Albus Dumbledore was a wizard on a mission. He had just finished speaking with nine of the twelve members of the Hogwarts' Board of Governors. He was only mildly troubled he could not locate the Longbottom Matriarch and was, in fact, more concerned he could no longer remember where she lived. There was no chance he would dissuade Edmund Parkinson from changing his vote away from Lucius Malfoy's choice. Then, of course, there was Lucius himself.
Albus had, in the past, wanted Lucius' bright mind working for him. "It really is a pity he's firmly on Tom's side," Albus thought to himself as he strode purposefully up the path to Hogwarts, contemplating a more permanent solution to Lucius' machinations. "It cannot be dragon pox, again," he mused.
And then, of course, there had been Harry. Somehow he had become Lord Potter, complicating many of Albus' plans. "I certainly hope those filthy blasted troglodites haven't told him all of his rights and responsibilities. That could ruin any hope of recovery. Blasted goblins!" he thought, troubled by the stories he'd heard from Argus, and even more disturbingly, the distinct lack of communication from his Potions professor.
Argus had told him Severus had actually been cordial to Harry and vice versa. "How could this be?" Albus wondered, suspecting Filch had been dipping too much into Sybil's sherry, or grossly misinterpreted the events he had witnessed.
He crossed the ward boundary and felt the wards, once more, align with his magic. They felt different somehow, but he knew this must just be from his short absence and that he would soon get used to them again.
The doors to the Entryway opened for him and he made his way to the gargoyle statue guarding the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
When he entered his office, he walked to the array of instruments which had been bonded to Harry's magic and life force. He had actually bound Harry to them before James and Lily had hidden beneath the Fidelius charm he had cast on their cottage at Godric's Hollow.
He smiled at the irony of it all. He so loved how easy it had been to manipulate a muggleborn witch suffering from magical postpartum depression. "Talk to them about the safety of their baby and, as their mind begins to create all sorts of catastrophic outcomes, all types of thoughts and triggers can be implanted," he thought to himself with a wry smile, "and all for my greater good."
The smile faded rapidly from his face. Not one of the instruments was working. In fact, every bit of finely crafted instrumentation was either frozen in place, or melted into a puddle of magically-overloaded slag. He then remembered the reaction to his attempt to re-establish the seven blocks on the boy's magic, and how powerful Harry's magic had become.
And there wasn't a hope he could put those blocks in place now unless Harry were subdued and every member of the Order channelled their magic through him to put them back.
He turned away in concern at how most of his future plans were likely lying in tatters. His eyes stopped at the stack of wax-sealed, folded parchments on his desk. He closed the distance and picked up the first one. He broke the seal, unfolded it, and felt as if his heart had stopped.
In his hands was the properly counter-signed transfer of magical guardianship from Daniel and Emma Granger. They, with the goblins' help, had transferred Hermione's guardianship from him to Lord Potter. He then looked through the stack and sat heavily in the chair.
He was no longer the magical guardian for any of the muggleborn children. All of their guardianships had been transferred over to Harry, with all of the proper paperwork filed. "Bloody! Blasted! Goblin! Treachery!" he thought again, his face purpling at the rage he felt.
The last parchment had been the findings of the hearing regarding his management of the Potter purse strings he'd had some control over while he had hidden Harry away. This, too, bore bad news.
Even though he had answered each of their questions as thoroughly as he'd felt was necessary, eighty percent of the House Dumbledore vaults had been given to House Potter as a fine. Of the remaining twenty percent, more than half of it had been returned to House Potter as, "...repayment of questionable expenditures during the illegal guardianship of the heir..." or so the goblins had indicated in their findings.
This included the five hundred galleon per month stipend, converted into pounds sterling, paid to the Dursley family. This equated to over sixty-nine thousand galleons, or at the current exchange rate of five hundred and twenty-two pounds per galleon, a bit over thirty-six million pounds. By the time interest, legal fees, and payment penalties were added, House Dumbledore's coffers contained less than ten thousand galleons, or one year of Albus' salary.
"What had those muggles spent the gold on? Certainly not the boy," Albus grumbled to himself.
Almost as an afterthought, it had seemed, Albus and Aberforth had been declared persona non grata at Gringott's. The remaining monies and personal items remaining in House Dumbledore's remaining vault would be held through the end of the lunar month. After that time, they would be packaged and shipped to their last known address, The Hog's Head Pub, less the cost of packaging and transport.
"Nothing left," he thought, as the parchment slipped from his fingers.
It was nearly an hour later when /Albus roused himself and made his way down to the Infirmary. He was rather surprised that not once did he see any students or staff members in the halls. Just outside the door to the Infirmary, a young auror was sitting at a table and writing.
As he approached, the auror looked up.
Crusher had just finished the fifth revision of his report. Shacklebolt had insisted he learn to write reports well enough that, if need be, they could be read aloud inside the chambers of the Wizengamot.
At first, Crusher had balked that any report he would ever write would be so important. He was about to voice this belief when Shack had explained his reasoning – each of the members of the Wizengamot were parents, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts, and all other manner of relation to at least one, if not more, student at Hogwarts.
