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Courting Chaos

Story: Courting Chaos


Storylink: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9869142/1/
Category: Harry Potter
Genre: Romance/Family
Author: Ell Roche
Authorlink: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1614796/
Last updated: 01/12/2014
Words: 83856
Rating: T
Status: Complete
Content: Chapter 1 to 20 of 20 chapters
Source: FanFiction.net

Summary: Pureblood traditions, courting, favors, and bonds only come with one
assurance: they inspire chaos. A oneshot collection. *Chapter 1*: I'd Like to Prove
Myself Worthy

Title: I'd Like to Prove Myself Worthy


Pairing: Harry Potter/Romilda Vane, canon side pairings
Harry Potter bit his tongue to keep from yelling as wizards and witches stalked him through the
corridors at Hogwarts. Now that the ex-Minister for Magic and several Aurors had seen Voldemort,
everyone who had spent the past year slandering him wanted to slither into his good graces.
"Like groveling Death Eaters," Harry muttered. A quick glance assured him that no one had
been close enough to hear his comment; still, that didn't stop him from wincing. He had to be doubly
cautious about everything he said from now on. Being Lords Potter and Black (Duke of Gryphon's
Eyrie and Duke of the Misty Isles) meant twice the scrutiny and nitpicking from people who didn't
know him. And that was on top of being the boy-who-lived.
He gripped his book bag tighter as he dodged a group of gaping first years and entered the
library. The Gryffindors were just as bad as the other houses and wouldn't let him study in peace. The
common room was constant mayhem, even without Fred and George Weasley being students. Today
was the weekly Exploding Snap Tournament, and Harry couldn't even hear himself think. He was
beginning to understand why Hermione Granger became so annoyed when she tried to study there.
Only someone with a death wish would bother him in the library. Madam Pince was worse than
Filch and Snape combined; even Dumbledore trod lightly in her territory. At least she discriminated
against everyone equally.
"Peace and quiet at last," Harry whispered as he bypassed a table of Ravenclaws.
Harry turned at the end of the Divination section—no one would think to look for him there,
right?—and paused when he saw a brunette in Gryffindor robes seated at a table covered in books.
Why had Hermione started using that hair-smoothing potion again? He really hoped it wasn't because
Ron was snogging Lavender Brown every chance he got. Hermione shouldn't have to change herself to
catch Ron's attention.
Either way, he didn't want to get tangled up in the situation. They could work it out.
He sat down at the table behind hers. "Do me a favor, yeah? If anyone asks, I'm not here." The
chestnut hair swayed in response to Hermione's nod. Harry blinked for a moment as he noticed its
length; he hadn't known frizzy hair was so significantly shorter than smooth hair. It was much longer
than normal. His eyes trailed from the end of it all the way down to her bum. Which he had no business
ogling.
Shrugging, Harry shifted around and removed his Defense book from his bag. Snape's latest
assignment was ridiculously long, and he wasn't all that enthused about it. Besides, it wasn't like Snape
would mark his essay fairly anyway. So why should he even bother completing the assignment?
McGonagall's stern face and Hermione's rants appeared in his mind. Right then—he remembered now.
Maybe a miracle would happen and he would actually learn something from the git.
He snorted in disbelief. "Like that'll ever happen."
Harry stabbed his quill into his inkwell, withdrew it, and then began writing. His lips twitched,
and he chuckled to himself as he recalled how his handwriting used to resemble a chicken that had
stepped in ink and strutted atop the parchment. He hadn't minded it—despite Snape's
disparagement—until he received the Marauder's Map from Fred and George. Prongs had brilliant
handwriting; once Harry knew Prongs was his father, he spent hours dedicated to practicing his
penmanship. Now he could mimic his father's handwriting perfectly, which made him feel a little bit
closer to someone he couldn't really remember but loved deeply.
And if his new essays, with a mimicry of his father's handwriting, made Snape tremble with
rage, and McGonagall get all teary-eyed, all the better.
"Ugh. Cramp," Harry whispered, before setting down his quill long enough to massage his
hand. Muggle pens were easier to use. He still preferred the quills. Did all Snape's essays have to be so
blasted long? He probably just wanted more room to write condescending only to periodically stretch
his arms and roll his shoulders, Harry kept working on the essay. He was just finishing the five feet of
parchment when quiet footsteps reached his ears. Harry put down his quill and closed his inkwell.
He glanced up to see three blushing Hufflepuffs, one Ravenclaw, and two Gryffindors; they
were all half-blood witches and, if he remembered correctly, in their third and fourth years. Harry
sighed and closed his eyes. This was the second time the witches had cornered him this week. He tried
to dodge the packs of girls who were interested in him, but he couldn't leave the Map out in plain
sight—not unless he wanted someone to confiscate it. Harry admired a girl who went after what she
wanted, but he had already told them he wasn't interested! He was so sick and tired of people not
listening to him!
"Harry, I was wondering if—"
"Um, Harry, would you—?"
"It's a Hogsmeade weekend tomorrow and—"
"Harry! I love—"
Their voices grew continuously louder as they fought for his attention by interrupting and
speaking over each other.
A loud thump sounded behind him. Harry glanced over his shoulder to see two small hands
pressed against opposite sides of a very thick tome. The spine was tilted mostly away from him, but he
could just make out the words Moste Pure of Blood.
"Duke Potter isn't here at present," a low, melodious voice stated. It sent shivers down his spine.
As the witches gaped, mouths moving soundlessly, Harry realized that the slender witch in
Gryffindor robes wasn't Hermione after all. He blushed at the blunder. How did he miss that? Now that
he was less harried and no longer dreading the essay, he could see that she was shorter, thinner, and her
hands ended in elegantly manicured fingernails—not bitten off nails covered in ink stains.
"I can see him," the Ravenclaw who had been silent until this point stated. Wasn't she one of the
girls who bullied Luna Lovegood? If so, that only made her more unappealing.
The brunette lifted her chin and managed to look down her nose at the girl while still sitting.
"I'm quite sure I don't know what you're talking about." Her tone of voice put Draco Malfoy to shame.
Oh, I like her sass, Harry thought. Sirius said Mum was sassy. Maybe it's a weakness of Potter
men.
The two Gryffindor girls—Harry knew they had introduced themselves more than once, but he
never remembered their names; he always did his best to forget any encounter they had—with the
group spluttered and flushed. "We're not stupid, Romilda." They spat her name. "Harry's sitting behind
you."
Harry didn't think they were twins, but they spoke as if they shared the same brain. It was
creepy. When Fred and George acted or spoke in unison, it felt natural. These girls seemed like robots
or something. It aggravated him. Then again, Fred and George didn't tend to stalk him, so he might be
biased. He supposed he owed them a miniscule amount of gratitude for informing him of his
champion's identity, though.
What little Harry knew of Romilda Vane's reputation was contradictory. Most of the things he
had heard indicated that she was more brainless than Lavender Brown (who was smarter than people
thought) and freer with her body than a Muggle prostitute. He had never believed it. She was obviously
a pureblood; he recognized her last name. The Vanes had always been one of the more powerful Light
families in Europe. In addition, she had honored his request when he hadn't even known he was
speaking to her. She took pureblood hierarchy and tradition to heart. The Black family was one of the
Sacred Twenty-Eight. The Vane family wasn't, so she deferred to him.
Romilda doesn't seem like the type of witch who would sully herself, her honor, or her family by
allowing anyone to compromise her purity, Harry concluded. Especially not if she reads pureblood
etiquette books in her free time.
"I've already said Duke Potter isn't present. I detest repeating myself. Do try to pay attention, if
you can manage it," Romilda said. She placed the book she had been perusing on top of the nearest
stack.
The Hufflepuffs sneaked past the distracted girls. "Um, Harry?" He ignored them. "Can we talk
to you?" He continued to pretend they didn't exist. Finally, fire engine red, they fled.
The blonde Gryffindor snapped, "Stop lying, Romilda! I'm so sick of your attitude!"
The Ravenclaw's eyes narrowed. "We all know you're not as perfect as you pretend to be," she
hissed. Her features twisted, doing a fair impression of Umbridge. Did she think that would make her
more attractive? Anyone with a brain knew he hated bullies.
Harry fingered his wand. He didn't want to intrude if he wasn't needed, because it would imply
that he didn't think Romilda could handle herself. However, he was prepared to interfere if they got too
crass or violent. It was clear the three witches had a pack mentality and, come to think of it, he had
never heard a single pureblood repeat one of the rumors about Romilda. They knew the truth.
"I've no need for such a pretense, I assure you," said Romilda as she packed her bag. She
ignored the girls as if they were less than the dust beneath her shoes. Harry was impressed; it took a lot
of self-control to turn the other cheek.
"Stop playing innocent!" the red-haired Gryffindor shouted. "We know that you shagged Roger
Davies after the Veela left at the end of the Yule Ball! Marietta saw you sneak into the Head Boy
chambers right before curfew." Her words echoed through the room.
Romilda gasped, and her spine straightened so much he thought it might crack.
The library was unnaturally still for the five seconds it took Harry to shoot to his feet. His chair
crashed to the floor, and his hand ached from clutching his wand. How dare she? As the blood drained
from Romilda's face, Harry bit his tongue to dam the tidal wave of insults that sought to escape.
Sinking to their level wouldn't help the situation.
"That is enough." Harry had learned from Sirius's death, and now his rage was still and
soft-spoken. He couldn't afford to react with his heart, because not using his head brought nothing but
despair. Harry did some quick mental calculations using the minimal information he had of her family
and repressed a wince when he reached the probable solution. Roger Davies was one of the Loyal
House of Vane's vassals. He must've sat vigil with Lady Romilda Vane on the anniversary of her
mother's death. "Your cruel insinuations are something I wouldn't even expect from the mouth of a
Death Eater."
The three witches paled and swayed, gazes locked on Harry. His jaw clenched when they didn't
apologize to Romilda. They flinched. Harry didn't care if he was frightening them; their lack of honor
was appalling.
"As a witness to this vicious crime, I declare you in Lady Romilda Vane's debt. Failure to repair
any damage you've caused her and her reputation will result in your expulsion." He sounded like Percy
Weasley on his most pompous days. There wasn't anything he could do about that, though. Formal
reprimands required formal language.
"You can't . . ." The Ravenclaw looked like she was torn between vomiting and fainting.
"I assure you, he can," Romilda whispered. Her shoulders were squared, as if for battle, which
pushed her chest forward. Harry couldn't help but notice that it was nice, as was the rest of her. "Duke
Potter has already invoked the Debt of Honor, as outlined in Hogwarts: A History, and Hogwarts
immediately registers such debts. Lord Gryffindor couldn't abide people without honor."
How did I miss seeing her all these years? Harry wondered. She's bloody gorgeous!
The Ravenclaw succumbed to her nerves and crumpled to the floor. Her collapse revealed
Madam Pince, who stood with her arms crossed over her chest. Her gaze was a dagger of ice that
penetrated the three interlopers and froze them solid. "This is a place of learning, not malicious
gossiping and false accusations," she said. "Remove yourselves at once." She pointed at the girl on the
floor and said, "And take her with you."
He knew this was the best place to hide. Madam Pince didn't take anyone's crap. Honestly,
Harry was surprised it had taken her almost four minutes to end the disruption. She must have been
back in the Restricted Section.
The girls scurried to obey her, tears dripping down their faces as they struggled to drag their
friend from the room. Harry didn't feel an ounce of pity for them; they brought to mind all the times
Dudley and his gang had assaulted Harry when he was younger. He loathed bullies.
Romilda's hands trembled as she picked up her bag. It didn't take a genius to guess why;
everyone in the library would've heard the girls' accusations. Harry scoffed at the mere thought of such
a thing. She's not going to stay back here and hide, he realized. She's not going to let them make her
into a victim. Romilda's fortitude continued to impress him.
Harry put the few items on the table into his bag and closed it. "May I carry your bag?"
Her hazel eyes cut to him. "Why?"
Harry wasn't thick enough to think she was talking about the bag. "They attacked you because
you were doing me a favor. I'm sorry my presence led to"—he flailed one hand—"that." The witches
had been annoying before, but he hadn't expected them to be cruel as well. Besides, Romilda hadn't
owed him anything. They weren't classmates or best friends, but she fulfilled his request anyway.
"Very well."
Romilda extended her bag and Harry looped it over his shoulder to rest beside his own. She
stared at his face when he offered her his arm, but eventually seemed to find what she sought. What
was she looking for? Romilda placed her arm atop his, showcasing its slenderness when compared to
his own. The tips of her fingernails barely met his wrist.
"Where would you like to go?" asked Harry.
"Lunch will be acceptable, Duke Potter," Romilda said.
Harry grinned at the blatant hint. "I'm afraid the Hogsmeade weekend doesn't start until
tomorrow. Is dinner in the Great Hall all right? Lunch tomorrow will be memorable." He was starting
to get the feeling that anything involving Romilda would be memorable.
They stepped out of the aisle and into the main part of the library. Students all over the room
craned their necks and spoke in hushed tones as they observed Harry and Romilda.
"And please call me Harry." It was the least he could do after all she had suffered on his
account. Besides, he wanted to know if it would sound as good as his last name did as it spilled from
her lips.
Romilda's arm tensed, but she didn't miss a step as they kept walking toward the exit. She
glanced up at him from the corner of her eye; her stare was intense, as if she believed she could see
inside his head and view his intentions first hand. That would be impressive, seeing as Harry wasn't
even quite sure what his intentions were yet.
A smile finally curved her lips. "That is acceptable, Harry. Despite the imprudent timing"—she
paused to indicate their large audience and the events of the past half-hour—"I give you leave to
address me by my given name."
She wasn't the first pureblood witch to do so, but Harry felt pleasure thrill through him anyway.
Lady Romilda Vane made her seem leagues away. Romilda made her seem real: here and now.
Soft voices carried from the nearest table. "What is this, a play?"
"Nobody cares about stuff like that anymore."
"What? Were we transported to the past? People don't really talk like that."
Harry rolled his eyes. He was starting to understand why Muggle-borns and half-bloods got on
the purebloods' nerves so often. He and Romilda were being mocked for being courteous. Ridiculous!
Who criticized people for being polite?
Once they left the library, he breathed a sigh of relief. At least the other students hadn't been
talking about Romilda's supposed tryst with Davies. His dislike for Marietta Edgecombe, which was
intense after her betrayal of the Defense Association, rose to a fever pitch. He couldn't imagine a
scenario where she would feel the need to spread such vile filth. Whatever messed up reason she might
have, it couldn't possibly be justified. Romilda had only been thirteen at the time, after all.
People in the corridors stopped and stared as they walked past. It was annoying, but Harry had
grown used to the excessive amount of attention, no matter how much he might loathe it. Romilda
didn't wilt beneath the scrutiny, which only increased his opinion of her. The Sorting Hat had definitely
placed her in the proper house; she had courage aplenty. Given her heritage, he was surprised she
wasn't a Hufflepuff. Not being one of the badgers hadn't dampened her loyalty, though.
They reached the Great Hall at the same time as Draco Malfoy, who performed a double take
upon spotting them. He nodded brusquely before brushing past. Harry spared him a brief, amused
glance; he would let the prat speculate to his heart's content. Messing with Malfoy's head was one of
his favorite hobbies.
"Potter's acting like a pureblood? The world must be ending!" Romilda whispered with a
teasing smile.
Harry laughed. Her impersonation was closer than he had thought a girl would get; then again,
Malfoy's voice wasn't deep. "His next thought was probably, 'How did he manage to get such a
beautiful witch as his dinner companion? Stupid Scarhead!'"
She didn't blush, but she did smile wider. "Pretty compliments won't get you anywhere, Harry."
"The compliments aren't pretty. You are," he retorted. That was horrible. Hermione's right; he
was hopeless at flirting.
Romilda arched an eyebrow. "Only pretty?"
He led her to the Gryffindor table, glancing toward it only long enough to ensure they wouldn't
collide with anyone. He had already embarrassed himself more than enough for one day. "The true
adjective that comes to mind is more commonly a verb. Given the debacle in the library . . ."
"If you whisper it, I daresay no one else will hear. Problem solved."
Luckily, the majority of the students hadn't arrived yet, so they didn't have any trouble claiming
choice seats. After depositing their bags on the floor, Harry leaned over until his lips almost touched
her ear and said, "You look ravishing, Romilda." She really did. He had a pressing urge to feather his
hands through her hair and entwine it about his fingers. Then he would tug lightly, bare her throat
and—well, that wasn't helping.
There was something compelling about her silent strength. It drew his attention more sharply
than her fit form. She didn't try to stand out or be anything other than what she was: a Light pureblood
witch.
Her smile was stunning. "You look handsome tonight, Harry."
He lifted her hand and kissed it gallantly, shocking Neville Longbottom, who had just sat down
across from them. "Ravishing Romilda and Handsome Harry. We make quite a pair."
Romilda's face blanked at the comment. What had he said wrong? Her eyes delved into his
own. A few moments later she said, "You really mean that."
"Of course I do," he replied. Harry had meant it jokingly, amused by the alliteration, but the
thought of being paired with her wasn't unpleasant. She intrigued him, and little other than Voldemort's
return had aroused his interest in over a year.
"I had no idea. . . ."
A wall toppled behind Romilda's eyes, and the burning emotions housed there made it feel as if
a Bludger had just pummeled him. Many witches had professed their love for him, but he had never
seen proof of it; Harry could see love in Romilda's eyes. She had never spoken of it, and he wondered
if she ever would have if the events earlier in the afternoon hadn't occurred, or whether she would have
gathered her courage and committed some brave and desperate act to get his attention.
The love in her eyes was tortured and unrequited as of now. Harry hated causing others pain.
"I'm sorry, Romilda. I didn't know." Of the countless rumors that reached his ears, there hadn't even
been a whisper of her feelings for him.
"There was no way for you to know."
Harry squeezed her hand. "I'd like to prove myself worthy of that depth of emotion and see how
my admiration for you develops over time." He didn't love her now. How could he, when he barely
knew her? But Harry knew enough to guarantee that he wanted to learn more about her. Romilda's
physical beauty was present for the whole world to see; if her inner beauty was equal to it, he couldn't
imagine himself not returning her love someday.
Romilda peeked down at their joined hands and finally blushed for him. "I find that solution
delightful, Harry."
She didn't voice the words he knew were etched into her soul, and Harry was grateful for that.
He didn't want to hear them until he was able to wholeheartedly repeat them back to her. Dad, he
thought, I'm as inept as you first were with Mum. Do me a favor and send me some luck. I think I'll
need it.
*Chapter 2*: A Petition for Her Second Right

Title: A Petition for Her Second Right


Pairing: Marcus Flint/Halie Potter
Marcus Flint waited until his dorm mates fell asleep, before bypassing the wards on the door.
How anyone thought such weak wards would keep him locked in his room was both insulting and
amusing. Just because he was repeating his seventh year again didn't mean he was an idiot.
"Fools," he muttered.
Oh, not the Slytherins. They knew he was smarter than he acted. Students came to him for
tutoring, ready to offer a trade. After all, no pureblood worth his name would just give away
knowledge. Why should he strengthen and better children of families that the Flints weren't allied with?
So they came to him for help, offering information, secrets, gold (though he had plenty), and, on rare
occasions, spells from their family grimoires.
Marcus noted each spell, so that his family would be even more knowledgeable about potential
adversaries.
It was galling to walk through the corridors and hear the other students laugh at him. They
didn't even bother whispering as they speculated on whether his parents were ashamed of him or not.
After all, it was unheard of for anyone from the Victorious and Most Ancient House of Flint to not
even qualify to take the N.E.W.T.s., let alone the Heir.
He couldn't leave Hogwarts yet. Not yet. Not when Halie Potter was so naïve to her
surroundings.
The first time he had intruded on her ritual, Marcus had fled back to his room in
embarrassment. "So beautiful." He had felt like a peeping Tom. It was only the next night, as he lay in
his bed unable to sleep, that he realized Halie hadn't even noticed his presence. She had been too
absorbed to pay attention to her surroundings. That was dangerous.
While Marcus would like to believe that his fellow Slytherins wouldn't act dishonorably, he
couldn't. Some of them would go to any lengths to get what they wanted. The girl-who-lived was
desirable. She didn't lack for suitors. But getting past Lord Black wouldn't be easy; rumor had it that
over thirty offers had been rejected already. There were ways to get around such rejections, of course,
but all were only worthy of the lowest of Mudbloods—or the most desperate of purebloods.
"Halie."
So, just as he was tonight, Marcus snuck down to the common room and hid himself in the
shadows. If he could evade the wards on their dormitory doors, others would be able to figure it out. He
wasn't so conceited to think that he was the only Ward-Evader in Slytherin. Besides, sneaking into the
Slytherin common room seemed to be an infamous dare to students from other Houses. What if a
Gryffindor walked in on her ritual?
"They'd probably go running to the Headmaster, yelling their heads off about Dark Magic,"
Marcus said.
Keeping Halie safe had become Marcus's nightly ritual.
For years, he had only seen her as a little girl. One who should know better than to sneak down
to the common room every night. He couldn't see Lord Black approving of anything that put her in
danger. Anyone who threatened her seemed to mysteriously disappear without a trace. Marcus
approved of such tactics. People could escape from Azkaban, a trial could be rigged, and so forth. Why
would anyone be stupid enough to allow a threat to remain, when it could be obliterated?
Marcus sat in the chair that was in the darkest corner of the common room. It had the best view
and its position negated anyone's chance of attacking him from behind. It also had a direct line of sight
to the massive fireplace. The wood crackled as it burned; the flames danced.
With a flick of his wand, Marcus said, "Tempus." Ah, it was just after midnight. He grinned.
Soon enough, Halie would come to the common room. She would sit on the plush Persian rug near the
fireplace. The light of the fire would highlight the shape of her body through her nightgown, reminding
Marcus of when he had first noticed her developing a svelte figure.
Once, she was a little girl. Now, she was nothing of the sort.
Halie left the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a towel, and padded down to the common room in
her nightgown. It was past midnight, and the bedroom doors locked from the inside and outside
then—to keep intruders from getting in, and rebellious students from sneaking out. Everyone would be
safely in bed now, which would allow her to dry her hair by the fire.
She knew grooming charms, of course. If Halie wanted, she could dry it and have it braided in
less than thirty seconds. However, her godfather had raised her better than that. Sirius had taught her
the Ancient Ways, because he couldn't bear the thought of losing her, as he had lost her parents.
So, ever since Halie could remember, her hair would be brushed dry before the fireplace every
night. It was an ancient ritual, which helped a witch to control her magic and also helped it grow. There
was a reason, after all, that she was magically stronger than the seventh years.
Sirius's motto was: There's no harm in a little forbidden magic if it will keep you alive for me.
That's what he had said before making her a hairbrush with silver and blood magic. Halie hadn't
used any other since he had given it to her, and she never would. She began brushing her hair
methodically, mind wandering as she did so. Sirius's evening letter had informed her that he had
rejected three more potential suitors. He would probably reject everyone, unless she chose someone
herself. Halie didn't think that would be bad, though. Choosing someone would be nice. Too bad no
one had really caught her eye.
Telling purebloods they were inferior and didn't deserve her seemed to make Sirius happy. So
maybe her unclaimed heart was a good thing. Halie approved of anything that brushed the shadows of
guilt and loss from Sirius's face. Time hadn't lessened the pain he felt at her parents' deaths. Well, her
father's to be more specific. Halie knew he was fond of her mother, but Sirius's sworn
blood-brotherhood bond with James still haunted him to this day.
"I shouldn't have suggested they switch to Peter. I'm sorry, Prongslet. I'll do anything to make it
up to you." Those were the words Sirius told her almost every day of her life. He was paying penance
for failing to protect his blood-sworn family, and refused to believe her when she said all was forgiven.
Someday, she would make him believe it.
Halie paused to spread out the strands of her hair, and then stroked her fingers through it. It had
never been cut and never would be. Such was blasphemy; there was a reason why magical creature hair
and feathers were the cores of wands. Her hair pooled on the rug before the fireplace. When she was
standing, it fell to her ankles. Since it was filled with magic, it never weighed down her neck or caused
her injuries. She didn't even get headaches after wearing it up all day.
Halie pulled the loose hair out of the bristles of her brush and fed it to the fire, which flared
white before turning back to its reds and golds. "A gift of love to Mother Magic," she whispered,
repeating Sirius's words. After all the magic she had been given, it was only proper to give some in
return.
She knew a lot of the half-bloods and Muggle-borns didn't understand why pureblood ladies
always wore their hair up, and it was too dangerous to speak of. If everyone knew magic was stored in
hair, if the correct rituals were performed, what would stop petty, jealous girls from lopping off a rival's
hair to make her weaker? There was a reason that cutting and damaging a pureblood witch's hair,
accidentally or not, was punishable by an Azkaban sentence.
Halie, of course, didn't have to worry about that. Sirius had taught her the Ancient Ways, not
the Dark Ways, which were popular now. Not even Gryffindor's sword or Slytherin's lancet had the
power to cut her hair.
Sighing, Halie stared at the flames. She missed Sirius; she always worried about him when she
was at Hogwarts. He should spend more time looking after himself, and less time worrying about her. It
would be easier if she knew someone was there to keep an eye on him, other than Kreacher. But Sirius
had decided when she was little that he wouldn't court a witch until Halie was happily bonded, because
he didn't want to be distracted from doing right by her. His fear of failing her in some way was
impossible to miss, so she let it slide.
Life would be better for him if I found someone to love, Halie thought.
She caught sight of a hand reaching for her hair at the edge of her peripheral vision. Halie
swung her hairbrush over and smacked the callused, thick fingers. "My godfather will kill you," she
hissed. How in the world had someone snuck into the common room? Halie could only bypass the
wards because she was a Parselmouth.
"It would be worth it," a harsh, male voice grunted.
Halie felt sick to her stomach as she tried to gather all of her hair close to her body. A true
witch's hair should only ever be touched by four people in her entire life: herself, of course, the man
who raised her—be it a father, grandfather, uncle, godfather, etc.—her husband, and her eldest son.
They alone had the right to help her magic grow, and to receive the peace Mother Magic granted those
who helped protect her beloved daughters.
"P-please," she begged. "Don't touch it."
Halie's eyelashes clumped with tears as she stared up at Heir Marcus Flint. He was
massive—there was no other word for it—broad-shouldered and muscular in the way very few wizards
were. He had long since reached his majority, as the magic flashing through his dark eyes proved. He
wasn't attractive. However, his presence was insanely powerful. The fact that her hair-brushing ritual
had managed to eclipse his presence in the room was both exhilarating and terrifying.
This was Marcus's third time as a seventh-year student, which made no sense to her. He wasn't
an idiot; Snape had assigned him as the tutor for the fifth-year students this year, and never complained
when Marcus skipped all of his classes and didn't show up for detentions.
Marcus had unnerved Halie since first year, even though he had never been unkind to her,
because she knew that he could break her in half without even using his magic.
"Why?" Marcus demanded, voice rough.
"You've no right," Halie snapped, lips quivering. He wouldn't really touch it, would he? Surely
not. But what if he did . . . ? Why had she left her wand in her bedroom? Because it's always been safe
out here before, she thought.
"Lord Potter's First Right passed to Lord Black upon his death. I know that," Marcus said. His
hand hovered above her loose, black hair, but he didn't touch it. "I'm interested in the Second Right," he
stated, dark eyes burning with desire. "Who will it be, then? Malfoy, the whelp who whines to his
daddy about everything? Longbottom, whose skill at magic is laughable at best? A Weasley, who won't
even know what he's been gifted with?" Marcus sneered derisively. "Nott, who's weaker than you
physically? Snape, who could happily pretend you're your mother?"
Halie flinched, because she knew it wasn't far from the truth. The thought of any of those boys
possessing Second Right of her hair was unconscionable. "I haven't decided." Honestly, she hadn't even
given it much thought. Halie knew some of the girls her age were already engaged, or betrothed—a few
had even bonded—but none of the males of her acquaintance tempted her in the least. The descriptions
Marcus had used for those few could be applied to almost all the other pureblood males she knew. That
was why no one had captured her heart.
Marcus knelt before her and offered her a serious smile; it looked like a grimace. "Lady Halie
Potter, I petition for your Second Right."
She leaned backward a few inches in shock. Was he serious? Halie had received many
courtship, betrothal, and bonding offers this past summer, but they all came in scrolls to her godfather.
She had never received one face-to-face. She wasn't sure how to react. What would he do if she
refused? "What?"
He scowled. "I'm my own man; my father doesn't make my decisions for me. I'm strong enough
both physically and magically to protect you. I've been raised in the Ancient Ways of the Olde Magick,
Lady Halie." Marcus stroked her cheek before she could even think to dodge, his rough thumb brushing
beneath her right eye. It wasn't unpleasant. "And I would never pretend you're anyone else."
"I—" Halie didn't know how to respond. Everything he had spoken was the truth; he had never
wasted his time on lies. Marcus's reputation for blunt honesty, often to the point of cruelty, preceded
him. He could, without a doubt, do all that he had just said. But why hadn't he ever said anything
before?He had barely talked to her.
A dull flush, barely visible, covered his cheeks. "I haven't been hanging out at Hogwarts for two
extra years because I have nothing else to do. By all rights, I should be running our lands now, while
Father deals with the politics."
If that wasn't a declaration of lust—love?—then she wasn't a Potter.
Halie stared at him, thoughts racing through her head. She didn't love him, but he possessed
many admirable qualities. He was patient with children, he was intelligent, he was honorable, family
was important to him, and he was willing to humiliate himself for just a chance at winning her heart.
Her father had possessed those same qualities, and her parents had been blissful despite the war. If her
mother could learn to love her father, then Halie could surely learn to love Marcus.
"Are you sure you don't just want to avoid running your lands?" Halie teased, as if he were
Sirius. She froze once she realized what she had done, but all he did was chuckle. When he didn't lash
out, she felt the tension drain from her body. Maybe this could actually work. "What did you tell your
dad? Sorry, I've got my eye on this girl at school. You can handle it without me."
Marcus glanced away from her. "Not exactly."
"Not formal enough?" Halie smirked. "I can do better." She straightened her shoulders and set
her jaw. "Father, your future daughter-in-law is at Hogwarts, surrounded by the scum of society. I
won't leave her with the rubbish. Good day."
"Closer," Marcus agreed. Then he blushed; his crimson cheeks made something in Halie's chest
soften.
He was not as mean as he seemed. He was ignoring his responsibilities to be with her. That was
sweet, in a weird way. It could work. She thought . . . she thought they could be happy together. It
would just take some time.
And so, decision made, Halie handed him her hairbrush.
The hairbrush was heavy and reeked of Blood Magic. Marcus blinked, but it didn't disappear.
Halie had just granted him her Second Right. "Are you sure?" he asked. She had better be, because a
Flint never let go of something once he sank his claws into it. They weren't the Victorious and Most
Ancient House without reason. "I'm not handsome. I don't like parties or galas. I'd just as soon never
take you dancing."
Shut up, you fool! Marcus thought, but it didn't help. He kept rambling.
"My roommates say I snore louder than a dragon's roar. I don't care what other people think of
me. I'm more likely to kill an opponent in a duel than disable one." Halie smirked at that. Marcus
wondered if she was only a Potter in name, because she sure acted like a Black at heart. It would make
sense, given who had raised her. "If I'm really hungry, I forget my manners. My sister says I don't listen
to what I'm told. I—"
Halie's laughter was full-throated and loud. "Did you really think I expected a flawless man?"
"I don't know what goes on in girls' heads." Most of what they said was senseless. Halie was
different; she didn't sit around in the common room gossiping. She didn't place bets where the loser had
to give the winner a manicure. True, her body had caught his attention first, but her personality kept
him interested. People who wasted their time on petty concerns and frivolous things irritated him.
"Thinking," Halie said, before snorting. She stared right at him; it was somewhat unnerving to
be under the full power of her gaze. It reminded him of Snape's threats to use dunderheads for Potions
ingredients—not that Headmaster Dumbledore would ever let him. Pity. Less stupidity in the world
was always a good thing. "You're not handsome."
It hurt to have her agree with him. It's not like he didn't already know that. He had always been
average, at best, but what man didn't want the woman he desired to be attracted to him? And if she
wasn't, why had she given him her Second Right? What girl entered into a courtship with a man she
didn't desire?
"But that doesn't matter. There are more important things."
Really? Even his sister twittered about how she would bond with a handsome pureblood. In
fact, 'good looking' was at the top of his sister's list of qualities she expected in her future husband.
"Like what?"
"Fidelity."
"That won't be a problem." What was the point of being the victor if the prize wasn't worth it?
His family was proud to acknowledge that they were always faithful to their spouses. A bastard had
never been born in the Flint bloodline, which wasn't something many other pureblood families could
claim. There had never been a Squib in the Flint bloodline either. Personally, Marcus assumed that was
a blessing from Mother Magic for not dishonoring their wives.
"I know. I wouldn't have given you my hairbrush if there was even a chance you'd become an
adulterer." She was a curious mixture of bold and shy. It was enchanting.
"What else?" It would be best to find out what Halie was looking for now. That would give him
more ammunition to make her fall in love with him. Lily Evans had led James Potter on a merry chase,
even after they were engaged. He anticipated changing Halie's view, so that all she wanted to see was
him.
"You're good with kids." Halie smiled, gaze distant. "Having been raised by Sirius, I want a
husband who's involved in his children's lives. I can see that potential in you."
"I wouldn't allow my kids to be pawned off on house-elves," Marcus said. He shuddered at the
thought. That was neglect and laziness of the cruelest kind. "Why do you think Malfoy's so messed
up?"
Halie's laughter was addictive. "All right, enough stalling. Please tell me you can multitask. It
shouldn't be that hard to brush my hair and belittle others at the same time. I'm going to be mad if it
dries in knots."
Marcus moved behind her and began brushing her hair. It was the softest, silkiest thing he could
remember touching. "Lovely."
Her neck turned red at the compliment. "Thank you." The smug I know was conveyed, even
though she didn't say it.
Marcus had guarded her (spied on her) long enough to know how she liked it to be brushed. So
he started at the ends and worked his way higher. Marcus could feel the magic in her hair; it made his
fingers tingle. With more experience under her belt, Halie might be able to beat me in a duel, Marcus
realized. Her magic is vaster than I expected. When he finished, he set the brush on the floor. Marcus
slid his arm around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. She was warm, in her nightgown,
and in his arms. Someday she'll be warm, in my bed, and in my arms, he thought with pride.
Halie tilted her head back and looked up at him. "Should I expect you to be handsy, then?"
"I prefer the word tactile. Handsy makes it sound like I'm touching you without permission,"
Marcus said. Okay, to be fair, he hadn't asked her. But he wasn't touching anything forbidden. He was
the type to show his affection, not speak of it. He hoped she didn't want flowery love poems. That
would be torture.
"You don't strike me as the type of person who asks for permission."
"That's because I'm not."
She turned around in his arms, kneeling on her own hair. How did that not hurt? "Yet you
petitioned for my Second Right." Halie perused his features. "Petitioning sounds a lot like asking
permission to me."
Marcus frowned. She was going to try to force him to talk about his feelings, wasn't she?
"Exceptions are made in exten—special circumstances." Would that be good enough?
"Smart man," Halie said, fingers tracing along his jaw. "No woman wants to be an extenuating
circumstance." She sighed and lay back against his chest; his arms encircled her. "But every woman
wants to be special."
Chuckling, Marcus petted her hair, where it spilled over his hands. If that's all it takes, he
thought, I can't lose.
*Chapter 3*: The Only One I Want to Kiss Me

Title: The Only One I Want to Kiss Me


Pairing: James Potter/Lily Evans and Sirius Black/Elaine Fawley
"No!" James Potter groaned as he felt the magical disturbance. His head swung toward the
portrait hole of the Gryffindor common room, and he jumped up from the chair he had been lounging
in as he held court.
"James!" Lily Evans admonished. "Language."
James didn't laugh as he usually did when Lily corrected him. He didn't have time for that. He
had to get everyone out of the common room as fast as possible. "Get out," James commanded. His
words quieted the hustle and bustle of the common room in seconds.
"Where do you get off thinking—?"
Spinning around, James pressed his wand into McLaggen's throat. That shut her up. She had
been even more annoying than ever since he and Lily got together. It was her own fault for deluding
herself; James had been blatant in his pursuit of Lily for years now.
"Eep!"
"James Potter, what are you doing?" Lily demanded.
The smart students were already heading up to their dorm rooms. It was nice to know that some
people respected his authority as Head Boy. "I don't have time to explain, McLaggen. I wouldn't, even
if I did. This is my business, and not yours. Get up to the dormitories now." It wasn't a suggestion, and
it sure didn't sound like one.
Teeth gritted, McLaggen barked at the few remaining students to get up to their rooms. After a
last glare at him, she marched toward the staircase that led to the girls' dormitories. "This better be
serious, Heir Potter." She stomped up the staircase like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
It is—deadly, he thought. But he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of even that much
information. McLaggen was nosy, always prying into where she wasn't wanted. And if she ever
attempted to interfere with him and his Twined, he wouldn't be held responsible for what he did to her.
Lily curled her fingers around James's wrist. "James, what's wrong?"
"Sirius is . . ." Another wave of magic reached him. James bit his lip. Oh, this was bad. Lily
knew, in theory, that he and Sirius were Twined. In fact, she had told him that was part of why she was
hesitant to believe his claims of love were true. Nothing was ever more important to a wizard or witch
than his or her Twined. Often, they didn't even bond—perfectly content in the unconditional love they
were party to, platonic though it was. James and Lily had been together almost a year now, though. If
she changed her mind at this point, after seeing the bond he shared with Sirius at the worst it had ever
been, it would surely send them both over the edge.
"Please, Lily," James begged. "You can't—don't—just please." He had to be so careful all the
time, because anything that hurt him could hurt Sirius as well. They had to be faster, smarter, wilier,
and more powerful than every opponent they faced.
Lily palmed James's cheeks and stared right into his eyes. "Whatever this is, whatever's
happening, you can trust me, James. I promise."
"I really hope you mean that, Lily-Flower," James breathed. He was betting his and Sirius's
continued health on her honesty.
"I do." Lily sat in the chair he had risen from minutes ago.
The magic swirled like a tide pool. James had just enough time to initiate dormitory lockdown
protocol, and raise the privacy wards in the common room as a second layer of protection, before the
portrait swung open and Sirius Black sprinted into the room.
"James!" he yelled. "Help me!"
It only took a thought to force all of his magic to the surface. He had so much Light Magic that
it flooded the common room like moonlit fog. James condensed it as he stalked over to Sirius and
caged him against the wall next to the fireplace. Sirius had so much Dark Magic that it hung like
ominous clouds—the kind that turned into tornadoes and destroyed everything without prejudice.
James surrounded Sirius's magic and tried to herd it back into his Twined's body.
Sirius's magic didn't calm for James as it usually did. This wasn't good.
"What happened?" James inquired. He had never seen Sirius this upset before, and it was killing
him. Mother Magic had Twined them as eleven-year-old boys when they met on the Hogwarts Express:
to protect, guard, and stabilize each other. She had said that they would be lost without a brother closer
than blood could create.
Sirius was his primary responsibility, and James was Sirius's.
"Rookwood was trying to kiss her, and I . . ." Sirius's body trembled against the stone, his magic
spiked. He had been slipping for weeks, but never this badly.
"Oh, Sirius." He ground his teeth together. Logically, James knew it wasn't Elaine Fawley's
fault. Her family was one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight (one of the pureblood families that were truly
pureblooded); her magic was a horrible, taunting, teasing creature. But since she wasn't sixteen, she
couldn't receive any bonding offers. However, Sirius had been in love with her almost as long as James
had loved Lily. Now Sirius had to not only keep his head and lock his desires under control around her,
he also needed to prevent himself from killing all the wizards who sniffed around her.
Ladies from the Sacred Twenty-Eight families weren't available long. Other than Andromeda,
who had eloped with a Muggle-born on her sixteenth birthday, all of Sirius's female cousins were
already under contract or bonded.
And if Rookwood was stupid enough to make a move on Elaine Fawley, when anyone with a
brain knew that Sirius was paws over muzzle in love with her, then he deserved what he got.
"Is he dead?" James asked. Even as he spoke, his mind was working lightning fast to come up
with a way to keep Sirius out of Azkaban. It shouldn't be hard to claim someone had Imperiused Sirius
to murder Rookwood; James was talented enough at Legilimency that he could make it look like Sirius
had been under someone's control. Or he could spin it to where Sirius was protecting Elaine's honor,
which, in a way, was actually the truth.
"I don't know," Sirius whispered. He grabbed James's shoulders and snarled, "I won't regret it if
he is."
James's magic shrank back at the sudden onslaught of darkness, before forging forward once
more. If he failed to stabilize Sirius, then they would spiral out of control. Some days, he wondered if
they were still sane at all.
"She's mine!" Sirius declared. His gray eyes were crazed, but the tears leaking from them were
what broke James's heart. "Why can't they understand that, James? Why can't they understand . . . ?"
He sobbed and fisted James's robes, voice dropping to a whisper. "If I see that again, I'll snap. If that
happens, I'll drag you over the edge with me, Prongs. And I can't . . . I can't be responsible for
destroying you—anyone, but you, and I wouldn't care. But not . . . I can't ruin you."
Then Sirius's magic retreated, as if it had lost the will to fight. He collapsed against James's
chest and hugged him fiercely, sobbing all the while. His shoulders hitched and his voice grew hoarse.
"I l-love her so m-much, and I c-can't even ask if she f-feels the same w-way."
Agony unlike any James had felt before pierced his chest. Sirius's pain was so great that it was
debilitating. And it was James's responsibility to make it go away.
"I . . ." Lily wiped tears from her cheeks as she stared at them.
James Potter loved Lily Evans; she was precious to him. However, he loved Sirius almost as
much. Mother Magic had assigned him as Sirius Black's sentinel, and James would never dishonor the
trust given him. To be Twined meant viewing things differently, creating new definitions of right and
wrong. Because right was keeping Sirius safe and making sure he was happy, and wrong was anything
that sent Sirius running to him for help, magic wild, and tears in his eyes.
"I can ask her," Lily said, jaw thrust out.
"What?" Sirius rasped. He turned to gawk at Lily, confusion and wonder on his face.
Lily walked over and stared at Sirius's eyes as if they were the most real and tragic things she
had ever seen. "I propose that we trade favors, Sirius."
A gentle smile overtook James's face. He loved that Lily had thrown herself into the magical
world; unlike a majority of the Muggle-born students, who were content to maintain that status, she
fought tooth and nail for her right to be classified as a new blood. Lily learned the etiquette, the proper
manners, the courtesies, and all the little details that kept their heritage alive.
Trading favors was a common habit among purebloods, and those in-the-know. One person
would offer a favor, and request something specific in return. If accepted, both parties had to follow
through. Bargaining was allowed until the final terms were set. After that, failing to fulfill a trade of
favors would be a large black mark against a person's character. Such people were considered
untrustworthy, especially when it came to business practices.
"Your terms, Lily?"
"I'll find out whether Elaine Fawley loves you or not from her own mouth. No rumors. No
gossip. No speculation," said Lily. That she would do something like this for Sirius, when James knew
how much she loathed gossip, made James want to kiss her as long as she would allow. "In return,
you'll be the godfather of my firstborn child."
James's brain stalled. For Lily to have a child, he would get to—not now! he reminded himself
harshly. Later would be better for . . . just later.
Sirius didn't even bother to negotiate. "Deal!" He leaned forward and kissed both of her cheeks.
"How could I say no to being the godfather of Prongs's firstborn child?"
A blush, rare and coveted, colored Lily's cheeks. "I'll be back soon. Just stay down here and
wait. They'll be fine in the dormitories for a while yet." She waved them toward the couch, and then set
her hands on her hips. "And stay put! I don't want to have to hunt you down."
James plopped onto the couch and pulled Sirius down with him. Sirius wasn't crying anymore,
but he still curled up in a ball and leaned against James. He hated it. Sirius was confidence and
brashness, not timidity. Sirius wasn't meant to be like this. "We'll be here, Lily-Flower. We're not going
anywhere."
"That's a great girl you have there, Prongs," Sirius whispered as Lily headed for the portrait
hole.
Her hips swished in an enchanting way, and was the cause of more than eight boys being hexed
just that day. James's smirk, reflected by a nearby window, was smarmier than Malfoy's. "The best."
Lily leaned against the portrait of the Fat Lady after it closed and pressed a hand to her chest.
Even when she had despised the Marauders, she had never wanted to see any of them broken like that.
From the outside, it looked like Sirius was teetering on an edge and the slightest of breezes would send
him tumbling over. If that happened, she didn't even want to imagine what kind of damage it would
cause James.
She still had nightmares of the final Quidditch match in sixth-year. Crouch and Flint hit
Bludgers at Sirius simultaneously, and he hadn't been able to bat them both away, despite his best
efforts. One slammed into his shoulder; James had cried out and dropped the Quaffle. Things had
gotten bloody and fouls shots were granted every few seconds.
Information on the Twined was minimal, because only Mother Magic could Twin people. It was
unbearably rude to ask about it too. So she didn't know if James had felt Sirius's pain, or if he had been
so upset he yelled and forgot the game.
"It's beautiful," whispered Lily. Sibling love that pure was a treasure. Lily wished she and
Petunia could get along, but Petunia's jealousy had turned to bitterness. Petunia had apparently decided
that if she couldn't follow her sister to Hogwarts, then she wanted nothing to do with her. It hurt. Lily
figured that it always would. Already, Lily felt a similar distance growing between her and her parents;
there was just so much that they could never understand, no matter how well she explained. They were
drifting apart, but James anchored her.
She hurried down the stairs, giving passing nods to everyone who greeted her. Lily wasn't sure
if she was lucky (or if she just gave off an aura that said Don't bother me!), but she made it to the
kitchen corridor without interruption. Lily walked into the nook and sighed. Why did entering the
Hufflepuff Basement have to be so complicated? What was wrong with passwords or riddles? Those
would save her time. "Two from the bottom, middle of the second row," Lily muttered, locating the
correct barrel in the stack. She concentrated as she tapped in the rhythm of Helga Hufflepuff. She did
not want to botch it and be doused in vinegar.
"Finally!" she huffed. Lily stepped through the lid that swung open and into the common room.
It was earthy and bright, with lots of circles—windows and doors—plants, burnished copper, and
yellow and black furniture. Despite every Hufflepuff's assurance that it was the comfiest common
room, Lily thought it paled in comparison to Gryffindor Tower.
"Can I help you?"
Lily glanced down at the boy. He didn't look at all familiar. "I'm looking for Elaine Fawley."
"I'll handle this. Return to your homework," Amelia Bones told the boy. She perused Lily from
head to toe. "Elaine's asked for some privacy. I would prefer that you not disturb her. She seemed quite
upset."
"I would imagine she is upset," Lily retorted. What girl wouldn't be if someone she didn't like
tried to kiss her? Interesting. It sounded like Elaine hadn't told her dorm mates what had happened. Lily
couldn't blame her; for all the talk of loyalty, Hufflepuffs could be the worst gossips in school. "Which
dorm is hers?"
Amelia peered at Lily through a monocle—a ridiculous affectation that made the girl look
downright silly. Hopefully, she would realize that at some point. "The fifth-year girls' dorm is beneath
the Mimbulus Mimbletonia."
"Thank you, Miss Bones."
Lily looked up at the plants above the doorways. Ah, there it was—the hideous wart-covered
cactus thing. She wrinkled her nose. Herbology was not her favorite subject, by any means. She opened
the door beneath it, slipped inside, and closed it in a rush.
"Go a-away."
"No." Lily hadn't come all this way for nothing.
"Please, j-just g-go away."
Sighing, Lily walked over to the bed the sobbing was coming from. She threw back the
bed-curtains and felt a twinge of envy for the first time since entering the Hufflepuff Basement.
Patchwork quilts were made with love. In Gryffindor, they had standard-issue comforters. "No, I
won't."
Elaine pulled her pillow away from her face, revealing smeared mascara and eyeliner. She
looked like she had failed to complete a raccoon Animagus transformation. "M-Miss Evans?" Elaine's
lip wobbled. She bit it.
"Lily, please." She was watching the girl break down. Any pretense at distance now was just
pointless.
"Lily, then." Elaine wiped her face on her pillowcase, smudging her makeup even more. She
wasn't a pretty crier; her eyes and cheeks were red and puffy. "Did S-Sirius ask Heir Potter to send you
down to tell me that h-he's not interested in m-me anymore?" She would shatter with one wrong word.
A world in which Sirius wasn't interested in Elaine Fawley—Lily couldn't even imagine it.
"Why would you think that?" She kept her voice kind, even though she felt baffled.
"Because I wasn't paying attention to my surroundings, Heir Rookwood caught me by surprise.
If S-Sirius hadn't shown up when h-he did . . ." She trembled. "I don't want to kiss Rookwood!" Elaine
punched her pillow repeatedly. "I don't want to kiss anyone but Sirius!"
Smiling, Lily felt triumphant as a blush spread down Elaine's neck. It wasn't like Lily couldn't
relate to the girl's feelings. After all, there was only one wizard that Lily wanted to kiss. She wasn't as
oblivious as James assumed. She did notice when the wizards staring at her suddenly sprouted boils,
rabbit teeth, or enormous pimples. "Oh?"
"I love him," Elaine confessed. "I have for a long time." She picked at the threads of her quilt.
"He's always so happy. He makes me laugh. He's loyal. He protects the people he cares about. He's
smart and witty. Being around Sirius makes me feel alive." Her sienna eyes burned with an inner light,
but it dimmed. "But now, after this . . ."
With every word that came from Elaine's mouth, a picture of James sharpened in Lily's mind.
He was happy and made her laugh. James was loyal to a fault, and he protected her from hexes, gossip,
and his own desires. Mother Magic had known what she was doing when she Twined James and Sirius.
The guys mirrored each other in all the best, and, unfortunately, worst ways.
"Sirius didn't ask James to send me down here to tell you he's not interested," Lily assured her.
Elaine's eyes brightened. "He didn't?" Her voice was so thick with hope that Lily wondered how
she didn't choke on it.
"No, he didn't." Lily smiled at her. Since James and Sirius were Twined, did that make Elaine
her sort-of-future-sister-in-law? Eh, that was a thought for another time. "He fancies you madly, as
always. He's not even sorry that he might've killed Rookwood." Years ago, such behavior from Sirius
would have upset her. Lily understood it now, though. If anyone tried to kiss her, she would be
heartbroken if James didn't react just as violently. Because he would trust that she didn't want anyone
but him kissing or touching her.
"Oh." Elaine folded her hands over her mouth, but that did little to block her goofy grin. "He
didn't. Kill Rookwood, I mean. But I heard Rookwood will have to be transferred to St. Mungo's."
"He'll be pleased to hear that, I'm sure." The only time she had ever seen Sirius act ashamed
was when Remus Lupin wouldn't speak to him for three months. She still had no idea what had caused
the rift between the Marauders. It had healed shortly after Peter Pettigrew died of a virulent case of
dragon pox.
"You're being straight with me, aren't you? Sirius still cares for me? This isn't some nasty
prank?"
"It's not a prank," Lily said. She squeezed Elaine's hand. "I left Sirius huddled on the couch with
James, desperate to know if he even had a chance with you."
"Just a minute, Lily, and I'll give you something that will put all of his fears to rest." Elaine
leaned over, rummaged through her nightstand, and pulled out a piece of parchment and a pair of
scissors. She set the parchment on her lap, and then sprayed it with her perfume bottle, which was next
to her clock. She put it back, and then closed her eyes.
"What—?"
"Shh. I need to concentrate."
A thread of magic grew from the tip of Elaine's left ring finger. It was ivory. It started small, but
lengthened in a rush. It changed from a thin thread to a thick ribbon. Sweat beaded on Elaine's brow as
it settled on her palm like a tangible ribbon.
"I did it!" Elaine beamed. She pulled a lock of hair out of her loose bun and over her shoulder.
It was the color of wheat. She tied the ribbon of magic around it, a little beneath her chin, and then
snipped the lock of hair off with the scissors. Elaine set the gift in the middle of the parchment, folded
down both sides, and then sealed it with a spell. She extended it to Lily. "For Sirius, please."
For proof of Elaine's feelings, it was extravagant. "A glove or handkerchief would've sufficed.
You didn't have to cut your hair."
"From a member of one Sacred Twenty-Eight family to another, this is the highest form of
favor I'm allowed to show any suitor. Sirius deserves it," Elaine chided, as if Lily were a little slow.
Lily accepted the rebuke with good grace. She shouldn't have said anything in the first place.
Elaine had the right to express her feelings however she wished. Lily's thumb rubbed over the
parchment. James would probably try to convince her to elope if she ever gave him a lock of her hair
tied by her magic. Maybe she would do it, just to see his gaze burn with desire. She loved the hungry
look in his eyes that most often appeared when he thought she wasn't paying attention.
"I'll go put him out of his misery," Lily said. She stood up. "Thank you."
"No, Lily, thank you."
Lily left the dorm room, nodded to Amelia, and then hurried out of the Hufflepuff Basement.
She almost ignored the third years who were dueling in the corridor, but duty won out. Twenty points
from Ravenclaw, two detentions, and six minutes later, Lily was headed up the staircases again. When
she reached the Tower, she leaned against the wall to catch her breath.
"All right, dearie?" the Fat Lady asked.
"Mhmm." Once Lily had control of her breathing, she straightened her shoulders. "Rex
leonum."
"In you go, then." The Fat Lady swung open and let Lily inside, before closing once she stepped
through the portrait hole.
A clock charm hung in the air next to the couch. "You were gone one hour, thirteen minutes,
and forty-one seconds," Sirius said.
"Head Girl duties delayed me," Lily replied as she walked over to where they were and
crouched down before them. "You look like you're feeling better, Sirius."
"He's not," James said. "He's just faking it better." He ruffled Sirius's hair. "What did Heiress
Fawley have to say?"
Lily wanted to wipe the rest of the sadness from Sirius's face. "I come bearing a present." She
held the parchment out; Sirius grabbed for it. Lily pulled it back quickly. "You'll want to be careful
with this, Sirius." She handed it to him when she was sure he wouldn't rip it. "And you'll probably want
to open it in private."
"But it's good news?" Sirius asked.
"The best news, Sirius. I promise you won't be disappointed."
His face came alive, then, and grinned a cocky grin at her. "If you weren't Prongs's girl, I could
kiss you for this."
"Oi!" James hit Sirius with a throw pillow. "You've already kissed my girl twice today, and I
haven't kissed her at all. Keep your lips to yourself, Padfoot."
Lily smirked, and she couldn't resist teasing him now that he was feeling better. "She might get
mad. After all, Elaine practically yelled in my face that she didn't want anyone other than you kissing
her." Sirius resembled Dopey, Lily's favorite dwarf. "It's not a stretch of the imagination to assume she
would be upset by you kissing other girls."
Sirius took his letter to the far side of the common room, so everyone could have a little
privacy.
"What did she give him?" James asked. "I'm curious, Lily-Flower. What would he want to open
in private and be so careful with?"
She hadn't known, before Elaine told her, that it was the highest sign of favor a witch could give
her suitor. Perhaps it was a tradition used only in uncommon circumstances of intense passion. If that
were true, her feelings for James fit the scenario. "Close your eyes, James. Keep them closed until I tell
you to open them." He grumbled, but obeyed. Crafting a ribbon made of her magic was harder than she
expected it to be, but, with effort, she had an ivory ribbon similar to Elaine's. Lily tugged some hair
loose from her braid, tied the ribbon in it, and then cut it with a murmured severing charm.
"I love you, James," she whispered. Her heart was in her throat.
"I know, Lily-Flower. I love you, too," James replied.
"You can open your eyes now." She draped the lock of hair across his lap.
When James saw it, he froze. He was still so long that Lily started to worry she had trespassed
on a custom that was exclusive to the Sacred Twenty-Eight. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have . . ." Lily
couldn't finish. She had no idea what to say to make this right.
James Transfigured a throw pillow into a fist-sized metal box. He curled the lock of her hair
around his finger until it was small, placed it inside, sealed it, and then stuck it in his robe pocket.
"James?" she queried tentatively. Did that mean he liked it? He wasn't mad at her?
"At some point"—his voice was husky—"remember to stop me, Lily-Flower." He raised his
head; his eyes burned like Fiendfyre. "Because I'm going to lose myself in you and forget to stop. So
promise you'll stop me if I make you uncomfortable."
The hunger was there, calling her. She awaited the day when he wouldn't have to starve
anymore. "I promise." Lily wanted to be the witch who completely satisfied his appetite.
*Chapter 4*: The Flower That Will Not Wither

