Chapter 33 - The Long Month of Harry Potter
The weekend after classes restarted, Jennifer Scott was thrilled to be called in for a photo shoot. Sweet sixteen and beautiful looks were a good start to her idea of a career in modelling, and she had been spotted a few years earlier as having potential. After advice from her doctor, and backed up by advice from the Clan, she was changing her diet and exercise program, and the results showed. Due to that and her self-confidence, she was getting more calls for fashion work. She had a good brain, but she loved looking good and was sure she could make a career of it.
The trouble with the shoot was that her mother had been called in to deal with cases and her father was standing in as her mother's assistant, leaving no one to look out for her. Jennifer was all set to protest that she didn't need anyone to do that when she had a better idea, suggesting that since Harry was a good friend of the family and had some training, he could be her bodyguard. She also hinted that Harry was naturally too young to be a threat to their daughter's virtue even as she pointed out how strong and capable he was. While her mother would have seen right through such a ruse and the obvious contradictions to the goal of spending time with her crush, Jennifer knew how to play off her father's concerns.
So, at nine in the morning on a Saturday in April, Harry was waiting out the front of her house after ringing the bell. Jennifer answered the door with her best smile, expecting Harry to be there alone, and it grew more genuine as she saw she was right. Taking his hand in hers, she led the way to the bus station, arriving in plenty of time for their ride and indicating that Harry should take the window seat.
"No thank you, Jennifer," he replied, "I wouldn't be much of a guard if let myself get trapped so easily."
She had the grace to blush as he called her on her plan, smoothing out her dress as she took the window seat with its better view before Harry sat next to her. Now, she couldn't cuddle with him but still - "Oh, and thank you again for making me these clothes, Harry. They're gorgeous!"
"You're welcome, Jen. It was a pleasure to work with you and I'm glad you like them."
"Like them? I love them!" She grinned at him, then turned a little in her seat to show them off to him.
In truth, she was a loveable girl, her only real flaw was her vanity, but she did have a body to be vain about, Harry admitted to himself. She had been just as eager as Lavender was to get him to make her new outfits when Ashley had confided in the new girls to Cranleigh just where they got their fashions.
Since his ladies had already agreed on his behalf to make them up, Harry just shrugged his shoulders and gave each of the five girls their fittings. That occasion somehow turned into giving his ladies another fitting and getting requests for one more outfit, pretty please, Harry? Oh, and we'd really love a massage too, of course! Harry realised guiltily that his attention had drifted off while Jennifer kept talking to him.
"And I've never had an outfit that fits me so well, Harry!" She gave him a firm hug, letting him feel her body, before pulling back and smiling. Jennifer remembered her talking to from Harry's ladies, that while they would not object to some flirting, she and the others weren't allowed to take it too far. They reserved some activities exclusively for themselves. The solution to this was obvious to Jennifer. Become one of Harry's ladies and she wouldn't need to worry. She already knew he was sexy and strong, and very skilled with his hands. She wasn't a hundred percent certain that she was in love with him, but felt she easily could fall for him and she wanted to.
For his part, Harry had a pretty good idea what she wanted, and he already knew he liked her as a friend. He just didn't know if he would love her like she wanted, and without that, he couldn't see himself touching her as he knew she wanted him to touch her.
During their ride together, they talked mostly of fashion and friends, subjects they had in common, until it was time to get off the bus. Harry exited first as he was trained, taking in the situation at a glance before taking Jennifer's hand and helping her off the last step which was a bit more of stretch than the others. Besides, she was already reaching out to him for just that.
They headed inside, Harry getting the door for her as he was taught, and headed up to the first floor studio. Once there, Jennifer introduced herself to the photographer and his assistant while Harry sized them up as, in no particular order, no threat, decent equipment, professional demeanour and romantically interested in each other. All up, a good rating, and he was ready for them to dismiss him from the studio while they got on with their work.
"Oh, darling, you have to look at these clothes! Sensational! Tell me Jennifer, where on Earth did you find them?!"
Harry thought that the man was overdoing the praise but he did feel good about it nonetheless. Jennifer smiled and showed off her outfit for the thirty-something man. "This? Why, I have to thank my good friend Harry here for that."
"You? I'm sorry, I thought you were sent along to keep her out of mischief. But really, did you put together this ensemble?"
