Harry Crow

Disclaimer - JKR still owns Harry Potter. I write purely for my own enjoyment and post it here so you can read these efforts for free, anyone wishing professional standards of writing should go and buy a book. (Preferably one of JKR's, POA is my favourite!)

Chapter 59

Even though it wasn't her money she was spending Emma had balked at the prices being charged for quality period furniture, especially with the amount that would be needed to fill the house in Kingussie. That all changed when she made a startling discovery, she could buy pieces that were badly in need of repair for a fraction of the cost and the elves would soon have them looking as good as the day they were made. She and Dan had then spent some wonderful weekends roaming through flea markets and antique fairs with a hired van in their search for broken and worn furniture.

The sellers were always happy to manhandle whatever junk they bought into the van, thinking they had found a right couple of mugs here. The elves would then take each piece directly from the van to Kingussie and those same sellers would have been kicking themselves if they ever laid eyes on the finished piece again.

The Patils, Longbottoms, Grangers, Sirius, Barchoke and Amelia were currently occupying sofas and winged back chairs that had been bought in this manner, the elves had even recovered them all in the same antique fabric so the entire collection matched.

The room may have been decorated to offer an air of tranquility and peacefulness but that design was about to undergo a severe test.

Augusta got the ball rolling. "We all know why we're here, we have four of our children wanting to tailor their Hogwarts curriculum to that of a more defence orientated nature."

This had Alice asking a question she really needed to know the answer to. "Is this because Frank and I had to leave Gringotts? We don't want them altering their schooling because of us."

"That can't be the case, Alice, they don't even know about you living here. We wanted to keep that as a surprise for when they come home at summer." Barchoke glanced around the room to see if anyone else had let something slip, there were no takers.

It was time to perform his godfatherly duties and support the couples. "I spoke to Harry and Hermione at length about this, those two really have put a lot of thought into their plans for the future. Harry originally plotted this course solely for himself, Hermione as you might imagine was having none of that. I certainly wasn't surprised when Neville and Padma signed up for this too, those four watch each other's backs and neither couple would want to be left behind..."

Dan interrupted Sirius before he could say anymore. "I thought Hermione was attending Hogwarts to receive an education, not training for combat so she can fight a war. I also distinctly remember being told that goblin females can never become warriors or fight in battles, why are Hermione and Padma different?"

"I give everyone in this room my personal guarantee that, should it come to a pitched battle, neither of those girls will be anywhere near it." Barchoke spoke with such authority that they all looked to him hoping he would explain his statement. "If it comes to a battle, every blade Gringotts can muster will stand beside all the wands Amelia has available and we will slaughter our enemies. The problem is though that the death eaters know this, they won't fight a pitched battle with the outcome a foregone conclusion. They will pick what they consider weak targets before attacking from ambush, and that is why our children train. They need the skills to escape from any attack or hold their attackers at bay until help arrives."

The gathered family found Amelia agreeing with every word Barchoke just said. "Most death eaters are cowards, hiding behind masks and attacking in packs. They almost won the last time because people stood back and let them literally get away with murder, that won't happen again. I'm pretty sure these four have no intention of going looking for trouble, they just want the ability to deal with any that comes their way." The Head of the D.M.L.E. aimed her next comment specifically at the parents of the girls. "Dealing with death eaters is the job of my department, not your daughters or sons. We simply can't ignore though that forces outwith the control of anyone in this room have made those same four students targets for these animals. We will do our very best to keep them free from harm but we need to be honest here and say we can't protect them for every minute of every day. I see this as nothing more than them training to cope with any situations that slip past all our protections."

The Ambassador and the Auror had turned the situation on its head but Dan still wasn't convinced about their children dropping subjects and then leaving Hogwarts at sixteen. "What about their education? How will this effect them in later life?"

"Dan, you and Emma aren't looking at the whole picture here. Our daughter will leave Hogwarts with seven O.W.L.s - and I'm willing to bet anyone in this room she will score outstandings for all of them." No one was prepared to bet against the goblin at the best of times, and certainly not on the quality of Hermione's grades. "All three will also certainly be capable of passing their N.E.W.T.s in potions and defence, throw in their Orders of Merlin, First Class, and any doors they want will be open to them. They're finishing Hogwarts but that doesn't mean they will be finishing their education, there would be a long line of tutors queuing to teach those four any subject they wanted."

