Harry Crow

Disclaimer - I write purely for my own enjoyment, making no money from this venture and claim only my imagination as my own. I always strive to be original but, given the amount of HP fan-fiction out there, almost everything has probably been done before.

Chapter 36

Both fathers glanced up as Emma reentered the room. "They're sleeping now, but only fitfully. What the hell happened today?"

"I thought it would be better if I showed you. Sharpshard knew I'd want the memory, even after how things turned out. I'll be translating so please save any questions until the memory is finished. We'll be here all night if necessary, but I promise I'll answer every one of them."

They watched Harry and Hermione's visit to Master Sharpshard, with Barchoke filling in the background when he wasn't directly translating. Emma had to stuff her fist in her mouth to halt a scream that would have woken the sleeping couple after Dragontooth sliced at Hermione when she wasn't looking. Both were enthralled at the glow that covered the couple, and neither argued with Harry's assessment that this was nothing more than a grasped opportunity to seriously harm their daughter.

After the memory finished playing, Dan took a moment before saying anything. There were things happening here beyond his comprehension and he didn't want to begin shouting. He had the feeling that once he started shouting, he wouldn't be able to stop. After watching their daughter almost get disembowelled with a sword, Dan felt he was entitled to do a bit of shouting.

"Barchoke, I thank you, Harry, and every deity I can think of for that bracelet on my daughter's wrist. Please understand though, a very big part of me is currently wishing I'd kicked McGonagall's arse right out our door when she pulled that 'your daughter's a witch' shit. Hermione seems to be lurching from one life-threatening incident to another, I don't know how much more of this I can take."

Emma shifted so she could put her arm around her husband, seeking and gaining comfort. She had a question she wanted answered before her husband exploded. "What was the cut hands and that golden glow all about?"

"In the eyes of some goblins, Hermione is thought of as a lesser being - much like some of the more radical purebloods try to look down on her. Sadly, the nation is not without its bigotry too. Harry claiming they were mates instantly changed her status, their public display of bonding will stop any and all harassment." This was greeted with silence so Barchoke continued talking.

"When my mate and I bonded, we glowed right up our arms and into our torsos - and that was considered a very strong bonding. What those two did today, well, I've never seen anything like it."

Dan's voice was very quiet as he asked a question that had no place in any sane conversation about two twelve year olds. "Are you trying to tell me they're married?"

"Inside the nation, they will be considered mates. Outside of that, no - though you might find the occasional elf referring to Hermione as Lady Potter."

This was the final straw, the straw that broke Dan. "Emma, go get Hermione, we're going home!"

"Dan, calm down a moment and think. How would we even get home..."

Calm was something Dan wasn't capable of at the moment. "We'll fucking walk if we need to, anything to get our baby away from here..."

Barchoke held his hands up in an attempt to stop Dan's imminent eruption. "There will be no need for anyone to walk. I need to show you something else first, then, if you still want to go, I'll take you home. What you just watched was unfortunately only act one, it was the second act that has our children really upset. You need to see this so you both know what you're dealing with."

He then played his own memory of what happened next, to stunned silence from the Grangers. Barchoke was attempting to accentuate the positive from this. "As Harry's mate, Hermione can now walk around Gringotts with impunity. No one will want to challenge Harry now."

Dan wasn't buying into that, he was looking at the situation from a whole different perspective. "You made my little girl sit and watch that? Emma, get Hermione - we're going home right now."

"Dan, wait, let's discuss this..." Emma could only watch helplessly as her husband stormed right past her. He returned dragging a sleepy and shocked Hermione with him, a Hermione who, now seeing her father's intentions, began fighting with him every step of the way and screaming for Harry.

The boy who had been so decisive in battle earlier stood holding onto the door jamb, totally lost at what to do next.

"Barchoke, we're ready to go home." Hermione's cries of anguish were being totally ignored by her father.

"Harry, I'll be right back son. Hermione's father has decided she's going home for the evening. Somehow, I don't think you're invited." Barchoke took Emma's hand before grabbing Dan firmly by the arm and portkeying the Granger family home.

-oOoOo-

Emma finally entered the lounge, she sat on a chair well away from her husband - not even looking in his direction, far less speaking to him.

"Is she asleep?"

"After crying for over three hours, she's exhausted - I don't know if I would class that as sleep."

"She'll understand..."

