72 - A Hex Returned

Horace Slughorn was fuming.

Fifty points! Slytherin House, his house, had lost fifty points! On the first evening!

Never in his time as Housemaster had they lost that many points in one day, even with multiple infractions; and it had taken Astoria Greengrass only a few hours, and one stupid action, to do it.

Once he had given his usual pep talk to the first years, about being a family together and looking out for one another, he quietly drew the sixth year Miss Greengrass aside. And tore strips off her.

"What did you think you were doing?" he demanded, his usual friendly demeanor turned quite frosty. "Even though the Eighth Years are not participating in Houses as such, Draco Malfoy is still a Slytherin! Which means that you openly attacked a fellow housemate in public!"

"I'm very sorry, sir," Astoria replied, her eyes cast down to the ground.

"I'm sure you are," Slughorn replied, softening just a little. "My concern is that you may be a lot sorrier than you are now before this is all over. The Headmistress is not going to tolerate any inter-house rivalries, and I am not going to tolerate any within the House either. Is that clear? This has to stop. Now. You have demonstrated an impulsiveness that has no place in our House. I do not want to see it again. I want to see you staying out of trouble and behaving as an exemplary student."

"That's very clear, sir," Astoria replied. "May I go now?"

Horace sighed. "Yes, very well," he said, hoping this was the end of the matter.

But his gut instinct told him that there was wounded pride here, and this was going to escalate.

He hoped that his gut instinct was wrong. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

-#-

Wednesday 2 September

Harry and Draco had not slept well. They were both more concerned about the discussions they had had the previous evening than realized. Sure, Harry had known that trouble would start when they got into a larger group of people, and he knew that being sequestered away at Hogwarts was still easier than being out and about in public would have been; but he was still shaken by all the adulation he was receiving, all the people who wanted to come and shake his hand and scrape an acquaintance with him so they could say they had been at school together with Harry Potter.

It worried him. The Death Eaters had feted Tom Riddle in exactly the same way. How was he going to get across the message that this was unhealthy if he was being mobbed already?

But Harry put these feelings to one side. Draco had told him all about the run-in with Astoria, and he could tell that the blond was hurting after her remarks. Even after they had gotten up in the morning, he could see that the memory was still running through his head. So he took special pains to pull Draco onto their sofa and cuddle him extra tight. For his part, Draco snuggled in to Harry's arms, lapping up the affection as they sat together in a comfortable silence.

"I can't believe how vindictive she was," Draco said eventually.

"Slytherin," Harry said.

"I guess so," Draco said, after a while. "Though I bet Slughorn was furious. He hates losing House points."

"Do you think she'll try anything?" Harry asked.

"Bound to," Draco replied, as he stood up. "Better get on with it."

It was like sitting on a powder keg, wondering when it was going to go off. Fortunately, they did not have to wait long to find out. With the extra time Harry devoted to Draco, it had taken them longer than usual to get up and ready for the day, so they were only just heading into the Great Hall to breakfast when Astoria Greengrass was coming out. She spotted them first, and hid behind a suit of armour in one of the alcoves near the Great Hall. Just as they came level with the armour, she jumped out and fired a hex straight at them from only a couple of feet away. They turned to face it, and, having no time to raise a shield of his own, Harry clapped Draco on the shoulder.

It was clear, by the look of astonishment on her face, that the witch had heard nothing about the Haussmann Shield. Indeed, for a brief moment she seemed to be transfixed by its beauty as it sprang into being in front of her, the colours bright and vibrant. Harry took the time to study it carefully: the silver and green were getting to be very strong colours now, and their hues had changed subtly so that they complemented each other perfectly, the strands of magic they represented interlocking and seeming to reinforce each other perfectly. Where they overlapped, there were still some ribbons of red, but they were much smaller and lighter than before.

The obvious interpretation was that the two of them were growing closer in their bond, and their magics were becoming more attuned to each other; he wondered if that meant that they soon would not need the mordant any more. He hoped so; it was a mystery that he rather felt he could do without, especially as they hadn't really found anything more about it in all the Parseltongue books at Malfoy Manor. He wondered again just exactly what that red light meant; but if it was diminishing, perhaps sometime soon it would not be there, and it wouldn't matter any more.