Again Amelia added her backing to the Goblin Ambassador. "Those potential results alone would see Hermione qualify for most jobs in the ministry, an Order of Merlin and being married to Harry would tick any boxes her qualifications missed. I think they're actually being fairly sensible about this, getting a wide educational base while training to protect themselves. I also think the news that they'll be leaving Hogwarts after O.W.L.s shouldn't pass outside the family, we're not even sure yet if that part will include Neville and Padma."

Sirius then attempted to play mediator. "The way Harry and Hermione were speaking about this, ending their education was certainly not on the cards. I heard Hermione mention to Harry that there are university courses in diplomacy, something he seemed really interested in. If that's the case then we'll be relying on the only two people we know who've actually attended university to steer the family in the right direction."

This left Dan gobsmacked while Emma wanted to make sure there was no magical / muggle misunderstanding going on here. "Is that even possible, transferring from one system into another?"

It was a now smiling Amelia who fielded that question. "It's not well publicised but the occasional muggle born student will transfer back into the system they left at eleven. The ministry can issue muggle education award certificates to match their achievements after sitting our exams, it's really then up to the individual to study the muggle material they are sure to have missed while at Hogwarts." She had been worried how they would deal with the backlash that was certain to come if Harry left Hogwarts after fifth year, here though was a scenario that would negate that problem nicely. "I have to say, Harry leaving Hogwarts in order to study for the position of Ambassador will not raise any eyebrows in our community. That type of education is not really available anywhere except as a junior in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, something I can't see Harry accepting."

This drew a laugh from Barchoke. "A centurion working as an office junior in the ministry sounds like an exceedingly bad joke."

Dan burst out laughing and couldn't stop for a minute or two, he needed to wipe his eyes and drink some tea to get himself back under control. "Sorry folks, I just needed to let that come out. I was suddenly worried about Hermione's university fund until I remembered I was siting in what is to all effects and purposes her house, and she received a fortune from the sale of that basilisk. The whole situation just freaked me out for a moment there. If you'll excuse me, I need to go and shoot something to calm down."

A kiss for his wife and Dan left the room with everyone now staring at him.

-oOoOo-

A cry of 'PULL!' was soon followed by a pair of shotgun blasts, Dan was immensely pleased to see he had again hit both disks that sailed out from the bushes. This was such a wonderful set-up but he could never bring any of his friends from the gun club here, how would he explain his gun handler to them. Dobby was at his side, ready to take his shotgun and hand Dan its partner that was already loaded and ready to fire. Who would have believed that elves would love the sound a shotgun made, and all politely refused to wear ear defenders - claiming they were unnecessary. They were always more than willing to operate the clay pigeon thrower but Dobby had gained prestige amongst his fellow elves from being the only elf trained to handle and load the shotguns.

'PULL!' Blast, blast, it was such an easy rhythm to slip into that Dobby had to inform his master they had an audience before handing over the loaded shotgun. Instead of snapping it shut, Dan removed the cartridges before turning to see who his guests were.

It turned out Emma was having great difficulty explaining what clay pigeon shooting was to a room full of purebloods and simply brought them all out to see for themselves. Barchoke had heard the explanation from Dan before but it in no way did justice to what was happening here. He was desperate to discover what one of those weapons would do to an enemy yet wouldn't ask that question while there were ladies present, he would get his answer from Dan later.

Dan was secretly pleased he'd clearly impressed his audience with his skill, he was also glad to be unaware there were people watching him while he was actually shooting.

"That looks fantastic, you have got to let me have a go at that!"

Amelia couldn't let that pass unchallenged. "Sirius Black with a gun in his hands, time to run for cover."

"Oh there are strict safety protocols that need to be learned before anyone gets their hands on a shotgun, pranks and tomfoolery aren't allowed anywhere near a shooting site. I'm hoping we can fit some time in over the summer where I can teach our crew the basics."

Smita was flabbergasted at what Dan was suggesting, though for another reason than magicals using guns. "Can witches learn this as well?"

"Absolutely! Emma has tried shooting a few times, I would be delighted to teach anyone who wants to learn the basics and get you started."