"How can she understand, I don't understand!"

"She watched Harry kill that goblin today!"

"Daniel Granger, you have become the thing I hate most - a fucking hypocrite! You tell your daughter to talk things out and then, when you really need to sit and talk things out, you go all captain caveman and drag Hermione out of there. Those two have had a pretty traumatic day, you increased that trauma tenfold by your actions."

"I will not have my daughter married before her thirteenth birthday..."

"Ah, so now we come to the real reason. Did you honestly think those two were treating this as their wedding night?" Emma was shaking her head, trying to rationalise what happened tonight. "We've both seen what that boy can do, he could have stopped you tonight with one hand tied behind his back. The only reason he didn't was out of respect - a respect you lost tonight. Did you notice you were suddenly relegated to 'Hermione's father' by Barchoke? You lost both their respect, along with Hermione's - and mine too!"

"Hermione will come around when we enrol her in a new school - one that doesn't have trolls."

"You can't do that, your daughter is a witch and we signed that right over to Barchoke. Good luck with getting him to rescind it, especially since neither Hermione or I will agree with you on that point. You will also have to arrange cover for my patients, I'll be staying home with Hermione until it's time for her to return to Hogwarts."

Emma noticed their holiday photographs still sitting in packets, they had planned on placing the best ones in an album of their summer holidays. She grabbed them and threw the lot at her husband, the packets opens in flight - scattering pictures all around him.

"There is the girl you profess to love, you'll notice she's smiling in every single one of those picture. I suggest you put them in frames, it's probably the last time you'll see her smile. She asked me why her dad would rip her heart out, I had no answer to give her. You needn't bother figuring one out tell her later, Hermione has no intention of speaking to you ever again."

She got up to leave but had a parting comment for her husband. "If you had just hurt Hermione, you might be able to ride this one out. She was looking into Harry's eyes as you dragged her out of there, she'll never forgive you for the pain you caused him tonight. I'll be sleeping in Hermione's room, try not to waken us when you leave in the morning."

Dan was left sitting there, surrounded by memories of a wonderful summer - a summer that just turned to shit. He really wanted a stiff drink but had patients tomorrow, a good few of Emma's patient's would end up in his chair too. He hoped things looked better in the cold light of day, they appeared pretty fucked up at two a.m.

-oOoOo-

Albus hated getting old, his knees were bloody killing him. He'd been kneeling in the fireplace all morning, with no results to show for all the pain. All he could discover was a company called Aletheia Printing would be distributing these cursed books to the shops, and handling the mail orders through Gringotts. The adverts in the Prophet were vague enough to generate interest yet not give Albus clues about what to expect, they were also handled through Gringotts.

Someone was being very clever here, knowing Albus had no contacts with the goblins. He hoped they weren't being too clever, since Aletheia meant truth - something he was especially averse to.

-oOoOo-

Five incredibly long days, five of the worst days of his life. It wasn't the coming home to no dinner being made for him, he got that message loud and clear when there was no coffee or breakfast ready in the morning. It wasn't even having to iron his own shirts or sleeping alone. That his daughter would leave any time he entered a room really hurt, but that still wasn't the worst It was the silence that was slowly killing Dan. His wife did speak, but about nothing of consequence. Hermione hadn't uttered a word in his presence since that night. The Grangers had always been a family that talked, and he was the one to shatter that trait into tiny pieces.

Hermione had thrown herself into more intensive training, Dan suspected it was just to keep out of his way. She would be out running when he got up for work, and then again when he came home. If tonight followed it's usual pattern, she would come in from her run and then practice in the garden with a wooden sword - her real one being left behind in Gringotts.

She entered the house, grabbed a bottle of water and headed straight for the garden - all the while ignoring her father's very existence. He watched through the window as she practiced against imaginary foes, Dan wondered how many of them would wear his face. It was long past time to take some action so he headed out there.

"Hermione? Hermione, you can't ignore me forever."

Hermione seemed to be making a right good attempt at that very feat, causing Dan to lose his temper. "Hermione, I am your father and you will stop this nonsense..."

He reached for her shoulder, only to find his hand batted away with her practice sword as Hermione spun to face him. "Don't touch me!"

"Why you..."

As Dan once more reached for his daughter, he found Hermione's wooden sword was far quicker than he was.

