Harry Crow

A/N - Having previously mentioned our school's film project, and asking readers to vote, I'm hopefully offering a little incentive here. For the last few weeks, I've been pushing ahead with my writing to provide that incentive for those votes - an extra chapter. Yes, I still hope to publish my usual chapter at the weekend, and voting details can be found on my profile.

According to my latest reviews, I will probably have a few less readers for this chapter - some were even very nice about it. That's fine by me, no author has the right to expect their efforts will be read - far less reviewed. That's why I end every chapter the way I do, I am genuinely delighted that people take the time to read my efforts.

Chapter 37

The gang ensured the three new first years made it along to where the rest of their yearmates were gathered, waiting by the boats. The new second years then headed for the carriages, both couples in one, with Susan, Hannah, Parvati and Lavender in another.

Harry had been hoping his friend would bring the subject up but was eventually forced to ask. "Neville, how are your parents reacting to the treatment?"

Neville appeared rather embarrassed by the question but answered anyway. "The healers are saying it's too soon to say, and gran keeps telling me not to get my hopes up. The thing is, I think I can see a slight difference. They would normally just sit and stare in front of them, I swear I've seen both of them looking around the room - almost as if wondering where they are. When my mum slipped me her sweet wrapper, I'm sure she squeezed my hand. Gran promised to write but it's going to be hard waiting until Christmas to see them again."

Padma snuggled into his side, trying to offer some comfort.

Harry though had an idea. "What if you didn't have to wait until Christmas?"

This quickly perked Neville's interest so Harry laid out the idea he just had. "Hermione and I will be leaving the castle at Halloween again, what if you two come along. The four of us could visit both sets of parents."

All three could see Neville loved the idea of getting to see his mum and dad, Padma easily guessed what the problem was. "We won't expect too much, Neville, but we still want to meet them."

Hermione was now cuddling into Harry for a different reason, she needed the comfort of knowing he was there for her. Now they were back together, the multiple implications of the last ten days were beginning to sink in. "We won't be staying at my house this time, will we?"

He kissed her on the forehead before breaking the news he'd struggled to fit into their earlier conversations. "Your dad was waiting for me at the station."

Harry could feel Hermione's body stiffen at that news. "What did he want?"

"He just wanted a quick word, but you were waiting and I was late. I told him I was in a hurry, he wished me a good year at Hogwarts."

Hermione was digesting this when Neville made up his mind. "What if I write to gran and ask if we can all stay at my house?" He took the three wide smiles this idea generated as a yes. Having Harry beside him at their last visit to St Mungo's had actually helped Neville, he knew both girls were good friends. Neville was starting to think Padma might be more than a good friend but he would wait and see what this year brought before taking those thoughts any further.

-oOoOo-

Colin appeared disappointed to be sorted into Gryffindor, he went and sat beside Neville. Luna practically floated to the Ravenclaw table, gratefully accepting the position Hermione offered beside her. Ginny was the last first year to be sorted and stared wistfully at her blond friend as she joined her brothers at Gryffindor. There was a murmur of dissent as Dumbledore stood, it died as he basically just said tuck-in and the food arrived.

Padma was telling Morag, Lisa and Mandy about some of the things they'd done during their holiday when Hermione's hand shot to her bag. "Oh, how could I forget! Mum gave me some of the photographs to let you see, sorry but it went right out my head."

The photographs soon replaced the feast as the centre of attention at the Ravenclaw table. When Harry saw the pictures being circulated outside their circle of friends, it was time for a warning. "Guys, none of those photographs featuring the girls or Professor Hobson will be missing after you've seen them, especially the ones taken on various beaches." Harry didn't need to add - or else - one glance at how serious he was and everyone got the message.

Morag though had a cheeky question for the trio. "What about the ones featuring the male hunks, is it okay to sneak one of them into my bag?"

Padma and Hermione answered in stereo. "Hell no!"

The consensus at the Ravenclaw table was this group had 'stolen' the summer ball, even the Prophet had said so. While it had been such a major highlight in Britain, that same ball now looked like only a very small part of their summer adventure.

Roger though had a word of warning for the group. "Harry, Professor Slughorn is sitting up there and staring at you, he was really quite miffed you didn't respond to his invitation on the train."

"I did respond, we all threw them out the window." This got a few chuckles before he reassured every second year there. "We will still have Master Pitslay for potions, and there is no way I'll be going anywhere near Lockhart's class. Poncy git probably has the classroom walls plastered with pictures of himself. We will have Assistant Ambassador Weasley teaching us defence this year again."