"Could a goblin learn this?"

Barchoke's request had Dan smiling. "You mean a goblin who isn't Harry? I don't see why not, there should be a model of shotgun we can adapt to suit your trigger finger being longer."

This had Amelia joking with the goblin. "Should the ministry be worried that Gringotts will soon be issuing their warriors with these weapons?"

"I think the minister would lose some sleep if that were the case. I see a sport here requiring skill, accuracy and timing where magical, muggle and goblin - be they male or female - can compete equally. I know my son, he will love this and I want to be able to shoot with him."

"Master Dan, Dobby will order more cartridges!" The little guy couldn't hide his excitement at the thought of even more shooting.

"Won't you need more of those disks too, or do you think we're all going to miss?"

"No sir, Lord Black. Elves copy them and is now making disks from rocks, we have many, many rocks here. Dobby thinks it will be lots of years before we need to buy more disks." The little elf picked up a rock and soon had it transfigured into an orange disk, another elf then popped beside him and took the disk to the pile they had stored beside the thrower.

Dan may not be able to bring any of his club here but it was now looking like he was going to have a club of his own. Being outside and shooting had also given him an opportunity to clear his thoughts about their children. There was no question that Harry would never place Hermione in danger unless lives were literally at stake, allowing Dan to look on their extra training as self defence lessons. The prospect of them one day attending university pleased him more than he could express. Here was concrete proof they weren't losing their daughter to a world that contained so many wondrous things.

-oOoOo-

Hermione was sitting on the Hogwarts express and wondering if their previous year at school could have gotten any stranger. Draco and Pansy leaving their compartment and saying they would see them at the wedding was just one of the changes her mind was having to deal with, Theo Nott dropping by to thank Harry for making his sister a Potter Scholarship student was another.

Then there was Blaise, sitting with his arm around Parvati. He had used Harry's example from last year and asked her to be his girlfriend at the twins' birthday party, Parvati had of course said yes. Crow's Marauders had been ecstatic upon learning the club would continue next year and a constant stream of them had popped their heads in to their compartment to wish the group a happy holiday. McGonagall may have given them all her patented 'your house is your family' spiel last September but the marauders looked on their club members more as their Hogwarts family, whatever house they were in was immaterial. It showed when Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup and Ravenclaw the House Cup, cheering came from all four tables.

Fred and George also stopped by to ensure for at least the hundredth time that they were indeed invited to Egypt and, no, it wasn't a prank. They would actually be in Egypt when the results of their potions O.W.L.s arrived but neither seemed too worried about that. The four boys were all delighted at the thought of running their own marauders club with the new first years, they also had a copy of all Hermione's lesson plans and notes from this year's club to work with. All that remained to be done was to sit down at the start of the new term and study timetables to see what nights suited which club best.

They also had to sit down with their parents and sell the idea of their change of curriculum - and leaving Hogwarts early - all four were relieved that Sirius had done the groundwork for them first. Harry discovering that he could study history and politics at university completely sold him on the idea, she herself was leaning more towards law with their two best friends deciding to keep all their options open. Both couples completely agreed with the suggestion Sirius returned to Hogwarts with that they tell no one outside the family of their plans at the moment. This would certainly affect the layout of their library in Kingussie though, with a lot of space now being required for muggle books too.

Their summer plans were also having an effect on the train, there were eleven students outside the family traveling to Florida with them, Lavender spending the week in France and another six joining the group in Egypt, the excitement was palpable as the express sped to London. They would be seeing a lot of their friends over the summer but at the moment, everyone just wanted to get home.

-oOoOo-

Wormtail was also traveling on a train but not in a comfortable compartment, the rat was hiding under a freight container as central Europe sped past. While somewhat cramped and drafty, it certainly beat walking a few hundred miles. When the train stopped, he would crawl out and transform back to Peter before checking his master's wand for direction. So far the train was progressing in roughly the direction he needed to go.

Since it was now looking like he would have to cross the Alps, his directions of travel would be determined mostly by the terrain anyway, a train going in roughly the direction he needed to was far preferable to attempting to traverse mountains on foot. Unlike the occupants of the Hogwarts Express, Peter wasn't expecting hugs and kisses when he reached his final destination.

