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A Marriage of Convenience - Time of Adjustment

Chapter Text

Part One

May 1998 - December 1998


 

The Burrow, May 1998

There is no happily ever after. Life's a bitch, and it'll come back to bite you sooner or later.

Until three weeks ago, Harry Potter would've agreed with this statement from the bottom of his heart. If anyone had first hand experience with the mean tricks life could play, it was him. Who else on this planet had the Killing Curse cast twice on them by Voldemort himself and lived to tell the tale?

However, on that sunny late afternoon at the end of May 1998 Harry had something better to occupy his time than reminiscing about the past. The sun was just about to disappear behind Stoatshead Hill and sent long, golden rays into the orchard behind The Burrow.

The old apple trees in full bloom glowed in a breathtaking shade of pink in the light of the burgeoning sunset, and the light evening breeze carried their sweet smell across the orchard and showered the young couple in the lush grass under the trees with snowy white petals. Harry trailed a line of soft kisses down the jawbone and the throat of the girl in his arms, and nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck.

'Don't you dare give me a love bite, Harry!' Ginny bent her neck away from him as far as possible, and glared at him. In the evening sun her red hair, tousled from their snogging session, looked as if it was on fire.

'You never complained while we were at Hogwarts.' He propped his head on his hand and gave her a lopsided grin.

Ginny sat up and straightened her rumpled shirt. 'That was completely different. At Hogwarts, my mother wasn't watching my every step with eagle-eyes.'

Harry frowned. Damn, why didn't that grin work anymore? 'I knew we should've gone to Australia with Ron and Hermione.'

Ginny shook her head. 'She wouldn't have let me. She -'

The clang of a gong reverberated through the balmy spring air and interrupted her mid sentence.

'Speaking of your mum…' Harry made a face and scrambled to his feet. 'I love her to bits, but her timing is just a tad off.' He grabbed the two brooms that leaned against the trunk of a tree near them and handed one to Ginny. Quidditch practise for Ginny's upcoming tryouts with several big clubs had been their excuse this afternoon to escape Molly Weasley's watchful eyes.

Ginny took the broom from him, shouldered it, and grabbed it by its handle with one hand. Harry mirrored her movement and held his free hand out to her. Hand in hand they ambled back to the crooked house in the untidy garden beyond the orchard.

As they reached the back door that led to the kitchen, Harry let go of Ginny's hand to open the door for her when a soft rustle of feathers made him look up.

A brown-black eagle owl landed on his free shoulder. It gave him an imperious gaze with its amber coloured, unblinking eyes, and held its leg out to him. A cream white envelope, made out of heavy, hand made paper, was tied to it.

Harry leaned his broom against the wall of the house and untied the ribbon that fastened the letter to the owl's leg. 'Do you want to come inside and have a drink and some owl treats? I bet Errol wouldn't mind sharing.'

The owl hooted and turned its head. It gave Harry an affectionate nip to the earlobe and took off.

'Oh, well, I guess that means no. Have a good flight home, then.' Harry chuckled and looked down at the envelope in his hand. His name was written on it in an elegant, but unfamiliar handwriting. He turned the letter: there was no sender's name on the back.

Ginny looked over his shoulder. 'Who sent you a letter?'

'I have no idea.' He let his wand slip out of the invisible holster on his right forearm. It was a present he'd got from the Auror corps right after the Battle of Hogwarts, together with the demand to sign up for the Auror Academy the upcoming September.

As if he'd ever think of doing anything else. Too many Death Eaters and Snatchers had escaped after the Battle. He had a job to finish… Right now, however, he had to find out if the letter in his hands carried any unpleasant surprises. He moved his wand across the envelope in a complicated pattern. During the last three weeks he'd become proficient in casting detection spells on his mail, up to the point where he could do it without even moving his lips.

The envelope emitted a soft, green glow.

'It's safe,' Harry said. 'Let's go inside and have a look at it.' He held the door open for Ginny.

She slipped into the kitchen and sat down on the bench at the scrubbed white table. Harry followed her and closed the back door behind himself.

Mrs Weasley stirred the iron cauldron over the fire with a long, wooden spoon. A delicious smell wafted from it through the homely kitchen of the Burrow, and Harry's stomach gave an appreciative growl.

At the noise of the closing door Mrs Weasley looked up. 'Ah, there you are. Ginny, please set the table.'

Ginny pouted, but stood up anyway and did as her mother told her.

At the head of the table, Mr Weasley lowered the Daily Prophet and smiled at his daughter and her boyfriend. 'Good evening, Ginny, Harry.'

'Evening, dad,' Ginny said. She put a bowl in front of him and kissed him on the top of his bald head.

'Good evening, Mr Weasley,' Harry said, his attention focused on the envelope in his hands. He tore the letter open with his fingers, pulled a folded sheet of the same paper as the envelope out of it, unfolded the letter, and looked at the signature at the bottom.

Cyrus Greengrass. He'd never met anyone by that name. Wait, wasn't there a Greengrass in his year? A girl; Daphne, if his memory didn't deceive him. However, he had problems coming up with a face that matched the name. Greengrass had been one of those rare, quiet Slytherins who tended to keep in the background. At least she'd never picked on him -.

'Who wrote to you?'

Ginny's voice startled him out of his thoughts. She had finished setting the table and had slipped into the seat beside him. Her chin on his shoulder, she peeked at the letter in his hand.

'Cyrus Greengrass,' he said, and turned his head to look at her.

Her eyebrows went up at that. 'What does he want from you?'

'No idea. Why don't you let me read the letter and I'll find out?'

She gave him a light slap over his head with the palm of her hand and pulled her chin from his shoulder.

Harry chuckled and began to read his letter. It was short and to the point.

Dear Mr Potter,

I kindly ask you to meet me at your earliest convenience to discuss a few matters pertaining to your inheritance from your grandfather Fleamont Potter's Estate.

Yours sincerely

Cyrus Greengrass

Harry looked up. 'He wants to talk to me about an inheritance from my grandfather.'

Ginny's head whipped around. There was a strange gleam in the depth of her chocolate brown eyes. 'An inheritance from your grandfather?'

He just shrugged in lieu of a response and folded the letter.

Mrs Weasley pointed her wand at the cauldron and levitated it to the table. She sat down opposite of her husband and frowned. 'The Greengrass are a dark family and were in league with Voldemort. He might lure you into a trap. I hope you don't answer his letter, Harry.' Another flick of her wand animated the ladle to serve lentil soup into the bowls on the table.

Harry lowered his head. He'd have loved to hear more about his grandfather. He never even knew that his first name had been Fleamont. What kind of name was that, anyway? Had his great-grandparents been heavy on potions when they named their innocent baby? At that thought a grin spread over his face, only to be replaced with a frown the next second. He'd never know; if the Greengrass were a dark family, he'd better keep away from them.

Mr Weasley folded his newspaper and put it on the end of the wooden bench. He grabbed his spoon and dipped it into his bowl of lentil soup. 'The Greengrass' aren't dark, Harry,' he said, and sent a frown into the direction of his wife. 'They are what we call a grey family. That means they've been neutral in both wars. They had other fish to fry, I guess.

'They have a thriving business in beauty potions and products, and also keep business connections in the Muggle world. That should be enough evidence that they're not in league with Voldemort, I would think. Cyrus Greengrass is an honourable man. He's got a seat on the Wizengamot and is known not to be corrupt. He's got the reputation that he's always true to his word.'

'But -' Mrs Weasley said.

A rare hard stare from her husband shut her up. He turned his head and gave Harry a broad smile. 'There's really nothing about the Greengrass' that speaks against meeting Cyrus, Harry. So, why don't you write him after dinner and tell him you'll meet with him tomorrow morning?'

A sudden lightness overcame Harry, and he let out a breath. He was going to find out more about his grandfather, after all. 'That's what I'll do. Thank you, Mr Weasley,' he said, and dug into his lentil soup.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

Salem, Massachussets, May 1998

The voice of the officiator seemed to drone on and on as he performed the funeral service.

The late May sun cast the ancient cemetery in a hot, blazing light, and the young man squinted. Lichen-covered, ancient tombstones jutted out of the still sparse grass of the cemetery like crooked teeth and glinted white in the light of the merciless sun. The cemetery was proof of the proud magical heritage of the small town by the ocean. It was surrounded by busy streets, but thanks to strong silencing charms all that could be heard was the sound of birdsong coming from the trees that lined the cemetery - and the never ending monologue of the officiator, of course.

What a sick joke that they had to lay to rest the strongest man he'd ever known on a beautiful spring day like this. If there was any justice in the world, the skies should've opened today and cried, instead of mocking them with that unbearable display of spring beauty. He bit back an unmanly tear.

