Chapter 8: Celebration
Short A/N: It's been over a year. Sorry. I've grown a lot, so please don't be too mad if my writing style has changed. More at the end.
To say that Griphook was surprised by his new assignment would have been a gross an understatement. He wasn't a senior Goblin in any stretch of imagination, and even if he were, he wouldn't have been considered in line for promotion to the position of account manager of anyone's accounts, much less to that of a prominent family. For him to go from a lowly junior teller in the least prestigious department - the one that deals with ordinary wizards face to face, to one of the most desirable positions available was almost incomprehensible. Griphook was sure that if the decision for appointing a new account manager for the combined Potter and Black estates had been left to the goblins, a bunch of honor duels to the death would have been fought in order to settle the dispute of appointment.
So when he was called to the office of none other than Ragnok himself - a highly irregular occurrence in itself since normally his job outside of manning his teller was just to bring important visitors there, he feared for the worst. Had a customer complained about him specifically? Or was there an errand Ragnok needed personally? Perhaps he'd made a significant mistake in computing something? A light "Enter!" came from the inside and the door swung inwards.
Griphook had been aware of Harry Potter and his entourage being present inside the bank on that day - after all, he had been the one that had brought him to the office, just as he had done for the famous wizard's previous meeting. What he hadn't been aware of was that the Potter heir was still present, as were his companions.
Doing his best to keep his voice level, Griphook spoke in the Queen's English as a sign of respect to the humans, "My Lord, you requested my presence? Would it be more convenient for me to return later?"
Ragnok gave an amused grin and merely shook his head. The powerful Goblin gestured for Griphook to approach his desk and stand next to the humans. The teller did as indicated and stood at attention, keeping neutral eye-contact with his liege - after all, anything else would have been considered an insult amongst the Goblins. He was rewarded with a satisfied nod, before being addressed, "Griphook. Since we're all busy individuals, I shall skip the regular formalities. The newly accepted Lord Potter has specifically requested you to be the manager of his financial affairs here at Gringotts. I believe you are aware of what such a position entails, but your primary duties would be the management of the Potter and Black accounts and all activities that are relevant to them. Do you accept his request?"
A moment of silence reigned as Griphook's eyes widened comically. His posture was ramrod stiff as his mind tried to process the information. A quick glance to the left revealed Harry Potter himself wearing an amused smile. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to Ragnok and did his utmost to sound confident. "With honor, my lord."
Satisfied, Ragnok continued, "Excellent. However I must stress that this will not be an easy assignment, Griphook. The irregularity of your appointment will likely cause an uproar, so prepare yourself for the eventuality. From now on you will be Lord Potter's main correspondence here at the bank for any of his financial needs. Given that he will be spending most of his time at Hogwarts, I recommend the two of you work out the rest of your duties following this meeting." The highest ranked figure in Gringotts grinned at Griphook's attempt to keep a calm facade. "Lord Potter, is there anything you wish to add?"
Harry couldn't keep the smile off his face as Griphook turned to him. "Nothing really, just that I am happy to have you as my manager here, Griphook. I'm sure we'll be an unbeatable team. From what I understand you don't really have any experience in this whole account management thing, but then again neither do I, so we'll have to learn from each other I guess."
The newly appointed Account Manager bowed deeply. "You have bestowed a great honor upon me, Lord Potter. I will do my utmost to not disappoint your trust."
Ragnok dismissed Griphook after his thanks, instructing him to wait outside so he and his new customer could hash out the details of their agreement before Harry went home to celebrate his birthday. As soon as he exited the office and heard the doors close behind him, he glanced around the hallway to find it empty. With an almost unbecoming sigh, the Goblin sat on the ground and leaned against the wall, finding comfort in feeling the cold stone pressing against his back. Really, he shouldn't have been too surprised - of course the most famous wizard of the British Isles who hadn't even known of his own wealth would come and completely throw his life into disarray. The fallout from this would be extreme internally, he could already predict the outrage of some nobody from a small family being promoted this way. Despite that, a grin broke out on Griphook's face - every famous Goblin had started small before making a name for themselves so he would not waste this opportunity. Aside from the basics, Griphook really didn't know all that much about managing accounts, which is normally why an account manager would go through managing several small and inconsequential accounts before being considered for anything of this scale. It would be a huge challenge for sure, but if there was one thing a Goblin enjoyed outside of getting rich and murdering enemies, it would be to overcome a challenge. His lack of knowledge could be remedied through a few sleepless nights of study and finding someone who wouldn't utterly hate him for his promotion to ask for advice should also be possible.
Lord Potter wanted an account manager? Well, he'd get one, a damn good one at that.
Harry left the bank in good spirits - so far everything had gone great. Despite the someone intimidating ritual to claim his inheritance, he felt he was making actual progress in his life, growing every day. First his ever growing relationship with Hermione - which in turn had forged stronger ties between him and Dumbledore, Remus and a surprisingly good sibling-like relationship between himself and Tonks. On top of that came the grueling training with Moody and the research he had and Hermione had been doing in the secret Black library. Yes, overall, this had been the most productive period of his life, ever, and his summer wasn't even over yet. A pang of pain shot through Harry at that thought, given that all of this started because Sirius died. He squashed that thought and shook his head, Sirius wouldn't have wanted him to think like that.