-oOoOo-

At the moment Hermione wasn't able to hug anyone in greeting. At this very moment, Hermione was in floods of tears. She also had both her parents very worried by their daughter's reaction. "Don't you like it? We could..."

"...not change a thing! Mum, I absolutely love it, you've done a wonderful job - you too, Dad."

"Nice to know I at least merited a mention." Dan's 'I'm in the huff' act didn't really work because of the large smile the dentist was now wearing.

Harry came up behind Hermione before slipping his arms around his still stunned and tearful mate. "I don't remember you having this reaction to any of our other houses?"

She leaned back into him before answering. "This one is ours though, this one is home."

Emma couldn't wait any longer and dragged both of them away to see the rest of the house.

Dinner that night was a real family affair with only Amelia, Susan and Hannah missing. Both girls though would be joining them on Monday as they headed for Sweden.

Neville was overjoyed to see his parents, and both looking so well. Not having laid eyes them since February, there was a marked improvement in their health since then with both now feeling confident they would be able to make the island holiday with the rest of the family.

Harry was a bit worried his father hadn't told him about the suspected threat from inside Gringotts before now, though fully accepted the reason that he couldn't really do anything about it while at Hogwarts. He certainly didn't intend to have a repeat of what happened over Care of Magical Creatures. Goblins spoke their minds yet Harry was finding he still hadn't grasped all the social niceties required for not upsetting non-goblin people, something he had no intention of doing that day in history class either. Thanks to Hermione and Padma, he and Neville had quickly sorted the matter between them and both were embarrassed at how swiftly that news of their tiff had raced through the castle. He would talk to his father alone later, and hopefully discover what was really going on that would make him take such cautionary action.

On the Hogwarts upside though, the electives evening went ahead without Harry's presence and with only Ronald Weasley choosing to take the Care of Magical Creatures class. This caused Harry further embarrassment over the amount of influence he clearly held amongst his fellow students. This was especially pertinent when Hermione confidently predicted that, since his views on the matter were now well known throughout the castle, not one of Crow's Marauders would choose the subject when their turn came at the end of the next term. With only one student in two years electing to take Care of Magical Creatures, the ministry would either have to change the course syllabus or Hogwarts would be forced to drop it. Since the school stopped offering divination for the new term, Harry didn't think Hogwarts could really afford to lose another elective subject.

Talk of course kept returning to next weekend's wedding, with the bride and groom to be present, that was always going to be the case. Sirius and Henrica were also spending the weekend in Kingussie before accompanying the gang to Sweden on Monday. Alice and Frank wanted their public return to magical society to be the Awards Ball so were giving the wedding a reluctant miss. Neville and Padma were also going to miss the first week in Sweden too, wanting to spent the time with Frank and Alice before arriving in Lulea on Friday with most of the adults.

Luna's thoughts were also on her family, or rather her dad. Monday was so close yet also seemed so far away to the young witch. She hadn't seen him since leaving for Hogwarts last September but the tone of his letters had began to become slightly upbeat as she allowed more of her real feelings to seep into her letters to him. It had been hard writing about how wonderful her Christmas had been but her father's reply clearly indicated that was exactly what he'd hoped to hear. After that, Luna couldn't stop writing and Eargit was kept busy delivering letters between them both. She wouldn't really need to introduce her friends to her father, he would be able to recognise them purely by the amount Luna had written about each of them.

Remus was also in a reflective mood, thinking it wasn't so long ago his only companionship was the flock of sheep he was shepherding. Now he was having dinner in this beautiful house with friends and people who considered him family for company. The reflective mood was induced by watching his best friend, a best friend he'd once thought guilty of betrayal. A decade in Azkaban had certainly changed Sirius but in some ways for the better. He could imagine a pre-prison Sirius attracting the attention of a witch like Henrica but doubted if he would have been able to hold on to her - far less propose marriage. This much more mature version though not only accomplished that but appeared to be looking forward to everything that entailed, including one day becoming a father.

This line of thought focused his mind back onto his own problem, though he was still no nearer a solution. Remus was neither stupid or naive, he could plainly see Tonks was interested in him - he just couldn't for the life of him work out why. She was young, beautiful, talented, now independently wealthy and soon to be presented with their nation's top award for bravery. Why she seemed interested in a broken down old werewolf who needed help to land his first real job since leaving Hogwarts was a mystery to him.