This drew some cheers at the table, there was no one swooning over that peacock in Ravenclaw. Harry looked toward the staff table, picking out Henrica, one glance was enough to tell him that she would rather be sitting having dinner with them. She'd been a great help to Harry over the last ten days, even keeping his mind occupied by pumping him for information that would end up in her book. Next summer would complete her research and then she was planning on putting it all together. He was promised a signed copy for his help. Having stayed at Grimmauld for the last week or so, he suspected she might be signing it as Henrica Black by then.

When Dumbledore stood at the end of the feast to give his traditional welcome speech, the silence that descended in the hall was anything but respectful. No one was quite sure who moved first but Penny and Percy appeared to be the instigators. They started their houses moving to their dorms, with Hufflepuff and Slytherin quickly picking up that this was something they wanted to support.

Dumbledore's voice faded to silence as every student now had their back to him, making their way out the hall. The staff were also following their students' example, they started leaving too. Within a few moments, the headmaster was the only person left in the hall. Albus was gripping the lectern tightly, trying to rein in his temper. He'd never been shown such disrespect in his entire life.

Minerva left the hall, knowing already who her top candidates for next year's head boy and girl were.

-oOoOo-

Harry had asked Helena at the feast if he might have a word with her later, the ghost appeared in his room that night and listened as her champion passed on the warning Dobby had delivered.

"Not much information for us to react to. In fact, no information at all. Terrible things could mean absolutely anything."

"I know. What about the wards, did they detect anything unusual?"

The Lady Ravenclaw couldn't hide her disgust. "The wards are a total mishmash. There is more effort put into making sure muggles can't see the castle than there is to protecting the school. Each headmaster adds their own contribution, leaving a patchwork quilt of meddling instead of the work of art that the founders originally set."

Harry was by no means an expert but he understood the basics of wards. "Even getting rid of Dumbledore and having goblins rebuild the wards might not help. If the threat was already inside the castle, a new ward scheme wouldn't do any good."

Helena promised to warn the other ghosts, portraits and elves to keep a sharper lookout.

-oOoOo-

It felt good to be running together again. Harry and Hermione were taking advantage of the good weather to follow the path around the Black Lake, they would be relegated to the room in Hogwarts soon enough. Having no one to fence with during their forced separation, Hermione was keen to cross blades again. Since they both now had armour, Harry agreed to using their actual swords.

They were practicing in the courtyard and Harry was delighted at the progress Hermione was making, holding her own in that very real duel had certainly done her confidence with a blade no harm at all.

They were eventually interrupted by their head of house. "I can see you've been practicing, Miss Granger. Then again, you have a very good teacher. The news from Gringotts pleased me greatly, can I assume you will be keeping that quiet for now?"

"Yes, Professor. Only our family and closest friends know. Hermione, we've got quite an audience."

They did indeed. Now that they had stopped fencing, Colin thought it would be safe enough to take a picture. It caught Hermione's surprise perfectly. There must have been fifty people watching the golden couple fence, quite a few of them had surprise expressions too. Even on holiday, both had kept up their exercising. Combined with their tan, and the clothes they wore for exercising, they cut a very unusual sight for witches and wizards.

"Are we running late? We usually finish before everyone gets up."

"It's the first day of term, Miss Granger, most students are up early today. That's actually why I came out here, to give you your timetables. You have potions first thing and Professor Slughorn is so looking forward to getting you in his class. I would hate for our new head of Slytherin to be disappointed."

Catching on at once what Master Flitwick was hinting at, Harry whipped out his knife and then used it to alter a coin sized disk on his knife holster that Hermione thought was for decoration. After moving a few symbols about, knife and sword were put away.

"We better get a move on, Hermione. We need to shower, change and have breakfast before Master Pitslay gets here. You know he hates to be kept waiting."

Hermione was too busy solving a puzzle to move right away. "Is that your emergency system for contacting your father."

"Yeah, there was a good chance either defence or potions would be our first lesson. I just alerted him it was potions. There is no way I was going to Lockhart's class, Eargit or Moonlight could probably beat him up. Master Pitslay can take a copy of our timetable back to Gringotts with him."

Their head of house was now laughing. "I don't think Professor Lockhart would let you anywhere near his class, centurion, he's terrified of you - and probably Hermione now too. I saw him watching you two fence as I came down here, his face matched the colour of his hideous robes, chartreuse I believe he called them."