Considering the petrifactions, and the fact that an heir to an ancient and noble house had been petrified, that it was quite likely the Minister, himself, would read each and every report.
Crusher had finished what he considered the final proofing of the report when he thought he saw motion. He looked up and nearly shouted in surprise. The Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and Headmaster of Hogwarts was approaching slowly. He tapped his badge to alert Tonks and Shack then stood and braced to attention.
"Chief Warlock Dumbledore! Cadet Auror Third Class Crusher, Sir!" Crusher shouted, his nerves on edge.
They both heard running footsteps coming from the direction Albus had come from. Crusher drew his wand and cast a spell at the moving figure without even thinking.
Fortunately for Tonks, Crusher's aim was atrocious. She threw herself down as the spell crashed into Albus' hastily-raised shield, which deflected it in front of her, tossing the suit of armour the spell struck into the wall with a loud clatter.
"Crusher?! What in the name of Merlin are you doing?!" Tonks demanded as she stood and brushed herself off.
She then saw who was standing there. "Good morning, Professor Dumbledore."
"Good morning, Nymphadora," he said to her, his eyes twinkling with the knowledge that calling her by her first name irritated her to no end. He turned back towards the other auror. "And good morning, Auror Crusher. I would suggest you work on your aim somewhat. Do you know if Professor McGonagall is in the Infirmary?" he asked.
"Sir! She is, Sir!" Crusher said as he braced to attention.
Albus nodded with a smile at the auror. "To be a young fool again," he thought as he entered the Infirmary with Tonks on his heels. She almost ran into him, as he stopped in surprise at the sheer number of people talking in small groups in the waiting area.
Hermione opened her eyes wide and nearly regurgitated at the sudden rush of adrenaline and endorphins running through her body. The light coming from the windows and the chandeliers blinded her from the intensity to which her eyes were not acclimated. She could feel a light sheen of perspiration covering her body.
She clamped her eyes tightly shut at the pain from the light. Her entire body ached from her muscles being frozen in place for so long. Her brain began shutting down as the pain seemed to increase to higher and higher levels.
Then, quite suddenly, the pain was completely gone. In its place, a warmth filled her as if she was swaddled in a blanket of love. She gasped at the power and the intensity of the sensation. It filled her and pushed aside all the physical discomforts.
And above, below, and around this sense of love, she felt him. She felt her hand being gently held by him as he experienced all of the raw, unfiltered emotions he had for her. In addition to the love, though, she also felt fear, terror, self-loathing.
She relaxed her eyelids so they were merely closed and allowed the red glow to dim to a reasonable level. Finally, she opened her eyes looked at him with a glowing smile, and sighed as she felt his relief and his love for her fill her then stretch her mind and magic to overflowing.
Waiting outside the privacy screens, all of the other victims of the basilisk's gaze, who had been restored previously, as well as Albus, Minerva, Kingsley, Poppy, Severus, Padma, Parvati, Lavender, and Luna felt a magical force building. The castle rang once more. This was not the sound of doom or destruction being heralded. This ringing sounded as if the very heavens had opened up and announced a crystalline clear sky. As one, they looked on in awe at the golden sphere of energy that extended well beyond the privacy screens surrounding Hermione's bed.
It was several minutes after the golden sphere dissipated that Madam Pomfrey moved to check on the health of two children she loved as if they were her own.
Albus looked up in panic. He was, himself, quite powerful. When necessary, to impress, frighten, or threaten, he could push his magic into his aura to make it visible and, to see his aura in its entirety, one had to stand back thirty feet to see it in all its glory.
He drew his wand as he could feel an immense source of magic building just beyond the privacy screens. As Hogwarts rang, he was tempted to burst through the screens, only to stop in his headlong rush by the sheer amount of raw energy rolling outwards from the golden sphere that had formed in the centre of the screens and grew to engulf them.
He looked about and noticed everyone else in the Infirmary was staring at the golden sphere, completely ignoring him. Considering those present, he was surprised he had not been met by a wall of wands directed at him.
It took every ounce of self-control to not run over and rip down the privacy screens the sphere now surrounded. Part of this, in his mind, was self-preservation. He remembered all too well how Harry's hysterical magic had reacted to his interference. He wasn't certain he would survive the onslaught from the force of the boy's magic now that it had time to grow even more powerful.
He stood back and waited, to watch events unfold, hoping he still had sway with Harry.
It was really too bad for Albus that his information was out-of-date.
Harry sat holding Hermione's hand, terrified she would hate him... be afraid of him... not feel the same way about him. Her skin had begun to return to its normal tone just a few minutes after she'd been force-fed the potion. Now she looked almost as if she were sleeping. He nearly panicked when her body arched off the bed and a agonizing scream escaped her lips before she collapsed back onto the bed, her eyes tightly closed.
But he continued to hold her hand. Her breathing became more regular. He could feel concern, worry, exhaustion coming from her, but what surprised him was the love he could feel coming from her. The Basajaunik still did not know by what mechanism he had bonded to her, but now it was more than evident he had. He looked down at their joined hands and channelled all the love he had for her to their joined hands. He looked up at her face and saw, not the thirteen year old girl lying there, but the brilliant, beautiful woman she would become that he had grown to love over the course of his life.