The dead weight of the woman clinging to his left arm didn't do anything to make him feel better. He looked down at her. When had she become so small? He used to look up at her, and cower in front of her displeasure. That wasn't that long ago, was it? But today nothing of the strong, taciturn woman he remembered was left. She was covered from head to toe in thick, black widow's veils. Her shoulders were hunched, and her body was wracked with grief for her husband.

He turned his head away, as if something indecent had offended his eyes. His gaze came to rest on the gleaming mahogany coffin that was suspended by Hovering Charms over the open grave. The clean, sweet smell of fresh soil reached his nostrils, and he gulped down a bitter taste in his mouth. Soon, Father would become a part of that soil...

What a waste! Father had been in the prime of his life when he was killed, fighting for their valiant cause. He had given up so much for his dream. Cast out by his family for his beliefs, he had fled from his home country. Alone and penniless, he was stranded in a foreign country until his mother found him. When the Dark Lord had risen again and rallied his forces, he had returned to England, ready to resume his rightful place and demand the birthright that he had been denied.

The droning voice of the officiator came to a halt, and the man gave him a nod.

The young man pulled his wand out of the pocket of his robes, cancelled the Hovering Charms on the coffin of his father and Levitated the coffin to its final resting place. Thus was the tradition for the oldest son of a magical house. Father would be proud of him.

Sweat trickled down his spine between his shoulder blades. The blazing sunshine melted the cobwebs of grief in his brain like fog. His course of action was clear, wasn't it?

He would avenge Father's death. Those who'd condemned him and those who were responsible for his death would pay. He'd obliterate his uncle and his family from the face of this earth, and he'd kill Harry Potter.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

Diagon Alley, May 1998

Ginny Apparated to the public Apparition point near her final destination without a sound. The year of constant mortal danger had done wonders for her magical skills, not to mention that she'd had a fantastic teacher who taught her to survive, in spite of the restrictions of underage magic.

She looked around, her wand in her hand, ready to strike if attacked. Diagon Alley was dark and quiet at this hour of the night. The shops were closed, and the throngs of wizards and witches who populated the place during the business hours were all asleep in their own beds. Her heart hammered in her chest. Thank Morgana, nobody had ever seen her - yet. The sooner she got off the street, the better.

The rubber soles of her battered trainers made no sound as she hurried down the cobblestone street towards a small house at the end of the business district. It had a bakery on the ground floor, and the first floor, directly under the thatched roof, housed a small flat. The curtains were drawn shut on the window that looked out onto Diagon Alley. The warm light of a lamp shone through the fabric.

Ginny slipped into a narrow passage between the bakery and the adjoining house. It ended in a small backyard. From there, a steep staircase led up to the upstairs flat. She flew up the stairs. At the landing, she drew a deep breath and raised her hand to knock on the door.

The door opened before her knuckles connected with the dark wood, and two strong arms pulled her inside. She flung her arms around the neck of the young man in front of her and never heard the door close behind her as his lips descended on hers. He deepened the kiss, and she melted against his broad, muscular chest. Heat pooled in her belly, and her legs threatened to give out under the sweet torture of his tongue. He pressed himself against her. His undeniable excitement added more fuel to the fire in her veins. She moaned and let her hands slide down his smooth chest to the zipper of his jeans.

He chuckled. 'Impatient, aren't we?' The next second he picked her up, bridal style, and carried her to the huge four poster bed that dominated the tiny one-room-flat.

She dragged him with her as he lowered her onto the silver sheets. His mouth was on hers again, and his hands were everywhere. The heat in her belly intensified, and she was as eager as he to dispose of their clothes until there was nothing anymore that separated their bodies. Her world shrunk to the feeling of his skin against hers, his kisses and his hands pleasuring her in a way nobody else could. He had the power to make her forget everything, even to make her forget her own name, until she cried out in ecstasy.

'I missed you,' she said, pressed against him in the afterglow of their passion.

'That was obvious.' His dark eyes mocked her. 'I take it that Potter isn't as accomplished a lover as I am?'

She snorted. 'Oh, aren't we full of ourselves tonight?' She ran a hand through his dark, messy hair and kissed him. 'I'll have you know that Harry treats me with the utmost respect.'

He laughed out loud. 'What a pathetic wanker. Did he never try to cop a feel?'

'Oh, that he did, but I made pretty clear that this was beyond boyfriend privileges. To get more, he'll have to put a shiny bauble on my finger.'

His gaze became calculating. 'When do you think he will propose?'

'At Christmas, at the latest. His hormones will be driving him crazy by then.'

They broke out into laughter.

'So, you'll be Mrs Harry Potter around this time next year,' he said, and pressed his lips into a thin, flat line.

She palmed his cheek in her hand and turned his head towards her. 'There's no need to be jealous, love,' she said, and kissed him. 'After all, we developed this plan together. Only a couple of years after that, and I can divorce him and leave with a big chunk of his fortune.' Her voice adopted a pitiful tone. 'He owes me that, since I'm going to give up my promising Quidditch career to bear his children.'

His mouth quirked into a half-hearted smile at her antics. 'Yeah, the Potter fortune is vast, my contact at Gringotts assured me, though I have no idea where it comes from.'

She made herself more comfortable on his shoulder. 'Today, Harry got a letter from one Cyrus Greengrass. He wrote he had to talk to Harry about his inheritance from his grandfather's estate on the Potter side.'

His muscles tensed under her body. 'Cyrus Greengrass, you say? The Greengrass family owns Crystal Fairy Beauty Products. They sell their beauty potions worldwide, and dabble in the Muggle beauty market, too. They are Galleons-billionaires. There's always been talk about a silent partner, however. I wonder if that's Potter.'

Her index finger trailed lazy circles on his chest. 'Well, in that case he isn't going to miss the money I'll take with me.'

He lifted her chin with his finger and looked into her eyes. 'Aren't you feeling a little pity for the way we're going to treat him? I mean, you've pined for him ever since you came to Hogwarts, and everyone could see you were over the moon as he made you his girlfriend last year.'

The muscles in her neck stiffened. Why did he have to bring that up right now? She narrowed her eyes at him. 'That might have been the case before he left me. You were there last year; you saw what the Carrows did to me because of him. I'd be dead if you hadn't stepped in and saved me from their torture, all whilst the golden boy-wonder was saving the world. He owes me, don't you think?' She hated how bitter her voice sounded.

He held up his hands to placate her. 'Whoa, don't rip my head off. It's only … I wish I wasn't poor and that I could give you the good life you deserve without having to resolve to dirty tactics like this.'

She relaxed and chuckled. 'A snake with moral qualms. I never would've thought that possible.' She raised her head and looked him straight into the eyes. 'You know everything about how poor my family is, love. I don't want to end up like my mother, forever worrying about money, and sometimes not even knowing where the next meal will come from. I want a good life. I want to become rich, and then I want to marry you and have your children. If that means messing around with the Chosen One, so mote it be.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

4

The Rectory, May 1998

Daphne Greengrass stood in the light and airy hallway in front of the door to her father's study. The cold of the stone floor permeated through the thin sole of her ballet flats, but she didn't care. Her heart hammered in her chest. What did he want from her? Had she done something to attract his displeasure? She racked her brain, but came up empty.

She wiped the sweaty palms of her hands on the sides of her robes and took a deep breath. There was no use putting off the inevitable. She raised her hand and knocked. The noise sounded hollow in her ears.

'Come in,' Father's gruff voice said from inside.

She opened the door and slipped into the study. 'You wanted to talk to me, Father?'

The small room was orderly and nondescript. A row of custom made mahogany bookcases and filing cabinets dominated the wall to her right. The matching desk was positioned in an exact right angle to the bookcases. The desk itself was empty, except for a black leather desk pad, a silver inkwell and a flat, carved tray made out of some black, tropical wood that held an immaculate eagle-feather quill. The walls were as bare as the desk; no picture adorned them.

However, no one except Father and her knew about the secrets the gleaming filing cabinets kept, and she was sure she knew not even half of them.

Father sat behind his desk, his back pointed to the window that looked out onto the enclosed garden with its colourful flower beds, as if he didn't want anything to distract him. He leaned back in his chair, his hands steepled in front of him. His bland face didn't give away his feelings, but one look into his calm, warm eyes told her that she wasn't in trouble - at least not yet.

He motioned with his hand to the high backed, wooden visitor chairs in front of his desk. 'Sit down, Daphne.'

She obeyed, mindful to keep her upper body upright and not to lean against the back of the chair, as her governess had taught her, and folded her hands in her lap.

'I asked the Potter heir to meet me today, and he accepted my offer.'