Title: The Flower That Will Not Wither


Pairing: Harry Potter/Lavender Brown
Lavender Brown had always found it ironic, really, that Harry Potter's best friends were Ron
Weasley and Hermione Granger. For all that they claimed to know him, they didn't—not really. Sure,
they knew the small stuff: his favorite color, what he ate for breakfast, and his favorite class. But they
didn't know him.
Strangers and acquaintances could figure those same things out from all the way across a room
without any difficulty.
She could count on one hand the number of times she had talked to Harry before the start of the
year. But just because they had never really spoken didn't mean they didn't understand each other. Both
she and Harry were experts at making people see what they wanted to see, at letting people make
assumptions based off little to no information.
It was all about perception—what could be shown and what must be hidden.
To the majority of the school, Harry Potter was a spoiled prat who always got his way. People
assumed he was treated like a king and that his relatives worshipped at his feet. She wasn't sure how
anyone could be blind enough to believe that, but they did. It had only taken her five minutes in Harry's
presence to see what so many others missed. His childhood hadn't been pleasant. Lavender knew he
hadn't been physically abused—that would leave different signs—but she would bet her crystal ball
that he had been neglected. His eyes belonged to someone who had never been told he was loved, who
had never had a kind word spoken to him, who thought he was worthless.
It manifested, sometimes, in a physical way. Harry would hide away from his friends, often
near her, and they would just sit in silence. If her presence could help him in the smallest way, then
Lavender would offer that comfort freely.
When she had come to Hogwarts, she'd had detailed plans about what her life would be like.
She was going to be the top of her class, Head Girl when the time came, and she would fall in love and
find a respectable husband. Those plans had all flown out the window the moment she met Harry and
saw what he needed.
No one else seemed to understand him—not even their Head of House or the Headmaster. His
closest friend, Ron, was too thick to see that Harry needed more than he was offering. And Hermione,
well, Lavender hated her. For all the girl claimed she was a genius, she wasn't—not where it really
mattered. Harry didn't need someone to mother him, someone to bully him into doing his work. He
needed someone who would sit silently and let him be himself, let him escape from the pressures of his
life, if only for a moment.
So Lavender became that person for him.
Lavender was the top female student in the year, but no one other than she knew it. They all
thought she was too busy painting her nails to understand the assignments, that she was too busy
gossiping about boys to study, and that she was too busy shopping through catalogues to write a proper
essay. People tended to think she was brainless, slow, and dense.
She had spent the last five years supporting Harry to the best of her ability, and she wasn't going
to stop now, not when he needed her the most.
Everything had started changing in third year, when Lavender had taken him the pieces of his
shattered Nimbus 2000—the first real present he had ever received. She knew Hedwig didn't count as a
present, because Hedwig was Harry's friend. As the others talked around his hospital bed, she seemed
to be the only person to notice how much pain was in his eyes. It might've been foolish, could've ruined
the mask she had crafted, but it was the right thing to do. Lavender squeezed Harry's foot through the
blankets, locking her eyes with his, and she had seen it then—gratefulness and understanding.
In the months following that incident, Harry visited her little corner of the common room at
least once a day. He would sit beside her, sometimes with homework, sometimes without, and say
nothing, because there was nothing to say that the silence didn't say for them.
Fourth year had been the hardest on her, because it was hardest on him. She had known that he
hadn't put his name in the Goblet of Fire, and that's why she had to leave the common room when Ron
and Hermione and so many others tore into him. She stormed to her empty classroom and threw curses
and hexes at the wall for over an hour. They claimed to be his best friends, to protect him from harm,
and they damaged him more than Malfoy and Snape combined.
Once Lavender calmed down, she returned to the common room, the plush red velvet armchair,
and Harry's side. Again, they said nothing. There was no need to, when their eyes spoke for them.
When Harry fought against the dragon, Lavender started shaking. She was still tremling hours
later as she curled up in her armchair, staring into the fireplace across the room. The fire . . . the fire.
She didn't stop quaking until Harry wandered into her corner and set a hand on her knee. Their eyes
locked and a small, tremulous smile appeared on her face, unlike the haughty and flighty ones she
usually wore. For a moment, just a moment, her mask vanished completely; she let Harry inside.
He squeezed her knee once, carefully, and then nodded, letting her know he understood how
rare such an event was, and then wandered back over to his best friends, who were yelling for him.
Lavender could pinpoint that as the moment she simultaneously fell in love with Harry Potter and
decided she hated Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. They didn't deserve forgiveness, but he was
too noble, too kind, and too afraid of being alone to not forgive them.
She hated that Harry felt like he didn't have a choice.
It didn't take long, less than one day, for Rita Skeeter to surpass Sybill Trelawney as the person
Lavender hated most in the world. Trelawney made a mockery of Lavender's craft, her true Sight, but
she knew Harry laughed off the death predictions. But Rita mocked and tarnished Harry's memories,
and lack thereof, of his parents, which was unforgivable.
After that, Lavender found herself spending an increasing amount of time with Seamus
Finnegan. She didn't enjoy his company, not really, but she wasn't above using him to mitigate the
gossip that got out. She protected Harry as best as she could from the students by claiming the title of
"Gossip Queen", because he needed more help that year than he had in second year.
When the Headmaster announced the Yule Ball, she agreed to attend with Seamus. She didn't
have feelings for him, and never would, but she knew she couldn't go with Harry—they both
did—because Hermione would harass them about it and make life miserable for weeks.
That didn't keep Lavender from teaching him to dance, nor did it keep her from hating her best
friend, Parvati Patil, for weeks when he asked her to accompany him. However, when he kept stepping
on Parvati's toes, Lavender couldn't help but smile. He was humiliating himself, and it could only be
for her sake.
He allowed Parvati one dance, and one dance alone. It made Lavender feel horrible and petty
that she was glad he shunned further offers, even though she could see the pain on Parvati's face. She
briefly wondered if relishing in her best friend's pain made her a monster before discarding the thought.
It wasn't Parvati's pain or humiliation that pleased her—it was Harry's indifference to Parvati.
It almost seemed like a silent declaration that Harry loathed his inability to dance with her.
The dance lessons had been silent, late at night in her classroom, except for the music. But they
had learned to speak without words over the years, and Lavender had seen in every line of his body that
he would have asked her if he could, just as she had surely shown that she had wanted to go with him
more than anything.
That was the last night he let Hermione come between them, much to her relief.
"It wasn't true."
Three simple words that meant the world to her, accompanied by his hand on the back of her
neck, then sliding through her fine honey-blonde hair. She released the breath she had unconsciously
been holding in a sigh of relief. Ron Weasley wasn't what he would 'sorely miss'. She hadn't lost out to
someone who had betrayed him.
What Lavender Brown considered to be her greatest failure was Voldemort's resurrection. She'd
had a vision the night before the final task, of Harry and a rat that was missing a toe. The rat looked
identical to Ron's, identical to what her Boggart became. The rat had appeared in several visions since
she had begun getting them.
The rat killed a bumblebee, cut off its paw, hurt Harry, and then there was nothing but laughter
and pain.
It was intense, powerful, and she hadn't mastered Occlumency yet, so the mental exhaustion
pulled her under, not freeing her until it was too late to speak with Harry—too late to change what
would happen.
And happen, it did. Cedric Diggory died and Voldemort returned.
Lavender had never thought anything could block her Sight, but she was proven wrong mere
hours later. Mad-Eye Moody was actually Barty Crouch Jr., an escaped Death Eater. That eye, that
cursed magical eye, had almost cost her Harry's life for the second time in one day. Disgusted with
herself, Lavender sat on the couch before the fireplace long into the morning, plans for the summer
racing through her head. She would master Occlumency so that something like this would never
happen again.
Her hands curled into fists so tight that her long, lacquered nails cut into her palms, almost
drawing blood. And then the pain faded as her hands were forcibly uncurled by larger, stronger, tan
hands that were rough against her soft, smooth skin. Lavender didn't need to look up to know to whom
those hands belonged; she had studied them often enough over the years to recognize them at a glance.
Sighing, she relaxed and leaned her head against his chest as he wrapped an arm around her
shoulders in a loose hug. The silence was heavy, pressing down on them, weighted with their
knowledge of the events that had happened in the past day. But, at the same time, it was comforting,
bearable, because neither of them faced it alone.
Lavender pressed closer to him and vowed that her summer would be useful to him.
She mastered Occlumency that summer, as she had intended. And Lavender was exceedingly
grateful she had when she read the rubbish the Prophet printed about Harry. It took all her newfound
skill to compartmentalize the hatred so she wouldn't kill Skeeter or burn the Daily Prophet to the
ground with gray magic, perhaps Fiendfyre.
Each year at Hogwarts was worse, more painful than the previous one for Harry, and, in turn,
her. What possibly hurt most was the knowledge that he would rather be at Hogwarts, a place of
suffering and betrayal, than with his Muggle relatives.
Lavender didn't bother defending him to anyone, because she knew he would be upset with her
if she did. Defending him would result in detentions with Umbridge—the pink toad—and her hand
getting torn open with a Blood Quill, as Harry's did. Almost no one respected Harry's wishes, and
Lavender refused to join the ranks of those who didn't.
So she kept her mouth shut and healed his hand as best as she could when he got back from
detentions and met her in the classroom she had claimed as her own.
When word spread that Harry would be teaching a defense group, Lavender winced—not
because she didn't have faith in him, but because she knew Hermione was pushing him to do it. In the
end, he agreed, and the glance he threw her when she walked into the Hog's Head for the initial
meeting let her know why he had: they could interact freely at these meetings without anyone being the
wiser of their past interactions.
That was when she realized that Harry Potter was in love with her, though they were happy to
keep their feelings a secret, not even needing to voice them to each other aloud. It wasn't time for that,
not yet.
Girls approached him: purebloods, beautiful, wealthy. He was fifteen now, less than a year
away from gaining the Potter Lordship—along with countless vaults, properties, and priceless
heirlooms. He rebuffed them all—one after the other—even Cho Chang, the one girl gossip said
matched Lavender in looks and lineage.
She knew that she and Harry often got funny looks when they sat in silence. The boys probably
thought something was wrong with Harry since he wasn't hitting on the 'sexiest' girl in Gryffindor. And
the girls would giggle or glare, depending on whether they thought Harry and her made a good couple
or were jealous of their closeness.
Lavender would readily admit that she was vain, but then, she had every right to be. She had
gotten the best genes from both sides of her family, the perfect pureblood daughter. At fifteen she was
tall, almost five-ten, and her legs seemed to go on forever—at least that's what she had heard the
Weasley brothers talking about on more than one occasion. Her waist-length hair was honey-blonde, as
deep and warm as her aureate eyes. Her skin was smooth, like peaches, but a smattering of freckles lent
character to her face. Even though she was a pureblood, she wasn't someone who would magically alter
her appearance. She was who she was, and that was it.
Maybe that's what the boys find so 'sexy'. The lack of pretention, the lack of make-up and
glamours, the rawness of my beauty, Lavender thought as she stood before the mirror in her pajamas.
The pajama bottoms hung low on her hips, clinging to her curved bum and fit thighs. The matching
tank top was low-cut and clung to her skin, showing off her ample breasts and flat stomach.
She heard Hermione snort behind her and resisted the urge to grind her teeth together. There
were some things that Hermione would never understand, and this was one of them.
Yes, Lavender was vain—admittedly so. However, a witch's magic strengthened when she was
in peak condition. Magic could become ill, just like flesh could, and Lavender prided herself on never
having been ill. Witches died when they became too overweight, because it poisoned their magic and
weakened it. She sighed. Along with a loving husband, Lavender wanted children. To that end, she
kept herself as fit as possible: eating right, dueling, exercising, anything to make her dreams become
reality. Well, the dreams that weren't visions of death anyway.
"You look beautiful, Lavender," Parvati said.
She smiled at her best friend in the mirror. Parvati understood what Lavender wished for, as did
the other girls in their dormitory. Hermione seemed to be the only one who didn't grasp the subtleties,
which Lavender had come to expect over the years.
"Better than last week even," Edith Boot, one of her two other roommates said.
"I dare say you're in better shape than Pansy Parkinson. She must be insanely jealous," Agnes
Boot said with a wink. "She must be worried she'll lose Malfoy to you."
Edith and Agnes Boot were sisters, but not twins, even though they were in the same year.
Agnes had been born at the end of September and Edith in the middle of August the following year,
just making the list for incoming first-years in 1991. They were Terry Boot's cousins, half-bloods, and
the other two girls she had shared a dorm with since she was a first-year. They had never been
particularly close, but they understood the pureblood traditions and why they were so important to her.
"You want Malfoy?" Hermione asked, mouth flapping.
Lavender sighed and rolled her eyes. What a ridiculous question! She had never been interested
in anyone other than Harry, not that Hermione knew, of course. Lavender knew that Hermione and
Ginny Weasley were plotting to get Ginny and Harry together. The two girls didn't understand what he
needed, and it disgusted her that they intended to convince him Ginny was the girl for him.
"I want Malfoy as much as you do, Hermione," she replied as she walked over to her bed. It was
different than the others in the room. Oh, it was still a four-poster bed with down pillows and a down
mattress, but the hangings and comforter weren't identical to the other girls'. Lavender was proud to be
a Gryffindor, but that didn't mean she had to sleep in a bed decked out in red and gold, did she?
Her hangings and bedding were identical to the ones she had on her bed at home. The sheets
were a pale lavender, flannel at the moment, soft and comforting. Her hangings were a deep royal
purple, embroidered with constellations in silver thread that illuminated the room at night. She knew
Hermione thought the bedding was ostentatious, had in fact told her that on more than one occasion,
but she didn't care. Lavender wasn't the type of person who would forgo comfort and familiarity for the
mundane—to fit in.
Honestly, she thought that Hermione was jealous. Perhaps, on some level, Hermione realized
that she was inferior to Lavender in every way, but refused to recognize this. That—the possible
bitterness—was what Lavender believed kept Hermione from being happy. She foolishly always
wanted more, something better, just like Ron Weasley, never noticing that what she possessed was
more precious than anything else.
"I hate Malfoy!" Hermione said as she closed the book she had been reading and set it on her
nightstand. "He's a—"
"We know, we know," Parvati said as she rolled her eyes and climbed into bed.
"We've heard it all before," Lavender muttered before closing the hangings and setting a
locking and silencing charm on them.
She sighed and rubbed at her temples, which had been throbbing for the past several hours now.
She knew the signs, had been familiar with them since she was thirteen and reached her physical
maturity, unlocking the Sight. "What I wouldn't give for one peaceful night of sleep." Groaning, she
stretched out, toes spreading apart and feet arching. She settled back against the pillows, fluffed exactly
how she liked them, and drifted off to sleep.
The vision started as soon as Lavender went under.
There were balls, glass balls, but not quite crystal balls like they used in Divination. A mountain
of them, rolling across the floor, breaking, not breaking, flowing in waves down black marble
corridors. In the mountain of glass balls—no, orbs—a black dog, a large, scruffy black dog was
swimming.
It reminded her of the past summer, when she had visited Agnes and Edith in Muggle London
and they had eaten at a place where little kids played in a large tub of colored balls. However, for all
the similarities, it wasn't remotely similar. The dog wasn't laughing and smiling; it was drowning,
buried under the orbs, and then it fell still. There were no more struggles, no barks for help, just
silence—an unbearably painful silence.
And then there was laughter, cackling, horrid laughter. Harry screamed.
Lavender shot upright in bed, chest heaving and sweat making her pajamas stick to her skin.
She shivered as the cackling laughter seemed to resound and echo through the closed bed-curtains.
"Harry."
She wrapped her arms around her knees and tugged them to her chest, burying her face in them
as she tried to regain control. The sound of Harry's scream kept echoing through her head: agonized
and dying. "Focus, come on. Focus, Lavender," she muttered as she used Occlumency to sort through
the vision, separating the emotions from the visual representation. She would approach this as she had
ever other vision she had gotten over the past three years: as a puzzle that needed solving.
Visions weren't exactly straightforward. No, Fate would never be that kind to those who saw
beyond the veil. Lavender was just grateful that her visions stayed in this world, unlike Lovegood's.
Luna Saw into other dimensions, and Lavender didn't think she could bear that. She adored being
loved, being the center of attention, and being shunned would surely break the tenuous hold she
sometimes had on reality. That was why she wouldn't let any of the other girls bad mouth Luna
Lovegood. Lavender might've been stuck with that poor girl's Sight.
"Marble hallways. They looked familiar." Her lips pursed and her brow furrowed as she shook
the lingering remnants of sleep away. Black marble hallways . . . the Ministry! She had seen them three
summers ago when she visited her father. The Wizengamot had been in session, passing some law or
other; she couldn't really remember which one at the moment.
Lavender grabbed a silver brush off her nightstand; the back was engraved with her initials and
bore a hand-painted lavender. It had been a present for her ninth birthday from her older brother
Lawrence. Brushing her hair helped her to think, the monotonous action allowing her to focus on the
pieces. It was yet another thing for which Hermione criticized her.
"Glass orbs, like crystal balls, but not." She nibbled her lower lip and shifted her long, blonde
hair to fall across her chest so she wouldn't have to stretch her arms so far to work the brush through it.
"Crystal balls . . ." The brush stopped in mid-stroke as her eyes widened. "Prophecy orbs!"
She almost dropped the brush, but then her grip tightened and she resumed untangling the
golden locks. "The Hall of Prophecy." Lavender nodded. That had to be it. Now, what about the dog?
Why would a dog be at the Ministry?
Lavender gasped, brush falling from her limp fingers as years of clues and gossip consolidated
in her mind to create a clear picture. The Fat Lady—torn to shreds. "Sirius Black's an Animagus."
Black was Harry's godfather. She knew that much already, having overheard Ron and Hermione speak
about it last year. That explained it, then. Sometime tomorrow, Black would die in the Ministry.
"But why?" He was a wanted criminal—though he must be innocent, otherwise Harry wouldn't
scream like that (haunted) when he died. "Wait a minute . . . Harry was there. So Black followed
Harry?" Lavender sighed and clenched the sheets. "Why would Harry be at the Ministry?"
"Stupid, girl," she snapped. "Why else would he be at the Ministry? Voldemort, of course."
Lavender slid across the bed and then threw the covers back, hopping to the floor and pulling on a pair
of bunny slippers. "Those visions he's been having. Voldemort must lure him there tomorrow. There's
no way Black would be stupid enough to go to the Ministry—unless Harry was in danger." She winced
at the insult to Harry, her love, but it was true.
Harry was brave, honorable, but emotionally weak. He let people walk all over him. If
Voldemort was planting horrors directly into his head, there's no way he would be able to realize the
difference.
Lavender parted the hangings on her bed, grasped her wand, and then tiptoed out of the room,
more thankful than she could ever express that the house-elves oiled the doors frequently. The last
thing she wanted was for Hermione to wake up and demand—in her snooty prefect voice—where
Lavender thought she was going at this hour of the night.
Carefully, fearful of being caught out of bounds, because losing points for Gryffindor was never
a good thing, she headed up toward the boys' dorms. She passed the first door, which was marked "7"
much to her amusement. It seemed the boys' dorms were the opposite of the girls'. Then again, girls
were more apt to appreciate the scenery from the top of the tower.
She paused outside the door with the large brass "5" on it. Pureblood ladies didn't sneak into
boys' dorm rooms in the middle of the night, and they most certainly didn't do so in their pajamas.
Lavender might be known as the 'Gossip Queen' and the 'Sexiest Girl in Gryffindor', but she knew that
opinions changed faster than the Headmaster ate Lemon Drops.
Her reputation was one of the few things that mattered to her, and she really didn't want her title
changing to something offensive if she was caught in the boys' dorm.
Lavender shook her head and sighed. "Harry would never let that happen." With that belief
firmly in mind, she pushed open the door, slipped inside, and then closed it behind her.
The room was round, with five beds evenly spaced around it. A door off to the side obviously
led to a communal bathroom. It was identical to her room, pretty much.
Now, which bed was Harry's? There were sketchpads and bits of charcoal on the floor next to
the first. She bypassed it and the next, which had to be Seamus's. She squinted, ignoring the voice in
her head—which sounded identical to her mother—that said she would get wrinkles. Fanged geranium.
Chudley Canon's jersey. Those had to be Neville's and Ron's beds, which left the one in the middle as
Harry's.
"I better be right," Lavender whispered as she approached the bed. She didn't even want to
imagine how mortified she would be if she snuck into the wrong bed. Neville would be a gentleman
about it, and as embarrassed as she would be, but the other three boys in the room were liable to act
like lustful cretins.
Taking a deep breath, Lavender pressed a hand to the closed hangings, shocked that they
weren't Locked. She curled her hand around the break in the bed-curtains and entered them, allowing
them to fall closed behind her.
She had guessed right.
Harry lay on the bed, thrashing, sheets tangled around his legs. As he struggled, moans falling
from his lips, they refused to release him. Tears fell from his closed eyes, pouring down his cheeks in
rivulets.
"No, no," he whimpered as his nails tore at the sheets.
"Lumos." The tip of her ash wand lit up, and she couldn't hold in a gasp at the sight of the red
and brown stains on the sheets. Several of his nails had torn off and he bled onto the bedding. "Oh,
Harry."
She wasn't sure whether the thought that he might be locked in his mind—in a nightmarish
vision—was worse, or the possibility that pain was such a common part of his life he could sleep
through tearing his nails. As a pureblood lady, it was Lavender's duty to keep her nails in pristine
condition, and she knew how bloody painful it was when one broke. The pain of one tearing away had
to be exponentially worse.
Lavender leaned forward, hair slithering from behind her shoulder to pool on his chest. "Harry,
wake up." She placed a hand on his shoulder and shook lightly, not wanting to startle him awake; that
would be dangerous—he might think he was trapped in the nightmare and attack her. "Harry." She
shook him again, but there was no response. She gulped as she realized that she would have to
physically get in bed with Harry. If entering a boys' dorm in the middle of the night was frowned up,
this was taboo: something pureblood ladies could expect to lead to disownment. Still, her parents were
somewhat liberal. She doubted they would disown her, even if she somehow got caught.
"For Harry," Lavender whispered as she gathered her Gryffindor courage. Lavender climbed
onto the bed, making sure to Lock and Silence the hangings behind her; it would offer a small measure
of privacy and protection from discovery. She ran one hand through his hair, letting it rest against his
cheek before smacking it lightly. "Harry, wake up!" she commanded.
Harry moaned and began thrashing more wildly.
Lavender pursed her lips and pulled her hand away; it was wet from Harry's tears. "I'm not
going to just sit here and watch you suffer," she hissed. She twirled her wand, pointed it at his hands,
and said, "Episkey." To her satisfaction, the wounds healed and his nails grew.
Now, for the hardest part.
Throwing all caution to the wind in favor of helping Harry, Lavender swung one leg over his
body and straddled his hips. She cupped his face with both her hands, preventing him from flailing
about, and then pressed her forehead to his. "Let me help you, Harry. Please, let me in."
She took a deep breath, and then whispered, "Legilimens." When her father had hired her a
private tutor over the summer, he had expected her to learn both Occlumency and Legilimency,
regardless of her assertions that she didn't want to access others' minds as she had enough to deal with
in her own. For not the first time in her life, she was grateful her father was so demanding and
thorough.
Lavender's consciousness slid into Harry's mind and right through his shields, which looked like
they had been clawed apart from the outside. They shone vermillion, seeping imaginary blood into his
head. "Whoever did this will pay," she growled before pushing deeper as gently as she could.
His mind was shrouded in mist, swirling about in eddies, casting shadows as she moved
forward. "Harry?"
The barest hint of a whimper sounded.
"Harry!" Lavender moved onward, determined to figure out why he was trapped in his mind
and do her utmost to prevent it from ever happening again.
"No, no, not Sirius."
She paused for a moment, but all that she could hear now was a soft whimpering, the sound of
someone who knew that they were helpless and that no one would offer assistance. "I'm coming,
Harry!" she called.
As soon as the words left her lips, a pressure bore down on her. With each step she took, it
grew, becoming so heavy that she could barely draw breath. "What's happening?" Lavender gasped. A
sharp pain tore through her forehead. She battled against the force, keeping it from entering her mind as
she pressed onward.
Her tutor had warned her about what would happen if someone successfully invaded her mind
while she was in another person's head. Lavender would lose everything she was inside of Harry's
mind, leaving her body to wither away like a dry husk, as if she had been Kissed by a Dementor. She
shivered, erected shields on top of her shields, and turned the corner in the maze that had appeared.
"Why won't anyone help?"
"Harry! Let me help! I want to help! Where are you?" she called, breaking into a sprint as she
attempted to follow the echoes to their source.
"He's hurting. Stop hurting him!"
Lavender spun around another corner and sped forward, leaping over a ditch filled to the brim
with spikes. Torchlight from the wall of the maze glinted off the tips of the spikes, revealing a purple
liquid: poison or a paralyzing agent? Each would be equally damaging.
"Harry, where are you? I promise to help! I'll get you out. I swear it!" Her magic spread as she
made the vow, passing through the walls of the maze.
"So warm," he whispered. "Do you promise?" The words were soft and low, innocent of guile,
as if the speaker were a child and not a boy on the brink of manhood.
"I swear on my magic that I will help you," Lavender said, meaning every word. This time her
magic rippled out in a visible wave, smashing through the walls and tearing them down until they were
nothing but rubble.
"Come to me."
The rubble vanished as if it and the maze had never been there. Lavender cocked her head to the
left, finally sure of her direction, and tore off running. Her feet ached, the bunny slippers not made to
support her arches, and her calves burned. She had been exhausted before going to sleep, and that
exhaustion carried over. Her chest heaved with each deep breath she dragged in, each more desperate
than the last as the pressure became greater, restricting her air.
Lavender kept her eyes focused on the ground, unsure if other traps would materialize as she
approached the center of Harry's mind. One more step. One more step. Until . . .
"You came! You really came!"
"Of course I came, Ha—" Lavender almost swallowed her tongue when she glanced up to see
Voldemort holding a wand to Harry's neck. Harry crouched on the ground, like a dog, chains attached
to a collar keeping him there.
"Not what you were expecting to see?" Voldemort asked, eyes glinting in the darkness like
burning rubies. "Silly, foolish Gryffindor—racing into trouble, desperate to save the day." He ran his
wand up Harry's cheek, narrowing his eyes at her.
Lavender choked, hand rising to grasp at her throat, which sealed beneath the weight of
Voldemort's presence. She pointed her own wand at her throat, hoping to cancel the spell—something,
anything! She hadn't come this far to fail and leave Harry trapped as the Dark Lord's pet.
"It amuses me, you see, how Dumbledore thinks Potter will save you all. How everyone thinks
he will save you all." His smirk melted as he burst into a bout of malicious laughter. "Oh wait, they
don't. I'm not alive. The great Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter are nothing more than two
attention-seeking liars."
Her legs fell out from under her and she collapsed to her knees. It took all her concentration to
keep her shields up and attempt, just attempt, to drag in a little oxygen.
"You're a silly girl, just like his mother was, thinking you have the power, the right to stand
against me. Me!"
Lavender fell back onto her bum, balance so compromised that she couldn't hold herself on her
knees any longer. The jarring sensation cast a veil over her eyes, and, for a moment, she saw a thick,
sickly green chain connecting Voldemort's hand to Harry's neck. What in the—?
"Did you know, little Gryffindor, that Potter's been screaming inside his head for help all year
long?" He chuckled when she shook her head. "No? I didn't realize the connection at first, but it wasn't
long before the potential of the situation became apparent." He patted Harry on the head, a sneer on his
face. "Severus, my sneakiest serpent, made the task so much easier."
Imaginary blood flashed before her eyes, seeping from torn mental wounds.
Snape, the jerk! Lavender had never liked the Potions teacher; something about him rubbed her
the wrong way. However, she hadn't outright loathed him, as many of the Gryffindors were prone to
do. Now, though, she could feel the hatred and disgust bubbling inside her.
Her fingers fell limp, her ash wand rolling from her grasp to land on the ground. Black spots
appeared before her vision, and she knew it wouldn't be long now, not long at all.
"Did you know, little Gryffindor, that the human body can only survive for just over three
minutes without oxygen before the brain starts shutting down, causing irreparable damage, then death?"
Voldemort hissed as he stepped away from Harry and walked toward her.
Tears gathered in Lavender's eyes, making their reflection in the stone floor look like molten
gold, before spilling down her cheeks. She had failed.
"It never fails to amuse me: others' suffering. But I'll admit I have a weakness for Potter's
suffering. It's so—beautiful. Yes, beautiful." Voldemort nodded, as if approving of his word choice,
tongue clicking against his teeth as if he could taste Harry's pain. "He loves her, you know. Lily Potter,
his mother. And you, Lavender Brown, yes, he loves you as well."
Voldemort reached out and stroked her cheek, before feathering his hand through her hair. She
shuddered and flinched, but that only made him fist her hair and yank cruelly until her neck was pulled
at an unnatural angle.
She had failed Harry. . . .
"All the flowers in Potter's life will wither away and die. I'll make sure of that," Voldemort said
as he smiled, eyes lit with unholy glee. "And he'll watch helplessly as you die, just like the night his
beloved mother died. Useless. Worthless. Broken."
The three words stabbed into her like Cutting Curses. No! Even if she died, she couldn't allow
Harry to believe that. He wasn't worthless. He wasn't!
Lavender tore her head from Voldemort's grip, tears streaming from her eyes and mouth
opening in a silent scream as hair ripped from her scalp in clumps. She collapsed on her side, eyes
locking with Harry's. He was in there. She could tell. His eyes might normally look like emeralds, but,
at the moment, they looked like diamonds: hard and cold. They bore into Voldemort's back, and then
flickered down to her face.
It took every bit of remaining strength she had, but this was the right time. It was finally the
right time.
I love you, Lavender mouthed.
An audible crack broke the silence, reverberating through the floor. She blinked. The sickly
green chain—she could see a fissure in it.
Voldemort leaped to his feet. "What do you think you're—?"
The floor shook and buckled, magic speeding through it so quickly that it was causing a mental
earthquake.
Lavender felt the pressure leave and she gasped in several desperate breaths. It hurt and burned;
her throat felt raw and torn open. She pushed herself to her knees and then scrabbled forward, fingers
curling around her wand.
Ignoring the blood she could feel running down her scalp, she crawled to Harry's side, thoughts
shooting through her mind. The chain that attached him to Voldemort, they had to break it. She fell
against Harry's side and entwined their fingers before wrapping them around her wand. Ash with a
phoenix feather core—hopefully it would be compatible enough for Harry's magic to help her.
Lavender angled their hands, tendons pulling in her wrist from their low position, but it was the best
she could hope for since Harry was bound to the floor.
"Blasting Curse?" Harry whispered against her ear.
Lavender nodded, thankful that she wouldn't have to articulate her plan. She wasn't sure if she
would be able to force more than the incantation through her throat.
"On three," he said. "One, two—"
"Reducto!" they shouted in unison.
Lavender winced and curled into a ball, clutching her throat as the sickly green chain turned to
dust. Her eyes followed the trail, and she found herself staring at the hem of Voldemort's robes, which
disintegrated as she watched.
"Don't think you've won, Potter. This is only the beginning. You won't be keeping your
precious flower long," he snarled before vanishing from Harry's mind.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked as he got to his feet and then offered her his hand. She nodded
once and then accepted it, stumbling when he pulled her to her feet. "Easy," he whispered as he
wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest. He pulled her wand from her slack grip and
gestured to her scalp. "May I?" Lavender nodded and smiled at him after he healed her with a soft
"Episkey." She wouldn't be the first to admit that was one of the most useful spells he had taught the
DA.
Harry kept one arm wrapped around her waist and guided her toward the edge of his mind. He
winced and tightened his grip when he saw the gaping wounds. "That jerk! I suspected he wasn't really
teaching me, but I didn't realize . . ." He sighed and ran one hand down Lavender's cheek, washing
away the taint of Voldemort's touch. "Can it be fixed?"
Lavender made sure his eyes locked on her lips before mouthing her answer. Tomorrow.
"I can wait," he whispered. "You saved me from Voldemort when I was trapped in my own
mind. I don't know why you're here, or how, really, but I'm grateful." He ran his thumb over her plump
lower lip. "Thanks for coming when no one else did."
She smiled up at him. I always will, she mouthed.
Harry grinned at her then, an honest grin that lacked the artifice with which most pureblood
males smiled. It was beautiful, priceless, and surrounded her with warmth that she could feel to her
bones. "In all the rubbish he spewed, Voldemort was right about one thing," Harry whispered as he
stared into her eyes.
Lavender cocked an eyebrow and tilted her head to the right. She felt a blush suffuse her
cheeks, and then nothing, as his forehead pressed against hers.
"Oi, Harry! You really need to get up, mat—"
Lavender startled awake, a combination of Ron's loudness and the sunshine spilling through the
now open bed-curtains. She blinked once, twice, but Ron's gawping form didn't vanish. How in the
world had he gotten into her dorm? She was going to send him to the hospital wing for this!
"Ron, go away."
The deep, gritty words puffed against her chest. Lavender glanced downward, the haze of sleep
clearing from her mind as she caught sight of Harry's eyes. He was staring up at her, his chin pillowed
on her chest. Right. She had snuck into his dorm room last night to warn him about one of her visions,
only to break some link with Voldemort. She didn't remember anything after that, but she must've
fallen asleep in his bed. And now she was snuggled with Harry under the covers, his head on her chest.
It didn't take a genius to figure out how this would look to Ron.
"Lavender's in your bed," Ron said. He rubbed his eyes, and then opened them again, as if he
thought she were an illusion.
Harry ground his teeth, but didn't move his head. Lavender was grateful for that, because if he
had, Ron would've gotten more than an eyeful of parts of her body that he had no business seeing. She
was not for public consumption!
"Go away," Harry repeated. She had never heard him use such a harsh tone of voice with Ron
before. The git deserved it. What kind of pureblood wizard would gawk at her, instead of looking away
like a gentleman? Well, that was an easy question to answer, apparently. Ron Weasley.
"Harry, you've got Lavender Brown in your bed. How in the world did you manage that?" Ron
asked, jealousy dripping from every word. It was a disgusting question, because it implied all sorts of
things that certainly hadn't happened. He glared at the back of Harry's head, as if Harry had once again
gotten something that Ron felt he deserved. She couldn't keep a sneer off her face. Ron might be
Harry's friend, but she couldn't tolerate him. If he shifted to the right once more in an attempt to see her
chest, she was going to curse him and tell the consequences to hang themselves.
"Need some help?" Neville asked.
"Nev," Harry said, hands sliding beneath her to block the bare skin of her arms from sight, "if
Ron doesn't stop looking at my fiancée in the next five seconds, do me a favor and throw him out the
nearest window. I'll owe you one."
"Harry!" Ron shrieked, cheeks darkening to match his hair. "What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with him?" Lavender hissed, hunching her shoulders to hide as much of herself
beneath Harry as she could. "What's wrong with you? Your mother's a Prewett! She better have taught
you proper manners in the presence of a pureblood lady."
"Pureblood ladies aren't found in wizards' beds," Ron retorted.
Lavender hated the tears that forced their way to the surface, because she knew that the night
spent in Harry's bed had been innocent. However, the implications hurt. She had known, of course, that
anyone who saw her might make improper assumptions and ruin her reputation. That didn't prepare her
for the pain, though. He didn't have to say the word, because his eyes said it for him. Slut.
"Obliviate!" Neville's voice was a hard, fierce snarl. Another spell sent Ron's body crashing to
the floor.
"Seamus? Dean?" Harry asked, vibrating with rage. He wiped away her tears, and Lavender
noticed for the first time that the lightning bolt scar on his forehead was different. It wasn't an inflamed
ridge anymore. In fact, it was almost invisible to the naked eye.
"They left for breakfast twenty minutes ago," Neville said.
Lavender closed her eyes, grateful for the small mercy. Seamus still asked her on dates, but she
had refused every request since the Yule Ball. It wouldn't do to offer him encouragement when she had
no lasting interest in him. Besides, the only type of dates she was interested in were Marriage Dates
with Harry.
"Thank goodness for small mercies," she whispered.
Ron's body Levitated into the air, before settling onto the only bed she could see from her angle.
The hangings around it shut with a swish.
"Done," Neville said. "He's back in bed, Harry. I think someone would notice if I threw him out
a window. Sorry."
"There's always later," Harry muttered. He seemed fiercer and wilder this morning, as if
breaking the chain to Voldemort had freed something inside him. He was like a Nundu cub that had
escaped the monster who sought to tame it and change its very nature.
"I don't want to make assumptions, so I'll just get all my questions out of the way at once,"
Neville said. His back was toward them; he was a gentleman. "Heiress Brown, are you in Harry's bed
of your own free will? If not, do you require assistance? Are either of you injured in any way? Do
either of you need something from me?"
Harry turned to face Neville, pillowing his left cheek on her chest. "You're not going to ask if I
ruined her?" inquired Harry.
Neville snorted. "Harry, I've watched Heiress Brown watch you since we were eleven. She's
invested too much of herself in you to chance losing it all. She's let herself be known as the 'Gossip
Queen', and acted like a brainless chit so that she could have the most advanced spy network in school,
all on your behalf. I've seen her twist and disseminate rumors to your advantage for years, Harry. No
matter how much she loves you, and I'm sure it's a lot given that she's in your bed right now, she
wouldn't give up her only hope of keeping you forever."
Lavender carded her fingers through Harry's hair, touched by Neville's comments. He had seen
more than she meant for him to see. However, she couldn't bring herself to feel upset about it. Neville
had only been looking after Harry, and that was a goal she thoroughly supported. "I'm here of my own
free will, Heir Longbottom," she assured him. "And Harry healed my injuries."
"What happened?" Neville queried, wand in hand, as if he were prepared to battle at their sides.
Harry sat up, and Lavender followed him. She leaned against his back and hugged him. The
memories of last night made her cold, made it hard to breathe, and she hated them. "We got into a fight
with Voldemort," Harry said.
Neville's foot twitched, as if he wanted to turn around and visually inspect them to make sure
they were okay. It was sweet. Why couldn't Neville be Harry's best friend? He was a gentleman. He
didn't jump to conclusions. And he didn't think she was a . . . "You're both healed?" Neville asked.
"Yes," Lavender replied. She had more experience than Harry did at lying, so she was the one
who smoothly added, "We're good as new." Nothing could ever be good as new. Even if someone cast
Reparo at her a hundred times, she wouldn't be able to forget what it felt like to be touched by
Voldemort's evil magic. She had no idea how Harry had managed to resist him for so long, because she
had a feeling that chain had been there since Voldemort first failed to murder him as an infant.
"All right." Neville relaxed. Then he laughed, and a teasing tone entered his voice as he asked,
"So, how long have you been engaged?"
Lavender flushed. Being engaged to Harry would be the fulfillment of a long cherished dream.
Someday, surely, he wouldn't care what Ron or Hermione said. Someday her opinion would be enough.
It was a vain and selfish dream, but she wouldn't release it. She wanted to keep him.
"Not long enough," Harry said, glancing at her with a tender form of possession. That solidified
to razor sharpness. "And much too long, because Voldemort knows about her now."
"I don't care," Lavender replied. She didn't, either. She had known that she wouldn't be able to
hide her conniving and influence forever. Someone was bound to hear about it eventually and report
that she was assisting Harry from the shadows. She was just glad that Voldemort didn't have any idea
she was a true Seer. That would be her and Harry's secret weapon in the fight against him.
"I'll help you protect her, Harry," Neville said. He fisted his trouser leg. "At least one of us
deserves a happy ending, after what he put us through."
"Thanks, Nev." Harry smiled; it was his true smile. She adored it. "Can you head down to
breakfast now? Lavender and I need to talk."
"Sure thing, Harry," Neville replied.
Lavender turned her attention to Neville, thoughts racing. She might control almost all of the
gossip at Hogwarts, but she was the type of witch who kept true confidences. If someone told her a
secret, she wasn't in the habit of blabbing. They provided blackmail, character insight, leverage, and so
much more. But she was a romantic at heart, and Neville's implication that he either wouldn't get or
didn't deserve a happy ending pained her. "Heir Longbottom?"
"Neville, please," he corrected her.
Ah, offering his given name to his best mate's girl. He was a catch. "Lavender, then." She
decided to return the favor. She would prefer to be close to people of whom she approved, ones that
would actually benefit Harry. Maybe it would help him see farther than Ron and Hermione. "Heir
Neville, can you keep a secret?" Lavender didn't give him a chance to answer the rhetorical question. "I
have it on good authority that Hannah Abbot is besotted with you." His ears turned red. "The authority,
of course, being the lady herself."
"This was the best day ever to forget my alarm charm," Neville said as he hurried out of the
room.
Harry collected his wand from his nightstand, and then closed, Locked, and Silenced the
bed-curtains. He feathered his hands through her hair, until his fingers caught in knots. It was going to
be a hassle to brush out, even with detangling charms. "It's tomorrow, Lavender. Are you feeling well
enough to fix those wounds in my mind?"
"Yes, of course!" Truth be told, she was still tired. However, Harry always came first with her.
And those wounds need to be closed as soon as possible. They were dangerous; it not only made his
mind easier to invade, but any memories that floated around and came in contact with them would
vanish from his recollection. Mind Arts weren't something to play around with.
He stretched out along the bed and lay on his back. She straddled him again, blushing horribly
because he was awake this time, and it brought to mind things she wasn't ready for yet. In a few years,
yes, but not just yet. At least she knew she looked lovely with rosy cheeks; it highlighted her features
instead of making her hideous. Lavender accepted her ash wand, which he held out to her, and stayed
relaxed and trusting even when she pointed it at him. "Ready?"
"Whenever you are."
Lavender focused on his eyes, only dimly aware of his hands settling on her hips. "Legilimens,"
she stated. Mindful of the mental injury she now knew was there, Lavender was even more gentle than
the night before as she slipped into his mind. The sky was blue with white clouds in it, instead of a gray
mass of murky mist and fog. The contrast of colors only made the incisions seem even more brutal and
rubicund. "I can do this," she whispered.
The next however long was spent thinning her magic into slender, unbreakable threads, which
she then used to sew the wounds shut. She moved her wand like the needles she used to embroider
robes over the summer at the manor. Her stitches were small, neat, and evenly spaced. Whenever she
learned something, she didn't stop until she mastered it, and sewing had been no different in that
regard. When Lavender finished, she surveyed her handiwork. The only sign of the previous injuries
was the minute rows of pale purple stitches that held them shut.
Yawning, Lavender stretched. It helped relieve the soreness that had settled into the muscles of
her back. How long had she been suturing Harry's mind?
A buzzing sound, like hummingbird wings, caught her attention. Lavender looked down from
the sky for the first time. The maze from the night before was gone. In its place was the largest garden
she had ever seen. There were miles and miles of lilies in every direction; each one was withered and
dead. Tears pricked her eyes so thickly that she almost didn't see the Snitch as it fluttered past her. It
swooped around her in circles, and then zipped off into the garden, keeping above the stone paths.
Lavender chased after it, wondering what purpose it served. Was Harry hiding memories inside
it? Was it a guide? Did it lead people into danger if they invaded his mind? Her Gryffindor curiosity
kicked in, and she couldn't bear the thought of leaving without finding out the truth.
Later, much later, it hovered over a dome that resembled crystal or diamond. Then it
disappeared. Cautiously, Lavender approached the structure. She fell to her knees, hands clasped to her
chest, as she remembered Voldemort's threats from the night before. He had sworn that all the flowers
in Harry's life would wither and die, but Lavender didn't believe that. Because the diamond dome
rippled with Harry's magic, and it was protecting a single flower, which was different from all the
others in the garden: a lavender.
She kissed the stone and vowed, "I'll protect you, too, Harry." Then she exited his mind.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked, brow furrowed with concern. His grip on her hips was tight.
"You've been in there for over four hours."
"It took a little longer than I thought it would," Lavender whispered. She wanted to jump out of
bed and dance around the room, because she could not imagine a surer witness of anyone's love that
what she had just seen. However, it was also very private, special, and deserving of a reward. Lavender
leaned down and kissed Harry, sighing at the feeling of rightness. His hands ran up her back and into
her hair. When their lips broke contact, she traced his jaw line with her fingertips. "Feel better?"
"Much," he croaked, voice gruff. He tugged her down until her forehead rested against his, just
as he had done last night when they were in his mind. He seemed to love staring into her eyes up close;
Lavender didn't mind in the least. His own eyes were captivating. She could stare at them forever and
never get bored. "Thank you," Harry whispered. He kissed her tenderly. "For everything."
Lavender grinned, before kissing him yet again. She would never tire of tasting him. The
exhaustion caught up with her, though, and she slid to the side with a yawn. This time around,
Lavender rested her head on Harry's chest. His arm wrapped around her protectively. Last night's vision
was the most useful she had ever received, and it had ensured she would never forget what she had long
since known. Sometimes, even a hero needed to be saved.
*Chapter 5*: Don't You Ever Turn Away From Me

