Disclaimer: Harry Potter, its works and all its characters belong to the ever wonderful J.K. Rowling. Serorian, his kin and all those that hunt him are mine.

Again, thank you for all follows, favourites, reviews and reads. I dance in my seat every time I get a new alert. I'm IN NEED OF A BETA. Seriously, so bad. See the bottom of the page for details.

Several of you have asked questions regarding the meaning behind what Ragnorak said to Serorian in Gringotts, and a number of you also asked about Severus. I'm hoping some of those questions will be answered in this chapter. If not… well, they'll be answered sooner or later. No spoliers, sweeties!

Warning: Do I even need to say this anymore? This story is slash. If you haven't realised this by now, then… um, you really should have?

By the time all information had been imparted, it was approaching afternoon. Snape had been rendered mute by all that he had been told, and now sat pensively in an austere armchair, mindless to the dust smudged upon his dark clothes. Serorian, meanwhile, had begun to all but glow – in a manner not dissimilar to the phoenix perched upon his knee.

Harry could sense his soulmate's excitement down the bond – relief, laughter, awe – even affection. The cause of these emotions, however, he couldn't fathom. As it turned out, Serorian wasn't inclined to share either.

'Why won't you tell us?'

'It is not my tale to tell, Beloved.'

The elf seemed to share a secretive smile with the phoenix, before grasping his love's hand apologetically,

'Were it my place, I would tell you in a heartbeat, but it is not. You will hear the tale soon enough however, so do not fear. For now, I must help our feathered friend, so that he may help us.'

'Help Fawkes?'

'Indeed, it is not by his own will that he is tethered to your Headmaster. Due to a… particular set of circumstances, Fawkes was bound to the school of Hogwarts, charged with the task of assisting those who fall within its jurisdiction in times of need. Dumbledore, as Headmaster, is also connected magically to the school. It is through this link that he has effectively tethered Fawkes to him. Fawkes, by his oath, is honour bound to serve – regardless of his will in the matter. He is a slave to Dumbledore's will.'

Harry was horrorstruck, and Remus similarly so – though having known of the Headmaster's less than saintly ways for some years, dealt with it much quicker,

'Can we free Fawkes somehow?'

The phoenix crooned, causing the elf to smile before he looked to the werewolf,

'He says he knew he liked you for a reason. Yes, it can be done, and quite simply considering what I am and where I'm from. The link he has with Dumbledore is not a soulbond – I thank the Great Mother for that – so will not transcend worlds. Fawkes is forbidden by his so-called master to seek out a gateway to the Immortal Realm, but that does not prevent me from showing him where one is, nor does it prevent him from going through. As Fawkes departs the gateway into my realm, the magical bond will go into stasis – it will be affected neither one way nor another. This dear phoenix will take my message to Elwing, show him the route to safe passage, and then he shall remain within the Immortal Realm to seek out the one who may rid him of his unwilling bond.'

'It's as simple as that?'

Serorian nodded, smiling at his soulmate's incredulous tone,

'I think that the extreme unlikelihood of Fawkes ever meeting an elf, let alone one with access to a viable gate, rather reassured Dumbledore that his foul bond could never be broken.'

The elf stood decisively stretching out his long limbs, Fawkes settling happily upon his shoulder, and amusement shivered down the bond as Harry eyed his soulmate's lean body with appreciation.

'I shall leave now. The sooner our winged friend is through the gate the better.'

With a sparkle in his eye born of excitement, relief and love, Sero strode forward, pressing a kiss to his Beloved's lips, then pulled back a little, expression soft,

'I love you.'

With that quietly sincere statement, the elf took a couple of steps back, disappearing into the shadows which seemed to swell eagerly to accept him. The last they saw of the pair were their eyes, and then they too winked out of existence.

Snape made a strangled sound from where he sat, knuckles whitening as his elegant hands tightened upon the chair arms.

'Did he just…?'

Harry waved his hand absently, gaze unmoved from the shadows by which Sero had exited,

'Shadow walking – he does it a lot.'

He stared after the elf, feeling an odd mixture of happiness and worry. His love's behaviour in the halls of Gringotts, and his reaction to Ragnorak's taunting plagued him. The feeling of being so cut off from the elf's emotions had been almost painful, leaving him empty and cold. He could only imagine what horrendous emotion had prompted such desperate measures.