All of this thought only took Harry the couple of seconds that the shield was up. Astoria's spell hit the shield, a rather ugly mustard-yellow blob splattering on the green and silver. The shield quivered for a moment, as though it was going absorb the spell; and then it seemed that the spell was too strong for that, for it bounced off with perfect elasticity, rebounding straight back towards the witch. Astoria had clearly not expected anything like this, and Harry could see her wonder disappear and shock bloom on her face as the curse came right back at her, hitting her full in the face and she learned that the shield might be very beautiful, but it was also very powerful and effective against strong magic.

"NOOOOOOO!" she yelled, and ran away shrieking. Harry wondered just what the spell was; he would have to discuss the matter with someone. Professor Flitwick and Professor Slughorn, perhaps, as their supervising Professor and Astoria's Head of House. And after last night, no doubt the Headmistress would want to be informed. But first, they needed breakfast.

-#-

When they reached the table, they found Archimedes there, sitting on the table, looking very put out at having been made to wait and hissing at any student who was foolish enough to go near him.

"Hello, Archimedes," Draco said cheerily. "Have you a letter for me?"

The regal owl gave Draco a filthy look, as if to say 'and why else would I be here?'; but the blond was quite used to the owl's snooty behaviour and only chuckled and fed him some bacon as he removed the letter from the owl.

"'Ow can you do that?" Blaise asked.

"Do what?" Draco replied.

"Well, we tried to touch him, and he attacked. See?" Blaise said, holding up a pecked finger.

"Episkey," Draco said lazily, and the cut healed. "That's hardly an attack, Blaise. He would have taken your finger off if he was really pissed off."

"Remind me never to piss him off!" Blaise said. "Oh! I must go!"

And with that, he jumped up and walked off.

Draco followed with his eyes, and smirked when he saw Blaise 'accidentally' meet up with a certain blond. He knew, or thought he knew, who his friend had his sights set on; but Blaise needed a bit of help getting himself together with regards to the opposite sex, and Draco suspected that the girl he was walking with now was the best person to give it to him. Certainly, while watching everyone closely at the Welcoming Feast, Draco had noticed that Blaise's eyes had strayed often to the Ravenclaw table, looking for encouragement; and the young lady he was now escorting had returned the look.

Unfortunately, Draco wasn't the only one who noticed Blaise's behaviour.

"Hey!" Ron said. "I thought Blaise was going out with…"

"Shush," Draco hissed as he took his seat next to Harry, who was already serving out breakfast from the loaded plates in front of them. "And please keep your voice down. For all his bravado, Blaise doesn't like his love-life being discussed."

"Oh," said Ron sheepishly. "Sorry."

"Accepted," Draco said absent-mindedly as he opened the letter and scanned the contents.

"It's from mother," he said to Harry. "Oh, yes. Oh goodness!"

"What?" Harry said as he handed Draco a plate piled with pancakes, while fetching bacon and eggs for himself.

"Thanks," Draco said as he accepted the plate with his free hand. "She's reminded me we need to discuss bonding rituals. You'd better read it yourself."

Harry took the letter and read it while gobbling down his breakfast. It took considerable skill to avoid getting food on it, but he managed.

"Um, she says 'which ritual we want'. We have a choice?" he said, looking a bit left out of the discussion.

"Oh Harry!" Hermione said from across the table where she was seated next to Ron. "Honestly! Haven't you checked this out yet?"

"Nope," Harry replied, unrepentant. "Why would I, when I have you and Draco to do that sort of thing for me?"

Hermione sighed.

"It's all right," Draco said placatingly. "We can discuss them during our free period after Transfiguration. Hermione and Ronald, are you able to meet with the Headmistress and our mothers at four o'clock on Sunday? They want to make sure that everything is ironed out before we go mental with study."

"Yeah, I guess so," Ron replied. "Hey, say thanks to your mum for setting this up."

Draco gave him a smirk. "All right," he replied, "but I'm willing to bet that your mother has a hand in it too."

Ron laughed; but Harry still looked a little lost.

"Why the Headmistress?" he asked, a little tentatively.

"Harry James Potter!" Hermione said, and Harry instinctively flinched. It was never good when anyone addressed him by all three names. "Have you paid attention to a single thing we have discussed about the bonding ceremony? The Headmistress has agreed to be the celebrant for us; so of course she needs to be consulted about what's going on."