When she opened her eyes and smiled at him with an ear-to-ear smile, he thought his heart would burst. Her eyes filled with unshed tears as she slowly sat up.
Harry was about to speak, but she touched her fingers to his lips and just stared at him with a small smile on her face. He hadn't realised, until she wiped away a tear from his cheek, that he had been crying.
She was speechless as she felt his love for her as it surged over their bond
He, too, was feeling her emotions over the bond and was having difficulty believing she loved him as well.
Hermione gently slid her fingers from his lips as she leaned in to kiss him. As their lips met and their eyes closed, they both felt a surge of magic, causing the castle to ring like a bell. After what seemed like both hours and only moments, they pulled back from the chaste kiss.
To Harry's surprise, Hermione was sitting in his lap, straddling him with their arms wrapped around one another.
Hermione looked down at him with an impish grin and spoke for the first time since being restored. "You said you were going to ask me a question. I am waiting, Harry."
He looked up at her, fearing how she would react to the admission he was about to make. His inner-Gryffindor came to the surface. "I know this is not some schoolboy infatuation, and I know how you feel about me as well," he said, holding her hands in his, "so instead of asking you to be my girlfriend, Hermione, would you be my betrothed with all that entails?" he asked, his heart on his sleeve.
She looked at him with an expression that seemed a combination of awe, shock, love, and innocence. "Did he really just ask me to marry him or is this some kind of amazing dream?" she thought to herself.
"I want that with all my heart, Harry, but wouldn't my parents have any say in it?" Hermione asked impishly, a rosy hue rising to her cheeks as she realized her position.
Harry leaned in and kissed her gently and chastely. Hermione closed her eyes and felt as if her heart was going to burst with the love being projected from Harry, but she also sensed he was afraid. With her arms tightly around his neck, Harry gently lowered Hermione until her head rested on the pillow.
Still feeling a hint of fear coming from him, she released his neck and he lifted himself up on his arms. "Promise me you'll try to not be too upset with me, Hermione," Harry said.
"When have I ever been too upset with you?" she asked cheekily. She then felt the fear from him as it grew then looked at him with an apologetic smile, "I promise."
"Because I swore to protect you with a magical oath, somehow our magics combined to form a bond. That bond was registered with the Ministry of Magic. You are now registered as Lady Hermione Jane Potter and are now my lawful wife in the magical world," Harry said as he watched and felt for her reaction over the bond.
Surprise. Anger. Rage. Sadness. These he expected. Incredulity, awe, and happiness were not on his list. "You're serious?" she asked.
He smiled at the joke, but just nodded.
"Really?" she asked, with a hint of squeal.
"Yes, Lady Potter," he said. She gasped, closed her eyes, and moved to kiss him, but he put his fingers to her lips instead. She then felt his hesitation, "Does he not want to be married to me? But he asked me to be his betrothed?" she wondered.
"There's more to it than just that and you need to know it all," he said with a sigh.
"What is wrong, Harry? What has you so worried?" she asked. He could feel her fear of rejection coupled with her burning curiosity.
"I think we need to retire to our quarters, once Madam Pomfrey has released you, so we can discuss everything more fully," he said to her, then slowly moved to kiss her again.
"We have our own quarters?" she asked incredulously.
Harry nodded as he kissed her.
Half a minute later, she shuddered at the pulse of hesitant love that washed over her, coupled with Harry's. She sighed at the pleasant sense of belonging before continuing her interrogation.
"Away from the rest of Gryffindor?" she asked, her smile growing wider.
"Sort of," he replied, seeing the question on her face, "but that is one of the things we need to discuss."
He pulled back and sat up and offered his hand to her to help her sit up as well. "Let me get Madam Pomfrey and get you out of here. I have one other piece of business to transact tonight, then I promise you I will join you and all your questions will be answered."
She leaned forward and kissed him again. Harry closed his eyes and relished the gentle, innocent kisses.
"So unlike Ginny, with her almost painful, throat-licking kisses. I would gladly spend the rest of my days sitting in bed, kissing my innocent, little witches," he thought.
Madam Pomfrey chose that moment to step in behind the privacy screen and clear her throat, causing Hermione to draw back from the kiss in embarrassment and Harry to open his eyes and stare at the person who would dare interrupt time alone with His Hermione.
"Mr. Potter, if you would give Miss Granger and me a moment, I need to check to ensure there are no adverse effects from the potion and no lingering effects from the petrifaction. Then you and Miss Granger will both be released from my care," the mediwitch said kindly, with the hint of a smile on her lips.
"Ah! Young love is so sweet!" Poppy was thinking, looking at the two children, wondering if they would make it out of school before getting married and starting a family. "Perhaps, since Hermione's parents are without magic, it's time to discuss contraception with her," the mediwitch thought before nodding slightly to herself.
Poppy watched as Harry squeezed Hermione's hand before standing and, just before he stepped through the privacy screens said, "I will be just out here. Say my name and I will be at your side."