Her heart jumped back into her throat. Why did he have to bring up Harry? Of course, she knew about the connection between their families, and she had even tried to get near him at Hogwarts because of that.

Unfortunately, "tried" was the operative word in that sentence. Malfoy's petty reaction to the rejection he'd received from Harry on the train, and that had become the talk of Slytherin house within hours, had seen to that. Who would've thought that Crabbe and Goyle were such gossips? And who would've thought that a future Slytherin barged into his first conversation with the Boy-Who-Lived with as much tact as a Gryffindor?

However, between Malfoy's idiocy and Weasley's jealousy it had been impossible for her to get near Harry, even if she had been as daring and outgoing as Pansy. Instead, she had to watch him from afar as he bumbled through six years of magical education.

His ignorance of their culture and his heritage were obvious from the first day on. Oh, how she had longed to help him. She would've kept him out of the hair-raising adventures that seemed to find him each year - or at least made sure he'd employ some of the admittedly little common sense he had before he jumped into the fray.

Not that she minded his rash temper. She had caution and common sense enough for both of them."Obsessing about Potter" Astoria had called it, whenever she ranted to her about Harry's latest narrow escape. Astoria had no idea. She was already beyond obsessing. She knew that since her fourth year, when she had cried herself to sleep the night after Harry's escape from Voldemort. She'd devoted herself to him, body and soul.

'I'm going to suggest a marriage contract between him and and you,' Father said.

Her heart thumped hard, and her hand flew to her chest. 'You're going to do what?' Her voice sounded higher than normal. He was taking the mickey, wasn't he?

Of course not. Father never made jokes.

His gaze was still calm and warm as he pondered her reaction. 'I always had the impression you weren't indifferent to him, Daphne.'

Oh, great, found out by her own father. How embarrassing could it get? She lowered her head to hide her hot cheeks behind her long hair, and bit on her lips.

Thanks to the excellent training she had received from her governess she regained her composure after drawing a few, deep breaths, and raised her head. 'That's beside the point, Father. You'll need to count his feelings into the equation. Last I heard was he had a girlfriend he loves very much. It's more likely he'll propose to her, and not to me.'

There, she had voiced her objections, and even kept calm and collected while doing so. It was not easy to disagree with Father. Daphne sat a little more upright and puffed out her chest.

Father let out a low chuckle. He leaned forward, his forearms on the desk pad, and gave her an amused look. 'I know about that girl, Daphne. Do you think I'm going into an important meeting without the necessary preparation?'

Of course not; Father was always prepared. It was the secret to his success. She shook her head.

'I thought so,' Father said. 'She's his first girlfriend, I've been told. Nobody ends up marrying his first girlfriend, I assure you. I'm going to explain the advantages of a connection between our families to him. I'm sure he doesn't want to miss out on that opportunity.'

Maybe Father wasn't prepared as well as he thought. There was no way Harry would agree to this plan, even if he didn't love the Weaselette as much as he did. Harry wasn't corruptible; as Father would find out soon.

At the moment, however, he was still far from believing that his plan could fail. 'When that's the case, I expect that you'll fulfill your duty to the family and accept his offer.'

As if that would ever happen. The day pigs could fly, maybe. 'Of course I will, Father,' she said. Father didn't like opposition within his family. There was no point aggravating him about something that wouldn't come to pass, anyway.

Father gave her one of his rare smiles. 'I knew you would. You are a good daughter, Daphne. Now, you're excused. I expect Potter to show up any second. It wouldn't do for the two of you to run into each other at this stage.'

Daphne rose from her chair and left the room. She closed the door behind herself and took a deep breath. The next second she hurried down the hallway, oblivious to the indignant shouts of the many family portraits that protested her uncouth behaviour. Her leather soles skidded on the smooth stone floor as she turned around to climb up the stairs, and she had to grab the carved pillar at the end of the bannister to prevent herself from falling flat on her face. She flew up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, until she reached the second floor. Her breath puffed, and she didn't take the time to announce herself as she barged into Astoria's room.

Astoria sat at the window that overlooked the park and worked on her embroidery. At Daphne's unceremonious entrance she put her work into the basket on the small table beside her and turned around her wheelchair with a practised move of her hands.

'What's got your knickers in a twist, Daphne?' Nothing but a raised brow betrayed her amused astonishment. Astoria had inherited her poker face from their father, together with his piercing teal coloured eyes and his dark hair.

'Father … Harry …" A coughing fit overcame Daphne, and she couldn't finish the sentence.

'I should've known it had to do with Potter. Nothing makes you lose your composure as quickly and as completely as that boy.'

Daphne raised her head and glared at her sister, still too out of breath to give her the angry retort that was at the tip of her tongue. She leaned with her back against the smooth wood of the door and tried to catch her breath.

Astoria gave her another quirk of her eyebrow and clicked her fingers.

Their house elf appeared beside her wheelchair. 'What can Matty do for Missy Tori?'

'Please, bring us some lemon water, Matty,' Astoria said.

Matty bowed and vanished. Only seconds later she returned. She had a silver tray in her hand, with a pitcher of water, a plate of lemon slices and two tall glasses on it. She put the tray onto a table within easy reach for Astoria.

'Thank you, that's all, Matty.'

Matty bowed again and disappeared.

Astoria moved her wheelchair to the table. She put a slice of lemon into one of the glasses and filled it with water. Then she picked up her wand from her lap and Levitated the glass towards Daphne.

Daphne grabbed the glass and emptied it with a few, deep gulps. 'Thank you, 're a lifesaver.' She pushed herself off the door with her shoulders, walked towards the chair that stood beside the table, and put the empty glass back on the tray. 'Father's going to propose a marriage contract between Harry and me,' she said, and plopped down into the chair.

'Congratulations, sister. You must be over the moon.'

Daphne glared at her. 'Please, don't act like a prick, Tori. You know as good as I that it'll never happen. Harry's in love with the Weaselette.'

Astoria didn't look up from the glass of lemon water she was preparing for herself. 'Yeah, but for how much longer? You saw what the Weaselette did last year.'

'I saw nothing, Astoria.'

Astoria put the pitcher back onto the tray with more force than necessary. 'Come on, Daph. You're fooling yourself. She lived in his room from September to the beginning of the Easter holidays.'

'He did it to protect her from the wrath of the Carrows, Tori. For all we know he might have acted like the perfect gentleman towards her,' she said.

'Hogwarts' biggest man-whore? I know that you tend to believe only the best of people, sis, but even you can't be as naïve as that.' Astoria's eyes mocked her over the rim of her glass.

Daphne sighed and leaned back into the chair. 'I'm not that naïve, thank you very much for the flowers, Tori. But I've also seen how Harry looks at her. He loves her.'

Astoria put the glass on the table. 'So, you're letting him run into his doom to make him happy? You've got a strange notion of love, dear sister.'

Daphne pushed a stray lock of hair out of her face. 'We were at war last year, Tori. People did things they normally wouldn't have done because of that. You and I have no idea what the Weaselette had to do to survive. We're certainly not in the place to judge her. Whatever happened or did not happen, it's between her and Harry. Besides that, she and Harry split up at the end of my sixth year, so technically she was free to do as she pleased.'

As if Harry was going to do a one-eighty degree turn and fall in love with her if she ran to him and tattled on the Weaselette. It was more likely that he'd hate the bearer of the bad news forever.

Astoria snorted at that. 'You believed that? Get real, Daphne, everyone knew it was one of Potter's noble gestures to take the heat off her. It was plain to see that it killed both of them. Well, in her case only until she found someone to comfort her. So, stop being bloody noble.'

'I'm not noble. I'm trying to be rational about the situation, as any good Slytherin should be.' She reached for the pitcher and poured herself another glass of water.

'Good for you.' Astoria gave her a small smile. 'How is it that your rational side didn't tell you that Potter doesn't love the little hussy?'

'What?' Daphne's hand with the glass in it stopped midway between the table and her mouth. 'Tori, I've seen how he looks at her.'

'So have I,' Astoria said. 'He's not in love with her, he's infatuated with her, Daph. There's more to love than a mutual love for Quidditch and some snogging. That's all those two have in common. One day he'll wake up and see that he kissed the wrong princess.'

Daphne took a sip of her water. 'That's his decision to make, Tori.' Her heart was a heavy stone in her chest. Even if Harry separated from the Weaselette, he'd never fall in love with her. Harry liked beautiful, athletic girls, who shared his love for Quidditch and had a fiery personality. Both Chang and the Weaselette fitted right into that. She, on the other hand - was nothing like that.

Astoria huffed. 'I thought you loved him.'