"I - said - don't - touch - me!" Each word was emphasised by a blow or a poke with the pole. Hermione though began to lose her own temper and didn't stop there. "Tell - me - why? - Why? - WHY?"

At this point Emma arrived and grabbed a now crying Hermione, gently leading her back inside the house. Dan was stunned at his daughter's actions, but what hurt far more than any blows was the look of loathing in her eyes as she was doing it. He was sitting under the tree when Emma returned.

"I've really fucked up big time, haven't I?"

His wife didn't think he was looking for an answer to that question. Instead, she told him something she'd learned from Hermione. "Between the incidents that day, Barchoke had a little time with them. He sat Hermione down and said, while the conditions weren't exactly ideal, he was delighted to welcome her to the family. Goblin custom decreed that she was now considered his daughter too, something he was going to do his very best to be worthy of. Compare those actions to yours and then answer your own question."

Emma then made her own position on this matter crystal clear. "I carried that girl for nine months, Dan, nearly died giving birth to her. You may be prepared to allow your pigheadedness to ruin your relationship with our daughter, I am not. You may have valid reasons for what you did, but there can be no excuse for the way you carried it out. One way or another, our entire future is tied to these people. You dragged Hermione out of there as if Harry had some fatally contagious disease, a disease you desperately didn't want your daughter to catch. I don't know how, or even if, you can come back from that."

Emma walked back into the house, leaving Dan wishing the ground would open up and swallow him.

-oOoOo-

Albus was sitting at breakfast but not eating. Today was his favourite day of the entire year, the day the witches and wizards of tomorrow came back into his sphere of influence. Last year's first of September was marred by a certain goblin-raised boy attending Hogwarts, that could pale into insignificance compared to this blasted book. Today's headline in the Prophet was all about the new goblin treaty being signed yesterday, he dreaded to think what tomorrow's front page would be.

There was also the question of how to get his hands on a copy, he could hardly walk into Flourish and Blott's and buy one. Having the book owl delivered was also fraught with danger, he was certain the media would pick up on this. As to getting someone to buy it for him, there was really only Hagrid he could trust to carry that out. If he asked Hagrid, Albus might as well place his own advert in the Prophet saying he'd read the book. There was also the deniability aspect to consider, 'since I wouldn't read such a thing, I can't really comment on it' was an attractive option.

Knowledge though was like the most addictive of drugs to Albus, just something that he had to have. His problem was actually solved from the most unlikely of sources, Minerva dropped a plain covered book beside his untouched plate.

"A friend arranged a pre-release copy for me. Do Hogwarts a favour, leave before you drag us down with you."

No more words were exchanged or needed, the book found its way into Albus' pocket as he headed for his office - leaving his breakfast still untouched. He needed to do some serious reading before the express arrived.

-oOoOo-

There was excitement in the Granger household today, something that had been sadly missing in the ten or so days following the happenings in Gringotts. Emma entered her daughter's room to see a hyper Hermione with a big smile on her face.

"...and I thought you were excited about going to Hogwarts last year?"

Both smiled at that, and recognised Hermione was a totally different girl from the one that boarded the train last September. Their problem stemmed from one member of the family not realising just how much she had changed.

"Hermione, your dad wants to go with us to the station..."

"No!"

"Hermione, I think he now realises what he's done..."

"He has no idea what he's done, nor does he care. Harry had just killed someone to keep me safe, you can't understand what that did to him. We were both in a bad place but coping, as long as we were together we could handle it. He took that away from us."

Emma could see the determination in her daughter's eyes, it was as she'd feared. Anyone hurting Hermione drew a predictable response from Harry, their daughter though was every bit as protective of her mate. She'd had long conversations with her daughter about what this meant, and had been greatly relieved to learn the answer. In the short term, not very much. They had no intention of letting any outside factors sway the pace at which their relationship developed. Emma was further relieved to hear her daughter say that she would probably have to be the one to instigate any further steps, Harry was far too much of a gentleman to ever be presumptuous.

Hermione wasn't finished with her rant, though was trying her best not to let anger get the better of her. "Every letter I send, I'm continually having to reassure Harry I don't think any less of him, something a hug would do instantly. He took that away from us too. Harry has had to live all his life knowing his only living relatives didn't want him, he now has another name to add to that list - a man he actually respected. Until I can make sure Harry's ok, and that we're still good, there will be no sympathy coming from me."