The day was still young and there was still much to do. From what Harry gathered, a party was being organized in celebration of him turning a year older... or in celebration of him having survived another 364 consecutive days without Voldemort offing him. It was a matter of perspective, really. And given Harry's recent boost in positivity, a proper birthday celebration sounded like a great idea.
Harry, Hermione, Tonks and Remus strolled through Diagon Alley, stopping by a few shops here and there. There wasn't really all that much for them to do as they left the birthday preparations to Dobby and Molly Weasley, not that Harry knew. Hermione had been in charge of the invitations and had decided on a few people that she was sure Harry would be delighted to see. With the help of Dumbledore, Tonks and Remus, special portkeys were sent out to those invited, which would only be able to carry one person with it. With Dumbledore controlling the wards around Grimmauld Place, they could use this way to get people inside the house for the celebration and avoid having to reveal its location to anyone, minimizing the security risk. Moody, of course, vehemently protested against hosting any sort of celebration with people unknown to him as any uncontrolled variable screamed security nightmare to him, but his protests were skillfully ignored by everyone involved in planning the party.
So the quartet strolled around Diagon Alley with Remus and Tonks keeping an attentive eye out for danger. Harry and Hermione found themselves a lot more sensitive to the feeling of spells being cast, having to control themselves to not aggressively respond to sudden movements or noises, a true testament to the effectiveness of Moody's training regimen. However, nothing out of the ordinary happened and after some convincing from Tonks, Harry decided to spoil himself a bit. Nothing really beat magical ice cream, so a stop at Mister Fortescue's was in order, where Harry ordered the most absurd things on the menu for everyone.
"You know I'm going to get you back for this, Harry." Remus said with a mock scowl. Harry had found out that apparently the Fortescue parlor had a standing partnership with the Bertie Botts manufacturers, which had led to the creation of the 'Never Ever Will You Know' flavor, essentially a bowl of rainbow colored ice-cream that changed taste with every scoop. Given the downright weird or even unpleasant types of tastes perpetuated in the beans, combined with Remus' stronger sense of flavor due to his affliction, and you had a piece of self-efficient comedy just by observing Remus' facial expressions. Tonks would consistently rotate her hair color to match the color of Remus' face when he took a bite of a particularly nasty flavor, her favorite reaction so far having been when he got a nice taste of booger-flavored ice-cream.
"Pah!" Remus grumbled as his friends laughed, "I'm a first generation Marauder, trust me when I say I've eaten stranger things. I'll get you back, don't worry." This, of course, only served to make the others laugh harder.
The Boy-Who-Lived also paid a visit to a variety of smaller bookstores, making a point of avoiding Flourish & Blots. Not only would it be crowded in there, but after spending some time in the Black Library, Harry quickly realized that the most valuable books would not be the kind found in the mainstream stores, which also tended to be fairly heavily regulated by the ministry. Hermione was very supportive of this endeavor and contributed greatly to Harry's search for worthwhile tomes. It didn't take long for her to get into an intense discussion with Remus about the ridiculousness of censorship and the ministry regulating texts they deemed as inadequate for public consumption, regardless of whether they were "dark" or not.
Harry just left them at it and paid a visit to the Owl Emporium with Tonks, deciding that Hedwig deserved something nice too, given that he didn't actually know her birthday, so he'd just celebrate hers with his own. That reminded him to send Dobby to get some extra juicy treats for Buckbeak, the Hippogriff would surely appreciate them.
When the four wizards and witches returned home, they were treated to the hilarity of seeing Molly Weasley and Dobby fighting for dominance in the kitchen. The decorations had been seemingly forgotten for a while as the two of them had somehow ended up in a baking contest to decide who would get to serve the birthday cake for Harry. Harry just laughed at the debacle as their competition seemed to be more friendly in spirit than malicious, but quickly realized that they might ask him to pick a winner, so he high-tailed it out of the kitchen and ended up in his room, figuring Remus or Tonks could deal with that can of worms. Hermione followed and raised an eyebrow at her best-friend-turning-into-more kicking off his shoes and lazing on the bed - a bed which he'd hardly used at all since arriving at Grimmauld Place all those weeks ago. Not that she'd complain, in fact, their sleeping arrangement was probably the main reason for their progressing relationship in the first place.
Instead of joining him like she would have done on any other day, Hermione stalked over to his wardrobe and opened it wide. "Do you have any idea of what you're gonna be wearing tonight, Harry?" She asked as she sifted through the clothes that Tonks and her had mainly picked out for him. A muffled "No?" came from the bed as Harry laid face-down on the pillows.
"Well," Hermione drawled as she started picking out appropriate garments, "there is a bit of a dress code."
"There is?" Harry asked as he rolled over on the bed, his interest piqued.
"Mhm." Was all he got in reply from Hermione. "It's pretty similar to what we wore to dinner last night." Harry opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off before he could even get a word out. "And, no, you're not wearing the same thing as last night. We got you plenty of other things to wear, so I'm picking a few things out for you to choose from."