"Not this ensemble, perhaps, but I did create each item myself." Harry responded proudly.
As the professionals examined her closer, touching her clothes, Harry watched Jennifer closely, ready to step in if they made her uncomfortable. He need not have worried as the girl was all too happy to show off. The assistant even complimented her, saying that she wished her own outfit looked half as good.
The photographer paused at this and snapped his fingers. "Yes, yes, we simply must have you in these. These other clothes we had simply will not do!" He looked over at Harry. "You will be honoured to have your outfit displayed, yes?"
A pleading look from Jennifer and Harry nodded, the photographer already looking away, obviously dismissing any conception that his demand would be rejected. While insulting in his manner, Harry had no other problem with the idea as he agreed that the clothes they had prepared were inferior to what she was wearing, both in fit and in quality. Harry didn't have any plans to become a couturier at any time so the exposure was a null factor to him, while making Jennifer look good was the whole point.
After a lot of posing, a lot of adjustments to lighting and finally a grumbling stomach, the job was done. They got out of there, leaving the photographer arguing about how he was supposed to choose which photos to use when they had so many that he adored. That put smiles on both teens' faces and they got a quick lunch before heading back home.
Nicole was having trouble fitting in at the new ballet class she was taking, and it was taking its toll on her body as she pushed herself harder. When she complained at the end of school on the Monday about sore muscles and aching feet, Meaghan took pity on her and brought Harry over. "Please Harry, I know you can help her."
"What's the problem, Nicole?" Harry asked for the sake of politeness though he could already see the reason.
"It's my feet, Harry," she blushed, "I think I might have been trying too hard in ballet and they're hurting worse than usual."
"Let's get you home and off those feet then."
Meaghan cursed inside, having forgotten that Harry couldn't use Body Flicker or his other techniques here. They were just so convenient. "Could you help her with that?"
Nicole took a breath to steady her nerves. "I would appreciate it Harry. Perhaps a piggyback?"
Harry looked at his girls, pleasantly surprised that none of them showed any resentment at the request. He turned around and presented his back to a momentarily confused Nicole before she climbed on gingerly and held on as Harry stood up easily. "Do you mind if we take the long way, Nicole? I'm not sure you'd want to be seen like this," he added gently.
Nicole shook her head and held on, moaning when his walking made her rub against his back before she could stop its escape. Harry being a gentleman ignored it and walked with a gentle gait, surrounded by their other friends as they travelled as a group back to Nicole's place which was close to the Compound. Once home, Harry got her to put her feet up and took off her shoes and socks. A quick but gentle examination of her feet confirmed his suspicions. "I'm sorry, Nicole, you're going to have to give them a rest. I can massage them, undo the damage you've done today, but that's the best I can do for you."
The glare from Meaghan softened when Harry gave her a small smile, and turned into a smile of her own when she got the message that his best would include some of his medical know-how.
Meaghan and the rest were keeping the girl distracted. Under cover of their help Harry's hands briefly glowing while he applied a few different jutsu to repair the muscle and nerve damage, before his massage took care of the joint and muscle pains remaining.
Nicole groaned loudly when he finished working on her feet and legs, pouting cutely when he stopped and then grinning in triumph as he worked her back next. With the girls there, Nicole couldn't complain about him skipping certain areas, as much as she would love to feel his fingers on her, but what she got felt great. At the end she turned over and pulled Harry into a hug. "Thank you, you're very good to me."
Each time thereafter she had ballet practice, she would call Harry over for another massage, not really noticing that she was regaining feeling in her toes that the ballet had been destroying. Her performance picked up and with it her happiness. That was all that mattered.
Jessica had been keeping an eye on her friends, and indeed on everyone else that she could. There was something irresistible about watching people, finding out first what was going on. She had trouble talking to new people, she just felt so shy around them especially in groups, but expressing herself on paper was easier. She could take her time, get her words right not stumbling over them, and best of all, go back and correct them after.
As time went on, she had taken to writing down and sharing her observations with her friends, and she had noticed that over Easter, something had changed about Harry. It wasn't hard to figure out that it had something to do with those other girls of his. When they arrived over the break, he had almost disappeared, though that wasn't the right word since he was still out and about. No, his focus had shifted entirely to them, at least for the Harry's that were at home. There had also been something going on, something that had happened in the first couple of days, that altered their dynamics. The girls seemed a lot more friendly, a lot closer knit, than before.