The green eyed wizard blinked and turned, realising that his Godfather had been attempting to catch his attention for some time. The werewolf examined him carefully, brow furrowed with concern,

'Are you okay?'

Harry shrugged, forcing his worry away and a shallow facsimile of a smile onto his face,

'Yeah… I just have a lot to think about. Would you look through this folder with me? I don't really know what's in it.'

Remus smiled kindly, accepting the distraction for what it was,

'Sure. Severus might be of more use though – he knows a lot more about managing finances than me.'

Harry didn't comment, not really wanting to commit himself one way or another and just flipped open the folder to stare blankly at the first sheet. It took a long moment for what he was seeing to register properly, and even then he could scarcely believe it,


The werewolf peered over his shoulder curiously, wondering what had caused his Godson's bug-eyed reaction, and then whistled in amazement,

'That's… well… That's a hell of a lot of money. I knew your father was rich – I guess I never really considered just how rich.'

Severus scoffed from where he still sat, seemingly having recovered enough from his earlier shock to fix his familiar sneer into place,

'Oh please, everyone knows the Potter's were stinking rich. Not quite in the same league as the Malfoy's, but close enough.'

Harry began rifling through the papers,

'It's not just the Potter's though – look!'

He briefly read a neatly printed note,

'Ragnorak says they're the bank accounts of people whose family lines ended after the first war – they left everything they had to me! Why would they do that!? They don't even know me!'

Remus was looking through the papers, humming every now and again as he spotted names that he recognised,

'I guess it was their way of supporting the cause. Who better to leave their fortunes to, than the orphaned wizard who defeated the Dark Lord?'

Snape wandered over, levitating his chair closer, and began to sort through the papers too. There was quiet for a while, the only sound in the room was the rustling of paper and various sounds of amusement, shock or contemplation. Then Harry froze, staring at the contents of a slim sub-folder.

'Oh my God.'

Remus quirked an eyebrow, lowering the small leger he'd been reading,

'What is it?'

Hand shaking somewhat, the younger wizard handed him the folder and rested his head in his hands for a moment,

'Please tell me that doesn't say what I think it says.'

The werewolf slowly sat back as his eyes gradually moved down the page his Godson had been reading, and then sighed sadly,

'Oh, Cub…'

The Boy-Who-Lived let out a shaky sigh, rubbing his hands over his face tiredly,

'I was hoping you'd say I'd gotten it wrong.'


The elder wizards started, not having sensed the elf re-entering the room. Serorian was blind to their reactions however, focused instead on his soulmate. Gently he grasped him by the shoulders, kneeling before him to better see the desolation in emerald eyes – so clearly matched by that twisting down their bond,

'I could feel your distress, my love. What saddens you so?'

He read the clear need to be held even without Harry having to speak it, and moved closer to the chair, frowning as the suddenly mute teenager immediately buried himself in the elf's offered arms.

Remus sighed where he sat, handing the folder over to the impatient Slytherin while keeping his eyes on the elf, who looked to him instead for answer,

'It seems that Molly Weasley has been receiving money from Harry's accounts for the past couple of years. Albus Dumbledore authorized the transaction. Not only that –the Dursleys have been receiving payment too.'

Snape piped up, having continued reading through the rest of the folder with practiced ease, flipping the pages rapidly with his pale, elegant fingers,

'Dumbledore has been hedging funds too. He's cleared out an entire vault over the course of a decade – millions of Galleons worth. There's no indication that the rest of the Weasley clan knew of it, however.'

Remus nodded his head in agreement, casually pinching the file back off the Slytherin and ignoring the scowl he got in return, to read through the first page again,

'The money goes into Molly's own account – the one under her maiden name, Prewett. I'm guessing that she uses it to bolster the Weasley account, and simply pretends that it's from her savings. Arthur is an honourable man – there's no way he'd accept the money if he knew where it was really coming from.'

Harry let out an explosive sigh and let the elf shift them so that they were sharing the seat, and he was curled comfortably against Serorian's side,

'I guess we know why she was so twitchy this morning then. She must be in cahoots with Dumbledore, and knew that if I saw the will, she'd no longer get the money.'

'That seems likely.'

'Dumbledore can't touch my money now though… right?'

'He has no legal right to access it any longer.'

