Disclaimer: Since I'm not the owner of these characters, I will probably do things with them that you don't like or agree with. Sorry in advance but that's the nature of fan fiction. To do otherwise kind of defeats the purpose of writing fan fiction, and copying JKR word for word would certainly see a lawsuit heading in my direction. There will never be a child named Albus Severus in any story I write though.
Both Grangers were nervously awaiting Sirius' arrival, neither could content themselves until they'd heard from Hogwarts. It was Sunday dinner time but there was no appetite for food in their Crawley home, it was information Emma and Dan hungered for. A pop from the back garden signalled an end to their waiting but cranked up the nervous tension in the house by about a factor of ten.
Emma was holding the door open, her first question being asked before Sirius even got a chance to enter the house. "What did they say? Have you got a letter?"
"I have no idea what they said, nor have I got a letter. We will need your memory player though."
Dan raced at once to get it, and then, for the first time in a couple of weeks, his daughter spoke to him.
"Hi mum, hi dad, this is not something we wanted to put in a letter - so Harry came up with this idea! I'm currently staring into a beautiful pair of green eyes and talking to you, strange or what? Then again, two dentists having a witch for a daughter is about as strange as you can get. With our family, there just is no definition of normal - something that got forgotten by all of us."
Emma already had a hanky out and Dan appeared close to tears too. Hermione and Harry had recorded this message last night so this was the first time Sirius was seeing it as well.
"A few weeks ago, a couple of incidents happened that have resulted in me standing here talking to you like this. In all honestly, I don't think any of us handled the situation too well. My father was simply desperate to protect me, he just panicked and made the wrong choice. I can see that now, before I was so focused on the hurt Harry must be feeling - I was simply blinkered to what was happening in my own home. Dad, for not explaining things, and especially for hitting you with my practice sword, I'm really, really sorry. I am ashamed of myself and hope you can forgive me, I have of course forgiven you."
Dan now needed a tissue from the box.
"Harry and I blood bonding seems to have caused most of the trouble. Mum, dad, I don't know what you've been told but Harry and I have had time to talk about it now. Here's what this bond means to us. Harry is my boyfriend, a boyfriend that will one day become my husband. The bond was our magic confirming that we could search the entire country and not find anyone more suitable, something we both were already coming to understand. We would only be legally married in the eyes of the nation if we confirmed the bond, not something Harry and I have any intention of doing for the foreseeable future. Shit, talk about strange! I'm standing here with my boyfriend, talking about sex so my parents can watch his memory of this conversation...told you normal doesn't apply to us anymore. Where was I, Harry? I knew I should have written this down..."
They saw Harry's hand stretch out and caress her cheek, the look of love their daughter gave him in return took Dan and Emma's breath away.
"Now, while not officially married, Harry and I are still considered family under the laws of his nation. This is something we're both very happy about, and hope the rest of our family will support. We don't want to be apart, but aren't even considering living together like a married couple - not until at least seventh year and I officially change my name. We're hoping the model that was used at the start of the summer can be our new normal."
Since the three people watching this were all being included in their future plans, none of them had any objections to this. After all, it had originally been them who suggested it.
"Harry already has a room at my home, I have a room at his and we both have rooms at Grimmauld. With us being at Hogwarts for most of the year, a mix of muggle, magical and goblin during any holidays has been a perfect fit for us so far. Neither Harry nor I want to choose one over the other two. For that to work though, we need our family - all our family. Mum, dad, Barchoke and yes, you too Sirius."
Sirius now understood them using this method, watching this was far more powerful than any letter. He also had a sphere in his pocket from Harry for his father. He was beginning to think these two might actually pull this off. After listening to the next part, Sirius was now sure they would.
"Now, these messages are really just to begin mending fences. What we really need is for our family to get together and talk, here's what we're suggesting. Padma and Neville are coming with us to visit Harry's parents on Halloween, Harry would like to introduce his whole family to his mum and dad. Sirius, could you tell Henrica and Remus they're invited too? The four of us are then going to visit Neville's parents, and Augusta has already invited us to spend the weekend with her. What happens after that is really up to you..."
Hermione's eyes were now filling with tears as she tried not to think of what could happen if their family fractured. "Dad, you said fathers had dreams for their daughters. Well, those daughters have dreams too, and I'm looking right at mine. You leading me up that aisle to a waiting Harry would be a dream come true for all of us - a dream worth fighting for..."