'I love him enough to want him to be happy, sis. If he fails, I'll be there to pick up the pieces - if he lets me.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

5

The Rectory, May 1998

The Portkey Cyrus Greengrass had sent that morning in reply to his letter dropped Harry in front of an ornate, white, wooden gate. Only his excellent seeker reflexes let him grab for the handle of the gate and prevented him from falling on his arse.

The handle vibrated under his touch, and the gate swung open. Harry almost lost his balance for a second time because of the unexpected movement, and cursed. He took a look around to get his bearings. To the left and right of him a lonely country road stretched into both directions. No human dwelling could be seen, which wasn't unusual, since most wizard and witches tended to live as far away from Muggles as possible.

Ahead of him, a yellow brick coachway meandered through what seemed to be a small forest.

Harry raised his eyebrows. 'Really?' A chuckle welled up in him. Had someone in the Greengrass family read the Wizard of Oz? If yes, he or she had a sense of humour. A point in favour of the Greengrasses: he yet had to come across any humorous Death Eaters.

He walked up the coachway. Behind him, the front gate clicked shut. The house couldn't be seen from here. How far would he have to walk? Merlin give not too far. His battered trainers had seen better days and looked as if they were about to fall apart. There hadn't been time yet to go shopping, not to mention that he still had to sort out with Gringotts the conditions of access to his vault after the break-in. Somehow, he doubted the Goblins would let him waltz into their bank and do business as usual.

At least his robes looked decent. A grudging Mrs Weasley had washed and ironed one of his school robes from sixth year, though he had lost that much weight during his time on the run that the robes hung down from his shoulders as if from a scarecrow. He'd made sure Mrs Weasley hadn't noticed how thin he had become: a few strategically placed Glamour Charms and Illusion Charms took care of that.

When she returned from Australia, Hermione would be amazed about what he had picked up during all those endless hours they went over their books again and again in the hope to find something that would help them to survive.

He turned around a bend in the coachway and stopped in his tracks.

'Woah!'

The small forest had given way to a south facing park. In front of him, a lake glittered in the morning sun. A white pavillion beckoned from a small island in the middle of the lake. To the left, at the northern end of the park, sprawled an impressive white manor. The coachway led straight towards it.

Harry took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and marched on. Thank Merlin, the coachway still was shaded by the trees and shrubbery that was planted alongside the eastern boundary of the estate, or he would've been cooked alive in his black school robes, despite the Cooling Charms he had cast on himself.

The coachway swerved to the left, away from the park and the house, and around a small grove with a pond. It ended on a circular place. To his left stood a hut; it could have been a twin to Hagrid's hut in Hogwarts, only that it was painted green. In front of him a gravelled path seemed to lead into an orchard. He could make out Quidditch hoops above treetops in full bloom. Another point in favour of the Greengrass family. To the right, an iron gate in a high, red brick wall led to the manor.

He walked towards the gate and put his hand on the handle. As he had expected, the handle vibrated under his touch. This time, he was ready for the gate to swing open for him.

A broad, gravelled path, lined by huge cypresses, led to the main entrance of the house. The cypresses provided a privacy screen for the patios in front of the western and the eastern wing of the house. The side wings, as well as the backside of the house, were all done in the same red brick as the high wall that sheltered the house from the northern winds.

Harry walked towards the main entrance. The door opened before he had reached it, and an elf, clad in a green linen toga, bowed before him.

'Master ordered to bring the great Harry Potter to him the moment he arrives,' the elf said.

'Thank you, that's very kind of you. What's your name?'

The head of the small creature jerked up. 'The great Harry Potter asks Matty for her name.' Matty sounded amazed, although not as overwhelmed as poor Dobby had been. Harry examined her from the corner of his eyes. She looked well fed, healthy and clean, and while her demeanour was deferential, she showed no signs of fear. A third point in favour of the Greengrass family.

Matty led him through a vestibule into a broad, airy hallway with a high ceiling. The walls were lined with portraits of wizards and witches in ancient looking robes: the Greengrass ancestors, no doubt. At the sight of him, whispering ensued. A sweet smell permeated the air, and Harry looked around for the source. His gaze fell on a spindle-legged table, and a silver bowl on it that was filled to the brim with rose petals under an Everlasting Charm.

Matty knocked at a door left of the vestibule. A gruff voice called them to come in, and Matty opened the door for Harry.

Harry stepped into the room and was stopped by a huge desk as soon as he had crossed the threshold. For someone as rich and as influential as Cyrus Greengrass, his private office was tiny.

The man behind the desk was as bland as his office: dark, receding hair and a clean shaved face with amiable, yet not remarkable features. His eyes, however, were different. A strange mix of blue and green, they seemed to see to the bottom of his soul. Was the man a Legilimens? He at once raised the paltry Occlumency shields he had, but the telltale probing at the outskirts of his mind never came. No Legilimens, but just an extraordinary piercing glance, then. Thank Merlin, he would've hated to have to be on guard constantly during the upcoming conversation.

Cyrus Greengrass rose from his chair and held his hand out in greeting. 'Welcome to The Rectory, Mr Potter. I'm glad you responded to my letter on such short notice. We should've met no later than the day after your seventeenth birthday.'

Harry returned the handshake. 'Thank you, sir. You have no idea what it means to me to learn more about my family. But, please, call me Harry.'

'In that case, you'll have to call me Cyrus,' Mr Greengrass said, and invited him with his hand to sit down on one of the uncomfortable looking chairs in front of his desk.

Was it possible to cast a Cushioning Charm before he sat down? Better not, it would look impolite. Harry sat down on the offered chair. It was even more uncomfortable than he had feared. 'Thank you, Cyrus,' he said.

'I guess we'll be seeing a lot of each other from now on, so it's of no use to stay on formalities.' Cyrus smiled at him. It looked as if he didn't do that often, but it changed the whole man.

'At one point, I'll also introduce you to my wife and my daughters. I believe, you and my Daphne have been in the same year at Hogwarts.'

Harry nodded to that. 'Yes, but in different houses. I doubt I ever spoke to her. The house rivalries saw to that.' Not to mention that he'd been terrified to talk to girls, but Cyrus didn't need to know that.

Cyrus' face sobered. 'We've been through very dark times. Thanks to you the threat is over.'

The heat crept into Harry's cheeks. 'I was not the only one who fought, Cyrus.'

Cyrus gave him a shrewd glance. 'That's true; but you sacrificed the most, I've been told.'

Harry started. How by Merlin's saggy underpants did he know? That was classified information. Or - Was he just fishing in the dark, in the hope he'd give away information? After all he'd seen of the man he wouldn't put it past him.

'I believe you wanted to talk to me about my grandfather, Cyrus.'

Cyrus quirked an eyebrow, however, nothing in his demeanour betrayed that he acknowledged the refusal. 'Ah yes, your grandfather. Did you know he was my godfather?' He turned around and took a folder out of an filing cabinet to his left.

'Was he? I never knew. Can you tell me about him, Cyrus?' Merlin, now he sounded as eager as a house elf.

'I can do even better than that. There's a portrait of your grandfather in the conference room at Crystal Fairy's. I'd be happy to introduce you to him one day.'

'Brilliant!' Harry didn't bother to suppress the broad grin on his face.

Cyrus opened the folder in front of him. 'Back to the more pressing problems on my hands, Harry. I guess you don't know that your grandfather and my father were best friends. Together, they founded the Crystal Fairy Beauty Company, and turned it into a multi-corporated, worldwide operating business.

'It didn't take them long to branch out into the Muggle markets. Today, the bulk of the turnover comes from the Muggle part of the company. We're what the Muggles call global players in our field.' He looked at Harry as if to make sure he could follow him so far.

Harry nodded. What had that to do with him?

'I was raised to become the successor of my father. Uncle Fleamont and Aunt Euphemia, however, were childless for a very long time. They had already given up all hope for a child when your father was born, I'd just turned twenty. I became his godfather, by the way,' Cyrus said.

Harry hung on his every word. These new insights in his family's history were fantastic. He wanted to dance a happy jig here and now. Of course, that was impossible under Cyrus' stern gaze.

'Your father was the cutest rascal imaginable, and Uncle Fleamont and Aunt Euphemia spoilt him rotten.' Cyrus smiled, lost in his memories. 'In that light it's probably not amazing that James wasn't much inclined to work for the family company.

'In stark contrast to your mother, by the way. Lily was studying to become a Potions Mistress, while James devoted all his energy and his not inconsiderable income to the fight against V-Voldemort.'

Harry's head reeled. He'd had no idea that his mother wanted to become a Potions Mistress.

'Uncle Fleamont and Aunt Euphemia died in the big Dragon Pox epidemic of seventy-eight, just as my father. Your parents just got engaged back then, and you weren't even in the making.' Cyrus shot him a humorous glance.