She smiled at him and made shooing motions.
Hermione watched as Madam Pomfrey turned. "Now, Miss Granger, hop up on the bed and let's make certain you're not experiencing any lingering issues from your ordeal," the mediwitch said with a smile.
Hermione continued to watch as Madam Pomfrey waved her wand in a complex manner while chanting an all-encompassing wellness spell. She was a bit concerned when the mediwitch pinched her lips together and cast the spell a second, and then a third time.
"Is something wrong, Madam Pomfrey?" Hermione asked.
Poppy looked startled for a moment, looked Hermione in the eyes, and then smiled. "No, Miss Granger. I was just surprised and wanted to verify what I was seeing. Are you feeling any ill effects from the petrification?" Poppy asked.
Hermione concentrated on her body for a moment, moving her fingers, stretching her toes, and was somewhat surprised she felt physically wonderful. She shook her head, "No. I feel fine."
Poppy smiled at her. "That's good. I want you to be careful for the next week. Try to not do anything magically or physically strenuous, get plenty of sleep, and eat at least four balanced meals every day."
Hermione nodded and was moving to stand when Poppy continued speaking.
"Miss Granger...Hermione," Poppy began, surprising Hermione with her familiar address, "as you're parents are without magic, did your mother talk to you about the changes your body is going through?"
Hermione's cheeks coloured slightly, "Yes, Madam Pomfrey. My mother gave me 'the talk' during summer holidays last year."
"Did she talk to you about contraception?" Poppy asked pointedly.
Hermione's blush became more pronounced. "She did," Hermione responded quietly.
"So she talked about birth control pills, male prophylactics, and the like?" the healer asked.
"Yes," Hermione responded, certain her cheeks were glowing so brightly people in the Great Hall could see her.
"Well, while that is all well and good, none of those will do a bit of good for a witch," Poppy said, the look on her face projecting a deadly seriousness.
Hermione looked at the mediwitch in shock. "What?!" Hermione exclaimed loudly. Poppy was quite happy the privacy curtains incorporated privacy spells as well.
"Hermione, there's no easy way to buffer this news. Muggle birth control measures do not work for wizards and witches. Not even a little bit," the mediwitch explained.
"The medication muggles use for women to prevent unwanted births are simply absorbed and neutralised by a witch's magic. Prophylactic devices are merely bypassed as easily as a wizard apparating to the other side of the road," she continued.
"Proper, magical, means must be used to prevent young witches from procreating. The important thing to note, especially when involved with particularly powerful wizards, is that if the wizard in question wants you pregnant, you will become pregnant. His magic can and usually will, overcome any measures a witch might take to prevent pregnancy," she said as she took the younger witch's hand into her own.
Hermione looked at Madam Pomfrey in shock.
"And, while I think you are still a bit too young to engage in such activities," Poppy said as she watched Hermione shaking her head emphatically, "you should still be, at the very least, informed about your options."
"Potions and such?" Hermione asked.
"There is a potion for witches to take, but it must be taken each lunar month and tends to be very expensive," Poppy explained.
"Expensive?" Hermione asked fearfully.
"Yes – usually about ten galleons for one dose," Poppy replied.
Hermione looked at the healer with wide eyes, "Ten galleons?! That's...that's...," she paused and engaged the logic centres of her brain. Finally she looked up at Poppy, "Why is it so expensive?"
Poppy smirked, "Predominantly because most boys are given a five- or seven-year potion by their parents when they are lectured about puberty and reproduction." All mirth then fled her face. "Girls only really need to take the potion if they're sexually active and don't trust the boy they're with," then looked at Hermione's blush, "something you may need to speak with Lord Potter about?"
Hermione shook her head and took a few seconds to compose herself. "We're not...that is...I'm not ready to go that far...and Harry would never force himself," she emphasised the last part with conviction.
"Hermione," Poppy began, pointing to the embroidery on her sweater, "you are under the protection of House Potter. It is my duty as a healer to inform your Lord should your quarterly medical examinations warrant his attention. I know some of the other girls he keeps company with are a bit more physically mature than you are," she explained.
"Other girls...?" Hermione questioned.
"Another topic I am certain you will need to discuss with Lord Potter," she said, then smiled at the girl warmly. "While I personally feel you're too young to explore the sexual aspects of a relationship, it should be an informed decision when you make it. Don't allow anyone else to pressure you into moving faster than you're ready. I would also ask you not pressure your partner into anything until they, too, are ready."
"I wouldn't do that," Hermione said emphatically.
"I know that, Dear," Poppy said, patting Hermione's knee, "and if you ever do need to talk about anything, please know my door is always open, and unless it is life-threatening, I am required to keep even the topic of our discussions a secret between the two of us."
Hermione nodded, her cheeks still slightly blushed, "Thank you, Madam Pomfrey."
Poppy looked past Hermione then looked back down at the young witch. "I do have one question for you, if you don't mind, before I let you go, Hermione?" she asked. Hermione nodded.
"There has been some conjecture as to whether or not people, when petrified, are aware of their surroundings. That is, whether or not they can hear or see anything when they're petrified," Poppy said hesitantly.