"Um, actually, that's my fault," Draco admitted to Harry. "Mother set this up, and I hadn't got round to discussing it with you yet. I'm sorry."

"OK," said Harry, and thought for a second. Of course, he knew that there had to be a celebrant at a wedding, and they had pretty much given Narcissa a free hand. He could hardly complain; and he had to admit that McGonagall was an excellent choice.

"Yeah," he said, and gave a smile to match Ron's. "that's fine."

-#-

Luna turned around as the dark Italian came up to her.

"Are you going to walk me to class?" she asked in her simple way that made her so easy to talk to.

"May I?" he asked.

"Of course," she said. "I think you should ask Headmistress McGonagall if you can have the room that Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot used to be in."

"Really?" Blaise asked, rather taken by surprise by the change of subject. "And why is that?"

"Well, since you wouldn't be sharing with Ron any more, you'd both have more room to study," she replied, then added enigmatically, "amongst other things."

"I like you, Luna," Blaise blurted out.

"I like you, too," she replied, quite equably. "And she does too, you know."

"Er—so, what class do you have now?" he asked.

"Charms," she said. "It's funny that Professor Flitwick is both my House Master and year co-ordinator for both of you. He must be very busy. You should get with her today, and let him know."

Blaise choked a bit. He simply wasn't used to such open, direct speech; but then, that was why Luna was so helpful.

"That would be good," he replied. "Thank you."

-#-

Transfiguration, being taught today by Professor Dreyfuss as the Headmistress had a lot of administrative work to do, was almost finished when there came a knock on the door.

"Entrez!" the French Professor said.

"Excuse me, Monsieur Dreyfuss," the Headmistress said, standing erect on the doorstep with an apologetic air, "but I wonder if I could have a word with Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy?"

"But of course," Dreyfuss replied with a smile, waving to indicate to the two students that they were free to leave with the Headmistress. "Cl ass is done anyway, so you may all leave," he said to the other students as Harry and Draco packed their books away and followed the Headmistress out of the room.

Minerva McGonagall might have been in her sixties, but she could still set a cracking pace through the corridors of Hogwarts, and it was all the two young men could do to keep up with her. They arrived at her office in record time, without having spoken a word since leaving Transfiguration.

"Now," she said briskly as they arrived, pointing at the chairs by the window, "take a seat, both of you. I'm going to have to get Madam Pomfrey here as well."

So saying, she Floo-called the infirmary, and a minute or so the medi-witch stepped through.

"Well, well, Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy," she said archly. "Just what have you two been up to?"

-#-

Harry and Draco recounted the story of being attacked by Astoria that morning, and how the Shield had formed and sent the curse back at her.

"I see," Pomfrey said, tight-lipped. She looked at the Headmistress. "As we thought," she said.

Minerva nodded. "Difficult," she said.

"Oh, quite," Poppy replied. "Your job, though. I'd better get back."

Minerva nodded, and Poppy returned to the infirmary by Floo.

"What was that all about?" Harry said, mystified by the exchange he had just witnessed.

"As you can imagine, Miss Greengrass has told a different story," the Headmistress replied. "In her version, you attacked her. Which, given that her curse rebounded off your shield, has a tiny grain of truth to it, I suppose."

"And whose version do you believe?" Harry replied.

"I can't take sides," the Headmistress replied. "I have to uphold the rules; and there were no other witnesses, so it is a pretty problem you have set me. You really shouldn't be fighting in corridors or threatening students in any way."

"But we weren't!" Harry expostulated, beginning to stand up.

The Headmistress fixed her eye on him, her face an impassive mask, and the fight rather drained out of him as he retook his seat.

"Good," she said. "Have a biscuit, Potter."

-#-

The spell that Astoria had used was designed to attack Draco's vanity; it caused the victim's skin to turn blotchy and swell up with boils and pustules. As a result, Astoria spent the rest of the morning in the Infirmary, where Madam Pomfrey, very unimpressed, was able to at least reduce the itching and redness.

"I can't do any more for you," she said eventually, "and frankly, I'm not entirely sure that you deserve what I've done already. Anyway, run along with you. You'll be in time for lunch and afternoon classes."