NOTE: This one-shot is set in the same 'verse as "You Know Why I Hide Away".
Title: Don't You Ever Turn Away From Me
Pairing: Hyacinth Potter/Draco Malfoy and Jamie Potter/Regulus Potter
Heiress Hyacinth Potter grinned as she flew on the back of the hippogriff. It was nothing like
riding her Firebolt, and even an Abraxan didn't compare. She had taken Care of Magical Creatures for
the past four years just to reach this lesson—when the seventh years were allowed to ride the
hippogriffs. Oh, true, riding the Thestrals had been fun. And petting the unicorns in fourth year had
been nice. Nothing, though, compared to this unlimited stretch of freedom. This was brilliant!
Up here, with blue sky and clouds all around her, she could pretend that it wasn't time to finish
growing up.
Her seventeenth birthday had passed almost six months ago. At first, her parents hadn't seemed
worried when she didn't send out a courting request to any of the eligible pureblood men who would
love to be Heir Potter. Lady Jamie Potter, her mother, had laughed and kissed Lord Regulus Potter, her
father, on the cheek, before smirking and saying, "Not everyone is as appealing as you were, dear.
She'll choose someone soon."
Hyacinth's mother didn't know that she already had chosen someone. It seemed that gray eyes
were a weakness the Potter ladies couldn't resist. Not that he gives me the time of day, she thought
morosely.
The hippogriff looped backward, and then dove toward the ground in mimicry of a Wronski
Feint. She laughed as the force of the wind sent water spraying off the Black Lake and onto the bottom
of her robes.
Heir Draco Malfoy was an annoying, impossible, disrespectful git.
Hyacinth loved him anyway.
She knew that there were other pureblood heirs and misters at Hogwarts—not to mention the
countless ones from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Hyacinth knew that some of them were smart, kind,
charming, brave, daring, funny, clever, and gentle. However, as soon as she saw Draco Malfoy, with
his snide remarks and cutting gray eyes, she forgot they existed. Why couldn't she get him out of her
head? Why couldn't she turn her attention to someone else? Why did he have to be so blasted
mesmerizing?
In wizarding society, it was a witch's right to choose the father of her children. She got to pick a
wizard she trusted enough to submit herself to, and Draco had stolen that place in her heart. There was
just something about him that made her ignore all the wizards who fought for her attention.
Lady Narcissa Malfoy—who had only taken her husband's name because he didn't have a sister
for the Most Ancient House to be conferred upon—was a close friend of her mother's. If Hyacinth had
sent an offer for Draco, it would have been accepted. As snobbish as it sounded, no one had ever
refused an offer from a Potter lady. He would hate her if she arranged a bonding with his mother. He
would resent her the rest of their lives. She couldn't bear to feel that every day until she died.
Leaves brushed against Hyacinth's fingertips as the hippogriff skimmed across the top of the
trees in the forbidden forest. They were harsh, but she didn't pull back as they slapped against her skin.
She welcomed the slight sting. It didn't hurt as much as knowing Draco wasn't the slightest bit
interested in her. She was old enough to accept that she couldn't have everything she wanted. She
wasn't foolish.
Hyacinth couldn't bring herself to send an offer.
Draco had never sought to curry her favor, as so many other wizards had. She hadn't received a
single gift from him. He gave her the barest amount of courtesy, and even that seemed to be tedious in
his mind. His nods were curt, his bows were brief, and he only stayed in her presence for the precise
amount of time required before leaving. He was always giving her his back and walking away from all
that they could become. Didn't he know she would gladly spend her life trying to make him happy? It
was as if he couldn't tolerate her, and wished to be anywhere outside the reach of her magic. He made
her feel like a pariah.
So yes, Hyacinth wanted him; she wanted him enough to fight as many witches as was
necessary—to show that she was the premier lady. However, Hyacinth would rather never have him,
than spend a lifetime bonded to him, knowing he despised her. What had she ever done to make him
hate her so much? If he would just tell her, she would find some way to make it up to him!
One broken heart was less painful than two. She had no right to steal his future.
A clearing full of her classmates came into view, and Hyacinth fought to regain control of her
thoughts as the hippogriff circled and prepared to land. If she didn't raise her walls in time, Draco's
words would cut to the quick. How had she earned his ire? Once the hippogriff landed, a pureblood
with brown hair reached up and lifted her down from the hippogriff's back. She knew she had seen him
before, but she couldn't be bothered to remember his name; he wasn't Draco.
"Thank you," Hyacinth said absently. She tried not to dwell on what it would feel like if Draco's
hands had been the ones on her waist—if he had used his strength to help her dismount. She failed. It
was time to accept that she would never know.
"You're welcome, Heiress Potter," the boy replied with an exaggerated bow. It was too deep; he
acted like a shameless suck-up.
A snort of disgust sounded off to her right, and she turned to see Draco glaring at her and the
boy. What had she done now? "Heir Malfoy?" For once, he didn't snap at her. What he did was worse.
He gave her the sharpest nod he ever had, and then continued marching toward a hippogriff as if her
presence was of less consequence to him than a Muggle's.
Her heart tore.
She didn't understand what she had done! She had never ordered him to keep her company. She
had never tried to take advantage of him. She didn't get it! Why did he hate her?
Between one blink and the next, a hippogriff began charging at Draco. He stared at it, stunned.
He was so shocked that he didn't even reach for his wand. There would be consequences if she
interfered . . . consequences he would hate. He would not thank her for saving his life. But if her
options were earning his undying hatred (which she already seemed to possess), or watching him die
before her eyes when she had the power to save him—there was no question of what she would do.
Because even though he hated her, she loved him.
Hyacinth had never been more grateful for the fact that Godric Gryffindor was her many, many,
many times great-grandfather. It allowed her to Apparate on Hogwarts grounds; that's what she did.
She reappeared a foot in front of Draco, her wand trained on the hippogriff. It reared on its hind legs at
her sudden appearance, wings flapping so hard that the fallen leaves swirled in eddies.
"Heiress Potter?"
The hippogriff's claws glinted in the sunlight; they were sharper than some swords she had
seen. Its beak was cruelly curved, and could undoubtedly break a human's arm with almost no force at
all. If she had taken any longer, a trip to the hospital wing was the best Draco could have hoped to
receive. "Touch one hair on his head, and I'll eat you for dinner," she snarled. She meant every word.
The hippogriff leaned down and screeched in Hyacinth's face. Its breath smelled of rotted flesh.
That's revolting! The force of it whipped her hair into a frenzy, tangling her chin-length curls, but she
didn't have time to worry about that.
It didn't intimidate her. She was not scared of anything she could see. Hyacinth took one step
forward and peered into its reflective, intelligent eyes. "Do you think I'm joking?" She laughed in its
face. "You wouldn't be the first intelligent being a Potter killed." The clearing was eerily silent, but she
didn't care if she frightened the students by word or deed. As long as Draco left class alive and
unharmed, she would be content.
"Heiress Potter?" Draco sucked in a breath behind her, but she didn't turn to examine his
expression. She had to keep her attention on the threat. Besides, he was probably just expressing
disgust for her violent behavior.
The hippogriff stared at Hyacinth, as if testing her resolve. On this matter, nothing could get her
to bend or break. She would not back down. There was only one outcome: it would not be allowed to
harm Draco Malfoy. End of story. Screeching once more, softer this time, the hippogriff bowed to her.
Its beak scraped the dirt. Then it beat its wings and flew off, the rest of the herd following it.
"Um, off yeh go then?" Professor Hagrid said as he scratched his matted beard.
Hyacinth swallowed and forced herself not to quail at what her actions had revealed. It didn't
matter anyway. Draco didn't care about her, and he certainly didn't want to be bonded to her. She
stormed off before he had the chance to break her heart again. Stepping between a pureblood wizard
and irate magical creatures to offer protection was a very old, very honorable, very passionate offer of
bonding. It said: I value your life over my own. This world isn't worth living in if you're not in it.
Draco's mother had been born Lady Narcissa Black; she was particular about the history and
origins of all pureblood customs and etiquette. He knew the significance of what she had just done.
She had to get away from there. Move faster, legs! Hyacinth started running, as if distance
could erase what had just happened. By dinnertime, everyone in school would know what she had
done. They would know her secret. And everyone who hated her or her family would laugh at her
misfortune: Poor Potter, victim of unrequited love. Maybe she would sneak down to the kitchens and
eat her supper there. At this point, she didn't care if they thought she was a coward. She was tired of
being brave all the time.
Right now, she would rather die than hear Draco turn her down—with a sneer on his face,
distaste in his lovely gray eyes, and condescension in his voice. Then again, he might not even deign to
give her an answer. That would be so much worse. He might ignore the whole proposal, as he had
shunned her earlier greeting.
Tears pricked her eyes. "Maybe I'll hide in the kitchen until a wizard wanders in. That's how
Mum found Dad. I could make it a family tradition." The thought only burned.
Someone chased after her, but Hyacinth didn't turn to see who it was. Maybe Parvati Patil, her
best friend, was coming to offer some useless comfort. Either way, it wouldn't help. She already got the
wizard she wanted, Hyacinth thought unkindly. Parvati didn't have any trouble snagging Neville. She
was already bonded. She didn't have to worry about being alone. Stop being bitter! Hyacinth was happy
for her, remember?
Strong hands landed on her shoulders. Hyacinth was spun around at dizzying speeds, and then
slammed against a masculine chest. Her heart skipped. "Dr—Heir Malfoy," she rushed to correct
herself, "what are you doing here?" He was touching her. He was letting her touch him!
"Don't you dare walk away from me," Draco hissed. His voice was all anger, but his eyes
revealed only pain. "Don't you dare turn your back on me, Hyacinth! Not after that." His fingers dug
into her shoulders, but she didn't tell him to release her. Even if it was uncomfortable, she didn't care.
Because Draco wasn't out of her reach. "It's taken me seven cursed years to get your attention, and I'll
never forgive you if you turn away from me now!"
What was going on? What was he talking about?
Draco hauled her up, held her against his chest, and then claimed her lips with years of pent-up
greed. Hyacinth felt light-headed, but that didn't stop her from kissing him back with fierce passion.
Finally! Even the guilt of knowing she was taking advantage of a pureblood wizard didn't help. It
wasn't taking advantage if he started it, was it? Besides, she would stop before she ruined him.
Hyacinth and her magic had ached for him for much too long, each second of each day without hope.
When he pulled back from the kiss, Hyacinth fisted her hands in Draco's shoulder-length blond
hair. His hold on her was firm, unlike the weak grip of the wizard who had helped her off the
hippogriff. Draco touched her as if he was assured of his welcome. "Is this your answer, Heir Malfoy?"
she asked formally.
Draco leaned down and kissed her again, greed and want and obsession roiling off every sweep
of his tongue against hers. She should have stopped him. She didn't. When he lifted his head, his eyes
were deep and foggy and his cheeks were rosy. His breath was ragged as he confessed the truth. "All
I've ever wanted was to be yours."
Hyacinth blinked in disbelief. "What?"
He gritted his teeth. "I . . . I had this stupid idea that you would notice me if I didn't act like
everyone else. I saw how disgusted you were by the wizards who groveled for your favor. You never
showed interest in any of them. You never declared your intentions for anyone." He ducked his head. "I
thought that if I kept you at arm's length, your rebelliousness would kick in and you'd fight to get
closer." His head sunk lower. "But you never did. You just stayed away."
She kissed him then, way beyond the bounds of propriety. Her tongue plunged into his mouth.
Hyacinth waited for him to slap her and accuse her of attempting to seduce him, but he surrendered to
her entirely. It was a terrifying amount of trust. "If I had known you didn't want me to stay away," she
gasped, "then I would've offered for you as soon as I could." This was what she got for being a coward.
"If you're lying to me"—the sight of his blown pupils was distracting—"I'll tell my mother to
accept Ginevra Prewett's offer out of pure spite," he hissed.
Hyacinth shook with rage. She might have been reluctantly coming to the conclusion that she
couldn't have Draco earlier, but she had never entertained the thought of anyone else having him. She
apparently knew the mere suggestion would break her mind. "She wouldn't be the first witch a Potter
killed."
A dark, smug, delighted smirk graced his face. "You'd kill for me, Hyacinth?"
Oh, Draco, didn't you understand? She would do anything for you. That was the danger that
accompanied winning a Potter Lady's heart. "Without regret." She tugged his hair. "Without remorse."
She trailed her nails across his scalp. "Without hesitation." Hyacinth kissed him again, reveling in the
taste of chocolate frogs and the warmth of Draco's mouth. "Without discrimination."
Potters were the epitome of Light Magic and honorable intentions—until someone threatened
what they loved. After that, there was no magic they would not delve into, no level they wouldn't stoop
to, no feud they wouldn't start, no reputation they wouldn't destroy, and no ritual they would not
employ to have their vengeance. The true Potter family motto was Ultionem plenissimam because
every Potter lived it, giving the words power. Revenge to the fullest. She believed in those words with
every fiber of her being.
He stared at her. "You're telling the truth," Draco said.
"Yes, I am." Hyacinth hated when he put her back on the ground, but it was probably for the
best. Any longer in his arms, with this topic of conversation, and she was liable to do something very
stupid. "Will your mother be upset if we don't have an elaborate bonding ceremony where she can give
you away?"
Bondings, when performed before a traditional audience, were scheduled to happen as the sun
rose. It implied that light and life would shine on their bonding. Also, it symbolized the permanence of
a true bond between a witch and her wizard. Because the bond would still exist every day, just as the
sun would rise every dawn. He would be magnificent painted by the first light of the day.
The traditional bonding would be followed by a breakfast feast, featuring the choicest foods. No
expense was spared. Exotic fruits were plentiful. Pastries were arranged in unique patterns on platters.
And, of course, there would be an enormous ice sculpture of the groom's family crest. It was left to
melt, signifying his leaving his birth family to join another.
"She'll be livid," Draco replied. "Mother's been planning my bonding ceremony since I was
born. She won't even let Galeria or Licinia help, and she usually lets my sisters do whatever they want."
He untangled Hyacinth's curls with patience. "As for me, I'd rather not wait. I'd just as soon be bonded
to you as quickly as you will allow."
He would go against his mother's wishes and tradition for her? If there had been any doubts
about Draco's feelings for her being genuine, that eradicated them. "Are you sure?" she asked.
"Very." The hole in Draco's magic called to her. "I'm tired of waiting."
"So am I." Hyacinth entwined their fingers, and then poured her magic down the hole in his,
starting the bonding process. She had been a coward for too long. She would deal with Narcissa later.
Her magic tumbled into his, dense and powerful. Right now, she thought, as the bond between them
strengthened, I feel brave. The hole in his magic seemed to be bottomless, as it greedily sucked her
magic in. She gave him more magic than it took to key someone into ancestral wards, and that was like
a single raindrop to a man dying of thirst in the desert. She gave him more magic than it took to
hoodwink the Sorting Hat, more magic than it took to qualify as an Unspeakable, and more magic than
it took to Charm a Basilisk. By the time the bonding was complete, Hyacinth's magic was down to the
dregs.
Hyacinth didn't care. Magical exhaustion in exchange for Draco was worth it.
*Chapter 6*: A Hawthorn for Hope

Title: A Hawthorn for Hope


Pairing: Harry Potter/Nephele Longbottom
A non-descript school owl tapped on the window of Harry Potter's bedroom in the Head Boy
chambers. He rubbed tired eyes and threw back the covers. A wide yawn split his face. He absently
scratched the itch on his stomach as he wandered over to open the window. It took little effort to push it
open, but the blast of freezing wind and the face-full of snowflakes was an unwelcome wake-up call.
He had been planning to crawl back in bed after reading the missive, but that wouldn't happen now.
He had never been able to fall back asleep after being alert.
"Brilliant," Harry muttered, lips twisted in an expression that said just the opposite.
The owl screeched and lifted its right leg, revealing the velvet pouch that dangled from its
talons. Harry untied it in silence, eyes narrowed with confusion. He recognized it. However, it was
early. Was something wrong?
"Thank you," Harry said, his thoughts not focusing on the present time.
With another screech, the owl took off. Its wings flapped flurries of snowflakes into his face.
Harry sputtered as he pulled the window shut, grumbling under his breath. "I hate the cold!" It
reminded him of childhood nights at Privet Drive, and memories that he had learned Occlumency to
lock away even from himself.
Harry hurried back to bed and got under the covers. He sat against the headboard, fingers
fiddling with bag. Why was it so early? That worried him. One had never come early before. "What
will it be this time?" he asked, anticipation flooding his body. He knew it would be a flower, but he
didn't know what kind.
His gaze shifted from the velvet bag to his left wrist. The silver bracelet that encircled it had
thirteen flower charms attached. He got the bracelet itself and a hyacinth charm for his eleventh
birthday, before Harry had even learned about the magical world. It seemed like a gift more appropriate
for a girl, but Harry hadn't complained; it was the first gift he had ever been given. The hyacinth, his
first charm, was different from all the rest. It was the only one that came without a memory in it.
He chuckled as he remembered his previous ignorance. Harry hadn't even known that flowers
and plants had meanings until the third week of Herbology back in first year. That was when he learned
what a hyacinth meant: benevolence. The thought of someone having kind and well-meaning intentions
toward him had brought him comfort—especially in a world that was so different from what he was
accustomed to.
Since the bracelet and hyacinth came, he had received a new charm twice a year, and each came
with a brief memory of him attached. Like clockwork, Harry got one for every birthday and every
Yule. However, Yule was still several days away. The pattern was broken. "Why?"
Harry stroked the other charms on his bracelet. Whenever he opened the little velvet bags, they
attached themselves to the bracelet in a specific order—the order in which he had received them.
"A currant, for thankfulness," Harry said as he touched his first Yule gift. He still didn't know
what he had done to inspire that one; he wished he did. "A fern, for sincerity." His twelfth birthday
present had distracted him from his forced imprisonment in his room. It reminded him that he wasn't
alone. "An ivy, for friendship." Harry cherished that still, because friendship was the best Christmas
present he had ever received.
"And for my thirteenth birthday," Harry said, as a charm balanced on his fingertip, "you gave
me a hepatica, for trust." Trust was a gift not many deserved; Harry treasured it. That winter, before the
truth of Sirius Black not wanting to murder him was discovered, he received yet another. "A bryony,
for support." He was never alone, even when it felt like it.
The charm signifying his fourteenth birthday never failed to bring a blush to Harry's face. "A
lilac, for earliest love," he whispered. If only he knew his secret admirer's identity! How did she always
know just what he needed? His fingertips danced to the next charm, the one that came to him not long
after the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament, when everything was falling apart. "A
passion-flower, for belief." Whoever she was, she had believed that he could succeed, and that he
hadn't put his name in the blasted Goblet of Fire. Such people were rare.
Upon turning fifteen, when his friends ignored his requests for information, and nightmares of
the graveyard filled his mind, a little velvet bag came and restored some measure of peace. "A cypress,
for mourning." His secret admirer hadn't tried to pry into his feelings; she had acknowledged their
importance. And that Yule, as the Daily Prophet continued a smear campaign against him and
Dumbledore, she sent just what he needed. "A Lily of the Valley, for return of happiness." Knowing his
pain caused her pain had made Harry try harder to be strong.
Harry didn't want to touch the present he received when he turned sixteen. The memory in it
always made him cry. It was, perhaps, the most insightful of them all. "An everlasting, for perpetual
remembrances." Sirius had died to protect him from Bellatrix Lestrange, and Harry would never forget
that or his godfather. A blush colored his cheeks again as the next charm filled his vision. "A tulip, for
declaration of love." Who was she? If her aim had been to win his heart, she had succeeded long ago.
His coming of age charm, received just months ago, still made him tremble. "A wild daisy,
which asks the question, Dost thou love me?" Harry did. He knew only a pureblood witch would go to
such trouble to express her affection in an appropriate manner. And he had decided that he would bond
with her—whomever she may be. He didn't care what House she was in, how much magic she had,
what her family name was, and her physical appearance didn't signify.
Harry Potter loved his secret admirer for her personality. She was the reason he had never sent
anyone a courtship offer. She was the reason he had never been on any marriage dates. And he still
didn't have any idea who she was.
"Please," Harry begged, "give me a clue."
His fingers shook as he opened the velvet bag that had been delivered early. He dumped it
upside-down and caught the charm in his left palm. It skittered sideways and magically attached itself
to the bracelet. Then, as had been the case with the last twelve, a memory swallowed him—as if he had
stumbled inside a miniature Pensieve.
Harry stood still and it played around him. He was standing in the Gryffindor common room,
watching himself sit in a chair by the fireplace. His feet were thrown carelessly over the arm of the
chair, and his face was alight with laughter.
"I remember this," said Harry, as the noises of that night surrounded him. "It was just last
week." He had never before been sent such a recent memory.
The Harry in the chair propped his chin on his hand and asked, "Hey, Ron, why did my
invitation to your bonding with Lavender say 'Lord Harry Potter and Guest' on it?"
Ron Weasley snorted and looked up from the game of Exploding Snap he was playing.
"Because Mum thought it would be tragic if you didn't bring your future wife to the bonding. She says
it's 'the blackest of luck' for the Best Wizard to attend a bonding without escorting the love of his life."
Harry froze. "She's kidding, right?"
Ron flinched and rubbed the back of his head. "Not really, no. It's really old magic, Harry.
Bondings and such. Are you sure you can't . . . ?"
He glanced away from Ron and brushed his thumb over the tulip charm. "I'll try."
The common room vanished, and Harry was left sitting in his bed. His gaze homed in on the
newest charm, but he didn't recognize the flower. It was some type of rose, but that was as close as he
could get. He wouldn't let that stop him, though. Heiress Nephele Longbottom was an Herbology
genius; she was going on to get a Mastery in it after Hogwarts. She would be able to tell him what it
was and its meaning.
Harry had never gotten ready for the day so fast in his life. He was showered, dressed, groomed
and leaving his room within ten minutes. He walked so fast that he was almost running through the
hallways. And he wouldn't have stopped at all if he hadn't heard someone speak her name. Maybe she
hadn't made it to the Great Hall for breakfast yet, after all.
"Really, Seamus? Nephele Longbottom?" Dean Thomas asked. Harry had never particularly
liked Dean, even though they were on the Quidditch team together. Dean had no respect for women.
"Isn't she too curvy for you? I thought you liked slender girls."
"I do," Seamus said. "But Nephele's a pureblood. And her parents are both in St. Mungo's—so
her husband would become a lord, since she's their only child. I'm talking Lord of the Valiant and Most
Ancient House of Longbottom." Seamus laughed like a child in a candy store. "And if she gets on my
nerves, well, I could always get a Severance."
Harry felt cold and hollow as that evil word left Seamus's lips. A Severance was nothing to joke
about. It was the magical equivalent of Muggle divorce, and it annihilated the victim's magic. How
could Seamus even consider doing something like that? But especially to someone as innocent and
sweet as Nephele?
"That's a good point," Dean said. "Sometimes things just don't work out, you know?"
And that sent Harry over the edge.
He hadn't wanted to hurt anyone this much since Bellatrix Lestrange had murdered Sirius right
in front of him. Harry took a deep breath and walked past the alcove they were in, head down. If he saw
them, he knew he would kill them for that.
"Oi, Harry!" Seamus's voice called out in greeting.
Harry gripped the strap of his book-bag so that he wouldn't reach for his wand. Sectumsempra
sat on the tip of his tongue, and there was no Snape anymore to heal a wound caused by it. "Seamus
Finnegan, Dean Thomas, from this moment forward you and your direct lines are enemies of the
Honorable and Most Ancient House of Potter." He didn't wait to hear their responses before sprinting
off.
He only slowed when he reached the Entrance Hall and saw Ron leaning against the wall with a
scowl. Ron dragged a hand over his face and sighed. "I wish you'd give me a warning before doing
that, Harry."
"It wasn't planned," Harry replied, feeling only slightly guilty for the rush of magic that
would've just ripped through his First Vassal.
"Of course it wasn't," Ron sighed. "All right, I give. Who are we enemies with now?"
"Finnegan and Thomas," Harry spat. He was still wondering if he had made the right choice; it
would've been so much easier to kill them.
Ron's jaw dropped, before snapping shut. "They really must have pissed you off."
The Elder Wand was in Harry's hand before he even realized he wanted it there. "I don't want to
talk about it."
"Then we won't," Ron replied. "But if you storm into the Great Hall with your wand in your
hand, you're going to freak everyone out."
"Right." Harry closed his eyes, slid his wand back into its holster, and then caressed his
bracelet. As disturbing as the past few minutes had been, he did have something very important that he
needed to find out. He opened his eyes. "I'm good."
Ron offered him a mocking bow. "My lord."
"Knock it off," Harry said, cheeks flushing. "I hate it when you do that in public."
Sniggering, Ron said, "Why do you think I do it?"
Harry rolled his eyes and entered the Great Hall. Ron could be a prat sometimes, but he kept life
interesting. Best mates were good for that. As usual, Harry was the center of attention once he entered
the room. He had long since gotten used to it, though. As he walked toward the Gryffindor table, he
answered the polite questions the younger students asked and returned every "good morning" thrown
his way.
When he was less than five feet away from where the seventh-year students always sat, Nephele
turned her head to answer a question from Parvati Patil. Her honey-colored hair was up in a high
chignon, and there was a single red flower placed in it. It was a larger version of the charm he had
received that morning.
Harry stood and stared at her hair as the realization sank in. Nephele Longbottom, Heiress of
the Valiant and Most Ancient House of Longbottom, was his secret admirer and personal strength.
And with that knowledge, his desire to murder Seamus and Dean returned.
"Whatever it is," Ron whispered, "bottle it up. No murder before breakfast, mate."
Harry claimed the seat next to Nephele, which wasn't all that unusual. It was like any other
morning at the Gryffindor table. Until, of course, Harry wrapped his arm around Nephele's waist,
pulled her firmly against his side, kissed her flushing cheek, and said, "Morning, my lady."
"H-Heir Potter?" Nephele squeaked.
So innocent, and all his. "After all these years, my lady, there's no need to be so formal. Call me
Harry."
"G-good morning, H-Harry," she stammered, her face as red as the flower in her hair.
Harry grinned. "Much better." Then he leaned down and whispered the question he needed her
to answer. "What flower is it, Nephele?"
She fiddled with the newest charm on his bracelet and whispered, "A hawthorn."
His voice lowered before asking the next question. "And what does it mean?" He couldn't tear
his gaze away from her. She was captivating. She smelled wonderful, and he wanted to bury his head in
her neck and breathe her in.
"Hope," she said, head ducked. "It means hope."
Harry relished her warmth at his side, and knew he never wanted it to change. Her hope would
not be in vain. With a flourish of his wand, a bouquet sprang into his hand. It was the answer he had
wanted to give his secret admirer for the last two years. He offered his answer in the same language the
question was asked: the language of flowers. "Will this be acceptable, my lady?"
Nephele fondled the petals of the amaranth and honeysuckle flowers. Her big brown eyes were
wet as she smiled up at him. "Yes, Harry. It's what I've always dreamed of having." Nephele leaned her
head on Harry's shoulder, melted against his side, and accepted his offer of immortal bonds of love.
*Chapter 7*: A Knight in Dark Magic Armor

Title: A Knight in Dark Magic Armor


Pairing: Regulus Black/Hepatica Potter and James Potter/Lily Potter
Hepatica Potter walked beside Regulus Black, grateful for his silent escort. Ever since she had
become a prefect, back in fifth year, he had always joined her at the end of her rounds to guarantee her
safe return to Gryffindor Tower. She never asked why he—the Defense Professor—always found her,
but she wasn't going to object. If he felt compelled to watch out for her, then she wouldn't interfere.
Extra protection wasn't something to shun.
When the sound of giggling and moaning reached her ears, Hepatica winced. Having to
interrupt canoodling couples was disgusting. She had even requested that Professor McGonagall assign
a different female prefect—so that she wouldn't be forced to see her fellow students behaving
shamelessly, clothes in disarray and arms groping at each other. McGonagall had refused; Hepatica
hadn't spoken to her since.
Her steps slowed, and she wrapped her arms around herself. How could they justify such loose
and immoral behavior? Hepatica didn't understand! Couldn't they feel their magic screaming for them
to stop, as it was tainted? Couldn't they hear Mother Magic weeping as they abused the power she had
given them? How could they not respect themselves, each other, and their magic?
Regulus sighed and sneered in the direction the noises were coming from. "I'll handle this,
Heiress Potter," he said.
He had offered Hepatica the perfect out, but she couldn't accept it. As long as the blasted Head
Girl pin was on her chest, and McGonagall refused to reassign it, she was obligated to fulfill her duties,
whether she wanted them or not. "Unfortunately, Lord Black," she whispered, "this is my
responsibility."
He opened his mouth, as if to refute her statement, but then shut it again and hung his head.
Regulus looked disgusted and displeased at the situation, and Hepatica knew he had always been
against pureblood ladies serving as prefects for this very reason; just like her, he didn't think they
should be exposed to such base, filthy actions.
Hepatica took a deep breath, smoothed the expression on her face, and followed the noises
against her better judgment. When she reached a corner, it took all her Gryffindor bravery to force
herself around it.
Then she saw something that she would never be able to unsee.
Hepatica's wand fell from her nerveless fingers and clattered on the ground, though it didn't
interrupt the couple before her. Tears streamed down her face as she lifted a shaking hand to her mouth
and stepped backwards. She backed right into Regulus's chest, but she couldn't bring herself to move
away, apologize, or anything of the sort. Her eyes slammed shut, but it didn't help at all. The image was
engraved in her mind, and it only played across her closed eyelids like a Muggle film.
Kevin Entwhistle—a pureblood—had a witch pressed against the wall. But that wasn't the part
that made Hepatica wish someone would Obliviate her; that wasn't the part that made her want to curl
up in her bed in Potter Manor and lock down her personal wards for a year, so that not even the
house-elves could get in. Entwhistle's hand had been inching up the witch's shirt, as he licked down her
throat. Her hair was unbound, and his other hand was fisted in it.
The witch's hair was blood red. Only Lily and Hepatica Potter had blood red hair.
Kevin Entwhistle, a cursed Ravenclaw pureblood, was touching and defiling someone
Polyjuiced as Hepatica Potter. The thought of any male knowing what it was like to touch her hair, kiss
her, lick her neck, stroke her stomach. . . . If she hadn't missed dinner because Eva Selwyn had needed
help with a delicate matter, Hepatica knew she would've thrown up everything she had eaten.
How had anyone gotten some of her hair? She always made sure to be so, so careful with it.
She hugged herself so hard that she knew she would bruise, but she didn't care. She desperately
wished for her father's invisibility cloak, which was up in her trunk, because she wanted to fade away
and never be seen again. For anyone to see her like that—Hepatica bit her lip and sobbed. She tried to
back away farther, but Regulus blocked her path.
Hepatica had almost forgotten that Regulus was there, but then his magic erupted from his
body. She had heard stories all of her life of his older brother, Sirius, who had once been friends with
her father. Sirius had joined the Dark Lord, for reasons unknown, only to die soon afterward. However,
it was said that the Dark Lord's magic was the blackest, thickest, headiest power anyone would ever
feel. Hepatica couldn't imagine magic more lethal or addictive than Regulus's.
It brushed past her in sharp, pointed lances of power. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel
its form. It was a black knight, jousting to the death.
"I-I'm s-sor—"
Hepatica flinched again as the impostor spoke with her voice. Did she really think that 'I'm
sorry' would earn her forgiveness? How could anyone be that foolish? How dare anyone steal all that
was sacred to her! Kevin Entwhistle had to know that he was devouring someone Polyjuiced as her; no
pureblood could be imbecilic enough to believe she would ever— The tears on her face thickened, and
Hepatica found that she was having trouble breathing.
She had never felt so disrespected, so betrayed, so used in her entire life.
"As Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, I find you, Mister Entwhistle, and
you, Laura Smythe, guilty of identity theft. A case which could have resulted in line theft. Under law,
the punishment is death," Regulus said, voice booming like thunder and electric as lightning.
Between one breath and the next, Hepatica smelled blood. The cloying scent flooded her
nostrils, and she could taste sweet copper on her tongue.
"Open your eyes." Regulus's tone was more persuasive than the Imperius Curse.
Hepatica didn't want to see her wanton copy. She might lose her mind if she did.
Regulus cupped her shoulders. "It's over, Heiress Potter. I promise. Now open your eyes."
She did. Blood coated the corridor, splattering the walls and ceiling, with puddles of it on the
floor. Entwhistle's hands lay severed, feet away from his body. His eyes were missing and blood
poured from his mouth, streaming out of the stump of his tongue. Not far from him was a smoking,
twisted heap. If she hadn't known that two people were in the corridor, she wouldn't have guessed that
the steaming lump had been human.
Hepatica tilted her head as her brain absorbed the scene. "Thank you. It's . . . beautiful." Very
few people would be able to stare at such gore and find it beautiful; before tonight, Hepatica wouldn't
have been such a person. For this event alone, though, she would make an exception.
"You don't need to thank me," Regulus stated. His grip on her shoulders tightened before he let
go. "I am a very selfish man, Heiress Potter. The sight was more than I could bear." He stepped away
from her.
As his magic retreated from the sanguineous slop, Hepatica grasped it with her own and pulled
it close. She held it fast, though it didn't struggle against her.
"Heiress Potter?" Regulus asked, speculative.
Hepatica turned to face him; his gray eyes were still alight with rage, and the magic that she
didn't have wrapped around her rippled with possessive hatred and murderous intent. Though the
Potters were a Light Magic family, Hepatica couldn't ignore what Regulus had just done for her. Her
Grandmamma Dorea had been a Black; Hepatica was well versed in Dark Magic.
She could've pretended ignorance. Hepatica could have feigned innocence, and acted as if she
had no clue what Regulus meant by his actions. Except for two things: Potters are eternally honorable,
and Hepatica was impressed. She had never imagined that any wizard would care so much for her.
A blooded death—by Dark Magic—for her honor and virtue.
Hepatica knelt before Regulus, her gaze never straying from his as she picked up her wand from
the floor. A quick flick was all it took to send her hair tumbling down. His magic vibrated in her grasp
as the blood red locks covered her body. She picked up a lock of her hair and reached her left hand out;
Regulus offered his own left hand, never blinking—as if she would vanish if he closed his eyes for a
moment. She tied her hair around his wrist.
His eyes shone brighter than a phoenix on burning day. Regulus helped her to her feet and
hugged her. "I take thee prisoner, Lady Black, until thy heart should cease to beat."
Hepatica folded herself more deeply inside his magic, and prayed that day would never come.
Then she took a breath and sealed her fate. "I surrender, Lord Black, to a bonding won with blood."
*Chapter 8*: I Won't Let Your Title Speak to Mine