"When I was petrified, I felt as if I were floating just above my head. I could hear and see everything. I heard students reading to us. I heard Hagrid reading and talking with everyone. I heard and saw Harry with me almost every day," Hermione said, looking down at her hands while playing with the hem of her robes.
"Would you object if, once you've had a chance to recover, I were to talk with you and some of the others, possibly by yourself and in groups, about your experiences?" Poppy asked.
"I feel I should be completely honest with you in this regard, Hermione. I am still in need of writing a dissertation to receive my mastery in healing, and I was hoping this would not only help others around the world who are petrified by various means as well as help me attain my mastery. If you have no objections..." Poppy explained contritely and trailed off.
Hermione looked up at her, her eyes moist with unshed tears, "I would be happy to talk with you and the others who were petrified," she answered. She then smiled at the mediwitch, "And, if it will help you and others, all the better!" she said happily as she wiped her eyes.
"Thank you," Poppy said then looked up past Hermione again. "I think we've kept your Harry waiting long enough. I expect to see you down for dinner, or hear from the elves that you've eaten a hearty dinner. If you have trouble sleeping, let Mippy know and she can bring you a dreamless sleep potion," Poppy said, standing up from the bed.
Hermione hopped down from the bed and straightened her robes.
She turned to go then stopped and turned back. "Madam Pomfrey, how is Mr. Filch's cat doing? I know he was very worried about her."
"Mrs. Norris was the first one to be restored. The poor man was utterly beside himself with worry. I believe he wanted to speak with Lord Potter with regard to some matter, but he tends to hold things close to the chest, as it were. Perhaps if Lord Potter were to enquire of him as to the health of Mrs. Norris, it might be the perfect approach," Poppy explained.
Hermione looked about to ask another question but Poppy interrupted her with a smile. "I am always here except during meals or emergencies. Lord Potter is likely of the mind that I've kidnapped you, or worse," the mediwitch said as she lightly laughed and made shooing motions with her hands.
Hermione smiled, turned, and walked out from behind the privacy screens.
Harry walked out into quiet pandemonium. Arthur, Molly, the twins and Ron were there, looking to ensure Ginny was okay. She was sitting on the edge of a bed, looking nervously between the twins, Ron, and the inseparable pair of Percy and Penelope.
Harry watched as Percy and Penelope approached Ginny and apologized to her for not spending more time with her.
Hannah and Ernie were laughing and chatting with Justin and Colin, who were equally sharing hugs with both of them.
Standing off to one side were Pansy, Tracey, Millicent and Daphne. Daphne, Tracey, and Pansy were blushing at something Millicent had said.
The group he had begun to think of as his girls were split up amongst the groups. Parvati and Lavender were intermingling with the Weasley family. Padma was including herself in the Hufflepuff group and Luna neatly fit in with the group of Slytherins, both as a pureblood and as a quiet, reserved girl.
He wasn't certain if it was Millicent or someone else who seemed to see him first, but suddenly the room grew quiet. He looked up to see every eye was upon him.
Amazingly, it was Ron who first spoke. "Harry, while you were busy saving my sister, I was being a complete prat. I apologise," he said contritely.
Harry focused on him for a moment, "Ron, I have had quite the day and quite the year. I am not certain I am prepared to accept your apology just yet." Harry held his hand up as Ron seemed on the verge of protest. "I am not saying I don't want you as a friend or that I am not accepting your apology ever. I need time to relax after what I have been through today. As someone who wants to be my friend, I am certain you can understand what the day must have been like."
Ron looked down and thought what it must have been like to face down a serpent that could swallow the Knight's Bus whole. He shuddered at the thought then nodded, as he looked up at Harry.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, I am certain the day has been trying for you as well, with your concern over Ginevra. You should go home and try to get some rest," Harry said, trying to sound concerned.
"That's a good idea, Harry. Come, Ginny. Let's go up to your dorm and get your things," Molly said, moving out of the way so Ginny could jump down from the bed.
"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Mrs. Weasley. Lord Weasley and I have an agreement," Harry said calmly.
Molly stood up, her face purpling, "What do you mean you have an agreement with Lord Weasley, young man?" she asked angrily.
"It is required that Ginevra remain at school through the end of the term so that she may complete her courses and to ensure everyone at Hogwarts knows she continues to have my trust and concern for her well-being. Should she leave, who's to say what vicious rumours might get started about the reasons her parents chose to remove her from school?" Harry asked rhetorically.
Molly looked about to burst, but Harry continued. "This way, she can spend time with her friends, can make up for lost time in classes, and we can quell the lies which percolate up from the rumour mongers. I am pleased to say Lord Weasley agreed with me. I am certain that if you would like to discuss it with him, he indicated he would be at Weasley Manor this evening."
"You can count on me having a word with him tonight. Come, Ginny, get your things. We'll go speak with your grandfather about this," Molly said vociferously.
