Somehow I accidentally deleted the last chapter when posting this one. That has now been fixed. Hopefully before anyone noticed.
Harry coughed lightly into his elbow, grimacing a little. "I swear I'm not contagious anymore," he grumbled from his spot in the puppy pile in front of the fireplace at The Burrow.
Ginny giggled a little, Turtle sitting on top of her head. "We know, Harry," she said, happy enough. "You've said so multiple times."
Bill glanced up at them from where he was sprawled on the couch, reading a book. He was 'watching over the kiddies' while the adults (Remus, Molly, Arthur, Augusta, Hermione's parents, and Luna's father) were talking in the kitchen over tea. Charlie, sadly, had had to return to the reserve soon after Christmas but had sent along his profuse thanks and flabbergasted exclamations on receiving an actual dragon familiar. Percy was in his room, writing a letter to someone or the other, although Bill suspected his little brother had a secret girlfriend. Sirius had stayed home, not wanting to worry those that didn't know of his…condition? Also, he had an issue with crowds in general and The Burrow was currently filled to the brim with people.
Seeing that the kids were still happily huddled in their little pile, Harry ensconced between Fred and Hermione, Ron resting easily against Neville, Luna and Ginny on the outer ends playing with Janeway while George watched carefully, Bill returned to his book.
The kids had somehow managed to turn their discussion to one of the future. Hermione had listened to Harry, it seemed, and had started looking at jobs that covered teaching and researching and seemed to have decided that it could very well be her calling. So she had asked the others what they wanted to do.
"I dunno," Ron shrugged, popping a piece of fudge in his mouth. "I mean, I'm only fourteen," he pointed out. "I got time." He was silent for a moment. "I liked teaching about flying though. Maybe I'll be a coach or something. Take over Madam Hooch's job at some point."
"I'm going to play for the Harpies," Ginny proclaimed with a smile. She flung a hand out. "I'd bet you actual money if I had any."
"I don't take bets I know I'll lose," Harry said, smiling back. He glanced over at Neville.
"Something to do with plants, of course," Neville said softly. "Maybe work for Hogwarts, for Professor Sprout. Maybe start my own business supplying potioneers. I don't know yet. Like Ron said, I have time"
Fred and George made a quick mention of owning their own joke shop, which all of the kids nodded along with. That was no surprise.
"I'm going to join Harry in travelling the world, studying different magical animals," Luna said. And Harry blinked up at her, having wondered exactly how she'd known what he wanted to do. All he got from her was a vague smile and he rolled his eyes.
"That sounds fun," Hermione said. "You have any specific plans for that Harry?"
"Just that I want to," Harry replied. "Animals are my passion and my calling. And I'll always have home to go back to." They all smiled at him, happy that he now had a place to call home, even if none of them had ever seen it.
Everyone snuggled a bit closer to the fire, still trying to warm up after having had an epic snowball fight. They'd snuck into the orchard early in the evening to give their familiars the True Familiar potions Harry had gifted them with, and then had the fight to cover the fact, although Remus certainly knew what had been going on. None of the children had wanted to ask permission to change their familiars and had figured they'd just ask for forgiveness after the fact instead.
Fred and George had refereed the fight, standing on the sidelines; they usually would have joined in themselves, but George had been feeling a bit of a cold coming on, so they'd opted out this time around. As it was, Hermione, Luna and Harry had won, having trounced Ron, Ginny and Neville's team. Harry, of course, had had the advantage once he'd climbed up into the tree and nearly scared the living daylights out of Mrs. Weasley. She'd been afraid that he'd fall and hurt himself.
Now, though, they were comfortable in front of the fire, piled on the rug. The adults may have asked about that at one point, but Professor McGonagall had clearly filled them in on the puppy piling that happened in the tower.
Bill glanced up, also smiling and nodded to his mother, who had poked her head in to check on the lot of them. Everyone was fine, the adults could go back to doing whatever the adults were doing. The kids continued talking for a short while, before one by one they dropped off to sleep, probably due to the warmth of the fire, the companionship of their 'pack' and being filled to the brim with good food.
The next morning found Harry and Ron in the back garden, bundled up in their warmest clothes, and talking with a phoenix. It was a beautiful bird, that Harry fondly referred to as Carpenter, darker than Fawkes, which meant that he was likely older. The adults—Remus aside—watched in wonder as the mythical bird danced about their heads before flashing off. Harry practically tackled Ron with excitement, the taller redhead laughing at his friend.
"What did he have to say?" Remus asked, once the two shivering boys made it back into the kitchen.
"Nest of eggs back at home!" Harry said, practically dancing through the kitchen. Remus grinned, knowing just how wonderful that actually was. No one had known of any new phoenixes in nearly two hundred years, and Harry had an actively breeding pair.
"My Harry, the others have finished their change," Hedwig's voice echoed through his mind halfway through breakfast. Harry smiled, looking up from his eggs and bacon to nod at Hermione's questioning look. She nearly squealed with excitement, alerting the others that something was going on.
"Okay," Bill finally said, setting down his fork with a bit of a frown. "You six have been secretive since yesterday. What did you do?"
"Gave our familiars the True Familiar potion," Luna said serenely.
Arthur choked, coughing into his napkin. "That potion was lost ages ago," he managed to get out once he'd cleared his throat.
Remus nodded slightly. "True," he said, shaking his head with a smile. "But Harry found it again." Augusta was frowning fiercely, but Luna's father leaned over and whispered something to her that had her relaxing. Hermione quickly explained what a True Familiar was to her parents, and then let them know that if her True Familiar was something large, than Harry had said he could keep it during the summer months, so that they didn't have any problems in their muggle neighborhood.
"And you didn't offer any to us?" Fred asked with an exaggerated pout. Beside him, George fluttered his eyelashes, jutting out his bottom lip.