'And I won't have to return to the Dursleys?'

The older wizards exchanged a glance, Remus looking unsure,

'I don't really know. Considering Sirius is somewhat… incapacitated at the moment…'

Serorian hummed lightly, a somewhat dangerous glint in his eyes,

'You need not worry, my love. Even if you were to return, I would not stand for your so-called family's mistreatment of you. I can be most… inventive in my punishments.'

Harry smiled slightly at the mischievousness emanating down the bond, certain that whatever he was plotting would certainly be amusing. Remus eyed the familiar expression on a less familiar face fondly before moving on,

'Speaking of punishments – should we go face ours? I'd rather have an argument free dinner, if you don't mind.'

Harry sighed reluctantly, but nodded his agreement all the same,

'I guess.'

Remus chuckled at his Godson's obvious misgivings about facing a room full of judgemental and overprotective witches and wizards, but could definitely empathise,

'Don't worry, Cub, I daresay Severus and I will be receiving a share of the reprimand.'

The Boy-Who-Lived scowled slightly at the idea of judgemental eyes being turned upon his Godfather, especially those of the Headmaster. Well, he had vowed to stand up for himself from now on hadn't he? And be clear about his opinion of Dumbledore? This was a good an opportunity as any to clear the air. There was no reason why he couldn't defend his allies at the same time. Determination made his eyes glitter darkly, and he turned those jaded eyes upon his comrades,

'I'll say it now, so you're ready. I'm not going to hold back any more, so you may want to ready your wands. The last time I spoke back, Dumbles tried to mind-fuck me, so Merlin knows what he'll try this time.'

Remus outright growled at the reminder, eyes glinting amber for a moment and a somewhat vicious grin stretching across his cheeks,

'Ah yes, I've been wanting to have a little word with our esteemed Headmaster about that. This seems a good time as any, don't you think?'

The werewolf strode out the door, apparently eager for the fight, and Severus wasn't far behind with a bloodthirsty look in his eyes – there went a man who loved carnage. Harry shook his head absently and reluctantly climbed out of the chair, and from his soulmate's embrace. Serorian stood, and they stared at one another for a moment – Harry admiring that exotically beautiful face in the gentle light, and the elf simply content to be nearby. Trepidation, feeling strangely like an itch, thrummed down the bond.

Serorian smiled suddenly, pressed gentle fingers against his Beloved's chin to tip it upwards and kissed him lovingly. Harry sighed pleasurably, going to his tiptoes slightly to prolong the lingering contact as long as possible. Sooty eyelashes fluttered over emerald green as the elf pulled back slightly, resting forehead to forehead in an oddly comforting manner while gentle fingers continued to caress the warm skin of the wizard's jaw and neck,

'I know you have had a trying day, my love, but it is soon to be over. Whatever happens over the next few hours, days or years I shall be with you – always. Remember that and allow it to strengthen you. You aren't alone – you are not, and never shall be again. Remus loves you, your true Godfather is safe and you have an ally in Severus. I do not doubt that you shall make enemies today, Dumbledore not least of them, but I also know you will receive the trust of others. Speak from the heart – that is all you can do.'

Harry kept his eyes closed, firmly holding back the tears that wanted to emerge. It was a mixture of tiredness, betrayal and dread – but there was a persistent thread of happiness. He knew his elf spoke the truth.

'What about Molly? All these years… I thought she just loved me because I'm Harry, and now it turns out…'

He swallowed, unable to get the words out, having to fight all the harder to supress the sting of tears. That was the thing that was upsetting him more than anything else. The Weasleys were the only family he could remember having – how much of that was a lie? How many more of his so called family had betrayed his trust? He didn't really care about the money, it meant little to him, but the fact that it had been stolen from him by a woman he'd looked to as a mother… That hurt.

Serorian kissed him lightly again, on the lips, the tip of his nose, his forehead. Finally shifting so that they could embrace, Harry breathing unsteadily into the nook of the elf's neck and allowing the sweet rich scent to ground him.

'I have been thinking on that, Beloved. The papers, they only told of where the money had gone and by whose order, did they not? We know nothing beyond that. Don't you think, for the sake of those you would call family, you should hear Molly's side of the story first? Dumbledore seems to have a habit of manipulating people – who's to say this is not a result of the same?'

