievous insults were made towards you, you invite my sister and I into your family freely, with no strings attached, and your actions saved many tonight, including Draco. Without access to a healer immediately he might have ended up locked inside his own mind." The young girl took Harry's right hand in hers and kissed his ring twice, showing deference to both of his Houses. "I am yours to command in appreciation and reward for what you have done for us."
Harry stood still in shock, unsure of how to handle this situation. He helped the young girl to her feet and handed her a conjured handkerchief. "Astoria, I require nothing in reward for any of my actions. You will be my sister and I beg you to view my actions out of brotherly concern. Daphne is more than I deserve for any of my fabled heroics, I don't want to see you like this." Astoria smiled up at him and Harry hoped that he had handled the situation correctly. "Now tell me about Draco's condition, is he resting comfortably?"
"He was," The blonde's deep voice sounded from the bed, "Until I heard my fiancé offering herself to scar head here."
Harry smiled and sat on the bed, "Ah, ferret, it is good to see you with some sanity still intact."
Draco glared at him feebly, "I resent that." Astoria began crying again and sat next to Draco holding his hand. "Hush dear, I'm fine." He attempted a smile at her, but it became a grimace as he shifted slightly.
"You are not!" She protested, "But you will be and that is the important thing."
Astoria informed the two men of the doctor's orders, which involved rest and pain potions every few hours. "Not that I'm unappreciative of your company, but why isn't my mother crying over my bedside as well." Harry stiffened considerably, causing Draco to tense in fear. "Potter, what aren't you telling me?"
"What do you remember about your attacker Draco?"
"It was father, I'm positive. The cruciatus was always his favorite way to keep mum and me in line and I would recognize his signature anywhere."
"It is as I feared then. Lucius has captured Narcissa."
"No!" Astoria screamed, fresh tears coating her face.
Draco struggled to sit up, his fear and terror clear on his face. "What's being done?"
"The aurors have been notified but due to the chaos they will be unable to determine if she was captured until the morning. It is possible she is elsewhere."
Draco nodded, "And if she has been captured?"
"We get her back," Harry replied in a steely voice. The two men nodded at each other, understanding the necessity of waiting, but knowing the other would stop at nothing if she had been taken. "Now, I need to visit the library and then I am going back to the hospital. Astoria can you watch Draco and Teddy tonight please?"
"I don't mind Harry, but where are Hermione and Andromeda?"
"Hermione is at St. Mungo's, Justin was injured badly and she wanted to stay with him until his parents arrive, which will take some time since they're muggles." He hesitated, gathering his strength. "Aunt Andy is dead."
Draco slumped back against the bed, his distress clearly visible on his face. Astoria stood resigned, not knowing Andromeda well but having enormous respect for the woman. "Astoria, why don't you go get Teddy and bring him here?" Draco suggested. "It will be easier to take care of us both." The brunette nodded and walked out of the room. "Potter, before we go to rescue mother tomorrow, you should name an heir, most probably me." Harry looked at him in confusion. "If you die with no heir, Longbottom would be able to shame Hermione into a mistress contract. But with me acting in your stead until she is married I would ensure she was not taken advantage of."
Harry considered the idea for several minutes. "That's a wise suggestion Draco. I don't want to see anything happen to her. I would need an oath first though."
"Of course, I'd expect nothing less." The two men sat in silent contemplation for several minutes. "When you first got here, you told Astoria that Daphne was being seen by the best doctors, what's wrong with her?"
A pained look shot across Harry's face. "She was hit by an obscure curse that's turning her organs useless, and the healers don't know the cure."
Draco was stunned. "The bloody bastards! I can't believe I ever wanted to support them. I promise we'll get revenge for Aunt Andy, mother, and Daphne. I'll have an elf search Malfoy library and have it bring any relevant texts to you."
Harry nodded his thanks. "I'm off to search the Potter-Black library as well. I'll be at St. Mungo's all night, but Mipsy can always get me, and my elves are at your disposal."
Harry walked to the door and was about to exit when Draco said, "Thank you for saving my life again Potter." Harry nodded and left quickly, knowing the words still didn't come easily to the blonde.
"Winky," he called. "I need you to bring me the library ledger immediately." The elf popped away and quickly returned holding a large, leather-bound book. Harry took a quill and wrote, "Useless organs" on the page, fifty results appeared below his words. He quickly selected the ones involving healing and cursing. "Please bring these twenty texts to me at St. Mungo's once you have all of them available. Then return and watch over Draco, Astoria and Teddy." The small elf nodded, and popped away. Harry retrieved his invisibility cloak, and covering himself in it, apparated to St. Mungo's. The hallway he landed in was deserted and he quietly made his way to Daphne's room. He made his way into her room cautiously, but was relieved to find her parents gone. Daphne herself was gazing out the window, the moonlight creating a heavenly glow around her, as she cried silently. Harry felt his heart grow heavy looking at her, and removing her cloak he made his way to her side. "Daphne," he called gently. She looked at him with broken eyes and his heart clenched. He climbed into the bed beside her and she threw herself into his arms, her sobs increasing. Harry stroked her hair until she cried herself to sleep, holding her close to him throughout the night.