"Again, Mrs. Weasley, Ginevra will not be leaving my presence until I meet again with Lord Weasley. You are welcome to floo him from the Headmaster's office, but I can assure you, no force of will, no shouting, and no argument will sway me or allow you to remove her from my presence. Do I make myself clear?" Harry asked calmly.
"Young man! You will not speak to your elders that way!" Molly shouted.
Harry turned to Arthur, dismissing Molly. "As a sworn member of House Weasley, Sir, you are duty-bound to honour your Lord's word and writ," he reached into the pocket of his robes and handed Arthur a small scroll.
Arthur looked at the scroll, looked up at Harry, looked back to the scroll and took it. He unrolled it and noted the wax seal at the bottom was indeed his father's seal and the seal of House Weasley. He read it. He read it a second time. He sat down heavily in the chair behind him.
"What does it say, Arthur?" Molly demanded. When she didn't get an immediate response, she repeated her demand. "Don't just sit there, Arthur. Tell me what it says!" she shouted.
"BE STILL WOMAN!" Arthur shouted, standing and putting his face right next to her as he was now purple with rage. "Too long have I allowed you unchecked dominance over our family. That stops today!" he said forcefully.
Arthur then turned to Harry, rolled the scroll back up and handed it back to Harry. "Lord Potter, I shall abide by my father's word and I thank you for the actions you took today to save her life. I, too, recognise the debt House Weasley owes to House Potter and, more appropriately, the debt I, as Ginny's father, owe to you. I only respectfully ask that you do everything in your power to keep Ginevra safe while she remains in your care, for however long that may be," he said respectfully.
Harry stood up straight, squared his shoulders and nodded his head, "You have my word, Sir."
"But, Arthur..." Molly whined, but was cut off by an enraged husband.
"I told you to remain silent," Arthur said coldly. "When we return home, we will discuss this further," he gave her a glare that could crumble stone. "Boys, say goodnight to your sister. We will see you when term ends. I expect all of you to pay better attention to the members of our family," Arthur said, holding the gaze of each of the boys until they nodded in turn.
The boys had all been staring at Harry throughout the exchange with their parents, even Ron was intelligent enough to know to not get into the middle of an argument where his parents were on opposite sides.
They quietly said their goodbyes to their parents, Ginny, and Harry before departing. Arthur offered his hand to Harry. Molly stared daggers at Harry, but he ignored her. Arthur and Molly then left.
Penelope had watched the entire exchange and now understood, a bit better, the reasons Percy had acted the way he had beforehand. She gave Harry a brief hug, a kiss on the cheek, and whispered in his ear, "You saved my sanity, Harry Potter. Your belief we could hear and getting people to come talk to us means so much to me." It was clear in listening to her voice that she was crying and barely holding herself together, "I owe you my life, Harry." She kissed him quickly on the cheek before turning away.
Percy walked up to Harry, who had his hand extended to shake. Instead, Percy pulled him into a hug, causing Ginny's eyebrows to rise into her hairline.
"I wanted to thank you for what you've done for Penelope, for me, and for Ginevra. You're a good man, Harry Potter," Percy whispered to him before releasing him and shaking his hand.
"Thank you, as well, Percy, for listening, for being a true friend to Penelope, and for coming and talking to her even if you did think I was a nutter," Harry said, smiling for the first time since walking from behind the privacy screens around Hermione's bed. "I would appreciate it if the two of you could spend some of your free time with Ginevra," he said.
Percy smiled and nodded before turning himself to hold the still-crying Penelope. Each of them gave Ginny one final hug before Percy led Penelope out of the Infirmary.
Justin decided it was his turn next. He approached Harry with his hand out, an embarrassed expression on his face. Harry took his hand, which Justin then clasped in both of his.
"Harry, I was wrong. I know you're not in the mood to accept apologies, but I do apologise for my egregious behaviour towards you," Justin said.
Harry smiled and clasped both of Justin's hands. "Justin, I am not willing to accept apologies from people who supposedly knew me and talked behind my back regardless. Your apology I will gladly accept and hope that, in the future, we can be, at the very least, friends," Harry said, his smile and forgiveness reflected genuinely in his voice.
Justin's smile grew, "I, too, would like to be your friend, Harry."
"Done!" Harry exclaimed, then laughed at the humour of it, which Justin joined him in, before stepping back.
Harry looked at Colin, who seemed fit to burst. Harry just held his arms open to the younger boy. This had been what Colin had been hoping for. He hugged Harry and began crying, unable to contain the conflicting emotions coursing through his body, and hoping Harry wouldn't reject him outright.
Harry wrapped one of his arms around him and pulled Colin's head against his chest. "Hey Little Brother, it's okay. Shhhhh. Everything will be fine," he cooed.
Colin looked up at Harry, two rivulets of tears running down his cheeks. "Hey, why don't you go down to dinner with Ernie, Hannah and Justin and spend some time at the Hufflepuff table. They will make you feel welcome and make sure you eat, okay? I will catch up with you later tonight and even have an extra room in my new quarters in case you stay after curfew," Harry explained softly.
Colin nodded at him, his tears abating, but still unable to assemble a coherent sentence.
"Run along and remember that I won't abandon you. Ever. And Justin and Ernie want to be your friends too," Harry said.