Title: I Won't Let Your Title Speak to Mine


Pairing: Lucius Malfoy/Castanea Black
First Year:
Lucius Malfoy was walking toward the library when a small, smooth hand grabbed his.
Shocked, he turned to see who would dare touch him without his permission. His family was one of the
Sacred Twenty-Eight, and he relished in every privilege, honor, and accolade that came with it. Even
the seventh-year Slytherins bowed to him as he ruled the Slytherin Court from the king's chair.
"Yes?" Lucius asked. He cocked an eyebrow when he recognized the witch. Unfortunately, her
family was also one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, so he couldn't hex her for touching him so familiarly.
Castanea Black's hair was French-braided down her back, which met the minimum
requirements of propriety. It just counted as being 'up'. He was surprised that Lady Black let her style
her hair like that. Her cousins' styles were complicated and always piled atop their heads. Castanea was
wearing open-front school robes, and she had used her red and gold Gryffindor tie to make a lopsided
bow at her throat instead of wearing it like others did.
"I don't get it," Castanea said. She tilted her head and squinted her gray eyes, perusing him from
the top of his head to his shining shoes. Unlike her, his uniform was immaculate.
Lucius gave a put-upon sigh. He had an essay to write for McGonagall, and that was a chore.
Though the Gryffindor Head of House claimed she wasn't prejudiced, he had to work much harder to
get the O's his essays deserved, while some of her lions got them with rubbish, poor grammar, and
incomplete explanations. "You don't get what, Heiress Black?"
Castanea wrinkled her nose and glared at him. "Don't call me that!" she snapped.
Lucius twitched in surprise at the vehement response. He wasn't used to anyone speaking to him
in that tone of voice; not even his parents ordered him around thusly. "It's your name," Lucius drawled,
as if he were explaining himself to an infant.
She stamped her foot. "No, it's not!" Her cheeks turned red, with what he assumed was anger.
"It's my stupid title," she spat. She squeezed his hand, but it didn't hurt much. "My name is 'Castanea'.
Can you remember that?" Castanea asked, turning his condescending tone back on him.
A smirk curled his lips at her childish indignation. She was amusing; very little amused him at
Hogwarts. Lucius was always looking for new sources of entertainment. Chuckling, Lucius decided to
appease her. "You don't get what, Castanea?"
Castanea pursed her lips, and then heaved a big sigh, as if she had generously decided to forgive
him. "Adelaide Brown keeps gushing about how 'cute' you are." She stared at Lucius intently, before
snorting and shaking her head. "I don't get it."
Lucius glared and resisted the urge to stamp his foot, as she had done earlier. He was thirteen
years old, and he wouldn't act like a toddler. "I most certainly am not cute." Lucius spat the last word
like a swear. He was handsome, maturing, appealing, fanciable, and more. However, he wasn't cute.
Crup puppies and Kneazle kittens were cute. He was the Heir of the Vigilant and Most Ancient House
of Malfoy. If anything, he was desirable.
"Good, you agree with me." Castanea smiled at him; her teeth were straight and very white. It
was a nice smile. "Because I don't think you're cute at all, Lucius."
He considered ordering her to call him by his title, but the challenge in her eyes told him that it
would be a waste of his breath. He had a feeling it would be easier to get the half-breed groundskeeper
to learn proper manners than it would to change Castanea's mind once she made it up. "Good," he
retorted. "I don't want anyone thinking I'm cute." He grimaced when the word passed his lips.
"Well, that's settled then," Castanea said. "I'm glad I figured out which one of my new
roommates is the crazy one so quickly. I'll have to keep an eye on her."
"Castanea?" Lucius spoke before he realized he had a request.
"Hmm? What Lucius?" Castanea asked.
He had never asked anyone for a favor before, but he remembered reading a chapter that
covered it in Moste Proper Pureblood Etiquette. He just hoped she would accept. "If she continues
insisting on such vicious lies, I would appreciate it if you would attempt to stop them." The next word
was almost impossible to voice. "Please."
Castanea nodded and grinned at him. "No problem, Lucius! Any time that Adelaide tells
someone you're cute when I'm around, I promise I'll correct her."
That was a relief. He couldn't have his reputation ruined by a little girl with a crush. If the
Slytherins heard such rumors about him, they would laugh at him behind his back! Lucius loathed it
when people laughed at him. No one should ever mock a member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. It was
unthinkable. More than that, it was unforgivable!
"Thank you," he said, before bowing to her. It was kind of awkward, since she still held his
hand, but he thought he managed to make it look smooth and elegant.
Her expression was thunderous when he righted himself. "Don't ever do that again!" she
commanded. Her cheeks were red, her eyes flashed, and her shoulders shook. "I am not a title, Lucius,"
Castanea hissed. "I'm a witch. I have magic, just like you do. I can duel. I can curse. I can hex." She
dug her fingernails into his palm so fiercely that he bled. "Only weak witches hide behind a title! Don't
ever give me false courtesies. You don't know anything about me; you can't respect me enough to offer
me your unprotected neck."
Lucius's eyes widened with each word she spoke. He had never thought of it like that before,
even though it was the truth. Each time he bowed to a lady, he left himself open for an attack. It was a
disconcerting realization.
"I made you a promise, Lucius. Now make me one. Promise to never treat me like a brainless,
pureblood title!" Her nails cut deeper as she yanked on his hand.
"And if I don't?" Lucius asked, curious about what her reaction would be. She certainly hadn't
been lying about having magic; it hung down her back like a cloak as her temper raged.
Castanea's pink lips twisted in a smirk that looked entirely wrong on her delicate features. The
wrongness displeased him. "Then I'll tell Adelaide that you think she's 'cute', too."
Lucius shuddered. "You're a cruel creature, Castanea," he said. He knew that she would follow
through on her threat; she didn't strike him as a witch who threw out idle words. It was refreshing to
speak with someone who said what she meant. Girls were difficult enough to understand without
having to decode their sentences; sometimes he wondered if they spoke a different language on
purpose.
Her face was all innocence, except for the wicked smile. "I have some idea of what you speak."
He wanted to ask how she had convinced the Sorting Hat to put her in Gryffindor. He wanted to
know how in the world she wasn't in Slytherin. But he didn't think she would answer him—not yet.
Maybe someday he could find out. "I believe we've reached an accord."
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Castanea asked, dimples flashing. "It sounded like your title was
attempting to speak to mine."
Lucius surrendered to her dimples and said, "You have a deal."
Second Year:
Lucius reminded himself that he shouldn't be surprised when Castanea flounced into the empty
chair beside him. She swung her legs up on the library table, but seemed to have enough presence of
mind to make sure she trapped the hem of her robe beneath her ankles, so she wasn't flashing the room.
Her feet ground into the cover of a history book on the goblin wars.
He sighed and returned his peregrine quill to the ink well. Attempting to finish his History of
Magic essay when she was around would prove fruitless. The last time he had tried to ignore her she
had kicked the ink well onto his essay, ruining two hours' work. She hadn't apologized, and Lucius
knew she never would.
"Good afternoon, Castanea," Lucius said. She had left him alone for the past three days, which
had been oddly disturbing. He had become accustomed to her daily appearances in his life. He never
knew where she would show up or what ridiculous thing she would say next.
Castanea beamed at him. "It is! It's the best afternoon ever!"
Her voice was obscenely loud, but he didn't bother to shush her. Somehow, and he really, really
wished he knew how, she had the hard-nosed Madam Pince wrapped around her little finger. The strict
librarian didn't even reprimand Castanea when she ate over the books and got crumbs in them.
She stared at him expectantly, fingers tapping an obnoxious rhythm against the table. The
nearby Ravenclaws glared at her, but no one said anything. His presence often resulted in people
clamming up, regardless of their opinion.
"All right, I'll bite. Why is it the best afternoon ever?" Lucius asked. It had to be the dimples
that made him cave time after time. As soon as she flashed them in his direction, he ended up giving
her his full attention.
"You're looking at the newest Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team!" Castanea declared.
She spread her arms in a grand gesture. "I did it!"
Castanea had been excited about tryouts since the start of the year. She had even bullied him
into teaching her the sloth-grip roll. He felt personal pride at her accomplishment, which startled him.
Lucius didn't tend to care about or acknowledge others' accomplishments. He was preoccupied with
bettering himself and reaching higher than anyone thought he could go.
"Many felicitations on—" Lucius almost yelped as Castanea shoved him. His chair wobbled,
but he, thankfully, didn't fall to the floor. He glared at the affront on his dignity; those Ravenclaws
were laughing at him! How dare she—?
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Castanea demanded, hands held out as if she would push him again,
only much harder this time around. "It sounded like your title was attempting to speak to mine."
Lucius gritted his teeth and acknowledged his error. Such occasions were rarer now, but he still
slipped up. Castanea never let it pass. He took a deep breath, to calm his temper, and then exhaled.
"Congratulations, Castanea!"
She laughed with delight and began tapping her fingers on the table again. "Thanks, Lucius."
Her face grew somber, and Lucius didn't like it; she was always smiling and happy—except when she
was cursing Severus Snape or yelling at him, of course. Her hands balled into fists. "I know Mum and
Dad will just say 'As expected of a Black' in their letter, once I tell them." Castanea blinked rapidly, as
if she were fighting back tears.
Lucius shifted in the seat of his chair, not sure what to say. His parents had always praised him
and his sisters for their accomplishments. Knowing what he did now, that she sought his company
because he didn't brush her off, made him feel guilty for the times he had ignored her. How hard would
it be to live if everyone dismissed his hard work and successes as a byproduct of being a Malfoy?
Lucius gritted his teeth; he would hate it.
"I'm proud of you," Lucius said. She froze, as if no one had ever told her that before. If that
were true, her parents were failures.
Castanea swallowed and removed her legs from the table. She grabbed his nearest hand and
squeezed it once, the wounds she had once left there had long since been healed. "Thank you, Lucius."
She released his hand and stood up. "I'm sorry for interrupting your studying."
He didn't even have to think about the words, and all of the ramifications they would inspire,
before he spoke them. "Any time, Castanea."
She glanced over her shoulder, dimples deepening as she stared at him. "You know, I think you
really mean that."
Lucius didn't smirk, sneer, or frown, as he was accustomed to doing. Instead, he returned her
smile with a tentative one of his own. It didn't often see the light of day at school. But he wasn't just
humoring her, and he wanted her to know that. So Lucius stared right into Castanea's gray eyes and
said, "I do."
Third Year:
Lucius kept stopping and turning around as he patrolled the corridors. He had been a prefect for
the past two months, but something felt different tonight. He was jittery, and even his magic was
alert—as if he were about to be attacked at any moment. He swore he heard footsteps behind him, but
no one was ever there when he turned around. Even the strongest revealing charm he cast didn't help. If
he didn't have a Disillusioned stalker, what was bothering him?
"Who's there?" he demanded, feeling like an idiot for talking to air. It wasn't the first time he
asked the question. However, he was rewarded this time by the sound of a muffled snort. It was one he
had heard countless times over the past two years.
Groaning, Lucius leaned against the wall and ran a hand down his face. His shoulders relaxed as
his muscles eased. The tension that had forced him to be alert for the past half an hour disappeared,
leaving him drained.
"That's not nice, Castanea," Lucius grumbled. He spared a thought for how she had successfully
tailed him and deceived his charms, but it slipped away. He was too distracted now to worry about it.
"I don't remember telling you I'm nice," Castanea said.
Lucius yelped, wincing as his voice cracked, when the words came from right beside him. Her
laughter was loud and long and full of mirth. His cheeks heated with embarrassment as he swung an
arm in the direction of her voice. His fingers touched smooth cloth, so he grabbed it and pulled. It was
her turn to yelp as she became visible.
"Hey, that's not nice!" Castanea snapped. Strands of her hair were floating in the air, forced
upward by the static released when he yanked off the cloak.
He snickered at her. "I don't remember telling you I'm nice," Lucius repeated, throwing her own
words back at her. It was something he did fairly often—part of the game they played. Sometimes she
just made it too easy.
"Copycat," she muttered under her breath.
Lucius focused on the shimmering fabric he held in hands. An invisibility cloak, he realized. It
was very well made. He had never seen one so strong before. It didn't have any imperfections that he
could see. Most invisibility cloaks had small patches where the weaving wasn't as uniform, which
allowed for small bits of the person hiding beneath it to be seen. That was why he hadn't even
considered the thought that someone under an invisibility cloak might be tailing him. "Where did you
buy this?"
Castanea's eyes widened. "I didn't." She coughed into her hand. "Buy it, that is."
Lucius stared at her in disbelief. She hadn't bought it? "You're telling me someone gave you a
cloak of invisibility of this quality as a present?" He was skeptical on that front. In general, people were
selfish. If he had ever had an urge to buy someone an invisibility cloak as a present and received this
one, he would have kept it for himself and let the weaver make another, which would assuredly be less
perfect, and, therefore, less useful.
A blush covered her cheeks. "Not exactly."
It didn't take Lucius long to fill in the blank. He chuckled and shook his head. She was trouble,
and a little trickster at that. "So, who did you steal it from?" he asked, genuinely curious. He wanted to
ask the owner where it had been purchased, so that he could order one.
"Borrowed!" Castanea declared, as she pointed quite rudely at him. "I borrowed it, Lucius. I'm
not a thief." She turned her head to the side and sniffed disdainfully.
Lucius smirked; he loved it when she acted all haughty, because it was so rare. "And did this
borrowing occur with or without permission?" he inquired, hoping to keep her dander up.
She spluttered for a full minute before ripping the cloak out of his hands and saying, "That's
beside the point." Castanea balled it up against herself and then winced.
"What's wrong?" asked Lucius. He felt the humor drain out of the situation. In all the time he
had known her, he had never seen her react like that. Had someone cursed or hexed her, and she was
too proud to go to the hospital wing to have it removed?
"You don't want to know," Castanea said as she walked around him and headed down the
corridor.
Lucius swore under his breath and followed after her. Why did people even say that? All it did
was make someone more curious! Now he was even more worried, because she never bothered to care
if he wanted to hear what she had to say or not; she just yammered away at him day after day.
He caught her hand and pulled her to a stop, only to regret his actions when she sucked in a
pained breath. "Sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you," Lucius said. He wanted to make Castanea's pain go
away, not cause her more. Why did her sudden lack of trust hurt so much?
"It's not your fault," she gritted out, shoulders hunched.
Lucius walked around her, so that he could see her face. Her eyes were scrunched shut with
pain, and her lips were tugged down in a frown. Her skin was paler than normal. He didn't like it—not
one bit. "What's wrong?" he asked again.
Castanea peered at him through her eyelashes, as if the torchlight in the hallway only caused her
pain when it pierced her eyes. "Do you really want to know?"
"Obviously," Lucius snapped, losing his temper. "I wouldn't have asked otherwise." Sometimes,
just sometimes, he hated how difficult she was. Did everything have to be a battle with her? He only
wanted to help! What was wrong with that? Why did Castanea have to be so close-mouthed all of a
sudden? Lucius couldn't stand not knowing when it came to her. She had trained the indifference out of
him.
"I finally started my menses," Castanea admitted, cheeks fiery, "and it hurts! It hurts all the
time!"
Lucius made the foolish mistake of speaking before thinking. "It's highly inappropriate to
discuss—"
"Highly inappropriate?" Castanea hissed like a tigress. "Highly inappropriate? I'll show you
'highly inappropriate', Lucius!" She cast a tripping jinx at him, glaring as he tumbled backward into an
open broom closet, bound him while he was still in shock, and then slammed the door in his face.
Was it wrong that Lucius felt his greatest blunder was misspeaking to Castanea and not being
ambushed and overpowered by a thirteen-year-old witch? He never meant to upset her; he didn't want
to remind her of her family. Lucius knew how much she hated going home. However, her words had
completely stunned him. Before tonight, she had always been a little girl that he deigned to amuse. In
five words, she had transformed into a young lady he bantered with on a regular basis. The abrupt
change in their relationship had been jarring and unexpected.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Castanea asked, voice pained and shaking as it came through the
door. "It sounded like your title was attempting to speak to mine."
Lucius grumbled a few swears at her tone. She sounded like her world was crumbling down
around her. It was his fault. "Sorry, Cas," Lucius said as he stared up at the cobwebbed ceiling. The
house-elves needed to stop being so lazy; cobwebs were utterly unacceptable. "If you want, I can help
with the pain." He wondered if her mother had even bothered to explain anything to her; he doubted it,
seeing as she and her mother had a blatantly distant relationship.
It seemed like forever before the door opened, but open it did. There were traces of tears on her
cheeks. The sight of them was as painful as when he had fallen off his broom the one and only time as
a child. Her "Finite" was almost inaudible.
A short hug completed his apology, and Lucius tried not to notice that her body had changed.
He didn't succeed. He would have time later to sort out his conflicting emotions; right now, he needed
to help her. Lucius cast the pain relieving charm he had seen his mother use, and breathed a sigh of
relief when she relaxed against him.
"Thank you, Lucius," Castanea whispered. "It's much better already."
"You're welcome," he said, before clearing his throat and stepping away from her. "I have to
finish my rounds."
"And I think I'll finally be able to sleep," Castanea said. She patted his shoulder as she walked
past him, and then swirled the cloak over herself once more. "Have fun!"
Lucius waited until he knew she was gone before mumbling, "How am I supposed to do that
without you?"
Fourth Year:
Lucius was attempting to meditate by the Black Lake, but he wasn't having much success. If he
hadn't been distracted, then he was sure that he would have been able to figure out his Animagus form
by now. Unfortunately, every time he started sinking toward his magical core her laughter jolted him
back to the outside world.
Castanea and a few other witches were splashing about in the shallows. Occasionally, one of
them would jump off the long dock. He couldn't make out their words from this distance, but the sound
of their laughter carried. If it had been just her laughter, he might have been able to tune it out.
However, he couldn't stop the blasted memory of her walking past him in a swimsuit from popping
front and center in his mind.
The sight of her body outside of robes set his blood on fire, and with how many wizards were
'playing football' along the shore of the Black Lake, he knew he wasn't the only one affected.
True, there were other girls in the group—over ten in all—but none of them compared to her.
Castanea's skin was porcelain and unblemished. Her waist was impossibly tiny. Her legs seemed to go
on forever. And the miniscule emerald green swimsuit barely covered the rest of her curves, which had
developed a great deal in the past few months.
The thought of anyone else looking at her body and thinking what he did made him want to
march down the dock and order her to cover herself up. But he didn't have any right to do that, and he
didn't believe for a second that Castanea would obey him.
Lucius closed his eyes and attempted to sink into his magical core, only to be met with failure
again. "It's useless," he spat, disgusted with his lack of self-control.
He tumbled backward and threw an arm over his eyes. It didn't help. The sight of Castanea in
the swimsuit only sharpened. If Lucius were a Gryffindor, he might've bashed his head against the
ground in an attempt to jar it loose. His magic writhed and fought the iron grip he had on it. Lucius
couldn't let go, though. He feared if he did he would be sentenced to Azkaban for mass murder.
"She's perky, eh?"
"Oh, the legs on that one!"
"She'll be the new star of my fantasies for sure!"
They could've been talking about any of the girls, but each comment only made him think of
Castanea. Which, in turn, really angered him. Lucius was attempting to justify a defense for mass
murder when someone stopped beside him and blocked the sun.
"Feeling all right, Lucius?" asked Castanea.
Lucius whipped his arm away from his face and opened his eyes. She was standing beside him,
arms wrapped around her waist as she shivered. The swimsuit was plastered against her skin. He
watched in a daze as droplets of water escaped her hair, trailed down her face, and then slid down her
neck and into the top of her swimsuit. He wanted to follow them with his tongue.
"Lucius?" Castanea asked, sounding worried now.
It jolted him back to awareness. With a scowl on his face, Lucius rose with alacrity. He spared a
passing thought of gratitude that he had worn open-front robes, before tearing them off and throwing
them around her shoulders. "Cover up. Your manner of dress at present is most unseemly," he snapped.
His tone of voice was harsh and cruel, even to his own ears. But he didn't care. She deserved to be
thought of as more than a fit body.
Tears welled in Castanea's eyes. Before he could speak again, and attempt to preserve her
modesty, she Levitated him over the Black Lake and dropped him in.
Lucius struggled to reach the surface, his clothes and shoes weighing him down. He spat the
filthy water out of his mouth and swam to shore. His magic lashed out, causing a wide series of ripples
to mar the lake. He bottled his magic back up as his feet finally touched the silt, and stormed out of the
water. Lucius was soaking wet, and people were pointing and laughing at him.
Yet somehow, despite all that, he felt more betrayed than angry. Oh, he was enraged, there was
no doubt about that, but the betrayal hurt more.
He stalked past Castanea without even looking at her. If she wanted to parade around like a
bloody trollop, he wasn't going to stop her. She had made it perfectly clear that she didn't mind being
ogled by hormonal teenage boys.
So when she spoke behind him, it was only the tears he could hear in her voice that made him
stop long enough to reply. "I'm sorry, what was that?" Castanea asked, voice thick. "It sounded like
your title was attempting to speak to mine."
Lucius fisted his hands and bit the inside of his cheek until it bled. Why couldn't she ever
understand? She couldn't be that thick! Not everything was about their blasted heritage! Some things
were a lot more human than that. "No," he said, tired and defeated. "That was Lucius warning Castanea
that she's about to be Hogwarts' fantasy material."
"W-what?" She stumbled against his back and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her face
rested between his shoulder blades. "Would t-they r-really . . . ?"
"Still so innocent," he whispered. Lucius rubbed her white-knuckled hands and told her a truth
she didn't want to hear. It was a truth that he didn't want to hear either. "Yes, they would."
Her breath hitched in her throat and she tightened her hold on him. "Lucius," she whispered,
meek and shaky, "can we make another promise?" She let go of her hands and twined her fingers with
his. "I promise to never wear anything 'unseemly' in public, and you'll promise to Obliviate them." She
sobbed, and his chest ached. "Please," she begged.
"It's a deal," Lucius replied. He spun around in time to catch her, as her knees gave out. Then
his magic shot outward and skillfully fulfilled his end of the bargain. It didn't go unnoticed that she
didn't ask him to remove his own memory of the afternoon.
Fifth Year:
Lucius sat in the chair with the highest back in the Slytherin common room. It was ten feet tall,
and even he thought it was gaudy. But thrones usually were, and this chair had been his since he was a
third year. Heir Bulstrode, who was also from a family of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, had been king
when Lucius was a first and second year. But Lucius had ascended the throne upon his graduation.
There was a great deal of chatter, seeing as it was the first day of the school year. Everyone was
doing their best to catch up on all the summer news and gossip.
Lucius did his best to tune it out as he stared at the crackling fire. Something was wrong with
Castanea; he had noticed it during the Sorting, but hadn't had the chance to speak with her. He didn't
even remember seeing her on the Hogwarts Express at all. The Head Boy duties were at least twice as
involved as being a normal prefect. And how in the world had Lily Evans been made the Gryffindor
fifth-year prefect? She was a Mudblood!
He had always doubted McGonagall's sanity, but now it was confirmed.
A laugh that sounded like a dog barking drew his attention. Ah, perhaps he would be able to
find out the problem tonight, after all. "Heir Black!"
Regulus Black looked up from his group of friends in surprise. It wasn't often that Lucius
showed interest in third years. "Yes, Heir Malfoy?"
"How's your sister?" asked Lucius, already anticipating the silence that would consume the
room. He knew there were countless wagers involving him and Castanea; not even the Slytherins could
figure out why he spent time with her or what their relationship was based on.
"I'm unsure. I haven't spoken with her since Mother banished her," Regulus said, brow
furrowed.
Lucius felt every muscle in his body go rigid. He couldn't possibly have heard that right. Lady
Black and her daughter didn't get along, obviously, but no pureblood lady would ever banish her only
daughter! It was beyond unthinkable. "I beg your pardon?" Lucius asked.
Realizing he was the center of attention, Regulus straightened his shoulders. He folded his
hands behind him, as if he were reporting to a superior officer. "Mother banished Castanea the third
week of the summer holiday. She has also been blasted off the family tapestry. Mother has forbidden
her access to all the Black family properties until she repents of her rebelliousness and acquiesces to
Mother's order."
Castanea had been forbidden access to all of the Black family properties? Where in the world
had she been living the past few months? His heart thundered in his chest, and Lucius considered the
wisdom of declaring a blood feud with Walburga Black. What was wrong with that woman? Had
bonding with her second cousin made her even more insane?
The stunned silence that had swallowed the room was interrupted by a sharp knocking sound at
the common room entrance. "See who it is," Lucius commanded, thoughts subsumed in what Regulus
had just revealed. What could Castanea have possibly done to inspire such a harsh punishment?
"Ah, Castanea, your brother was just regaling us with your wonderful turn of fortune," Snape
sneered. He sounded entirely amused, and Lucius wasn't amused in the least.
"Feeling suicidal, Severus?" Lucius asked, voice cutting. An image of Castanea sleeping on the
streets made Severus's attitude toward her less tolerable than ever.
Castanea shoved past Severus and into the Slytherin common room. She gave him the cut
direct, and Lucius smirked as every pureblood in the room sucked in a sharp breath. She might not like
her title much, but she knew how to use it to the utmost effect.
"I hate my mother!" Castanea spat as she dodged around some first years playing Exploding
Snap. "I hate her!" She absently ruffled Regulus's hair as she walked past him. "She's stark raving mad,
Lucius. And it better not be hereditary!" She paused to kiss Narcissa Black's cheek. "I knew she hated
me, but not this much."
Lucius only had a few seconds to realize Castanea's intentions. He got his arm up just in time to
support her back as she sat on his lap sideways and folded her legs across the arm of his throne. He
breathed in the scent of cinnamon and apples. Eyes widened in disbelief around them, but he didn't care
what his fellow Slytherins thought. He was too worried about her.
"Regulus said you've been banished from the Black properties—all of them." Lucius gritted his
teeth and regretted for the first time that they didn't write letters during the summer months. If he had
known, he would've made sure she was somewhere safe.
"So I have," Castanea agreed. She leaned her head against his shoulder; there was no way she
could miss the sound of his heart pounding. "I spent the summer at Potter Manor."
It felt like ice had replaced the blood in his veins. She was fifteen now; had she run off and
bonded with Heir Potter? "What?"
"Aunt Dorea took me in. She was really nice about it, too. My favorite part was when she yelled
at my mother through the Floo for over an hour. I'd never heard a Potter curse before. Then again, she's
a Black by blood," Castanea rambled, unconsciously setting Lucius back at ease. "And James was
awkwardly sympathetic, instead of being a spoiled prat. That was a nice surprise; he's never had to
share his parents with anyone before."
"Why?" Lucius asked.
Castanea snorted. "Because he's an only child, Lucius." She removed Lucius's wand from its
holster and started twirling it expertly through her fingers. It startled him, because no one other than
him had touched it since he bought it. He didn't take it away from her, though, and that didn't go
unnoticed by their audience.
"Obviously," Lucius drawled. She was very playful tonight, wasn't she? "I was asking why your
mother had banished you, as you well know." She was much cleverer than she led people to believe. He
wouldn't let her pull the ignorance card on him—not on this subject.
"Oh! Why didn't you say so?" Castanea laughed, though it was hard and brittle. "She banished
me because I threatened to see myself ruined." She spoke as if the words were no big deal, but her back
muscles bunched against his hand in protest.
The witches in the room gasped and blushed, and several of the wizards' mouths fell open.
"What?" asked Lucius. He knew he sounded dense, but he didn't have a retort prepared for this
scenario; his brain was still processing what she had said.
"When I got home for the summer, Mother informed me that I would be bonding with Lord
Nott by the end of the month," Castanea said with a shudder. "He's older than my father. I met him
once, when I was five. It's disgusting!" she hissed. Castanea fisted one hand in the front of Lucius's
robes and grasped his right knee with the other. "I'd rather see myself ruined than spread my legs for a
lecherous pervert—pureblood lord or not."
The thought of Castanea, as she so crassly put it, "spreading her legs" for anyone but him
caused Lucius's magic to pounce from his skin and cover her in a protective shield that would maim
anyone not of Malfoy blood. He turned to face the fireplace and then pressed his cheek against her hair,
terrified of what must be visible in his expression.
Castanea relaxed against him fully, and then her voice came in a vicious tease of words. "Don't
worry, Lucius. I would've come to you." She purred in his magic's hold. "I'm not entirely naïve. I'm
sure you know your way around a witch."
Lucius gulped, his mind diving into a cesspool of fantasies that he did his best to always lock
away with Occlumency. She deserved better than where his mind traveled on occasion. "Such topics
are—"
Huffing, she didn't let him finish. "I'm sorry, what was that?" Castanea asked. She stroked his
knee. "It sounded like your title was attempting to speak to mine."
For the first time, Lucius let her have the last word. He couldn't bring himself to voice his true
thoughts. His title speaking to hers was the last thought on his mind. Right now, his body wanted to
converse with hers. And he couldn't let it . . . yet.
Sixth Year:
Lucius found her in Gladrags Wizardwear, after it felt like he had searched every shop in
Hogsmeade. He hated being away from her for so long, but Castanea could only leave school grounds
on Hogsmeade weekends and for the holidays. He had entertained the thought of repeating seventh
year, solely to keep an eye on her, but she would've hated him for it.
The last thing in the world he wanted from Castanea was her hatred.
The shopkeeper approached him with a smile. "How can I help you, Heir Malfoy?" she asked.
Lucius dropped a pouch of galleons in her hand and said, "Close up shop for an hour." He didn't
want Hogwarts students wandering in and disturbing them. He had to share her with the whole school
over nine months a year; he wanted some time to himself.
"Heiress Black is—"
"She can stay," Lucius interrupted, uncaring if he offended the woman. He didn't even want to
hear a suggestion of Castanea leaving right after he arrived. He was here for her, after all.
"Of course, Heir Malfoy." The witch bobbed a curtsy, flipped the sign, and locked the door. "I'll
just be at the counter if you require anything."
"How does it look?" Castanea asked the three-paneled mirror she stood before.
The mirror tutted. "That's not your color at all, dear. You look much too pale. Why don't you go
back in and try on the next one."
"Okay," Castanea said before returning to her dressing chamber. Lucius wished she were that
biddable when he spoke to her.
Lucius walked over to the wall that had rows of fabric on it. There was a thick, ivory wool that
was the softest he had ever felt. He rubbed it between his fingers, imagining it wrapped around
Castanea. White was one of the Malfoy family colors, and he knew she would look magnificent in it.
Her ebony hair would make a striking contrast. He crooked his right index finger.
The shopkeeper bustled over to his side. "Yes, Heir Malfoy. How can I be of assistance?"
"A hooded cloak, made from this. The Malfoy crest is to be embroidered on the back of it," he
ordered. Lucius couldn't wait to see it on Castanea. It was about time that he made his intentions
entirely clear; she was sixteen now, and he wouldn't let anyone believe that she wasn't spoken for.
"I'll need your measuremen—"
"It's for Heiress Black," Lucius said, interrupting her once again. "I assume you already have
her measurements?" Despite his best efforts, Lucius's mind wandered to the last time he had hugged
Castanea. He probably knew Castanea's measurements better than the seamstress did.
The witch grinned, before winking at him. "Of course, Heir Malfoy. This will just take a few
minutes." She removed the wool from the shelf and then worked her magic, levitation charms, severing
charms, mending charms, and a bunch of others that pertained to needlepoint and magic thread. Lucius
had never bothered to learn such things; he had no use for them in everyday life. When she finished,
she suspended it in the air and spun it slowly, so that he could inspect it from every angle. "Will this
do?"
The sight of his family crest, massive and pale blue, brought a genuine smile of triumph to his
face. "It's perfect," Lucius said, offering a rare bit of praise. "How much do I owe you?"
Glowing, the shopkeeper tutted. "Nonsense, Heir Malfoy. You've more than paid for it."
"Very well, Madam. Thank you," Lucius said, before draping the cloak over the nearest
mannequin. He spent the next twenty minutes casting a series of charms on the cloak; it came with the
standard ones, so he didn't bother with those. Instead, he laid protection spells one after the
other—some specific, some general, some Light, some Dark, some foreign, and some ancient. By the
time he was done, it radiated with Malfoy family magic and his magic in particular.
He headed back through the racks, so that he would be able to see the mirror by the dressing
chambers again. Castanea's voice reached his ears before she was in sight. "How about this one?"
"You look stunning, dear. Wizards will throw themselves at your feet if you wear that." The
mirror chuckled. "Or tear it off you, if you catch my drift."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Castanea chided. "He'd never be so crass as to tear my robes off."
She better be referring to me, Lucius thought, before his ability to converse with himself went
down the drain.
Castanea stood before the three-paneled mirror in a pale blue gown that shimmered like ice. It
had three-quarter sleeves that belled just past her elbows. The bodice laced up the front, which brought
his gaze to her chest. Castanea had enough cleavage on display to draw his eyes, which meant other
men would look as well. Unacceptable. It fit like a glove to partway down her thighs, giving him a
better visual of her bum than he had gotten in two years, before swishing out.
If anyone saw her in those dress robes. . . . He could picture wizards throwing themselves at
her, and he didn't like it. But he couldn't gainsay the mirror's other opinion either. Because if Castanea
were already his, he would happily tear them off her and cancel their plans for a night in.
Lucius walked up behind her, grinning when she noticed him and spun around. "Lucius! What
are you doing here?"
He swung the cloak around her body and fastened it, not giving her a chance to examine the
back of it. His breath caught in his throat at the sight she made. Castanea looked like a Malfoy bride.
His voice was gruff as he answered her question. "Hand-delivering your Yule present."
"Oh!" Castanea glanced downward and flushed. "Are the dress robes 'unseemly'?" she asked,
voice tentative.
Lucius stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. "Not if you're wearing them on my account,
Heiress Black." He had listened to her on-going conversation with the Mirror while he was spelling the
cloak. She had been adamant to find the perfect gown and, given the color she had settled on, Lucius
could only hope all the trouble she was going to was on his behalf.
Her voice shook as she asked her oft-repeated question. "I'm s-sorry, what was that?" Castanea
raised her head to meet his gaze. "It sounded like y-your title was attempting to speak to m-mine."
His control was fraying rapidly. "You're more beautiful than I can bear," Lucius whispered,
before brushing his lips against her cheek. And when kidnapping her started making sense in his head,
Lucius forced himself to let her go and hurried out of the shop. As much as he hated waiting, she wasn't
ready quite yet.
Seventh Year:
The sound of something hitting his window roused Lucius's attention. He frowned as he put the
marker in his book and set it on the reading table beside his armchair. If the house-elves had forgotten
to lock the peacocks up for the night, he was going to be annoyed. They were usually very efficient.
Lucius opened the drapes and gaped. Castanea was hovering outside his window on a Comet
360. He rushed to open the window, wondering what had happened. He would've asked how she got
through the wards, but the cloak he had given her, which she was wearing, more than explained that.
He had imbued it with so much magic that she could walk into Malfoy Manor and rob it blind if she
felt like it.
"What's wrong?" asked Lucius, as soon as her feet were on the floor. Had her mother tried to
force her into another bonding? "You're supposed to be at Hogwarts. Did something happen?" If Lady
Black tried to steal Castanea away from him now, Lucius really would declare a blood feud against the
witch.
"No. Nothing happened," Castanea whispered. She looked up at him and bit her lip, before
fiddling with the fastenings of her cloak. Then, as if she had gathered her courage, she unhooked them
and let the cloak fall to the floor.
Lucius took a single step backward as his brain stalled. Castanea stood before him, in his
bedchamber, in nothing but a knee-length, fitted chemise nightgown. It was pale blue and made of the
same fabric as the dress robes she had purchased. His hands reached out for her and hauled her against
his chest without his consent—not that he would've objected first if they had asked his permission.
Castanea traced patterns against his bare chest, her fingernails sending shivers down his spine.
"Lucius?" she whispered.
"Yes, Castanea?" he asked. What did she want from him? At this point, she could only be here
for two reasons: one of which would break his heart, and one of which would inform him in the boldest
manner possible that she returned his affections.
"I-I . . ." She bit her lip, shoulders slouching. "Can we sit down for a minute?"
"Of course," replied Lucius. He tangled their fingers together and led her toward the chair he
had recently occupied. He sat, and she snuggled into his lap. It was much harder to keep his mind
where it belonged, but he just managed it. "Whatever you need."
Over half an hour passed away in silence. Then, between one moment and the next, Castanea
seemed to firm her resolve. "Heir Lucius Malfoy, I desire to give myself into thy keeping," Castanea
said brazenly. She didn't give him a chance to respond before she shifted to the side, straddled his lap
on her knees, and kissed him. It started out hesitantly, but her fire erupted to the surface and boiled
alongside Lucius's.
He gripped her hips in his hands and claimed her mouth as he had long dreamed of doing. And
when she reluctantly pulled back to breathe, Lucius could barely gasp out the words he had waited
years to turn on her. "I'm sorry, what was that?" Lucius wrapped her braid around his hand and guided
her down for another deep kiss. He almost couldn't force out the last part, because his mind was
elsewhere. "It sounded like your title was attempting to speak to mine."
Castanea smiled tremulously. "I beg you to forgive it, just this once," she whispered, before
nipping his earlobe. "My lord."
Lucius shuddered and surrendered to her yet again. "All right, my lady," he agreed. "Just this
once."
*Chapter 9*: A Bunch of Nargles in Your Head

Title: A Bunch of Nargles in Your Head


Pairing: Harry Potter/Luna Lovegood, and canon side pairings
The Elder Wand arced through the air after ripping itself from Voldemort's hand. It flew
gracefully, elegantly, as if it were a trained dancer and not the most sought after weapon in the
wizarding world. Its light color bespoke of innocence and purity, but he knew it was anything but
innocent; it had slain countless lives. Regardless of its outer color, its core was thestral hair—only to be
used by those who had mastered death. It was mesmerizing, begging for his attention, and Duke Harry
Potter was unable to deny its draw.
Instinctively, he reached out to catch the wand.
No!
The scream rang through his body, sending his nerves skittering with fear worse than when he
had encountered Voldemort crouched over a dying unicorn in the Forbidden Forest. Trembling as if he
had the palsy, Harry started to lower his hand.
Catch it, a voice hissed. It was dark, manic, and filled with wicked pleasure. It's yours now.
You're mine now. Macabre cackling resounded through his head.
Harry felt his stomach roil. Voldemort was dead! Why was there a twisted voice in his head?
He thought he was finished with listening to deranged voices. So what was this? Was someone rooting
around in his head? He didn't know. Harry was terrible at Occlumency. What if someone found out
about the Horcruxes; what if one of the Death Eaters was searching for the answer of Voldemort's
downfall, or failed attempts at immortality?
Don't touch it, the first voice whispered, steady and soothing. You're mine. You'll always be
mine. I chose you.
Harry hunched on the floor, ignoring everyone around him, eyes still locked on the Deathstick
as it came closer and closer. He wanted it. He had earned it. And if he was the Master of Death,
couldn't he bring people back from the dead? The Resurrection Stone alone couldn't . . . but maybe if
he used all three together, maybe if he combined their powers? He could have Sirius back. His parents
could be alive. Teddy could have his parents again. George's magic would stop wailing so loudly for
Fred.
Oh, Mother Magic, how naïve you are. If you hadn't intended to lose one of your chosen, you
shouldn't have let him play with the Hallows. Once he had two, you should have known the third would
become his. Once he became the Master of Death, you must have felt it. Did you really believe that you
could keep him, then? The laugh that followed was chiding, like a parent scolding a rebellious child.
What was going on? Harry recognized the sound of Mother Magic's voice, but this
other—stranger, unknown—was both unsettling and empowering. Harry shivered. It was the type of
taint that lulled people into a false sense of security. It was the serial killer that masqueraded as a
teacher, whispering lies: I'll never hurt you. I'm completely innocent.
Not this one, Ancient Master. You can't have him. He's too light, too pure. He's my chosen
savior, and deserves peace after all he's done for me.
Harry smiled at the promise of peace. What would it be like to not fight anymore? What would
it be like to not hide? No more running from the Death Eaters and Snatchers. No more sleeping in a
tent in the wild, listening to broadcasts of names that belonged to dead people. No more deaths because
he hadn't fulfilled Professor Trelawney's prophecy.
Voldemort was dead. He had won! He won!
Each word from 'Ancient Master', as Mother Magic called the unknown voice, was tinged with
smug victory and faint mocking. It doesn't matter what you made him for, Mother Magic. If you wanted
to keep him, you should have protected him from my influence. A part of my last child's soul dwelled
inside him until earlier today. He's had basilisk venom in his veins. He's cast Unforgivables. I don't
care what safeguards you put into place; they have failed. He killed the true Dark Lord—one chosen by
me, not named thusly by those silly wizards of yours. As such, he is required to assume his role.
Wait, what? Harry tried to understand what was happening. Mother Magic was arguing with the
entity that turned wizards into Dark Lords? And because Harry had vanquished Voldemort, he was
required to take his place? Over his dead body! He wouldn't become a monster like the man who
murdered his parents. "No," he whispered. "I won't." Voldemort was a murderer! He was a prejudiced
bigot that loved mayhem, violence, torture, and death. Harry would never become like him.
It amuses me, child, that you think you have a choice, Ancient Master said.
Please, Mother Magic begged, don't take him. Not him.
Mother Magic, said Ancient Master, voice sharper than Gryffindor's sword, you failed to
protect him. That's your fault, not mine. Your redhead Mudblood was a better mother to him than
you've been. At least the Mudblood saved him for a while longer; you can't.
"My mother was not a Mudblood!" Harry yelled . The crowd of people that had been surging
toward him halted, stunned at the exclamation. But Ancient Master's taunts served their purpose; Harry
was distracted just long enough for the Elder Wand to finish its arc and fall onto his palm.
No! Mother Magic wailed her denial. He's the recipient of a gifted! You can't take him.
Harry felt joy and disbelief fill him. Mother Magic had chosen him as the recipient of one of her
favored daughters? Was that why things had never worked out, no matter whom he dated or courted?
Was that why all the kisses he had shared were wet, or gross, or wrong, or uncomfortable?
Oh, but I can, purred Ancient Master. There's no need to worry. I'll make sure he's gifted. In
fact, I know just the witch I'll give him. Don't worry, Mother Magic; she's a pureblood and follows
some of the Ancient Ways. Ancient Master sniggered. Voldemort was weak-willed and too easily killed.
He didn't subjugate nearly as many people as he could have. But with your little savior in his role,
joined by a woman as Dark as a witch can be, his true magnificence—and hers—will finally be
illuminated.
Disgust curdled in Harry's stomach. That would not be his future. He would not be a Dark Lord.
It sounded like the Ancient Master wanted him to bond with someone twisted, like Bellatrix Lestrange.
It was unthinkable. He didn't survive this long to have peace and happiness ripped from his grasp.
You wouldn't . . . Mother Magic breathed, though it was patently clear that Ancient Master
would. I won't let you, she hissed.
Harry's fingers curled around the Elder Wand. A piece of wood splintered off and bit into his
skin; blood spilled from his palm, dying each of the engraved elderberries crimson. His breath caught
in his throat as his magic rippled down the wand, drawing his blood along in its wake, until all the
elderberries were plump, having fed of him life's blood.
Ancient Master's voice was raspy and hoarse, as if he had laughed his throat raw. Take a look
around, Mother Magic, because all of this is about to change. You wanted peace more than anything,
and were willing to risk one of your chosen sons to get it. Instead, he purred, you'll be given death,
torture, and war.
I won't be beaten. He's my son! Mother Magic declared.
Harry scrunched his brow. Wasn't war bad? No, it couldn't be, could it? He had fought in one,
hadn't he? Stretching, Harry rose to his feet and stared imperiously around the room. It was a
mess—fallen walls, screams of pain, wounds and gore. He loved it. Everyone was staring at him with
horror, awe, love, or respect. All were acceptable forms of devotion, as far as he was concerned. His
foe was fallen and he remained.
Harry thrust the hand holding his beloved Deathstick into the air and stated, "I emerge
victorious! He is fallen!" Cheers echoed off the walls, mashing together into an unintelligible shout of
joy. Yes, they should be pleased. They were only alive, after all, because of his sufferance for their
weaknesses and foibles. He was much too forgiving, much too kind, and needed to remember not to let
others take advantage of him in the future.
Why had he ever shared his knowledge? Why had he taught others to fight, when they might
rise up against his rule and use those skills against him? It was an error he must never repeat. Only his
future offspring were trustworthy enough to learn from him, because they would never be able to
betray him. There was a slight niggling in the back of Harry's mind, as if he had forgotten something
vitally important. He brushed it aside. He forgot nothing. Besides, other than his beloved wand, cloak,
and stone, nothing in this world had any worth.
Come, your lady has waited much too long for you.
Had the special voice that spoke to Harry always been so deep and rich? Hadn't it once been
light and airy? The more he thought about it, the more certain he became that it had always been thick
and low.
And you've been waiting far too long to be united with her.
True, there was no disputing that. He was of age to find a lady and bond. It was time to join
fully and meld magic—Mother Magic? No, Harry, magic wasn't sentient; what a foolish idea!—and
create progeny. His children would be powerful, cunning, deft, and well protected. Death would come
to all who sought to damage anyone linked to him through any type of bond. Mercy was for the
pathetic, for those too stupid to understand that a deceased enemy was one who could never assault you
again.
Shadowy tendrils wisped toward him, beckoning him closer. Go to her, said Ancient Master.
"Harry!"
"Get away from there!"
"It's not safe!"
"What's happening?"
"What's wrong with him?"
Harry glanced around at his adoring minions one last time, annoyed at their cries of exclamation
and shouts for him to back away from the strange shadows. It wasn't strange to him, and the destination
was greatly sought after: a lady of his own. A Dark Lady. No other would be worthy of him: a Dark
Lord, the Master of Death.
He took a step forward, intending to follow the shadows, but a blonde witch with protruding
silver eyes blocked his path. She was disheveled and dirty. "You've got the worst infestation of Nargles
I've ever seen, Harry."
This witch . . . he knew her. Didn't he? She looked so familiar! Harry's head ached, and the
hand he was reaching out to her fell to his side. "Nargles?"
Ignore her. She's not your lady, Ancient Master commanded.
Harry tried to dodge around her, but she blocked him every time. Why did she keep getting in
his way? Why didn't he just Blast her out of his way? Why did the thought of cursing her make his
head feel like it was going to split in half?
"Yes, Harry. Nargles are nasty little thieves." The blonde frowned, and Harry hated it. Some
instinct told him that she was never meant to frown. Her face was made for smiling.
Get away from her!
He wanted to obey the Ancient Master, really, he did. Harry knew that he was supposed to do
whatever he was told—that was how he had vanquished his foe. He glanced at the fallen, snake-like
creature. Who was his enemy? Why had they fought? He couldn't remember! Yet, every time he moved
he failed to evade the blonde. She stayed in his path. She was so beautiful.
She's not yours; your lady is more desirable than this scrawny, blonde waif. Follow the
shadows to your lady. Now! Don't waste time.
"Thieves?" Harry asked. He pressed a hand to his forehead. It was like a greatly amplified
version of the worst pain he had ever felt in his scar. What scar? Did he have a scar? Where did he get
it? How did he get it?
"He's shoved a bunch of Nargles in your head to steal your thoughts, Harry. When they're done
stealing those, they'll move to your morals. Then your memories. Then your emotions. Eventually, the
Nargles will take everything and you won't even be you anymore. You don't want to be a Not-You, do
you, Harry?" she asked, voice soft and whimsical.
"No," he rasped. He wanted to be himself.
She's lying. She's a filthy, little liar. Get away from her now or suffer the consequences.
"That's good. I don't want you to be a Not-You either, Harry." She took a necklace off. It was
the oddest thing he had ever seen; it was made of Butterbeer corks.
No! I'm so close! Ancient Master screamed. You're in my thr—
When she put the necklace on him, the violent voice in his head vanished. "There." She beamed
at him. "Now the Nargles can't steal from you."
Harry blinked rapidly as the pain subsided. His magic writhed, as if it had been touched by
something unholy. What just happened? "Luna?" His voice shook. Some mystic being had almost
turned him into a Dark Lord. He stared at his hands. If Luna hadn't gotten in the way, he would've
blindly followed the voice in his head and become a murderer. Ancient Master's voice was a thousand
times more hypnotic than the strongest Imperius Curse that Harry had ever had cast on him.
"Ah, but it seems the Wrackspurts are making your head all fuzzy now. That won't do." Luna
pouted. "They really should leave you alone, Harry. It's not nice to sneak through your ears when
you've only just gotten the Nargles out." She grabbed his face and pulled him down to her level. "Think
positive thoughts and they'll have to leave."
Positive thoughts? Harry shuddered. He had been gung-ho about subjugating an entire world
minutes ago. He hadn't even fought back; he hadn't even realized there was something to fight! Forgive
him if he was a little short on positive thoughts.
"A Blibbering Humdinger!" Luna screamed, pointing at the back of the Great Hall. As everyone
turned to face the threat, she latched onto Harry's arm and dragged him down several corridors and into
an empty classroom. She made a game of jumping around the debris from the battle.
He sat on a desk and tried to calm down. It didn't help much. Would knowing Occlumency have
kept his mind from being taken over in the first place? What if his ignorance in the Mind Arts had led
to mass murder, and not just the loss of his godfather? Why couldn't he have just put up with Snape's
attacks and learned?
"Aren't you going to banish the Wrackspurts, Harry?" Luna asked. She stood between his
splayed legs.
"I just . . ." Harry hung his head. He tried so hard to be strong and ended up being weaker than
he had ever imagined. "I'm having trouble coming up with positive thoughts, Luna," he choked out.
"Oh, is that all?" She smiled at him, beautiful even with smudged cheeks and straggly, dirty
hair. "Would seeing my knickers help?"
Harry blushed and squawked, pulling her hands away from her robes when she started inching
them up. "Why would you even say that, Luna?" He wouldn't exactly call the visuals that came to mind
'positive thoughts', but it was a very effective distraction from his previous line of thinking.
"Since Mother Magic gifted me to you, I thought you'd want to see them. They're really nice,
Harry. Red and lacy. I bought them with you in mind."
Lacy, red knickers on Luna. Was she trying to kill him? "Uh, Luna, can we p-please talk about
something else?" If what she said was true, about her being his gifted, Mother Magic would string him
up if he let her flash her knickers at him.
"You don't want to unwrap your present now?" she asked.
She was definitely trying to kill him. It wouldn't be right to treat her like that. Just because Luna
was one of the gifted didn't mean she didn't deserve to be courted. He was going to do this right. He
was going follow Dad's example and shower her with attention and gifts. Harry was going to wait until
they could both say they were in love. He was going to make his own choices, forge his own future,
and learn blasted Occlumency before something else terrible happened. "No." Harry smiled at her and
lightly tugged one of her radish earrings. "I want to wait until the tag says From: Luna, instead of
From: Mother Magic."
Her smile was tender. "That's better. Now you're You-Harry again, and not a Not-You." She
snuggled against his chest. "But . . . you don't want to return or exchange your gift, do you?" Her breath
hitched.
The words cut his innards to bits. Harry knew Luna had some insecurities, but he hadn't realized
they were so large or ingrained. He kissed her temple. "No, Luna. I don't want to return or exchange my
present." Who would get rid of a one-of-a-kind, priceless present?
"Thank you for not throwing me away," she whispered.
A strangled, wounded sound tore from Harry's throat. He remembered the voice's orders to
curse her, get away from her, and go to another woman. Luna. This slender, unique witch had saved the
world from a fate worse than Voldemort. Without her, everything Harry had fought for his entire life
would have been for nothing. She had saved him. Harry kissed Luna's hair, feeling haunted. "Thank
you for getting in my way."
"I couldn't leave the Nargles in your head. I know how much you hate anything getting in your
head, Harry."
Harry fiddled with her hair. How could he make it up to her? How could he make her happy?
Her life was full of misery, tortured memories, and loss. What could he do to get them away from their
burdens? Oh, of course! It was perfect! Harry grinned and said, "Luna, let's go to Sweden. I want to
find a Crumple-Horned Snorkack."
Luna glowed.
*Chapter 10*: Untouched by the Shadows of War