Lockhart avoiding them was good news in their book, both quickly headed off to Ravenclaw for those much needed showers.

-oOoOo-

Padma and Luna were waiting by the time Hermione made it down to the common room.

"I'm hearing you and your boyfriend put on quite the show this morning? Talk of the castle, no less."

"Well, if you had gotten your lazy backside out of your bed, you wouldn't have to listen to hearsay."

Luna though had a question, "Why did you call Harry her boyfriend when you know they've bonded?"

Both girls now staring at Luna made her think she'd done something wrong. "I'm sorry, was it supposed to be a secret?"

She felt a hand settle gently on her shoulder and turned to see Harry smiling at her. "It's okay, Luna, you just surprised them. Can you tell us how you found out?"

"Oh, I can see it. I've always been able to see things others miss. I can see the bond between you, and also the one you share with your two best friends. There's no way you wouldn't have told them about the bond, that's why I was surprised when Padma called you Hermione's boyfriend. I can keep a secret, Harry, do you want me to?"

"Yes please, Luna. Hermione and I are very happy about it, but some others might not think the same. We'll be staying as boyfriend and girlfriend until we're a few years older."

"Ha, that will be when I'm thirty eight, if my father has his way!"

"Oh, was that who I saw talking to Sirius? He looked really discombobulated."

This drew looks from the other three so Luna explained. "My daddy used to always use the saying that someone didn't know their arse from their elbow, mummy didn't like me using daddy's expression so she taught me that great word. It means the same and, since mummy taught it to me, I use it every chance I get. I think daddy acts more and more discombobulated just to hear me say it."

Padma now had her arm around the girl, leading the little blonde in the direction of breakfast. "Luna, you're going to fit right in. These two are much too serious, you're exactly what they need."

Harry now had his arm around Hermione. "You okay?"

"I think so. Now we're back together the entire thing just seems like a bad dream. I've never fought with either of my parents before, nothing beyond a mild sulk, I don't know what to do next."

"Talk to Henrica, or Padma? I'm afraid neither Neville or I will be much use to you on that front."

They followed Padma and Luna out of Ravenclaw before Hermione told him what was really bothering her. "I know, Harry, and that's what really got to me. Neville was so excited at the mere suggestion his mother might have squeezed his hand, yet I haven't spoken to my dad since that night."

She had her head down in shame as she told him the next bit. "I actually attacked him with my practice sword. He was about to start on a 'you will talk to me' rant and I just exploded. Yes I was angry but he didn't deserve that. It's only since we got back together that I'm beginning to see both sides of this."

"If he was talking to Sirius, then at least there's hope. My father was angrier than I've ever seen him at the incident, we'll need to keep those two apart for a while. We've almost got Halloween planned, that just leaves us the Christmas holidays to worry about. I know one thing for sure, I'll be spending it with you - it's just the where we need to sort out. I hope it will get better, now that everyone has had time to cool down."

Hermione took some comfort from that and they were smiling as they entered the Hall. The young couple were immediately approached by Fred and George. Both wanted to check their potions classes still matched, and that Master Pitslay would be teaching them again this year. They headed back to their own table, delighted the answer to both their questions was yes.

After enjoying their breakfast, the arrival of Master Pitslay revealed at least one lie Rita's book had missed. Perhaps if they'd gone with the Halloween publishing date it would have been included. With Snape falling into their hands, the final piece of the jigsaw revealed itself. They were also certain Dumbledore would have gotten suspicious if Barchoke had postponed their meeting again, and there was no way they wanted him anywhere near their horcrux program.

Slughorn exploded loudly at Dumbledore, watching the students as they rose to accompany Master Pitslay to their potions class. "Dumbledore, you promised me Lily's boy would be in my class. You told me it was only because he didn't like Snape that Harry arranged a private tutor. Henrica and Minerva both assured me Harry wouldn't be stopping his private tuition but I believed you - shows what a fool I am. All the top potions students in second year, and the two top fourth years are being taught by someone else - this is not what I signed on for..."

With today's Prophet full of excerpts from that blasted book, Albus really didn't need this now. "I'm sorry, Horace, my hands are tied. Harry clearly stated his reasons for not taking potions in front of everyone. I assumed that, since I had addressed that problem, he would take potions with you. I am not allowed to speak with the boy but will ask Minerva if she will intercede on your behalf. I fear I must point out though, the facility has always existed inside Hogwarts for students to hire personal tutors. I understand he won't be taking the defence course either."