Dan was almost raising his arms as his daughter rushed towards them, it was different arms though that wrapped around the now crying young witch. The image was suddenly full of Hermione's hair as they heard her last words on the matter. "I don't know what else I can say, Harry."
They also heard more than saw a gentle kiss on Hermione's neck. "You said everything that needed to be said, Hermione."
The memory faded, leaving both Grangers needing a couple of moments to get themselves together.
"After dragging Hermione away from him, he still wants to introduce me to his parents!" Dan was having trouble believing he had been forgiven so easily.
Sirius was actually shaking his head in admiration. "Those two are clever in their own right, but together - they're simply brilliant! We all got a glimpse of what each is like when kept apart, that's not something I'm in a hurry to see again."
Both Grangers added their heartfelt agreement to Sirius' words, their daughter had merely functioned without Harry by her side. Seeing that sparkle of life back in her eyes got Hermione's message across like no letter ever could. Emma was drying her eyes, but this time it was tears of joy. "We're going to get to see them at Halloween, and Barchoke too!"
This sobered Dan's euphoria. "Shit! Sirius, how do you apologise to a goblin?"
"Getting their son - and daughter - to pave the way for you will be a massive help. I have a memory message for him too. If anyone would know how to turn that goblin around, it would be Harry. I think that's why Hermione emphasised 'our family' so often. Harry will probably be taking the same line with his father, Barchoke knows that's the one thing his son wants - the one thing that he can't give him. He also couldn't miss the way those two boys looked to Emma all summer. Harry doesn't have a mother figure in his life, it doesn't take any stretch of imagination to see who he was promoting into that role - a role Emma here seemed more than happy to accept."
Emma couldn't help but smile at Sirius' last comment. "From the moment I met your godson, my maternal instincts just seemed to kick into overdrive. There is just something about Harry that has both Granger females wanting to hug him - and never let go. Knowing that he's going to officially become my son one day is the reason for these tears. I hugged and kissed both of them before chasing them onto the train, it just felt so right."
Both parents would watch that memory multiple times but Dan had already memorised the important parts. "Hermione is really only happy now when Harry's around, and I don't think Emma or I would have any problems supporting the two of them staying together they way she suggested at one of the three places mentioned. Had I known that's how this bond would affect them, I wouldn't have made such an arse of myself. Next time, I'll get Hermione to cast that locking legs thing and Emma can sit on me until I listen. Seeing them marry at seventeen is fine with me, it was doing it at twelve I couldn't handle."
Sirius could practically feel the energy flow back into this couple. He certainly hadn't enjoyed explaining the facts of life that govern muggle parents with a magical offspring to them, he still remembered Lily's reactions to learning that her parents' wishes counted for nothing in the magical world. Muggles were expected to put their children on to a train and basically then forget about them. That might have worked centuries ago but it was something else now badly needing changed in their community.
He had to decline the dinner invitation, Sirius would need to visit Gringotts with Harry's message to his father. Last week, he would have thought getting their family back together any time soon wasn't even remotely possible. He was learning though that, when Harry and Hermione were involved, anything was possible.
Their timetable this year saw them begin their week with potions, Master Pitslay also started off Wednesday too. With defence classes on a Tuesday and Friday, that left Thursday as the only day on the four second years' timetable that didn't have a goblin flavour to it - though Henrica was still in the castle if they needed her.
While expecting Master Pitslay, Sirius' arrival with their potions tutor had a certain young couple really worried. That was until they saw his wide smile.
"...and here was me thinking you two would be pleased to see me. Hermione, your mum and dad loved their little 'present'. They will see you both soon. Harry, as you said, your father wanted to watch his message in private."
"You wouldn't have understood a word of it anyway, Sirius. What brings you to the castle today?"
"Oh I need to make sure a certain History Professor now keeps that weekend free, and to stare darkly at that fool Lockhart. Henrica will fry his arse if he makes a move on her, though I would expect my godson to get a few blows in there too. I also knew you two would be waiting on news of how yesterday went, so I just rolled all those tasks up into one big bundle - and here I am! I also wanted to say your idea was marauder worthy, bloody brilliant. Need to go and catch Henrica before class, see you both on Saturday."