Title: Untouched by the Shadows of War


Pairing: None
Harry Potter didn't want to leave Potter Manor. He had been holed up for the past five years,
ever since the war ended when he vanquished Voldemort. He hadn't left the grounds for any reason;
that's where house-elves came in handy. And much to his friends' annoyance, he hadn't allowed any
visitors either.
"Daddy!"
Laughing, Harry scooped the reason for his self-isolation up in his arms. James Sirius
Potter—once Teddy Lupin—meant more to him that anything. Following the final battle, Harry had
fled to his godson's secret location and performed a ritual to adopt him. He knew firsthand the pain of
mutilated and frayed mental bonds, and he wouldn't let Teddy, now James, experience it longer than
was absolutely necessary.
"Hello, James," said Harry. He kissed the ebony black hair that was identical to his own,
grateful that the blood adoption had eliminated the Metamorphmagus gene. He didn't want anyone to
know who James's parents had been. Being part werewolf, though he didn't exhibit any of the traits,
would lead to bullying and discrimination. Harry wasn't going to let that happen. As far as James was
concerned, Harry was his father and his mother had died birthing him.
"I'm five now!" James exclaimed. He held a hand out and wiggled all of his fingers, as if Harry
didn't know. He was always so rambunctious. Harry never wanted that to change; he didn't want
James's eyes—also identical to his own—to fill with shadows and horrors.
"You're such a big boy," Harry teased. He tickled James with one hand, and kept a firm hold on
him with the other. It had taken a while for him to become accustomed to holding James without
worrying that he would drop him. He had eventually gotten the hang of it, though.
"We're going to Diagon Alley!" James yelled. He threw his arms around Harry's shoulders and
hugged him tightly.
Harry swallowed, regretting the promise he had made to his son. He didn't want anyone to find
out about James. Surely, some people would attempt to kidnap him just for being Harry Potter's son.
However, it was hard to deny James anything, and James had begged for a trip to Diagon Alley since
Harry first told him stories about it. He had finally conceded and said they would go on James's fifth
birthday.
"Yes, kiddo, we are," Harry agreed.
He hugged James and inhaled the scent of chocolate and dirt. James loved chocolate, like
Remus Lupin had, and was constantly digging in the garden. Keeping him clean was almost a full-time
job in itself.
The reactions to his reappearance would be spectacular. Harry didn't doubt that in the least. He
hadn't attended the funerals, galas, or Ministry award ceremonies. No one knew where he had vanished
off to or what he had been doing. And when he resurfaced with his son . . . it would be chaos.
"Do you remember what I said?" asked Harry, just making sure one final time.
James huffed. "You already asked me five times, Daddy!" he complained.
Harry tweaked his nose. "That's because you're five years old now, kiddo," Harry said, before
kissing James's forehead.
"Never leave your sight, don't let go of your hand, and scream really loud if anyone tries to
touch me, unless you say they can," James repeated. He pouted. "I remember. Can we go yet?"
Harry wanted to say no. He wanted to cancel the whole trip and erase James's memory of his
promise. But Harry had never been someone who broke his promises, and he wasn't going to start now
with his son. "Yes. We can go." Harry took a deep breath, braced himself for the havoc that was going
to happen, and Disapparated.
He landed in the Leaky Cauldron without the loud crack that usually accompanied Apparation.
He had trained himself to eliminate it the year he was on the run with Ron Weasley and Hermione
Granger; the slightest noise back then could lead to torture and death, something of which he wanted no
part.
"Wow!" James said, craning his neck to check his surroundings.
Harry glanced around, shocked to see how it had changed. Tom was gone—long dead in the
war. However, he hadn't expected to see Hannah Abbot, if she was still unbonded, tending the bar. Her
hair wasn't in pigtails now, and the scar on her face had faded a great deal. He still remembered seeing
the curse slice open her skin down to the cheekbone in the Great Hall.
Hannah's eyes widened as she caught sight of him, and for a moment Harry was terrified that
she would shriek his name in surprise and announce his presence. He had considered coming under a
glamour charm, but he wouldn't do that to James. He had spent too long teaching James not to trust
strangers, and James might forget Harry looked like someone else if he scooped him up or grabbed him
if they needed to leave in a hurry.
"Drinks are half-price for the next ten minutes!" Hannah announced, drawing the attention of
everyone in the pub.
A Hufflepuff to the bone, that witch. Harry appreciated her loyalty and discretion. He inclined
his head to her and left out the back door while the occupants were distracted.
"I want to walk," James said.
Giving in to the inevitable, Harry set James down on his feet, and then took his hand. He tapped
the Elder Wand against the bricks; the wall opened. James's jaw dropped, his eyes popped, and Harry
chuckled. He had been just as excited to see Diagon Alley when he was eleven. A glance was all it took
to confirm that it had long since recovered from the war. Wizards and witches bustled past without
fear, and all of the shops were open for business.
It made Harry feel nostalgic.
James tugged on his hand. "Come on, Daddy. Let's go."
Harry allowed James to drag him into Diagon Alley. They made it all of eight steps before a
witch dropped the parcels she was carrying onto the ground and stared at them. The reaction spread
from there. He dealt with it as whispers spread, his name echoing off every tongue in the crowd.
However, when anyone stared too closely at James, he glared. His worst fear was that something would
happen to his son, that he would lose James as he had lost his parents, his godfather, Remus, and all his
closest mentors in the war.
Severus Snape's death still haunted him. If only he had possessed the Elder Wand then, he
would've been able to save him.
"Oh, brooms!" James yelled, before running to Quality Quidditch Supplies. Harry had to
lengthen his stride so James didn't get hauled off his feet. James pressed his nose to the glass, ignoring
the children and teenagers who gaped at Harry, before pouting. "Aww, I already have the Lightning
Bolt. Haven't they made something faster yet, Daddy? That's been out since Yule."
Harry snorted. James was as addicted to flying as Harry was, and always complained that
brooms never went fast enough. Considering the Lightning Bolt was twice as fast as the Firebolt Sirius
had bought him, he had already reached the conclusion that his son was an adrenaline junkie. He wasn't
looking forward to the letters that would come home from Hogwarts, detailing James's ridiculous
escapades. He would probably make his House Quidditch team the first day of term.
"I guess not, James," Harry said, grinning. James's enthusiasm always made him smile; he was
bright and innocent, untouched by the horrors of war.
"You could make a faster one!" James insisted, turning puppy dog eyes on Harry.
Harry laughed and ruffled James's hair. "Your broom is plenty fast, James. Maybe when you're
older."
"Fine," James said, stretching out the word as if his answer was a great concession. "I want to
go to that ice cream shop you told me about. Please, Daddy!"
"Of course, James. You can have whatever you want," Harry said. It was hard to balance not
spoiling James with making sure he didn't feel neglected. Harry knew what it was like to grow up with
nothing; Dudley Dursley's old clothes and toys had been broken or worn out by the time he got them.
He hadn't been given anything new after his parents died until he went shopping for his first-year
Hogwarts' supplies. He wouldn't let James experience that deprivation. Yet, he wouldn't spoil him
rotten as Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had spoiled Dudley.
When they walked into Florean Fortescue's, everyone in line gawped and moved to the side as
James pulled him to the front. Harry didn't think his son even noticed, but Harry did. He kept a careful
eye on the other customers as James pressed his free hand against the glass casing and looked at all the
ice cream inside.
"What can I get for you, young man?"
The man behind the counter wasn't Florean, and Harry wondered if it was his son; there was a
certain family resemblance.
"It's my birthday!" James declared, a grin on his face. "I'm five." He held up his free hand and
wiggled all his fingers.
The man chuckled. "How about a birthday special then," he said. "On the house," he added,
after bowing his head to Harry.
"Yay! I want that!" James clapped his hands, catching Harry's every time since they were still
holding hands. "Can I have it, Daddy?"
"No strawberries," Harry told Florean's son. One of the scariest days of his life was when he
discovered that James was allergic to strawberries. James had almost died; it had been a close thing.
Without the Elder Wand, he wouldn't have a son anymore.
"Of course." He bowed fully this time, and then concocted James's birthday sundae.
Harry watched him like a Thestral eying its prey the entire time. He had been gone for five
years, and he had no idea who might secretly want him dead. People could hold grudges for a very long
time.
"Here you go, lad."
"Thank you!" Harry let go of James's hand and set his son in one of the chairs at a nearby table,
before Levitating the sundae in front of him. James dug in.
After Harry sat down—ensuring his back was to the wall, so he could keep an eye on
everyone—the shopkeeper walked over and handed Harry a cone piled high with chocolate ice cream.
"My dad said it was your favorite the summer after your second year."
"It was," Harry said, recalling back when his biggest problem was Sirius Black's escape from
Azkaban. "Thank you."
He ate the ice cream in silence, mostly because James's mouth was full. His son was a
chatterbox, but he knew Harry's stance on proper manners. Ron's bad habits had annoyed him to no
end, and he wouldn't allow the purebloods any chance to mock his son at Hogwarts; James was Heir
Potter, and he always seemed to know when he was supposed to behave like it and when he could goof
off.
The amount of people staring at them grew, as crowds amassed outside the shop to ogle him
and James. He was grateful James was facing the other direction, because all the staring would've
surely freaked him out, and then Harry would get upset because James was upset, and things tended to
explode when Harry was riled; that hadn't changed over the years. His magic had always reacted to his
emotions.
Florean's son walked over to their table after serving a few more customers. "Will your wife be
joining you, Lord Potter? Should I prepare something?"
"Mum can't come," James said as he set his spoon next to his empty bowl. "She's with Grandpa
and Grandmum Potter."
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't kn-know." The man paled and bowed again as if afraid he had mortally
insulted them with his question.
"No, you didn't know," Harry agreed in dismissal. He despised the pitying glances that came
from those nearest, who had overheard. His wife's death would be common knowledge by nightfall.
And given that James had loudly announced his age, everyone would assume Harry had fallen in love
and bonded the year he was missing—that is, hunting for Horcruxes. Even Ron and Hermione would
probably buy that, because he had wandered off on his own several times.
Harry hadn't bonded yet, and he didn't intend to for at least ten more years. He didn't want a
wife that was tainted by the shadows of war. He didn't want to be bound to someone who had watched
others die, and whose memories were scarred by agony and suffering. He didn't want to be woken at
night by tears and nightmares, or to feel waves of fear seep down his bond. He wanted light, happiness,
and purity, and Harry would wait as long as he had to in order to get that for himself.
"You're Lord Harry Potter."
He glanced down, shocked that he hadn't noticed anyone approaching their table. It wasn't wise
to delve that deeply inside his mind in public. He was, however, unsurprised that it was a child who
finally gathered the gumption to approach him. On the other hand, he hadn't expected a miniature copy
of Draco Malfoy to want anything to do with him.
"I am," Harry agreed, a smile on his face. Except for the wavy hair that fell to his chin, he
looked so much like Draco that it was uncanny. Though people likely thought the same about him and
James. "Who're you, kiddo?"
The boy executed a textbook bow and said, "Master Scorpius Malfoy." Then, seemingly
satisfied with the level of propriety he had exhibited, he clambered onto Harry's lap, stunning Harry in
the process. "Father's been waiting years for you to come back. He's been worried lately that you
wouldn't show up in time."
"In time for what?" Harry asked, dazed. Draco Malfoy had been worried about him? Yes, they
had worked out a truce of sorts, and saved each other's lives, but that didn't explain Scorpius's reaction
to him.
"My fostering, of course," Scorpius said. He smiled; a Malfoy was smiling at him. It was a lot to
take in. "He says you're the only wizard he knows who would kill to keep me safe, so he doesn't want
to foster me with anyone else."
James goggled at them, and then stood up in his chair. He knew what fostering was, and he also
knew that Harry would never allow him to be fostered. He didn't trust anyone to watch over his son for
a whole year. Who knows what they would try to teach him? "Daddy, did you get me a brother for my
birthday?" James asked. He jumped off the chair, ran around the table, and climbed onto Harry's lap as
well; it wasn't easy. Two five-year-olds took up a fair amount of space.
"Who are you?" Scorpius asked. He glanced at James, nose in the air.
"Heir James Potter, your new brother!" James exclaimed. Before Scorpius had a chance to
react, James hugged Scorpius tightly. He rubbed his cheek against Scorpius's, ignoring all of Scorpius's
stuttering and struggling. It was the funniest thing Harry had seen in years.
But for all his protestations, it didn't escape Harry's notice that Scorpius wasn't fighting all that
hard to get away. And Scorpius hadn't threatened even once to tell his father about James attempting to
smother him, which was how Scorpius might have viewed James's overenthusiastic hug. There was no
getting around the fact that James was very affectionate, and that was something Scorpius would have
to get used to if Draco really did ask Harry to foster him. If Harry accepted, of course.
There was a commotion at the front of the shop, and Harry looked up to see Draco Malfoy
pushing his way through the crowd. A strand of silver magic glowed in his hand as he followed it. The
panic in his eyes was replaced by relief as soon as he spotted Scorpius. Then he scowled. "Scorpius
Malfoy."
"Eep." Scorpius stilled, allowing James to hug him more closely. "Yes, Father?"
"What did I tell—?"
"But I found Harry Potter! See, he's right here!" Scorpius pointed right in his face, and Harry
smirked when Draco winced at the disrespectful action.
Draco winced again when James grabbed Scorpius's hand, pulled it down, and announced,
"Pointing at people is rude. Daddy says it's not nice and I should never do it. Since you're my brother,
you can't either."
"I beg your pardon?" Draco looked pole-axed, which sent Harry into a fit of quiet sniggers.
"Brother?"
"Yes!" James smiled winsomely. "Scorpius said that you're giving him to Daddy for a year. A
brother is a good birthday present. Thank you, Heir Malfoy."
Draco sighed and walked over to the table, where he proceeded to lift Scorpius off Harry's lap
as Harry untangled James's arms from around Scorpius. Draco perched Scorpius on his hip and smiled
ruefully. "I never thought the next generation of Potters would be even more mental."
Harry sniggered, not taking offense in the least. That was just how he and Draco had always
communicated. "And I never thought the next generation of Malfoys would know how to smile."
"Very funny," Draco said, before rolling his eyes. He glanced down at Scorpius who was
leaning against his chest and staring at James as if he were a strange, unknown creature. "Would you
like to come to the Manor? It seems we have much to talk about, Potter."
Harry hated Malfoy Manor. He didn't understand how Draco could bear to live in the place
when Voldemort had stalked the halls and reigned with curses. Fenrir Greyback had been there;
Hermione had been tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange there; Luna Lovegood had been held prisoner there;
Dobby had died saving him there. It was a place haunted by depressing and dark memories. Harry
would never step foot within its halls again.
"I won't go to the Manor," Harry said, also standing and holding James in his arms. But the
hopeful look on James's face wouldn't allow him to just walk away from the Malfoys. James needed
friends his own age, and Harry wouldn't provide him with siblings that weren't born inside a
bonding—something he couldn't bear himself to do at this time, when all the witches were tainted by
war.
Draco's face closed down. "I see."
Harry could use some company, too: someone that wouldn't hero-worship him or badger him
about the war. Someone who didn't see him as the Boy-Who-Lived or whatever ludicrous title he had
been bestowed with following the war. Draco Malfoy had always been good for that. So Harry decided
to extend what was likely the most coveted invitation in the wizarding world. "You're welcome to
accompany James and I to Potter Manor, though, if you wish."
"Can we go, Father?" Scorpius whispered as he tugged on Draco's robes.
It could have been a trick of the light, but Harry would swear that Draco had smiled when he
said, "Yes, Scorpius, we can go."
As James and Scorpius grinned at each other, Harry knew that this was the start of an unusual
friendship.
*Chapter 11*: I'd Raise a Wand in His Defense

Title: I'd Raise a Wand in His Defense


Pairing: Pansy Parkinson/Harry Potter and Lily Potter/James Potter
Pansy Parkinson was just passing the entrance to Knockturn Alley, her pockets filled with
Shrunken purchases, when she heard something that stopped her in her tracks.
"Let go of me!"
Rage clouded her mind as the adamant words reached her ears. She always enjoyed listening to
Harry Potter's voice; it was husky and lyrical, luring her closer with each succulent syllable. However,
these were words that should never leave his lips. Pansy might not have declared her intentions yet, but
that didn't mean anyone else had the right to touch the wizard she had chosen as her future husband.
"Don't be like that, Harry."
The familiarity of the address had Pansy gritting her teeth in an effort to staunch the incantation
of the Killing Curse. Her fingers clutched her wand, which had leaped into her palm at the first word
from the half-blood's lips. It was Cho Chang; she would recognize that voice anywhere. Pansy's dislike
for the witch transformed into hatred. She turned to her left and growled. The sleazy witch blocked
Harry from view, but she could just see Cho's hand grasping his shoulder.
"Let me go!" Harry hissed. The sound contained anger and fear; it was the hint of fear that
made Pansy snap. No wizard would ever need to worry for his safety when she was around—well, the
wizards worth their blood anyway. She didn't care if Cho went around spoiling Mudbloods left and
right. Cho couldn't have Harry. He was hers!
Pansy thrust the tip of her wand into the base of Cho's skull. "Let the gentleman go." The words
had a vicious edge to them. If Harry were less of a gentleman, he would have shoved Cho away from
him to escape. Pansy wished he had. She would like to see Cho on the ground, at her feet, where she
belonged.
Cho's hand clenched tighter on Harry's shoulder, and a moan of pain filled the air. "This has
nothing to do with you, Parkinson. I have every right to be here."
Liar! She couldn't really think Pansy was stupid enough to believe that, could she? The tip of
Pansy's wand began to glow. "Are you deaf, half-blood? He told you to let go!"
"You don't know what you're talking about," Cho scoffed. "Harry's my fiancé, and I can—"
That wasn't possible. Everyone would know! The mere thought of anyone else possessing Harry
Potter sent a wave of rage over Pansy's mind, as if her conscience had been veiled. Not that I have
much of one in the first place, she thought. It was a lie. Harry's engagement would have been
announced in the Daily Prophet. He was the Potters' only son, and Duchess Lily Potter doted on him.
What was he doing in Diagon Alley without an escort? It was too dangerous! Look what had happened:
he had been hauled off into Knockturn Alley. Pansy didn't believe he had gone there on his own. Harry
wasn't stupid.
"I am not," Harry spat. His glare spewed hatred at Cho.
"I know what I'm talking about," Pansy snarled. The wall she had erected in her mind to keep
her past lives from influencing her was fracturing. Incantations that Pansy had never spoken danced
through her head, each accompanied by graphic visuals of the damage that resulted. "Do you know
who you're dealing with, half-blood?"
"The pathetic Parkinson Countess. I'm so scared," Cho mocked.
There was nothing pathetic about her. She was so far above Cho that it was insulting to have to
speak with her. "You should be," Pansy purred. "After all, I remember my lives." Cho flinched and
trembled. Perfect. She should be scared. "Did you know, half-blood, that I used to be the Dark Lady
Gwenore?" Cho's hand shook on Harry's shoulder. "It took me a while to put all the memories in order,
but I succeeded." The ritual to absorb her knowledge from her past lives had been . . . Pansy didn't
know a word in any language to explain it. Excruciating just didn't cover it.
She stared over Cho's shoulder into Harry's eyes. At one point in time, she had described them
as "green as an envious witch's heart, when the wizard she cherishes is in another's bed". That was
during their fourth lifetime together. Harry's face was present in the memories of all her lives. He had
been hers since Mother Magic wove their souls into existence. She was not going to lose him now.
Cho's hand slackened, but didn't leave Harry's body. "You w-wouldn't—"
"Wouldn't I?"
Harry's husky voice whispered a familiar incantation. A massive king cobra landed at their feet,
its body weaving in the air. It hissed, and Cho screamed. Pansy wondered why Harry hadn't cast a spell
earlier, and then caught a glimpse of Cho's other hand; it loosely held the shaft of Harry's wand. She
must have pinned it in place before Pansy scared her. The thought of Harry at a witch's mercy, let alone
a filthy half-blood, caused her control to slip further.
"Thank you, Lord Harry," Pansy said, livid at the thought of what might've happened if she
hadn't gone shopping and overheard the confrontation. Pansy would have killed Cho for soiling Harry;
then she would have taken him away. Harry had sworn his entire being to her when they lived in the
time of Morgana and Merlin. Cho couldn't have him.
"The pleasure's mine," said Harry. He offered her a tight, uncomfortable smile.
Cho straightened her shoulders and reaffirmed her grip on Harry. "You wouldn't dare,
Parkinson. You're faking it. You're not the reincarnation of the Dark Lady Gwenore. I won't fall for it."
Pansy snorted, lips stretched in a macabre grin. "Oh? Shall I prove it, then? Would you believe
my claim if I ordered the cobra to attack you in Parseltongue?" Lifetimes came with knowledge galore,
and skills that served her well.
"I would," Harry said.
Her chuckle was full of dark delight. "That's only because you're not fooled but what you see,
my dear." When he didn't object to the borderline endearment, pleasure tingled along her nerves. Did
he remember? Some lives he remembered her, and in some he didn't. Pansy preferred the lives where
he knew he had sworn himself to her in Morgana's presence, even though he always waited for her to
come for him. Harry never once sought her out. She had asked him why once, and his response still
baffled her: I wait for you, because you might tire of me someday. When you don't come for me, I'll
know you've moved on.
"Don't call my fiancé—"
"Do you have a death wish?" Harry asked Cho. His lips curled back from his teeth.
"Don't speak to me like that!" Cho snarled.
The wall that kept Gwenore imprisoned cracked a little more. "Half-blood, if you don't release
him immediately, I swear on Morgana's grave that I'll order the cobra to poison your womb and ruin
your bloodline."
The blood drained from Cho's face, and she swayed at the threat. Everything Pansy and Harry
had said must have finally sunk through her thick skull, because she leaped away from both of them,
only to tumble to the ground as the cobra tripped her. "Get it off me, Parkinson! Get it off!" She
shrieked like a little girl.
It was Knockturn Alley. No one came to investigate her screams.
Smirking, Pansy hissed, "Come here, beautiful." The cobra unwound itself and slithered over to
Pansy, its flared hood brushing against her thigh. She reached down and stroked its scales as Cho
clambered to her feet and sprinted back into Diagon Alley.
Pansy offered the snake to Harry, cocking an eyebrow in challenge as she presented it to him.
Harry leaned forward and kissed its shiny, black scales. How long had it been since she last kissed
him? Pansy fought the surge of jealousy and Banished it. Her hands felt empty as they hovered in the
air, relieved of their burden.
Harry straightened, eyes narrow and introspective. They glimmered a deep peridot in the
sunlight. His ebony hair hung to his shoulders in loose waves, complementing his fair skin. He was
fierce, exotic, and the only man that had ever held Pansy's interest for more than a week. Harry was
vigilant enough to see and hear what others didn't. Pansy always admired him for that.
Even after all those years, he still made her ache for him. She knew that wouldn't change.
Cho's earlier words sneaked into her mind again, and Pansy tried to blot them out to no avail.
Even though Harry had already denied it, she needed to hear it again. "Tell me she's not your fiancée,"
Pansy demanded. She would kill Cho if it were true.
"She's not." Harry's eyes narrowed to slits as he stared at Pansy. Harry came to a decision. He
stepped forward until her hands, which were still hovering in the air, landed on his shoulders. "Erase
her touch."
No wizard commanded Pansy to do anything. She was the one who gave commands, but Pansy
had always had a weakness for Harry, granting him more freedoms than most Light witches would give
their wizards. Do not lose control, she thought. This was Harry's way of saying thank you. If he didn't
remember their past right now (hell, even if he did), he was offering her something precious. Pansy
stroked his shoulders. She trailed her palms down his arms, which were bare. His casual robes were
short-sleeved, and it was almost unbearably intimate.
It was improper, but she didn't care one whit. Harry had given her permission, and that was all
she needed to assuage her sense of honor.
"Why me?" asked Harry.
Pansy didn't pretend ignorance; she knew what he meant. "Because you're mine," she replied.
Her fingertips trailed down his slender fingers before releasing him entirely. Gwenore railed in her
head at the loss of contact. Pansy's magic spiraled forward in response and teased alongside his. "Can't
you feel it?"
"Yes," Harry replied, cheeks heating as their magic mingled.
She was taking advantage of him. She needed to stop. But—her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
"Will you accept it?" In this life, as in all the ones past, would Harry acknowledge her right to him?
Harry withdrew his magic, sheltering it beneath his untouchable skin. His gaze drifted
downward and landed on his wand, which had so recently proven useless in protecting him. Mumbled
spells lurked behind the wall, seeping through ruptured gaps. Gwenore knew words that would make
Harry choose Pansy, love her, worship her, and obey her every whim. Every second he remained silent
resulted in melting mortar.
Pansy didn't want him like that, though; she wanted Harry warm and willing in her bed. She
wanted what she had earned so long ago: the love of the only wizard who would ever matter.
"I will."
Triumph pounded through Pansy's veins, singing of celebration and primal victory. Harry had
not only refused Cho, but he had accepted Pansy. Again. She was the victor. Again. That made Harry
hers.
Adrenaline made her hands shake as she slid a ring off the smallest finger on her right hand.
She spun it in her palm, magic stretching it until it regained its true form: a platinum collar bearing the
Parkinson family crest.
Harry traced the crest. "I didn't think you were this serious." How could he not? He hadn't asked
for his mother's presence at negotiations. Since he had accepted her suit, didn't that mean he had his
memories?
"I have never been more serious in this life." The collar served many purposes. It was a
protection collar, a bloodline collar, and much more. Any other woman who sought to touch Harry as
Cho had today would be mauled by its magic. Harry would join with the Revered and Most Ancient
House of Parkinson and receive the ultimate protection it could offer him. In olden times, such collars
were mandatory in bondings; they ensured all children were legitimate and wizards were faithful to
their wives. The law had been altered centuries ago, and such precautions were now optional. He
always looked delicious wearing her collar.
"Some wizards would take this as an insult," Harry said. "They would assume you either
thought they were too weak to protect themselves, or that you feared they would be unfaithful to you."
He had always been more powerful than almost every pureblood Matriarch in their many lives.
And he would never be willingly unfaithful to her. "You're not just some wizard, Harry," Pansy said,
cutting right to the heart of the matter and savoring the taste of his name on her tongue. It would take a
while to get used to it, even though that had been his name for the last eighteen years, because he had
so many others in her memories: Harold, Hadrian, Henricus, Humfrey, Hargham, Hemgrave, and, of
course, at their beginning he was Hywel.
Harry glared at her, but mimicked the breach in protocol by saying, "No, I'm not, Pansy."
She wanted nothing more than to devour her name from his lips. It had been much too long
since she had claimed him. Now wasn't the right time, though. This conversation was too important for
her to be distracted. "Then you should know my real reasons for presenting this collar."
Harry nodded and gathered his hair in one hand; he pulled it to the side and turned around,
presenting his back and bare neck to her. "It's been missing too long."
He remembered! Pansy gasped at the implicit invitation and raised the collar high in exultation.
"Because I treasure you," she confessed. "Because you're the only one for me. Because no one else
deserves you. Because I still want to peel her flesh from her bones for placing her hand on something
only I and our children should ever touch." Harry arched his neck and Pansy nuzzled it. "Because I
trust you. Because I'll never betray you. Because this way"—she sealed the collar around his
throat—"nothing can ever separate us until we die again."
Her magic coated Harry's body from head to toe; he glittered like shadows refracting off broken
nightmares. His magic solidified, binding Harry to the Revered and Most Ancient House of Parkinson.
But more importantly, to her.
"Home," Harry whispered, head lulling to the side.
Pansy purred her agreement. "Home."
A loud ruckus drew her attention. Pansy turned around just in time to see Lily and James Potter,
as well as Maude and Sirius Prewett, turn the corner and come to a standstill. Their jaws dropped as
they stared at her and Harry.
"What in Merlin's name have you done?"
"Countess Parkinson, you didn't!"
James Potter was red in the face, and he took a threatening step forward. "What did you do, you
thief? He's my—"
"Mine!" Pansy snarled as she wrapped an arm around Harry's waist. She didn't want to fight
with his parents, but she would.
"You forced him into this!" James yelled, one finger pointed straight at Pansy. "You filthy,
little—" Sirius stepped forward and slapped a hand over James's mouth. When James pulled away, he
did it again. Sirius shook with rage, but he was probably terrified Pansy would curse James for
speaking to her like that. If he had been anyone else, he would have left her care in search of St.
Mungo's.
"Dad, it's not—"
"Hush, boys," Lily said. "Harry's wearing Pansy's collar, and a wizard has to be completely
willing for it to seal in place. You know that. She couldn't have threatened him into it." Lily didn't seem
to be at all reassured by the words she spoke. If anything, she appeared to be wondering if Knockturn
Alley would be an apt place to dump Pansy's dead body.
Sirius's nose wrinkled in disgust as he said, "Even I have to agree that Countess Parkinson is a
better choice than that Chang tramp who just offered for him. But really, Harry, did you have to pick
a—"
"It's Parkinson, not Potter," Harry whispered. "And like Mum said, I wasn't forced to accept it."
It soothed Pansy's heart to know that he would stand by her, even against his own family.
"What?" James yelled. He was confused and hurt.
"Everyone knows Chang isn't half the witch Pansy is," Harry said as he leaned against Pansy.
"We all know Chang would never offer her husband a collar, because then she'd have to be faithful. I
overheard you talking. Chang was being considered, and I just couldn't . . ." Harry paled and
shuddered; it was his usual reaction to the thought of another witch having him. "I'm the first in over
five decades who's been found worthy enough for this distinction." He caressed the collar.
Pansy groaned at the sight and fisted a hand in his hair. The smirk on his face heated her blood
and serenaded her. Harry wasn't like the weak wizards who never stood up for themselves and accepted
their lot in life. He was a spitfire, overflowing with passion and life. Harry had seduced her heart away
long ago, until every beat whispered his name in a silent susurration of magic.
Harry. Harold. Hadrian. Henricus. Humfrey. Hargham. Hemgrave. Hywel.
Pansy had long since understood why his mother had refused to cease pursing his father. Once a
witch met the right wizard, no other could ever hope to compare in a favorable manner.
Lily aimed her wand at Pansy. Reason skittered away as Pansy calculated the threat and brought
the full force of her magic to bear down on Lily's aura. She was strong, but Pansy was stronger. "Are
you sure that's what you want to do, Duchess Potter?"
"Please don't fight!" Harry stepped between them, so that Lily could only get to Pansy if she
attacked him first. "Please!" He sounded terrified; Pansy hated it.
Lily paled and said, "Okay, Harry. Okay. We won't fight." She lowered her wand.
I'd be sick at the thought of harming him, too, Pansy thought, finding kinship with his mother in
the situation. I'd raise a wand in his defense, too. She had done it often enough through the years.
Pansy hated when he was in any kind of danger. She selfishly wanted Harry at her side as long as
possible in every new life.
"Pansy?"
Harry turned his head toward her, which pulled Pansy back to the present. She had never seen
anything more stunning than Harry, and he was someone she would share with no one but their future
children. And perhaps his family, if they could keep a civil tongue in their mouths, she grudgingly
conceded.
Hemgrave.
Mine, Pansy hissed toward the cracking wall in her head. He's mine. Pansy concentrated,
sealing the imperfections in the mental prison tighter than she ever had before. She wouldn't allow
Gwenore to leak out and take control. Gwenore had a lifetime with Hemgrave, and Pansy would get
one with Harry.
Once it was impenetrable, she focused once more on her surroundings. Harry was having a
quiet conversation with his dad and godfather.
"I want you to myself," Pansy whispered in his ear.
Harry acquiesced, though his magic translated his nervousness to her. "All right," he responded.
His magic shrunk with fear for a moment and then calmed quickly, as if hiding his true emotions.
"We're leaving. You can Owl me later to set up a time to visit," Pansy said.
"Expect it tonight," Lily said. Her smile was more of a grimace. "Take care of him."
"Always," Pansy swore. She grabbed Harry's hand and led him out of the alley, past his parents
and godparents. Her magic hung behind them in the air, shielding them from any idiotic attempts to
rescue (kidnap) Harry. Once they turned the corner into Diagon Alley, she stalked to the Apparation
Point and returned to Parkinson Manor.
He stared around the entryway, a blush dusting across his cheeks. "I . . ."
Pansy sighed. In each new life, even the ones where he remembered their past, he was always
shy about physical contact in the beginning. "I'll wait until you're ready, Harry. I would never coerce
you. I only want to hold you in my arms tonight," she explained. It wasn't entirely true, but it was close
enough. Pansy breathed a sigh of relief when he relaxed. "You will always have the right to refuse me,"
she assured him, as she always did. "I vowed long ago that I will never abuse my rights when it comes
to you."
Instead of thanking her verbally, Harry lifted their joined hands and placed them on the collar.
"Until I'm ready, remember to touch this whenever you need reassurance that I'm yours." His cheeks
burned with embarrassment at the topic, but he didn't shy away from the need for such an important
conversation. "And even after you claim me," he said, eyes locked with hers, "touch the collar to
remind yourself I willingly became yours."
Pansy curled her fingers around the collar, brushing along cool metal and soft skin. "I will."
She remembered Hywel, kneeling in chainmail at her side, as Morgana pronounced them
bonded through eternity. Waiting for Harry to be ready was always worth it. They had nothing but
time.
*Chapter 12*: Death Stalks Her Every Step

Title: Death Stalks Her Every Step


Pairing: Severus Snape/Hathiel Potter and James Potter/Lily Potter
Eleven:
Severus Snape sat at his desk in the front of the Potions classroom, hands shaking where the
students couldn't see them. His whole life he had awaited and dreaded the time when Mother Magic
would point out his future soul-bonded—if he could manage to protect her until she came of age to
bond. And that had happened on September 1, at the Sorting.
Heiress Hathiel Potter would be his wife . . . if she didn't die first.
He tuned out the children's chatter and wrung his hands together like a weak-willed witch.
Severus despised the action, but performed it unconsciously. Once he realized what he was doing, he
sneered and stopped. He had better control than that, didn't he?
But then the sight of Hathiel's broomstick bucking and flipping upside-down appeared in his
mind. She had been hanging on by her fingertips at one point, well over one hundred feet in the air. If
he hadn't been focusing his magic to a knife's edge, and muttering counter curses for all he was worth,
she would have fallen. What if he hadn't been able to catch her with a levitation charm? What if . . . ?
Even with all the respect the purebloods paid him, they couldn't understand him. No one knew
what it was like to be a member of the Royal and Most Ancient House of Prince, except those born into
it. Because it wouldn't do for the remnant of King Arthur's bloodline to just fall in love and have things
work out. No. That was much too simplistic and not prince-like at all. Everyone knew that a prince
only got a princess after he rescued her from danger—and thus it was with Prince courtships.
Every male member of the Royal and Most Ancient House of Prince had one chance at love in a
lifetime. Just one. The chosen witch would be pointed out to him when she was eleven years old, and
he would have to protect her from magical challenges, events, disasters, and so forth, until she came of
age.
If he failed, if she died, then a loveless bonding of convenience was all that remained in his
future. After all, what good was a prince that couldn't save his princess? He would be a prince in name
only.
Severus looked up at his students. Hathiel was grinning at her partner, Daphne Greengrass.
Despite being in different Houses, the girls got along well. Discrimination had practically been
eliminated at Hogwarts when the self-named Dark Lord attempted to Brand the Dark Mark on
Severus's arm. The purebloods in Voldemort's employ had revolted and destroyed him. They weren't
overly fond of Muggles, but attacking the sole surviving member of royal wizarding blood was suicidal
at best.
Hathiel had her father's black hair and her mother's green eyes. She was fine-boned and barely
came up to his waist. Worst of all, she was only eleven years old, and Mother Magic had seen fit to
drag her into a game of life or death. She deserved to be safe, and Severus would do his best to ensure
that happened.
If his best friend's daughter died because of him. . . .
The chimes that meant class was over rang. "Vials on my desk," he ordered.
The students scurried up and set their vials filled with potions on his desk. Most of them were
atrocious, and that was being lenient on his part. Very few wizards and witches put in the effort to
improve their brewing skills; they were too busy waving their wands. A wand wouldn't always be the
most effective help, though. Some things were only possible because of potions.
"Heiress Potter, stay after," Severus commanded, as she gathered up her books. The last thing
he wanted to do was burden an eleven-year-old girl with the truth, but he wouldn't leave her ignorant,
because that would only put her in more danger.
"Yes, Professor?" Hathiel asked. She held the strap of her bag in one hand, but it was on the
floor next to her feet.
Severus waited until the last student—Vincent Crabbe—left the room, before speaking. He had
never had difficulty telling people anything before; words were his cutting, biting, and eloquent friends.
They rolled off his tongue and either flayed or uplifted those who heard them. But now he found
himself in the position of telling a pureblood witch that she would have no choice in her future spouse.
That is, if she survived until her fifteenth birthday.
He wasn't naïve enough to think little girls didn't dream of love. He was about to crush those
dreams—of regular courtship, and slowly falling in love, and discovering which wizard she wanted as
her lord.
Delicacy wasn't going to make a difference; it wouldn't change the brutal truth. So Severus said,
"Mother Magic has chosen you." Hathiel ducked her head, so he couldn't see her face. Severus
wondered what she had to hide: fear, joy, disgust? He was over twenty years her senior, and, suddenly,
Severus felt like a monster.
He waited patiently, but she didn't say a single thing. "I'll do everything in my power to keep
you safe, Heiress Potter." Hathiel nodded, but didn't respond to his announcement. Did she believe
him?
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, and then sighed. "You may go," he whispered, keeping
his pain to himself. Hathiel turned and fled the room, as if a Cerberus were on her heels.
He pulled a bottle of Firewhisky from his desk drawer and drank straight from it, before wiping
his mouth on his sleeve. Then, losing control at last, he chucked the bottle at the classroom wall and
watched as it shattered into pieces, amber liquid sloshing down the stone like arterial spray. Severus
dropped his head in his hands and whispered, "She can't even stand to be in my presence."
Twelve:
Severus leaned against the wall outside of the Gryffindor Quidditch team's locker room. He was
listing every Dark curse that he knew as he waited for Hathiel to finish changing and come out. It had
taken Dark Magic to demolish the Bludger that had been tracking her throughout the game. At one
point, it almost hit her in the head, which would've crushed her skull.
He was more than aware of the dirty looks several Muggle-born students were giving him—as
if he were a lecher. He didn't have inappropriate thoughts about Hathiel (she was a child!), but those
glances preyed upon his fears. Severus had always held an extra level of disgust for old, dirty men who
sought the attention of young girls.
Now, except for the dirty part, that description fit him.
The door to the locker room opened, and Hathiel stepped out. Her eyes widened when she
caught sight of him. "Come here, please, Heiress Potter," Severus said. Even though he knew the
Bludger hadn't hit her, he felt compelled to cast diagnostic charms.
Hathiel obeyed, but her footsteps were interminably slow. Severus got the distinct feeling that
she would rather be trying to avoid a murderous Bludger again. It hurt, and he fought the urge to press
a hand against his aching chest. Ever since he had told her the truth, she had avoided him whenever
humanly possible. She was the last one to show up for class and the first one out the door.
Severus had cried himself to sleep—just once—and then lied to himself over and over, telling
himself that it didn't matter if she hated him.
But Severus was a Master Legilimens, as well as a Master Occlumens. Because of his skill in
the Mind Arts, he couldn't lie to himself and make himself believe it was true. The words were nothing
more than a pathetic attempt to reassure himself, which failed. He cared that Hathiel avoided him like
wizarding plague; he cared very, very much.
After muttering a few diagnostic charms, Severus froze as a sickly gray aura seeped from
Hathiel's skin. It took him longer than it normally would have to react to what had been revealed,
because he was so horrified. Hathiel had been poisoned! How long ago? Why hadn't he noticed before?
Why? She could've died without him even knowing she was in danger. . . . The thought was sobering.
Severus thrust one hand into his robe pocket and pulled out an antidote that worked on most
poisons; he always kept several vials of it Shrunken in his pocket, because assassination attempts
against royalty still happened on occasion. He wasn't in a hurry to die. "Drink it," he ordered, after
pulling out the stopper. She wrinkled her nose at the smell. Severus wasn't surprised; it was revolting.
"You've been poisoned," Severus stated. Hathiel jerked, eyes rising to meet his for just a moment; they
were filled with terror. "This is an antidote. Drink it."
Hathiel took the vial from him and downed the contents, face twisted in a grimace. Then she
handed it back to him and retreated a step, putting more distance between them.
Severus managed to keep a straight face long enough to say, "From now on you will submit
yourself to a diagnostic charm after every meal. Do you understand?" Hathiel nodded, but, again, didn't
say a word. "You're dismissed."
As she bolted away, Severus put the empty vial back in his pocket. His throat felt like it was
swelling shut, but he would not give into the tears again. For a moment, she had almost dropped the
vial, because she was avoiding his bare skin when she took it from his hand. What did it matter if
Hathiel did everything she could to keep from touching him?
It's not like that was news to him. She sometimes cringed away from him, as if he were
dangerous or abusive.
Without an audience now, Severus pressed a hand to his aching chest. Could a heart literally
break?
Thirteen:
Dementors. Somehow, someway, there were Dementors on Hogwarts grounds. As if that wasn't
bad enough, they were descending on the Quidditch Pitch, swooping down in a cloud of shrieking,
black evil toward Hathiel—who was fearlessly chasing the Snitch upward.
Severus leapt to his feet, wand in his hand, scrambling desperately for a happy memory. They
slipped through his mental grasp. He had to have one, right? Everyone had at least one happy memory!
The Headmaster's phoenix Patronus flew toward the Dementors, holding them at bay. It didn't
drive them back, though, or force them outside the wards. In fact, the mass of Dementors pressed the
Patronus backward, little by little.
A horde of Dementors had been sent to try to Kiss Hathiel, and Severus felt rage burn within
him. Why did he have to be part of the royal bloodline? Why did his only chance at a happy future have
to be jeopardized every second of every day? Why couldn't she just be safe?
Fine, then, Severus thought viciously. If I don't have a happy enough memory, I'll make one
instead. Crafting memories was dangerous business; if he got it wrong, his understanding of the past
would warp entirely. He would never advise anyone to craft a false memory. It was imbecilic.
However, to keep Hathiel safe, he would allow himself to be a dunderhead in this instance.
So Severus turned back time and twisted it in his head. When he said, "Mother Magic has
chosen you," to an eleven-year-old Hathiel, she blushed before ducking her head. And when he said
"I'll do everything in my power to keep you safe, Heiress Potter", she beamed up at him, eyes sparkling
with trust, and replied, "I know. I believe in you, my Prince."
Severus latched onto the new memory like a drowning man, and then raised his wand toward
the sky and yelled, "Expecto Patronum!" A massive dragon, identical to the one on his ancestor's battle
shield, poured from his wand. It flew through the sky, sending the Dementors fleeing as it breathed a
silver mist that dissolved every Dementor it touched.
"She's falling!" a student screamed.
Tearing his gaze away from his Patronus, Severus's heart leaped into his throat. Hathiel was
tumbling through the air, no broom in sight. He cast a levitation charm at her, but missed, because his
hands shook. Biting the inside of his cheek, Severus forced himself to concentrate. The next levitation
charm caught her; Severus floated her over into his arms.
I have her. She's safe, he repeated to himself. It did little to assuage the terror of the past few
minutes. She wasn't as little anymore, and she wasn't a child anymore. Before the thought could fully
take hold and transform into something else, her eyes opened.
As soon as Hathiel saw him, she squeezed her eyes shut and tensed every muscle in her body.
Then she spoke to him for the first time since he had revealed the truth to her. "Please don't touch me,"
she whispered.
The new memory he had crafted shattered to pieces in his mind, inciting a throbbing headache.
It overwhelmed his senses, erasing the feeling of having her held close to his chest. Severus set her on
her feet, and then rushed out of the Quidditch stands before he lost control of himself. Because she
hadn't blushed, and she hadn't said she trusted him.
All Hathiel had said to him were four words that filleted his heart. Please don't touch me.
Fourteen:
Severus felt restless, at first. And then it escalated to antsy. Then, all at once, a sense of doom
crushed upon him. He was on his feet and sprinting through the corridors without a second thought.
The Gryffindor Quidditch team was practicing tonight, and Hathiel always stayed longer than the
others to fly for no other reason than because she loved it.
Something was wrong. He could feel it.
He blasted open the front doors of Hogwarts and then ground to a halt. A dragon—Hungarian
Horntail, to be specific—was chasing Hathiel. It must've escaped from the Forbidden Forest, where it
was being held with the other dragons in preparation for the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament.
Severus chuckled bitterly. "How cliché. A Prince's greatest enemy: the dragon after his
princess." He wanted to rant and rail, to scream about how unfair this all was, and demand that Magic
stop sending threats against Hathiel. Maybe she would speak with him, would cease flinching away
from him, would quit fleeing his presence if he didn't bring such danger into her life. How was he
supposed to win her love when death stalked her every step because of his thrice-cursed heritage?
"Over here!" Severus yelled.
If she heard him, she paid him no mind. Hathiel flew around a corner of the castle and out of
sight. The dragon's wing scraped against Hogwarts and dust rained down in a cloud. Severus coughed
and dodged away from small bits of falling stone. He stood in the courtyard and gazed upward,
anxiously awaiting her reappearance.
Hathiel flew past Gryffindor Tower, the dragon right on her tail. It belched fire; the bristles of
her Nimbus 2000 caught on fire. Smoke marked her pathway as she zipped toward the Black Lake in
what was surely a desperate attempt to put out the flames.
"Sonorus," Severus said, wand aimed at his throat. "Come here, Hathiel!" His words were
magnified a hundred times. Severus's voice echoed with harsh, unforgiving command. There wasn't an
ounce of compassion or care in his words. I sound like a heartless beast, he realized.
He didn't feel pleased or proud when she dove through the air and landed behind him. Hathiel
was hunched in on herself, arms folded across her stomach. When he pointed his wand in her direction,
she went agonizingly still, as if awaiting a punishment she couldn't bear to face. "Aguamenti," Severus
said, dousing the flames on her broom.
The dragon landed in front of him and roared. Severus gripped his wand and reminded himself
that it wasn't the dragon's fault it had been sent after Hathiel. It didn't need to die. Murdering a magical
creature for something beyond its control was petty and foolish. But, oh, how he wanted to erase it
from existence. It had attacked Hathiel, who no longer resembled a child in the least. He didn't fear the
dragon itself, because it couldn't attack him. No magical creature could attack a royal wizard or witch.
However, Severus was very afraid of what it could do to Hathiel.
"Get out of my sight," Severus hissed, before he gave into the urge to erase the beast from
creation.
Roaring, fire belching from its throat, the Hungarian Horntail leaped from its crouching position
and flew back to the dragon keepers' camp in the Forbidden Forest.
Severus spun around to face Hathiel, fully aware of what he would have to do for his peace of
mind. It would only make her hate him more than she already did. However, he was sick and tired of
these repeating nightmares. "Give me your broom, please, Heiress Potter," Severus said. As soon as her
title passed his lips, he realized he had forgone it earlier and screamed her given name at her; she had
never even given him permission to use it. Shame swelled within him.
Her scorched Nimbus 2000 clattered against the cobblestones. He didn't know if she released it
in surprise or if she dropped it to keep as much distance between them as possible.
Gentle your voice before speaking now, he told himself. Severus took a deep breath and tried to
settle his nerves. "I'm sorry for using your given name without permission. Please forgive me." Her
silence burned. "I'm glad you're safe." He had been able to save her in time; he hadn't been too late. She
was still alive. There was still a chance for them to bond and be happy. After all, her fifteenth birthday
was much closer than it had been three years ago.
Hathiel laughed, a tired, bitter, fragile, cracking laugh. She covered her mouth with her hands,
but the disturbing sound leaked through regardless.
"You may go," Severus whispered, when he couldn't stand to hear it any longer. It was nothing
like the melodious, cheerful, bell-like laughter she used to emit when she spent time with Daphne
Greengrass.
She ran from his presence, again, leaving him behind, again, and self-hatred consumed Severus,
again. Mother Magic was chipping away at Hathiel. "If I succeed," Severus wondered, "will there even
be anything left to claim?"
Fifteen:
Severus stepped through the Floo into Potter Manor, heart pounding in his chest. Hathiel was
fifteen years old now. She could legally bond, and then he would never have to worry about her being
in danger. Once she was a royal, every magical being or creature would owe her allegiance and
protection. Dragons and Dementors would flee before her. She would finally be safe.
However, Severus's excitement was snuffed the instant he saw James Potter's face. It was
solemn, a hard mask that Severus had never seen Lily's husband wear. His hazel eyes didn't sparkle
with humor or mischief. He was a stone golem replica that had all the features and none of the
emotions that were prevalent in James Potter.
"What happened to Hathiel?" Severus demanded, mind jumping to the worst possible
conclusions. But what could have harmed her beneath the ancestral Potter wards? Had an Abraxan
thrown her? Had she choked at dinner? Had someone sent her a letter laced with contact poisons?
"Nothing," James replied. "She's all right." He sat in the chair behind his desk in the study and
gestured for Severus to take the other seat. "For now."
Severus, who had just sat down, glared at James. "What do you mean 'for now', James?" What
had happened? "I can bond with her today. She'll be safe."
James pulled the stopper out of a decanter of liquor and drank straight from the bottle. He
downed almost the entire thing before slamming it back onto the desk. His hands juddered, but that was
the only break in his composure. "You can't bond with Hathiel, Severus," James said.
The world seemed to stop spinning. "What did you say?" There was no way he had heard that
right. James Potter was a family man to the core; he would do anything to keep his family safe. And he
had always doted on Hathiel—his only daughter.
A muscle twitched in James's cheek. "You can't bond with Hathiel."
"Is this a joke, James?" Severus asked, not really believing it, but unable to stop himself from
voicing the question. The Marauders were well known for their twisted sense of humor. But for James
to sink this low in the name of a prank . . . he couldn't really imagine it.
"Does it look like I'm joking, Severus?" James inquired, hands gripping the edge of his desk so
tightly that his knuckles turned white from the pressure.
Severus shot to his feet, sending the chair he was sitting in tumbling back against the floor. It
was as loud as a blasting curse. "She's in danger until I bond with her!" he yelled.
"Do you think I don't know that?" James asked, deadly quiet.
"Don't make me give you an order, James. You're my friend," Severus said. The words tasted of
regret in his mouth. He could, as a royal, force James to give Hathiel's hand to him in bonding. James
was a pureblood noble and was bound to obey him. But Severus had never forced his will on any of his
friends, and he didn't want to start now. He never wanted to be a tyrant king.
"It wouldn't work, even if you did," James said. He sounded tired, so tired, as if he needed a
month's supply of Dreamless Sleep Potion.
"James, she's almost died more times—"
James's composure snapped, and the windows of his study blew outward. The sound of
shattering glass deafened the room, but silence only reigned momentarily. "Do you think I don't know
that?" James hollered, face red and eyes blazing. "Do you think I've enjoyed spending every minute of
every day for the past four plus years wondering if my daughter had been killed in some royal courtship
quest? Do you think I relish in the constant, unending feeling of terror that radiates down the bond I
have with Hathiel? Do you really think I would've waited for you to come to me, if I could've given her
hand to you the second she turned fifteen?" James punched his desk, and it broke down the middle. "I
would do anything to keep her alive and safe," James swore.
Severus watched James's magic ruin all it touched, only to mend it and ruin it again. James left
no doubts as to his feelings on the topic, which only confused Severus more. If James felt so adamant
about it—as adamant as Severus himself—then why wasn't Hathiel already in the study wearing
bonding robes? "Why?"
James collapsed back into his chair just as his magic repaired it for the twenty-third time. "She
can't bond with you yet," James said, stressing the second word.
The word offered little comfort. At least James hadn't said she wouldn't bond with him, or she
didn't want to bond with him, or she would rather die than bond with him. She can't bond with you. If a
bonding at this time was impossible, then Severus needed clarification.
"Why?" he ground out. This was supposed to be the day when everything finally went his way.
Hathiel was supposed to be safe, and his bride. It felt like Mother Magic was laughing in his face,
taunting him, asking him if he had really expected the quest for love to be so simple.
"I . . ."
Severus turned to face her as soon as she started speaking. Hathiel leaned against the doorway,
her arms clutching her waist. Her robes were a fetching shade of red that enhanced her dark hair and
pale skin. She was breathtaking, and the thought of not being able to make her his yet angered Severus.
It felt like he had been waiting eons for her to grow up, and now she was a lovely young woman.
However, her posture screeched the last words she had spoken to him: Please don't touch me.
"Yes, Heiress Potter," he asked. Severus forced himself to speak gently; it took a great deal of
effort.
"I . . . I haven't started my menses, your majesty," Hathiel whispered, shame coloring her voice.
Cold ate through Severus's heart, as if he had just been impaled on the bony hand of a
Dementor. Until a witch could bear children, it was magically impossible for her to bond. Hathiel was
fifteen years old now, much older than most witches reached their maturity. And yet . . .
"I'm sorry for being such a burden, your majesty," Hathiel muttered before leaving the room.
Her footsteps pounded against the marble flooring.
"I'm sorry, Severus," James said, the tiredness leaking through. "We had hoped that the problem
would resolve itself, but it hasn't. When it does, I give you my word that you'll be told immediately.
Severus stared at the empty doorway, still frigid. She hadn't been lying; there hadn't been a hint
of deceit in her voice. However, Severus couldn't help but wonder if Hathiel was subconsciously using
her magic to suppress her full maturation, all in the desire to keep Severus from touching her. That
might not be the case, but what if it was? What if the witch he had come to love would rather chance
dying than be in his arms?
Sixteen:
Two and a half weeks before the end of Hathiel's sixth year at Hogwarts, Severus opened the
door of his private chambers at 11:43 p.m. The angry words about disturbing his evening were
swallowed at the sight before him.
Hathiel stood in the hallway, her hand still raised; it shook, as if she had barely been able to
bring herself to knock. Her head was lowered, but she wasn't hunched over for once—a marked
difference. Her hair hung down her back, reaching farther than he had expected. White ribbons were
woven through it. She wore the finest white dress robes that Severus had ever seen; the sleeves were
lace, allowing him glimpses of her skin, and the high neckline was also lace.
Had she finally gotten her menses?
While he had waited for her to reach her maturation, danger had become more prevalent. There
was the Mermish hostage incident, and the time Hagrid hid a Cerberus in the school, not to mention
when that Troll had somehow gotten in. There was a detention assigned by McGonagall that ended up
with a battle against Acromantula in the Forbidden Forest. And, of course, there were less spectacular
threats: poisons, curses, jealous witches, being shoved down the stairs, and an encounter with the
Mirror of Erised, which had almost trapped her heart and mind.
Not wanting to get his hopes up, Severus stepped to the side and asked, "Would you like to
come in, Heiress Potter?"
"Hathiel, please," she said. Then Hathiel nodded and walked into his chambers, not flinching as
she brushed past him, and not huddling away as he closed and warded the door behind her.
"Hathiel?" Severus asked, voice tentative. Don't get your hopes up, he chided himself. Lily
might've asked her to come get my opinion on future bonding robes, to determine if they're good
enough for a princess.
"When I was seven," said Hathiel, "I snuck outside into the Manor gardens when I was
supposed to be in bed. But Daddy had told me a story about shooting stars and wishes, and I knew what
I wanted to wish for." Hathiel glanced up and locked gazes with Severus. "I wished I could grow up to
be a princess." She placed a steady hand against Severus's cheek, though her lips wobbled and her eyes
were wet. "I didn't know how much pain that would cause you, or how much of a burden I would
become, or I never would've said it, Sev—your majesty." The tears spilled over. "I just wanted to be
happy, but not at the cost of anyone else's happiness." She looked down at the floor. "Especially yours."
Somehow, it must've been a miracle, Severus's hand didn't tremble as he fingered the lace of her
sleeve. "Is this . . . ? Can you . . . ?"
Her cheeks flushed as she whispered an answer to his question. "I can bond."
The fear that had weighed down his soul for almost six years evaporated. Not only would she
finally be safe, but, most importantly, she didn't hate him. She had been avoiding him because she
blamed herself for what had happened, and hadn't wanted to hurt him.
Severus touched her as if she were a piece of finely spun crystal and guided her closer. When
she was nearer than she had been since he held her as a thirteen-year-old, Severus lowered his head for
a kiss. He gave her plenty of time to object. Hathiel didn't; she closed her eyes and leaned against him.
Her lips were softer than he had imagined.
The kiss didn't stay gentle for long, though. They had both spent too long cloaked in fear to
worry about botching it or rushing now. Hathiel's fingernails dragged across his scalp and Severus
tasted the inside of her mouth. He didn't stop kissing her until he felt himself hanging onto the reins of
his control by luck alone. If he slipped free and ruined her, there would be no bonding, and all their
suffering would've been pointless.
Severus had to put his hands on her shoulders and push her away from him. The sight of her
passion-glazed eyes, and the firm grip she had on his hair did little to calm his desire. "Focus," he
gritted out, warning himself.
His voice seemed to startle Hathiel, because her cheeks flushed even brighter as she backed up
another step. "Your M-Majesty—"
Oh, no, that wouldn't do at all. "Severus," he interrupted. "I want you to call me Severus."
Her eyelids fell to half-mast as she purred his name. "Severus."
Severus gulped and forced himself down on one knee, even though all he wanted to do was pull
Hathiel back into his arms. Bonding first . . . and then he could finally savor her. He pressed a kiss
against the palm of her left land, forcing his heart magic to travel through his lips, into her skin, and to
her own heart.
"Severus!" she moaned, eyes fluttering shut.
Bear with it a little longer was his mantra as he waited for the bond to take hold and settle. As
soon as it did, he stood up and hauled Hathiel back into his arms. He kissed her with all the passion he
had locked up, since it was now safe to give. Before claiming all that she offered, he decided to set her
voiced worries to rest. Severus's breath was ragged as he whispered reassurance in her ear. "You're
insane, Hathiel, if you think I could ever be happy without you." He groaned as she tightened her hold.
"It was worth it—all of it?" she asked.
Severus reclaimed her lips, loathing each second they were parted from his own. Then he erased
her final incorrect assumption. "You are worth it."
*Chapter 13*: She Was Always Just Out of Reach
Title: She Was Always Just Out of Reach
Pairing: Harry Potter/Fredericka Weasley, and canon side pairings.
Harry Potter sat on the bench in the white version of King's Cross Station. Dumbledore had left
him to his thoughts, along with the option of returning to the living world. Harry wasn't sure if he
wanted to do that. He wasn't sure if he could bear to live without her at his side. Going into the
Forbidden Forest to his death had been ridiculously easy, because it meant being with
her—finally—even if it was only possible in death. Any next great adventure with Fredericka Weasley
would be worth any sacrifice on his part.
"Well, you're not going to stay here, are you?" a husky voice asked. "It's pretty boring, Harry. I
don't think you'd like it. And it looks like it'll be lonely."
Harry braced himself and glanced upward. "Hello, Fred." She was as beautiful as always—the
same height as George, which made him short for a wizard. Her hair was cropped into a feathery red
pixie cut, and her ears weren't pierced. Her blue eyes sparkled with sadness and loss, despite the levity
of her tone. She and George had perfected the act of hiding, and, from the back (honestly, sometimes
from the front as well) it was impossible to tell them apart unless you knew them.
"Hello." Fredericka reached toward him, but dropped her hand back to her side, much to his
displeasure. But then, he was accustomed to that. Life had kept them apart, and now death was doing
the same. Unless he stayed. "Shouldn't you be scurrying on back to save everyone?" asked Fredericka.
"You're the boy-who-lived!" she teased.
"I'm sure they can handle it," Harry muttered. He was tired of bearing everyone's burdens.
Hadn't he done enough? What was the point in returning to the living world if she was here? Perhaps
things would work out. Hadn't he earned his heart's desire? Was happiness too much to ask for? Why
did saving the wizarding world have to come at the cost of everyone he loved? It wasn't fair! No one
had lost as much as he had.
"That's not the Harry I know," Fredericka stated. Her eyes were sad.
Harry leaped off the bench and started pacing, waving his arms wildly through the air. "Yeah,
well, the Harry you knew was an idealistic idiot! He thought that love could conquer anything! He
thought that happily ever afters existed. He thought that he might actually deserve something good in
life, after all that he had suffered. Instead, the unrequited love of his life was murdered and he had to
die to destroy part of Voldemort's soul." He spun angrily to face her. "So I ask you, what good could
possibly come of going back to that hellhole?"
He wanted to shake some sense into her. He wanted to touch her, even if it was only for a
moment. But it seemed that she would deny him, even in death. Why? George wasn't around to refuse
him, so why couldn't he touch her?
Fredericka looked away from him and whispered, "It wasn't unrequited."
Harry sucked in a breath, stumbled backward, and collapsed to the ground as the words struck
him. He had suspected, of course—had desperately hoped when George gave his refutation. But to
actually hear the words was monumental. "You loved me?"
"Love," Fredericka corrected sharply. "Just because I'm dead doesn't mean my feelings are,
Harry." Her face softened in a smile she had never given him while they were alive.
Harry laughed. He laughed until he started crying, and then he kept laughing. Because if he
stopped for even a second, he knew his mind would fracture into miniscule pieces. She loved him.
"How long?" he asked through the tears. How long had George kept them apart? How much time had
he lost? How often could she have been in his arms, if only—?
Fredericka snorted. "You don't think I'd take a flying car into the Muggle world for just anyone,
do you?"
"Oh." Harry blinked. That long? That was even longer than he had been in love with her. "Then
why—?" He reached for her, but she evaded him. Again. Fredericka was always just out of reach. He
hated it.
"Harry, it doesn't matter. You're wasting time. Go back to the real world. Defeat Voldemort.
Bond with a nice witch and make baby Potters. Just"—she swallowed and glanced away—"promise not
to pick Ginny, okay? I don't think I could handle that."
"No," Harry said mulishly. How could she possibly think that he would just saunter back into
real life, bond with a witch, and have children? His feelings—he, himself—weren't that shallow. He
wasn't the type of wizard who went through witches like they were chocolate frogs. He'd had a
disastrous chaperoned outing with Cho Chang, and a decent outing with Luna Lovegood, but neither of
them (nor any other witch) ever compared to Fredericka Weasley. Her personality was vibrant,
inexcusable, and unlike all of the others who expressed interest. She wasn't the prettiest girl he had ever
seen, but she was the most unique. Harry didn't want what everyone else had; he wanted someone who
was one-of-a-kind, and she was certainly that.
Fredericka made a buzzing sound and crossed her arms in the air. "Wrong answer. I'm not
kidding, Harry. Get out of here. Go back."
He stood and shoved his hands in his pockets. "No." He was not leaving her.
"Harry," Fredericka whispered, "they need you. George needs you." Her gaze pleaded with him.
That was the worst thing she could've said to him.
"I don't care what George needs!" Harry bellowed, heart aching in his chest. "He's the one who
told me that I couldn't court you! He said that as long as Voldemort was alive, he wouldn't let you near
me. Well, he succeeded a little too well. I don't care if Voldemort dies now, because you won't be there
to make it all worth it!" Harry spun around and punched the column, but didn't feel any pain. He
would've been gratified by shattered knuckles, split skin, and blood.
"If you don't leave, I'll never forgive you," she told his back.
Harry chuckled and dragged a hand down his face. "Do you really think I care if you forgive me
or not, as long as I get to be with you?" He was losing his mind.
In answer, Fredericka placed her hands against his back and shoved him. He tumbled over the
bench, rolled several feet, and crashed through the barrier. The last thing he saw before returning to the
world of the living was Fredericka, balled up on the ground, weeping into her hands. Her mumbled "I
love you" obliterated his control.
How could she do this to him? How could she send him away? She knew he loved her.
Harry's eyes opened, and then he was dueling. He didn't know whom he was dueling; he didn't
care whom he was dueling. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing could ever matter
again. Would someone just kill him already—permanently this time? Harry flung curses in a daze, only
vaguely cognizant of the fact that he shouldn't attack the people who weren't wearing black. There
might have been people cheering, yelling his name and the like, but he wasn't sure. Everything sounded
fuzzy and distant, as if they were speaking underwater.
How was he supposed to live without her? Fredericka didn't understand Potters at all. It was
inevitable that they would die with the one they loved. Like Grandpa and Grandmum. Like Mum and
Dad. We always go together, Harry thought.
It all passed in a blur until the Elder Wand was in his hand and Voldemort's corpse was at his
feet. Harry bit his tongue as he stared at his fallen enemy. He felt nothing. No triumph, no vindication
for defeating his parents' murderer, or for taking down the man responsible for the plot that led to
Sirius's death. He felt empty, as if the Killing Curse Voldemort cast in the Forbidden Forest had
destroyed every emotion he had left.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Harry whispered. When he won, she was supposed to be
alive and waiting for him. They were supposed to have a bonding ceremony nothing like Bill and
Fleur's. It would be small, private, and without all the drama. They would move into Potter Manor.
They would have children, more than her mum had. One of them would be a little girl with her hair and
his eyes; Harry would name her Lily. Harry gritted his teeth and hung his head. "It wasn't supposed to
be like this."
The Great Hall was silent, except for the sound of a single set of footsteps. A hand dropped on
his shoulder, and then George said, "Harry, I need—"
Harry shrugged George's hand off his shoulder and started walking away. He couldn't deal with
this right now. Seeing George alive and hale would kill what little of him remained. He should be the
one lying dead under a pile of rubble. If Harry had been allowed to court Fredericka, she would've been
safe. Most importantly, she would've been alive. Harry had been refused the right to ask for
Fredericka's hand because it was "dangerous" with Voldemort after him. Harry never would've allowed
her to die. George did.
"Harry, I—"
Bitterness blossomed and filled the emptiness. "So much for a twin brother's protection," he
spat. His voice trebled with magic.
George sucked in an audible breath, as did their audience. His magic bristled. "Help me, Harry."
He didn't even have to think about his response. It was rapid-fire. "No." He had done his cursed
duty to the wizarding world. They could help themselves from now on.
"Please," George begged.
Again, his response was rote and automatic. "No." Nothing George said could make a
difference now. She was gone.
"Listen to me!" George screamed, voice raw. The words echoed in the cavernous chamber,
lending a haunting, eerie quality to them.
He had a sudden urge to hurt George, as George had hurt him time and again. It was petty and
wrong, but Harry was beyond caring. Harry's reply cut like a freshly forged rapier—Fredericka's code
name on Potterwatch. "Like you listened to me? I remember you ignoring my request. I remember you
doubting my ability to keep my word. Now that our positions are reversed, I just thought I'd return the
favor." Harry remembered begging George (on his knees!) to reconsider, swearing that he would keep
Fredericka safe. He remembered vowing to hide her in the ancestral Potter Manor. But nothing—no
assurance—was good enough for George.
"What's going on, mate?" Ron Weasley asked, stepping into Harry's line of vision.
"Nothing you need to worry about, Ron," said Harry. Ron didn't deserve his ire; Ron hadn't kept
Fredericka away from him. Ron would have trusted Harry with her. He didn't doubt that. Because Ron
was his best friend. Ron had comforted Harry every time he woke up from a nightmare, sweaty and
sick. Ron believed in him, and Harry didn't think George ever had.
"Harry?" Hermione Granger asked, eyes darting from him to the space behind him, where
George must have been.
Now wasn't the best time to explain what he and George were arguing about. He didn't think
there would ever be a good time to explain. Ron trusted him so much that even when Ron had been
upset and irrational because of the Horcrux's influence, he had left the love of his life alone with Harry
in a tent for weeks. George wouldn't trust Harry with Fredericka behind ancestral wards in a manor.
The Dursleys didn't manage to make him feel as unworthy in eleven years as George did in one
afternoon.
He had to get out of Hogwarts and away from the scene of her death. He was never going to
come back here if he could help it. He took a step toward the entrance hall.
"So, you're just going to leave. Is that it? You're going to let her die?"
Harry froze at the accusation. How dare George make it sound like this was all Harry's fault!
"You know what, Snape was wrong this entire time. You're nothing like your father. James
Potter would've done anything for your mum. You're nothing but a spineless, pathetic, sniveling
coward," George spat.
"George!" Hermione gasped.
"Watch your mouth!" Ron roared.
Harry didn't remember moving, but he did hear Mrs. Weasley's hysterical scream when he
shoved the Elder Ward in George's throat. Harry should have killed him for that. How dare George talk
about things he didn't understand? "Is that what this is about, George? You want to die? Too cowardly
to do it yourself, though, so you thought you could goad me into it." Harry leaned forward, hating how
George looked like Fredericka, and whispered, "I'm not going to give you what you want."
George smiled, pleased to have Harry's attention. "That would be stupid," he stated, "because
by giving me what I really want, I can give you what you want."
Harry knew George was cruel, but not that much. Harry wouldn't play his twisted games. "She's
dead." It took everything he had not to blast George's head off for the insinuations he had made.
"For now," George replied. "She'll stay that way if you don't do something about it."
What did he mean by that? Harry jerked backward and narrowed his gaze. If George was toying
with him, the consequences would be dire. "What do you mean?"
"You're Lord Gryffindor by birthright and Lord Slytherin by conquest." George leaned forward,
eyes fanatical. "By law, Hogwarts' magic is yours to command. With thousands of years worth of
magic stored in its stones, surely there's enough for whatever the Lord requires?"
Was it possible? Could he get her back? Would something in his life finally go right?
Harry tore out of the Great Hall, leaping over stones, fallen suits of armor, and rubble. He
sprinted up the staircases toward the seventh floor, commanding them to be still. Being diverted would
lead to something very, very bad. His sanity was hanging by an unraveling thread. He didn't care if it
took all the magic Hogwarts possessed; he didn't care if the wards fell and exposed wizards to the
Muggle world. Harry had given everything to save the wizarding world from Voldemort. They owed
him. He was going to collect on that debt, regardless of the price that had to be paid.
When Harry reached the right corridor, he pressed his hand against the wall. If this didn't
work—he couldn't bear to finish the thought.
With slow, deliberate steps, Harry paced back and forth. His request was specific: I require
Fredericka Weasley alive, whole, and mine. I require Fredericka Weasley alive, whole, and mine. I
require Fredericka Weasley alive, whole, and mine.
A door materialized in the wall. It bore overlapping Gryffindor and Slytherin crests. The
doorknob was brass and old-fashioned. Hogwarts felt exhausted around him, the atmosphere no longer
buzzing with ambient magic. Harry stood there, staring at it, unable to open the door. If Fredericka
wasn't on the other side, what would he do? He shuddered and tugged his hair as several
people—mostly Weasleys—skidded around the corner to join him.
"Did it work?" George asked. He shook Harry. "Did it work?"
"I-I . . ."
"There's a door. So that means it worked, right?" Ginny Weasley asked breathlessly. She
sniffled. "Fred's coming back, right?"
Before Harry could formulate an answer, the doorknob twisted. He hadn't touched it. Everyone
else was standing behind him. Was it possible? Even in a world of magic, was this really possible? If
he was unconscious and dreaming, he never wanted to wake up. Harry held his breath as the door
opened inward. The light from the corridor illuminated Fredericka Weasley. Her eyes were red and
puffy, as if she had been pulled directly from her crying jag at King's Cross Station. She was wearing
the fanciest robes Harry had ever seen in his life—Potter colors.
Fredericka fiddled with a massive ring on her left hand, and then glanced shyly up at him.
"Hello, Harry."
The Weasleys burst into tears and yelled her name. None of them tried to get between him and
Fredericka, though. It was a good thing, too. He probably would have cursed anyone who tried to get
between them. Harry was finished with letting people keep them apart.
"H-hello, Fred," he rasped, hands shaking with the need to make sure she was real. Could he
touch her? Would she let him? Would George stop him again? Please, please, please let him touch her.
George said he would give Harry what he wanted if Harry gave him what he wanted. Fredericka was
alive, so Harry had kept his end of the bargain . . . unless he was hallucinating. If he wasn't, though . . .
if he wasn't hallucinating, Fredericka was his.
She blushed, before shrugging. "Sorry for, you know, shoving you off the platform." She didn't
sound sorry.
Harry reached out and touched her; she was warm. Tears gathered in his eyes as he cupped her
face with one hand and stroked the bonding ring with the other. "I'm not." If she hadn't, he wouldn't
have a lifetime with her. They were going to have children! Harry wanted to throw his head back and
scream with triumph. Together, they had beaten Death. Fredericka was wearing his ring, and nothing
could ever take her away from him.
Fredericka chuckled and kissed him. "Can I tell you a secret, Harry?" she asked, before kissing
him again and again. She tasted brilliant!
Groaning, Harry grabbed her hips and pulled her against him. He didn't care who was watching.
He didn't plan to stop kissing or touching her any time soon—not for at least a century. How did she
expect him to concentrate when she was in his arms? "Um, sure," he mumbled between kisses, after
having almost forgotten she asked him something in the first place.
Fredericka nipped his earlobe and whispered, "Honestly, I'm not sorry either." She wrapped her
arms around his shoulders, and then leaned back so far she would have fallen to the floor if her hands
slipped. Though Harry would have done his best to catch her. "By the way, I met your mum and dad at
King's Cross."
She what? Harry gawped. "Did they say anything?"
"Your dad ruffled my hair and said you have good taste in witches." Fredericka smirked, before
winking at him.
Harry blushed and chuckled. Yeah, he could see that. Sirius had told Harry more than once
when he was alive that James would approve of Fredericka. He would nudge Harry in the ribs with his
elbow and whisper, "Potters always have to play with fire. Be careful not to get burned, Prongslet."
Fredericka's eyes laughed at him. "Oh, and your mum told me to invest in a doghouse. She
asked that I make it comfortable, though, since you'll doubtlessly spend a lot of time there."
As long as Fredericka wasn't dead, he would live anywhere she told him to live. Harry hauled
her back against his chest and kissed her cheek. "I can live with that."
*Chapter 14*: The Longest Hour of Her Life