The teenager thought on this, nuzzling absently into his love's hold. The elf continued to hold him lightly, a soft purr rumbling through his chest, soothing the wizard immeasurably.

Harry's mind turned to his interactions over the years with the Weasleys. There was genuine warmth there, kindness and affection. Surely that couldn't have been faked? Molly fretted over him just as much as she did her own children, the siblings treated him like one of their own without even seeming to think about it, and Arthur…

The idea that the kind, somewhat bumbling man could have a deceptive bone in his body seemed discordant with the very fabric of reality.

The teenager exhaled sharply, fed up of feeling so uncertain of those around him. Decisively he stepped back from the warm embrace – he'd give Molly the benefit of the doubt. Like Sero said – he didn't know all the facts. No point in jumping to a conclusion without finding out more. The last time he'd done that, he'd lost Sirius.

'Okay then, let's do this.'

Serorian's proud smile sent tingles racing through his body, and he felt himself stand straighter under the warm gaze. Without another word, the elf transformed into his cat form, purring quietly as he was picked up and cradled close,

'Thanks, Sero.'

The feline meowed in reply, love and affection swelling the bond. Harry pressed a kiss into the soft fur between twitching ears, and then walked quickly out of the room, aware that they'd delayed by a good few minutes. Remus and Snape were waiting for them at the foot of the stairs – the first looking serene, though danger lurked behind the pleasant smile, and the second simply impatient.

'Sorry, needed Sero to straighten out my head first.'

Obsidian eyes darted to the cat,

'I'll believe it when I see it – I've found your way of thinking to be distinctly spherical in the past.'

The snarky tone was strangely reassuring considering the circumstances, and Harry was startled to recognize a glint of humour in the words. Remus snorted, genuine amusement turning up his lips,

'This coming from the man with a mind like a Bludger…'

A strange expression passed over the Potion's Master's sallow features – as if he couldn't decide whether he'd been complimented or insulted – but he sneered the words away,

'Better that, than a particularly soft Quaffle.'

A quirk of expressive eyebrows clearly indicated exactly who he was referring to, and the werewolf sputtered for a moment before laughing at what was definitely an insult. Harry grinned briefly, able to see now he was looking objectively, that what he would have at one time considered a cruel insult was actually banter. Or as close to it as the snarky spy was able. Plus, it was always nice to hear Remus laugh.

The good humour was enough to ease the last of his nerves. With a somewhat resigned grin, Harry nodded towards the kitchen door,

'Shall we go bust a few balls then? And I'm not talking Quidditch, unlike you weirdos…'

Snape's lips twitched at this, and he regally nodded his acquiescence in a slightly mocking manner. Remus, still smiling, ushered the teenager forwards – allowing him to take the lead.

Harry paused outside the door to take a deep breath. Serorian purred in his arms, and he smiled gratefully at the unerring love that pulsed down their bond. He really wasn't looking forward to this. He steeled himself, setting a bored expression on his face, and wandered into the noisy room. Having Remus and Snape at his back was oddly comforting when silence fell immediately throughout the previously rowdy room. Everyone appeared to be present – a good 30 or so people. Tonks, Kingsley, Mad –Eye – even Mundungus – were there, and they were the few that he recognised. The only people not there were the ones not officially in the Order – in other words the Weasley children, aside from the twins, and Hermione. The Boy-Who-Lived stopped his progress into the room and raised an eyebrow, feigning surprise as he studied the large number of people packed into the cosy space,

'All this 'cause I went to the bank? Or is there another meeting going on that I'm not allowed to be involved in – 'cause you know, I'm so delicate and all?'

'Harry –'

At the increasingly despised voice in that particular scolding tone, the green eyed teen turned to find that Dumbledore had been lurking by the entrance, and was now dramatically closing the door and locking it ominously behind him. Carelessly the teenager cut through whatever the old man was about to say,

'I thought I'd told you before Dumbledore, you lost all rights to my first name yesterday – it's Lord Potter to you.'

Sombre blue eyes flickered to the ring on his finger and up again, but Dumbledore didn't say a word, as if trying to ascertain how much the teenager knew by sight alone. Pointedly Harry tapped his forehead,

'Sorry old man, access denied and all that.'