'Uncle Fleamont was well aware what a happy-go-lucky chap James was, so he decreed in his will that James should be his heir, but not to be able to dispose of the estate before he turned thirty. He made me the executor of his estate. James wasn't able to lay his hand on any of it without my consent. Of course, he got a generous yearly livelihood out of it as soon as he got married.

'Since James was still so young, Uncle Fleamont decreed that the same rules should apply to James' children, in case James died without making his own will. Unfortunately, exactly that happened. That's why I'm still the executor of your grandfather's will, and will remain in control of his estate until you turn thirty.'

Harry gaped at him. That was a lot to take in. Too bad Hermione was still in Australia and not here with him to translate that legal mumbo-jumbo.

'I believe, you won't find me unreasonable, Harry. Of course you'll get an income from the estate. There are also a number of houses you can take your pick from to live in. But first and foremost your training to become my successor at Fairy Crystal has to be planned.'

His what? Harry sat bolt upright. He was going to become an Auror. There was no way he was going to dabble in beauty potions. Ugh, did he look like Malfoy or what? He opened his mouth to tell Cyrus just that.

Cyrus, however, didn't seem to be used to interruptions. Or he was deliberately ignoring him, and went on with his speech.

'It has been the wish of my father and your grandfather to join our families and the company shares in marriage. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible in your father's and my generation. At least, in your generation the time has come to fulfill their wish, Harry. I already talked to Daphne. She is willing to fulfill her duty to the family. I have no doubt that you'll also do what's expected of you.'

'WHAT?' Harry sprang up from his seat. 'You're taking the mickey, Cyrus.'

'Sit down. My dear boy, you'll find out that I never joke,' Cyrus said.

Harry ignored him. He ran his hands through his hair until it stood out in all directions. 'This has to be a bad joke. You can't expect me to marry a girl I've never spoken to. I have a girlfriend, for Merlin's sake, and I planned -.' He interrupted himself and bit his lips. There was no use in telling Cyrus that he planned on proposing to Ginny as soon as he was in Auror training. He wouldn't understand.

'Oh, I never said you can't keep your little … distractions once you're married, Harry.'

That was appalling. Did that man really expect him to marry his daughter and cheat on her? He turned towards the door. 'I think I've heard enough, sir.'

'If you leave this room I'll make sure that you won't get a Knut out of the estate until you turn thirty or fulfill your duty to your family, whichever comes first,' Cyrus said behind him.

Harry shrugged. His parents and Sirius had left him plenty, he surely didn't need more money on top of that. Besides that, he'd earn his own money very soon.

He opened the door and left the room, not once looking back.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

6

The Rectory, May 1998

Cyrus Greengrass stared at the door Harry had just shut behind himself. Few had ever dared to walk out on him. Didn't the lad know what an opportunity he had presented to him on a silver platter?

He had offered him two of his three biggest treasures: one of his daughters and his life's work, and Harry had just shrugged them off. Any other young man in his circle would've grabbed the chance without hesitation. Though, none of them had Harry's raw power and strength of character that were almost palpable in each of his gestures. He could've sworn the air had crackled around the lad during his outburst. The boy didn't know it yet, but he was a born leader.

A low rumble rose in Cyrus' chest. The boy had balls, that he had to give him. Of course, he had killed Voldemort. Anyone who'd managed that feat would grow a pair. Damned, if he didn't like the boy even more for not yielding to his bidding. Daphne had good instincts. She wanted to have him, and now he'd make sure she'd get him. Any father would be proud to marry his daughter to a man like Harry.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. He signaled for the door to open.

'Mister Nicky Greco, Master,' Matty said, and held the door for his visitor.

Cyrus rose from his chair. 'Nicholas, it's a pleasure to see you.'

'Likewise, Cyrus,' his visitor said. He was a man in his late fifties with reddish hair and brown eyes. Unlike Cyrus, who was clad in dark business robes, he wore a conservative Muggle suit of grey.

The two men shook hands and sat down.

'What have you found out, Nicholas?'

Nicholas Greco opened the briefcase he had brought with him and pulled a folder out of it he put on the desk in front of him. 'This is my report. It isn't much, I'm afraid. I'm sorry to tell you that your brother Dorian was among the Death Eaters who were killed at the Battle of Hogwarts.'

Cyrus slumped in his chair. He lowered his head to hide the tears from Greco that threatened to well up in his eyes. His little brother was dead; he'd never again see him. Though, realistically he'd been dead to the family for twenty-three years, ever since he made that horrible choice, and Father had cast him out. So, why did Greco's news hurt so much?

He raised his hand to rub away the pain in his chest. His hand was trembling, and he hid his hands beneath the desk. He cleared his throat. 'What about the body? Will the Ministry give it back, so that he can be buried on the family plot?' His voice sounded hoarse, and he cleared his throat once again.

Greco opened the folder in front of him and re-read some if the information he had collected. 'The bodies of the fallen Death Eaters have all been released. The body of your brother already has been claimed, I've been told.' He paged through the folder. 'Ah, here it is. It has been released to one Ms Nancy Carrington from Salem, Massachusetts. Though, she didn't turn up in person, the staff at the morgue at St Mungo's told me. She sent a young man in her stead who claimed the body. He had an American accent, but otherwise was unremarkable. Sorry I don't have more for you.'

He shut the folder and leaned back in his chair.

Silence descended on the room. Cyrus was still slumped in his chair, his head hung low, and he pondered Greco's findings.

So, that's where Dorian had disappeared to after the first wizarding war came to an end. No surprise they couldn't find a trace of him in England. Carrington … They were a prominent Pureblood family in the USA, and rumoured to be strong supporters and financial backers of "The Cause", as that damned supremacism was called over there.

Cyrus gave a derisive snort. He didn't have much patience for people like that. Any kind of -ism was bad for business, in the both the magical and Muggle worlds.

Greco interrupted his thoughts. 'Do you want me to go to Salem and find out more about the young man who claimed the body?'

Cyrus started. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward, putting his forearms on the desk pad, and bowed his head once more. Did he want Greco to find out more about his brother's life since the first wizarding war ended? The body had been released to one Nancy Carrington, so it was very likely his brother had married her at some point. What if the young man was his brother's son? Should he reach out a hand to him and reconcile the family?

Given the current political climate in England, it could be unwise to do so. He'd been a little too zealous in maintaining the neutrality of the Greengrass family during the last war, and now the political leanings of his family were being questioned by a large number of the new people in power. If the young man was a child of his brother with Nancy Carrington, he was most likely an ardent Pureblood supremacist.

No, for the sake of his family and the company he couldn't dare to seek out his brother's supposed family.

He raised his head and looked at Greco. 'Thank you, Nicholas, but I'd rather let bygones be bygones. My father cast out Dorian for a reason, and I will respect his decision.'

Greco nodded. 'I can understand that,' he said, and pushed the folder towards Cyrus. 'I guess that you'd want to keep that for future reference.'

'Right,' Cyrus said. He took the folder and put it into the filing cabinet next to his desk.

'Is that all for today?' Greco asked.

Cyrus opened his mouth to voice his affirmation, but hesitated. No actually, there was someone else he needed to be investigated.

'I have a new job for you, Nicholas. I want you to find out everything about one Miss Ginny Weasley.'

t.b.c.

 

Chapter Text

7

The Burrow, May 1998

Harry lay in the soft, sweet smelling grass of the orchard of The Burrow. Above him, the first stars appeared at the clear summer sky.

Ginny snuggled up to him. 'A Knut for your thoughts.'

Harry put his arms around her and smiled at her. 'I doubt they're worth that much.'

'You'll never know before you try to sell them. What's the matter with you, Harry? You've been awfully quiet all day long. Wasn't your meeting with Mr Greengrass what you expected?'

Harry sighed. He pulled his arms away and sat up. 'Yes and no. That man's a wealth of information about my family. He was the godson of my grandfather, and my dad was his godson. But I totally botched it up when I didn't agree to his demands. I doubt he'll ever again talk to me.' He propped up his legs, encircled them with his arms, and rested his chin on his knees.

Ginny sat up beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. 'Was it that bad?' Her chocolate brown eyes searched his face.

'He wants me to become his successor in the family business and marry his daughter,' Harry said. 'You can imagine, I didn't take that kindly. That somehow cut off any further communication.'

Ginny snorted. 'Yeah, I can see that. I mean, you've wanted to become an Auror ever since your fifth year. He can't take that away from you.'

Harry smiled at her. 'Right. I also have a good idea who I want to marry someday.' His heart hammered. How would she react to his hint?