Of course, that would have been too easy. With a grin, Harry got up and walked over to Hermione, looking the things she had picked out for him. Looked like it'd be another dressy affair, and while Harry would have probably been more comfortable wearing jeans and a T-shirt and keeping it all casual, he did recognize the importance of gaining experience in dressing different for events, especially now that he was legally recognized as Lord Potter. So he'd grin and bear it, especially since it became obvious that both Tonks and Hermione had had a hand in planning everything.
"Fine, fine. But we have plenty of time before people start arriving, so how about we do something a bit more fun?" He suggested lightly. This time he interrupted her before she got to say anything, "And, yes, I understand the lengthy amount of time a woman has to invest in making sure she is presentable, just set an alarm to remind you."
With a devilish grin, Harry grabbed Hermione by the wrist, pulled her into the bed with him and started tickling her mercilessly before she even had a chance to protest.
A few hours later, Harry woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his door. An unintelligible grunt was his reply.
"Harry?" Tonks asked through the door, "Have you gotten changed yet? Guests are arriving in less than an hour."
The boy in question rolled out of bed and checked the time. Hermione had left him about an hour ago to get ready for the party. They had spend the better part of two hours playing around with each other, with a healthy amount of cuddles, tickles and prank jinxes thrown around. Being the typical male teenager that he was, Harry decided that taking an hour nap was of utmost importance, far more so than checking on the progress in the kitchen or the rest of the house.
"No Tonks, I'll go get ready now." He said though the door as he made his way to the desk where Hermione had deposited his potential outfit choices.
"What have you been up to anyway, loverboy? Hermione's been getting ready for over an hour now. Been giving yourself a hand in there?" The cheeky teasing came from the other side, making Harry palm his face in embarrassment.
"Would you believe me if I said I was taking a nap?" He asked after groaning.
"Tonks!" He sighed.
"'Taking a nap,' eh? Is that what you boys call it nowadays? Back in my day there were more creative terms for it. Playing the flute. Rubbing the lantern. Summoning the genie. Polishing the wand. Nothing to be ashamed of, Harry! Want me to get Hermione for you? I'm sure she'd more than willing to... lend a hand."
Another exasperated sigh escaped from Harry's lips as he listened to Tonks leave, ceasing his suffering at her teasing words. How that woman could say things like that with no shame made him wonder. He was fairly certain he'd have passed out if Hermione had been there as well. That train of thought derailed immediately too, given the ideas Tonks had now implanted in his head, which made for powerful imagery when he thought back to the level of physical intimacy he and his tentative girlfriend had reached. Of course, it had all been fairly innocent so far, but with Tonks around to constantly tease him and Hermione to create enough sexual tension for Remus to smell it, things could escalate at any time.
Another look at the time and Harry snapped out of his musings. 'Curse that blasted woman for getting under my skin. I got to start thinking of ways to get her and Remus flustered.' Picking the outfit that he thought would look best on him, Harry grabbed his wand and walked into the washroom.
Once again, Harry found himself looking at his reflection in the mirror. Luckily enough it wasn't one of those annoying ones that would compliment himself, he hated those things.
He didn't feel as uncomfortable as he had the night before, now used to the feeling of a well-fitted shirt and slacks. Given that they wouldn't be going outside much, unless Dobby had somehow magically procured a garden somehow, he wouldn't have to wear robes or a jacket. The birthday boy wore a light gray oxford-style button-down shirt which made a nice contrast to his dark gray slacks. His shoes were a rich oak brown and polished to shine, most likely a courtesy of Dobby. On the desk he also found a a small box with a pair of square silver cufflinks, each of which featured a rectangular cut emerald in their respective centers. Next to the box he found a note which read
May thy coffers overflow with the gold of thy enemies and thy heart beat as strong as a drum of war.
May this be the beginning of a profitable partnership.
Harry had to laugh at that. From what Hermione had told him, Goblins were fairly socially inept when it came to human customs, but he appreciated the effort nonetheless. Even he wasn't oblivious enough to overlook the use of the word "partnership" - it was about as close as a Goblin would get to outright telling him that they liked him and considered him an equal. The cufflinks were made from the finest material from what he could see and he made a note to find out whether Goblin's celebrated their birthdays, or maybe their name-days. He knew that accessories like these didn't come cheap, but then again he knew that Griphook was far from poor, especially now that he was his personal Account Manager.
Running a hand though his hair, the Boy-Who-Lived gave himself a final glace before heading out the door. "Dobby?" He asked, and immediately a pop announced the arrival of his favorite house elf.
"Yes Mister Harry Potter sir?" The excitable elf asked. Even he looked somewhat dapper, wearing what looked like a red and golden mini tuxedo. 'Gryffindor colors, nice touch.' Not even wanting to ponder the technicalities of how some elves could wear clothes just fine while others couldn't, Harry asked Dobby to seal all the personal rooms for the duration of the party so that only those who resided in them could enter. He had no idea who would be attending tonight but he'd feel more comfortable knowing that at least all their possessions were safe. Not that there was much to steal anyway, but the peace of mind was worth it.
Slowly walking down the stairs, Harry passed by the formal dining room on his way to the kitchen. His eyes almost bulged out - Dobby had really outdone himself. Of course, having lived in the house following its renovation made him knowledgeable of its visual aspect, but Dobby had stepped it up to a whole new level.