Remus wasn't really interested in a casual relationship, especially since Sirius was her head of house. He didn't think there was a hope in hell of anything more but would happily settle for having the beautiful young auror as a friend, he would just have to wait and see what the future brought. Tonks had made all the running so far and Remus was prepared to wait and see where that running led to.

-oOoOo-

Hermione was in shorts and sports bra while Harry wore his tunic as they raced around their property. Both agreed that what they thought was beautiful in mid February was simply breathtaking in late June. As the ran along the glen she wanted to know if Harry had discussed the Gringotts situation with his father.

His answer was a growl. "That whole family are rotten to the core! That little shit Dragonbreath is their last hope for greatness, so much so that when I started getting the better of him at about age six my father had to enter the pit and fight a duel to protect me. Sometimes I wish I hadn't dropped my sword that day he tried to hurt you..."

"Surely you don't mean that, Harry?"

They ran for a minute or so before Harry answered his mate. "The changes inside Gringotts are every bit as dramatic as those in the magical community, with reactions about the same too. Some have welcomed those changes with open arms, most will sit back and wait to see what happens before committing themselves but a few will plot to reverse these changes - and hopefully leave themselves in charge when the current system collapses. Dragonbreath and his family fall firmly into the last category."

It took another moment for Hermione to reply. "We've seen the changes in Hogwarts, changes I never thought would be possible two years ago. Couldn't Dragonbreath, or whatever his name is, change too?"

"The little shit's name is Dragontooth, I call him that because I know it annoys him and no, he won't change. People like Draco changed because it was to their advantage, both of us would change whatever we needed to in order to stay together. Fudge has played his hand brilliantly and shot up in the estimation of the Nation. Persecuting the death eaters without damaging their family's name, standing, wealth or other members probably avoided another war. Dragontooth's family would rather see the Nation fighting wizards than living amongst them, something that attacking Frank and Alice inside Gringotts would probably accomplish."

Hermione could sense Harry wasn't telling her everything and wasn't about to stand for that. "Spill it, Crow, you know you can't keep secrets from me."

"It scares me sometimes how well you know me..."

"...and never mind trying to change the subject."

"Okay, it's father. That shoulder injury healed about as well as could be expected and doesn't really bother him day to day, it does bother him with a blade in his hand. He's lost about ten percent mobility in his sword arm, not enough to trouble him unless he was fighting for his life in the pit. That ten percent could see him killed so I'm declaring myself family champion. Anyone attempting to challenge father in the pit will instead find themselves facing me."

Hermione stopped running and Harry was expecting some harsh words. Instead, she leaned in and tenderly kissed him. "Like you said, Harry, I know you so well. Certainly well enough to know you could never have reached any other decision. You nearly killed yourself attacking that basilisk to protect me, of course you're going to protect your father any way you can. Do you think it will come to that?"

"Whitefang provided the initial warning but things have quietened since father moved Frank and Alice to Kingussie. The truth is we just don't know, and that's what has us worried."

With no more needing said, they continued their run. Kingussie was almost five hundred miles from Gringotts and their time was occupied for the next month at least, most of which would see father accompanying them. For a goblin to move directly against Barchoke inside Gringotts would be suicidal, both politically and literally since the director had reintroduced father's guards. While taking precautions they couldn't let this implied threat rule their lives, they would deal with any problems if and when they arose.

Living what was considered normally for them would see the extended family attempting clay pigeon shooting today, something all the adults seemed excited about.

-oOoOo-

Excited didn't even begin to describe Luna as they prepared to head for Sweden. The group had barely recovered from the portkey arrival when she screamed 'DAD!' at the top of her voice while springing at the man who was clearly her father.

Xeno Lovegood appeared gaunt, almost frail, with his long blond hair hanging down past the shoulders of the startling scarlet and lime green striped robes he was wearing. Then again, most people would appear gaunt when standing next to Lukas Hobson.