They may have headed for different destinations but Hermione, Harry and Sirius all had a definite spring in their step - especially for a Monday morning.
The four had hung back in defence, wanting a quick word with Bill about the lesson they would give to the first years after dinner. When the group of five eventually left the classroom, they could all hear the faint, plaintive cry for help.
Recognising the voice, Bill shot off down the corridor with the other four hot on his heels. Bursting into Lockhart's classroom, a scene of utter devastation greeted them. Ron was hanging from the iron chandelier, dangling a good ten feet off the ground. A group of Cornish pixies were meanwhile having a whale of a time, destroying everything they could get their hands on.
A wave of Bill's wand and the creatures were immobilised, it was now answers he wanted. "Ron, what the hell is going on here?"
"The pixies grabbed me by the ears and hung me up here."
Bill thought his brother had a tedious tendency to state the blindingly obvious so asked again. "Where is Professor Lockhart?"
"When the pixies took his wand, and chucked it out the window, he ran away while shouting for us to deal with it. The Slytherins were at the back of the class while I was sitting down the front, they made it out almost as quickly as Lockhart. The pixies were on me before I could get to the door."
Fighting with his temper at this so-called professor's incompetence, Bill asked one final question. "Surely he must have given you some instructions?"
The chandelier was still slowly swinging, taking its thoughtful passenger along with it as Ron harked back to what Lockhart had said. "We were warned not to scream, in case it provoked them. Lockhart then let the little buggers out their cage, all he said was 'let's see what you make of them!' When we all dived for cover, he tried to use a spell that sounded as if Fred and George had made it up. It didn't work any better than the rat colour changing one they gave me. After the pixies got his wand, they started pulling his hair. He ran out of here screaming like a girl. Bill, can you get me down now?"
A levitation charm soon had Ron free, and both his feet back on the ground. "Thanks Bill, Lockhart would have left me up there all night. Those Slytherins will have that story all over the castle by now, everyone will be laughing at me - again."
Help came from an unexpected source though, helping a fellow Gryffindor just seemed the right thing to do. "Just turn it back on them, Ron. Say you had the best view for watching Lockhart get beaten up by those pixies, and heard him scream like a little girl."
Ron's mind was quickly converting that idea to something where he deliberately let the pixies do that to him so he could watch - while the cowardly Slytherins ran away. "Thanks, Neville, that's a great idea. I did have the best view too!"
A now happy Ron raced away to tell his version of the story, it was also dinnertime.
Bill was making for the door that led to the defence professor's office when four students jumped in front of him. "Professor Weasley, this is not the way..."
Her boyfriend soon offered his backing. "While I would love to see you wipe the floor with Lockhart, Hermione's right. Dumbledore would use that to stop you teaching us, and there's no way we want that thing for our defence professor."
Padma just had to add her two knut's worth. "You can't beat him up, not without first giving us a chance to sell tickets. We could make a fortune just from the other professors."
"Professor Sprout wanted signed photos of Harry to hang in all her greenhouses. Lockhart was telling her how to do her job, until we turned up for class. He took one look at Harry and practically ran away, shouting some excuse over his shoulder." Neville couldn't help but smile as he described that event.
The enraged redhead was presented with another option by Harry. "You are now an Assistant Ambassador to the Nation, there are other ways to get revenge. Pointing Fred and George at the prat would certainly be where I would start."
This saw a smile creep onto Bill's features. "I suppose it is a matter of Weasley family honour. Giving the terrible twosome first crack certainly wouldn't do any harm."
This was greeted with mock horror from Padma. "Oh no, they'll want a share of the ticket money!"
The smile on their tutor's face was now predatory. "You're probably right, but they will make sure any audience gets their money's worth. As long as they save me a seat."
The pictures on the wall were all empty, leaving the group to suppose that the images displayed the same amount of courage as the subject - none.
Like the pied piper, Harry led the group of first years up to the seventh floor. Henrica was waiting on them, shaking her head as Hogwarts opened its special door. "No matter how many times I see you do that, it still amazes me - almost as much as the rooms we find behind it."
The first years appeared pretty amazed too, they were still agog when Henrica got things started. "Okay, everyone, gather round and listen carefully. I may be sponsoring this club but we all know it will be these four who will really be teaching you. I just want to set the ground rules before we start. Firstly, you will be getting taught defence in here, that means you have to obey your instructors at all times. As this class progresses, some of the things you will be getting taught could be very dangerous otherwise."