While she tried to investigate it as sneakily as she could, to Harry she might as well have been holding up a sign "Sneaky girl here!" She had even kept it up now that everyone was back at school. The situation couldn't go on.
"Jessica!" he called to her one evening, guiding her to a park bench.
"What's up, Harry?"
"I know you're trying to pry into my private life, Jessica." Harry told her bluntly as he gave her a serious look, hoping she wouldn't try to lie or bluster.
"I-" Jessica broke off, then sighed. "Damn it, how did you know? What gave me away?"
"Well, you were trying to sneak over the fence, and I spotted you doing it a few times. I hoped you would give up when you didn't get to see or hear anything."
"I'm sorry, Harry. I know I shouldn't spy on you like that, you're my friend, or at least I hope you still are."
"That depends, Jessica. Why were you doing it?"
"I could tell there was something that had changed about you, and I wanted to know. I hate being left in the dark, the last to know something, so I've been working on it, trying to find things out so I don't feel like a fool." Jessica finished up almost in tears.
"Don't you think it's up to my ladies and I to decide what we keep to ourselves?"
"I do, but, well, it was also a challenge. I let my curiosity get the better of my good sense, Harry. I promise not to spy on you ever again! Please, forgive me."
"Well, I can't do that yet, but I can give you a chance to prove you mean it. You'll have to agree not to write about us either. Yes, I saw you writing notes while you were skulking around," Harry added with a gentle smile.
Jessica breathed out relieved and dived in her bag for her notes. She ripped them up in front of him then threw them away, hugging him close. "Anything you want, Harry,"
"That's a dangerous offer to make," he winked at her, then changed the subject.
Over the next hour, they talked more and Jessica explained how she loved those private eyes in detective novels and the daring journalists. When she tried to emulate them, well, she got a thrill of excitement, whether it was going in and investigating or writing up her experiences later.
The next girl to come to Harry's attention was both better and worse off than the others, or maybe her problem was just different. Amanda had hit an early growth spurt when she was younger and kept ahead of the other girls in class, taller and bigger than many of the boys too.
This made her a natural on sports days, but as she grew older, so grew the jealousies about her. Unfortunately, the kids in Cranleigh were no more immune to that than in her old home, and the way she was close friends with four other girls made a rumour about her sexuality inevitable. Sure, she was just as at home on the football pitch as any of the guys, but why did that have to matter?
The straw that broke the camel's back came as she was tossing up the idea of approaching Harry and his parents for training. She had heard how martial arts could do great things for your fitness. That was when she heard one of the 'pretty' girls in her class telling one of her friends "At least Amanda won't be stealing away our boys when she's got those girls of hers."
The way it was said loudly enough for her to hear just added to the hurt she felt. She walked off like she hadn't heard, nearly cracking when the other girl giggled at some whispered comment, and she set out to get out of there before the cruel girls saw how much they affected her. Blind to where she was going, she went past the library and the school oval, taking a seat at the bench furthest from the buildings when she realised someone was trying to talk to her.
"You look like you could use a shoulder to cry on, Amanda." Harry replied.
And so she did, though it took ages before she finished explaining what they had said, and everything else that had led up to it, hugging onto the young man as she confessed even that the girls might be right about her feelings. "Well, partly, maybe," she blushed, "I don't know if I'll ever find a boy who likes me like that, and the only boy I like is-" She shut herself up, then took a breath and let it out slowly. "It's you, Harry. I know you're already taken, and I won't push y-you..." she trailed off, crying again as Harry held her.
When she recovered, she was determined to ignore her confession, asking if he would accept her as his student. If she was going to get the problems from this, she might as well get the benefits.
Harry discovered Lauren in the library at his home one evening after school. He had gone to look for her when she had been gone a while after using the facilities. She had wandered on her way back, curious about the other rooms, even knowing it was a bit naughty. She kept her nose out of bedrooms, but other rooms were fair game to her until she found her weakness.
"Lauren?" Harry called to her as he approached, but she didn't look up from her book, so he tried again, and a third time, until he placed a hand on her shoulder.
Lauren jumped and blushed, stammering apologies.
"It's fine, if I'd known you were interested, I would have given you a tour myself."
"Well, no need now. Thank you, Harry."
"And I see you're reading one of the classic Regency romances."