On another occasion, Astoria might have argued; but even she could see that there was no point in getting the medi-witch on the wrong side any more than she was already, so she thanked her profusely, placed a veil over her face, and left for lunch. It was only as she neared the Great Hall that she realized, with a shudder, what classes she had that afternoon. Double Potions with Professor Slughorn was not going to be at all enjoyable.

It turned out that her anger had lent quite some power to her spell-work; she ended up wearing the veil for ten days.

-#-

Harry thanked the Headmistress for agreeing to be their celebrant, and he and Draco sat with the Headmistress drinking tea for another ten minutes when there came a knock on the door.

"Enter!" the Headmistress said, and Draco and Harry rose to their feet as the door opened to admit Blaise Zabini.

"Oh!" the Italian said as he saw them. "Mille apologies! Shall I come back another time?"

"Actually, we should go," Draco said. "We were just discussing our wedding, and Harry and I have to choose the ritual, so we should go and discuss that."

He turned to the Headmistress. "Thank you for your time, Professor," he said.

"Of course, Mr Malfoy," she replied, and a moment later she and Blaise were alone. She directed him to the seat by the window and Summoned a fresh pot of tea.

"Now, Mr Zabini, what can I do for you?" she asked, with a small twinkle in her eye. She had not missed the little hunt he had embarked on just after breakfast, and had a pretty shrewd idea what was going on. "Something about changing rooms, I understand?"

-#-

Ginny flopped down at the Gryffindor table, exhausted after a hard morning's work. Other years, the teachers had started off easy on the first day, at least; but this year, they had hit the ground running. In Flitwick's Charms class, they had been given a lightning-fast review of what they should have learnt the previous year, and then spent half an hour doing a placement test to see whether they were ready for seventh year classes or needed to repeat sixth year. Ginny found much of the material familiar; it helped that she had pestered Fred and George quite a bit about their products, which involved a lot of sophisticated Charms work.

Defense had been more enjoyable; the fact that Robin had taken the class was a definite plus. Although he had been perfectly professional, of course, and studiously referred to her as 'Miss Weasley' throughout the class. She had responded by calling him 'Professor Banks', which sounded very strange, but did help to distance classwork from her relationship. They had not been given a formal test as such; Robin clearly wanted to get to know the students, so had asked lots of questions. And the combination of his winsome personality and the fact that he gave House points freely had practically everyone in the class clamouring to answer.

"He's a very good teacher, your fiancé," Luna said as she sat next to her friend, startling her.

"How do you mean?" Ginny asked.

"Did you notice that everyone in the class ended up getting a question?" Luna replied.

Ginny thought back. Yes, without making it obvious, Robin had managed to engage with every student, and they had all been asked questions they could answer.

"And he managed to ask questions people could answer," Rionach, sitting opposite them, chipped in, echoing Ginny's thoughts. "That made for a general feeling of good will," she continued. "Just look, it's hard getting back into the study groove, but all the seventh years are a bit excited. It's going to be a fun class."

"Mm," Ginny replied, helping herself to some pumpkin juice and then passing the pitcher to Luna.

"Hey!" one of the fifth-year boys shouted, having spotted Luna, "what's a Ravenclaw doing sitting at our table?"

"I believe," Ginny said calmly, looking at him as though she were a bug collector and he an interesting specimen she might add to her collection, "that she is having lunch."

"I can see that," the boy replied, testily, and Ginny wondered whether the lack of respect for someone famous for a fearsome Bat Bogey Hex should be put down to bravery or foolhardiness, "but she doesn't belong at our table!"

"Students are free to sit at any House table during ordinary meals," Professor Sinistra said from behind him. The Housemistress had clearly seen trouble brewing, and come over to forestall it. "And I'm delighted to see my House welcoming members of other Houses to their table. Five points to Gryffindor for Miss Weasley's hospitality."

That shut the obnoxious fifth year up quite nicely, Ginny thought.

-#-

At the evening meal, Ginny returned the favour, and sat with Luna at the Ravenclaw table. But that event was overshadowed by another: Blaise, having approached Professor Flitwick for permission, which had been cheerfully granted, was sitting on Luna's other side. At first, the Ravenclaws were wary, looking on and keeping watch on the eighth-year Slytherin in their midst; but Blaise was a perfect gentleman, and it did not take long for them to warm to him.