Ginny blushed, lowered her eyes with a coy smile, and turned her head away. 'What did he say when you refused his offer?'

Harry's stomach clenched. Didn't she want him? He pressed his lips together and glanced at Ginny from the corner of his eyes. She still had her face averted. In her faded jeans and her plain tshirt, her ponytail messy from the flying they'd done after dinner, she looked much younger than her sixteen years.

He was an idiot. She was still so young; of course she needed time to get used to the thought of marriage and a family. He couldn't wait for that day to come; he had dreamt about it each night when he'd been obsessing about her dot on the Marauder's Map. She'd suffered so much because of him. Each night she'd spent in the dungeons, tortured at first by the Carrows and later by one of the seventh year Slytherins. Merlin only knew what he'd done to her when he dragged her into his room night after night; he hadn't dared asking her, and she never mentioned that time. He couldn't blame her for that, no one knew better than him that there are wounds you had to keep from everyone, even those who are closest to you. He'd spend the rest of his life to make up to her for that and make her happy.

'Well, it turns out he's the executor of my grandfather's will. After our slightly heated discussion he told me I'm not going to get a single Knut out of the estate before I turn thirty, or give in to his demands, whichever comes first,' he said aloud.

Ginny's head whipped around. There was a strange expression in her eyes when she looked at him.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and grinned at her. 'I guess I'll have to wait until I'm thirty. There's no way I'm going to work for a beauty company, or marry a girl I don't know. After all, I don't need the money. There's still more than enough in my vault, and Aurors are well paid.'

'Yeah, right,' Ginny said. It looked as if she was going to say more on that topic, but any further conversation was interrupted by Mrs Weasley, who called them back to the house.

Harry rolled his eyes at Ginny, scrambled to his feet and held his hand out to her to haul her up.

When they reached the house, Mr and Mrs Weasley were just about to retire for the night. Under Mrs Weasley's watchful eyes, Harry gave Ginny a chaste goodnight kiss on the cheek, and climbed up the stairs to Ron's room, which he had all to himself since Ron had left to go to Australia with Hermione. He gathered his shower kit and a towel and went down to the family bathroom to get ready for the night.

His ablutions didn't take long. He dried his face and put his things back into his shower kit. As always, he hadn't stripped off the wandholster. He never did; the last ten months had made him more than just slightly paranoid. He slipped his wand out of the holster, cancelled the charms he had placed on himself, and scrutinised his reflection in the mirror.

His pale skin stretched too tight over his skull, and his eyes were sunken deep into their sockets. The unhealthy look was enhanced by the dark, almost black circles below his eyes. His arms seemed to be mere sticks. He looked down at himself: his legs didn't look any better, and his hip bones stood out.

Had he lost more weight in the last week? Yes, he looked even worse than directly after the Battle. His heartbeat quickened, and his already pale face turned ashen. He was eating more than enough, Mrs Weasley made sure of that. By now, he should've regained some of the weight he'd lost during the time on the run. Instead, he'd become even thinner, and felt weak and tired all the time. Thank Merlin for Pepper-Up-Potions. He wouldn't make it through the day without them.

Harry replaced the Glamour and Illusion Charms, until a healthy looking young male looked back at him from the mirror.

He opened the door and stepped out onto the hallway. He had restored his looks, however, the black thoughts stayed with him. What was happening to him? Would he make it through the Auror health exams?

He climbed up the stairs to Ron's bedroom, slipped into it and closed the door behind himself. A wave of dizziness overcame him; leaning back against the door, he clutched his arms to his chest. A new thought hit him; his chest constricted, and he had to fight for breath.

What if he was about to die?

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

8

The Burrow, May 1998

Ginny pushed down the handle of her bedroom door. She pulled the door open ever so slightly and peered out into the hallway through the small gap.

The hallway was dark and quiet. No strip of light was visible at the bottom of the door to mum and dad's bedroom. Did she dare to slip out of her bedroom? Or should she wait some more, to be sure that they both were asleep? She strained her ears. The faint snores that came from the direction of mum and dad's bedroom were a sure sign that dad was sound asleep. She didn't need to worry about mum. Ever since Fred's death she took a Dreamless Sleep Potion at night.

She opened the door just wide enough to slip out into the hallway. From long experience she knew which boards of the wooden floor creaked when someone stepped on them, and how to avoid them. The part from the bathroom to the landing was tricky; almost each board in that area creaked if stepped on in the wrong way. She hesitated. Should she take the route alongside the wall of the bathroom door, or hop from board to board, leaving out the creaking boards?

The bathroom door opening took the decision from of her hands. Ginny pressed herself flat against the wall and held her breath. Her heart hammered. Harry wouldn't tell on her, but he'd want to know where she was going. While a nightly flight was a failsafe excuse, he'd want to join her, and then she wouldn't get to leave the grounds tonight.

Harry stepped out of the bathroom. He didn't look in her direction as he closed the door. The next second he turned his back on her and walked to the landing. A few seconds later the steps of the stairs to the upper floor creaked.

She waited until she heard the door to Ron's bedroom shut behind Harry. The moment the soft click echoed through the silent house, she scurried down the hallway and the stairs.

One look at his sullen face had been enough. He was brooding - again. Why couldn't he give it a rest? The war was over, for Merlin's sake. Yes, they had both lost people they loved; she was still crying for Fred at least once a day. None of her tears would bring him back; she'd accepted that. It was time to move on. Harry, it seemed, was incapable of letting go. No surprise there. He'd always brooded too much for his own good. There'd been a time when she felt attracted to that. Nowadays it was just annoying.

She left the house, ran to the gate and Apparated away. Her body tingled, and she wet her lips as she knocked on the familiar door a few minutes later. Was he at home? He didn't expect her tonight.

The door opened a small crack. The war had made them all cautious. The next second, the door was yanked open, and he pulled her inside.

'I didn't expect you tonight.' He brushed her hair out of her face and kissed her.

She was where she belonged; her world was whole again.

'I've got news about Harry and his inheritance,' she said, much later, as they laid snuggled together under the silver covers of his bed.

He searched her face with his eyes. 'That sounds as if it isn't good news then.'

She made a face at that. 'Unfortunately, you're right.'

'Tell me,' he said, and pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear.

The tender gesture melted her heart, and she turned her head and kissed his hand. She hated what she had to tell him right now.

'The Potter fortune is under executorship. Cyrus Greengrass, Merlin shrink his underpants, has his own agenda for Harry. He wants him to marry his mousy daughter, and to become his successor at the company. To ensure that Harry complies with his wishes, he informed Harry he wouldn't get any money out of the estate before he turns thirty, unless he bows to his demands.'

His face didn't move while she delivered her news. Didn't he care about them?

He took his sweet time to ponder her words. 'That's … unfortunate,' he said.

She shot bolt upright in the bed. The covers slid off her upper body and revealed her chest; she didn't care. 'Unfortunate? That's all you have to say?'

'Sorry that I don't have your inclination for drama.' He grinned at her, and his eyes roamed her body.

She let out an irritated huff, pulled the covers up to her breasts and laid back. 'Quit looking at me as if I'm your dessert.'

He turned towards her and propped his head on his hand. 'Oh, but you are, love, and a very delicious one on top of that.' The grin he gave her this time was roguish and wild.

'Prat,' she said. It sounded half-hearted in her ears. 'You'd better tell me what I'm supposed to do about Harry. Shall we pursue this plan with him or look out for another fish to catch?'

'That depends how big the other fish in the pond are, don't you agree?' He traced the outline of her jaw with the tip of his index finger. She trembled under his touch and hardly understood his next words. 'Pursuing Potter means you'll be caught in that marriage for a longer time than we estimated, but the outcome will be worth it. On the down side, he probably will be pestering you for little Potters sooner than you're ready.'

'That'll be the day hell freezes over,' she said, and shuddered. She might be a Weasley, but she had no intention of becoming a mother, if she could help it. At least not the mother of Harry's children. She looked at the young man beside her. His children, however, would be something different...

He smiled at her. There was a lot of understanding in his eyes. 'Looking for other fish means that you will have to do that marriage and divorce thing a couple of times, since there aren't many wizards as rich as Potter.'

She made a face at that. 'Great. I can already hear my mother screech into my ears. It'll be hard enough to sell one divorce to her. A couple of them means I'll be relegated to the ranks of a scarlet woman.'

Their eyes met, and they burst out laughing.

He was the first to sober. 'Better a scarlet woman than a Black Widow.'