Emma could clearly see what was really behind Hermione's belligerent attitude. Her father had very deliberately attempted to drive a wedge between her and Harry, there would be no steps toward forgiveness possible until their daughter could confirm his attempt had failed. Hermione wouldn't be able to to do that to her satisfaction until she actually got to talk with Harry, and of course hug the boy to within an inch of his life.

"Your dad is still insisting on going to the station with us. You may be able to use magic that stops him coming into your room, I don't think you'll be able to do that for Kings Cross station. Unless you have another method of getting to the platform, I don't see you avoiding this."

Hermione's smile was almost predatory. "Betsy!"

A small pop announced the arrival of an obviously female elf. "Yes, mistress, how can Betsy help?"

She knelt to be at eye level with the eager little servant. "Betsy, would it be possible for me and my mother to be taken to platform nine and three quarters?"

"Oh easy, mistress. Just call for Betsy when you are ready to leave."

With another pop, she was gone, leaving Hermione to speak with her surprised mother. "Since Harry and I performed the goblin ceremony of mates, the Potter elves call me mistress. Betsy is my personal elf. She was originally terrified of me, thinking I wanted to set her free. Seeing the hurt I was causing her forced me to change my mind about elves. Harry was right, it's just a matter of perspective. Betsy is part of our family and I will treat her as such. She's happiest when busy taking care of me and sometimes I'm even deliberately messy now. I will be making my own way to the express. You're welcome to come with me, he is not."

Emma left, knowing this news would go down as well as telling a patient they needed root canal treatment. It would be painful and costly, but Dan really had only himself to blame.

-oOoOo-

Harry was beginning to lose it. "SIRIUS! If this is your idea of a prank, I'm really not in the mood."

A bemused godfather stuck his head in the door. "What's up, pup? Marauders honour, I wouldn't dream of pulling a prank on you today."

"My stuff keeps shifting around the room when my back is turned. I'm trying to get ready but it's almost like something doesn't want me to go..." Realisation hit Harry at that point. "...or someone! Potter elves to me."

Multiple pops saw Harry's bedroom at Grimmauld soon fill with elves. "I think we have an intruder. I don't want him harmed, just caught and brought to me."

It was only seconds later that three elves returned, the trio also had a hold of a struggling Dobby. "Stand still, Dobby, no one here wants to hurt you - but this has to stop."

"Harry Potter must not return to Hogwarts. Terrible things will happen there, terrible things..."

"Hermione will be on that train, and terrible things will happen to anyone trying to stop me joining her, understand?"

Dobby was about to say that he received threats like this on a daily basis, that was until he looked into those green eyes. Dobby now knew he'd never been threatened like this before. Terrible things would indeed befall anyone trying to keep Harry Potter from his mate. He nodded his understanding.

"I understand you're trying to help, Dobby, I really do. This is not the way though. If you can give me any clues or specific warnings, I would really appreciate it. If not, just stay out my way. Let him go, guys."

No sooner had Dobby been released than he was off, something Harry would soon need to do too.

-oOoOo-

Harry was heading for the barrier when probably the last person in the world he wanted to see stepped out in front of him. "Harry, can I have a quick word?"

"Not at the moment, Mr Granger, I'm in a hurry."

Dan was ready to insist when a primeval part of his brain screamed not to be so bloody stupid. The same part of the brain that kept our ancestors alive in the days when man was not the top predator in the land. One look at Harry was enough to confirm this would not just be a bad mistake, it might be the last mistake he ever made.

"Very well, Harry, have a good year."

A quick one-armed hug from Sirius and he melted through the brickwork, leaving Dan with an irate godfather on his hands.

"I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you were about to apologise to my godson. Otherwise, you and I have nothing further to say to one another."

"I was hoping to, yes. At least Harry was civil, Hermione refuses to even speak to me. She's done some kind of magic that won't even allow me into her room!"

This left Sirius shaking his head. "She controls the wards on your home. They need to be tied to someone magical, she could probably stop you entering your own house. You have no idea the trouble you've caused, or just how much shit you could be in. We need to go somewhere and talk."

"We need to wait for Emma first, I'm giving her a lift home. Hermione arranged transport onto the platform for both of them, I drove here on my own - I've been on my own a lot lately."