The sharper-eyed Ravenclaws noticed something else, too. Luna, who had always been a bit strange, blathering on about creatures that didn't exist, seemed to have toned it down a little. She was still the same wide-eyed gentle creature she had always been; but, whether because of the war, or her having matured with late adolescence, or because Blaise was bringing out a strand of seriousness that had been hidden before, she was definitely less flighty than before.

Draco watched the scene with amusement. He was glad that Blaise was finding his place at Hogwarts; he had never really been comfortable in Slytherin, probably because he was shy to speak, being afraid that his English was not up to the mark. But Luna seemed to have dispelled all that.

After dinner, a small paper butterfly floated over to Draco, and he opened it with interest. It proved to be a note from the Headmistress asking Harry and him to meet her in her office at seven o'clock that evening. Draco chuckled; the invitation – or, to be honest, order, for that is what it was, albeit dressed in polite language – was written in the most correct, formal style; but its arrival as a butterfly rather gave the lie to it.

"What's that?" Harry asked.

"Our Headmistress wants to see us at seven," Draco replied, then, to explain his amusement, continued, "she sent her note as a butterfly. I think she likes us."

Harry snorted. "Of course she does. She offered me a biscuit, remember? You only get one of them when she's pleased with you, whatever she says."

-#-

When they arrived at the Headmistress's office, they found that Poppy Pomfrey, Astoria Greengrass, and a rather corpulent man that Harry did not recognise but gathered must be Astoria's father.

"Ah! Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy, do come in," the Headmistress said, her cordial tone balancing the petulant look on Mr Greengrass's face, as the four people in the room rose to greet them. "Mr Potter, you may not have met Adolphus Greengrass?"

Harry nodded his head at the man, refraining from offering his hand as the scowl on the man's face suggested he might bite it off.

"Pleased to meet you, sir," he said. It was a polite lie; but it did at least cause the man to relax a little. Clearly, though Mr Greengrass was angry, he was still going to observe the conventional niceties.

"Mr Potter," he replied, nodding his head in acknowledgement, but making no further statement. Alright, not observing them very far, Harry thought.

"Mr Greengrass, nice to see you again," Draco said blandly. He didn't particularly like the Greengrass head of family, the man tended to be a bit of a boor; but he was feeling a little generous, having seen that Astoria was wearing a veil to hide the effects of the curse, so he did stick out his hand; but Adolphus Greengrass just looked at it.

"Hmph," he said. "What's this I hear about you and Astoria, boy? Reneging on a contract? And then hexing my daughter?"

"If that's what you've heard," Draco said, and the coldness of his voice sent shivers up his spine, "then I'm afraid you have been misled. There is not, and has never been, a contract of marriage between Astoria and myself; if you believe otherwise, by all means produce one, and we shall consider it. And your daughter sent the hex that she is complaining of; so she has only herself to blame."

Greengrass's eyes narrowed, and he turned to face his daughter.

"Is this true?" he said, his voice low and menacing.

Astoria looked wildly around her. She could deny it; but she knew that, of the people in the room, only her father would believe her.

"I—I cast a spell," she admitted eventually. "But they put up some Dark shield or something that magnified it and sent it back at me!"

Draco grinned inwardly, but his face remained impassive.

"The effect that you saw, Astoria, is called a Haussmann shield," he replied. Harry noticed that his voice had taking on the tone Hermione used when she was lecturing them, and he chuckled inwardly at another example of how similar the two were, something about which they would both no doubt be horrified if it was pointed out to them. While he was thinking this, he discovered that Draco had explained the Shield and the circumstances of its creation, and was moving smoothly on.

"So, it is not in any way Dark Magic," he concluded, "and it did not amplify your spell, merely reflect it."

"That's not true!" Astoria demanded, stamping her foot and reminding everyone that she was the youngest, and most childish, person in the room.

"Well, let's see," McGonagall said. "Poppy, I understand you took charge of Miss Greengrass's wand?"

Adolphus looked up. "What?" he spluttered. "You took her wand?"