'Yeah, probably.' She let out a deep sigh. 'I guess I'll have to put up with Harry for the foreseeable future. At least I know what I'll be getting myself into with him.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

9

Ministry of Magic, June 1998

May morphed into June, and June brought the beginning of the Death Eater trials. Daphne's eyes swept over the noisy audience in the big courtroom at the Ministry of Magic. Today would be the last day of the trial of the most prominent of them, Lucius Malfoy.

His bribery and blatant contempt for anyone whom he deemed below him hadn't endeared him to the majority of the hard working wizards and witches. Almost everyone in the wizarding world was eager to see how he got his just desserts and was then carried off to Azkaban. The tiers of the courtroom were already packed to the brim, and yet there still was a huge crowd just outside of the courtroom waiting for entrance.

She'd been lucky - at least a lot of people would think so. Father was among the judges who had been elected by the members of the Wizengamot to preside over the case. He'd ordered her to accompany him to the trial: as his heiress, she needed to learn how these things were done. So, she sat in the section reserved for the heirs of the members of the Wizengamot, a wad of parchment and a self-inking quill on her knees - for Father as sure as there were Dementors in Azkaban would quiz her about the details of the trial tonight - and waited for the trial to begin. She had more than enough room up here. Except her, there was only Ernie Macmillan watching the trial.

Loud cheers and clapping startled her out of her musings. All eyes in the courtroom were directed at the section where she sat. Surely neither she nor poor Ernie had done anything to earn the attention, so she turned around.

Harry had just entered the courtroom through a door at the top level, the Weaselette in tow. He didn't look as if he enjoyed the attention he got, though he waved and gave a nod of thanks to the audience. In contrary to him, the Weaselette looked rather pleased.

They both sat down in Daphne's row and stuck their heads together. Harry had a soft smile on his lips as they talked among themselves, and he not once took his eyes off the Weaselette's face.

A wistful sigh escaped Daphne's lips. She'd give anything for him to be looking at her like that. Did the Weaselette know how lucky she was to be adored like that? Even more important: did she reciprocate his feelings?

Daphne looked at the young girl, trying to gauge her expression and her body language.

The Weaselette looked at the audience and smiled at something Harry said. However, she leaned slightly away from him and let her eyes wander across the room, until her eyes met Daphne's. The Weaselette froze. Her eyes shot daggers at Daphne, and she put her hand on Harry's arm and said something to him. Harry tensed, and his face darkened. He looked up and stared at Daphne. If looks could kill she'd be dead here and now.

Heat crept into Daphne's face. She lowered her head and pretended to be occupied with the parchment in her lap. There was no need to ask how he felt about Father's proposal of a marriage contract between them. His angry posture said everything. It was just her luck that he seemed to blame her, too, for Father's plans. So much for Tori's idea to approach him about the Weaselette's exploits in a certain bedroom of the Slytherin boy's dorms. He was more likely to hex her into the next millennium than to hear her out if she said anything against the girl.

The doors of the courtroom banged shut. The same moment another door close to the top of the room opened, and the judges, clad in red velvet robes, descended the stairs that divided the tiers reserved for the members of the court.

Father led the impressive procession. He'd been elected as the presiding judge, the one who moderated the trial and made sure the rules of the court were obeyed. That was a great honour, and a testament that Father still was held in high esteem by his peers in the Wizengamot, in spite of his neutral stance during the last war and the fact that his brother had been found among the Death Eaters who died during the Battle of Hogwarts.

Not everyone had been happy to see him in the leading position. There had been a lot of angry whispers and dark looks cast at him on the first day of the trial. His competent handling of the trial, however, had earned him the respect of the audience and the press.

Father had reached the pulpit that was reserved for the presiding judge and took his place. He waited until the other judges had sat down, and banged the gavel.

The room fell silent. The door of the courtroom opened again, and two Aurors led Malfoy into the room. The rules of court for criminal cases had been changed on Minister for Magic Shacklebolt's demands, prior to the trials. There were no Dementors guarding the accused, thank Merlin. Instead, an additional guard of Aurors walked in and spread out on the ground floor, their wands in their hands.

Malfoy looked rather well, considering he had been in Ministry holding cells ever since the Battle of Hogwarts. He wore elegant robes, and each hair on his head was in its place, slicked back and gleaming. He wasn't in chains, either, only magical handcuffs restrained him. The aurors took the handcuffs off and motioned him to sit down. However, Malfoy didn't sit down immediately. He looked at the audience, his trademark sneer on his face.

Hisses and boos went around the room, and Father had to bang the gavel repeatedly and call for quiet. Malfoy gave the audience one last, imperious look, and took his seat. The chains on the seat of the accused had not yet been abolished, and they rattled menacingly the moment Malfoy sat down.

A white haired wizard, clad in conservative business robes and a briefcase in his hand, sat down beside Malfoy.

She cast a surreptitious look at Harry and his girlfriend. Merlin help her that he wouldn't catch her staring at him once again. Lucky for her, Harry's eyes were trained on Malfoy, like all other eyes in the room. His eyes were guarded and didn't give anything away. Sometime during the last year he must have learned how to control their expression. But he had his teeth clenched, and the tendons on his neck stood out.

The Weaselette didn't show any of Harry's restraint. Her face a mask of hate, she looked ready to spit. She said something to Harry, and he put his hand on hers, as if to calm her down.

Again, Father banged the gavel. 'The case of Magical Britain against Lucius Abraxas Malfoy is hereby reopened.'

Daphne picked up her quill and began to take notes. She'd better pay attention now, or Father would be most displeased with her tonight.

Father went through the opening formalities of the trial. After that he cautioned today's witnesses. Again, she cast a look at Harry from under her eyelashes. He'd given his testimony about Malfoy's role in the return of Voldemort yesterday.

The morning flew by with the testimony of the Aurors who had investigated Malfoy's business dealings and his financial backing of Voldemort.

Daphne leaned forward in her seat. The statements of the Aurors were most interesting. She and Father had speculated over the Malfoy holdings a lot during the last couple of years. True, their Wiltshire manor was surrounded by a lot of farmland. In fact, the Malfoys were the biggest landholders in the magical community of Britain. However, they were small fish in the pond, compared to the big Muggle landowners. There was no way the Malfoys could make the amount of money they needed for their lifestyle out of the rents they got from their tenants. Either they did business in the Muggle world - like the Greengrass family and the Potter family - or they got their money by illegal means.

Father was positive that the Malfoys had no business connections in the Muggle world. He'd set the Legal Department of the Muggle branch of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products on that case, and they'd come up empty.

The statement from the Aurors proved how the Malfoys had built up a small imperium that controlled about ninety percent of the illegal dealings at Knockturn Alley. Contrary to the audience, the judges seemed to understand what the Aurors were talking about, if their frequent additional questions were anything to go by.

Daphne cast a quick look at Harry and his girlfriend. The Weaselette looked as if she was bored to tears. Harry, however, sat leaned forward, as if not to miss a single word of the Auror's statement. On top of it, his expression indicated that he understood most of it.

Now, that was interesting. Harry had been a less than stellar student at Hogwarts. In fact, he'd belonged to the lazy bums in their year, and she'd more than once been tempted to kick his behind for his lack of interest in things he needed to know. Alas, she never was in a position to do that. So, who would've thought that he'd perk up at the dry enumeration of business shares, yearly turnovers, Gringotts vaults, nominees and tax tricks?

Father adjourned the trial for a short lunch break. They met in his office for a quick lunch Matty served them. Over sandwiches and pumpkin juice they discussed the trial.

'What did you think about the evidence from the Aurors, Daphne?' Father asked.

So the examination began. She resisted the urge to fidget in her seat. Instead, she took the time to chew and swallow the bite in her mouth. That gave her time to think about her answer. 'It should by itself be enough to send him to Azkaban for a long time. He's been selling illegal addictive potions for almost twenty-five years and laundered the profits through his legal businesses. Let's hope that the other judges are able to understand what they are talking about, and act accordingly.'

'The Wizengamot got a summary of the Malfoy file before the judges were elected, so we knew that the illegal Malfoy business dealings would play a big role in this case. For that reason, the judges that were selected all have experience in the financial aspects of business,' Father said.

Daphne put the sandwich in her hand back on her plate. 'Are you telling me that the Wizengamot for once was ruled by sensible considerations?' She raised her eyebrows at him.

Father let out a low rumble. 'Hard to believe, isn't it? But yes, that's the gist of it. I count myself lucky that I have these judges. Only very few of them are really rich. Most of them are wealthy, but still have to work for their livelihood. They have suffered and are still suffering the most from the economic crisis caused by Voldemort's return and the war. You can bet they are ready to tear Malfoy apart.' He gave her a close-lipped smile. His face was calm, but his eyes betrayed a deep satisfaction about the course of the trial.