Title: The Longest Hour of Her Life


Pairing: Marvolo Gaunt/Hortensia Potter and James Potter/Lily Potter
Hortensia Gaunt née Potter hunched over the toilet; the taste on her tongue didn't help calm her
stomach in the least. Her shoulders shook as she cried. There was no doubt now. She couldn't lie to
herself anymore; this wasn't a bout of wizarding flu. This was morning sickness.
At any other time, Hortensia would've been delighted to learn that she was pregnant. She had
been dreaming of her and Marvolo's future children since she first realized she was in love with him. In
fact, she randomly came up with names for his heirs and heiresses, delighting in each nod of approval
or shudder of horror. Sometimes she spent hours thinking up horrid appellations just to disgust him,
because he always insisted on kissing such ugly thoughts out of her head.
But now . . . now it wasn't safe for her to be pregnant.
Hortensia covered her stomach with both hands and lay on the bathroom floor in hiccupping
sobs. In less than three hours, she was supposed to compete in the Second Task of the Triwizard
Tournament. Once chosen as a Champion, refusal to participate in the tasks resulted in a loss of magic.
That meant she had two options right now, and both were equally repugnant. She could lose her magic,
which would include her bonding to her lord and husband, or she could chance losing the beloved child
Marvolo and Mother Magic had given her.
What was she supposed to do?
Cheek pressed against the cold tile, Hortensia bit her lip. "Why did I have to enter this cursed
Tournament?" she hissed, hating her decision for the first time. True, the Champions got to interact
with the Minister for Magic in public, and she always appreciated more time with her secret husband . .
. but now she could only think of how utterly careless she had been to place herself in such danger.
Nausea welled again, and Hortensia was back on her knees before the toilet. Her knees throbbed
and ached, but they held her weight. They would be bruised later; her pale skin bruised easily. Marvolo
loathed seeing marks on her flesh. He had always been insanely gentle with her, as if she would break
in his arms and leave him with a gaping maw of insanity where a soul-bond had once been.
Hortensia cast a cleansing charm on herself, aiming the scope of it at her mouth, and shakily
pushed herself to her feet. She was good at keeping secrets—better than anyone her age that she
knew—but this wasn't something that she could keep to herself. Because Hortensia had no idea how
eating Gillyweed would affect a pregnant witch, and her mind would break if she accidentally aborted
her child through ignorance.
When Hortensia walked into the dorm room, Lavender Brown walked over to her side and put
an arm around Hortensia's waist. "What's wrong?" she whispered.
"I . . ." Hortensia stared into her best friend's eyes. "Can you help me get to Severus, Lav?"
Keeping the secret from Lavender was hardest of all; they had been best friends since they were four
years old. However, Marvolo had been receiving an inordinate amount of foreign threats this past year,
and he worried that one of the students or visiting headmasters would attempt to poison, curse, or kill
her if they knew she was his lady.
Lavender cocked an eyebrow, but didn't ask her why. "Of course," she said. She kept her wand
in her free hand as they left Gryffindor Tower, thwarting anyone who wished to speak with Hortensia.
Lavender guarded her through the corridors and down to the dungeons, only stopping once they
reached Professor Severus Snape's office.
"Thank you," Hortensia said. Her attention had wandered the whole trip, and she didn't think
she would've made it on her own. Her legs had tried to give out on her more than once. If Lavender
hadn't escorted her, she didn't know what would have happened.
"Do you want me to come in with you?" Lavender asked.
Hortensia shook her head, grateful that Lavender respected her privacy and wouldn't be
offended by a negative response. "No. I . . . I have to do this alone."
Lavender knocked on the door, the sound of her fist rapping against the wood echoing down the
hallway. When Severus opened the door with a scowl on his face, Lavender stroked a hand down her
back and said, "She needs you, Professor."
Severus's scowl vanished. He put an arm around Hortensia's shoulders and guided her into his
office. "Thank you, Miss Brown. I'll take it from here." Severus shut the door and raised his wards
again.
Hortensia sank onto the chaise lounge before the small hearth in his office. She folded her
hands in her lap as tears cascaded down her cheeks. Severus was going to be hurt that she hadn't
included him in her bonding—even more than Sirius Black would. Her godfathers had been fighting
over who would get to give her away for years, as if her own father didn't own that right hands down.
Then again, not even her own parents knew she had bonded with Marvolo. She had been lying to all the
people she loved, and she could only hope they would forgive her.
Brushing the tears off her cheeks with his thumbs, Severus asked, "What's wrong, little lion?"
A bitter chuckle escaped her. It was her stupid Gryffindor side that had gotten her in this fix in
the first place. She shouldn't have entered the cursed Triwizard Tournament; she should've been content
with the time she had with her husband, which would increase exponentially when she graduated in a
few months. "Severus, I—"
"Hortensia?" he asked, voice becoming harsh with worry.
An almost-forgotten childhood game came to mind. Playing it now would be cowardly, but
Hortensia didn't care. "Can we discuss a hypothetical scenario, Severus?" That's what she always asked
him when she wanted to confess something she had done that would get her in trouble.
His swallow was audible. "Yes, Hortensia. If that's what you need."
"Hypothetically," she whispered, hands aching as she clutched them together, "a witch eats
Gillyweed so that she can stay underwater for an hour." She chanced a peek up at his black eyes, before
dropping her gaze again. Hortensia didn't think she cold bear to see his reaction to her next words.
"H-how would that affect her if she were"—it took everything she had to force the word out of her
mouth—"pregnant?"
Severus's magic had never been so still in her presence before. It was as if he had turned into a
marble statue at her side. When he finally spoke, his voice sent shivers down her spine. "Who do I need
to kill?" Her gaze shot up to his, and her breath caught in her throat at the raw hatred in his eyes. "Tell
me his name, Hortensia!"
She could feel the blood drain from her face. He thought . . . Hortensia flinched. "I-I wasn't—no
one e-ever f-forced—" Severus didn't know she was bonded, though. So, from his point of view, such
horror must be the only thing that made sense. Tears ran down her cheeks again at the mere thought of
someone trying to take what belonged to Marvolo alone.
"I'm sorry I didn't protect you," Severus said, voice anguished, as if he thought her words and
protestations were lies she used to guard her sanity.
Hortensia hunched over. This was worse than her wildest daydreams. She had to tell him the
truth; anything else would be needlessly cruel. "I bonded in secret when I was fifteen," she confessed,
just a whisper of breath. "Not even Mum and Dad know."
"Why didn't you tell me? Why wasn't I there? Tell me his name, Hortensia! Unscrupulous,
filthy—"
"He's not like that, all right? I'm sorry! I'm sorry you weren't there and that you didn't get into a
three-way duel with Dad and Sirius about who could give me away. But I chose this. I love him, Sev.
And I chose this!"
Severus cupped her chin and made her look at him. "Swear to me that's the truth. Swear that I
didn't fail to protect you from—" Not even he could say the nightmarish word.
"I swear on my magic that I bonded of my own free will when I was fifteen," Hortensia said.
His shoulders slumped. "I thought . . ."
Hortensia leaned over and hugged him. "I'm sorry, Severus. I never meant to make you think
that. It didn't even cross my mind."
Severus hugged her just as fervently and stated, "Hypothetically, eating Gillyweed would cause
a transformation that would magically abort the child." His grip tightened with each word he spoke.
She wondered if she would ever run out of tears. She was choking on them as the realization
settled in. Her child was going to—
"Triwizard Tournament rules, section eighty-three, paragraph four, sub-clause one states: a
pureblood witch who becomes pregnant with a pureblood's heir during the course of the Triwizard
Tournament may be released from the magical contract automatically and without punishment at her
request," Severus said. He pressed a comforting kiss to her temple. "You don't have to compete any
more, little lion. Your baby's safe."
All that did was make her cry harder as relief swept through her. Then, overwrought, she fell
asleep against her godfather. He woke her what felt like moments later, but the clock above the mantle
told her otherwise. The Second Task was going to start in fifteen minutes.
"You had better withdraw before it's too late, Hortensia," Severus said. "And then we have to
get down to the Black Lake. Attendance is mandatory."
"I know." Hortensia rubbed her eyes and stood up, paying little attention to all the grooming
charms Severus was so kindly casting for her; she knew she must look like crap. "I, Hortensia Potter,
resign from the Triwizard Tournament." She bit her lip in relief when a golden rope of magic loosened
around her core and vanished into nothingness.
"If you're bonded, how did the Goblet of Fire bind you under your birth name?" Severus asked.
"Because my parents recognize my legal name as Hortensia Potter, I can still use it when I
want," Hortensia said. She was a Marauder's daughter, after all. She had been told more than once that
'Sneakiness' should've been her middle name.
Severus chuckled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Your dad is going to throw a
tantrum fit for a king when he finds out you're bonded, little lion. I hope I'm there to see it." He
smirked, before changing the subject entirely as they headed through Hogwarts and out to the Black
Lake. "This lord of yours, does he love you?"
Hortensia smiled for the first time that day. "More than his own life," she assured him. And she
wasn't exaggerating either. Hortensia met her husband by accident, when her Pegasus somehow
bypassed his wards when she was almost fifteen. His pet Basilisk tried to kill her for intruding, and
Marvolo Apparated between them and was almost impaled by one of its fangs.
She apologized for trespassing, he apologized for his Basilisk, and then they just stared into
each other's eyes for an embarrassingly long time.
The stands that had been erected around the Black Lake were several yards away still when she
heard Ludo Bagman's pompous amplified voice say, "The Champions have one hour to recover their
hostage. Let the Second Task begin!"
There was a loud noise, and then Hortensia saw the other two Champions dive into the lake.
The witch from Durmstrang was wearing a scandalous swimsuit—something Hortensia had been
dreading about this task, before Marvolo Owled her a Muggle wetsuit. He didn't want anyone looking
at her body, and neither did she. Besides, a swimsuit would've revealed the Gaunt crest, which covered
the entirety of her back, from her shoulders to her bum.
Hortensia took four more steps before Bagman's words registered; her knees failed her. If
Severus's arm hadn't been around her shoulders, she would have crashed to the ground. The word
'hostage' repeated in her mind. A hostage was a person—a living person.
"Hortensia?" Severus asked. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Her voice shook as the song from the golden egg resurfaced. "An hour long you'll have to look,
and to recover what we took, but after an hour the prospect's black—" Hortensia bit her lip and fisted
her hands, mind skipping to the last line. "It won't come back." Marvolo was at the bottom of the Black
Lake; she just knew it. And since she had withdrawn, she couldn't go down and get him. But even if
she were still in the Tournament, doing so would've risked her baby's life.
"Hortensia?"
Her voice cracked as the song played over and over. "I'm going to be a pregnant widow at
seventeen."
"Absolutely not," Severus snapped. "Don't be a fool, Hortensia. The Minister wouldn't allow the
Department of Magical Games and Sports to use tasks where innocent people die. This is an updated,
safer version of the Tournament. He'll be fine."
"You can't know that," she whispered, even though she knew how much time Marvolo had
spent going over the tasks. He had vetoed countless ones over the summer, telling her about the more
imbecilic ideas presented to him.
"Yes, I can," Severus assured her. "Headmaster Dumbledore took me into his confidence. I
promise that your lord will be returned to you unharmed." His eyes were honest, but his words couldn't
calm her fears entirely. "Now, come on." He guided her over to the stands nearest the wharf the
Champions dove off.
Hogwarts students hollered questions down at her, wondering why she wasn't participating
anymore. It seemed few had read the rules, and so they didn't know why their Champion had
withdrawn. She was just grateful that Ludo Bagman hadn't announced her pregnancy in public; that
would've been cruel and humiliating. Since no one knew she was bonded, except Severus now, the
speculation would've been vicious. Her child wasn't a bastard.
"Silence," Severus hissed. It succeeded in quieting the students, but didn't keep their attention
off her for long.
Hortensia flinched when she realized that the other hot topic of gossip was the Minister for
Magic's absence from the Second Task. His personal Aurors had apparently appeared in a flurry,
shouting desperate questions, asking if the Minister had arrived early without their knowledge. He
hadn't. His seat was empty. And Hortensia knew it was because her husband was at the bottom of the
Black Lake, waiting for her to rescue him.
"An hour long you'll have to look. . . ." She bit her lip and closed her eyes, but it didn't help.
The large countdown in the air was moving interminably slowly. Each millisecond felt like a lifetime
of waiting. Hortensia didn't know if she would still be sane when she reached the end of the longest
hour of her life.
Her parents, her younger siblings, and Sirius crowded around her, but she couldn't take her eyes
off the countdown. She was dimly aware of Severus brushing their questions aside, no matter how
frantic they became. They probably thought she was going to lose her magic if she didn't get in the
lake. That couldn't be the furthest from the truth now. They shouldn't be worried about her magic; they
should be worried about piecing her mind back together if her lord died.
Each new bond a wizard or witch gained throughout his or her life settled. Whether it was
mental or emotional, it made no difference. Once settled, the bond became part of the person to which
it was attached. So if she lost Marvolo, she would not only lose his magical presence, and all the love
and comfort that came with it, but she would lose a part of herself—a very large part, seeing as it was a
soul-bond.
"It won't come back." She blinked. "It won't come back." The witch from Durmstrang swam to
shore with a little boy in her arms—her brother, no doubt. "The prospect's black." She blinked. The
countdown ticked. "It won't come back." The other Champion pulled a blonde witch onto the wharf.
Why was Marvolo still down there? She had withdrawn from the thrice-cursed Tournament! So why
wasn't he here at her side, holding her close, telling her he couldn't wait for their child to be born?
The countdown ended.
Marvolo didn't appear, and Hortensia felt her grip on reality slip. "It w-won't come back."
Severus pulled her against his chest and whispered comforting words of assurance as she gagged on her
tears. It didn't help. The continuing presence of the soul-bond was all that kept her on her feet. And
when she couldn't handle not knowing any longer, she did what Marvolo had ordered her to do if she
were ever in peril: Hortensia yanked on the soul-bond with all her magic.
She had no sooner done this than a wave of magic parted the Black Lake. Marvolo rose from
the depths in a sphere of lashing, vicious, white magic. Screams of shock filled the air as he flew across
the surface of the lake and landed on the wharf.
"Minister Gaunt!" His Aurors rushed forward to surround him, but his magic batted them aside
like gnats.
Severus stepped in front of her.
Marvolo stalked toward the group surrounding her like a Nundu after its prey. And as the
buffetings of his magic brushed against her skin, Hortensia felt reality settle back into place. Her lord
was alive, she had her magic, their baby was safe, and they were still sane—somehow.
"Stand aside," Marvolo ordered, voice ringing with authority.
"No," Severus replied. "Not until you calm yourself."
Marvolo's magic formed a lance and he pressed it against Severus's chest. "For the last time,
stand aside!"
"I could forgive myself for many things, Minister, but never for endangering my goddaughter's
child." Severus wrapped his hand around the lance, keeping a straight face even as his skin began
smoking. "You would touch your lady with magic as violent as this?" he queried.
There was a heartbeat of silence, two, and then Marvolo's magic retreated beneath his skin. His
words were even more forceful than before. "Stand aside, Severus Snape."
Severus bowed at the waist. "As you say, Lord Gaunt." Then he took one large step to the side.
Marvolo closed the distance between them with ground-eating strides. He engulfed Hortensia in
his arms and buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply. "A child, darling? We're having a child?"
Hortensia's nails clawed at his back as she fisted his robes. "I'm s-sorry. I withdrew to keep the
b-baby safe." Tears spilled over yet again. "I-I had n-no idea y-you were down there. I-I th-thought—"
"Hush, darling. You did the right thing." Marvolo kissed down her neck as she breathed a sigh
of relief at his approval. "Nothing would be worth the pain of losing our child."
She couldn't agree with him. Not on this. And Hortensia had always been honest with him. "As
long as you lived, I could bear it," she confessed.
Marvolo's lips stilled against her neck, and he tightened his hold just shy of bruising force.
"Never think like that, darling. There's nothing in the world powerful enough to tear me from your side.
I swear it. I want you to focus all your energies on protecting yourself and our children, all right? I
won't ever leave you." From anyone else those would be false, idle words offered in reassurance. From
him, she knew they were one hundred percent true.
Hortensia kissed the underside of his jaw. "As my lord commands."
Chuckling, Marvolo swept her up in his arms and held her bridal style against his chest. "I love
it when you're obedient. It's so rare." He kissed her forehead and then her lips. "Rest, darling. I'll handle
it from here."
Hortensia yawned and leaned her head against his chest, right over his heart. A thin layer of his
magic covered her like a warm blanket. She let all her worries drain away: their bonding being made
public, her unexpected pregnancy, her parents' reaction, and everything else. There was no need to
worry any longer, because one fact dismissed them all.
Hortensia was in her husband's arms, and Marvolo would die before standing aside.
Marvolo rubbed his thumbs against Hortensia as she drifted off to sleep. Terror still choked
him. In the two years that they had been bonded, she had never yanked on their bond before. She was
strong, courageous, and skilled enough to handle most threats. Rising from the lake, he had wondered if
the judges had thought it would be amusing to add something to the Second Task without his
permission—another magical creature of some sort, perhaps.
Instead, it seemed the thought of losing him was what had spurred her to action. Since losing
her was Marvolo's worst fear, he forgave her for the flood of adrenaline that was still rushing through
him.
"Minister." James's voice was hard.
Marvolo hadn't expected anything different when one of his strongest political supporters found
out the truth. Not asking for James's permission to bond with Hortensia was one of his few regrets; the
man deserved the right to know his daughter was respected, and that he, himself, was respected.
Marvolo had countless excuses for why he hadn't done the honorable thing: Hortensia's siblings were
young and might not keep the secret, Marvolo didn't want to have to wait until she graduated to bond,
and those were just the tip of the iceberg.
But Marvolo knew the real reason. He might lie to everyone around him if he deemed it
necessary, but Marvolo never lied to himself. A man in his position couldn't afford to be self-deluded.
James might have said 'No'. James might have refused his offer for Hortensia . . . and Marvolo
knew himself well enough to know he would have ignored that refusal and bonded with her anyway.
Because love and trust are precious, and Hortensia had earned his.
"Not here," Marvolo said. He wouldn't rehash this in public. Too many secrets had already been
revealed today: their bonding and her pregnancy. The latter caused delight and horror to battle within
him. His family was growing, but so was the number of weaknesses he possessed. The baby wouldn't
have the skills Hortensia did. What if their child was kidnapped or attacked?
"My office should suffice," Severus said. His wand was out, but so was Sirius Black's. They
were eyeing the crowd as if they expected assassins to leap out at their small group.
Marvolo held his fragile burden closer to his chest and marched toward the school. Severus and
Sirius followed him, while James and Lily Potter flanked him, a child on either side. They all had their
wands brandished; he had never seen them so on edge.
"Your office, Professor?" Lavender asked as she stepped in front of them, wand in hand. There
was an Indian girl at her side. Patil, was it? A brunette in Gryffindor robes joined them. Hmm. Fay
Dunbar, if he remembered rightly. That only left—a bushy-haired brunette appeared at Lavender's left.
Ah, Hermione Granger.
"Yes, Miss Brown," Severus replied.
"You have our word that we'll protect her while she's at Hogwarts, Minister Gaunt," Hermione
said. Her Head Girl badge shone beneath the sunlight. "Now that they know she's yours, I'm sure
Malfoy will get the Slytherins to protect her by any means necessary."
It galled Marvolo to entrust Hortensia to anyone, especially now that she was carrying his child.
He wanted to be at her side at all times. It wasn't realistic, though. He couldn't handle all his duties as
Minister from Hogwarts, and he wouldn't withdraw her from Hogwarts. He knew how much she
wanted to graduate with her year-mates. He held great sway over his wife's heart, but he didn't want to
abuse it. Just because he could convince her to live at their manor and learn from a tutor didn't mean he
would.
"Don't fail me," Marvolo said. That was as close as he would ever get to saying 'thank you' to
anyone other than his wife. Gratitude put you in others' debt; that was dangerous. Debts were a very
real and serious thing in the magical world, not something easily forgotten or forgiven like in the
cursed Muggle world where he had grown up.
"We won't."
Very few people reached the castle before they did. The students parted as they approached.
Marvolo wondered whether it was because of his presence, or if all the wands trained on them
convinced them now was a very bad time to ask their questions.
The staircase down into the dungeons seemed to stretch on forever, but each step felt like
coming home. Slytherin House had been his first real home. No matter where life took him, Marvolo
never forgot that.
"We're here," Lavender said. The Gryffindor girls moved to the side so that they weren't
blocking the door. As Severus went to open it, Lavender walked over and petted Hortensia's hair. "She
was really sick this morning. She's going to have a rough time of it. A token soaked in your magic that
she could keep on her at all times would help. That way the baby could feel your presence, too."
The words were a dagger to Marvolo's heart.
His mother, Merope Gaunt, had died in childbirth. It wasn't until he was at Hogwarts and
learned more about pureblood customs, lifestyles, and so forth, that Marvolo realized why. His father
had abandoned his mother, and, even in the womb, Marvolo's magic had reached out for his father. The
distance was too great, the lack of love impossible to overcome, but his magic had never stopped
trying. So his magic had pulled on his mother's, so that he could reach ever farther. In the end, he took
so much that she didn't have enough left to heal herself from a long, bloody birth.
His mother died in childbirth because Marvolo felt abandoned by his father. His father had
made Marvolo kill his own mother. That was why Marvolo returned the favor and murdered his father.
Marvolo's voice was a raspy mess as he said, "Hockle." All he could focus on was one thought:
she absolutely could not die.
A house-elf with droopy ears popped into the hallway. "Yes, Master?"
"The locket. Immediately."
Marvolo brushed past everyone and into Severus's office. He walked through it and into the
sitting room beyond, settling into the overlarge chair by the fire. James and Lily sat on the chaise
lounge, a child on each of their laps—even though Hadrian was almost twelve. Sirius and Severus were
standing by the closed door, the only difference being that Severus wasn't scowling and his wand was
put away.
"Want me to Cruciate him for a bit, James? Lily's a dab hand at the Obliviation Charm," Sirius
sang. "He deserves it, doesn't he?"
"Sirius Black! You will not be Cruciating anyone in front of my children!" Lily objected,
glaring.
Pouting, Sirius returned his wand to its holster. "Fine, fine, not in front of the kiddos." He
winked at Lily. "Later, though, right?"
"The locket, Master," Hockle said, after popping into the room.
"Good. That's all." Marvolo dismissed the house-elf after taking Slytherin's locket from
Hockle's wrinkly hand. It already radiated his magic, but Marvolo was paranoid. Too much was always
better than not enough. Especially when not enough would cost him all that he loved. The locket grew
hot in his hand as he forced more and more magic into it. The faded, scratched metal straightened and
sparkled in the firelight. The links of the chain were uniform and unmarred. When he couldn't fit
another drop of magic in it, it looked as if it had just been forged.
"That's . . ." Sirius gaped.
"Brilliant!" Hadrian declared, hazel eyes wide. "I want to do that."
"When you're older, Ian," Lily said absently. She carded her fingers through his unruly black
mop of hair.
Marvolo nicked his thumb and rubbed his blood on the links, so that only he would be able to
remove it. What good was a protection that could be easily stolen or removed? Besides, he knew
Hortensia wouldn't mind; she wore the locket whenever she was at their manor. Thankfully, that would
be much more often in the future. He slid it over her head, and then dropped it down the neckline of her
robes.
He would have Hortensia send him reports on her health. If the locket didn't do its task, then he
would find a way to make being the Minister from Hogwarts feasible. She was more important than
everyone else in the wizarding world, more precious than all his plans and goals and maneuverings.
"Ma'v'lo?" Hortensia grumbled, turning so that her face was against his chest.
As much as he wanted to reassure himself of everything, and talk about what had happened, he
knew she needed rest. She must have been expending an unneeded amount of energy to keep her utter
exhaustion from spilling down their bond. Because the pallor of her skin reiterated Lavender's
declaration that she hadn't been well.
"Sleep, darling. Just sleep." He stroked her hair, and then felt her go under.
Lily pursed her lips, gaze shrewd and invasive. "I've always quite liked you, Minister, despite
your high-handed methods. You make things happen. I know Hortensia's her father's daughter, daring
and reckless, and I would hate to learn you took advantage of that. Because she's the only daughter
Mother Magic has given me. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for her."
Ah, the love of a mother. What would it have been like to have that for himself? His mother had
only lived a few, scant hours after his birth.
"Explain yourself." James's blank mask and harsh tone put Abraxas Malfoy to shame.
Marvolo met his father-in-law's gaze—it was so bizarre to think of James like that—and stated,
"I'm a selfish coward, James."
James snorted. "Selfish, I don't doubt in the least. I've known you long enough to be aware of
that. There's nothing wrong with being a little selfish." His jaw clenched so hard that it twitched. "But
of all the things I've thought about you over the years, 'coward' wasn't one of them. I don't buy it."
"It's true," Marvolo insisted, much as he wished it wasn't. Being a coward wasn't something of
which to be proud. However, he hadn't been willing to chance James refusing his suit. Hortensia was
one-of-a-kind. He wouldn't have ever been able to find a replacement that matched the original. "You
gloated and bragged about her all the time. She's your little princess," Marvolo said. He caged
Hortensia in his arms, as if James would try to steal her away; he wouldn't allow that. "You only talked
about how she deserved the best of everything." Marvolo took a deep breath, but failed to calm his
nerves. "My father was a Muggle."
"As is mine," Lily countered, shoulders straight. She wasn't ashamed of her heritage, but then,
her father likely wasn't a kin-slayer.
Marvolo chuckled. It rang with bitterness. "I've often been told that a father's expectations for
his daughter are much higher than a man's for himself."
"James, aren't you going to scrub those foolish thoughts from his head?" Lily demanded.
"How long have you been bonded?" Sirius asked, blatantly buying time for James. It was to be
expected. Sirius and James would do anything for each other—that was a well-known fact. "A few
months?"
"Two years," Marvolo answered. He didn't care to see Sirius's reaction, because his attention
was on James, who still hadn't said anything.
"Two years?" Sirius hollered. He drew his wand again. "Lily, cover the kiddos' eyes. It seems
like I'll be Cruciating him now, after all."
"You're not good enough for her."
James's words were a punch to the gut. Marvolo had always assumed that would be his reaction,
but hearing them hurt more than expected. For a moment, he was a first-year outcast in Slytherin
House. He was an unloved orphan, even though his father was still alive. He was living in a filthy
orphanage with Muggles who tormented him and killed his pets.
Lily gasped and covered her mouth with a shaking hand. "James!"
"I know," Marvolo gritted out. This was why he hadn't asked James's permission in the first
place. He felt vindicated for skipping that step, now. Because bonding with Hortensia after being
refused by her father would have been sick. Marvolo would have done it anyway.
James's gaze trailed lovingly across Hortensia. "No one is good enough for her."
Hortensia was light and laughter and love. She was joy and jokes and just what he needed. She
was hugs and helping hands. Hortensia was kisses and kindnesses, both of which were rare in
Marvolo's life. She was a meeting of hearts and mornings spent in bed, long after they should have
gotten up. "I know," Marvolo agreed. Because he did know. She was too good for him, but Marvolo
was keeping her anyway.
"You're not good enough for her," James repeated, "but I can't think of a better person to entrust
her with."
Marvolo blinked in disbelief. "What?"
"Do you love her more than anything else? More than all your gold, more than your title, more
than your positions of power, more than the mounds of blackmail you uncovered, more than your
heritage, and more than yourself?" James inquired. The stiffness of his muscles belied the calm tone of
voice.
"Yes." Marvolo would give up all his worldly possessions as long as she would be his. Nothing
mattered to him more than Hortensia did. Imagining her with anyone else was agonizing. He had barely
made it through the Yule Ball. Watching her dance the first waltz in Neville Longbottom's arms had
made him ill with envy. Marvolo wouldn't be surprised in the least if that same night was when their
child had been conceived.
Hortensia was his, but due to increasing threats, he hadn't been able to claim her publically for
fear of losing her. Now, the secret was out. He would have to find a way to keep her safe. James and
Lily could only feel Hortensia through their bond with her, and not the people Hortensia had bonds
with as well. Otherwise, their bonding would have been discovered when it happened.
James offered a friendly smile as his mask melted away. He took Lily's hand in his. "Then you
have our blessing."
The words meant more to Marvolo than he thought they would. Perhaps, because he had never
thought that he would hear them. And why should he? He had ignored what was honorable by bonding
with Hortensia without permission. James was the Heir of the Honorable and Most Ancient House of
Potter. Such breaches in propriety would bother a Potter more than most purebloods. Condemnation
was appropriate. Marvolo had even been prepared for grudging acceptance, full of reservations. To
receive the Potters' blessing was unexpected.
Before he could respond, and Marvolo had no idea what to say, Hortensia stirred in his arms.
She turned sleepy eyes on her father and reminded Marvolo once again of why he had fallen in love
with her. "Tha's nice, Da. But Ma'v'lo has my bles'ng. Tha's all tha'"—Hortensia yawned and clutched
Marvolo's robe, head on his chest—"mat'rs."
Marvolo laughed, and if it was a little wet, no one said anything. He kissed Hortensia's hair.
Marvolo placed his hand over his growing child, awaiting the day that it would be large enough to
move; that was when the mental bond with his son or daughter would appear. His family lay on his lap.
He wasn't alone or unloved. And Marvolo acknowledged that he was a very blessed man, indeed.
*Chapter 15*: He Chased and Caught the Sun