"Oh yes, I love them, and this is the best of them all!" Lauren gushed, "Though I always felt that 'First Impressions' made a better title, and.."
And so Harry was treated to a long talk on the virtues of Jane Austen, and Lauren asked him to read out parts of it to her, before they headed out to grab dinner. She curled up on a couch, smiling and listening to his voice with her eyes closed.
Michelle sighed as she called up the last of the girls. Unfortunately, she had found out about the disco too late and everyone else was booked already for the Friday night. Even the new girls in town were booked up with various things.
On the other hand, she thought to herself as a smile broke out on her heart shaped face, while she knew for a fact Harry was already busy with half a dozen prior engagements, that wouldn't stop him being able to go out with her to the disco! Everyone else was wanting him at their place, or some other private location, which meant she was the only one wanting their Harry in public.
Calling him up, Harry confirmed that he would be able to make it. "If I must," he agreed, his amused tone belying his words. "See you in ten minutes?"
"Sure! And thanks, Harry!"
She checked her clothes and makeup, incredibly thankful that her mother had given her tips on how to apply it and stopped her looking like a, well, she wouldn't say that word. A tight white jumper, pale blue shirt underneath, matching skirt and shoes and she was set. The skirt was a couple inches shorter than she would normally wear but she needed that flexibility for dancing, or at least that's how she justified it when really she just wanted to show off her legs to Harry. She blushed at the thought and then re-checked her makeup.
By the time she was done, Harry was ringing the doorbell. She looked him over as he was standing there dressed to kill, figuratively speaking. The tight white shirt he was wearing under the light jacket would show up brightly under the UV lights and his tight pants showed off his body just right.
"You look delicious," she grinned and pulled him in, tilting her head up and kissing her man, sighing into him as he held her close before she came up for air, jumping into his arms and winking. "To the party, James!" she pronounced in her fake posh accent, giggling before Harry walked out the door carrying her, closing the door with his foot. He would have paid his respects to her parents but they were out at a party of their own.
Taking the quick way, Michelle cuddling closer, they were soon near the club where Harry slowed down, setting his love back on her feet as they walked along holding hands. They cuddled as they waited in line. Harry paid the cover charge for them both since Michelle was too busy snuggling into his side and he had his money ready.
In the club, cleaned up and aired out for the underage disco night, there were lots of other teens and loud music playing. While Harry would have preferred it a little quieter, given his medical knowledge about hearing loss, he wasn't going to complain. Just about everyone there wanted to have fun, and that kind of atmosphere was invigorating.
Heading out onto the crowded dance floor, Michelle beamed, already getting into her rhythm and starting to dance, shaking her butt at Harry and grinning at his expression, her message clear. "Hurry up!"
They danced for just over an hour before Harry took a protesting Michelle up to the bar. There he ordered a couple of cokes for them, then chuckled as she drank hers quickly, ordering bottles of water to follow which they took out onto the dance floor. After four hours, almost all of it on her feet dancing her socks off, Michelle was just about done in, glad that she had lasted until the event was finished, and walked out with Harry to an alley so he could take them both home the easy way. Well, the way that was easy on her poor feet, at least, as Harry carried her piggyback. On the walk home, Harry talked to her about her latest computer project, casually using medical jutsu to soothe her feet.
Michelle cuddled close, caressing her man and kissing his neck when she wasn't talking. She wasn't worried about the way her skirt had ridden up her legs when those same legs were wrapped around her Harry, and he was carrying her jumper since she didn't need the extra warmth, not with Harry there.
Life was great.
The morning after that, Harry was on a picnic with Ella. He had prepared and packed their lunch and carried the supplies in one of his special bags as they walked down to the meadow, a warm breeze playing with her hair and the sun peeking through the white clouds above.
She smoothed out her sundress, smiling at Harry as he set out the blanket for her to lay on, and ran her hand up and down his arm, feeling the muscles beneath. Again she had the desire to curse her parents for making her wait. She was fifteen, for God's sake, that was plenty old enough to make her own decisions! Only, that's not how her parents saw her. To Daddy, she would always be his little girl, but Mum knew different and she had laid down the law to her girl. She even threatened to have Ella 'checked' if she thought her daughter was breaking the rules.