It would seem that this room and the kitchen were going to be the main places to be this evening and with that in mind, Harry made his way to the kitchen.
The first person Harry encountered was Remus, who was dressed similarly to Harry himself. He looked surprisingly handsome in clothes that fit him well, likely due to Tonks' having a say in the matter. Remus had combed his hair neatly and donned a sweater over his shirt, perfecting the appearance of a seasoned academic.
When Harry walked in, Remus was in the process of casting several household charms to clean up the mess Tonks had made, as evidenced by her embarrassed grin and a puddle of juice on the ground. The Metamorphmagus looked rather stunning and if Harry hadn't been related to her he definitely wouldn't have minded a closer look at the way her red dress clung to her curves. But, he was related to her so with a grin he shot, "Karma for being so mean to me later."
Being the mature and responsible and mature adult that Tonks was, she stuck her tongue out at him while transfiguring his hair into chicken feathers which Remus dispelled before Harry had a moment to complain.
Shrugging, Harry took a moment to look around the kitchen and felt impressed once more. The table was set for quite a few people and was overflowing with amazing smelling food, a lot of it being a mixture of his favorites. The tantalizing aromas reminded him of how hungry his little play-fighting with Hermione had actually made him. "How long until people arrive, Remus?" Harry inquired before he popped a mozzarella ball into his mouth while no one looked his way.
"Should be any time now. Molly just went back to the Burrow to get changed and get her brood presentable. You know how the Weasleys are." The werewolf replied.
'That I do.' Harry thought amused, finally noticing the absence of a certain female. "Hermione isn't down here yet?"
A grin came to Tonks' face. "Nope, but I snuck a peek earlier, and oh boy you're in for something."
Harry couldn't help but smile, immediately thinking of how gobsmacked he had been when he had laid his eyes on Hermione when she had come down the stairs before they had made their way out for dinner the night before.'Perhaps this time I won't just stare like a fool.'
It wasn't long before the first visitors arrived. Right as the clock struck on the hour, a pop was heard, signaling the arrival of someone. Turning, Harry noticed that a part of the kitchen had be cleared as a sort of reception area, where all the visitors would arrive in, he guessed. That would make sense, given that the Floo was also in the kitchen - likely something Moody insisted on as the actual hallway would reveal too much about the house's previous owners. It was probably the safest solution.
Neville stood somewhat awkwardly in what looked like a classic Pureblood family kitchen. Harry came over and immediately shook his hand. "Hey there Neville!"
"Hi Harry, Happy Birthday!" The once shy boy greeted. Neville was truly a sight to see nowadays. After the fiasco in the Department of Mysteries, the boy had really gained his weight worth in self-esteem. 'I guess that's what surviving a fight with Death Eaters does to you.' Coupled with his natural Pureblood upbringing and puberty-assisted physical growth, Neville now presented a rather dashing image.
"Thanks for coming mate. How have you been holding up since, well, our little excursion?" The Boy-Who-Lived asked lightly, ignoring the fact that he had been the one most negatively affected from the whole fiasco.
A bright grin illuminated Neville's face. "Pretty well, actually. When Gran heard she first slapped my face so hard, I swear I can still feel it today. But after she said she'd never been so proud of me and that she knew my dad would have done the same thing." Neville's face turned solemn, "Sorry about Sirius though."
Surprisingly, Harry just shrugged it off. "Not your fault, Neville. It's fine, and Sirius wouldn't want his death to ruin our fun tonight, would he? Let's make sure we can live as happily as he did, alright?"
Nodding in agreement, Neville moved on to greet Remus and Tonks, both of whom had been at the battle in the ministry as well. In the time he and Harry had talked, another Portkey had deposited the next visitor. Examining the decorations in the kitchen with a serene smile and wide eyes was none other than Luna Lovegood. She turned around when Harry approached her, giving him a light hug in greeting.
"Nice to see you, Luna. How've you been?"
"As well as the Nargles have allowed me to be, Harry. I spotted a wild Flamyobis Horbilia in my backyard the other day."
"Oh?" Harry decided to humor her, "What color was it?"
Luna shook her head as if disappointed in him. "Oh Harry, don't be so ignorant. Of course it didn't have a color, they're naturally transparent. It's a byproduct of them being an entirely female species, they use magic to reproduce."
Grinning at her, Harry just nodded. "Of course, how could I forget."
"Oh, and the Nargles told me to congratulate you on not getting on the train to the afterlife for another year. They say it's good that you haven't." She added as an afterthought, before shrugging. With that, she went off to bug Tonks, who looked bored beyond belief as Remus and Neville discussed some sort of obscure plant involved in creating Remus' Wolfsbane.
Another pop and Harry found himself turning around to see none other than his former Quidditch captain, Oliver Wood. He wore a huge grin at Harry's surprised look before striding over to pull his star seeker into a bear hug. "My, you've grown a lot, haven't you Harry? I remember when McGonagall brought you to my classroom, you were such a scrawny little twerp."
Harry laughed. "And you're the exact same as I remembered you - still getting up at ridiculous times in the morning for training you slave driver? Or do the pros train at different times to us mortals?"