Title: He Chased and Caught the Sun


Pairing: Sköll Greyback/Hisolda Potter and James Potter/Lily Potter
"Be safe!"
"Watch out for the cubs."
"Explore the Forbidden Forest and kill some of the denizens who dwell there!"
Hisolda Potter waved goodbye to her parents before boarding the Hogwarts Express. Her
siblings rubbed their heads against the bottom of her chin, and then they rushed off to join their friends.
Her neck felt too exposed, but her new haircut had been her idea; it was a chunky layered bob, longer
in the front than the back. It caused her hair to flow like a crow's wings.
Feathering a hand through her shorn locks, Hisolda traced her bare neck. It felt naked. Years of
hair covering it had provided security. That was no longer the case.
She snarled as she remembered the past summer. It had been the worst of all. Her temper had
been on a short trigger; she had almost savaged several members of the pack. One night, she came just
short of ripping out Remus Lupin's throat. It wasn't so much that he was a Turned, while she was a
pureblood werewolf, that caused the incident. It was because he dared to stare into her eyes. He
wouldn't look away or back down, and she wouldn't allow such disrespect.
Hisolda was an Alpha.
Including her grandfather Charlus Potter and her father James Potter, their pack had three
Alphas. Her grandmother and mother were powerful, yes, but they weren't true Alphas, regardless of
their mates' powers and status.
On his best day, Lupin might be a Gamma rank wolf. However, he was an Omega at heart. He
would bare his belly and crawl around and serve as entertainment for those better than him. Hisolda
didn't usually mind. She would even go so far as to say that she liked Remus Lupin. He was amusing.
Yet, his close friendship with her father gave him ideas above his station. If she had been a mere
pureblood, she wouldn't have cared. Hisolda wasn't a pureblood witch, though—weak, fragile, easy to
break and defenseless without a wand. She was a pureblood werewolf, able to shift forms whenever she
desired—not dependent upon the moon like the Turned. She was stronger, faster, and better.
Hisolda was superior in every way.
Foolish, thick Remus had stared right into her eyes, as if he didn't understand werewolf
etiquette at all, even though he had been one since he was five years old. His gaze had challenged her
position as an Alpha. That was unacceptable. Who did he think he was to treat her so disdainfully,
intentionally or not?
She had snapped.
If Hisolda's father hadn't transformed and slammed into her side, pushing her away from
Remus, he would be dead. Then the infamous Marauders, her father's precious sub-pack, would have
been down to two members. Peter Pettigrew, the traitor, had died in the war against the Dark Lord
Voldemort soon after her whelping.
"All aboard!"
Students rushed past her. None of them touched her. They were too smart; they had learned
their lesson. While she was able to control her wolf and pretend that she was civilized and kind,
nothing could be further from the truth. It was just a veneer of civility that she deigned to don when she
felt like doing so. The pureblood heirs and heiresses were useless creatures. They believed that love
was sonnets, bouquets of flowers, and jewels. They thought courting was holding hands and daring to
steal kisses.
Hisolda pitied them. She pitied their pathetic understanding of Magic.
It amused her, on occasion, that purebloods, half-bloods, and new bloods looked down on her
kind. Her connection with and grasp of Magic was greater than theirs would ever be. Werewolves,
Veela, Naga, Mermaids, and other beings were Magic's first children—her favorites. Sometimes she
had a childish urge to stick out her tongue and say, "Mother loves us best!"
But that would be behavior worthy of a cub, and Hisolda was all grown up.
Frustrated at her wandering thoughts, Hisolda forced her attention back to the present. She
carded her fingers through her hair once more. Baring her neck meant that she was searching for a
mate. As much as she loved her family, she needed to get away from them. Their pack had too many
Alphas and not enough territory. She didn't want to start a civil war because her instincts were
encouraging her to carve out something for herself.
"Alpha?"
Hisolda glanced down at the cub. Female. Brown hair. A cub from the Greyback Pack, by the
smell of her. "Yes?" At least this cub was raised well. The cub offered her the proper deference, title,
and kept her gaze on the floor of the train.
"Alpha Greyback has requested your presence in the Prefects' carriage. He would like to get the
meeting over with as quickly as possible."
Oh? Well, it wasn't particularly surprising that Alpha Sköll Greyback was the Head Boy.
Hufflepuffs were often chosen, and he had more than earned it. Anyone who could tolerate the stench
of so many lesser creatures lusting after him deserved a position of recognition. It was insulting for the
students to assume they had any chance to be with Sköll, let alone partake in the Chase.
Sköll's brother Hati attended Durmstrang, and was Alpha of the lands the Greyback Pack held
in that part of Europe. Sköll was Alpha of Ireland and Wales. Both of Fenrir Greyback's sons ruled
without interference from their father, even though Fenrir was Alpha of the overall pack, regardless of
where they might be in the world.
"What's your name, cub?" Hisolda liked having a name attached to every scent in her memory;
it was safer that way. She could hunt down threats and destroy them.
"Delilah."
Hisolda rubbed her wrist against Delilah's cheek, to scent-mark the cub. She was the only Alpha
female that was attending Hogwarts. So, by default, all the cubs belonged to her during the school year.
She was, quite literally, their den mother. There weren't many pureblood werewolves at Hogwarts, but
there was a decent amount. Hisolda was just grateful there weren't any Turned attending Hogwarts.
Their lack of control was appalling.
"Go sit with my siblings. You'll be safe there." Her siblings knew better than to kick up a fuss.
Fighting between werewolves was an ugly, bloody battle. Feuds between the packs would cause
nothing but harm. Since their instincts to protect were so fierce, she often played mediator and
diplomat.
"Thank you, Alpha." Delilah scampered toward the compartment Hisolda's siblings claimed.
Hisolda continued down the hallway to the Prefects' carriage. The badge on her Hogwarts robes
was shiny, and had pleased her parents. She was accustomed to responsibility (protecting and
disciplining others) and assumed that was why Professor McGonagall had chosen to make her the
fifth-year prefect for Gryffindor House. She would be able to sniff out rule-breakers. It was a win-win
scenario.
The door opened before she could touch it. Sköll stood on the other side, no longer towering
over her. Hisolda was now five-foot-nine to his six-foot-one. His hair was gray, like his sire's; it fell to
his shoulders. He was broad and muscled. His face was all sharp angles and bone structure. But his
eyes were unique, setting him apart from the rest of his pack; they were the color of blue lace agates.
Jew-toned eyes were a hallmark of pureblood werewolves; her own were peridot.
Sköll made a stunning visual.
"Sol." Sköll's teeth gleamed as he smiled at her. He stroked her exposed neck without lowering
his gaze, which would be seen as submitting. "You look as desirable as ever."
It never failed to amuse Hisolda that he shortened her name to something that meant 'sun'.
Because in Norse mythology, Sköll was Fenrir's son—the one who spent all of his time chasing the
sun. According to legend, he would consume the sun during Ragnarök: the end of the world.
"Thank you, Sköll." She smirked. "And you sound as bossy as ever. Really, Sköll? Sending a
cub off to fetch me? Where's the fun in that?" Hisolda grabbed his chin and pulled him closer. "Not
skilled enough to track and Catch me yourself, Sköll?" She flicked him on the nose like an unruly
puppy. "For shame."
Sköll growled; it rumbled from his chest and filled the compartment. Several of the prefects
squeaked in terror, much to Hisolda's amusement. "Sol, that almost sounded like you want me to Chase
you. Watch your words. I never lose the scent of my prey, and I always succeed on a hunt."
"Almost?" Hisolda dragged her nails down his right cheek, but not hard enough to break the
skin. He didn't deserve to be blooded yet. "Either your hearing is equivalent to that of a Turned, or
you're slower than usual today." Snarling, Sköll bit for her hand. She yanked it back before his teeth
could pierce her flesh for the bitter insult.
"Uh, w-we should st-start the m-meeting."
"Did I say the meeting could begin?" Sköll spat at the Head Girl. She was a Ravenclaw Hisolda
didn't recognize, though she smelled somewhat familiar.
"Eek!"
Hisolda rolled her eyes, not impressed in the least. Sköll wasn't going to physically attack her;
he was just putting her in her place. He wouldn't want to be responsible for creating a Turned. In fact,
the only one in history she could remember the Greyback Pack ever creating was Remus Lupin—and
that was because his father (Lyall Lupin) described werewolves as "soulless, evil, deserving of nothing
but death".
Sköll stalked toward the head of the compartment, back turned to her. Hisolda gritted her teeth
at the insult. Yes, he was powerful, but that didn't mean he would have time to react if she decided to
maul him from behind. Unless . . . he was trusting her to protect his back? Given the cruel comment she
had delivered a minute ago, she doubted it was the latter.
Instead of sitting in the empty seat next to Seamus Finnegan (and how in the world, precisely,
had he gotten the prefect badge?), Hisolda followed Sköll to the front of the compartment. She brushed
past the gawping Head Girl and then sat in the girl's seat at Sköll's side. Hierarchy mattered to
werewolves, and none of these girls were above her. They never would be.
She wrinkled her nose as the scent of emotions flooded the room. "Don't close the door. The
smell of jealousy and lust is making me nauseous. Do show some self-control." It probably sounded
hypocritical to the students, but Hisolda didn't see it that way. They had no right to be jealous of her or
Sköll, and she didn't want to know which of them had inspired the lust. If a werewolf experienced those
same emotions in her presence, it would be different. Her own kind had a right to such reactions.
"We would never stoop to Mating with any of you," Sköll said with a sneer.
The prefects bristled or blushed, depending on the person in question. Hisolda didn't understand
why they were offended. Werewolves were favored children of Magic; they didn't suppress their
instincts or lock away their emotions or keep their distance and act as if physical affection was
something of which to be ashamed. Werewolves coddled and cuffed their cubs in public; they would
nuzzle each other, sleep in piles, seek comfort and reassurance, and other such 'unseemly displays'.
They also didn't bother to hide behind polite words and false smiles, unless they were feeling vicious or
playful.
Sköll snapped his fingers. "The schedules, Clearwater."
Hmm. Now that Hisolda thought about it, the girl did look like Penelope Clearwater, who was
Head Girl just two years ago. A younger sibling? No, the scent wasn't close enough. A cousin, most
likely.
"As you can see, these are your schedules for patrolling the school for the rest of the year. I
made them. They will not change. Unless you're in the hospital wing or dead, I expect you to do your
rounds," Sköll stated. He was passionate about the topic. Hisolda knew why; patrolling and protecting
was part of their nature as Alphas. In Hogwarts, he and she ruled. They took care of what was theirs.
Even if these students were weak and assigned by the Headmaster himself, instead of their chosen
Paladins who guarded their territory, they had no excuse to slack off. "If you think that your new duties
are beyond your abilities, resign your post now."
Hisolda took the offered paper out of Clearwater's hands and perused it. Every time she was
scheduled, Sköll had assigned himself as her companion. She glanced at him out of the corner of her
eye. He returned it, daring her to complain. Why should she? He was more tolerable than everyone else
in the compartment. Any of the other males would've likely convinced themselves into making a play
for her, and the Headmaster always got upset when she sent people to the hospital wing.
It wasn't her fault that they hadn't learned to keep their words to themselves.
Clearwater ended up standing next to the chair she had stolen. It set Hisolda on edge. Alphas
didn't let people stand above them, because it was reminiscent of submitting. If Clearwater had been
shorter than her seated position, it wouldn't have mattered. As it was, Hisolda battled the instinct to
slam the girl into the floor, transform just her claws, and savage Clearwater's face.
The Head Girl kept rambling, explaining their duties as prefects, as if none of them had
bothered to read the pamphlets of information and expectations that arrived with the badges. "You are
expected to act with decorum at—"
"Hisolda!"
Hisolda rose from her seat as the scent of violence and blood wafted through the door behind
Luna Lovegood: her Beta. "What happened?"
"Marietta Edgecombe and Cho Chang thought I needed a collar. I disabused them of the
notion," Luna said. Her once-long hair was gone, replaced by an A-line cut. It had more wave to it now
that it was short. Her eyes flared with hatred.
"Hati's going to be enraged when he finds out," Sköll stated, voice blank. That didn't last long.
"I'm enraged on his behalf. They dared to attack my brother's Troth in my territory?" He growled, a
gritty, ferocious sound.
That's new, Hisolda thought. Her gaze darted down to Luna's neck; a gray paw print marked her
skin. So . . . Hati had captured the moon. Interesting. His brother's success must be driving Sköll mad.
If Sköll skinned his prey right, he could win in the end, though. Because Hisolda was of age to Mate,
and Luna was still fourteen.
"Are they alive?"
The prefects paled and pressed backward in their seats in response to Hisolda's question.
Luna met her searching gaze for just a moment before dropping it and nodding. "Only because I
hate it when Headmaster Dumbledore's eyes don't twinkle."
"Pity," Sköll said. He caressed Hisolda's neck, fingers encircling her throat. "I rather imagine
Hati would prefer them dead." His touch wasn't unwelcome. "I know I would."
"If anyone had tried that on Hisolda, they would be dead," Luna said. She was correct, of
course. Hisolda wasn't some mutt to be collared and leashed—no pureblood werewolf deserved that.
"Rounds. Now," Sköll barked. His command sent the prefects scuttling past Luna and out into
the hallway of the train for their patrols.
"Do you need me for containment?" Hisolda asked. She was a talented Healer, but she wouldn't
waste her skills on anyone who attacked a member of her pack, even if that pack member wasn't blood.
Luna chuckled; it was airy and sounded not-altogether-sane. "No. I just wanted to give my
report before you heard something from someone else. I'll take my leave now, if you don't need me."
She tilted her head to the right, opening herself to attack, and then left.
Hisolda decided to join the cubs and make sure no one was harassing them. Her patrol shift
didn't start for two hours. Despite her expectations, Sköll didn't release his grip when she tried to leave.
"Sköll, what are you doing?" He had no right to keep her there.
"You never answered me, Sol."
"You didn't ask me a question. You made a statement," she countered stubbornly.
Sköll slid an arm around her waist and forced her backward until he surrounded her. She didn't
fight the action. His smooth cheek brushed against hers as he nuzzled her; it sickened her to think of a
wizard doing the same. A wizard's face would be scratchy, and a sign of affection and trust would
become uncomfortable at best. "Sol, would you welcome me on your Chase?"
"My father and grandfather may have settled for less, but I am Alpha. It would take a supremely
skilled Alpha to win my Chase," Hisolda whispered. She didn't understand how her father and
grandfather could have Mated with Betas, even though she loved her grandmother and mother. The
power dynamics were too skewed. She wouldn't tolerate that in her own Mating.
He scraped his teeth across the nape of her neck; shivers traveled down her spine. "Give me a
chance to catch the sun." It was a plea as much as it was a demand.
The heat encasing Hisolda was nice. The smell of his desire wasn't distasteful, as it was on the
wizards. It was right that he felt this way; his interest pleased her. He inspired similar feelings in her
and she decided to see if, like the Sköll of legend, he could manage to capture the sun. "Then Chase
me, Sköll. Chase me until your paws and fur bleed. Chase me until your tongue dries. And if you
manage to get close enough, Catch me."
"Hunt accepted."
A sharp pain spiked in her ear. Hisolda shook her head, sending the wolf cub tumbling off her
back and down to the grass. She spent her free periods behind the greenhouses sunning herself; several
of the cubs often joined her. And when they tired of mock fighting, they would clamber all over her,
begging for attention. It wasn't within her to deny them. Cubs needed love and attention.
She didn't understand how the humans could part with their children so easily. The purebloods
gave their children away for an entire year when they were only five—just infants who had no way of
protecting themselves.
The only way pureblood werewolves would allow their cubs to attend Hogwarts, or any other
school of witchcraft and wizardry, was if at least one Alpha were present. Alphas were quick to defend
their packs, but especially the cubs. Cubs were the future. Losing the future meant failure and death for
the pack.
Hisolda smelled him before she saw him. She opened her eyes halfway, just as Sköll skulked
around the nearest greenhouse and into sight. He was seventeen hands tall, and his gray fur rippled in
the sunlight. It was captivating, as it had always been to her. Those from the true Greyback line all had
gray fur, regardless of with whom they Mated.
If Sköll won her Chase, her cubs would have gray fur. It wasn't a displeasing thought. His fur
and her eyes would make for stunning cubs, though his eyes were also delightful.
He padded over and then sat behind her. His massive tail curled around her, twitching out of the
reach of the cubs whenever they dove for it. His tongue hung from his mouth in a wolfish grin.
Their play was disrupted when a twig snapped in the Forbidden Forest.
Sköll shot to his feet and stood over her and the cubs, who stopped frolicking and raced to her
side. His fangs glistened as he snarled at the threat. Acromantula smelled of rot and desiccation; this
wasn't the first time one had attempted to steal a cub, and it wouldn't be the last. Hisolda had killed
several of the colony over the years, but the stupid creatures never learned their lesson. They returned
again and again for their fatal punishment.
Hisolda didn't even bother to get up when Sköll slaughtered the intruder. She wouldn't insult
him by implying he couldn't kill the threat on his own. Such behavior would be worthy of a Turned.
A howl of a successful hunt filled the air. She and the cubs joined in the song.
The Acromantula lay mauled on the forest floor, and Sköll returned to her side. He snuffled
against her fur. Even though she hadn't been anywhere near the massacre, he checked her for injuries.
Once he finished inspecting her, he sniffed all the cubs. Then he sat and began to clean the blood off
his fur.
This is what it would be like to have him for my mate, Hisolda thought. Sköll would be
protective and attentive. He would be victorious.
Intrigued at the prospect, she finished cleaning his fur for him. He growled his pleasure. And
when Hisolda was done, Sköll covered her with his tail as she stretched and took a nap, cubs balled up
all along her stomach.
"Will you do me the honor of accompanying me to Hogsmeade this weekend?" Draco Malfoy
asked. He was the Malfoy Heir, the eldest of the three Malfoy children. He was also a Veela; if he had
been a wizard, she would have been insulted at the offer. But Veela understood Magic. They were
another race that Magic favored.
"Sol is otherwise engaged," Sköll said, seeming to appear out of nowhere.
She hadn't even smelled him coming. Was Draco's Allure messing that badly with her sense of
smell? "I don't have plans yet," Hisolda retorted. She hadn't granted Sköll a solitary Chase. Others still
had the option of Catching her—if they dared.
"Yes, you do." Sköll met her stare and refused to back down. "We're having lunch in Diagon
Alley."
An eavesdropper snorted. "How can you eat in Diagon Alley on a Hogsmeade weekend."
Bad move, Hisolda thought. The fastest way to enrage an Alpha was to speak to one in a
condescending or dismissive tone. Alphas couldn't stand it. Hisolda, in particular, loathed it. Being
female didn't make her any less of an Alpha; her fangs and claws were just as able to disembowel and
eviscerate annoyances.
"There's a rare bit of magic that you might not have heard about. It would be understandable, of
course, since only adults can perform it," Sköll snarled, piercing the interloper with his full attention.
"It's called Apparation. Since I'm an adult, I learned all about it."
The boy in Gryffindor robes rolled his eyes. "Whatever." Then he brushed past Sköll,
intentionally bumping into him. "Potter, you look lovely today. Join me for dinner."
Hisolda would give him points for bravery, but it wouldn't bring him out of the hole he had dug
with his stupidity.
Sköll slammed the boy against the nearest wall, holding him in the air by his neck. Rage rolled
out like a tsunami, cresting higher. "Don't give Sol orders. You're not fit to breathe the air she exhales.
You're weak, unintelligent, and crass. You have nothing that would appeal to a pureblood female Alpha
werewolf. Stop reaching for the sun, whelp, before you die in space." Bruises blossomed on the boy's
neck as Sköll dropped him.
His behavior wasn't what was expected of the Head Boy, but no one who witnessed the scene
would be stupid enough to report him for it. For Hisolda, it was darkly attractive.
"Now, then, where was I?" Sköll smoothed the wrinkles in his robes and focused on Draco once
more. "How's your fire, Malfoy? If you really want to escort Sol, you'll need it."
"I've changed my mind," Draco said. He bowed to Hisolda.
Sköll bristled, as if Draco's words were a mortal insult. "Are you saying she's not worth fighting
for?" Frigid, burning anger.
Hisolda would have been upset herself if she thought that was Draco's reasoning. Yet, she knew
her fellow year-mate wasn't stupid. He wouldn't offer to escort her and back out because he was a
coward. He was a Slytherin, but that wasn't synonymous with cowardice; cunning was something
werewolves appreciated. What was the best way to track the prey, hunt the prey, and bring the prey
down?
"Of course she is," Draco replied, before heading toward the dungeons. "I just don't see the
point in fighting you when she's not interested in me." He waved dismissively and went down the stairs
into shadow.
"Oh? That's enlightening," Sköll said. His eyes were an inferno of instincts. His skin rippled, as
if it took every drop of control he possessed not to shift and attack everyone who showed the least
amount of desire for her. He was raring to battle his competitors for the right to her. It was a glorious
sight.
A heady feeling of power came over Hisolda as she recognized his more feral urges. It felt
wondrous to be wanted so desperately.
"Diagon Alley has changed since the last time I was here," Hisolda said as she gazed upon the
towering trees that surrounded her. There was a mountain range to her left, which already had snow on
the peaks. There wasn't a shop or other person around. "I thought you were taking me to lunch."
"I am, Sol." Sköll grinned a wild, assured grin. "Let me hunt for you." He touched her stomach,
rubbing patterns that were distracting.
Oh. He wanted to provide for her already? That was interesting. Hunting gifts were very
special. Something to be treasured, really. She had never given one before; she had received many,
though. The cubs who made their first kills at Hogwarts often brought the kills to her for recognition.
Some went to Sköll, of course, but most presented them to Hisolda.
Hisolda moved away from him and made herself comfortable against a tree. "Don't make me
wait long."
Sköll shifted, butted his head against her chest, and then sped off. He covered the distance with
a ground-eating gallop. He howled the hunting song and was answered by the panicked cry of animals.
What would it be like to hunt with him? she wondered. What would it be like to run beside him,
to leap over logs, splash through streams, weave through trees? What would it be like to corner prey, to
attack, to outsmart it, to win—together?
"It would be fun," Hisolda admitted.
Twenty minutes later, the scent of blood filled her nostrils, whetting her appetite. Sköll entered
the small clearing, dragging an elk, its shattered foreleg clenched between his teeth. He shifted back
and gave a bloody grin. "I hope you're hungry."
To the pureblood witches, the sight would be gruesome. She snickered as she imagined them
fainting and cracking their skulls open on the rocks. Those witches were so stupid, thinking money was
everything. What happened if there was another Goblin rebellion? If the family fortune was lost? If
there wasn't enough food to eat? If the manor burned down? If someone wanted them dead, where
would they hide? Sköll was wealthy, and so was she. Yet, they knew how to survive without money,
without wands, without manors, and without the niceties of polite society. If enemies sought them, they
had dens that were Hidden and Paladins to protect the land.
Hisolda stalked forward and licked the blood off his face. "Famished."
"If you want to procreate, do it somewhere that I can't smell you!" Hisolda ordered after
throwing open the broom cupboard door. The Ravenclaw boy and Gryffindor girl squeaked in fright
and fled, clothes haphazard and thoroughly disheveled.
Sköll, wisely, didn't say a word.
Irritation rankled Hisolda. Her skin felt too tight. The signs were clear; her Heat would be soon.
Sköll shadowed her steps through the school as they finished their rounds.
When they reached the hallway that split off to Gryffindor Tower, Sköll said, "We need to talk.
Tonight."
She knew why he wanted to talk. Since Hisolda had given him permission to Chase her, Sköll
wanted to know if he had proven himself enough to Catch her, to Mate her. If she found his efforts
wanting, he would have to wait another year, spend it impressing her, and hope he could change her
mind before anyone else won the Chase. "No, we don't."
Before he could object, Hisolda shifted her fangs and bit his neck. Her lower jaw crunched into
his collarbone, and her upper fangs sank near his spine. Surprise overpowered Sköll's scent, only to be
conquered by passionate triumph. He howled through shifting vocal cords before returning the favor
and marking her as well. It started out as the worst pain Hisolda had ever experienced, but then their
healing factors kicked it, sealing around the teeth. They loosened their hold slowly, prying their enamel
from tender flesh, and leaving a perfect imprint of their fangs.
Their Mating Marks were complete.
Sköll picked her up and sprinted through Hogwarts, so fast he was almost a blur. He didn't slow
down until a portrait opened, and then closed behind them. He set her on her feet in a room that reeked
of his scent; it dominated the space, almost blocking the smell of the fireplace. "At Hogwarts, this is
our den."
He watched her with covetous eyes as she walked around the room, trailing her hands along
furniture and rubbing up against walls. Their scents mingled together. Joined, they smelled like
belonging, not alone, and mine, but yours.
"Father laughed himself hoarse when he found out Hati Caught the moon." Sköll prowled after
her. "I was jealous, at first, but I got over that quickly. The moon is close. The moon is cold. The moon
is easy to Catch." Hisolda entered his bedroom, and he followed her, as he had been for a very long
time. "The sun is far, far away. It burns like Pompeii. I wondered if it was even possible to Catch the
sun."
Hisolda felt the fever under her skin rising in temperature. It ached for relief. "What will he do
when he learns that Sköll Caught the sun?"
Sköll pressed her into the mattress and nuzzled her cheek. Hisolda returned the gesture. His
scent was overwhelming. "Prepare for Ragnarök."
She buried her fingers in his hair and devoured his lips; he tasted of constrained violence and
unreachable power. "And you? Will you prepare for the end of the world?"
Sköll plundered Hisolda's mouth and petted her scorching skin. "Oh, Sol, don't you know? This
isn't an ending." His ministrations left her light-headed and dazed. "It's the exact opposite, Sol. This is
our beginning."
*Chapter 16*: He Finally Had a Family of His Own

Title: He Finally Had a Family of His Own


Pairings: Harry Potter/Astoria Potter and Neville Longbottom/Daphne Longbottom
Harry Potter pulled his wife closer to his chest, rubbing one hand over her stomach. A little foot
kicked against his palm, and the grin on Harry's face was blinding. After three years of peace, he was
finally going to be a father. He finally had a family of his own. "Hey, little man," he whispered. "Are
you going to make an appearance soon? You've kept us waiting an extra two weeks already."
The baby kicked again.
Astoria Potter groaned and carefully rolled over, so that her swollen stomach rested between
them. "Why couldn't our first one have been a scholar, Harry? No, you had to make a Quidditch player
in me. A Beater, by the feel of him."
She was so beautiful. Harry blushed, ducked his head, and grinned. His other hand tangled in
her strawberry-blonde hair. He gave her a loving kiss. "Sorry." Not really, though. He would never be
sorry about making a family with her. How could he ever regret a dream that came true?
"I don't believe you," huffed Astoria, eyes sparkling.
That was because she knew him so well. Laughing, Harry buried his face in her hair. "You're
right. I'm not. You're giving me a family, Astoria. The next one can be a scholar. This is my son, you
know. He's supposed to play Quidditch. He's got to be strong so he can protect his brothers, but mostly
his sisters, from anyone who wants to hurt them, or flirt with them." One child would never be enough.
Harry had too much love to give.
Astoria snickered and carded her fingers through his hair. "So your daughters are going to
attract unwanted suitors, are they? What makes you think that?" She scratched his scalp; it sent shivers
down his back. He loved it when she did that.
She wasn't serious, was she? Harry stared at her as if she had just declared her tarot cards were
useless. "Well, duh, Astoria! Haven't you ever looked in a mirror?" Astoria was stunning, everything
about her appealed to him. Accidentally winning her betrothal contract by Disarming Draco Malfoy
was the luckiest happenstance of his life. "Our daughters—plural, of course—are going to have men
after them like crazy. Draco Malfoy, International Abraxan Racer, ringing any bells?"
Blushing, Astoria kissed him. It didn't last nearly long enough. "That was just a little crush. He
was never you, Harry. All I've ever wanted was you. You're the only one I've ever loved," she
confessed. "I was hoping to make you jealous and catch your attention, is all. It was very silly and
immature of me. Then when my father signed the betrothal contract, thinking I was serious about Draco
. . . well, I thought I'd lost you."
She would never lose him.
"Well, it worked," Harry said. He could easily remember how irritated he had been to see
Astoria all dressed up and in another wizard's arms. That was the night he had realized he fancied her.
It was downright embarrassing that it had taken him so long to understood how he felt, especially since
Professor Flitwick had assigned Harry as her official tutor for her O.W.L.s. Not that Astoria needed
much help. She was brilliant, as was the hallmark of their House.
And just when he managed to garner the courage to ask her about courting, her betrothal to
Draco was announced in the Daily Prophet. That was horrible.
The first night he was at Grimmauld Place, Sirius Black, his godfather, had nudged him with a
bony elbow and winked. "Taking after your dad, eh? Can't blame you, Prongslet. Beautiful and smart is
a rare combination. Just keep it in your trousers until you're bonded, all right? If you really love her,
treat her right."
I thought I'd die of embarrassment, he remembered fondly.
Harry blushed at the memory and traced his fingertips across Astoria's stomach, grin widening
with each kick against his palm. Harry had waited, as Sirius advised, despite the overwhelming
temptation on occasion. He needed her—always. It was worth it. Waiting to consummate their love was
worth it because it let them bond, instead of marry. It soothed the niggling doubts in the back of his
mind that she would eventually get tired of him, or that he wouldn't be able to make her happy. Their
magic had been entwined together, strengthening both of them, and guaranteed that the child in her
stomach was his.
Not that he thought Astoria would ever cheat on him . . . because he didn't. She's too pure for
those type of thoughts to even enter her head.
However, after losing so much in his life, the added reassurance of her love and safety, which
radiated through him, eased his mind. His orphan self felt comforted. The little child who thought
everyone who loved him would either die or abandon him of their own free will trusted in Astoria. He
trusted her completely. It was a scary thought some days, because absolute trust led to the worst of
betrayals. She wouldn't betray him. Harry knew she wouldn't.
"Harry, you know I love you. More than anything in the world." Astoria pressed herself against
him. "I never apologized before, but it was wrong of me to try to make you jealous like that. I just—I
thought you would never notice me. I thought you'd break my heart."
The betrothal contract with Draco broke his. Harry would never tell her that. He would never
tell her about the nights he spent in the Room of Requirement, downing bottles of Firewhisky. It hadn't
made him forget reality; it only gave him blinding headaches and helped him become overly
acquainted with a toilet. He hadn't handled the news maturely.
"There's nothing to forgive, Astoria. How could I want you to apologize for anything that led us
here? You're my wife, my lady." He slid his hand down her arm and grasped her left hand, raising it to
kiss the jeweled heirloom ring—the same bonding ring his mother had worn. "You were my first
everything. You're carrying my child, love. You've given me a family." Harry's jaw hardened. "Never
apologize for that."
The thought of anything tearing his family away from him was the source of Harry's worst
nightmares. Because if he had learned anything in life, it was that happiness was fleeting. Maybe he
would get lucky for once.
Astoria squinted at him in the evening light, and then nodded. "All right, Harry. All right." She
wrapped her arms around his neck and tugged him close for a kiss. Kissing Astoria was like coming
home; it was safe and loving, but had undertones of passionate longing and desire. When she finally
withdrew, Astoria smirked at the look he gave her. Harry stared at her as if she were the only woman
he ever saw, and he knew she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want our sons to have your eyes," Astoria said as she brushed her thumb underneath his right
eye. "But at the same time, I don't. I don't want any other witch in the universe to know what it's like to
lie in bed with your eyes looking at them like that." She nuzzled his cheek. "That fiery need in your
eyes belongs to me, Harry. No one else should see it."
Harry's breath stuttered in his chest and he stroked a hand down Astoria's back. "Then we'll just
have to ask Mother Magic to make sure our daughters get my eyes." It seemed like a silly thing to say,
but the smile that lit Astoria's face made him ache. The simple words had made her so happy. He knew
she was possessive of him, worried that he—the Lord Conqueror—would slip through her fingers even
now. She still woke up from nightmares and reached for him with desperate hands, as if he had
vanished from their bed.
That year they spent on the run still haunted her. It was all his fault.
Cho Chang had tried to catch his eye in fifth year, after Cedric Diggory's death, to no avail;
Luna Lovegood was his friend and he refused to consider anyone who bullied her. Romilda Vane had
attempted to dose him with a love potion in sixth year when he was visiting the Gryffindor common
room, and caught Ron Weasley instead. And Ginny Weasley had sought to win his heart out of a
misguided sense of hero-worship, and in repayment for saving her life.
Ginny was the only one who hadn't sparked a sharp, bitter resentment in Astoria's eyes. Astoria
and he had sat down with Ginny and explained that they were together, she owed Harry nothing, and
that would never change. The relief on Ginny's face had been painful to see; she had burst into tears
and flung herself at them, thanking them for releasing her from a pureblood maiden's debt bond. Harry
hadn't known at the time what it was, but Astoria had supplied the words he needed to say to fix the
whole situation. Now Ginny, his little sister in all but blood, was engaged to Michael Corner. Harry
couldn't be happier for her.
Astoria cuddled against him. "That'll work nicely. Good idea, Harry. Mother Magic likes you,
so I'm sure she'll answer your prayer."
"Sure she does," Harry agreed. He still wasn't used to all the Olde Religion stuff. Astoria had
told him all about it. She believed that their children should be raised in the proper traditions of magic,
something he had never had: Harry's parents having died before they could pass any of it along.
Praying to Mother Magic was odd, but nothing bad ever came from it. In fact, more than once, he
would even dare to say it helped. "So, no other woman gets to see my bedroom eyes?" he teased,
wiggling his eyebrows. "Even in the face of my sons?" The firstborn would be James.
Astoria's eyelids fell to half-mast. "Would you want any other wizard to see my eyes like this?"
she purred as her fingers walked across his chest.
If Draco had seen her eyes burning with desire, he never would've stopped attempting to catch
Harry by surprise and Disarm him to win back her contract. Livid fury ate at Harry. The Elder Wand
appeared in his hand without a single word on his part. It returned itself to him in times of high emotion
or danger, regardless of how often he left it in Dumbledore's tomb. Maybe he would stop taking it
there. Maybe it came back for a reason. "You're mine." It was a statement of fact, nothing less.
"Of course I am," agreed Astoria as she eased the Elder Wand out of his hand and put it on the
bedside table. "I am, Harry. That's something you never have to worry about. I swear it." She kissed
him with loyal devotion this time, no hint of teasing to be found. "Why don't we make it fair and ask
Mother Magic to give my eyes to our sons, then?"
Harry whispered, "Yeah, okay," against her neck as he buried his face against it. The thought of
anyone seeing that look in her eyes—that sheer need, which belonged to him alone—frightened him.
He would do almost anything to keep that to himself; it was more personal and private than most things
in his life. He treasured that look. It was genuine love, something impossible to fake. When that look
was in his wife's eyes it was because she wanted him, just Harry: her husband.
The baby kicked hard, drawing Harry's gaze down to her stomach. "Hey, little man. Are you
ready to come out yet? We love you. We want to meet you." The baby stilled. "I guess not," Harry
sighed. Each day past the due date was excruciating; nine months was already long enough! "Stop
hogging your mum," muttered Harry.
Astoria laughed and ruffled Harry's hair. "From what I've heard, your dad was a total mum's
boy. This is what you get for deciding to name our firstborn James Sirius."
"Hey!" Harry wrinkled his nose with false affront. "Sirius left his mum because she was horrid;
I figured it would balance out." None of his children would have a bad mother.
"And then went to live with your grandmother, clinging to his favorite older cousin as much as
James did," Astoria retorted with a smile. "Let's face it, this kid is going to be a total mum's boy. It
must run in the Potter genes. He hasn't even been born yet and he doesn't want to share me."
Harry pouted and then poked her stomach. "Then you're giving me a daughter next. As soon as
possible." He winked. It had been much too long. "And she'll be a daddy's girl. As head of this family,
I've decided it shall be so!" he declared with a cheeky grin.
Astoria snorted. Her curls tangled together as she giggled in his arms. "And what, oh head of
the family, will this daughter I must provide as soon as possible—after birthing your heir—be named?
Or do I not get any say in this?"
The solemnity of Harry's face was uncharacteristic, as his words echoed through their
bedchamber. However, he had long ago decided what he would name his firstborn daughter, and he
knew Astoria, of all people, would never disagree with it. "Lilith Amaranth Potter," he breathed. After
his mother and hers, who both died to keep their children safe.
Silence hung in the air, before Astoria shattered it. "That's . . ."
"Perfect," Harry finished for her. "I know it doesn't bring up pleasant memories, love." He
kissed her cheek. "But I'll never forget that she died to keep you safe, so that you could return to me.
When Bellatrix dragged you out of the dungeon in Malfoy Manor, I thought . . ." Harry shuddered. He
remembered throwing himself at the door, desperate to break it down. All he ended up accomplishing
was dislocating his shoulder. "If your mum hadn't been able to fight Bellatrix off until Dobby
arrived—" He choked on terror. Astoria couldn't die. He was the Master of Death. She wasn't going
anywhere.
"I—" Astoria started crying and fought against the blankets, pushing them away and sliding out
of his arms. "I . . . I have to go to the bathroom," she finished, an obvious lie.
"I'll keep the bed warm for you," Harry said, worried eyes on his wife. Whenever he brought up
that day, Astoria broke down and left the room. She had never given him all the details, and he would
never ask her; the traumatized look in her eyes when Dobby freed them told of the horrors she had
faced. He had been an infant when he saw his mum die, and the Dementors still brought the memory
forth. How much worse must it be since she was old enough to take in every detail?
Astoria doubled over and yelped. She clutched her stomach as her water broke. "The baby!"
Harry scrambled to her side. This was his fault. He shouldn't have upset her. What if something
went wrong? "Everything's going to be fine, Astoria," Harry said. The Elder Wand was in his hand
again. "I promise."
"Daphne," Astoria gasped, as Harry settled her back against the pillows. "Get Daphne."
"Are you sure you don't want to go to St. Mungo's?" he asked. Since Astoria found out she was
pregnant, she had been insistent on giving birth in the manor. She claimed it would be safer, but wasn't
allowed to give him an explanation of why. All she would say is that it had something to do with
Morgana's Secret Arts. While Harry respected Astoria's sister, Daphne was still in training. She wasn't
a certified Healer yet. What if she made a mistake?
Astoria grabbed his wrist. "Promise me, H-Harry." She whimpered, tears rolling down her
cheeks. "Get Daphne. No hospitals."
If he knew why she was so adamant, it would be so much easier to give his word. As it was, he
would just have to trust her. "I promise." He snapped his fingers.
Dobby's widow appeared at his side. "Master?"
"Do what you can to help. I'm getting her sister."
"Of course, Master. Taffy being helping the Mistress."
Harry kissed Astoria's sweaty forehead and sprinted for the nearest fireplace. He almost
dropped the tin of Floo powder three times before he successfully opened it and threw some on the
crackling flames. Once they turned green, he yelled "Longbottom Manor!" and thrust his head inside.
Neville dropped his quill. "Harry?" He jumped up from the desk in his study. "What's wrong?
It's almost midnight!"
"Daphne. Astoria needs Daphne. Now." His fingers scrabbled at the floor before the fireplace.
He wanted to take Astoria to St. Mungo's, but he had a feeling she wouldn't forgive him if he did. Why
did witches have to have rituals and Secret Arts and other things that terrified him? He needed to know!
Information kept him from falling apart. He had always needed to know why, how, what, when, where,
and dozens of other questions. That's why the blasted hat had screamed "Ravenclaw!" before it even
touched his head.
"I'll get her, Harry. We'll be there as quickly as we can," Neville assured him before hurrying
from the room.
Harry ran back to the master bedroom. Astoria's head thrashed against the pillows as Taffy
wiped her brow. She was muttering in a language Harry didn't know; the syllables rolled from her
tongue. Her magic reacted, but Harry had no idea what it was doing. Her stomach rippled against her
soaked nightgown. Her feet kicked. "What's happening?"
"Taffy is forbidden to tell Master. Master needs not be worrying. Mistress is strong." Taffy
grinned at Harry. "Young Master is being very powerful."
"Move, Harry!" He stepped to the side, allowing Daphne to pass him. "Now get out."
"What?" She was mental if she thought he was leaving!
Daphne turned on him. He had never seen her angry before; it was a fearsome sight. "You can't
be here, Harry. You'll make it worse. Go keep Neville company!" she ordered.
"How could I possibly make it worse?" He wasn't the one who was pregnant! What did his
presence matter? He wanted to be there when the baby was born. Harry crossed his arms, prepared to
stand his ground.
"Because your bloody magic has been touched by Death twice! I'm not a fool, Harry. I know
you have the Hallows. Do you think Death wants to be enslaved?" Daphne raised her hand, as if she
would dearly like to slap some sense into him. "I'm not taking any chances that Death will steal my
sister or her son to free himself from never-ending bondage to your bloodline. So, for the last time,
Harry, get out."
He stumbled from the room to the bathroom down the hall. Harry kneeled before the toilet and
threw up everything he had eaten for dinner. His skin felt cold and clammy. Once his son was born,
Death would be permanently bound to the Potter bloodline? His position as Master of Death was
hereditary? "Did you know?" he croaked, when Neville entered the room with a concerned look on his
face.
Neville nodded and rocked back on his heels. "Daphne shared Astoria's concerns with me."
"Astoria's concerns?" She hadn't said anything to him! There hadn't even been an inkling to lead
him to suspect she was concerned about anything like this. Why hadn't she told him? Didn't she trust
him?
Neville hauled Harry to his feet and dragged him over to the lounge. They collapsed
side-by-side on the couch. "She didn't want you to spend nine months agonizing over something you
can't control, Harry. She knew you would tear yourself to pieces. All she wanted was for you to be
happy, to keep smiling at her."
Harry folded his knees against his chest like a child. "And if she dies?"
"She won't."
His chuckle was bitter and lacked all humor. "You can't know that." It would be his fault if
Astoria died. He would be a failure. Dad died to protect Mum; he didn't kill her. Harry swallowed his
gorge, not desiring another trip to the bathroom.
"Astoria won't die, Harry," Neville said patiently.
He smushed his cheek against his knee and stared at his friend. "What makes you think that?"
Harry was desperate enough for any reassurance at this point. Please, Mother Magic, please don't take
her away.
"Because she knows you hate being left behind."
Tears fell intermittently as the hours passed. Harry's knees ached, but he didn't loosen his grip.
The parts of him that weren't crumbling to pieces were monitoring the wards, which kept shifting and
flickering. They grew stronger, changing from a dull gray to a piercing ivory as the night dragged on.
Then, just as the sun crested the horizon, stinging his gritty eyes, Daphne walked into the room. She
slumped against the wall, exhaustion in every line of her body, wearing the most tender smile Harry
had ever seen on her face.
"Well," she prompted, "aren't you going to see your family, Harry?"
His knees popped as he stretched out his legs and stood. "Is she . . . ?"
"They're fine, Harry. It went well. The danger's passed."
The danger had passed. The danger had passed. Thank you, Mother Magic! Harry walked, then
ran, back to the master bedroom. He stopped at the threshold, heart in his throat. The bedding had been
changed, as had Astoria's nightgown. She was pristine. Her hair was in one long braid. She sat against
the pillows, a baby with fuzzy black hair lying on her chest.
"Harry." His name was filled with gentle love. "Come meet your son." Astoria held out one
hand, beckoning him closer.
Harry walked over and took it in his. She was still alive. He closed his eyes and whispered a
prayer of gratitude. The baby fussed, and Harry couldn't help the breathless laugh that escaped when he
saw that his son had Astoria's eyes, just as they had been discussing earlier. "He has your eyes."
"I know." Astoria petted the baby's hair. "Mother Magic heard us."
His desperate, oft repeated prayer of the past several hours echoed in his head: Please, Mother
Magic, please don't take her away. "Yes, she did." He almost couldn't get the words out, he was so
choked up with awe and wonder and thankfulness.
Astoria took the baby's little hand in her own and brushed it against Harry's. "This is your dad,
James. He's going to spoil you rotten. He's going to buy you a broomstick much too early, and teach
you to fly it recklessly. He's going to protect you from everything." She kissed him. "And he's going to
love you with his whole heart."
He didn't think he had any tears left, but he felt them trickle down his cheeks. He never would
have imagined his life being happy after losing his parents, a miserable childhood with the Dursleys,
the war, and almost losing Astoria three times. Harry brushed a knuckle against a baby soft cheek and
whispered, "Hello, James, welcome to the family." Life had surprised him in the best way.
*Chapter 17*: The Enchantress in His Arms

Title: The Enchantress in His Arms


Pairing: Regulus Black/Harriet Potter
It was obvious—to any pureblood with an established spy network—that James Potter's "little
sister" was actually his daughter, who had traveled back through time. Luckily for Regulus Black,
house-elves were horrible gossips. Kreacher's second cousin, three times removed, worked for the
Potters and blabbed when he was drunk on Butterbeer.
What wasn't common knowledge, because Regulus knew how to keep his mouth shut, was that
Harriet Potter had saved his life. She found him inside a cave and rescued him from Inferi. He, Regulus
Black, had to be rescued. Disgraceful. At the time, he was too stunned to protest when she took
Slytherin's locket from him, winked, and then whispered, "Our little secret."
When the Dark Lord mysteriously disappeared less than a week later, taking his Dark Mark in
the process, Regulus was livid. He spent all that time uncovering the Dark Lord's secrets, and he wasn't
even the one who got to destroy him. That was overshadowed by the realization that he was finally free
of the insane half-blood to whom he had unwisely bound himself. Never again, he swore to himself. He
would never follow anyone ever again. From now on, he would lead.
To celebrate the Dark Lord's demise, the Ministry of Magic threw a large gala. Anyone who
was anyone (and some people who frankly weren't) was there. Regulus had no idea how his brother
was in attendance, seeing as he had been disinherited, unless he was James Potter's plus one. That
would open up a whole slew of jokes, which might be too distasteful for him. That would be rare. He
was so irreverent. Regulus would have been content to ignore his banished brother, because Sirius
wasn't as special as he thought he was, except for the fact that his mysterious rescuer was standing with
him and James.
She was wearing a daring dress in dark purple. It flattered her figure. He might have been
tempted to introduce himself even if she hadn't saved his life. "And who might this be?" asked Regulus.
"Go away, Regulus. She's not interested," Sirius snapped before stepping closer to her.
Oh, then why did she save his life? Besides, introductions were just formalities at this point. He
knew who she was. She was from the future. "Don't be so rude, Sirius."
James Potter glared at him before saying, "Harriet, this is Heir Regulus Black. Heir Black, this
is my twin sister Harriet. She's been attending school at Beauxbatons. It's safer there these days."
Regulus snorted. It was the worst cover story he had heard in his life, and seeing as Sirius and
James were Marauders, that was an impressive feat to surpass. Their excuses were always pathetic, yet
the professors were always stupid enough to believe them and let them off the hook, with a detention
every now and then. Blatant favoritism, he sneered.
Regulus lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles, lingering longer than was
polite—much to Sirius's visual displeasure. For once, though, he wasn't doing it to get a rise out of his
brother. For the first time in his eighteen years of life, Regulus was genuinely interested in a witch. The
fact that Sirius seemed to feel the same way only heightened his determination to have her.
Besides, she didn't have to save his life. She had chosen to be there when she knew he would
die. Harriet must've saved him for a reason; nothing else made sense. Why, though? Why was he worth
saving, in her opinion?
"May I have this dance, Heiress Potter?" Regulus asked.
Harriet smiled at him, bright and secretive. "Of course, Heir Black."
As Sirius spluttered and James announced that he hadn't given her permission to waltz, Regulus
led her onto the dance floor. The music for a waltz started up; he cocked an eyebrow in challenge. To
his delight, she accepted. Oh, she was rebellious. Yes, he quite liked that. James would be having fits.
It was a scandalous dance in general, but they managed to make it even more so. Regulus held her flush
against him, enjoying each and every curve and dip he could feel, which was all of them. Hmm, she
didn't just look stunning; she felt marvelous as well.
With every society matron or miss who gasped in shock or horror, Harriet's smile grew. She
winked at him. "Ruffling their feathers is so much fun, isn't it?"
Regulus snickered, because he had always felt the same way. He, like Sirius, was not fond of
constrictive rules and protocols. However, they rebelled in different ways. Whereas Sirius had seen fit
to abandon almost everything he had been taught, and throw tantrums until he was disowned, Regulus
had toed the line of propriety. And, by that, he meant that he tried to get as close to crossing the line as
he could without really going over it. His words were always just this side of crass, scandalous, crude,
vulgar, disdainful, dishonorable, and vicious.
"Yes," Regulus agreed. He pressed his nose into her hair; it smelled like lilacs. "Would you like
to make some of them faint? I haven't been able to accomplish that on my own, despite all my efforts to
the contrary." It was frustrating, because he hated leaving a goal unaccomplished. At the same time, he
disliked asking anyone for help. Regulus was a capable wizard, thank you very much.
"Save a man's life and he still asks for more of you." She rolled her eyes. "Wizards!" Harriet
smirked, her green eyes sparkling with mischievous delight. "What did you have in mind?"
It was nice to know that she didn't think he was an idiot. At least Harriet wasn't trying to
pretend they had never met. That would make her much less interesting. He couldn't stand women who
doubted his intelligence; he was almost dead at the time, not unobservant! "Do you tango, Harriet?"
Regulus asked, dropping the title all together. His smirk widened when she didn't slap him for it. Oh
yes, this one was very, very interesting.
Her laughter was warm and loud, not delicate and fake like most ladies'. It sucked him in and
made him wish she would never stop. As they turned again, he saw that Sirius's attention was wrapped
up in the witch in his arms. That wouldn't do at all. She probably already had some natural affection for
his cursed brother. With how close he and James were, Harriet must have known him in the future. In
fact, Sirius had probably been her godfather, which made Sirius's interest in her deeply disturbing.
Keeping her to himself was a kindness on Regulus's part.
"Regulus, darling," Harriet bantered, much to his pleasure, "don't ask asinine questions." Her
magic twitched, and the musicians switched right into a passionate piece of music that was perfect for
the tango. The other couples fled the dance floor. She lifted her leg and wrapped it around his hips,
baring her calf.
Nice and shapely. Regulus traced his fingers up her smooth skin, then over her skirt. He grasped
her hip possessively and dragged her backward across the dance floor. "My apologies, Harriet. I'll
make sure to avoid them in the future." Ah, he was already planning to see her again. She was a little
enchantress. He never wanted to see a witch again. Regulus massaged her hip with his fingers and
dipped her so deeply that her chest would've spilled from her gown if the cut were lower. Regulus
scowled at the thought and righted her again.
He had a horrible urge to punch anyone who stared at her chest like a filthy Muggle. There was
something wrong with him. A Black cursed people, not punched.
Her browed furrowed. "You're scowling, darling. What's wrong? Am I boring you?" Harriet
asked. She turned her head to the right and pressed her cheek against his.
James was turned away from them, his face a fiery red. He wasn't a very good father, or fake
twin brother, was he? Allowing his embarrassment to overcome his duty to protect her. James Potter,
what a surprising disappointment he had become. However, Regulus was more interested in the fact
that Sirius's wand was in his hand. He didn't think he had ever seen his brother so absolutely murderous
before. It was lovely.
Regulus twirled Harriet out, so that her skirt flared magnificently, and then pulled her back
against his chest. He pressed their opposite cheeks together and marched her away from Sirius. "Even I,
my dear, believe that some parts of a woman should be savored in private." Because at some point, he
did think they would be in private.
Harriet batted her eyelashes coyly. "You make my body sound like a buffet, Regulus. Should I
be worried for my virtue?" She didn't sound worried at all.
He grabbed her left thigh and hauled her leg around him again, before proceeding to lead her
across the dance floor. "Not at all," Regulus purred. "I'll take good care of it."
She was quiet for a moment, and then chuckled ruefully. "It figures that the most honest
bonding offer I've ever received would come from a Death Eater that managed to betray Voldemort and
live."
Oh, he didn't like that at all. How many bonding offers had she received? "I aim to surprise,"
Regulus drawled. He stared down into her eyes and knew that his interest wouldn't wane. She had too
much history, too much sass, too much magic, and too much wit to ever bore him. And really, he would
be doing her a disservice by letting her bond with anyone else; those idiots would actually believe that
she had spent the past however many years over in France.
"Hmm. Heiress Black." Harriet's lips twisted in a moue of intrigue. "I've certainly been given
worse titles by the Daily Prophet over the years."
Regulus dipped her again, but he made sure to angle her just right this time, so that he was the
only one who got to enjoy a view of Harriet's assets. They were delightful. "Is that a yes, then?" She
didn't answer him, which was very annoying. "I suppose I could find time for a few Marriage Dates
first, to ease your fears," he said grudgingly. "As long as you quickly realize I'm the only one who
deserves you."
She arched an eyebrow. "Confident much?"
Regulus smirked. "Very." He pulled her even closer, smug that her pupils were dilated. "You
clearly want me, Harriet." She shivered in his arms. "Is that a yes, then?" he repeated.
Harriet's delightful laughter filled the ballroom again. "I suppose it is, darling."
This was going to be a fun challenge. He looked forward to it. "Excellent," Regulus said. He
grinned and then stole her lips in a kiss. She was a total novice, much to his satisfaction. That makes
eight, Regulus thought as another lady fainted. Well, the gala had actually been worth his time. What a
shock!
"Get your hands off her!" Sirius yelled, magic fluctuating.
James's head whipped around at Sirius's outcry; his jaw dropped. His cheeks flushed, and he
vibrated with rage. It was amusing. What did the little Light wizards think they could possibly do to
him? He could wipe the floor with them without even trying.
Regulus never hated his brother per se (because hatred would imply that Sirius was worthwhile
enough to occupy his thoughts); he just loathed the way that his elder brother looked at his intended.
For once, it was his turn to get what Sirius wanted. Sirius had already gotten what Regulus wanted too
many times. Mother Magic had turned the tables for once. Deal with it!
He smirked at Sirius's reaction. It was as childish as he expected. Regulus twirled Harriet out of
the way of hexes, jinxes, and curses as Sirius attacked. Like the cowards they were, the audience didn't
try to help. His brother launched a frontal assault, which was just foolish. Regulus had always been the
better dueler; there was a reason he was Mum's favorite. Regulus had taken to Dark Magic like one of
the Merpeople to water.
"Sirius, you might hit Harriet!" James yelled. He grabbed Sirius's wand arm and forced his hand
down to the floor, before ripping his wand from his grasp.
This was the most fun he'd had at a gala in his entire life. Scandal. Shock and awe. Illegal duels.
Brilliant! Regulus laughed and relished in his power. He was a Black. He was cunning enough to
outwit the Dark Lord and locate one of his precious Horcruxes. He was vigilant enough to utilize the
house-elf network to spy on everyone who was anyone (and some people who frankly weren't), and
amass mounds of blackmail. He might have started at the bottom of the social ladder—a second born
son, the spare—but soon enough, no one would be higher than him.
Hmm, Minister Regulus Black, youngest Minister for Magic in history. It had a nice ring to it.
Regulus rejoiced in all that was possible, in all the doors that opened to him, because a rule-breaking
witch had traveled back in time.
*Chapter 18*: You Know Why I Hide Away