She looked up at Harry, his hair haloed by the sun and pulled him on top of her anyway, kissing and holding him for a few minutes before she let him up again. He kissed away the lone tear that escaped and brushed her hair. She squeezed his hand, then sat up, leaning against him and savouring his arms around her. "Thank you, Harry, I need this more than I can say."
"My pleasure, my Ella." Harry fell silent, content just to hold her.
"So," she eventually broke the silence, "I finally got my city just the way I like it in Sim City."
"Hey, that's great," Harry cheered.
"Yeah, the crime rate's low, land values are high and there's plenty of parks and good transport and... Oh, I'll show you later. The problem was that just one month later, an earthquake struck! I'm in the middle of cleaning it up and rebuilding."
"I know what you mean, Ella, it seems that always happens. Did you remember to save it before the disaster?"
"I did, just. I almost didn't, you know."
Harry chuckled, "I know, it's so tempting to try to go just that little bit further."
Ella blushed, her mind immediately thinking of Harry instead of the game, but pushed on. "I was thinking, what would you think of me if I wanted to go into town planning after school?"
"Really? I think that it would be great to follow your dream, honey."
"You don't think it's too much for me, too hard? Mum is worried that there are too many men in the profession and I wouldn't get anywhere."
"I know you can do it if you try, Ella." Harry gave her a hug to show his support.
"And if I do get into it, I'd have to move away for uni, wouldn't I?" She smiled, snuggling closer. "That wouldn't be so bad. I could invite you over any time I wanted, and Mum wouldn't be stopping me any more."
"Mmhmm, that's true." Harry sighed, hating having to say the next bit. "You know she's just trying to look out for you, honey."
"I know, but it's so unfair! None of the other girls have their mothers coming down on them like mine." Harry rubbed her back in circles, soothing her. She knew that really it was more a case that the other mothers knew they couldn't really stop their daughters and weren't prepared to risk their relationship with their daughter when they actually did trust Harry, more so than he could expect, not to hurt their girls. Ella's mother, on the other hand, was prepared to risk that in order to save her from becoming, according to her beliefs, a fallen woman. Harry didn't share her faith and especially didn't believe that a loving god would condemn someone for expressing their love, but he was too polite, and too politic, to get into an argument with the woman about it.
"Anyway, love, we have a lovely lunch, the sun is shining, and the time to enjoy the two." Harry smiled, feeling her relax in his arms, and they talked of happier things until their return to Ella's house after the picnic, again holding hands and her hair and dress restored to their pristine state thanks to Harry's skills. Laying on a blanket and cuddling with Harry had messed up both of them, and while they hadn't broken her mother's restrictions, there was no sense in inviting trouble by looking like they had.
A final hug and she headed inside to get started on her next city design while Harry walked home with a smile.
Meaghan was fast becoming one of the more surprising of his girls. Still a sweet girl, still serious and quiet, she was now exploring her taste for things that go boom. Having impressed their teachers with her sense of responsibility and her understanding of the material, she had, with Harry's help, started to make more interesting compounds than the school's chemistry lab usually saw.
It started with a few mild exothermic reactions, producing heat and light, but she had somehow managed to talk her way into making more energetic compounds. Permission was given after demonstrating not only that she knew how to make them but that she already had contingency plans for keeping things safe if things went wrong. She rewarded Harry with an extra long kissing session for that idea.
Unfortunately, Monday evening it seemed she had failed. The explosion ripped through the lab, through the outside wall and broke old Mrs Gifford's windows. Thankfully, no one was injured as the school was closed and teachers had gone home, while Mrs Gifford was out visiting a friend.
Naturally, that was only the start of the problems for poor Meaghan. She and her parents were called into the principal's office the next morning while the chemistry lab was being examined. Having learned his lesson from the last time, the man actually asked her what she knew of the explosion, reminding the girl that he did know about her extra credit projects.
Meaghan had nodded and explained that as per the safety plan she had made and had approved, she and her teacher had checked on her experiments at lunch before locking the fans in the off position, locking the cabinet and so on with her teacher signing off on it all and her teacher keeping the key.
"Thank you for your time, Ms Best. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to believe you and leave it there, I do need to ask the other parties. Mr Best, Mrs Best, I will let you know if I need to speak to your daughter again."
Glad that this had gone much better than the last time she had been called in, the family said their goodbyes and her parents went off to work where they happily told their co-workers that Meaghan had been found to be the responsible little girl they knew her to be.