Horace left to take his class, a class bereft of Ravenclaws and, more importantly, the Order of Merlin award winning boy-who-lived. The boy who was the only reason Horace Slughorn returned to the castle.

-oOoOo-

Roger flopped down at the table for lunch, the look of disgust on his face was hard to miss. "Well, that was an utter waste of a morning. One lesson and I already know Lockhart is the most useless defence professor we've ever had."

Harry was trying not to laugh, he really was. "How could you know that in one period?"

"He started off with a quiz, but every single question was about him. How the hell is knowing Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite colour going to help me pass a defence exam? I hardly think that's likely to appear on any O.W.L. exam paper. Then the ponce acted out a scene from his book. Funnily enough, not once did he take his wand out. Has anyone seen if he actually has one?"

They would have suspected Roger was having them on, if the rest of the fourth year Claws weren't wearing the exact same expression of disgust.

Luna's first lesson had been charms with her head of house, she thought the class was brilliant. Defence was now looking certain to be a disappointment. "Harry, when will you know about those extra lessons?"

"We've got history next, Luna, so I'll talk to Professor Hobson then. We already have extra lessons ourselves every weekend, and astronomy on a Thursday, so we'll need to look at one of the remaining evenings. I'll ask the professor which suits her best and let you know."

"Can anyone come to these lessons?"

"Roger, you can't be serious? You're fourth year now..."

"A fourth year who's had one bad defence professor after another. Reading books can only take you so far, Harry. How are we meant to pass a practical exam if no one ever teaches you that stuff. You had the person getting paid to teach us defence flat on his back just by grabbing his pinkie, I also saw the both of you fence this morning. I may be a fourth year but you or Hermione would certainly kick my arse in a duel. I want to learn, and anyone here older than me will have suffered through the same shitty teachers I've had - only for longer. Penny raving about Percy's brother as a teacher is good enough for me. I don't want to wait until a month or so before my exams and hope McGonagall can coax him to come to Hogwarts for a few weekends - I'm perfectly happy taking pointers from his star pupils."

"You do know these two get up practically in the middle of the night, run for miles and then practice, practice, practice - every bloody day! Even on holiday, you get woken by these two going at each other with swords. That's why they're good, Roger, they work their arses off at it."

"Not helping, Padma." Hermione could see that, instead of discouraging anyone, Padma had unwittingly just given them a huge endorsement. It wasn't just Roger who was looking in their direction now, half the house appeared ready to sign up there and then.

Harry offered a partial solution. "I promised the first years I would help and we couldn't really run a mixed class at the moment, since the likes of Colin hasn't a clue about anything. Professor Flitwick has helped me with my training before, he's awesome with either a wand or a blade in his hand. Why don't you approach him with your concerns? He is our head of house, and a far better teacher than I'll ever be. If he knocks you back, we'll see if something can be worked out."

The relief washed over the table like a comforting wave. It was decided to wait until the weekend, just to give more of them the opportunity to confirm Lockhart was a shit teacher, and then a house delegation would approach Professor Flitwick with their concerns. If he said no, they always had an Order of Merlin winner waiting in the wings to fall back on.

-oOoOo-

Henrica was relieved to see Harry and Hermione had slipped directly back into the two lovely people that she was delighted to know. Henrica had practically to take her wand to Sirius, he was all for storming the Grangers and having it out with Dan. Pointing out that Barchoke was playing it smarter, and that they held all the cards, caused him to stop and think. Hermione couldn't be withdrawn from Hogwarts without Barchoke's agreement, something that would never be forthcoming unless Hermione wanted it.

The idea that Dan would deliberately hurt these two was a non-starter, even a certain enraged goblin didn't think that was ever a possibility. That meant this mess may take some time to sort out, but that Harry and Hermione would be back together come the first of September. Now that everyone had a little time to cool off, she was hopeful some progress could be made. She genuinely liked Hermione's parents, and she considered Dan's actions to be really out of character for the man she'd come to know.

Seeing these two smiling again was well worth giving up one of her evenings, they decided a Tuesday fitted best. it would certainly be better than having Lockhart stare at her. She thought it was time to ensure he knew Harry was her employer, and just how protective he was of his employees. It was either that or let him see what a transformed veela was capable of, a fireball shot at his neither regions should certainly put an end to any amorous thoughts.

-oOoOo-

Gilderoy had figured his time in Hogwarts would be spent being fawned on by all the young witches, and associating with the only other wizard who was nearly as famous as him. The boy-who-lived had turned out to be a major disappointment, the goblin raised brat was practically a savage. Watching that girl of his battle against him with those deadly goblin swords had his delicate stomach almost in his mouth - he could certainly taste bile.