NOTE: This is a prequel to "Don't You Ever Turn Away From Me".
Title: You Know Why I Hide Away
Pairing: Jamie Potter/Regulus Black and Dorea Potter/Charlus Potter
First Time:
"Is Lady Potter being wanting anything else?" the house-elf asked.
Jamie Potter shook her head and accepted the cup of Earl Grey tea. All she wanted right now
was for everyone to stop asking her whom she would choose as her bonding partner. Being the first
daughter born into the family for five generations wasn't pleasant. She suddenly found herself Lady
Potter and Head of the Family. Her mother Dorea had held it in trust for her until she turned seventeen,
but control switched to Jamie when she came of age. Finally, after three hundred years, there was a
viable Potter Matriarch.
Oh, she had known it was coming. Her parents had prepared her since childhood to be able to
run their estate. However, she felt like she had been thrown off a cliff without a broomstick.
"What about Sirius? He's so in love with you!" Jamie said, mocking Clara Clearwater. She had
heard variations of that statement for the past few years, but the increasing frequency frustrated her. It
didn't matter how many times she told her friends she didn't love Sirius like that, because none of them
believed her.
"I'm not in denial!" she snapped. The biscuit she had just picked up snapped in half. Sighing,
Jamie ate it anyway. Sirius Black had been her friend since the day she met him on the Hogwarts
Express. He was funny and entertaining, and he didn't take himself too seriously. He also didn't give
much stock to appropriate protocol in her presence. If he really was making a bid to win her heart and
receive a courtship offer from her, he had gone about it the wrong way.
If Jamie's parents had ever given her a brother, she imagined he would be like Sirius; they
would've certainly gotten into trouble together. And while she was protective of Sirius, that was
because she didn't want any of the pureblood witches to take advantage of him. His desire to rebel
against his parents was great, and she didn't want to see him ruined or trapped in a bonding with
someone who would do everything in her power to turn Sirius into a 'proper pureblood heir'.
The door to the kitchens opened; Jamie was surprised at the interruption. She could only be out
this late because she was Head Girl. Her shock increased when she realized that the intruder was not
only a Slytherin, but also a male at that. Curfew for wizards was earlier—to protect them from the
unscrupulous witches who thought despoiling them was the highest form of entertainment.
There was a reason Jamie never left Sirius alone in the presence of Muggle-born females, after
all. They tended to have a less strict view of purity, and wizards were known for being weak-willed,
because they wanted to belong to a witch and create a family, to have the hole in their magic filled and
feel complete. It was a witch's duty and honor to stay strong and protect the wizards from themselves.
As he walked over to the table, Jamie realized that he was Sirius's younger brother Regulus. His
magic was twitchy, and hers reached out to soothe his.
His head snapped up, gray-blue eyes widening with horror. "Don't—" Regulus stared at her for
a moment, and then relaxed. "Oh, it's you." The trepidation that had consumed him melted away as if it
had never been. He was taller than Sirius, easily over six feet, even though he was only fifteen. Or was
it sixteen? She couldn't remember. He wasn't gangly like other wizards his age.
"It's me?" Jamie asked, wondering if she should be offended. What had he meant by that?
Regulus nodded and sank into another chair at the table. He took one of the teacups and filled it
with her Earl Grey tea from the teapot. "Yes, it's you. Potter honor and all that. I don't have to worry
about being defiled." He didn't even look at her as he gave his explanation. Regulus blew on the
steaming tea and then sipped it.
Jamie laughed. That was the most backhanded compliment she had ever gotten. And because of
that, it was probably the most sincere as well. His reaction when he felt her magic combined with his
words sucked the humor out of the situation as she made the disturbing connection. "Is that a common
worry of yours?"
Regulus emptied his cup and set it back on the table, a scowl on his face. It did nothing to
diminish his attractiveness. "Thank you for the tea," he said as he stood. "Sorry for bothering you."
"You weren't," Jamie assured him.
As he left the room, Jamie couldn't help but notice that he hadn't answered her question.
Second Time:
"Well, if you're not craving Sirius—and I still don't believe that for a minute—what about
Reginald Davies? He's a Ravenclaw, so he'll be smart enough to tutor any kids you have. And his bum
is the finest—"
Jamie didn't even bother to excuse herself before storming out of the common room. Peony
Patil's words frustrated her to no end. How could they objectify anyone like that? She didn't
understand! People were more than the sum of their physical characteristics.
Much to her disgust, Lily Evans—a former Muggle-born—was the only witch in her year who
seemed to understand that. Then again, Lily had proven herself to be better than her origins by learning
all about her status as a new blood witch. Then, to Jamie's delight, she had comported herself in an
honorable manner. Just this past summer, Lily had offered for Severus Snape; the offer had been
accepted. Jamie, personally, didn't see what Severus's appeal was, but it was an obvious love match.
She stalked through corridors and down staircases, only stopping once she reached the painting
of the fruit. Jamie reached up and tickled the pear; it giggled and opened for her.
Jamie was stunned to see that she wasn't the only occupant in the kitchen. Regulus Black was
seated in the same chair he had occupied the last time he had joined her, which was over a month ago.
He was staring into his teacup as if its depths held the answers to every question in the universe.
When the portrait closed behind her, he didn't move at all. Even though it shut with a loud
thump. It was dangerous for him to be so absorbed in anything and unaware of his surroundings. He
was a Black, and would've been taught not to be careless. What was so important that it held all his
attention captive?
"Lady Potter!" several house-elves yelled in unison. "What can we be doing for you?"
Regulus's head snapped up, eyes landing on her. A look of surprise covered his face, only to be
snuffed by frustration and self-disgust. He stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I lost track of
time. Sorry. I should've been gone by now so I wouldn't disturb you."
He was timing his visits so as not to bother her? That was sweet, but unnecessary. Jamie didn't
mind company that didn't fawn over her or beg to know with whom she desired to bond. Regulus had
never even addressed her by her title, and even though it was a massive breach of manners—ones
meant to keep things formal and distant so unwanted and unsafe attachments wouldn't occur—Jamie
didn't mind. She had never been fond of bowing, scraping, and kowtowing.
"You can stay if you want," Jamie said, making sure it didn't sound like an order. Because while
she could force him to keep her company, she never would. Overruling anyone's free will was wrong
on too many levels to count.
The wrinkliest house-elf in the kitchen pushed its way through the others and smiled up at her.
"What tea would you be liking tonight, Lady Potter?"
"Jasmine, please," Jamie said. As every house-elf rushed off to fulfill her request, she walked
over to the table and claimed the seat she always sat in. It was old and worn, but very comfortable.
"Are you sure?" asked Regulus, attention solely on her face.
"I understand the need to get away from people and situations. That's why I hide away in the
kitchen every night," Jamie elaborated, hoping to set him at ease. She didn't like the thought of any
wizard feeling uncomfortable in her presence; she was trustworthy. She wasn't going to maul him,
regardless of how attractive he was to her. "Otherwise I'd be in Azkaban for maiming heiresses of
various pureblood families."
Regulus snorted and flopped gracelessly back into his chair. "What would inspire a maiming
from a Potter, I wonder?" He watched her out of the corners of his eyes, as if he expected her to brush
his question aside and ignore him.
Jamie lived to disappoint people's expectations. It was one of her favorite pastimes; she
wouldn't let other's thoughts and opinions control what she did—not ever. "Sirius is so in love with
you, Lady Potter. And his silver eyes remind me of Sickles! He's so fit. Why haven't you bonded with
him yet?" Jamie repeated their words in a sickly-sweet tone of voice. "It gets too crass for my tastes
from there."
"I hate to break your heart, but Sirius doesn't love you like that. Sure, he would accept if you
offered for him, but I think he'd do just about anything to get out of the house and away from our
parents at this point—even marry his 'sister'," Regulus said.
"That's good to know, because I would never offer for Sirius. We're of a similar mind when it
comes to our sibling relationship," Jamie said. Something about the way Regulus had snidely retorted
didn't fit. What was wrong with what he had said? He was silent as she tried to puzzle out what was off.
"You know, it's nice how you watch out for him. Sirius thinks you hate him, but I can tell that you
don't."
The house-elves set a steaming teapot on the table, and Regulus wordlessly poured them both a
cup. He dropped two sugar cubes in his before stirring it. He pushed his old cup off to the side, where a
house-elf rushed to collect it. Just when she thought he would stay silent, he finally answered her.
"I do hate him," Regulus stated. "It's not his fault, but I hate him all the same. I won't deny that I
love him; he's my brother." Regulus stirred the tea so rapidly that it was in danger of sloshing onto the
table. "I do love him . . . but I hate him more than I love him."
Jamie drank the tea he had prepared for her and listened to the contradicting words and
emotions. She believed that Regulus thought he was telling the truth, but he had already disproved his
words. He loved Sirius more than he hated him.
"Why do you hate him?" inquired Jamie, trying to understand. How could anyone hate Sirius,
especially someone that shared a sibling bond with him? Sirius was light and laughter and an excessive
amount of luck.
Regulus laughed, if it could be called that. It was a tired, twisted sound. "Because my parents
would never consider letting the Dark Lady Brand him with the Dark Mark. He's Heir Black, after all,
and is sure to bond well, despite his rebellious eccentricities."
Jamie tried to breathe through the horror that flooded her, but it was difficult. Had his implied
confession somehow sucked all the air from the room? No. The house-elves were still chattering and
baking desserts. She had heard stories about Lord and Lady Black from Sirius, which had made her
dislike them, but now every bit of respect that remained evaporated. "Lady Black is considering giving
you to the Dark Lady?" How could any witch even think of forcing her child into servitude to an insane
megalomaniac?
"Now you know why I hide away in the kitchen," Regulus whispered, shoulders straight and
posture perfect, as if the mere thought of his mother enslaving him didn't carve his heart to ribbons. His
magic belied the calm façade; it thrashed about him, discontent and betrayed.
Jamie stretched her magic out and stroked his, unable to help herself. Her desire to comfort
others had always been great. His pain was a throbbing, oozing wound that she wanted to heal. Unlike
last time, he didn't complain. Regulus leaned into the comfort of her magic and sighed.
She observed him as they drank their tea and ate biscuits in silence. Her mother would never
approve of Regulus; he was younger, and, on top of that, his title was Master. Jamie knew her mother
would say that she shouldn't bond with someone beneath her, that she had to set the right example as
the first real Lady Potter in five generations. And that was nothing compared to how Lady Black would
react to receiving an offer for her second son—the spare, she thought snidely—from a Lady of the
Light.
But the niggling thought had been given birth, and it didn't appear to be in any hurry to die.
Third Time:
"Well, that's one less thing I have to worry about," Jamie said as she walked away from
Margaret Prewett. She had been stunned when the Hufflepuff asked for permission to court Sirius, but
readily offered her approval anyway. She knew Margaret to be a kind, gentle, loyal witch of the Light.
Jamie could trust Margaret to keep her hands and magic to herself while Sirius decided if he could love
her.
Besides, Sirius wasn't the Black brother that consumed her thoughts these days.
Ever since the second time they had shared tea at midnight, which was weeks ago now, Jamie's
attention wandered in Regulus's direction. She would make note of whether or not he was at meals, and
instructed the house-elves to take him food if he didn't show. When the bruises under his eyes became
visible to her sight, despite the glamour charms he was undoubtedly using, she sent him
bruise-soothing cream.
In those same weeks, Jamie had seen no less than eighteen different attempts to isolate him.
Such efforts were likely an attempt to compromise him into a bonding he didn't desire. The witches
were shameless and from all four Houses. Her question the first time she had spoken with him (Is that a
common worry of yours?) resounded in her head. Apparently, Regulus had legitimate and numerous
reasons to worry about being defiled.
Unluckily for all those witches, Jamie happened to be "on a walk" whenever they thought they
might succeed at trapping Regulus. The portraits had become her constant companions in her efforts to
keep him safe and give him a break.
Jamie had learned much through her observations.
Regulus always had time for the younger students. If he were busy with something, he would
stop what he was doing to help them. It was his O.W.L. year, but he never complained when they
interrupted him with questions. He was brilliant with kids and would make a wonderful father. Jamie
didn't doubt that in the least. He was also smart—viciously so. She had overheard some of the
Ravenclaws complaining about how he had taken all the top marks again, and why wasn't he in
Ravenclaw, where he obviously belonged?
It was his magic, though, that sealed her decision.
Regulus's magic was powerful; however, it was uncontrolled. It wasn't Light or Dark. His
desperate attempts to disassociate himself from his family and the fate that awaited him had shaded it a
pale gray, the color of hoarfrost. He didn't want to be Dark-aligned, but his magic could only go so far
in the opposite direction without an anchor. It had reached its limit. Since it was neither Light or Dark,
it slipped from his grasp, despite his best efforts to contain it.
If Lady Black bound him to the Dark Lady, all his efforts would be for nothing. His magic
would probably skip past Dark and align with Black Magic—the type of magic that twisted Mordred
until he became a traitor.
However, Jamie would never bond with a wizard out of pity. Saving a wizard wasn't a good
enough reason either. While honor and nobility were important, it wouldn't keep a bond from being
loveless and cold. She knew she wouldn't have to worry about that, though. Because Jamie's magic
ached to fill the hole in Regulus's; it struggled against her control, wanting to pour out and bathe him in
power and safety.
As soon as she realized that, Jamie had meditated on the topic, trying to sort out her thoughts
and feelings. That was when she discovered the truth: somewhere along the way, between talking with
him, sitting in silence, keeping him safe, and watching him, Jamie had fallen in love with Regulus
Black.
Her mother's disappointment would be worth it, if he could love her in return.
"Will he?" Jamie wondered as she entered the kitchen. It was empty of all but the house-elves.
She sat at the table, fiddling with her cup of orange blossom tea. Every time it cooled, one of
the house-elves came over and warmed it back up for her. They were quieter tonight, likely sensing her
mood. It reminded her of how thoughtful the Potter house-elves were at home; she had a sudden,
intense desire for the Yule holiday to arrive more quickly so that she could return home.
"A Knut for your thoughts?" Regulus laughed when she jumped in her seat and spilled the tea,
though a house-elf cleaned it right up and handed her another. "Wow, you're more distracted than I
thought. Is everything okay?" he asked as he sat beside her.
Jamie gave him all of her attention. He was stunning to look at: high cheek bones, a square jaw
with a cleft in his chin, tousled black hair that was longer than her own as it brushed his shoulders, tall
and fit, and gray-blue eyes that failed to hide the loneliness he felt. "I'm in love with you," she said, the
words rolling off her tongue as if she had spoken them every day for the past one hundred years.
Regulus's eyes widened, but he didn't say anything. His magic, though, danced about him,
giving her some insight into his heart.
"Well?" she asked, when the silence stretched. Wasn't he going to say anything? Jamie had
never confessed to a wizard before, because she had never felt like this before, and his lack of response
was unnerving.
"And?"
Jamie's brow furrowed at the short, clipped question. "And what?"
His hands trembled, but she could only see that for a moment, because then he hid them under
the table. "You love me, and that's it? Or you love me, and would like to court me? Or you love me,
and would like to bond with me?" Regulus wasn't looking at her, and she hated it. What was he
thinking? Which of those scenarios, if any, appealed to him? "Or you love me, and would like me to be
your nighttime companion for different reasons than sharing tea?"
Flinching from the last question, Jamie forced the hurt down. Regulus had every right to
question her intentions. She hadn't clarified her declaration. And it wasn't like he had many positive
experiences when it came to witches.
"Yes, I would like you to be my nighttime companion for reasons other than sharing tea," Jamie
said honestly. When he hunched down in his seat, which she had never seen him do before, she
regretted saying that part first. "But not until we're bonded, Regulus," she added. Jamie caressed her
magic against his. "Anything less than a true bonding with you would be blasphemous."
Regulus's whole body shook as he spoke two words she hadn't been expecting. "Prove it."
Jamie blinked in confusion. What did he want her to prove? Whatever it was, she would gladly
comply. "What?"
He bit his lip and leaned closer to her. "Prove that you want to bond with me, and not just . . ."
Her heart clenched at the pain in his voice. It seemed that despite the tough front he presented,
the countless witches who had attempted to seduce him had managed to damage his view of his
self-worth. Well, Jamie would fix that. He wanted proof, huh? Fine. Regulus would get it.
Jamie siphoned her magic from her magical core, requesting more to surface than she ever had
before. Then, without pause, Jamie let her magic surge into Regulus's. It spilled down the hole in his
magic, flooding the emptiness with power and acceptance. Tears dripped down his face, wonder filled
his eyes, and that only encouraged her. So Jamie gave him more, more, more. She gave him more
magic than it took to Enchant a broomstick to fly, more than it took to transform into an Animagus,
more than it took to lay intermediate wards, and more than she had ever thought she would give her
future husband.
But the hole in Regulus's magic was wide and deep and dark, and Jamie wanted it to vanish.
Finally, when her magic just splashed against his, when there wasn't even a speck of empty
space, Jamie withdrew her magic back into her core. "Proof enough, Regulus Potter?" she asked with
confidence.
Regulus shoved the table out of the way, pulled her onto his lap, and then kissed her for all he
was worth. Tears landed on her face, but she didn't wipe them away. She wasn't one of those
controlling witches who thought it was disgraceful for wizards to show their emotions. If he was sad,
he should cry. If he was happy, he should laugh. However he felt, he was free to express it as he
wished. And if he preferred to express his gratitude physically, she felt no inclination to object.
Jamie simply matched his passion with her own, grateful that she had fallen in love with him.
Because in finding happiness, she had managed to save Regulus from the Dark and bring him into the
Light.
*Chapter 19*: Following in His Father's Footsteps

Title: Following in His Father's Footsteps


Pairing: Harry Potter/Daphne Greengrass, and canon side pairings
The start of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts was torture, and not because his godfather had
died. In truth, Harry missed what might have been more than he missed Sirius Black himself. He had
maybe spent a total of a month with his godfather—that he could remember. So while he was sad, he
wasn't buried in grief, no matter what his friends assumed.
Of course, Harry did wear a red armband with the Black family crest on it over his robes. Just
because he wasn't traumatized by what happened didn't mean he wouldn't honor his parents' choice of
godfather.
It was the lifetime ban from Quidditch that made Harry suffer. Harry wasn't devastated when he
was banned from playing Quidditch because he loved the stupid game. He was furious because playing
Quidditch was the only way he was able to interact with her and not get criticized or hauled off to the
hospital wing.
Daphne Greengrass was always ready with a witty comeback. She made Draco Malfoy's wit
seem as dull as Vincent Crabbe's. She was full of snark and poked fun at others' foibles in a not cruel
manner. Not to mention, she was a ravishing beauty. Her chin-length mocha curls enchanted him;
whenever Harry saw them, he wanted to tug them, just to watch them bounce back into place. And her
eyes, which, amusingly, were grass green, were alert and attentive. She didn't miss the obvious, the
not-so-obvious, or the I-didn't-even-realize-that-was-a-thing.
She had served as the Slytherin Quidditch team's strategist since second year. Daphne would
scout out the Gryffindor practices, and then try to trick Harry into answering questions about special
plays. Harry was proud to acknowledge that he had only fallen to her subterfuge once. Since then, he
had merely flirted with her. When Daphne flirted back, Harry's heart was sold. No one had ever paid
him that kind of attention before. He felt special when she stared at him.
But Umbridge—and no, Harry hadn't thrown a party when he heard that Bane killed her,
honest!—had banned him from Quidditch for life.
If I talk to her now, or even approach her, I'll be hauled off to the hospital wing, Harry thought.
Harry loved his friends, but he wished they weren't anti-Slytherin to such a high degree. It made
romancing Daphne more than a little complicated. Ron Weasley would assume he had been cursed, and
Hermione Granger would suspect love potions were at work.
"Mr. Potter."
"Hmm?" Harry managed to tear his gaze away from the Slytherin table and one delectable
witch in particular. "Yes, Professor?"
Professor McGonagall handed him a badge, a smile on her face easing the frown lines. "I'm
sorry it didn't come with your letter; I had to get some things sorted out, you understand?"
Harry couldn't believe his eyes. He blinked, but the badge didn't disappear. McGonagall had
made him Gryffindor's Quidditch Captain! That meant—
"I expect to win the Quidditch Cup this year, Mr. Potter. Severus's complaints are most
entertaining," McGonagall said, somehow keeping a straight face.
Yes, Harry screamed in his head. He would've leaped to his feet and hugged Professor
McGonagall if she wouldn't have been just as likely to take it back. He was the Quidditch Captain.
"Oh, you can count on it, Professor. I won't let you down."
McGonagall smirked at him. "See that you don't, Mr. Potter." Then she continued up toward the
high table.
"Congratulations, Harry!" Ron said. At least that's what Harry thought Ron had said; it was a
little hard to decipher around all the food in Ron's mouth.
"Well done, Harry. You deserve it," said Hermione. She didn't even look up from the Potions
book she was reading, but Harry didn't mind. It was impressive that she had heard at all with new
things to study. Though Harry figured she had read the book at least once cover-to-cover over the
summer. Hermione always liked to be prepared when it came to academia.
Harry rolled the badge around his hand. It was cold at first, but the metal quickly warmed at his
touch. It meant a great deal to him, and none of those reasons had anything to do with Quidditch itself.
His dad would be proud of him. As the thought circulated in his mind, Harry realized there was a
flipside to it. His dad would be baffled by Harry's lack of publicly shown interest in Daphne
Greengrass. After all, his dad had frequently and loudly declared his passionate love for Harry's mum.
And Harry kept his mouth shut because he was worried his friends would think he was being
influenced by a curse or potion?
"Coward," he whispered.
What must Daphne think of him? Did she assume that she was personal entertainment when he
was in the mood for a verbal sparring partner? Did she think he used her to practicing his flirting for
other witches? Did she think he was sincere, but that he was too shy or weak to act on his feelings?
Harry gritted his teeth and gripped the badge until it hurt his hand. How could he fight
Voldemort one-on-one and still be afraid to talk to the girl with whom he wanted to bond? That was
pathetic!
Deciding it was about time he followed in his father's footsteps, Harry rose from the Gryffindor
table. He tossed the Quidditch Captain's badge into the air, caught it, and repeated the action as he
sauntered over to the Slytherin table. It didn't take long for people to notice, and the furor in the Great
Hall heightened.
"Are we going to have DA meetings this year, Harry?" Cho Chang asked as he passed the
Ravenclaw table.
"No," Harry replied, without bothering to look at her. She wasn't the witch that held his
attention, though she wasn't ugly. "I'm sure Snape's well-equipped to teach Defense." After all, Harry
thought, Snape knows enough Dark Arts that he would have to know how to defend against them.
"What do you want, Potter?" Draco Malfoy asked. He was more tired than Harry had ever seen
him. Hmm. That was something to investigate later; maybe the prat had finally gotten in over his head
and would like some help getting out of it.
"Not everything is about you, Malfoy," retorted Harry. He didn't bother with Draco's
title—neither of them ever had. There was too much history between them to bother pretending that
formal distance was even possible.
Draco's left eyebrow winged upward. "Oh?" A hint of curiosity colored his tone. Good. Harry
was pleased to see that his rival-acquaintance-friend was still willing to question things; maybe Draco
could be saved, after all.
Harry sat on the bench next to Daphne Greengrass, his feet out in the aisle and back propped
against the table.
"Potter!" Pansy Parkinson shrieked. "You almost sat on me!" She scooted a whole foot down
the bench.
Rolling his eyes, Harry snorted. "Don't be melodramatic, Heiress Parkinson," he said,
emphasizing her title in a subtle dig that she had forgotten his. He allowed several people to leave his
title off, but she wasn't one of them; that would imply a disturbing level of closeness.
Pansy's cheeks pinked. "Sorry," she whispered. It almost made her seem human, and less like a
banshee. Huh. If that was what Pansy was really like, maybe she would be a good match for Draco,
after all.
"Apology accepted," said Harry as he continued to toss and catch the badge.
"If you're not here to pick a fight with Draco, why are you here?" Pansy queried, gaze narrowed
at him.
Here was his chance to be as brave as his father was when it came to love. Harry grinned, and
then he reached over, captured one of Daphne's curls, tugged it straight, and then watched it bounce
back into place. It was the softest thing that he had ever felt in his life. He wanted to bury his hands in
it as he kissed her until she swooned into his arms. Well, that wasn't likely to happen. Daphne wasn't
the fainting type, and Harry didn't have enough kissing experience to make her swoon for him.
When he tugged another curl, Daphne glared at him. Ah, he finally had her undivided attention.
"My hair doesn't exist to entertain you, Harry." She tried to grab his hand, but he dodged her and
grasped another curl.
"Daphne, everything about you exists to entertain me," Harry said with a charming grin. He
knew it was charming because he had practiced it in front of the mirror for hours. It was identical to the
grin his dad gave his mum in the memory in Snape's Pensieve; it might not have worked for him in that
moment, but it had to have worked eventually, since she bonded with him.
"Entertain?" Daphne hissed, as if his word choice offended her.
"Amuse. Entrance. Please. Captivate. Taunt. Tease. Torture," Harry listed, before winking at
her. "Take your pick. They're all true." He let her catch his hand, and then flipped it over and
intertwined his fingers with hers before she could object.
Daphne stared at their joined hands. "And you, apparently, exist to torture me." It was spoken
so gently that Harry knew she hadn't meant for him to hear it; he doubted she had even intended to
speak it aloud at all. Daphne sighed, a soft, tired sound. "What do you want, Harry?"
"You."
She goggled at him. "What?"
Pained embarrassment and humiliation, with a hint of betrayal, reached his ears. Oh. Harry bit
his lip to keep from laughing at her wrong assumption. He wondered if his dad blundered about like
this, offending his mum on accident. "But I should talk to your dad about that first," Harry said. Lord
Matthias Greengrass was a reasonable bloke; he wouldn't deny Harry's suit. "So I'll settle for your
company at a picnic by the Black Lake for lunch today."
And then it happened—the rarest of the rare—Daphne Greengrass blushed for him. "I'm not
going on a date with you," she hissed.
Harry beamed at her. She was even more adorable when she was ruffled and pretending to be
disagreeable. "Of course you aren't," Harry agreed. "It would be utterly crude and disrespectful of me
to ask you out on a date." Dating implied a relationship that was temporary, something that was easy to
break off and leave behind. He would never do that to her; Harry couldn't tolerate the mere thought of
leaving her behind. Daphne was his future. He was sure of it. "I'm asking you on a pre-Marriage Date.
Hedwig can only fly so fast, you know. It'll be hours before your dad agrees that I'm the perfect wizard
for you. You're not going to make me wait until tomorrow to go on a picnic with you, are you? Because
that would be cold, Daphne. Cold and cruel." Harry pressed his free hand over his heart, as if to protect
himself from a mortal blow.
Blush darkening, Daphne sighed. "You are incorrigible."
"I'm not sure what 'corrigible' is," teased Harry, "but I don't think I've ever been in it. I am,
however, madly in love."
"If this is a joke, Harry, I'm going to tell the president of your fan club that you're too shy to
confess your deep and abiding love for her," Daphne threatened. It was a good threat; Cornelia Creevey
was terrifying.
"No joke," he assured her. Harry didn't want her to assume for a second that he was playing
with her, because this wasn't a game to him. Love was serious business to a Potter, more so than it was
to most people.
Daphne smiled at him; it was so wide that her teeth showed. "Then I suppose it wouldn't hurt to
allow you the pleasure of my company for a picnic lunch."
"Thank you, my lady," Harry said, every word coated in triumph. He lifted their conjoined
hands and kissed hers. He was eagerly awaiting the day when he would be able to kiss a lot more than
her hand without fear of having body parts cursed off.
"If—"
"I don't like stipulations," Harry said before pouting. "They put a damper on my fun."
Daphne glared at him. Was she immune to the Potter pout? He would have to work on that then;
it must not be right yet. No one could resist the Potter pout! "If"—she stressed the word even more than
before—"you provide appropriate chaperones."
"Hey, Draco." Harry spun around and sat properly on the bench. It was just plain rude not to
look at someone when you were going to ask for a favor. "Can you sacrifice a meal with your adoring
minions to chaperone my pre-Marriage Date with Daphne?" He smirked when the Slytherins bristled;
riling them up was so much fun. He understood why his father and Sirius loved it.
Draco leaned back and folded his arms over his chest, though he seemed to be dazed by what
had just happened. Then again, most of the Slytherins appeared to be in shock. Victory! "Why should
I?" The silent 'What's in it for me?' came through loud and clear.
Negotiating with Draco was one of Harry's favorite pastimes, but he wasn't really in the mood
for thirty minutes of banter. He wanted to leave breakfast knowing that Daphne would be his for lunch.
"You know what," Harry said, feigning shock, "I just remembered that your father agreed to spy on
Voldemort for me. I'm sure Minister Scrimgeour would fall all over himself in his rush to release your
father from Azkaban and into my custody." There was a beat of silence, and then Harry continued with,
"It was so brave of him to agree, especially considering how much he suffered in the last war while
under the Imperius."
Draco's gray eyes radiated something Harry never imagined would be aimed at him: respect and
trust. "I suppose I could endure a picnic in your presence, Harry," Draco said. The change of address
was noted. "Only to make sure you don't take advantage of Heiress Greengrass, though, of course."
Harry smirked. "Of course." Draco wouldn't be Draco is he didn't insert a subtle, or
not-at-all-subtle dig into every conversation he had. It was a surprisingly endearing quality.
"How is being alone with two pureblood heirs any better than being alone with one?" Daphne
asked, disdain audible as she squeezed his hand.
"Have some faith, Daphne," Harry said. He winked at her. "I haven't finished providing
'appropriate chaperones', yet?"
"If you ask Miss Weasley, I'll have to remember I've already made lunch plans with Pansy,"
Daphne said, sneering at the Gryffindor table. "I don't want to go on a pre-Marriage Date and watch
another witch fawn all over you."
Ginny liked him? That was news to Harry, and unwelcome news at that. Aside from the fact
that she was Ron's sister, she was dating Dean Thomas. Witches who were in love with one wizard and
spent their time with another were well beneath his notice; he couldn't abide such games.
Harry rubbed the back of Daphne's hand with his thumb and leaned over the table. He glanced
to the right, gaze darting about until he found his quarry. Astoria Greengrass's hip-length curls were the
color of iced-tea left out too long in the sun. If Harry were drawn to delicate beauty, she would have
caught his eye. Harry preferred the sultriness of Daphne's beauty, with curves where they should be,
and enough height that he wouldn't strain his neck trying to kiss her.
"Astoria, do you think you could tolerate Draco's presence long enough to help me win your
sister's heart?" Harry asked.
Her whole face lit up at the request, forcing Harry to revise his earlier opinion. Pansy didn't
stand a chance of landing Draco. He would bet every Galleon in his trust vault that Astoria was going
to be Heiress Malfoy as soon as she was old enough for Draco to claim her. Only an utter imbecile of a
wizard, or a heartless one, would be able to turn his back on such unaffected adoration. Harry knew
firsthand that Draco was neither foolish or heartless.
"It would be my pleasure, Harry!" Astoria said. She came off as sweet and sheltered. How in
the world had she been Sorted into Slytherin?
"Brilliant!" he said. What had Harry been afraid of all this time? Why had he waited so long to
declare his intentions? Daphne was a witch worth fighting for, as his mum had been.
When Draco didn't snap that he was perfectly capable of securing a companion to help
chaperone the picnic, Harry knew he had been right. So, his childhood rival was going to be his
brother-in-law. It would take a while to accustom himself to the change. He was up to the task, though.
Harry felt Professor Snape's magic approaching and decided he wouldn't protest when Snape
told him that he didn't belong at the Slytherin table. He was too grateful that Snape hadn't immediately
stormed down from the high table to give him detention and order him back to his regular spot.
"You've overstayed your welcome, Mr. Potter," Snape said, peering down his hooked nose at
Harry. "I suggest you take that"—Snape pointed at the Quidditch Captain badge that Harry had
dropped on the floor at some point—"and go to class, before I start deducting points."
"Sure thing, Professor," Harry said. He grabbed the badge off the ground and shoved it in his
pocket.
Leaving right away would've been the safe thing, but Harry was enjoying his flirtation with
danger; it was going very well for him. So Harry twined his fingers through Daphne's curls and bent
down to whisper a question in her ear. "What's your policy about kissing on a pre-Marriage Date?"
Harry was hoping to rile her up, so she would give him that adorable glare again. And, of
course, he knew she would say something ridiculous, like: the odds were worse than the odds of Snape
actually smiling in a non-vicious manner. But Daphne crushed his expectations and left his brain as a
puddle of mush in his head, while he toddled out of the Great Hall with the stupidest smile he had ever
worn in his life.
Daphne's answer purred again through his body. "Only if you taste like treacle tarts."
*Chapter 20*: This Is What Remains After War

Title: This Is What Remains After War


Pairing: None
Fred Weasley was dead.
George Weasley Apparated into the living room of the Burrow, straight from his twin's funeral.
The hem of his black robes had mud on them. Mother Magic herself was crying for Fred. Rain pounded
on the roof, sounding muffled. It was a roar outside. The water on his face was a mix of raindrops and
tears.
"George?"
He glanced over at Bill Weasley. His oldest brother stood behind him, his arm wrapped around
Fleur's waist. The sight of them side-by-side made him sick. Fred was supposed to be at his side;
George was never meant to be alone. Mother Magic had given him a twin for a reason! George was
never supposed to be alone, cut off from Fred. It was wrong—all wrong.
"Are you . . . all right?" Fleur asked.
George was tired of people asking him that. Didn't they understand what a stupid, cruel question
it was? His magic was trapped within his own body. Fred wasn't alive, welcoming George's magic
through their twin bond, and Fred's magic wasn't cycling through George's body either. He was a
magical amputee, with stagnant magic. How could he possibly be all right? Fred, his other half, was
dead! How could he ever be all right again?
He collapsed on the living room floor before the fireplace. George folded his knees against his
chest, wrapped his arms around them, and wished that he had a Time-Turner. He would be willing to
unmake creation itself if it meant that he could have Fred back. But all the Time-Turners were lost,
destroyed during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. If the Unspeakables had any, they wouldn't
let him have one, and neither would the Ministry. No one would chance something going wrong, of
Voldemort winning the war, if Fred survived.
The logs in the fireplace weren't lit. No heat seeped into the room. That was fine, though.
George liked the cold. It complemented how empty he felt inside.
"I'll get that for you," Percy Weasley said. He prodded the logs with his wand. "Incendio." They
burned the color of Fred's hair; George couldn't look away. "I'm sorry, George. I-I wasn't f-fast enough
to save h-him."
George gritted his teeth. He didn't want to accept Percy's apology. Percy blew off their family
for years, calling them liars and spending all his time at work. He distanced himself from them in every
way he could. Yet, he was the one who lived through the final battle. If Percy hadn't shown up, Fred
would've been at George's side. Fred wouldn't have been anywhere near the wall when it collapsed. The
only times either of them had been injured was when they were apart. He touched his missing ear; he
was desperate to hear Fred make another joke and call him "Your Holeyness".
"Will y-you forgive m-me?" Percy whispered, tears dripping down his face.
He didn't say anything. How could George forgive Percy, when he wasn't able to forgive
himself?
The emptiness yawned inside him. George had never thought he would have to experience life
with just three older brothers. He was used to having four of them. There was a reason that Fred came
across as more vicious and vengeful. He had always seen it as his right to protect George, and would
humor George's attempts to take care of him in return. In the end, Fred was his protector. Maybe if
George had done a better job imitating Fred's role as protector, his magic wouldn't be raging against the
cage of his body right now.
"Hey, George, I got you something to drink," Charlie said when the awkward silence stretched.
He set a mug on the floor beside George when he didn't take it. "It's cocoa, just the way you like it."
George closed his eyes and wished that Charlie would go away. Percy and Bill were tall and
skinny, and they didn't have as many freckles. Charlie was short and stocky, with an abundance of
freckles. If his eyes weren't blue instead of brown, George could convince himself that Fred wasn't
dead. His neck was sore from all the times he had whipped around after catching a glimpse of Charlie
in his peripheral vision. All Charlie did was make things worse, even though he was trying to help.
George wished he would go back to the dragon reserve in Romania and stay there until George wasted
away.
"Please drink it George," Charlie begged. "You missed breakfast."
And dinner, and lunch, and breakfast from the day before. As well as the meals the day before
that. What was the point? He couldn't even muster up the energy to spike the food. Not even the
opportunity of getting Percy to unwittingly eat a Canary Cream could rouse him, and he and Fred had
plotted on how to make that happen since they first invented them!
"Georgie?" Molly Weasley's voice wobbled. Her hands shook as she set a plate before him on
the floor. "Fred would want you to eat. He a-always let you g-get your f-food first." She petted his hair.
"Please eat, Georgie. For Fred. It's your favorite."
The smell of his favorite homemade scones wafted up to him. George blinked, sending tears
spilling down his cheeks. It was true. Even when they were at their poorest, Fred made sure George had
enough to eat. He picked up one of the scones. The tears made his eyesight blurry, but not so much that
he couldn't see they were slathered in huckleberry jam. Huckleberry jam was Fred's favorite. His
mother had unknowingly mixed them up again, but it wasn't a joke this time. He dropped the scone
back onto the plate; it bounced off and smeared jam on the floor. "I'm George."
Molly sucked in a harsh breath, and then started sobbing. "I'm s-so sorry! I'm sorry, G-Georgie!
I'll go g-get the r-raspberry jam." She rushed to bring him a new plate, but George couldn't turn away
from the first one she had brought out. It was wrong that the scones were still there. Fred should have
wolfed them down by now. "Here you g-go, Georgie." Molly set the new plate beside the old one.
Unconsciously, George glanced to his left. Fred wasn't there reaching for his favorite food,
joking about how burning the roof of his mouth was worth it. He wasn't sticking out his purple tongue,
dyed by huckleberry jam. He wasn't smacking Percy's hands to keep the whole plate to himself. He
wasn't starting a contest to see who could spit seeds the farthest. He wasn't doing anything at all,
because Fred wasn't there.
Fred Weasley was dead. George Weasley wished he were dead, too.
By the time Harry Potter finished attending all the funerals, rounding up the few Death Eaters
who escaped, testifying in trial after trial, using the Elder Wand to restore Hogwarts, reorganizing the
Ministry of Magic, and accepting his Orders of Merlin, all he wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep
for a week.
Instead, he went to the Burrow. Because he would never forget the night that George Weasley
was keeping watch outside the tent—while they traveled the United Kingdom, desperate to find and
eliminate the Horcruxes—and Fred Weasley made Harry swear on his mother's grave that he would
always watch over him. The same thing happened in reverse less than a week later, though George
fingered the stump of his missing ear while he demanded the same vow.
Harry Apparated to the front step, but didn't bother to knock before going in. Molly Weasley
had told him repeatedly that he was always welcome. After closing the door, Harry leaned back against
it with a deep sigh. So, he thought, this is what remains after war.
The once lively household was somber. The Weasleys spoke in whispers, instead of shouts.
Laughter was a thing of the past. A pall of grief hung in the air; it felt like someone was attempting to
suffocate him with sheer magical force. And though only one of their five children was buried, it would
be fair to say that two had died. Harry hated the differences. Ever since Fred and George had taken
Harry under their wing when he was a first year, he had never felt alone. They offered him a family,
and his enemy's allies had torn that family apart.
The guilt ate at him.
"H-Harry?" Molly smiled tremulously at him. "We're so glad you could come. I know you've
been busy." She engulfed him in a warm hug.
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," Harry said, feeling guilt swamp him again. He glanced over
toward the fireplace. George sat on the floor in front of it, black robes drowning his slender form as he
stared at the dancing flames. They looked like the same ones he had worn to Fred's funeral last week.
"How's he doing?" he asked.
Molly wailed and buried her face in her hands. Her whole body shook as she hunched over; if
Harry didn't know better, he would've thought she had just been skewered on a sword. But no blood
spilled down her clothes. There was no wound that he could wave the Elder Wand to heal—not even
magic could fix a broken heart.
"He won't eat," Bill said as he entered the living room. The scars on his face were gruesome in
the evening light. "He won't drink. He won't talk. He won't move from that spot." His hands clenched
into fists. He spun and punched a hole through the wall. The rage that had sustained him seemed to fail,
and his shoulders slumped. "George's dying, Harry. And his magic is helping him do it."
Harry stumbled back, each new sentence a punch to his heart. He shouldn't have stayed away so
long; he should've told the people who begged for his help to do it themselves for once in their lives.
He should've been here, at George's side, keeping his magic from helping him die. "That's not going to
happen." Harry enunciated each word, as if by saying it he could make it reality. His will was a
powerful thing.
"We've tried everything, H-Harry. There's n-nothing more we can do." Molly fell to her knees,
and Bill rushed to his mother's side.
Harry knew what a blessing having twins was to a pureblood family, and losing George less
than a month after Fred died would tear what remained of this once-loving family to shreds. They
would see it as a failure to protect the conjoined souls Mother Magic had given them to watch over.
Harry figured the twins were why Molly and Arthur had stopped having children, even though Molly
wanted a daughter. She feared Mother Magic would punish her for being greedy, and that she wouldn't
have the time to take proper care of all her sons.
"You might not be able to do anything," Harry said, "but I can." He took a step toward George's
still, silent form on the floor. He had a vow to keep. He wouldn't let anything get in his way.
Bill grabbed Harry's arm in a firm grip, successfully gaining his attention. Bill observed Harry
for over a minute. Then he said, "Whatever you have to do, do it. We'll forgive you for anything, as
long as he lives."
Harry pulled his arm away and walked over to George. Bill's desperate, ritual words echoed in
his head; Bill had invoked the trade of forgiveness. In the Weasleys' eyes, regardless of what Harry did,
the ends would justify the means. He knew that the Weasleys would forgive him for what he was about
to do, but he didn't think George would.
Crouching before him, Harry got a good look at his face. George's brown eyes stared right
through him, as if he weren't there. It was like meeting Fred's dead gaze all over again. He hated it.
"George Weasley," Harry said, voice laced with magic, "I call on the Twin-Sworn Vow." Magical
twins were bound by each other's word. That was why they were so careful about saying anything
ritualistic. He hated to do this, but Fred would never forgive him if he let George die. And, more
importantly, Harry would never forgive himself.
George blinked. "What do . . . you want . . . Harry?" His voice was tired, cracked, and
monotone. It was a whisper of breath, as if his throat was parched.
Harry licked his lips apprehensively, but George's pupils didn't follow the motion. Why in the
world had he been cavorting around the wizarding world? He should have been here! He should have
stopped George's deterioration. The wrist that peeked from his sleeve was skin and bones. His face was
gaunt. He had lost too much weight, and the twins had never carried much extra, if any. They prided
themselves on being fit. "George Weasley, I choose thee to serve as First Vassal for the Honorable and
Most Ancient House of Potter." Once the ritual words were said, he wrapped his thumb and forefinger
around George's wrist. "And I want you to take care of yourself and ensure you are always in peak
health."
Molly and Bill gasped, but Harry didn't look over to see their reactions. It didn't signify. His
request had been made, and George would have no choice but to grant it.
"Do you really think you can take Fred's place?" George whispered. "Won't you just let me . . .
rest in peace?"
Harry wanted nothing more than to look away from George's broken gaze. If Bill hadn't
explained how dehydrated he was, the lack of tears wouldn't have been at the forefront of Harry's mind.
Now he couldn't help but wonder if George desperately wanted to cry, but wasn't able to do so. "No, I
won't. You're too young to die, George."
"Fred was too young to die."
"Yes," Harry agreed. "He was." His thighs started to burn, so Harry sat on the floor. The heat
from the fireplace wasn't comforting. It brought to mind the time he, Fred, and George had roasted
marshmallows over it and made s'mores with chocolate frogs. Harry would always prefer indoor
camping over outdoor camping, especially when the latter meant Death Eater attacks at the Quidditch
World Cup and hunting for Horcruxes. "But just as I promised you I'd take care of Fred, I swore to
Fred that I'd take care of you." Harry stared at him. "Are you going to make me break my Twin-Sworn
Vow with Fred?"
A First Vassal and Lord of an Ancient House shared magic. It would cycle from one to the
other in a never-ending loop. It mimicked a twin bond. However, it wasn't the same. Harry would never
dishonor Fred's memory by claiming it was. But it would stabilize George's magic by giving it
somewhere to go. It wouldn't sit stagnant and help assassinate its master. By naming George his First
Vassal, Harry was creating a pathway for George's magic to follow. In essence, Harry was forcing
George's magic to keep him alive.
A single tear dripped down George's left cheek as life returned to his eyes. "I hate you, Harry
Potter. I'll never forgive you for this."
"I know." It was a simple, merciless truth. And Harry only held the barest hope of ever being
able to change it. But it was better to have one of the twins in his life, regardless of the circumstances,
than to have neither of them. So, Harry hugged George, encircled him in the Potter family magic, and
accepted reality. This, he reminded himself, is what remains after war.