At the school, however, the principal had called in the chemistry teacher, wanting to check her story. Though it did check out, the teacher did report that the spare key to that part of the lab was missing, and he had been told that the fans were set to 'On' according to SOCO. He stressed that he did not believe Meaghan to have taken it.
Questioning of the other teachers led the principal to the conclusion that it was one of the older students who also had an experiment going on in one of the other units, an attempt to get his grade up to an acceptable standard, in fact, since he was on the verge of failing the class.
After hauling the boy in, he admitted to having the key, claiming the teacher had lent it to him after he asked too many times to be able to check on his experiments. He denied being the one to switch the fans on for Meaghan's experiment, saying that it was obviously her own fault since it was her explosives.
His parents, when consulted, stuck by their son's line that since it was her experiment that exploded, it should be her that pays for the damage, not them! The boy was suspended for a week for taking the key, with a warning that any other incidents like that would have him handed over to the police. The principal couldn't take any action over the destroyed lab, not without proof which had been wrecked in the blast.
Ugly whispers went around the school despite the chemistry teacher's public backing of his favourite student, and many parents were worried about how they would afford to get it rebuilt when the guilty party's parents refused to do the right thing. With filthy looks being sent both at the idiot and at Meaghan, mostly by students who didn't quite accept her innocence as they took the same simplistic view as the idiot about whose fault it was, Harry couldn't stay out of it any longer.
The next day, the school principal announced that they had received an offer to rebuild the lab which they had gratefully accepted. The local paper also hinted that the Clan were behind the deal that would see the school's lab rebuilt and extended at no cost to the community.
It also suggested buying them a round of drinks in thanks.
While the school could have sued the parents of the boy who had caused all the damage, the Clan asked them not to do so. Not only would it be chancy in terms of winning the case, but even if they got the money, it would still hurt their community. Since the Clan were willing to foot the bill themselves, the principal and the Bests went along with their request. Instead, the boy was placed on notice that any further incidents would see him expelled from the school and notes were placed on his permanent record. He also was given stern warnings from the local head of police that because of his actions, he was going to be watched by them as well.
With the gossip from that settling down, Stephanie was finally able to get back into writing her computer game. She secured Harry's advice much to the amusement of the other girls not in how to write the game, or how to design it, but in the fashions her models male and female should wear. If Harry had been any less secure in his masculinity, he would have been worried at just how much he was enjoying it as she got him to talk to her about cut and fit and draping the materials just so.
"Oh, thank you, Harry, that is making a lot more sense now. I think I'm really onto a winner!" Stephanie squealed and hugged him tight as they were talking in her bedroom.
Harry's wink and "Yes, I'm afraid you're right," got her laughing, and they discussed more about her plans, as well as how best to appeal to the young teen female market.
Getting the game released on console was out of the question. They didn't want to spend so much on the licensing and getting up to speed with a different language when they'd only have to start again with a new console by the time they were done, especially not for a first game when they didn't even know if it would be worthwhile. Instead, they were building it to run with minimal user IT skills on Windows For Workgroups.
That was easier, cheaper and faster, and her hope was that the growing number of girls with access to computers would love the idea of dressing up their models and sending them to fashion shows.
They had the door ajar, following the house rules, but only ajar so the noise in the rest of the house didn't disturb their concentration too much. It also allowed them to hear her father's call to dinner and they headed out smiling and sitting down to the meal as a family.
The surprise Ashley had for Harry that April was probably the most pleasant for the young man. No stress, just an engaging idea and a vision of new frontiers.
The pair were cuddling in her bedroom, watching the telly when she turned around to face him. "Harry, I've been thinking, why can't we go to the Moon?"
"Well, there's the obvious problems of the thrust needed, and taking everything you need with you, and so on."
"Exactly, and none of the current approaches use um 'fuinjutsu' right, so couldn't they help to make it all easier?"
Harry was about to answer when he realised he had no idea. "I don't know, honey, but we could certainly try to find out!"
When he got home and mentioned her idea to his parents, they just grinned and promised to do something nice for the girl for giving them such a wonderful area to explore.
