"Good afternoon," Cissy said pleasantly as she rose from her chair. Two guests had just been admitted into the Malfoy drawing room.
"It's lovely to see you," Andromeda replied, as she accepted the embrace her younger sister offered. After a few months of reconciliation, it was a little awkward between the pair, but their meetings made each of them happier than they would care to admit. "How is Trixie?"
"The usual," the blonde admitted. "We are still hopeful of finding a cure shortly."
Andromeda said nothing, just gave her sister a supportive smile which did not quite meet her eyes. Little did Lady Malfoy know, that her grandfather was being honest with all his relatives but her. When discussing events with Andromeda over dinner one evening he had said in a low voice.
"Cissy is much too sensitive to be told, being with child and all. We are not hopeful about Bella's situation at this moment in time, but we cannot mention that to her."
Of course Andromeda had agreed but it had made her situation at this moment a little uncomfortable.
"Are you excited for the wedding," she asked her sister instead, changing the subject effectively. "I am visiting Hogwarts, to meet with him, this week at Hogwarts."
Narcissa of course, was extremely excited for the wedding, and proceeded to tell her elder sister about how much so for the many hours to come, finally pulling her upstairs to her closet, because she was having trouble deciding which hat to wear.
Having decided any formal meetings in The Chamber would wait until the new term, Harry was joining his friends down by the lake. It was an unseasonably fine day, frost, for once had not overcome the grounds and though it was cold it was not bitterly so.
Hidden from the castle by some privacy wards, Hermione, Terry, Padma and Neville joined Harry in watching Susan display her talent with a bow and arrow. She had apparently taken some archery lessons before she attended Hogwarts, though she assured them she was never at this standard before acquiring her new bow.
Steadily, she practiced by continuing to shoot arrow after arrow at the same tree. Her audience clapped as she finally emptied her quiver, each and every arrow piercing the bark. She blushed and waved off their praise.
"It's an immobile target from twenty feet," she pointed out self-depreciatingly. "Besides, I maintain it's the bow that's doing all the work."
"Of course it is," Hermione replied sarcastically, looking up briefly from her book. "And that's why when Neville tried, he almost had to get to get his foot amputated." Susan just gave a sympathetic smile to Neville, before shaking her head.
"I've been thinking about the summoning magic in the chamber," he said thoughtfully, changing the subject. "How is it that the founders have managed to manifest their magic in such a complex spell, for so long after their deaths?"
"Well it's not the founders' magic is it," Hermione said. "It's Hogwarts' magic?"
"You say that like Hogwarts is a person Hermione," Harry joked.
"Has no one read Hogwarts: A history?" she asked hotly. Silence prevailed. Hermione looked desperately to Padma, the second most studious, who shrugged apologetically.
Hermione sighed in exasperation.
"When the four founders created Hogwarts, they created it to be much more than just a building," she explained grudgingly. "Four of the most powerful witches and wizards ever to have lived spent decades, infusing this place with their magic. When Salazar Slytherin left he thought the entire system would crumble, because it needed all four of their continued magical input to sustain it, but it didn't. The magic had evolved, no one is too sure how, that's why it has never been successfully replicated, something about the spells, or the conditions, or even the casters made it so for the first time, an inanimate object could use magic."
"I don't understand," Neville said slowly. "Are you trying to say that whilst Hogwarts isn't a person, it's still a magic user?"
"Yes, in a way. There are many theories about how and why it uses this immense power it has got. The staircases, for example, they're not charmed to confuse students, the teachers don't do that. Hogwarts does it, most experts think that all the magic it does serves a purpose. It has been proposed that the stairs, move all the time because in first year it helps the students see more parts of the castle, whether they like it or not. In the long run they get their bearings better," she said.
"So Hogwarts has a magic, which it uses when it senses there is a need," Harry summarised. "Like needing to form a defence group against Dumbledore."
"But surely it wouldn't do that, isn't Hogwarts controlled by Dumbledore?" Padma asked.
"The headmaster does not own the school," Hermione said. "He just presides over it. If he wanted to burn the west wing to the ground for instant, I'm sure the building itself would use that magic to make it impossible."
"I always wondered why the teachers didn't just set up wards in the dormitories, to tell if a student is out of bed," Susan said pensively. "I guess that maybe Hogwarts is to thank for that. Maybe the school wants the students to have a little freedom."
"We're making out like the school is an over indulgent aunt or something," Padma scoffed.
"If you had read Hogwarts: a history, this wouldn't be such a radical idea to you," Hermione pointed out. "It's a commonly accepted thing among scholars."
"So what we need to do now, is find out we can make this magic work for us some more," Harry said tactically. "It's already helped us once, who says it won't again?"