Hermione was early, that was to be expected, Harry running late was not. Her anxiety levels climbed every time the hand on the platform clock moved a minute closer to eleven. She was surrounded by their friends, all of whom were somewhat aware of what was going on. Hermione had told them her father had gotten very angry about something, and dragged her away from Harry. That she hadn't seen him since their day in Diagon Alley more than accounted for the anxiety she was displaying.

The group should actually have gotten on the train as they were causing a bit of an obstruction, Hermione didn't care. She wasn't moving from that spot until Harry arrived. As the tallest amongst them, it was Neville who spotted him first.

"He's here!"

Hermione took off in the direction Neville had indicated, only stopping when she crashed into her boyfriend. Arms wrapped around each other, they discovered that kissing and talking at the same time was something they would need to practice.

Just having her back in his arms made everything in Harry's world okay, he just needed one final piece of reassurance. He whispered in Hermione's ear. "Are we good?"

"No, Harry, we're bloody great!"

Their needy hug was broken by a familiar voice. "You two need to get on the train, you have a long trip to get reacquainted."

"Hello, Mrs Granger..."

She remembered what Hermione said and let her actions speak for her. She pulled Harry into a hug. "It's Emma, Harry, just Emma. Perhaps, in a few years, we may give something else a try. I don't think either of us is quite ready for that yet."

Harry though he couldn't be any happier, only to be proved wrong. Emma kissed them both before shooing them in the direction of their waiting friends. More hugs of greeting was followed by a quick hello to Colin's parents, and a promise to keep an eye on him. Luna was coming with the Weasleys, who were apparently notorious for running late.

They needed two compartments, counting Luna, and possibly Ginny too. Just as the train was getting ready to leave, the redheads arrived.

Sensing that the four had things to talk about, Susan offered that they would go and find Luna - now that the train was pulling away. Harry appreciated that, but had another task they could help with at the same time. He opened his trunk and started piling up books on the floor.

"Transfiguration, I thought you said there wasn't any books on goblin transfiguration?"

"There aren't, Susan, and neither are these. I just didn't want them getting confiscated."

A book that might be confiscated was certainly one Parvati had an interest in. One look inside the cover had the witch doing her happy dance, here was enough gossip material to last until Christmas. "Oh Harry, can I get a copy for Lavender?"

"Well, since I want this spread all over the castle, I can't think of two better witches for the job." The smile Harry wore robbed the words of any intentional hurt. A hug from Parvati saw her shoot out of there with her pockets full of Dumbledore's expose. Susan and Hannah also took more than a few copies, promising to make sure at least a couple ended up in the hands of Slytherins.

When it was just the four of them, it was Padma who then broached the elephant in the room. "What the hell happened that would make Dan go off like that, did he catch you two in bed together or something?" Padma had tried to inject some levity into the situation, she wasn't prepared for Hermione's answer.

With Harry back at her side, Hermione found she could actually crack a joke about something that yesterday was too painful to even mention. "Something like that, he actually dragged me right out of Harry's bed!" Seeing their two best friends with their chins on the floor gave Hermione her first laugh in over a week. It was time to tell their story.

-oOoOo-

Sirius waited until their order was delivered to the booth before erecting a privacy charm. "I need you both to sit, drink your coffee and listen. Halloween, nineteen eighty one, I made the wrong decision and it harmed my godson. I spent ten years in Azkaban because of that mistake, yet Barchoke barely forgave me. I only got back into my godson's life because Harry wanted it, and his father thought his son needed me. I know I won't get another chance and will do my damnedest to ensure I don't screw up again."

He needed a sip of his own tea before continuing. "When I saw that memory of their bonding, I'm not ashamed to say I cried. I though it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I have Henrica Hobson for a girlfriend. I don't know Hermione nearly as well as I'd like to but a blind man could see she loves my godson - almost as much as Harry loves her. The last week or so has been hell - watching as that young man questioned everything in his life was not a pleasant experience."

Emma had tears in her eyes as she answered Sirius. "Hermione has been the same, the only time I've seen her happy was when she finally met Harry at the station. How can we fix this, Sirius?"

"I am not the problem, Emma, you have a very angry goblin - and his bewildered son - to deal with. Harry now thinks Dan hates him, and will try to take Hermione away - not something I would advise."

"What makes you say that, Sirius?"