Colin twisted in his hug to look at the two older Hufflepuffs, who looked at Colin and nodded, causing a genuine smile to grace his face. He then gave Harry another hug, "Thank you," he managed to eek out.
Harry kissed him on the forehead, "You're welcome. Now run along, Little Brother," he said, giving Colin one last squeeze before he gently extricated himself from the hug and gave Colin a gentle push in the direction of Justin.
Justin held Colin in a one-armed hug while Ernie shook Harry's hand. "Harry, all of us were wrong about you and everyone here owes you not only their lives but an apology. I apologise for doubting you and for thinking the worst about you. I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive me."
Harry patted his robes before reaching into his right pocket and pulled his empty hand out and extended it to shake hands again. Ernie laughed and took his hand. "You're forgiven, Ernie. If I hadn't known everything that was going on that I did, I might have suspected me as well," Harry said, laughing.
"Thanks again, Harry," Ernie said, then leaned in to whisper in his ear, "I think Hannah has something private for you," then leaned back and winked before releasing Harry's hand. He walked over to Colin and Justin. "Hannah, we'll be waiting for you just outside the door," Ernie said, before leading a clueless pair of boys out of the door.
Harry didn't know what to expect, but watched as Hannah looked over at the still-waiting Slytherins. Whatever silent communication that occurred between the five girls clearly made Hannah pleased as she turned around and looked at Harry with an almost-predatory smile.
She opened her arms to hug him and he pulled her into a hug. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear as she held him tightly, "Harry, that was an amazingly brave and wonderful thing you did. I know you like Hermione, and some others, but if there's room for another one, I would be willing to share," she whispered, pushed away, flared her eyes and kissed him on the lips.
Harry hid his shock well. When the kiss ended, he leaned in, kissed her on the cheek, and whispered, "I am going to be discussing that very topic tonight with my girls, but you should consider talking to Susan about sharing Neville as well," Harry whispered.
Hannah shuddered at the implied intimacy of the kiss. She had expected to knock Harry's socks off. Right now she was ready to hand him her knickers, a situation she had not expected when she had planned this with Susan the previous evening, after Susan had explained what Harry had done for Neville.
"Do you think she would? Does he even like me?" Hannah whispered back.
"I am fairly certain Susan would share with you. Why don't you try curling up in her bed tonight and asking her? As far as Neville is concerned, I likely shouldn't speak for him, but if you want to remain intimately close to Susan, you need to talk to the two of them. I'm not trying to push you away from me, Hannah, but I want whatever is best for you, and that isn't something you can decide without having that conversation," he whispered.
"So you wouldn't say no?" Hannah whispered back.
"Say no to having you, a beautiful, intelligent, loyal girl join my group? I would welcome you with open arms and do my utmost to make you feel the loved," he whispered back and kissed her once more on the cheek, noting her eyes glaze over and a small shudder traverse her body.
"Shall I see you at dinner tonight?" Harry asked, bringing her out of her musings.
"Most definitely, Harry," she said demurely. She kissed him once more on the cheek before turning and leaving the Infirmary, her cheeks blazing red.
Once Hannah left, Millicent approached. "Hello Potter," she said conversationally, but noticed Harry's expression darkened. She knew she had made a mistake and attempted to rectify it. "Hello Harry?" she asked hesitantly.
"Hello Millicent," Harry replied, his smile demonstrating she had gotten it right.
"I wanted to thank you for your help in building a bridge between Slytherin and Gryffindor," the imposing girl said, a slight tinge of a blush gracing her cheeks.
Harry leaned forward and took her hands, "I can't build a bridge on my own, Millicent. You," he said, causing her blush to get more pronounced, "had to meet me halfway." He punctuated the sentence by squeezing her hands and kissing her on the cheek, causing her cheeks to flame red.
She giggled nervously. "Who would ever think I would make Millicent Bulstrode nervous?!" Harry thought to himself. She quickly leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you again, Harry," she said before stepping back, clearly embarrassed by his friendliness.
Daphne, Tracey and Pansy approached him as a group, causing him to swallow nervously. He noticed Luna approach and stand next to him. He watched as Pansy and Tracey both looked to Daphne.
"Harry," Daphne began, quickly looking at the other two girls before returning her gaze to Harry. "I understand from Pansy that you've been busy," she said, her eyes flashing dangerously.
"Actually, I like to think of it as leveraging resources to get work done while I spend leisure time with my friends," he said, taking Luna's hand in his own and looking over at the diminutive Ravenclaw. He looked back up at Daphne, "I would like to include the three of you as friends as well."
A hint of a smile broached Daphne's stern countenance.
Harry continued, "Although you have never done anything against me, to my knowledge, I am certain Pansy explained my blanket forgiveness?" he asked, noting Pansy was showing slight signs of fear.
"She did mention it. And you are correct, I never have done anything against you. I, too, would like to extend my hand in friendship," she said and extended her hand to Harry.