Cedric nodded thoughtfully. "Well I'm sure the GA will prompt it into casting further," he said with a grin. "What school wouldn't want its Guild of Academics to have as much support as possible?"
They all laughed. They were in fact, the Grey Area, but they had decided that the GA was a much better, subtle pretence.
"Milord," Andromeda said as Harry welcomed her into the Black common room. Her tone was slightly teasing as she curtseyed exaggeratedly.
"Mrs Tonks," Harry replied, cheekily bowing so low, he was almost doing a Percy Weasley impression.
"It is good to see you, Harry," she said amiably, offering a warm, motherly smile. Harry was fond of Andromeda, he found it a little disconcerting how much she resembled Bellatrix, but her chocolate curls and warm, brown eyes soon put anyone at ease.
"And you Andromeda, please take a seat, I'll order some tea," he said graciously.
"I have to ask you Andromeda," Harry said some time later. "How do you deal with being… well… reinstated into the Black family."
"Deal with it? Harry it is a blessing," she said seriously.
"But don't you feel they betrayed you, for disowning you in the first place?" he asked.
"Harry when we were young, my sisters and I were as close as any three people could be. We shared everything, and told each other everything. Then I went off and fell in love with someone they wouldn't approve of. Perhaps they could have forgiven that, but I did not tell them. They did not know until I was already married. I doubted their love for me and their ability to accept me and my decisions. I acted as if I was the perfect daughter until the last day of my seventh year at Hogwarts and on the last day I did not go home. I sent them a letter, telling them what I had done and how I was going to be married to Ted in a few weeks. My parents were furious, sent me howlers every day for weeks. My grandparents were distraught at what I had done. I received nothing from my sisters. Eventually all my family gave me up as a lost cause, I can only imagine what pain I put them though. I do not know what I would do if my own daughter did that to me," she paused for a second, a sad look in her eyes, before continuing.
"My sisters took my betrayal very hard, Cissy would have wept for weeks, she was always sensitive and she clung to me and Bella, always trying to emulate us and Bella would have been furious. Her anger that I deceived her for so long, that I had pretended I was one of them and how I left our little sister without a word. It brought disgrace upon my family, Lucius Malfoy, for all his faults does love Cissy, in his own strange way and he did what no one else would do. He married her, despite having a fallen sister and their proper, pureblood marriage made society forget about the shame I had brought upon the name Black. Narcissa was married before Bellatrix, she was of a much pleasanter disposition, so people would be drawn to her sweet character and feel sympathy for her circumstances. Bella was fiery and wild, no bachelor in England could tie her down, she did not want to be married. In You Know Who's service she met Rodolphus Lestrange, he is almost a prince in wizarding France and their master wished for their union, so they were wed shortly after they met."
"I did not know that," Harry admitted, a little stunned by the revelation of the Black sisters' youth.
"It is not something that is brought up often in company of the Blacks, especially not in pleasant conversation, it is saved for blazing rows and feuding," she said sadly. "But now you see why I was pleased to be welcomed back into the fold, their forgiveness has helped alleviate some of my guilt."
"People will do anything for love Harry," Andromeda said sagely. "But romantic love should not come at the expense of familial love, they complement each other beautifully."
The date was December 21st, term had finished a week ago and Harry was more nervous than he had ever been in his life. It was a fine day, the sun shone weakly in a blue sky and the ground was crisp with frost.
Harry looked out over the grounds, he had never believed he would be married in a cathedral, but here he was in Somerset, in a cathedral far grander than the town it represented- the smallest city in England.
"How are you feeling?" came a voice, as the door into the chamber opened. Harry turned and smiled, Cedric, Draco, Neville and Terry were all dressed in their best dress robes. He had discussed the subject of best man with them, and it was agreed that officially, it would be Draco, as he was related to the house of Black. But as he was to marry so many times, they would all have their turn. He was grateful that his best friends could view this so diplomatically- especially since Neville, his best friend since before he could remember had suggested it himself.
"Like I'm going to throw up," he laughed, running a hand through his hair.
"Just what we would expect," Padma teased as she and Hermione followed the boys in.
"We are so proud of you Harry," Hermione gushed, pulling him into a hug, tears already in her eyes.
"We are," Padma agreed. "Good luck."
Harry thanked them all for their well wishes; they sat and talked for a while, helping to ease Harry's nerves. There were only a few minutes before he was due to be wed when there was a knock on the door.
"Harry, don't you look smart," Lady Greengrass gushed as she entered, she looked beautiful in her gown of pale blue but Harry could see her eyes were full of worry.
"Daphne wishes to speak with you."