Screams and pain were her only thoughts as she was jarred awake once more. Near to where she was chained she could hear someone being tortured. It smelt of burnt flesh, and tears came to her eyes as she visualized the torture behind her closed eyelids. Silently she cried, not daring to make any noise. Someone must have noticed she had awakened because she heard a slight movement in front of her before she knew darkness once more.
Harry sat in a hard, uncomfortable chair trying to do his reading for potions, but he was distracted by the pale girl in the bed before him. It had been two months since the ball at the ministry and Daphne only got worse day by day. The healers were still unable to find a cure and nearly all hope was lost. Healer Smith had given Daphne another few weeks to live if something couldn't be done fast. Everyone else had given up hope, but Daphne was able to remain positive. She had been moved to Hogwarts so that she could be around her friends and her parents had been given Floo access to the infirmary by McGonagall. Harry was running himself ragged, between head duties, classes, studying for NEWTS, searching for a cure and spending as much time with Daphne as possible, he had yet to sleep in his dorm. Hermione had initially attempted to get him to sleep but had quickly given up once she realized how devoted to Daphne Harry truly was. Harry cast a quick tempus spell and realizing it was almost time for rounds he stood, stretching the kinks out of his back. "You are spending too much time in that chair Harry," Daphne chided lightly. "You need to spend more time with your friends; all you do is sit there and stare at me."
"We talk a lot," he ground out, his frustration at her reaction to her illness showing through.
She sighed softly and reached a hand out towards him. He quickly walked to her side. "You are so dedicated me, when three months ago we still were having problems."
"You've always challenged me and I like that about you Daph. I just hate how resigned you are to this!"
"I don't have a choice Harry!" She yelled. "Do you think I want to leave my friends? That I'm enjoying this slow, torturously painful death? Do you truly believe that I want to leave you? Now, when things are so good between us?" She blinked away the tears that were forming. "Nothing has worked, and it's only hurt more when I hoped that it would. I don't want to die Harry, but I don't have a choice." She broke down into sobs for the first time since the night she was admitted to St. Mungo's.
Harry pulled her to his chest and repeatedly whispered. "I know. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Her sobs died down and she pulled away, looking at him with her bright blue eyes and Harry felt like he was falling. She looked so beautiful in that moment that he had to squash his desire to kiss her. The moment was not right for their first kiss.
Daphne smiled at him and rested her head on his shoulder. "I want that kiss before I go," she teased gently.
"And you will," he fought to keep his tone light, "at the right moment." He kissed the top of her head gently.
"Will you be there with me until the end?" she questioned in a scared voice.
Harry turned her chin gently so she was looking into his eyes, "Nothing can keep me from you Daph. Don't you know that I love you?"
Both of them instantly froze. Daphne's eyes widened and she stared at him in disbelief. Fear welled up inside Harry and he ran from the room. He could hear her softly call his name, but he couldn't stop. Thoughts raced through his mind and his heart was beating out of control. He didn't slow down until he reached the head dorm and skidded to a stop in front of Hermione and Justin. The two looked questioningly at him, but didn't press when he didn't offer an explanation. "I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast Miss Granger," Justin bowed slightly and kissed her cheek before walking off. Hermione watched Justin walk away with a loving expression on her face, causing Harry to smile slightly.
Harry sat in his study exhausted, the stress of the past two days weighting heavily upon him. If it had been acceptable to cancel this meeting he would have done so in a heartbeat, but he couldn't. Instead he sat in his chair, tense at the thought of what Neville would offer his sister. Finally Mipsy appeared before Harry announcing that Neville had arrived. The door opened and Harry stood, "Good afternoon Duke Longbottom, thank you for allowing a brief delay to our meeting."
"Certainly Duke Black, may I offer my condolences to your family." Harry nodded in acknowledgement and the two men sat stiffly. "Lord Potter, there can be no questioning as to my purpose today. I am here to finally make amends for my terrible behavior towards your sister. As I'm due to be married at Samhain I'm here to offer your sister a mistress contract. As to the terms of the contract, she would be my primary mistress and be housed in my house in town. Any female heirs she gave me would carry my last name while any male heirs would carry the Potter last name, although all of my children will be equal in my eyes and my heart. In event of lack of a male heir from my wife the eldest male child by my mistress will receive my last name and inherit my estate. Are there any addendums you would feel more comfortable adding?"