"Nah, pro teams are actually rather strict about training times. Something about getting enough sleep for a balanced, healthy lifestyle." Oliver explained with a smile, remembering the good times of waking up the Gryffindor Quidditch team at unholy hours in the morning. "I do have to say I was rather surprised to get an invite to this little shindig and a little birdie told me that there might be some other sportsmen and women in attendance tonight."
"And that was meant to be a surprise, Oliver." Came a light voice from behind Harry, which he immediately recognized as Hermione's.
"Oh, you were the one who did the invitations..." Harry's voice died in his throat as he turned around and took in the sight of Hermione, who had stood right behind him. Moody would have never let him live down the fact that someone had gotten so close to his back without his notice.
In short, Hermione was literally breathtaking, as evidenced by the fact that the new Lord Potter found it suddenly hard to breathe.
The girl of his thoughts had found the right line between looking like a member of pureblood society and a girl in the muggle world ready to go out and have some fun. She wore the other dress that he had bought for her, the black one. The one that had sent his mind into disarray when he had been in that small enclosed space of a changing room with her, with barely the length of an arm separating the two of them all those weeks ago. The was definitely muggle, but her accessories and posture made her look like a high-profile Pureblood princess. Her hair was done in an elaborate bun with a few loose strands to add some variety, looking neat, but not too neat. After all, it was a birthday party, not a Yule ball.
A smirk quirked at the edges of Hermione's mouth. She had no delusions about her body or looks in general, she knew she'd never be a muggle super model or anything of the sort, but then didn't have to be since she was clearly more than enough to stun Harry into wide eyes and slack jaw. She knew she was laying it on a little thick with her posture, back straight and shoulders pushed back a bit, which had the side effect of pushing her chest out a bit more than usual, accentuated by the formfitting nature of the dress. The results were worth it though, as Harry's eyes roamed her figure, trying to take in every little detail of the girl he had been sharing a bed with for the duration of the holiday.
The boy-who-lived wasn't quite sure what to say. For him, for just that one moment, everything was right in the world. For that one moment all he saw was the most beautiful girl he could have imagined. From the way the dress exposed the creamy skin of her neckline and shoulders, to the way her silver earrings glittered in the light of the decorated kitchen-turned-welcoming-area, to the way her glossy lips reacted to seeing him, to the way the skin around her eyes crinkled in amusement, to the way the dress hugged her form and curves, to the way her legs ended in a pair of medium-heeled shoes that he had no idea Hermione would own - she was perfect. In that one moment everything was right in the world and all that existed was Harry and Hermione, their slowly developing relationship and their unbreakable bond of friendship.
Reality came back to Harry as he regained control of his jaw, immediately giving her his brightest smile. "Wow. I don't even have words for how beautiful you look."
Her smile widened and she leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Always the charmer, Harry."
With that she maintained eye contact with him just for a moment longer before she turned to Oliver and gave him a welcome smile, which he just responded to with a raised eyebrow and knowing wink.
An hour later the party was in full swing. A lot more people showed up than Harry had expected in attendance. Hermione had invited quite a lot of people and the gathering was turning out to be quite the success. The rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team had shown up shortly after Oliver, which immediately prompted a bit of a reunion of the original team which had broken the Slytherin streak of winning the cup in Harry's first year as Seeker. Lee Jordan also arrived, immediately launching into a rather entertaining retelling of Harry's first matches in his first year, including the every hilarious time he almost swallowed the Snitch.
The Weasleys showed up in their full line up of course, including Bill who had brought Fleur along as his date, much to the consternation of the unattached males present. Finally having the time to properly interact with them, Harry ended up in a chocolate frog eating competition with Ron which he promptly lost, managing to only fit about two in his mouth while Ron had managed half a dozen. The teens had spent most of their time in the dining room while the older wizards and witches had retreated to the kitchen.
Hermione had also apparently invited a bunch of the DA members she felt they had gotten to know well enough to celebrate the occasion with them. The Patil twins and Lavender Brown were there, immediately fawning over Hermione's outfit for the night before dragging her and Fleur into a corner to talk about all sorts of things that Harry knew he probably didn't want to know about.
Susan Bones was there, giving him a hug and smile, telling him her aunt was over the moon when she got to give the order to send the captured Death Eaters to Azkaban. "I think my aunt will want to meet you rather sooner than later, Harry." Susan said, adding that now that Voldemort's return had been made public, much had to happen in preparation. "You and Dumbledore are the only people alive who have survived fighting him on more than one occasion, so you probably have some good insight into how to fight him." Privately, Harry doubted there was anything he could teach anyone who would actually get to cross wands with Voldemort, but kept that to himself. From what he understood, Amelia Bones was a good woman to establish contact with.
Cho Chang was there too, something he was initially rather apprehensive about when she showed up via portkey, but those fears were set to rest rather quickly. Cho seemed determined to not have any awkwardness between them and Harry just went with the flow when she came over, positively beautiful just as Harry remembered. With a shudder he repressed the memory of their last kiss, but did give her a hug and accepted her well wishes before she found herself dragged into a Quidditch conversation by Fred and George, who claimed she was one of their favorite targets during the Quidditch matches.