'Mr Potter, you really shouldn't have disappeared without permission this morning. The danger you put yourself and your companions in –'

Harry snorted, shrugging the manipulative words away, ignoring the grandfather persona and disappointed tone. Dumbledore knew his weakness – his fear of others being hurt or killed because of him – but he would no longer be allowed to exploit it.

'They're perfectly capable of looking after themselves. Anyway, I'm in danger by the mere fact that I exist, and I trust Remus and Snape to keep me safe, which is more than I can say for you.'

'Harry, don't be so rude!'

He shot a defiant look towards the indignant Weasley matron,

'I'll say what I damn well like, thank you very much. I'll treat Dumbledore with respect when he earns it, and not a moment before. As for you… Did you really think I wouldn't find out?'

Molly visibly blanched, blue eyes immediately filling with tears and dread. The formidable woman seemed to shrink into herself, looking remarkably timid even as Arthur placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and frowned over the dark haired teen,

'Harry, what…?'

There was clear confusion in the warm brown eyes, and an equal measure of protectiveness. Across the room, the twins had straightened and their expressions were unusually serious. None of them liked to see the Weasley matron upset, and she clearly was.

'I'll deal with that in a second. My first question goes to one Albus Dumbledore, supposed paragon of all that is good and right in the world. Care to tell me how exactly you thought you were going to get away with stealing millions of Galleons from my inheritance? Or were you simply betting on the likelihood that I'd die before I got the chance to find out?'

Harry quirked a demanding eyebrow at the elderly wizard, doing his best to imitate Professor Snape's oftentimes snarky tone. Mutters sprang up around the room, and somewhat caged blue eyes darted around the room. The Headmaster cleared his throat, maintaining his usual aura of levity,

'Harry –'

'I will not tell you again!'

Silence fell again at the stern words. Dumbledore amended his words as if put upon,

'Lord Potter, I'm your legal magical guardian and as such I have the right to invest at least some of your funds as I see fit. Most if not all has gone towards the war effort, I assure you. The issue today is that you recklessly -'

Harry scoffed, absently allowing Sero to slip onto the ground where the feline could lean tensely against his ankle,

'Bullshit! Do you know what I find interesting? It turns out my parents trusted you just about as much as I do. Good job too, considering you burned the Will that they left in your care. Luckily they had the foresight to write another without your knowledge – would you like to take a guess at what it said? 'Harry Potter is not to be left in the guardianship of Petunia Dursley, nee Evans, or her family under any circumstances. Nor is he to be left in the care of one Albus Dumbledore.' Strange isn't it –that you've so adamantly opposed those instructions.'

Sharp eyes didn't miss the calculating expression that flickered over Dumbledore's face, and determined to speak his mind without interruption, Harry continued over the new muttering that had sprung up around the room,

'Not only that, you've been paying the Dursleys for my upkeep. Which is strange, because you'd think they'd treat their meal ticket a little better than they did. Did you ever check up on me once, or did you just not care that while you and they were rolling in my parents' money, I was sleeping in a fucking cupboard?!'

He span on spot, the scent of o-zone filling the room, and some unseeable force pressing uncomfortably against its occupants. Magic crackled like lightning in suddenly furious green eyes as the teenager rounded on the woman he'd thought of as a mother,

'Even worse, you've been paying one Molly Prewett, someone I thought of as true family, with my money! The fact that I had to even consider whether the rest of my so-called family were in on it too… whether they too had betrayed me in favour of a little gold…'

Harry choked on his own words, too furious to speak for a moment, blind to the way the present Weasley males were staring disbelievingly at the quietly weeping family matron. Quickly he span again, fixing the Headmaster with a venomous glare, voice reduced to a near hiss,

'Wasn't in enough that you ignored my parents' last instructions? Wasn't it enough that you submitted me to a hellish childhood, that you stole from me, that you've orchestrated my life as if I were nothing more than a puppet for your enjoyment? Did you really need to bribe someone to love me too? What kind of love is that!? What right do you have to treat me this way!? I deserve better!'

He yelled the last few words, satisfied as Dumbledore flinched back into the wall with a light thump. His words rang into the breathless quiet of the room, the pervading sound being his own harsh breaths. Harry rolled his shoulders, struggling to dispel the anger that roiled under his skin, letting out a sustained calming breath as love soothed down the bond. The scent of o-zone disappeared as he regained control, and a few people fidgeted as their ears popped – the strange pressure easing at the same time. Voice hoarse Harry continued, by now just wanting to be as far away from these people as possible.