That there were very few young witches swooning around him was a bone of contention too. One of the main reasons for that deficit had just entered the great hall, and Gilderoy wasn't impressed.

Red hair drawn back in a ponytail, dragon tooth earring - with the same animal probably giving up its skin for that jacket and boots. This was no refined gentlemen, he was barely a step above being considered a scuff. To make matters worse, he was obviously on good terms with the boy-who-lived, and his friends. With second year defence classes twice a week, and their extra tuition at the weekends, this Weasley was going to be in the castle four days every week - this was far too often for Gilderoy's liking.

It was hard to miss all the female attention this scruff was attracting too, the attention that should have been heading in Gilderoy Lockhart's direction. Hogwarts wasn't all bad news though, Dumbledore had been summoned to the ministry and everyone knew he was finished. This could provide a golden opportunity to exploit.

It seems only a matter of time before Dumbledore would be booted out of the castle, and Gilderoy fancied a certain promotion as being a nice easy job for himself. His picture, posed while sitting behind the headmaster's desk at Hogwarts, would look grand on the back of his next book. He read about the troll incident last year, if only he'd been here then. A few memory charms and he could have gotten a book about saving the boy-who-lived from a rampaging beast, out for a taste of young human flesh.

He would have to keep his eyes open and see if there were any situations he could exploit this year, and work on his speech for the press. "After the fall of Dumbledore, the young witches and wizards of Britain need a figure they can trust and look up to - how could I resist a calling like that. My days of roaming the world and solving its problems may have to be put on hold, but nothing is more important than ensuring our youngsters grow into the fine young witches and wizards of tomorrow." - Gilderoy thought that should do as a starting point.

-oOoOo-

Albus had no defence so attacked, he attacked a group the old wizard was sure were responsible for all his troubles. He was using a tactic that had worked for him in the past, provide another target for people to vent their anger on. "Members of the Wizengamot, I have been dragged here before you to answer questions. What this chamber needs to consider though is whether it is the right questions that are being asked - or should I say the right person being asked them. For the last few days, wizarding Britain has been agog over a quite scandalous book. The questions that should be getting asked concern the author - a witch sacked from her post at the Prophet for blatant lies - and her backers. My own investigations have turned up some startling facts. What we have here is nothing more than a goblin backed plot to destabilise the Ministry of Magic!"

Albus felt euphoric at the mayhem that followed this statement. He actually thought that he might just pull this off, that was until his gaze fell upon the Bones bitch. She was far too calm, and that faint smirk was a dead giveaway. She obviously knew something Albus didn't.

Amelia stood and the chamber eventually grew silent, waiting to hear what she had to add to the debate. Like Barchoke, she thought Dumbledore guilty of multiple crimes - unfortunately, neither she nor the goblin had any tangible proof. Amelia decided she would need to settle for stripping Dumbledore of the one thing he really wanted, power. "Fellow members, over the years I have come to realise that is sometimes what Albus Dumbledore doesn't say that really matters. While I agree a certain book is scandalous, I certainly do not believe - nor has he claimed - it to be libellous. My own investigations have yet to uncover one lie in the entire publication."

A shout came from the chamber. "...but the goblins..."

"...have done us a huge favour. The only person here who thinks Albus Dumbledore getting booted out of the Wizengamot would destabilise the ministry is Albus Dumbledore. Personally, I think their investigations have done the ministry nothing but good. Crouch was clearly a criminal who has now paid for those deeds, this very chamber saw to that. I was actually one of a privileged few who was given a copy of this book well before it was released to the public. This was done purely to ensure the ministry would be prepared for any ramifications its publication might produce. Where Dumbledore sees plots, I see a nation friendly to the ministry - and going out of their way to protect that relationship."

Amelia stared down Dumbledore as she delivered the final nails into his political coffin. "As to the authenticity of Miss Skeeter's latest work, I can and will offer my personal opinion. Unlike some though, my opinion is formed from investigation. In forming my opinion, I interviewed Lord Black, Ambassador Barchoke, his son, Harry, Severus Snape..."

Albus was aghast at this. "You spoke to Severus? Where is he? How is he?"

"He was fine and content. I also spoke to your brother, though I doubt if that's the proper description for that particular event. Mentioning you and your late sister in the same sentence saw Aberforth practically throw me out. He left me in no doubt though who he blamed for his sister Ariana's untimely death."