"You could lose her, Emma, and I'm being deadly serious here. Hermione belongs in our world now, a world where you have practically no opinion, never mind rights. Deliberately keeping Hermione from her bonded mate could see you lose custody of your daughter, especially if that mate is my godson. He has an 'in' with the ministry that would see such a request almost instantly granted. You've seen enough of how our system works to know this is true. Harry has killed to protect Hermione, he'll do whatever is necessary where she is concerned. Shit - if Harry declared himself Lord Potter, Fudge would change the law to let them marry the following day."

Emma was in bits at this news, Dan was in tears too. "What can I do? I'll do anything, Sirius, I'm desperate here."

"First thing, stay away from Barchoke. You not only ripped the guts out of his son, you also hurt the girl he now legally calls his daughter. Hurting a goblin's children, well, not a smart move. You saw the memory of Harry in the pit, Barchoke has entered it twice to protect his son - don't let the suit fool you."

Emma now had her husband by the lapels of his jacket, pulling him toward her. "Daniel Granger, you will fix this! I don't care if you have to crawl to Hogwarts on your hands and knees, you will bloody fix what you broke. I will not lose her, I can't lose her..." She then lost it and buried her head into Dan's chest, it didn't mask her sobs as Emma's heart broke.

The tears were really flowing now from Dan too, Sirius had to cast a mild confundus charm as they were starting to attract attention, even with the silencing charm up. "The key to this is Harry, and the way to Harry is through Hermione. I'll be seeing them both this weekend and I'll happily carry any letters you want - but that's it. I think what you did was abysmal, and don't really know where that came from. That should have been one of the happiest days of their lives, it was never going to be because Harry had to step in the pit. You have to understand, Harry now thinks he's a murderer - and no longer good enough for Hermione. You did that, and I think I have a right to know why?"

Dan did his best to explain the emotional turmoil that night produced. "I was still trying to come to terms with not losing Hermione to that attack, only to discover I was going to lose my little girl anyway. Harry is handsome, incredibly rich, so very well mannered and on first name terms with government leaders. My daughter is also head over heels in love with him - and now they're practically married. I just couldn't cope with any more and panicked, I had to get my family away."

Dan looked down at his hands and saw they were shaking. "I'm a dentist, Sirius, I spend my days looking into people's mouths. I thought my hobby of shooting was a walk on the wild side, add a bit of danger to my life, but paper targets don't fire back. I've never even shot at a rabbit, yet Harry can't go to a ball without someone having a go at him. I keep telling myself I'm okay with this but, obviously I'm not. Hermione attended that same ball with a sword at her hip, her wand in a holster on her arm and two shields as part of her belt. As her father, I should be the one protecting the children, she beat me up with a wooden sword - holding back too I'll bet. I was a drowning man, Sirius, jumping into the life raft of the life we had before - only to discover that life doesn't exist anymore. The last ten days have been a constant nightmare for all of us, and I don't know what to do about it."

A still tearful Emma tried to help her husband. "How do you feel about Harry?"

"Shit, that could have us here all day! On the one hand he's this kind, gentle, fun loving soul with eyes that captured both of my girls the moment they met him. He's so bloody honourable that he would put knights of yore to shame. Watching the two of them dance together never fails to make me smile at how well they fit together, and how happy he makes my daughter. Then he detects a threat to Hermione and Centurion Crow turns up - kicking arse and taking no shit from anyone." Dan was shaking his head at the inconsistencies he'd just described, but the dentist wasn't finished yet. "There is also the boy that has been at my daughter's side for a year now. He makes her happy just being in the same room and would face down the devil himself to protect her. Honestly, if I could design the perfect boy for my daughter, it would be Harry with a haircut - ponytails are just so sixties." Dan had even more tears running down his cheeks by the time he'd finished, and in danger of succumbing to an emotional meltdown. He was saved from that fate by a kiss on the cheek from his wife.

"You write all that down and send it to Hermione, you know she'll let Harry read it anyway. I would leave out the bit about the hair though, Hermione and I both love it."

Dan was trying to wipe the tears away with his sleeve. "I know, but I don't want her thinking he's perfect. Can't have them getting bigheaded now, can we?" It was a weak attempt at humour, but it was at least an attempt.