'So I'm done, okay? Whatever favour you wanted from me this evening, Dumbledore, you can forget it. Frankly I don't want to see, or be anywhere near you for the foreseeable future, nor the Order or anyone else who looks to you for guidance. I'm sick of being manipulated, lied to and used – of being treated like an unfeeling object, a child, and a martyr in turns. You want something from me, you ask, and I reserve the right to tell you to go screw yourself. Until it's proven to me that any of you can be trusted, leave me the hell alone.'

He strode towards the door and paused before leaving. His gaze fixated on Dumbledore who was still stood rigidly beside the door, blue eyes chaotic. Harry could all but see the cogs turning as the older wizard recalculated plans and shuffled the pieces on his mental chessboard.

'Oh, and by the way.'

The door clicked open before him, causing the older man to jump and regard first the door and then Harry with startled realisation,

'If you so much as raise your voice to Remus or Snape for all they've done for me today, I'll bring down the full force of the Noble Houses of Potter and Black on your sorry arse, war be damned. I have leverage now, and I'll happily use it. Don't test me.'

Darkened emerald green held chaotic blue for one long challenging moment and then Harry strode from the room, head held high. He made his way upstairs, leaving a proud Remus and mildly smirking Snape in his wake. As he reached the top of the stairs, noise seemed to explode from the room he'd just left, the loudest of these – amazingly – belonging to the usually quiet and kindly Arthur Weasley.

'What in Merlin's name have you done!?'

Remus' mock-cheerful voice interjected, clearly heard, as if he stood near the door,

'Where would you like to start – theft, extortion, abuse of a minor, mind-rape or manipulation? Or how about how fucking suicidality stupid you have to be to mess with a werewolf's Cub, Dumbledore…'

The door clicked quietly shut on the resulting chaos, and Harry heaved out a sigh, pausing for a moment to catch his breath. Green eyes fluttered closed tiredly as the young wizard rubbed his tense and aching shoulders.


The teen flinched, startled by the quiet voice, and turned abruptly to find Ron, Ginny and Hermione sat on the bottom of the next flight of stairs looking determined, the latter having addressed him. He almost groaned out loud – after the hellish day he'd had, the last thing he wanted was a confrontation with his friends. With a forced smile, he turned to face them,

'Hey, sorry – didn't see you there.'

Hermione waved away his apology and stood to approach him, eyes intent. She had that expression on her face – the one that said she was gearing up to demand an explanation, and she'd get it come hell or high water,

'Harry, what's going on? Did you really go to Gringotts?'

The wizard sighed and ran a hand through his hair, unknowingly making his hair even messier than usual,

'Look, I'm knackered okay? Can we do this some other time, like when I'm not liable to fall asleep part way through?'

Ginny pulled a mildly offended expression, arms crossed tightly over her chest, and eyes glinting with typical Weasley stubbornness,

'Do what Harry? We're just worried about you. You haven't exactly given the impression of being emotionally stable recently.'

Harry barked out a hollow laugh,

'Stable? What would I know about being stable? I meant, do we really have to do the whole 'we're worried about you, this is what you did wrong, this is what you should have done, you should listen to Dumbledore' spiel. I mean, thank you for caring and everything, but I'm about 20 seconds away from screaming and would really appreciate if you would let me go upstairs and sleep. Preferably, before I give in to the urge to maim someone.'

There was a purr from beside him, and Sero butted against his ankle, drawing an irrepressible smile from the teenager, small but there. Large soulful eyes stared up at him, and Harry laughed lightly, picking up the feline and allowing it to settle nimbly on his shoulder. Absently he scratched Sero's neck, feeling a familiar sense of tiredness on the other side of the bond which only served to add to his own, causing his shoulders to sag slightly and his spine to bow.

'Hey, mate – why was Dad yelling? It's just… I can count on one hand the number of times he's raised his voice in the last decade… and it only ever means someone's done something really, really bad… or threatened one of us…'

Green eyes settled on worried blue, Ron evidently having been distracted from Hermione's 'plan' due to his concern for his family. Harry patted him reassuringly on the shoulder as he slipped by; dodging the determined witch's grasping hand as he went,

'You should ask your Mum when you see her next – she knows more than I do.'