Henrica was quickly emulating Luna by being wrapped in her parents' arms while Sirius and Remus got the rest of their group organised and pointed in the direction of where they would be staying, he'd rented six houses for a fortnight though most wouldn't be needed until Friday. Moa and Lukas were soon dispensing hugs to everyone and welcoming them to Lulea while promising the youngsters they would enjoy their stay.

Moa needed to discuss the wedding arrangements with Henrica and Sirius so Lukas took everyone else for a look around town, Remus went along too and it would be a while before either Lovegood would be parted from each other.

After spending the afternoon together, all those visiting could see why Xeno could be considered a little strange or even a touch eccentric. He appeared to have a completely different way of looking at the world around them. Being Luna's father though gained him instant acceptance within the family group, it was blindingly obvious both father and daughter doted on each other. They were all very fond of Luna and her father did tell some wonderful and certainly colourful stories, whether there was any truth in those stories was not for them to judge.

-oOoOo-

Sirius decided this was the best thing he'd ever done as he stood with Remus by his side, awaiting the arrival of his bride to be. When Henrica appeared, every male in the little church agreed wholeheartedly with Sirius Black.

Any bride who's walking down the aisle can be certain every pair of eyes in the building are focused on her, Henrica Hobson, soon to be Black, took that experience to a whole new level.

She had promised her groom he would like her dress and Henrica hadn't exaggerated, Sirius couldn't take his eyes off his bride. The dress was white but that was Henrica's only flirt with wedding tradition, this was no sweeping gown but rather a dress that's scalloped and heavily embroidered hem stopped above her knee. With a scooped front, low back that was covered by her cascading blond hair and three quarter lace sleeves, Henrica had taken the concept of the little black dress and adapted it for her wedding. The Black family tiara was the only jewellery she wore, Henrica simply didn't need any more.

Everyone agreed the adaptation was a resounding success, especially her bridesmaid. Tonks wore a similar style dress except for the colour, it was a deep shade of violet that the auror had changed her hair to match. She had no worries about outshining the bride, that was simply never going to happen, but Tonks could only hope the best man noticed her.

Sirius couldn't remember a word of the wedding ceremony, only Remus putting the rings in his hand alerted him he had some work to do. When the minister uttered the line, 'you may now kiss the bride', Sirius needed no prompting. With the cheers of their family and friends ringing in their ears, Sirius shared their first kiss as a married couple with his wife.

It wasn't until their first dance, Tonks received confirmation that Remus had indeed noticed her. "You really are quite beautiful, is this the real you?"

"More or less, my natural hair is black and my original nose slightly longer. This is my own body though, I"m glad you seem to like it. This same body requires a date for the Awards Ball, how would you feel about helping a lady out?" She waited nervously on his answer, watching the conflict play behind his eyes and hoping Remus would reach the decision she wanted.

"I've already been invited to attend by Sirius, somehow though I get the impression your invitation is slightly different. What do you think the reaction would be if a beautiful young auror turned up to collect her Order of Merlin, First Class, with a werewolf on her arm? Sending out a message like that could see you lose your job..."

"...my job prohibits me from associating with known criminals, am I going to have to arrest you any time soon?"

"I think I would only be in trouble if you could read my mind, I'm not quite sure if everything I'm currently thinking about you is strictly legal. I have to ask though, why me?"

"Remus, you're a smart, decent guy who can always make me smile, have you any idea how scarce guys like you are? I'm not talking about your furry little problem, just as you're not interested in who I can change into. We both know those traits are part of who we are but neither of us let that define who we are, I am just as interested in the real you as you seem to be in the real me."

"Well, if the real Auror Tonks requires a date for the ball arranged in her honour, Professor Lupin would be only too happy to oblige the beautiful young lady and accompany her to that special evening."

Remus was delighted to see he'd made her smile again, when he looked into those gorgeous eyes he thought that making Tonks smile was certainly a job he would be a bloody fool not to apply for.

-oOoO-

The missing marauder was currently about two and a half thousand miles from his former friends, the eyes he was staring into though were a million miles away from those currently being enjoyed by Remus and Sirius. For a start, this pair were glowing red and staring at him from the eyes of a humongous snake.

His mind was also wandering too but it wasn't wandering alone, he felt his master's presence as his journey to Albania played back for the dark lord to view. Peter could feel his master's anger growing with each new revelation but seeing the Malfoy trial in the Prophet ended the communication between master and servant, it ended because Peter lost conscious.