Ashley spent Saturday afternoons cuddling with him and talking with him about the whole idea of using their abilities to make space travel easier, safer, faster, cheaper and so on. Their sealing techniques were already used to boost the strength of materials or make them more heat resistant, both things that could be incredibly useful in space travel by reducing mass penalties, increasing safety margins and allowing more efficient engines to be used. It was a project that would require ingenuity, patience and a lot of testing where the Clan honestly didn't know the answers beforehand.
In short, it was just about perfect for the Clan, able to provide years of diversion and staving off boredom, and that was even if the effort was a failure. If it was a success, well, the sky was no longer the limit.
Sandra was honestly happy for Harry and his girls, but right then it was hard to remember that. She was even happy for Adam and his new girlfriend, though that was harder still when it felt like her heart was breaking.
She had been so close, just about to confess to Adam how much she liked him, how often he had been on her mind, but as they finished up their group work for the day, Adam's girlfriend had been waiting outside for him with a big smile and a kiss for her man.
They looked right together, and Lord knows she didn't really wish any harm to come to the girl who had beaten her to the punch, but when she left the place, she found herself slipping against her will. She wandered aimlessly through the town, lost and without purpose, not even aware that she was mumbling out loud about her pain.
Right then, one of Harry's clones had been passing through the area on some stealth training when he overheard his friend's distress and abandoned the mission in favour of trying to help her. Retrieving an old copy of National Geographic that his Dad had planted at the local library without being noticed could wait.
He dropped from the rooftop into a little-used side street, coming out and running into Sandra. This almost became a literal run-in when Sandra didn't even notice him approach, looking around startled when she felt his hand on her shoulder.
"What the? Harry! You startled me!"
"I'm sorry, Sandra. I tried to get your attention since you were about to run into me, but you didn't seem to hear me." Harry replied, openly concerned.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry. It's just I, oh, why am I bothering you with my problems."
"We're friends, aren't we? Friends share things like this, right?" Harry coaxed, already taking her arm gently and guiding their path to the shops.
Sandra sighed, nodding and began opening up slowly, starting by talking about the group project she was working on, and what the classes were like, before mentioning the others in her group, ending with Adam.
The way she said his name told Harry that he was the problem, so he gave her an innocent smile. "Want to go get some ice-cream and talk it over there?"
Sandra gave him a weird look and chuckled, "Ok, Harry. Lead on."
He took the older girl's arm and led to the ice-cream shop, placing an order for a couple of sundaes, one of Sandra's favourite flavours and one for himself. Over the next little while, she told him about what had happened to get her down as they ate, and between the comfort food and getting things off her chest, started to feel a bit better.
"I just seem to have awful luck with men, don't I?" Sandra sighed after they had finished the sundaes and were walking out of the shop.
They headed back to her parents' house where he saw her inside, figuring she was ok for the moment. He had offered to stay with her, but she had sent him away, saying she was sure he had other things to do with his time, which was both true and irrelevant. She just needed time to herself. He had made sure she knew she could contact him if she needed him, then gave her her privacy.
The following days saw her reach out to her other friends, and regain the vitality and upbeat outlook she had temporarily lost, a change Harry and his ladies were all happy to see.
There was another happy time in April as Athena Granger was turning ten. She had invited around her friends from school and Matt and Liz decided to surprise their little girl by adding Harry's presence. They didn't lie to their daughter, but they amused themselves by misleading her over whether or not Harry would be there.
The little party was underway and Athena was about to open her presents, saying under her breath "All I want for my birthday is Harry, Mum," keeping quiet so she wasn't overheard. She knew her parents were well aware of her wish to see her friend again, but it would be terrible if she upset her other friends by letting them think she didn't like their presents.
She was brought out of her self-pity when the doorbell rung and her mother answered the door, returning with a big smile and Harry! Athena rushed over and gave him a hug, prompting a longer look from the other kids and the parents who had helped look over them.
"Hey guys, this is my good friend Harry! His parents are friends with Mum and Dad." Athena used the line her parents had drilled into her regarding the connection between their families since they weren't allowed to know about magic or any of that stuff. "Isn't he handsome?"
Harry allowed everyone to get a good look at him before bringing a small box from behind his back, adding it to the pile of presents. "You're going to be beautiful too when you grow up." While it was clear Athena was taking more after her father in colouring, you could see hints of her mature beauty to come shining through her cute face.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Athena. I must have got the wrong time written down on my invitation." Harry's eyes twinkled with mirth as he exchanged a look with Liz Granger, knowing she had arranged for his tardy arrival as her own special gift to the girl.