Henrica paused a moment to ensure that everyone understood that point before continuing. All those eager little faces staring back at her just reminded the veela why she loved teaching. "Secondly, anything you learn in this room will never be used on another student, outside of these four walls. Anyone found breaking these rules will no longer be allowed to attend. Breaking that second one will probably see you in trouble with Hogwarts too! Everyone understand the rules?"
A chorus of 'yes Professor' saw Henrica hand them over to the four who would be tutoring them. She stood back and watched the quartet go to work. They quickly had the large group split into two, with each couple then taking their particular charges to the appropriate side of the room. She couldn't help but notice that each group was a pretty even mixture of sexes, and all four houses. It appeared a very deliberate attempt to promote integration.
She noticed Padma had taken the lead with their group, though Neville was right beside her and demonstrating exactly the points she was making. Henrica had also noticed these two had become much closer over the summer. Parts of their holiday in Tokyo was overwhelming for all of them, Henrica didn't think she was the only one who noticed these two would automatically reach for the other to draw comfort and reassurance.
Padma and Neville were taking on the task of teaching their group a spell, and then working with them to get the first years to cast it accurately. The room had created half a dozen shooting booths for this very purpose. Neville drew his wand and fired off the spell they would be learning, a coloured blob smacked straight into the target's centre. This earned him a round of applause, a joking kiss on the cheek from Padma plus a chocolate frog from the box they'd brought as a reward for marksmanship.
Colin asking if they got both rewards for hitting a bullseye, or if they could choose drew a laugh from Padma as the first six were moved into position to attempt the spell. Henrica couldn't help but admire the thinking behind this. It didn't matter how powerful a curse you could cast if it missed what you were aiming at, teaching accuracy right from the off would stand them in good stead for the rest of their time in Hogwarts.
Harry and Hermione were organising their group to practice the other side of the coin, evasion. Their part of the room had a terrain littered with boulders, broken pieces of wall and tree stumps - all perfect for little bodies to hide behind. As first years, they wouldn't be able to fight back or shield themselves for a while yet. Teaching them to get away from trouble was also something Henrica agreed with.
They were using two training dummies, set to fire the blob spell the other group was using. Since the blob disappeared in under five minutes, it would let them know who was tagged without leaving any permanent marks on their clothes. The dummies would wander around, firing the spell at the hiding first years. Again they entered the course six at a time, with last person to be caught winning a chocolate frog.
The first years' not shooting or hiding were all busy calling encouragement or even warnings to those who were. As a teacher, Henrica could easily see that these four had put a lot of thought into this, she could detect Bill's input to their lesson plan too. The mere fact they had one put them miles ahead of Lockhart from the very beginning. That they had engaged their students, focused their attention on the task in hand and then even made it fun put them on a different planet from that faker.
Just watching their friends take part was also educational. Luna's tactic of keeping on the move and using all the cover the room provided was soon being universally adopted. It made more sense than the first winner's method, simply hiding behind something and hoping you were last to be hit. The cheering from the shooting booth was also becoming more frequent as their stock of chocolate frogs began to take a pounding.
She knew they had discussed swapping the groups over, halfway through the lesson, all four had listened to her opinion on the matter. Tonight was their first lesson so it was important not to push too much information at them. It also meant that those present knew exactly what was in store for them next week, and Henrica was sure their students would be looking forward to it.
By now, every group of six had at least four attempts at their activity. With the final rotations finishing off, it was time to sum things up. Henrica had an idea how to end the lesson on a real high.
"Right first year, you all did very well tonight. Next week will see you swap activities." This drew some excited cheering. "Now, would you like to see a small demonstration of why these skills are so important?" This drew shouts of yes from every single student.
Harry had his shied on his arm and was moving into the centre of the area they'd been using to teach the first year. Hermione, Padma and Neville drew their wands and took up positions around the area. Kicking off his shoes, Harry decided to give them a show. He also knew he would need the enhanced speed his armour offered if he was to avoid these three firing spells at him.