Harry laughed. "I figured you'd want to get to know Janeway more before having her change," he replied with a shrug. Honestly, though, he didn't think the twins would want Janeway to be their True Familiar for a while. The little fox had come as a bit of a shock to the two of them and had also made quite a few people question just what kind of bond the twins actually shared. Changing anything else was a little too much for them at the moment.
"That's fair," George said, losing the pout and grinning at the younger boy.
Once breakfast was over, everyone bundled up and tromped back out into the snow, eager to see just what the kids had been up to. The adults all waited on the back porch, while the kids trudged through the snow to get closer to the orchard.
Hedwig exited the trees first, her white scales and feathers nearly hiding her amongst all the snow. There were amazed gasps and startled exclamations at the large owl-dragon, but Harry ignored them all to give his Familiar a hug around her long neck. He continued scratching at her scales as five more creatures exited the woods.
Hermione's Crookshanks had turned into a magnificent griffin, with a massive wing span. He was bright orange, the back part of him looking like a much larger version of his old self, while the front looked like an orange eagle. His big yellow eyes looked on placidly as Hermione hugged him and scratched at his feathers. He gave a rumbling purr, clearly quite pleased.
Ron's Pigwidgeon had also gotten a whole lot bigger. Instead of a griffin, though, stood a regal looking Hippogriff. It was different than most hippogriffs in that instead of the head of an eagle, it had the head of an owl. Grey in color, with a dark brown tail, the beast stood taller than Lady Willow back at Haven. He was an impressive beast and a lot calmer than they'd ever seen Pig, although he was still fidgeting, shifting his weight and flexing his wings.
Neville's owl Travis had also changed into a hippogriff, but more eagle than owl. In fact, other than the ear tufts that eagle owls were known for, Travis looked like most other hippogriffs, aside from the owl-like mottling of his feathers. He was majestic though and held himself regally.
Ginny's Turtle had also become a griffin. He'd kept his tortoiseshell patterning, as well as his big green eyes and kneazle tail. But he was large, almost as large as Crookshanks, and had the head of a beautiful falcon. Ginny seemed rather pleased, especially since Turtle seemed to have lost his despondent attitude and was giving deep rumbling purrs.
Luna's raven, Nevermore, had changed into something different from the others. In fact, most in the clearing couldn't even see the beast anymore, because it had become a Thestral. Perhaps not as skeletal as most Thestrals, or even as dark a black, as Nevermore almost looked blue in the right light. And his mane and tail were both a crisp white, which was a little surprising all told. "Interesting how all our True Familiars can fly," Luna said absently as she patted Nevermore's neck.
"Even more interesting how they're all big enough to carry us while they fly," Ron pointed out softly. Behind them they could hear all the parents and guardians practically freaking out with Remus trying to calm them down. No one had expected such large, dangerous animals, it seemed. Honestly, Harry was a little disappointed that these adults didn't know them better. He'd thought it was rather obvious what his friends' Familiars were going to be.
Hermione looked over at Harry with a gleeful grin. "He can talk!" she whispered excitedly. Down the line came more whispered affirmations of 'talking' from the Familiars. Harry just smiled and buried his face in Hedwig's neck. This Christmas had been the best one he'd ever had, and to be honest, he wasn't really looking forward to going back to school.
If anything, the looming second task was really taking the fun out of school in general. No one was giving him any guff over being in the tournament, not like some had before the first task, but there'd been some talk of him taming the dragons. Apparently that one reporter Rita whoever had written a scathing article about how he was clearly harnessing dark magic to make the magnificent beasts fall to his whims.
Not many had believed it, but there had been some rumors. And then Rita had disappeared; no one had seen her since the day of the Yule Ball. Harry didn't really care either way; he'd long since learned to ignore what the press was saying about him, but the rumors around Hogwarts were tiring. Especially with the visiting schools.
Oh well. School would start up again in a couple days, with the second task falling three weeks later in the first week of February. Which, honestly, was a stupid time to have a task that involved swimming, and Hermione had already written a scathing letter to the planning board for that one. (She hadn't told Harry that until after she'd sent it.) Honestly, it was silly, in her opinion, considering that she also didn't think that the directors of the tournament had thought of how to broadcast what was happening under the water. So all the spectators would probably just be sitting and staring at the top of the lake in the freezing cold.
Maybe her letter would change something. Probably not, but Hermione had hope. She'd also taken the time to pull Percy aside, since he seemed to have an in with the judges and planners, and tell him her thoughts on the matter. He'd seemed to take her seriously, so maybe…
Harry shook it off. In fact, right now he didn't want to think of the task at all. Instead he pulled himself up onto Hedwig, settling himself against her neck, right in front of her wings. At his friend's odd looks, he just grinned. "Let's go flying," he suggested.
Ginny, Luna and Ron all eagerly mounted their Familiars, finding comfortable spots with the help of the beasts they were riding. Neville and Hermione, who both hated flying, were a little more timid, but apparently Travis and Crookshanks talked them into it. And so, once everyone was settled, Harry and Hedwig took to the sky with the others following.
They left the adults and the rest of the Weasley brood on the ground, not bothering to care at all that the parents were once again freaking out. Remus was laughing, at least, and so was Bill and Fred and George.
Besides, flying was good for the soul.
Sorry for the long wait. My life has finally stabilized to the point where writing is fun again. I've been moving a lot of my work over to AO3, under the penname CLynnB, as well as posting some new work over there as well. I may be posting that work here, but I haven't quite decided yet. Feel free to go check it out. Tamer is the next one that's going to be moved, since I figured I can finally start working on it again. (I completely lost the plot there for a while and had to figure out exactly what I was doing again.) Hopefully the next chapter will be out relatively soon.