During a particular argument between pretty much all the Quidditch players instigated by Oliver who had been bragging about his team only to be called out on it by Ron, resulting in a bunch of people arguing about their favorite teams, Harry took a moment of reprieve and moved to an empty corner in the room.
He'd definitely have to find a way to thank everyone involved in setting his party up for him. Hermione had invited the right people to make him forget all about the negativity that had happened since the start of his fifth year at Hogwarts. Dobby and Molly had provided excellent food and for once it was nice to see everyone he was friendly with dressed up semi-formally, sharing laughs over a few butter beers and excellent food.
"Enjoying yourself, Harry?" Came an amused voice from beside him. The boy in question glanced to the side, mentally annoying that he had let someone sneak up on him again. Seeing his wizened mentor made him relax though, not many wizards alive could pride themselves in being able to sense Dumbledore when he was in of his more playful moods.
"Very much so, sir. It's nice to see everyone mingling and having fun together. I never realized I had so many friends in different houses." Harry admitted with a smile.
The ancient wizard nodded with a hand absently stroking through the long strands of hair that formed his beard. "The almost hostile level of segregation among the houses is rather regrettable. No matter what house one gets sorted it, in the end there's nothing but another wizarding child. Perhaps you can help other see past the color of their houses, Harry."
With his lips quirking into a grin, Harry nodded. That sounded like a challenge and if there's one thing Harry Potter had come to enjoy in the course of his rather trying life, it had been to overcome a challenge.
A few hours later, some hours after midnight, the party was winding down. Most of the guests had already left. Ron was sprawled out on an exquisite leather couch in the corner of the room, his shirt half-way pulled over his head, snoring extremely noisily. Despite butterbeer having only a minimal amount of alcoholic content, it was apparently enough to get a teenager rather inebriated, especially if that teenager was Ron Weasley who had the ability to down an entire case of the stuff in the course of a night.
His younger sister was in a similar state, except that she kept a modicum of decency and didn't lose any of the clothing - nor did she attempt to - over the course of the celebration. Once everyone had settled in well enough and everyone had gotten well acquainted, the teens had ended up playing a variety of muggle and wizarding party games, including the ever infamous spin-the-bottle, truth and dare and of course, a round of king's cup fueled by firewhiskey that Oliver and the twins had pulled out of nowhere.
Tonks glanced around the room, chuckling at the sight of Ron passed out on the couch and Ginny curled up in a chair. She raised an eyebrow at the sight of Neville asleep in another corner of the room, with none other than Luna acting as his blanket. It looked like he had grabbed some of the larger pillows from the couch to establish a makeshit bed for himself - from what Tonks knew of the boy she highly doubted that he was even aware that Luna had decided to play blanket.
Another sight to behold was Oliver Wood - Quidditch prodigy extraordinaire himself. His apparent choice of resting place had been underneath the dining table. What had Tonks grinning however was that he had some company under the table - cuddled into either side of him were none other than the infamous prankster twins. "And so the tables turn..." Tonks evilly muttered to herself, summoning her camera from her room. The blackmail potential was incredible here.
Looking around she didn't find any other casualties of the night. Snapping a few more pictures of the passed out teens, she conjured a bunch of blankets for everyone and quietly left the room, her work done.
All the adults had been well aware of the twins bringing in some contraband, and much to the consternation of Molly Weasley, no one had really cared. Remus had argued that it was a valuable experience for young adults of their age to make their first experiences with the more adult aspects of life, one of which was to wake up with a monstrous hangover. Of course they were all there in case of emergencies, making it as safe of an occasion as possible. Plus seeing Harry letting loose and having fun for once was well worth the trouble and seeing how Dumbledore had mysteriously disappeared with a twinkle in his eyes once the argument had come up, no one had interfered with the teens having their fun.
Once Molly had left around an hour before midnight with promises from herself, Remus and Bill that they'd take care of the kids and make sure that no one did anything too stupid while drinking firewhiskey, she'd grabbed Remus and hauled him off to her room for their own little private celebration - all in Harry's name of course. After all, any excuse to have some fun was a good one.
This of course had meant that Bill now had all the responsibility in taking care of the kiddies and given that he was nowhere to be found she doubted that he had stuck around for very long, probably leaving with Fleur in an attempt to woo the shapely Veela.
Then again, they were a rather responsible bunch of teens so they didn't have to worry too much about anyone doing something too stupid. Plus with Hermione in attendance she doubted anything untoward had happened to anyone.
Speaking of the witch, Tonks hadn't spotted either Harry or Hermione, meaning they probably made it out of the dining room together. A grin spread across Tonks' face. "Here's to hoping I can find them and snap some more blackmail..."
Harry awoke in the midst of one of the worst headaches he had ever had the misfortune of experiencing. Of course it had nothing on what Voldemort had put his mind through before, but it was nothing to scoff at. The fact that it had been self-induced however, was rather embarrassing.
The only relief he from the pain was the soft warmth that enveloped the right side of his face. He lay on something soft, softer than his regular pillow for sure, but that didn't matter. Letting a sigh escape his lips he moved his head to snuggle further into the deliciously soft pillow he was lying on, trying to fall back into the blissful, head-ache free, world of sleep.