He continued up the stairs, one heavy footstep at a time, ignoring Hermione calling after him in frustration, and escaping quickly to Lord Black's library. At least this way no-one could follow him. With a groan he flopped down on the sofa, rubbing tiredly at his eyes and grumbling about the headache that felt like it was beginning to squeeze his head in a vice.

Gentle hands removed his glasses, and then calloused fingers pressed lightly against his aching forehead, sweeping the tension away with practiced strokes. Harry sighed blissfully, his pain chased away by the seemingly magical touch, luxuriating in the love emanating from the elf. There was only one thing wrong with this situation, in his opinion.

Blindly the teen grasped Serorian by the shoulder, pulling the unprotestingly docile elf closer until the lithe warm body rested upon his with satisfying weight. Inspiring feelings of safety and relaxation in much the same was as a nice heavy feather duvet would. The elf shifted a few times – first to nuzzle into the nook of Harry's neck, to wrap a strong arm around a slim waist, and to comfortably settle a firmly muscled leg between the wizard's. In turn deceptively thin arms gripped the elf round his shoulders, clever fingers delicately wending their way through the burgundy hair that fell there.

Harry sighed again; loving the way he felt utterly surrounded by warmth – the cushioning of the sofa cradling him as much as his Intended was – and let his thoughts drift. It didn't take long, within the safety of that secret room, for them to fall into a much needed doze.

The rest of the day was spent in much the same way, both of them quite contently hiding away in Lord Black's library. They woke occasionally to talk or to switch positions, but didn't bother moving or eating lunch beyond the strange tangy but sweet fruit Sero produced from some hidden pocket. By the time evening came around Sero was once again curled up against his soulmate, resting contently against the wizard's stomach and purring as fingers ran through his hair.

'Hey, Sero?'

The elf made a muffled, wordless sound which Harry took as permission to speak further,

'Why did you cut off our bond in the bank? And why did Ragnorak's words upset you so much?'

Strong muscles flexed briefly, steely arms tightening around Harry's waist before they relaxed again, but then the elf sighed and spoke, forcefully serene,

'The prison the goblin lord spoke of, Scathach in the elven tongue, doubles as a mine. The prisoners there are forced into heavy manual labour – digging tunnels and seeking out precious metals in even the most dangerous conditions. It was cramped and dark in those tunnels – even an elf could barely see, let alone stand fully – and we would be constantly on edge in fear of other prisoners, or injury, the guards or structural failures. I lost count of the number of cave ins and wall collapses I was involved in, but every time, the fear of entrapment and a cold, slow, desperate death became all the greater. We're an adaptable species, the elven kind, we are capable of living underground… but the Cursed elves I know, my cellmates too, no matter how strong of heart or mind they are, came to hate such tunnels. I have not been able to stand such closed conditions ever since, nor all-encompassing dark or the scent of damp rock and death in confined spaces. The corridors of that bank, I have seen their like before, dug into the pits of Scathach by goblin hands. Those imprisoned with us taught us all they could so that we might dig safely, but still there were accidents. I was merely reminded of that hellish existence this day, and did not want my dark feelings to affect you. They are mine to bear. I would not wish them on anyone else.'

The elf shuddered, an echo of those feelings trickling down the bond before they were ruthlessly contained. Emerald eyes wide, the wizard held his soulmate closer, sickened by the information. He had known his elf had been imprisoned, and that life there was less than okay, but even so…

Voice strained, Sero continued, even as once languid muscled tightened beneath the loving hold,

'As for the second. It was a prison for the damned and the hopeless – the worst of the worst. It was not only goodly Cursed who were locked up there, and the guards were of a cruel sort. It did not matter to those who put us there, what our fate was to be, and so we suffered. All there suffered. I did my best to protect who I could, but even so… the things I saw there… death and worse…'

The elf shuddered again, grip tightening further, and muscles tensing with recalled horror, but Sero gritted his teeth and continued none-the-less,

'The goblin-chief is no doubt aware of me through his kin, and though I tried to save all I could goblin or no, he likely sees my failure to do so as a personal affront. He sought to strike at the heart of me – where guilt runs the deepest… but I have had a long time to come to terms with my failures. Ragnorak has not said anything that I haven't already said to myself. I can see now that I cannot be held responsible for the actions of others, nor can I be everywhere at once. Though I wish with all my heart that none had died under my watch, I cannot withhold the swing of Fate's cruel hand, or control another's will. I did all that I could. I am but one – no-one is more aware of that than I.'