Harry gazed at his friend, feeling equally angry and thankful. The terms that Neville was offering were extremely generous and Harry knew that with him Hermione would be well taken care of. However, he couldn't help but be angry that he was in this position. To even imagine his sister as someone's official mistress tore him apart. "Your terms are fair indeed Duke Longbottom. However, it is only fair to inform you that before the ball began Lord Maidstone requested a meeting with me today to discuss my sister. Due to circumstances at the ball I haven't been able to meet with him yet, and I believe it is only fair to hear his requests before I make any decisions. I shall have to confer with my heir on his beliefs on the matter but you will be informed directly by my personal elf.
Neville nodded, both glad that Harry was trying to keep Hermione from the terrible position of mistress, but upset that he couldn't have the woman he loved. "When will you be speaking to Lord Maidstone? It is my belief that he still resides at St. Mungo's."
"You are well informed; I plan to speak to him today." The two men sat in silence for several more minutes. "I would like you to know Your Grace that no matter the outcome of the contract I still consider your house our biggest ally."
"And I regard your house in the same light." The two men shook hands, both extremely glad that this wouldn't completely kill their friendship. Neville walked out and Harry took a calming breath before he flooed to St. Mungo's. He knew that this would be the more difficult conversation.
Harry walked to the room Justin was staying in and knocked gently. The door was opened by Justin's mother. "Good afternoon, Lady Nottingham, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He bowed over her hand and kissed it gently.
"You must be Lord Potter, pleasure." She said stiffly. Harry smiled at her, and bowed slightly to Justin's father before moving over to sit beside Justin.
"Maidstone, it's nice to see you sitting up."
"Thank you Potter, the healers say I have been making much progress. I'm thankful that you agreed to meet me here, I understand that it takes you out of your way." Justin's mother scoffed but was quickly shushed by her husband.
"It is not a hassle at all Maidstone, I'm happy to do it, as protocol requires the meeting."
"I know you had a meeting with another prospected suitor earlier today, may I inquire as to the outcome?"
"A marriage contract was not offered at the time."
Justin smiled, pulling himself further up in the bed. "Then I would like to officially offer my hand for your sister."
"Before we discuss any of the particulars I would like to inquire as to the dowry your sister would bring Lord Potter." Justin's father questioned.
Harry pulled a parchment out of his pocket. He had debated over the subject of dowry, not wanting to offer too much or too little as both would reflect badly on his house. "I am prepared to offer you ten thousand galleons, or fifty thousand pounds."
"A little on the low side, but that is manageable. Although my son is to inherit my estate when I leave, being muggleborn he owns no property in the wizarding world. Would you be prepared to gift the couple property upon their marriage?"
"I have a villa property on the French Rivera that my sister would fancy. I would be willing to gift this property on the day of the wedding plus a forty-five thousand pound dowry."
Justin's father nodded at him and the younger man smiled brighter. "I accept these terms. My terms for the marriage contract are simple, a year and a half engagement starting after the signing of the contract. We will be married in a wizarding ceremony and all of my heirs will be provided for in the muggle and wizarding world."
"I accept your terms. I will have the contract drawn up and shown to my sister and I will get back to you with her answer."
"If you don't mind Lord Potter I would like to ask her myself."
"Harry are you alright?" Hermione questioned him, dragging him away from his thoughts.
"Of course," he muttered, trying to smile. "I've just been under a lot of stress lately."
"You need to take a break from something. Between classes, our duties, and attending to Daphne all of the time you are running yourself ragged."
"What do you suggest I give up?" He questioned tersely. "Giving up heads duties means switching dorms and the reason I'm here is to be close to you. I can't stop going to school, I can't prepare for NEWTS alone. And under no circumstances will I give up Daphne."
"I just worry." She said softly, staring at the floor.
He sighed. "I know you do. I'm sorry for how I've been acting lately; there is just so much pressure on me. Can I ask you a question though?"
"Have you ever been in love?"
Hermione stared at him for several moments and finally smiled. "I have been yes. Are you unsure if what you're feeling is love?" Harry nodded. "Love is putting someone else's needs over yours. When you think about them and your stomach twists into knots and you get a smile on your face. It's wanting to be a better person because that person inspires you. You work harder and do a better job so that they're proud of you. Love isn't always easy, you fight and scream but at the end of the day you need the other person around because you love them so much. It's when you find the person you would fight for in the worst circumstances, because you know they'll fight back. Love is scary sometimes but it's so worth it."
"I'm really afraid Hermione. I'm in love with Daphne."
"Oh Harry," she threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him tight.