Henrica shouted 'begin' and some of the first years' forgot to breathe. What they were watching though was pretty breathtaking. Harry was moving like lightning, he needed to though. The other three were all moving too, not allowing him to stay in cover for more than a few seconds. They continually attempted to trap him but Harry always seemed to be able to wriggle away, when Henrica called time, his shield was a mass of blobs but none had hit their intended target.
There was an explosion of loud cheering for all four of their now smiling tutors.
If there was a better way to end a first lesson than that, Henrica had yet to find it. "Right everyone, twenty minutes to curfew - so don't dawdle on the way back to your houses. Will we see you next week?"
This was greeted by loud cries of yes from every single first year. They were then approached by a delegation of Luna, Ginny and Colin. The three clearly spoke for the rest of their yearmates.
The little blonde went first. "We would like to thank you for doing this, we know you didn't really have to. We wanted to name our group so everyone would know how pleased we were to be here."
Ginny was battling her blushing as she said the next bit. "We looked up the name for a group of crows but didn't really want to be called 'Crow's Murderers' so we were stuck."
Colin barely let Ginny finish before jumping in with his bit. "Then yesterday, Luna heard Sirius use a word that seemed to fit perfectly. We would like to call ourselves Crow's Marauders!"
Henrica couldn't hold her laughter at Colin's suggestion. "Oh, Sirius and Remus are just going to love that - brilliant!"
Ginny then lost her battle with blushing as she removed something from her pocket. "Dean Thomas heard Colin and I talking about it, he drew this for us. I thought it was good and was wondering if we could get badges made, or something..."
Harry taking the parchment from Ginny saw her courage fail as she melted back into her friends. The drawing was very good, depicting a crow, perched on the cross-guard of a sword - a sword that bore more than a passing familiarity to the one at his waist.
"Wow, Ginny, this is really good. I'll look into the club badges thing, if that's what everyone wants?" Harry was quickly reassured that's exactly what they wanted.
They were filing out the door as Henrica was congratulating them on a very successful lesson, they found Fred and George waiting on them.
"This looks like a conversation a professor shouldn't hear, I'll see you four tomorrow."
They walked in the direction of Gryffindor tower to drop Neville off, and listen to what the twins wanted.
"Guys, we need to talk to you about our prank deal..."
"We've devised a way to humiliate that useless arse Lockhart - but it might break our deal."
After hearing what the twins had planned, all four were in agreement that they would take their chances - the plan was just too good to pass up.
Eargit delivered a letter to Harry next morning. Hermione was absently sharing her bacon between both familiars while watching Harry, concerned as her boyfriend's brows furrowed at the letter he was reading.
She couldn't hold herself any longer and just had to ask. "Bad news?"
Harry turned to see Hermione biting her lip, he thought it was so cute. "Yeah, it would appear we've stabbed ourselves in the foot." With his girlfriend staring intently, he continued. "With a new history course and professor, Snape gone and Assistant Ambassador Weasley pushing up the defence O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. scores, Hogwarts has never had it so good. That hardly generates momentum to get rid of its headmaster. Father says most appear to be keeping a close eye on the castle and adopting a 'wait and see' policy. Not what we wanted but at least the old wizard is now being watched - one more incident like last year and he'll be out the door."
Both Hermione and Padma shivered at the very thought of another troll, since they were also both aware of Dobby's warning. Hermione then asked about the news she really wanted to know about. "Did your father say anything else, about your message?"
"Oh, he's taking the points I raised under advisement."
Hermione was now stroking Moonlight with one hand while smoothing Eargit's feathers with the other. Both familiars seemed delighted at this arrangement but Harry could see the worry on her face. He reached out and gently stroked her cheek.
"Hermione, my father's a goblin. 'Under advisement' to him means he'll now be looking back at that night from every perspective, that was really all we asked for - all we could hope for."
This drew a smile from her. "I can't wait to read Henrica's book, I'll get my mum and dad a copy too..."
They didn't get to say anymore as Master Pitslay had arrived, it was time for potions.
Eargit flew off but Moonlight had another target, The little blonde was always good for a belly-rub - and perhaps a little more bacon?
The twins had confirmed after potions that they had put their plan into operation - even those two though were surprised at the speed the next phase was achieved. McGonagall stood that very lunchtime and announced those plans to the school.
"Some facts were brought to my attention earlier, and an idea that's just short of genius. George and Fred Weasley, fifty points to Gryffindor - each!"