The only way Peter could describe the agony was to say that it felt as if the dark lord just stuck his wand into his victim's ear before then casting his most powerful cruciatus curse. Peter had never felt pain like that in his life before - and would be exceedingly happy never to have a repeat performance.

His body was still trembling as he slowly regained his senses, senses that were telling him there was a massive snake just waiting to have him for supper. It was almost as if he was feeling his master's voice inside his head, Peter certainly couldn't understand what the reptile was hissing at him.

"Res-s-st, Wormtail, we have much to do. There are certain people that need to be rewarded while others-s-s have outlived their us-sefulnes-s-s-s, s-something I intend to remedy at the earlies-st opportunity. You are now on the reward lis-s-st, fail me again and you can join the other. Thos-s-se on that lis-s-st are already dead, they jus-st don't know it yet!"

Maniacal laughter now filled his head, Peter just wasn't sure if any of it was coming from him or whether it was all Lord Voldemort.

-oOoOo-

Draco was lying in a strange bed, struggling with himself not to break into maniacal laughter at the day he'd just had. He was worried that if he started, it would be impossible to stop. Thinking that talking to his roommate might help, Draco gave it a try. "Blaise, are you still awake?"

"No, Draco, fell right off to sleep the moment my head hit the pillow. My brain feels as if we're still on one of those coaster things, it's whizzing around at speed and I'm sure it turned upside down at least once."

"I know exactly what you mean, the world we thought we knew just got turned upside down today."

"Draco, I thought sitting with the girls at the pool yesterday was the greatest day of my life. Today just blasted that to smithereens. We took a boat ride through a jungle, saw pirates and were shooting down a water slide while sitting inside a log - how are you supposed to deal with all that?"

"I used to think having a good time was attending parties and looking down your nose at those lower in class than us, I actually used to practiced my 'you're unworthy' sneer in the mirror. The muggles have built a whole magical kingdom to do nothing but have fun in, and they really know how to have fun!"

"Draco, I'm beginning to wonder what else we've been told that isn't true. Did you see Hermione in that bikini thing yesterday, MERLIN! She's a muggle born yet smarter and more powerful than both of us - she's also gorgeous, an Order of Merlin, First Class, holder and blood bonded to Harry. How the hell does that fit with anything we've been taught as purebloods?"

"I would be very careful saying that out loud, Blaise. You wouldn't want to upset your girlfriend, and certainly not her sister or any of the others."

"Oh I'm happy with Parvati, that's not what I meant. We're both purebloods yet I can honestly say Hermione is way out of our league, even though she's a muggle born. I can see that yet it goes directly against everything we've both been taught. Something obviously isn't right but how can we not believe what we're both seeing with our own eyes."

"I think we'll both need our eyes tested after tomorrow. Do you really believe muggles can fire themselves into space using rockets?"

"Shit, Draco, I'm barely coping with what we saw today, I don't think I can cope with tomorrow."

-oOoOo-

Tomorrow, the ball was tomorrow and Augustus was ready - he'd been ready for a couple of weeks. He'd spent those weeks refining his plan until he couldn't make the slightest improvement to it, it now all came down to tomorrow.

It really could only end one of two ways, tomorrow would either be the greatest day in Augustus Rookwood's life or his last. His distilled and refined plan now saw him and Bella standing at their master's side, the dark lord's two most trusted advisors and enforcers. While he would be the brains of the duo, their was no doubting who held the power. Bellatrix was the most powerful witch Augustus had ever laid eyes on, she was also as beautiful as she was crazy - which added another level of danger to tomorrow.

No matter how well he planned and schemed Augustus was faced with only one utter certainty, he had no idea how Bella would react when he approached her with this scheme tomorrow. The best he could calculate the odds were fifty - fifty, meaning there was as much chance of Bella killing him as there was the dementors, guards or that swim.

When his sensible side objected to him taking such a risk, it was swiftly clobbered into submission by the image of Bella standing at his side. Now there was a reason worth living, or dying for.

A/N thanks for reading

A/N 2 - thanks to those who took the time to offer suggestions for chapter titles, I am working through them. Next chapter 60 - Birthday Ball Breakout