Pleasantly warm was the feeling Hermione woke up to. Her head was pounding and her memories of last night were rather fuzzy, but she remembered having a lot of fun, laughing too much and getting rather touchy with... wait, she got touchy with Harry? Immediately her face turned a shade of red.
It was then that Hermione slightly shifted, causing her to take in a variety of new sensations. First of all, while she normally shared the couch-turned-bed with Harry, they normally slept side by side or with her half on top of him, so the source of warmth would normally come from below her or from next to her. This time however, her back was resting on what felt like the cushioning of the couch and the warmth was coming from on top of her.
Cracking an eye open she glanced down - only to find none other than Harry Potter sleeping on top of her with half his face resting on her chest.
It took a moment for her to realize the implication of such a thing and she froze, her mind catching up with what her eyes were transmitting to her brain. Harry's face. Her chest. One plus one.
Not sure how to react or what to feel, Hermione opened her other eye to observe what was happening. For a moment she felt Harry stir, before he let out a content sigh and proceed to further snuggle into her bust. On any other day she would have probably been a lot more mortified, and a few weeks ago she probably would have gotten up shrieking - but now, now was different. They had kissed and had been sharing the same sleeping space for weeks now, cuddling a lot - perhaps that's why she had no real complaints with her current predicament.
Sure, it wasn't the most comfortable of places for Harry to put his head on but it looked like they hadn't bothered with a blanket last night and he was rather warm. Plus he had wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him. The borderline genius girl noted she had clothes on - not all that much, but it seemed like Drunk Hermione had had the sense of mind to get changed. However, she was baring a lot more skin than she'd have been comfortable with a mere few months ago - for whatever reason, Drunk Hermione had decided on sporty, low-cut volleyball shorts and a rather oversized shirt. As always, her shirt had ridden up to beneath her breasts during the night, not that anyone was complaining. Harry seemed fond of her tummy. She didn't really understand why, but went along with it anyway - after all she was rather fond of his midsection too.
Letting a smile flit across her face, Hermione absently ran one free hand through the black mop of hair that the boy on top of her spouted. Hangover and fuzzy memories aside, there were definitely worse ways to wake up.
It took another hour for the two to get out of bed, amidst significantly less awkwardness than one might have expected. A blush and laugh was all that really resulted from the couple's unique way of waking up.
Once downstairs they encountered Tonks and a disgruntled bunch of teenagers eating breakfast. Tonks of course had teased them with the newly acquired blackmail and had begun a round of cat-calls the moment the two of them walked in, earning them another round of blushes. Naturally, the metamorphmagus had to bemoan the fact that she didn't get snap some juicy pictures of the two, grumbling about locked doors and annoying house elves.
"Locked door, house elf refusing to open it, alone for hours on end... the case ain't good for you, you know. I hope you used protection." The auror said with a teasing grin. Of course, the others weren't to be left out, but Harry and Hermione gave as good as they got. "Well," Harry said, "at least I woke up in bed with a girl, nothing any of you three can say," gesturing at the twins and Oliver who had woken up in a rather comfortable position.
That shut them up.
It was business as usual after Harry's birthday, with the start of his and Hermione's 6th year at Hogwarts approaching fast. Dumbledore and Moody seemed more focused on stepping up the pace of the training, leaving the two so exhausted on some days that they couldn't even bring themselves to drag their tired selves to the hidden library to research further into the old runes they were studying. It wasn't all fun unfortunately. Tonks and Remus returned one night, both out on assignment from Dumbledore, bringing back harrowing news. It looked like Voldemort had licked his wounds and was back to waging war - news of Dementors leaving their ministry-assigned posts had reached the Order as the demonic creatures set out to terrorize smaller wizarding towns and remote muggle settlements. Luckily no news of confirmed deaths had been heard yet, but the movement of the Dementors was unsettling.
The problem with the Dementors was the sheer unknown size of their forces. While it was generally accepted that they were loyal to the ministry as long as they were fed the negative emotions they desired throughout various magical prisons, little else was known about the foul entities. Some had attempted to study them, but none had been able to conclude more than what had already been common knowledge as Hermione learned from the library. While some Dementors leaving their ministry posts was a potential problem, the real problem lay in the fact that Voldemort seemed to access to Dementors that had no affiliation with the ministry at all, making them a dangerous and unknown factor in the fights that were to surely come. Given the average wizard's inability to cast a decently aimed Stunner, much less a strong Patronus, things were looking grim for the British Wizarding World.
However, there was progress on the side of the light as well. Remus had reportedly managed to dissuade a few packs of werewolves from joining Voldemort, his offer of free Wolvesbane apparently being more tempting than a promise of power by a madman who had once been bested by an infant. Wolvesbane was a rare commodity, hard to get by for the average werewolf. For the average wizard that had a stable job, the potion may not have been very expensive as the real value in the potion lay in the ability to brew it, which was notoriously difficult. For a werewolf in-between jobs and without the skill to brew it themselves, access to the potion was severely limited and sometime outright impossible, since some of the ingredients in brewing the potion were dangerous to the weres. With Remus' recently inherited wealth from Sirius, Snape had been tasked to brew in bulk to be distributed as a sign of goodwill as well as a show of strength. Given Voldemort's recent loss of access to the majority of his inner circle's wealth, he wouldn't be able to afford to court the werewolves in the same fashion.