This resulted in loud cheering from the lions, and disbelieving glances from the other three houses.
"Now, before I get accused of bias, let me tell you the rest. The exact date of Merlin's birthday is unknown, the best it can be tied down to is the last week of September. There are supposedly very few living holders of the Order of Merlin, three of whom are sitting having lunch with us today. After pointing out these facts, the Weasley twins then suggested we hold a ball in Merlin's honour - on Saturday, the twenty sixth of September."
This was greeted by loads of excitement from the hall, Harry knew this was his part.
Minerva spotted the boy standing and thought she might have overstepped the mark, she really should have spoke to Harry first. She didn't give Dumbledore a second glance.
"Something wrong, Centurion?"
"No Professor, I think the ball is a great idea. I just wanted to mention the fact that, if we are recognising the twenty sixth as Merlin's birthday, tradition dictates I must wear my award on that day. I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea."
"Understandable, Centurion Crow. Perhaps Professor Hobson could cover some of the protocols involved in her history of magic lessons?"
Henrica quickly agreed, saying she would need a few days to check the appropriate texts.
Albus saw the obvious trap but, since he wasn't the intended prey, the headmaster decided to play along. He was hanging onto Hogwarts by his fingertips, here was a chance at some positive publicity. Anything that would see his name linked in a good light with Harry was something Albus couldn't really resist.
It was with some trepidation Albus stood, he didn't know if this would empty the hall again. "Like Centurion Crow, I also think this ball is a good idea. I hope you don't think I'm being presumptions either when I also have to wear my Order of Merlin." Albus then had an announcement to boost his own popularity. Well, it really couldn't be much lower at the moment.
"To help prepare for this unexpected ball, I think an extra Hogsmeade weekend is in order. The nineteenth and twentieth should do." After the excitement this caused, Albus wisely decided to quit while he was ahead and sat back down.
Minerva thought that an extra Hogsmead visit was a good idea, but now she had the bad news to deliver. "When Hogwarts has held balls in the past, they have been restricted, with fourth year being the youngest students allowed to attend. Obviously, we're going to have some second years at this event. These restrictions are purely due to the size of the great hall.."
Harry had quickly consulted Helena, the looks of disappointment from those at the Ravenclaw table who wouldn't be eligible to attend forcing him to take action. "Professor McGonagall, if that's the only thing denying everyone attending, what if we could solve the accommodation problem?"
Catching on at once what Harry was alluding to, Minerva only needed confirmation this was actually possible. "Can Hogwarts manage that, Centurion?"
"Easily, Professor. When Hermione and I use it in the winter for our morning training, it provides us with a room containing a running track that is at least three times the size of the great hall. The Patil twins' birthday party proved the elves have no problem finding it, Hogwarts will provide the facilities to accommodate the entire school."
"In that case, everyone's invited!" McGonagall's announcement saw a cheer reverberate around the hall, only Lockhart didn't look excited by this - he actually appeared horrified.
The second years had history of magic next, Harry kept chuckling all the way to Henrica's class. The only downside to this was he would again be a guest of honour, and have to sit with the other holders of the award. This was why Fred and George had warned him but Harry thought it was well worth the risk. Even if they were wrong, and Lockhart turned up wearing his supposed Order of Merlin, Harry would simply spend most of the evening on the dance floor with Hermione - hardly a hardship. It was Morag who finally asked him what was going on. Harry's answer set them all thinking.
"My award was put in its box after the ball, Dumbledore's is probably framed on his wall somewhere. Do you honestly think if Lockhart actually had an Order of Merlin, he wouldn't be walking about with it pinned to his frilly robes. Every book of his has the git's picture all over it, yet not one features him wearing his most prestigious award? Same with his stories, full of his deeds yet nowhere does it mention what he did to receive this award."
He could see everyone was now listening, even Malfoy and his cronies were paying attention. Harry then delivered the final blow. "The man just released an autobiography, Magical Me! It should probably have been called mysterious me, he still didn't say how he got an Order of Merlin."
Draco had been avoiding any kind of conflict but felt he was safe enough just asking a question. "Are you saying Lockhart lied about his Order of Merlin?"
"If you're asking for my opinion, then yes. Everyone will soon know if he turns up without it. The Prophet is sure to get hold of this story, and want pictures. The prat actually shoved Hermione away for a chance to get a picture with me, do you think he'll want to miss getting his picture taken as one of the three Order of Merlin winners at Hogwarts?"