"Of course," the Headmistress said primly. "By her own admission, she had used a curse in the corridors, which is expressly forbidden; and as she only had Potions this afternoon, we kept her wand safe so that no-one could accuse her of anything else."

"And did you take their wands as well?" he said, pointing to Harry and Draco, and there was no disguising the distaste on his face.

"Of course not," the Headmistress replied crisply. "No-one has accused them of using curses. And the Shield," she continued, before he could interrupt, "has nothing to do with wand-work and is not prohibited."

"It did this to my daughter and it is not prohibited?" Greengrass demanded, rising to his feet and looking very intimidating. It was a ploy that brought him results with most pure-bloods; but the Headmistress was well up to dealing with such displays.

"Sit down," she said sternly, and there was no mistaking the schoolmistress in her voice. Harry was a little surprised to see that the man complied; but then, he thought, no doubt Greengrass had learnt Transfiguration from Professor McGonagall, and obedience was ingrained.

"That's better," she said. "Of course we do not prohibit students from defending themselves if they are attacked. And as you have heard, the Haussmann Shield was not being used as an offensive weapon. If we take your daughter's wand—" she reached out her hand, and Madam Pomfrey handed it over silently, "- and cast Priori Incantatum—"

As she said the words, the wand glowed, and a mustard-yellow ball of light formed on the tip.

"Ah!" said the Headmistress, and turned to Harry and Draco. "Is this the colour of the magic that hit your shield?"

"Yes," Harry replied. "Exactly the same shade. Er, it's very bright; does that mean anything?"

McGonagall smiled at him, the smile of a teacher whose favourite – if not always brightest – pupil has just hit on the exact point of the lesson. "It means, Mr Potter, that the spell was cast with considerable force behind it."

"We knew that," Draco opined. "Otherwise the Shield would have absorbed it."

"You knew it," the Headmistress replied, "but Mr Greengrass did not. I think now that there can be no further doubt, Adolphus, that Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy were the subject of an unprovoked attack from your daughter. As it turns out that she has borne the brunt of the attack, the curse having affected only her, I think we can consider the matter of today's incident closed."

Adolphus Greengrass closed his eyes. It seemed that his little princess was indeed in the wrong this time, and it was clear that he wasn't going to get anywhere.

"Fine," he said, begrudgingly, then turned back to Draco. "But what about the agreement between the Houses of Greengrass and Malfoy? Are you turning your back on your obligations there, boy? To our House, to honour the agreement, and to your House, to provide an heir?"

Draco tensed. He could feel the hurt that the last part had caused Harry, and his mind flew back unbidden to that hideous interview in the Manor where Vernon Dursley had said something similar.

"There is no contract," he said through gritted teeth, "I have made no agreement or promise to you or your daughter, and the Debt of Magical Emancipation makes it impossible for me to honour such promise even if it had been made. As for the production of an heir, you overreach yourself, sir. My father has sanctioned the bonding between Harry and myself, so it is none of your business. I trust you will respond in the appropriate way, or accept the consequences. Good day, sir, Madam Pomfrey, Astoria, Headmistress."

He nodded to each person in turn as he said this and then, grasping Harry's hand in his own, left the room.

Astoria turned to her father, and was a little frightened to see he had gone white as a sheet.

"What does that mean?" she asked timorously.

"What?" Adolphus asked, stirring himself. "Oh. Um. It means that I need to have a chat with Lucius Malfoy."

-#-

"It means," Draco answered, once they were safely ensconced back in their room, and he had sent Ozymandius off to Lucius with a missive outlining the events of the day, "that he has insulted my father, by suggesting that my father accepting you as his son-in-law was a mistake; and he has to either apologise or accept being shunned by the Malfoys."

"Oh," said Harry. He wondered if he would ever get his head around all these strange pure-blood customs. "And what happens if he just accepts that?"

Draco looked at Harry thoughtfully. It was a good question; the problem was that the answer was likely to upset Harry. Still, he probably needed to think about it.

"Harry," he said, "Astoria was kind of right last night. While we aren't exactly gold-diggers, the Malfoys allying with you is a terrific boost to us. And father is now seen as the leading light in the pure-blood world again partly because of it. For the Greengrasses to be shunned at the moment would almost certainly shut them out of all the pure-blood world. Which would basically force him to marry Daphne and Astoria off to 'unsuitable' people."