One day the two students found themselves alone in the house and felt they had enough of a foundation in runic casting to try a harmless mock duel between them. They cleared the furniture in the drawing room and took stance opposite each other. They agreed to non-destructive means, wanting to keep their discovery a secret for now.
Unfortunately, Harry and Hermione were treated to the phenomenon of expectation versus reality. Expecting to have found some sort of jackpot in the runic casting system, the two thought application would be straightforward enough to make a difference.
It was... bad. Unrefined. Slow. While their initial assessment had been correct, the system of drawing out the runes with their wands was extremely flexible, it came with the drawback of being too flexible. The spell-casting they had been used to was in hindsight easy - visualize the spell, intend to cast it, concentrate by saying the words, and voila, spell done.
Harry had previously said to Hermione that he could come up with a dozen ways to light a candle using the runic system, which was true. He could supercharge the air around the wick of the candle, he could create fire from the tip of his wand and so on. One of the problems that came with this was having to think about what the best way at any given time was and then not messing up the drawing of the runes required for that particular solution. In the time Harry had come up with a way to set fire to something, he could have been hit with a dozen different spells from someone who simply stuck to shooting stunners.
"Fuck." Harry muttered to himself. Hermione had decided to try and pit normal casting against runic casting, with Harry doing the runic one and her doing the normal one as taught by Dumbledore and Mad-Eye. The duel normally didn't last more than a minute, by the time Harry had thought of something applicable, Hermione had peppered him with dozens of conjured paint-balls or harmless jinxes.
Had they been more dangerous spells such as the ones employed by Death Eaters, Harry would have been dead several times over.
"Language, Harry." Hermione said automatically, causing him to roll his eyes.
"Yes, yes, but it's just so bloody frustrating. We've been studying this stuff for weeks and so far we've accomplished nothing. That and by the time we're proficient enough to use it as effectively as regular spells, the war will be over and Voldemort will have won." The boy-who-lived complained, collapsing on the couch. With a wave of Hermione's wand the room returned back to normal, allowing the teens time to contemplate their next step in this endeavor.
"True enough." Hermione said with a frown as she sat down next to him. "I think we are overlooking something. Surely this isn't how wizards used to fight back in the day? I've read a lot of wizarding history and about its significant figures and there's been no mention of this system."
Harry nodded. "But what if they just grew up with it just how we grew up with our version of casting?"
"I don't think so. I know for sure that the study of Runes was a rather niche field even hundreds of years ago. I know legends and stories tend to be exaggerated and not entirely accurate, but Merlin for instance just seemed to wave his staff and incredible things would happen. His limit was his imagination apparently."
Again, Harry nodded in response. "You may be right. The runic system is powerful but it just doesn't feel right for combat casting. There might really be something we're missing, or maybe we need to find a different way to use it." Here, Harry signed. "Back to the library I guess?"
With a grin, Hermione jumped from the couch and started dragging Harry out of the room. It seemed like no matter what, a magical room filled with unique and rare books would always cheer her up.
They say that everyone eventually breaks. No matter how strong someone is, no matter what what one has been through and no matter how resilient one believes their own mind to be, every human has their breaking point. Hermione proved this to be true. Harry was of firm belief that she would never get frustrated amidst books and tomes, but this was too much even for her.
Following their unsuccessful application of the runic casing system, the two had thrown themselves into research mode once more, one with significantly more gusto than the other, of course. They had spent weeks and countless hours of their free time looking into this, so it was only natural that Hermione was less inclined give up as easily as Harry on their little project.
So they had reviewed everything they had found so far, read over the notes they had taken, dug deeper into the books they had been studying, but they found nothing new, nothing that would show them any other application or purpose of the system.
"Bloody hell," the bookworm complained as dinnertime was almost upon them, "I know we're missing something, I mean its obvious that we're missing something." She completely ignored Harry's amusement at her use of language. "It's just too impractical to have made sense, I mean it's perfect for small things that require only a very short rune drawing or combination, but anything used for combat is simply impractical. You can't tell me that a system with so much potential was just completely forgotten or unused, I mean, who would come up with something like this? There must have been a purpose, right?" She asked rhetorically, before stopping.
"Wait. Maybe we've been going about this all wrong. That's it! Harry, we need to stop looking into the system and start looking into its creators! Oh my god how could we have overlooked something so simple? We have no idea what the purpose of them is because we have no real idea of who created it in the first place."
One one hand, Harry wanted to smack himself in the head for not having noticed something so simple. On the other hand this would mean a lot more research.
So he settled for a simple groan has Hermione excitedly trotted out of the library's reading room, intent on searching the index for anything that could help, muttering to herself.
A/N: Boom. I'm back, bitches. Expect more, expect it soon. I want to end this story by next year. I don't have much else to say, except that I'm not really sorry for having taken this long. Life priorities and such. Per usual, it's fluffy, un-beta'd and right now a bit filler-y. Next chapter though... boy do I have something planned. Look forward to it.