Harry released Luna's hand and, instead of shaking her hand, Harry grasped her hand, turned it palm down and kissed the back of her knuckles while maintaining eye contact with her, as was proper. He noticed Daphne suddenly looking past him and saw an ear-to-ear smile blossom on her face. She looked back at him for a moment, and her smile dimmed, but only a fraction. "I believe someone very important to you is awaiting your attention," she said warmly.
He turned and a clearly-very-embarrassed Hermione emerged from behind the privacy curtains, followed immediately thereafter by Madam Pomfrey. Hermione headed straight to him and wrapped herself around his free arm.
While Harry was a bit surprised, it surprised him more when her eyes flared at him and she kissed him firmly on the lips. "I missed you!" She then looked at his hand holding Daphne's. "I'm gone a few minutes and you're already holding another girl's hand!" she exclaimed in mock indignation. She freed one of her hands and reached out to Daphne, who took hold of it, her smile once more in full bloom.
Harry looked at the girls' joined hands but hid his shock well. It was then that Harry noticed Tracey poking Daphne's arm. Daphne looked over at her then stammered out a request, "The three of us would like some of your time this evening to further discuss the business you transacted with our fathers."
"How did you..." Harry asked, but Pansy interrupted.
"My father keeps no secrets from me regarding my duties to House Parkinson, Lord Potter," she explained.
"Lord Potter?" Hermione asked, the mock hurt evident in her voice, belied by the broad smile on her face. He sensed a significant amount of amusement from her.
Harry looked over at Hermione, "My Love, I promise you I will tell you everything that has happened since you've been petrified. I intend to keep that promise." When he had called her "My Love", he could feel her heart sing out. He watched as her face softened and a small, affectionate smile formed once again. "I need just a few hours to take care of some business. When I return, I will closet myself away with you and tell you everything."
He was thinking about his feelings for her and focusing on how much she meant to him. She must have somehow sensed it as she released Daphne and wrapped herself around him, kissing him soundly on the lips. Her eyes were closed and she was making a cute little mewling sound. She broke the kiss, opened her eyes, and in a lost little girl voice asked, "You really love me?"
He gently cupped both of her cheeks in his hands, "With all my heart do I love you, My Beautiful Beloved," he whispered earnestly, then kissed her again. Tenderly. Thinking about how he could spend the rest of his days making her feel loved.
He broke the kiss. "I have to go, Love. Would you do me a favour?" he asked.
"Anything, Harry," she said breathlessly, reminding him, for a moment, of some of the raving fan witches who'd followed him around after his defeat of Voldemort.
"This is Luna," Harry said, introducing her to Hermione. He beckoned the other three girls over as well. "This is Padma. And you already know Parvati and Lavender." Hermione looked at him curiously. "Please go with them to our quarters," he said, then turned to Luna and Padma, "Please answer any questions she has. Please take Daphne, Tracey, and Pansy there as well. I will, at the very least, need to make an appearance at dinner, if for nothing else than to keep my promise to Colin."
He then turned back to Hermione. "I know you have a million questions, Love, and I hope once they are all answered, you'll still feel the same way about me," he said. She could feel his concern, but still didn't know how or why.
He then addressed the youngest girl in the room. "Ginevra, please come here," he said, beckoning her over.
Ginny slowly made her way over and stopped, looking down at the floor. She was wringing her hands in worry and fear.
"Ginevra, please look at me," Harry said. When she still did not meet eyes contact, he reached out and gently cupped her chin. She looked up at him, allowing him to see her silent tears streaking her face.
He did not break eye contact with her, but turned his head slightly towards the three Slytherin witches. "Daphne, Tracey, Pansy, regardless of your past feelings about Gryffindor, or the Weasley family, until I explain, I would like your word that you will treat Ginevra as if she was a member of your House. I will explain more fully when I next see you this evening."
"It will be as you say, Lord Potter," Daphne said, understanding this was a formal request.
"Ginevra, you will go with them and wait for me to return. Ladies, please be gentle and understanding of her as she has been through an even rougher experience than any of those petrified," Harry explained. He leaned in and kissed Ginny on the cheek. His voice softened, "Go with them, Ginevra. Trust me when I say no harm shall come to you in their company. They will protect you, should the need arise."
Ginny looked in his eyes, smiled slightly and nodded. Harry turned and gave her a gentle pressure to head towards Daphne and Tracey, who were each holding a hand out to her.
Luna walked over and took Hermione's hand and kissed her on the cheek. "Harry's told us so much about you!" she bubbled excitedly. Hermione looked at Harry then at the little witch. "We're taking you to see where you'll be staying until the end of term," Luna continued, as she gently tried to tug Hermione out of the room.
Hermione looked back at Harry once more, "Go with them, Love. I will be along shortly. I promise." Harry said, making a shooing motion with his hands.
Hermione smiled and looked back to Luna. "Lead on, Luna," she said.
Harry watched the girls leave the Infirmary. Once they were on their way, he overheard Luna ask Hermione, "Do you know what a coven is, Hermione?" He just shook his head. "Yes, this is going to be interesting," he thought, as he turned to the one person remaining in front of him.
"Headmaster," Harry said and looked at the man with a feral grin, "we need to talk."