As Draco had predicted, Harry was rather riled by this. "Do you believe all this dragon-shit?" he asked.

"Of course not," Draco replied. "If I did, I would never have accepted you, bond or no bond. There are pure-bloods who would have killed themselves rather than continue to owe you the debt. Sticklers for the old rules. Adolphus Greengrass is one of them. But the way I see it, the old rules gave us Tom Riddle; the new way got me you. I know who I'd rather have."

-#-

The next two days of classes were somewhat less spectacular; the recently arrived students, other than the first years, found the pattern from day one continued as they were given remedial classes and testing in each subject to see which year level they should actually be in. At the end of a rather grueling week, quite a few students found to their chagrin that they were to be held back to repeat their previous year of schooling.

With the Headmistress's blessing, Blaise moved into Goldstein and Boot's former room on Wednesday evening. Luna was right about "other things", at least in that the Durmstrang boys took an interest in the new resident of their tower, and Blaise was able to bridge some of the bad feeling that was still felt between Stefan Ivanov and Draco Malfoy. This led to Draco and Stefan working together during their Potions lesson on Thursday, and discussing their differing techniques as they brewed the fiendishly difficult base for the Wolfsbane Potion. Their methods differed slightly; and instead of arguing, they sat together and reasoned it out, deciding that both would work, and that Ivanov's method would take less time to brew, while Draco's would result in a slightly stronger batch.

Their discussion was blown wide open when Harry suggested some improvements that were in the notes Snape had left for him inside the copy of Advanced Potion Making; they spent twenty minutes on this, and drew most of the rest of the class in. Professor Slughorn would have chastised them for this; but truth to be told, he felt that their discussion was of a very high standard (meaning that many of the suggestions that were made were new to him) and the students were learning, not only how to brew a particular potion, but how potion-making worked as an art form, identifying ingredients and their properties, and concocting the recipes for potions based on these.

Draco was concerned that, with people being free to move between tables, that Harry would get inundated with people wanting to fawn all over him; but in fact, the friendship that began to blossom between them and the Durmstrang students paid dividends; for the two boys were celebrities in their own right, and they and the Beauxbatons girls would manage to head off many students who otherwise would have pestered the Hogwarts Eighth Years. It also helped that, after the Astoria incident, the Headmistress had reminded students that they were at Hogwarts to study, not to collect autographs or settle old scores, and that they should take their education very seriously.

Even Saturday, when they were busy studying in the library, was relatively interruption-free; it helped that the weather was nice, and many students were involved playing impromptu Quidditch matches during the afternoon.

That evening, Blaise and Angelique Delacour were absent from dinner; there was some idle gossip about this, but Draco kept schtum. He knew that Blaise, being very proper about it, had Floocalled Auguste Delacour to ask permission to court his daughter; and the old man, equally proper, had asked him to come to dinner on Saturday night to meet the family and to ensure that all was done correctly.

So Draco went to bed happy on Saturday night. They had survived the first week of the rest of the student body; they had done a phenomenal amount of work, and he was beginning to feel confident about the looming exams; and, while he had not pried, he had not missed the smile on Blaise's face when he and Angelique returned from their evening out.

-#-

Sunday 6 September.

Draco suddenly came fully awake. It was early; far too early for a Saturday morning, he thought, judging by the light. Something was wrong, he could feel it, though he was not sure how; some unusual noise at their door perhaps. Whatever it was, the euphoric mood of the previous evening was gone. It might, he decided, be a threat to Harry; and with the bond humming between them, he was becoming very sensitive on the subject of Raven's safety.

He dressed quickly and made his way down the stairs, pausing on their landing to check that there was nothing remarkable there. He noticed that he could hear Ron's snoring, but not the snuffling he associated with Hermione. That was strange; he was pretty certain the two of them had spent the night together in Ron's room, a side-effect of Blaise's moving out being that Ron could entertain his fiancée at home as well as away, so to speak.

As he reached the common room, he could hear a quiet whimpering coming from a secluded corner near one of the fireplaces. As he went over to it, he could see the missing Hermione Granger sitting on the sofa, doubled over, clutching her knees and evidently trying very hard not to cry out in pain.