He then asked Sirius a question Dan pretty much knew the answer to. "I suppose Harry spending Christmas again with us is out of the question? Having him and Padma in the house made last year our best Christmas ever." He knew Harry and Hermione would want to spend the holiday together. Not seeing Hermione at Christmas would be really hard to take, he didn't know how Emma would cope with that scenario.

"I would say that was a definite no, it will take more than a few months to work on Barchoke. At the moment, he wouldn't let Harry enter your house, never mind stay under your roof. You need to have both Harry and Hermione wanting to stay first, and that's not going to be easy. This is going to be a slow painful process, and you need to remember something at all times. I made the mistake of treating Harry like a kid, he burned my arse and then threatened to go to Bill for advice. The cheeky bugger then asked me what my intentions were toward Henrica. He may be only twelve in years but he's been raised in an entirely different culture, sometimes he acts more mature than I do."

This found total agreement from Emma. "Sitting talking to Augusta at the Black Sea confirmed that. She couldn't believe the difference in Neville, and put it all down to his friends. They may be a group of four, but we all know who the leader of the group is."

"Yes, the baby-faced Ghengis Khan that I have to get down on my knees and apologise to."

Sirius had another worry, one that meeting Dan stopped him confirming. "I just hope they're okay together, this was actually the first time they've been apart since they met a year ago today."

This actually drew a weak smile from Emma. "I don't think you need worry about that, Sirius, I doubt you'll be able to slip a sheet of paper between them all the way to Scotland. Neither looked like letting the other go anytime soon."

-oOoOo-

They were still holding on to each other while they waited on their friends' reactions to their story.

"You're bonded, you actually blood-bonded?"

Hermione could only nod at her friend, worried about the disbelief in Padma's voice. Hermione needn't have worried. With a squeal of delight, she shot across the compartment and had both of them in a headlock while bouncing with joy. "Oh, I wish I could have seen it. Did you actually glow?"

"We watched the memory back, the silver glow shot up our arms. By the time it covered us, it had turned to gold."

This saw Padma stagger drunkenly backward to her seat, the disbelief was back in full force. "Gold?"

Neville just had to interrupt. "Okay, I should be getting used to not knowing everything around here. So, could you give a guy a break - I have no idea what you three are talking about."

"Neville, I know what it means to a goblin but Padma seems to have a different explanation here."

"I've heard what it used to mean, Harry, the more of your body that glowed - the stronger the bond. Figures you two would glow all over - but gold was supposed to be a myth."

Hermione was all over her now, here was knowledge to be learned - knowledge that concerned Harry and her. "Okay Padma, give! What do you know and where did you hear it?"

"Oh, that used to be the way people married, still do in some Indian provinces. It fell out of favour because everyone at the ceremony could see how well the couple were suited. Imagine a big wedding, hundreds of guests and then the bride and grooms hands barely glow."

Harry interrupted. "That's exactly why the goblins use it. We mate for life, you need to know that you are compatible. A goblin bonding where hands barely glowed would see the couple discussing if they wanted to formalise the bond. If their hands didn't heal at once, no bond was said to have existed."

"No, Harry, that's exactly my point. When marriages became more about arrangements and less about bonds, it became embarrassing when the ceremony clearly said these two people weren't suitable to be together. They wanted the arrangement more than the bond, so it fell by the wayside."

It was a still puzzled Neville who asked a question, an action he immediately regretted. "Did you two formalise your bond?"

Both Harry and Hermione were now wearing blushes that would stop a train. Padma decided to go for a third so mock whispered the piece of information Neville was missing. "A couple formalises their bond by having sex together after the ceremony, do you think they've formalised their bond yet?"

Neville easily now outshone his two friends as Padma burst into fits of laughter.

"Patil, you're lucky I don't have my sword..."

"It's in my trunk, Hermione, so don't let that stop you."

Padma was now squealing with laughter, she still took that laughter into the next compartment as Hermione fished out her sword. That girl could be scary.

Their fun was interrupted by Susan arriving with invitations for them. "I got handed mine, and they knew we were friends so I also got the job of passing these on. Who is this Professor Slughorn?"

Harry quickly scanned the scroll, and then made his mind up even quicker. "I have no idea, Susan. If he thinks I would even consider spending time with him, rather than Hermione, he's not nearly as smart as he thinks he is." Harry slid the compartment window back and posted the unwanted invitation straight out it. Before he could close it, there was a shout from Neville.