Athena just ignored all that and dragged him to sit in the nearest available seat which happened to be by her mother's side, then set to opening her presents with a will. Matt chuckled, watching her, while Liz carried on a low conversation with Harry, thanking him for going along with her joke, and again when Harry offered to share his memory of the party with Hermione later. He was full of surprises.
Quickly, the living room was filled with wrapping paper, opened envelopes, cards and the presents, gifts appropriate for a girl just turned ten. Harry's own gift was a holographic bookmark with a representation of a rainforest on it, tucked in at the front of a book on animals and plants of the Amazon.
As much as she would enjoy the book, for Athena her day was just about perfect. If only her big sister Hermione could have been with her to share it. As she went to sleep, her last thoughts were "I'm a big girl now. Soon, I'll be at Hogwarts."
That same late April afternoon, two women were sitting down to a British institution, a fine cup of tea and a chat. For their own reasons, each of them treasured this chance to let their hair down and relax. The hostess, Madam Bones, was the Director of the DMLE which meant she found times when she wasn't needed on call all too rare and when she did these days, it was usually at the Kitsune Compound with Harry's parents. The change of scene was relaxing in its own way, and following the traditions in her duties as hostess was soothing in its own right.
Having served the tea with her own hands, she sat back, looking at her guest. Here, behind some of the best privacy measures in the country, sitting with a trusted ally, she could speak her mind if she wished, and she had a feeling it would be needed before the day was out.
Looking back at Amelia, Diana Wilkinson savoured the aroma and complex flavours of her tea before lowering her cup and giving one of the rare open smiles to the younger woman, glad that Amelia had dropped the glamour on her vibrant auburn hair. 'Oh, I know all about the advantages to making opponents think you are operating from a position of strength, but how I loathe the games we play at times, and it's a crime to hide your hair.'
"Thank you for inviting me, Madam Bones."
"Please, call me Amelia, Mrs Wilkinson."
"And call me Diana, Amelia. I am grateful you managed to find a Healer willing to give my husband the care he needs for this afternoon." She looked and felt guilty. "I, I hate to say it but I needed the break. He is still a loving man, but this damned pox is stealing him away from me, piece by piece. It's taking away his fine mind, his reason and control, and it hurts to see him like this."
Amelia wished she could give the other woman a hug, then decided to ignore protocol at least for today, reaching out and taking Diana's hand gently in both of hers, letting her talk.
Diana looked up surprised and grateful. "Thank you, Amelia. It's good to know someone still cares."
Slowly over the afternoon, Amelia drew out Diana's worries, worries about what would happen to her family if it got into the papers, about what she would do when he was finally gone, about how she would survive without her husband's business to support them.
Amelia pointed out that yes, she still had friends, and if it got into the papers, well, it happened, but her true friends wouldn't abandon her. Diana looked up, mouthing "Harry Potter" and blushed. Amelia nodded, certain that the young man wouldn't reject her or her family, not when he was already friends with a werewolf and a supposed mass murderer.
When her husband passed away, well, she would live on and keep him alive in memory. Where would she live? Oh, she could continue to live at her current home, or if it were too painful, sell up and move elsewhere. As for supporting her son, it was unlikely she would need to.
"Mark is already forming good connections at the Ministry and elsewhere, and he seems set for a good career whether there or with the Lily Potter Foundation. I'm sure you could get work there if you wished."
Amelia gave a sad smile. "I think it might be a good idea if you did find something to do. It helped, it helped me, when Edgar and the others died that I could focus on something else during the days. I also had Susan to look after, she was such a beautiful baby and she needed me."
This time, Diana squeezed her hand. "You did a good job of raising her, Amelia."
Feeling bold, Diana went on. "And she has excellent taste in men, too."
Amelia chuckled, and they talked for a time about various things in their lives before their time was up. Amelia gave the older ex-Slytherin a hug before Diana Apparated home, it just seemed appropriate after the talk they had shared. Heading in, Amelia smiled as she smelled the delicious dinner one of her guards had fetched, cooked by the same Harry Potter whose name had come up in their discussions.
Thank you for reading. Your feedback is appreciated! If you have questions that you would like me to answer, please let me know. And as always, thank you to my betas for your sterling efforts.