He cleared his throat to warn her of his presence before coming over and sitting across from her. He could see at a glance that she had been crying and was somewhat disheveled, and he guessed that she had spent the night in Ron's room and now come downstairs intending to sneak back into her room before anyone spotted her. Though it was evident that his wakefulness and her pain had scuppered that plan.

"Granger?" he said softly. There was no response.

"Hermione?" he said, equally softly. This time the brunette raised her head and looked at him through red eyes.

"Draco," she said, sounding exhausted. "Sorry, can't talk."

"I can see that," Draco replied with a smirk. "I was just wondering if there was something I could get you? An anti-nausea potion, perhaps?"

Hermione put her head down, shaking it as she did so.

Draco was worried; he could see that she needed something, and needed it badly. Surely by now she knew she could trust him? But then the sickle dropped: of course, she didn't know that he knew, so she wouldn't dare take anything that he offered her, just in case.

"Don't worry, it's a pregnancy-safe potion," he assured her. "I've been brewing them just in case for the last week or so."

Hermione looked up at the blond with a new respect, flabbergasted.

"How … How did you know?" she asked, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

Draco smiled enigmatically. "Have you forgotten I am a Slytherin?" he said teasingly. "Actually, I was wondering who would need it first, you or Pansy."

"Pansy?" Hermione said, momentarily shocked out of feeling sorry for herself with this piece of gossip. "Really? But she and Blaise …"

"She and Theo," he said, emphasizing the correction, "have been seeing each other for a long time, and it's got serious over the last couple of months. Especially now that his arm is healing nicely."

"Right," Hermione said, becoming all business-like as she returned to discussing her own situation. "Does Harry know? About me, I mean."

Draco smiled. "Of course not. Gryffindor and oblivious, that one. And I'm not about to tell him, though I think you should, and soon. I really don't want to keep secrets from him, even if they aren't mine."

"All right," she said. "I guess it will come out when we discuss bondings, anyway."

"It doesn't have to," Draco replied. "Harry and I can't have the virginal bonding; so we could say that we all wanted to have the same, so no-one would know you aren't because you couldn't, either, if you see what I mean."

"That's generous of you," she replied. She did indeed see what he meant, and was grateful that it added up to saving her a good deal of public embarrassment. "Thank you. Um, you—"

"I'm not going to tell anyone else," he said, spotting the anxiety in the witch's eyes and understanding her concern. "It's your secret to tell, not mine. I only told you about Pansy because she told me I could."

"Who are you, and what have you done with the real Draco Malfoy?" Hermione asked, and Draco estimated from the look in her eye that she was only half-joking.

"I'm Harry Potter's lover, and fiancé," he replied simply. "And I owe him a huge debt, and I love him even more. And I guess both of those encompass his friends too."

"Careful, Draco, or people might think you like me."

"People may think whatever they please," Draco replied gravely. "Now, do you want that potion?"


AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Grateful thanks as always to the wonderful Bicky Monster for helpful suggestions. Ruth_lily is getting better; I hope she will be back on deck soon!

Draco's last-but-one comment is a reference to Piet Hein's lovely grook

WHAT PEOPLE MAY THINK
. . Some people cower and wince and shrink,
. . owing to fear of what people may think.
. . There is one answer to worries like these:
. . people may think what the devil they please.

Some people asked about Petunia. She'll be along soon enough.

Other locations: See my profile for details about facebook and AO3. The story is also now available on AFF should anyone prefer that site.

Thanks: To all who are following and favoriting! It gives me a lovely warm feeling that you're interested. And double thanks and lemon cheesecake to those who reviewed chapter 71.

HarryMalfoy09 [Loved it! Cant wait for more!] And here you are!
AnastasiaChambers [more fun to begin] Indeed!
LuvlyLadyLexi I see no reason not to be satisfied; Rosier was an arse and got what was coming to him. Yes, Draco is a wonderful man. And the Ravenclaws know they are on the thinnest of thin ice. By the way, I've saved you an extra large slice of cheesecake for guessing the Trouble With Hermione.
MirrorFlower and DarkWind So kind!
daithi4377 Pretty much. And indeed, they expect the world to bow down to them; as we can see here, it won't.
Julia Ba Thanks!

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