This saw Albus fall back into his seat as if he'd been physically struck. Abe had certainly never hidden that view from him, Albus had the crooked nose that reminded him of his brother's opinion every time he looked in a mirror. He'd refused to have it fixed for that very purpose. To hear that opinion broadcast to the entire Wizengamot was like a dagger through his heart.

Amelia then buried the dead body his political career had just become. "I again have to state that, in my personal and professional opinion, the book that started all this is factually accurate. My investigations could find not one untruth in the entire publication."

The voting to oust him was still ongoing when Albus rose from his chair and shuffled from the chamber, a defeated figure. The last thing he heard was a member nominating Amelia Bones for his recently vacated post.

It was hearing Amelia's nomination that saw Cornelius take his first action of the day. "While I applaud the member for nominating a very able candidate, can I ask this chamber to consider something no one seems willing to talk about. The dark lord who calls himself Voldemort is not gone, we now have this confirmed from multiple sources. We first heard this almost a year ago, unlike Dumbledore - we have not been idle. Under Madam Bones' leadership, our auror department has been quietly expanding to meet this perceived threat. I have no doubt Madam Bones would make a tremendous Chief Witch, or even Minister of Magic, I for one sleep better in my bed knowing she's head of the DMLE."

Cornelius received her backing on this matter immediately. "I thank the minister for his kind words and would ask that I remain in my current position until the death eater problem is finally behind us. Know this, our history will remember that Crouch, Bagnold and Dumbledore didn't deal with the problem when they had the chance. It is our intention that same history will look on Fudge, Bones and our new head of this chamber in a more positive light. I wouldn't want anyone walking into that position without knowing what is in front of us. It may be painful and even bloody, but we are determined to get the job done right this time."

Even those of a darker disposition were forced to join in with the standing ovation afforded the minister and his head of law enforcement for their brave stance on this matter. Some considered it foolhardy too - but today was neither the time nor place to express those views.

As Amelia had hoped, stating their aims upfront had immediately forced those who would oppose their views take a step back, leaving the way clear for a moderate to be elected to the post. Both she and Cornelius were pleased to see someone like Amos Diggory become Chief Warlock. They could work with him to reach their goals.

-oOoOo-

After running the quartet through their Saturday morning lesson, Bill was pleasantly surprised at how well they came through it. Padma and Neville especially were reaping the benefits from a summer spent traipsing around the world, swimming and playing physical games. Hermione also told him that a friend of Sirius' - and Harry's parents - had been giving them some defence lessons too.

Not having to hurry back to Gringotts, Bill was taking the opportunity to spend lunchtime with his younger siblings. Now that Ron wasn't under a probation order, he was keen to see his youngest brother didn't slip into his bad old ways. Bill was also desperate to discover how Ginny was getting on in the castle, he was delighted to hear she'd been somewhat 'adopted' into Harry's group. Ginny was certainly looking forward to Tuesday evening - and lessons from Harry.

This certainly earned a smile from her eldest brother. "The Gang of Four were running some stuff past me today, to see if I thought it was suitable - I think you'll enjoy your lesson, Ginny."

Bill certainly didn't enjoy seeing the re-emergence of 'Ron the prat'. "Bloody waste of time, if you ask me, Professor Lockhart knows his stuff. He had me help him with his demonstration, those four Slytherins were so jealous. The Professor obviously recognises real talent when he sees it."

The other four who'd also suffered Lockhart's 'lessons' were about to refute all Ron's claims when Bill held his hand up. "Just what was this demonstration, Ron?"

His excitement obvious, Ron couldn't wait to describe his moment in the sun. "Oh, the professor was using me to re-enact how he fought the Wagga Wagga Werewolf, from his book, Wandering with Werewolves. I was playing the part of the werewolf, I had to roar and everything. The professor had me in a headlock before casting the Hormone Charm, making me human again."

Bill had a simple question for Ron, "...and what did you learn?"

The question was so simple, it had Ron totally flummoxed. "What do you mean?"

"When you teach a class, Ron, it's important to have an objective for your students. That they learn a certain spell or technique during each lesson. So, what did you learn?"

"Eh, I dunno. I was in a headlock, how was I supposed to see what was going on?"

Percy was actually laughing at that. "I think Bill just proved his point rather well."

The twins then got in on the act too. "Hey Ron, werewolves don't roar..."

"No, they howl. You saw Harry put Lockhart down, does he look like someone who could get a werewolf in a headlock?"