Harry continued to run his fingers soothingly through silky wine-tinted hair, even as his soulmate lay rigidly in his arms, clearly distressed by the topic even if he didn't say such. It was clear that Sero had been knocked from his usual stable emotional footing, because Harry could for once sense beyond that typical veneer of calm his elf exuded. Where on the surface his love was a placid and serene lake, an ocean roiled beneath – a tangled rush of emotion: shame, pain, worry, fear and horror most prominent of all. Harry got the feeling that this maelstrom wasn't entirely a new thing. It lingered in Sero's psyche like a cancerous growth, ebbing and flowing perhaps, but never entirely disappearing. It stood to reason, the wizard thought, after so many decades of persecution. It was a wonder Sero was still sane, let alone still alive.

Determined to ignore the signs of a torturous past for the time being, Harry tugged his elf further up, arching slightly to press an unmistakably loving kiss to scarred lips. Serorian made a muffled sound of surprise, but willingly pressed closer. By increments the tension leached from Sero – love and affection soothing back the dark tide of emotion until the elf was languid with it once more.

The elf sighed happily as they broke apart, laying his cheek against Harry's sternum, contently listening to the beautiful heart that thrummed there, and allowing its beat to lure him into sleep though his ears remained alert for trouble.

Harry smiled down at the peaceful visage, glad that he had managed to soothe the elf, and somewhat amazed that he held such power over this incredible creature. At the same time, the words he'd spoken had struck a chord in Harry.

He carried the same burden of guilt that Sero had spoken of – first for Cedric, and then for Sirius. To some extent for his parents too, and every new casualty he read about week after week in the newspaper. The revelation that Sirius was still alive had helped some, but the other fatalities still weighed him down. However… what Sero had said made sense. Harry was just one person, one wizard – and not even a fully grown one at that. He couldn't be everywhere at once, any more than he could control the actions of Voldemort and his followers, or the hand of Fate which signed his parents' death warrants. True, it could be argued that he should have defeated the Dark Lord by now – that the blame fell on him for all the deaths since his birth, simply because Voldemort continued to live. But… he was a sixteen year old boy – not even at the peak of his magical ability – if he charged into the situation now, the only thing that was likely to happen would be his own death… and then there truly would be no-one to stop the genocide Voldemort had planned. That was his only obligation to this war – to become strong enough, to work endlessly until the day came that he could defeat Voldemort once and for all.

Cedric's blood was on Voldemort's hands and to some extent Pettigrew's. The Death Eaters' hands were stained with the gore they'd wreaked by their Master's order… and that was where the blame logically ended. It wasn't his fault. None of it.

The realisation slowly permeated through him, and he laughed a little, voice light with relief,

'It's not my fault.'

Overjoyed, he laughed again, and hugged Serorian closely. The elf muttered some lyrical nonsense and snuggled closer, sighing as he settled down once more. Veins fizzing with affection, the wizard pressed a kiss into his soulmate's fine hair and grinned. Even without intent, Sero helped him - releasing him from a burden the elf wasn't even aware existed. And elven society dared call this miraculous being Cursed? Serorian was a blessing, and Harry would make sure he knew it too – even if it took an eternity.

R&R if you want.

I'm in serious need of a beta – I tried through the beta service, but I haven't had any replies yet, so I thought I'd turn to my faithful followers. I'm okay for spelling and grammar (mostly), I just need a sounding board for ideas, and for someone to keep an eye on characterisation and plot consistency (there's a lot going on, and it's giving me a headache). This means access to my notes, plans and pre-written/partly-written (~10 of them) chapters. In other words, spoliers. Anyone up for it, just send me a PM (though note that the story will include background het and femslash, as well as the already established slash. It also contains a hell of a lot of OC's, and will – at some point – deviate into an AU, so only apply if you're comfortable with all that). Thanks!

P.S. I'm aware that this story is moving slowly, and that it's high time that I left Grimmauld Place behind. Don't worry – hopefully Hogwarts is the destination for the next chapter! Chapter 9 may change in the future, as I'm not entirely happy with it.