"Don't be so hasty, Harry, keep that window open so I can chuck mine out too."

Susan shrugged her shoulders and then did the same with her invitation. "I would rather spend the time with my friends."

The trolley lady then appeared and Harry got sweets for everyone. It was fun watching Colin, Luna and Ginny play the wizarding form of Russian Roulette, though with Berty Bott's Every Flavour Beans - instead of a loaded revolver.

With a copy of Rita's book finding its way into many of the compartments, it was probably the quietest trip to Hogwarts in the history of the express. It was also easy to spot those compartments that had a copy, they would be jam-packed with students, with even more crowded around the door - listening as the occupants took turns at reading their precious copy out loud. That was until they would come to a revelation so shocking, they couldn't read anymore. The book would then be passed on to the person sitting next to them. By the time the express pulled into Hogsmead, Dumbledore's dirty laundry had been well and truly aired. Since Henrica had also turned up at the castle with copies, the staff would also be well acquainted with the book too.

-oOoOo-

Albus thought he'd been prepared for the worst, turns out he wasn't even close. His father dying in Azkaban, after being sent there for attacking muggles. Ariana, Abe and even his brief relationship with Gellert - all were plastered across page after page of unmitigated horror. The horror though was unrelenting as it also told Tom Riddle's story, and the part he had played in it. From taking his Hogwarts letter to that orphanage, to teaching him for seven years.

The part that was a real dagger in his heart was where it told of Severus hearing the prophecy, and accurately described what happened next. The events of Halloween nineteen eighty one were depicted here more accurately than Albus had thought possible, all was laid bare as even more suspicion was heaped upon him.

He was the one who suggested the Fidelius, sent Hagrid to take baby Harry away, dropped him off on his relatives' doorstep and then did nothing to stop the boy's godfather being sent to Azkaban without a trial.

That horcruxes were then mentioned really chilled his blood. That the book admitted Harry had one under a scar the killing curse left, one that the goblins quickly removed, was more black marks against Albus Dumbledore. That he'd left the boy-who-lived on a muggle doorstep with a horcrux in his head was the conclusion every reader would reach.

The goblin nation also gave the real reason he found himself barred from Gringotts. That the goblins were openly stating they had spent the last ten years searching for these abominations, while he did nothing, just increased the depth of shit he was in.

What could be the final kicker though was, again in surprisingly accurate detail, a complete account of the entire Quirrell debacle. Albus was sure this book would finish him at both the ministry and the I.C.W. Whether he could hold onto Hogwarts was going to be very close. Ideally, he would come out fighting and refute most of the book. Unfortunately, like the company name suggested, every word of it was true.

-oOoOo-

Lucius was happier than he'd been in many months, it was almost too easy. They had all stood there, obviously waiting on someone. More importantly to Lucius, they had been totally oblivious to what was happening around them. He'd taken a massive risk, waiting until the first of September, but it had just paid off handsomely.

His mood changed the instant he spotted his wife's expression, what the hell had happened now?

She slapped a book into his hands, directing him to a certain chapter. Lucius felt the cold hand of fear grip his heart and almost stop it beating - the dark lord had created horcruxes.

Lucius remembered the feeling of pride when his master had handed over a most precious item for him to take care of, as well as his disappointment when discovering it was an old blank diary. His first scan though told him this item positively reeked of the darkest magic he'd ever seen, so Lucius had hid it away. Now, the very day he discovered it was probably a horcrux, the diary was in the possession of a carefully chosen victim and speeding toward Hogwarts. A Hogwarts that held his son and heir!

Lucius didn't know if he could survive being this poor the eighteen years it would take for a new Malfoy heir to reach seventeen, he was struggling to last the almost five it would take Draco to inherit. If his master returned when he was still poor, Lucius knew none of his family would survive past their first meeting. What had he done?

A/N Thanks for reading

A/N 2 I was going to hold this chapter until Monday, the day voting kicks off for our anti-knife crime video, but realised this was unfair. I know a lot of my readers look forward to receiving a new chapter at the weekend - so here it is. Our film, titled 'Hector's story', will hopefully appear on the Scottish Youth Parliament website (syp dot org dot uk) under the heading of their We-CTV campaign. I shall post a link on my profile page that leads directly to it once the video's are posted. I hope I can add 'thanks for voting' to my usual author's note.