Bill decided to put Ron out of his misery. "I also think you meant the fabled Homorphus Charm. It's rumoured to return a werewolf into human form, and be hideously difficult to cast - it certainly couldn't be done with a werewolf's head tucked into your armpit. Ignoring the fact that only the legend of this charm exists, and it's certainly well beyond the capabilities of any second year to cast, if Lockhart can cast it - I'd eat my boots."

Faced with this mountain of evidence against him, Ron reverted to his favourite tactic - ignore it. "Well, it's not as if I'm likely to meet a werewolf - is it?"

"Harry spent part of the summer with one..." The words were out before Ginny realised what she'd said. With all her brothers now looking to her for more information, she obliged. "They were talking about it at breakfast this morning, turns out that's who taught Harry that grip. You know, the one that saw Lockhart on the floor. He thought Moony would have a great laugh when he heard about it..." Ginny stopped as her twin brothers shot out their chairs and headed straight for Sirius Black, who was having lunch with Professor Hobson and smiling in Harry's direction.

"Hey, Padfoot..."

"...you've been holding out on us!"

-oOoOo-

With Master Pitslay and Bill already having visited Hogwarts, Sirius had their assurances, along with Henrica's, that Harry and Hermione were fine. It took spending some time with them today though for Sirius to really relax - and now he had a promise to keep. Today's lesson had concentrated on politics - and how they affected the houses of Potter and Longbottom. With Hermione set to be Lady Potter one day, and Padma at least a contender for the Longbottom position, it was a lesson all four enjoyed. As the lesson finished, Sirius produced the letter.

"Hermione, your father asked me if I would deliver this. Before even considering to give you this letter, I demanded to know why he'd done something so out of character. I've since had a few long chats with both your parents..."

"My mum was never part of this, Sirius."

"I know, Hermione, just as you're smart enough to know any action you take will affect both of them. All I was going to ask was that you consider this before responding. Talk it over with your friends, Henrica and I are also here if you need us."

Padma had a hand on each of their shoulders now. "Stay here and read it together, we'll see you later."

As soon as they were alone, the room provided a sofa for both to sit on. It was with trembling hands Hermione opened the letter, she had to sit it on her lap to read because her hands were shaking so much. The young couple read it together.

My dearest darling daughter

This is by far and a way the most difficult letter I've ever had to write. I watched some memories that terrified the life out of me, and then I reacted very badly to them. My actions that night were inexcusable, and hurt the two most important people in the world to me - you and your mother. For that, I am truly, deeply sorry. I'm going to assume that Harry is reading this with you, and take this opportunity to apologise to him too - for all the hurt I've caused both him and his father.

When I watched the memory of you attacking Master Sharpshard earlier in the year, I saw you assume Harry was in danger and act without thinking. It would now appear this is a trait you inherited from me. I want you to know your actions that day pale into insignificance when placed next to my own colossal act of stupidity. I assumed a threat to my family and acted without thinking.

Had I that evening to live over again, I would have been there all night asking Barchoke question after question, and then welcomed Harry to the family like I should have done. Instead, my actions hurt a great many people - including some I was beginning to regard as extended family. I don't have that night to live over though - so all that is left is to admit how wrong I was and ask your forgiveness.

To you both I would like to say that it is certainly a long-held dream of mine to walk my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. Knowing that Harry will now be the one waiting on my daughter at the other end of that aisle makes me happier than I can possibly say here.

I'm not naive enough to expect things to instantly go back to the way they were before, knowing respect and trust must be earned. I threw all of that away in one moment of panic and madness, I'm more than prepared to work at building those back up to a level that will allow us to once more be what I really, really want - a family!

Your loving father

Hermione was in tears by the end of the letter, Harry just held her close.

After a few moments she'd recovered enough to speak. "What do you think?" When Harry didn't answer right away, Hermione lifted her head to see the concern on his face. "Harry, I want to hear what you think - not what you think I want to hear. We need to be totally honest with each other here - this is probably the most important discussion we've ever had."

"I need you to be honest with me first, Hermione. Your dad mentioned that day you attacked Master Sharpshard. If you had that event to live over, what would you do differently?"

"Well, I would hope to put up a better showing..."

Harry almost smiled at that. "Are you saying that you would still attack?"

"There is no way I could stand there and watch, that's why I practice as hard."

This earned her a kiss before Harry continued. "That day those girls had you and Padma trapped in that bathroom, nothing would have stopped me rushing to you both. McGonagall gave me that detention, more because we both understood I would do exactly the same again. That's what worries me about this, what will he do the next time something happens? I couldn't let him take you again..."