Pansy now thought it safe to follow Draco's example, she certainly had no love for Lockhart but this seemed a tad excessive. "So all this is just a plot to embarrass Lockhart?"
They were nearly at Henrica's classroom but Harry answered anyway. "Embarrass, no. Prove he's a liar, yes. If he's lied about that, how many of his other claims are true?"
Morag felt the Slytherins had muscled in on her questions, they may have asked good questions but she felt there was something still missing. "Can't he just buy one, and won't there be records?"
Susan actually answered this. "An Order of Merlin is not just a piece of metal, its heavily charmed to bind with the person it's awarded to. We could all touch Harry's award at the ball, but none of us could ever wear it - the magic involved simply wouldn't allow it. As to records, a big enough bribe to the right person could make those records say whatever you wanted."
Padma had a different theory. "I think it might be another case like Binns, someone says something often enough and it just gets accepted as being the truth. We'll all find out in a few weeks anyway."
Hermione had the last word on the matter, and this really was food for thought. "I can't believe how far the Weasley twins have come. This time last year, you could bet Lockhart would be sporting a pair of donkey ears and braying like an ass."
Padma just couldn't be outdone though. "Hermione, I thought he was an ass?"
It was still warm and dry enough to run outside, so that's where Harry and Hermione were next morning. Harry had to broach a rather delicate matter.
"Hermione, I've been thinking about your birthday..."
This caused her to actually stop running. "Harry, you totally spoiled me on my last birthday, and then again at Christmas. I don't need expensive presents, I've got everything I need standing right beside me."
This earned her a kiss from her boyfriend before they started running again. "What I intended to ask you was, if you wanted a big birthday party like Padma, or prefer just some close friends?"
They ran for a bit before Hermione answered, she was obviously weighing up the options before reaching a decision. She decided just to say those options out loud so Harry could help. "On the one hand, I really don't like being the centre of attention. It's different when I'm with you, I know no one's looking at me"
It was a rather exasperated Harry who answered that. "Did it never occur to you that might be because they know your boyfriend's the jealous type - the boyfriend who's never without his sword at his hip. I saw guys eyeing you up all summer, I made sure they knew you were with me."
This caused Hermione to stop again, and then throw herself at Harry in a hug so fierce that it almost saw his armour activate.
They began running again, Hermione had reached her decision. "So, just the holiday crowd then, and perhaps Luna, Colin and I suppose Ginny."
"What about letting the girls bring dates?" This got a puzzled look from Hermione until Harry explained. "I intend to spend the entire night with a certain birthday girl in my arms, that would leave Neville having to cope with both the Patil sisters, Susan and Hannah - Padma would just love us for that!"
Hermione quickly did the maths in her head, and didn't like the number she came up with. "That's thirteen, Harry. We don't need to invite bad luck, she usually turns up herself."
"How about inviting Henrica? Allowing her to bring a date would see Sirius there too, and having a couple of adults attend would probably square the party with McGonagall as well."
Decision made, they pushed on with their run. Both were looking forward to crossing blades after they were warmed up.
Lucius was way beyond warmed up, he was quickly getting to the exhausted stage. The little battered creature at his feet was very glad of that.
"What do you mean, you couldn't find it? I gave you very specific instructions..."
"Dobby followed master's instructions, I promise I did. I wasn't seen and didn't speak to anyone. I searched the entire room seven times, I even looked under the pillow when they were sleeping. There was no book there, Master. Dobby looked and looked."
This was something Lucius was not expecting, the diary could now be anywhere - even inside Slytherin house. An anonymous warning would be ignored, and anything implicating Lucius Malfoy would come with a one-way ticket to Azkaban included. Even warning Draco was a risk he couldn't take. His son couldn't be seen to be implicated in any way with this matter, or the goblins would soon have Draco barred from the family vault.
His idea of revenge was turning into a nightmare, a nightmare that was now running out of control. Hogwarts would soon be visited by death and destruction, and they couldn't even afford to move their son to another school. It was changed days indeed for the Malfoy family.
A/N thanks for reading - and especially all those who took the time to vote. Voting closes on the 18th and I will post how we got on as soon as we hear.