A shudder passed through both of them at the mere thought of something like this happening again.

"In goblin culture, I am now your mate - and also responsible for you. Clearly this is something we need to discuss with your parents, ideally setting boundaries that we can all live with until we're older. Forcibly dragging us apart crossed way over any line that would be acceptable to me - and I hope you?"

Hermione could hardly disagree with that, she'd made her position pretty clear to her father since that night.

"The only reason neither my father nor I reacted that night was because he wasn't aware of a line's existence - something my father had intended to spend time discussing. We should have sat down like a family and discussed how we were going to move forward with this, now it will probably end up more of a business negotiation..."

Hermione reacted the only way she could to that remark, with shock and horror. "No, Harry, I will not have my parents treated like that. My mum and dad will be treated as family - or this goblin / magical / muggle relationship can't possibly work. I want my family back - my entire family. I've heard over and over how important family is to goblins, well, my mum and dad are now your family too. My father is as proud as any goblin, yet that letter has him practically grovelling - I feel sick inside for being the cause of that. You're forever quoting goblin culture to me, are you aware that it is customary in our culture to ask a girl's father for his daughter's hand in marriage? We went ahead and jumped right in to a blood bond - without consulting either set of parents. There were a lot of mistakes made that day, I don't think any of us were really blameless."

Harry couldn't look at Hermione as he asked the question he never thought would pass his lips. "Do you regret bonding with me?"

Hermione now lifted Harry's head before reassuring him with a kiss of her own. "You are mine, and I am yours. That is not going to change, Harry, but we are certainly both going to have to if we want to make this work."

He held her close and repeated the words that changed their lives forever. "You are mine, and I am yours. We've faced cultural differences before, Hermione, but I don't know how we're going to get past this one. In my heart, I am a goblin - the need to protect my mate is incredibly strong. The nation won't expect us to be married until of age - so that lets us set our own timetable."

"I see us as Head Boy and Girl, sharing that accommodation as husband and wife."

This had Harry's arms tightening around her, clearly showing his approval for that idea.

"My dad is not a bad man, Harry, he watched our bonding and just panicked. We can all learn from this, and stop anything like this happening again. I believe that - do you?"

"Of course I don't believe he's a bad man, far less a bad father. It's now clear to see how he could panic, I don't think any of us were thinking clearly that night."

"I have just spent a wonderful summer with what I now consider my extended family - mum, dad, your father, Sirius, Henrica, with Neville and Padma in there too somewhere. The locations were spectacular, but it was the company that made it so special. That is our family now, Harry, the family that it's apparently going to be up to us to put back together."

Harry's thoughts drifted to Emma's hug and then kissing them both goodbye at the station. The sensation of how warm and comforting that had made him feel inside swept through him once more, how could he even consider letting that go? He now understood Hermione's stance on this matter and was more than willing to stand beside her, Emma Granger was certainly someone you would fight to keep in your life. Emma though, wasn't the problem. "To get both of our fathers in the same room without at least a shouting match is going to take something really devious..."

Remembering Sirius' warning from earlier just hardened her resolve. Hermione had seen kids at her old primary school whose parents had divorced. They were passed around each parent in a business agreement drawn up by strangers, weekends and holidays became nothing more than allocated slots on a calendar. That wasn't going to happen in her family, her now extended family, not if she could help it. "...well then you'll just have to show me how devious your goblin side really is. If we have one argument, does that mean we're over?"

She felt Harry stiffen in terror beside her at that very thought, she drew him into a hug to comfort both of them. "Harry, the answer to that question will always be no bloody chance. We will argue, possibly even fight, we're both too stubborn not to! All I was meaning was we would get past it, just like we'll get past this."

They needed a few moments just holding each other, just to confirm the were still 'good'. Hermione had been right, this was their most serious conversation to date. When she summed up what they hoped to achieve though, it didn't seem impossible.

"We know what we need from this, and it's actually not that much. It shouldn't be too hard convincing our parents to agree to something that was practically their idea in the first place. We've been dealing with the differences between our cultures since we first met, I will not see our family split by one mistake. We need to put our heads together and solve this. We both need my mum, dad and your father in our lives, we shouldn't settle for anything less."

Harry was admiring how expressive Hermione's eyes were when she got really passionate about something, they practically sparkled - and that was when the idea struck.

A/N thanks for reading - and hopefully voting