He took a sip of his pumpkin juice. His close-lipped smile turned into a predatory grin. 'The beauty of it is that he hasn't yet realised that the noose is tightening around his neck. He thinks the judges are too dumb to understand what he's done, just like the many idiots in the audience.'

Daphne tilted her head to the side. 'You really hate him, don't you?'

Father's eyes darkened. He crumpled his napkin in his fist. 'He lured my brother away from his family, Daphne. He set the chain of events into motion that made my father cast Dorian out of the family, and that killed my brother in the end. I'll never forgive him for that.'

Her breath hitched. Father as good as never talked about his brother. He'd been cast out of the family by grandfather when he discovered that he had taken the Dark Mark. That had been five years before her birth, so she never got to know him. So it had been Malfoy who introduced Dorian to the Death Eaters. No wonder Father hated him so much. The unity of the family meant everything to him.

Father's communicativeness ended as sudden as it had begun. 'I've noticed that Harry seemed to understand quite a lot of the Auror's statements,' he said. His voice sounded satisfied, but his face was guarded once again, so it was hard to tell how he really felt about that.

'Did he?' she said, and pushed a strand of her hair out of her face. At least she didn't turn red.

Of course, she couldn't deceive him. The low rumble in Father's throat indicated his amusement. 'Oh, you know that very well, Daphne. After all, you were at least as interested in him as in the statement of the Aurors.'

Heat shot into her cheeks. She lowered her head, pretended to pick up a crumb of bread that had fallen into her lap, and tried to regain her composure.

She looked up and breathed a silent, relieved sigh. Father's attention was still on Harry. 'That was a pleasant surprise,' he said, and took another sip out of his glass. 'After all I've heard, he wasn't particularly interested in his studies. I wonder where he picked up that much information about business dealings to be able to follow the statement from the Aurors. From Muggle newspapers, maybe. They are quite different to The Prophet.'

He put his glass back on the table and pushed his plate away. 'However, it is most unfortunate that he's still with that Weasley girl. I'm still amazed he took her back after she cheated on him with that boy while he was on the run.'

Daphne didn't even blink. Of course Father knew about that. It was uncanny how he always knew about the secrets of people. Though, the Weaselette hadn't been discreet about her affair. At least all Slytherins knew about it, and Father might have got the news from anyone of the alumni. There wasn't a house at Hogwarts that was as gossipy as Slytherin.

'They broke up after Dumbledore's funeral. The whole school saw that. Technically, Weasley was free to do as she pleased,' she said.

Father nodded. 'You're right, Daphne. But at the moment she's considered to be the steady girlfriend of The-Man-Who-Conquered, and judging by her behaviour today she revels in that title. So, how does that explain that she's still meeting with her lover? Secretly, of course.'

Her head shot up, and she knocked over her glass of pumpkin juice. 'She's what?'

'I've been told she's sneaking out of the house at night at least four times a week,' Father said. He flicked his wand and Vanished the mess she'd created. 'I suppose, to meet her lover. Nicholas is still working on finding the connection between her and the boy. He's moved out from his mother's, and Nicholas hasn't yet found out where he lives now.'

She had no doubts that he told her the truth. Father was always well informed about people who could be useful to their family - or posed a danger.

'I'm sure we can use that to our advantage. I've not yet given up hope on the marriage between you and Harry,' he said, and stood up.

Daphne followed his example. Her heart thumped in her chest. Yes, that would be her biggest dream come true, but at what price? 'You're not thinking about blackmailing him, are you, Father?'

He cast her a look over his shoulder, his hand already on the handle of his office door. 'I'll do whatever is necessary to protect the interests of our family, Daphne.'

She walked back to the courtroom behind him. Her stomach churned. He couldn't mean what he indicated, could he?

She let out a snort. Who was she fooling? This was her father; he was honourable to a fault in his business dealings and his duties on the Wizengamot, but he also knew no scruples when it came to the family. He wanted to unite the company with the hand of his oldest child, and he wanted to make sure she got the man she loved, so he would do whatever he deemed necessary to make that outcome happen.

However, she wanted Harry to fall in love with her, and not marry her out of an obligation, or, even worse, because Father blackmailed him into that. Would she have the guts to stand up against Father if it came to that? She'd always chosen the easiest route and done what he wanted. To be honest, he'd always had her best interest at heart, so it had been sensible to obey. But this was different. He might have her best interest at heart, but what about Harry's?

The rest of the afternoon went by in a blurr. She hardly paid attention to the prosecutor and Malfoy's attorney giving their oral pleads. The talk in Father's office played in her mind over and over again.

She ought to stop Father. He couldn't meddle with Harry's life like that. He'd had too many people doing that already during the first eighteen years of his life, she had gathered this much from watching him at Hogwarts and devouring everything that was printed about him. But did she have the willpower to stop Father?

Most important: did she want to stop him? Even without Father's news that the Weaselette still cheated on him, she was convinced that Harry wouldn't be happy with the girl in the long run. Astoria was right: those two didn't have much in common except Quidditch.

The Weaselette was outgoing, where Harry was quiet and introverted. She loved to be the center of attention, while Harry hated that and preferred to stand on the sidelines and watch. She could be incited to anger with only the slightest provocation, while Harry bottled everything up until he finally exploded. She cared about nothing than Quidditch, and her grades at Hogwarts were appalling.

Harry, on the other hand, had begun to take a vivid interest in the rebuilding of the magical world, as the few interviews he'd given after the Battle betrayed. It was easy to imagine that he'd take an active role in the politics of their world in a few years.

He couldn't find a wife less likely to support him in that than the Weaselette. She, however, would not only be able to support him with her own accomplishments as a well-bred Pureblood woman, she also could throw behind him the weight of a hereditary seat on the Wizengamot and her family's connections.

Again, she looked at Harry and the Weaselette. He'd taken her hand into his and played with her fingers.

She sighed and slumped into her seat. Who was she fooling? There was no way Harry would ever consider her over the Weaselette. Her blonde prettiness and reticent personality paled in comparison to the fiery beauty of the Weaselette, and her matching temper.

She was startled out of her thoughts when Father asked the judges to give their verdicts. Nobody was surprised when Malfoy was found guilty and sentenced to ten years at Azkaban. The punishment was mild, but his failure to serve Voldemort properly came to his rescue: as a punishment, he hadn't been involved in any of the murders, so the only offences he committed were of a less heinous nature.

'Mr Malfoy, traditionally the accused has the last word. Do you want to speak?' Father said.

Malfoy rose to his feet. 'This court is a farce! I refuse to acknowledge any sentence given to me by it.' He pointed his finger at Father. 'You are going to pay for this insult, Cyrus Greengrass! Watch out for yourself, and watch out for your lovely wife and daughters. It would be a shame if something unfortunate were to happen to them, wouldn't it?' He sneered. The next second he whirled around and glowered up at Harry. His face was a mask of hate. 'I'll make sure you won't live long enough to enjoy your victory, Potter!'

Cries of outrage arose throughout the room. The Aurors encircled Malfoy and brandished their wands at the enraged mob in the tiers, or they would have flooded the ground floor of the courtroom and lynched Malfoy.

Daphne looked at Father. He had his brows furrowed, and banged his gavel over and over again to restore order in the courtroom.

Her eyes wandered to Harry. His face was a stony mask, but his eyes burnt holes in the back of Malfoy's skull. The air around him seemed to crackle with power.

She took a deep, satisfying breath, and straightened her shoulders. A broad grin spread over her face. Malfoy didn't have a clue what a hornet's nest he'd just stirred by threatening Harry. Harry would squash him under his foot if he ever dared to make a move on him, of this much she was sure.

Her gaze returned to Father, and she sobered. Father had managed to restore quiet, and just instructed the Aurors to take Malfoy to Azkaban.

Yes, Harry could easily fend for himself. But what would become of her family?

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

10

The Burrow, June 1998

A week after Malfoy had been shipped off to Azkaban, the waves about his threats in the courtroom still went high. Today's lead article of The Prophet demanded that his case should be reopened, so that he'd get an appropriate punishment for his threats against the Chosen One.

Harry let out an angry snort at that. What about the threats against the Greengrass family? Truth be told, Cyrus Greengrass was not his favourite person, but it was depressing that the Wizarding press thought the threats against his wife and daughters were not as significant or newsworthy as a threat against him.

He took a bite of the toast in his hand and turned the page of the newspaper that lay beside his plate in search of something more sensible to read.

He didn't care much about Malfoy's threats. Not that he was exceptionally brave, or confident in his prowess, but Kingsley had assured him that Malfoy didn't have the power anymore to act on his threats - at least at the moment: his coffers were as good as empty, and his cronies would join him in the hospitality of Azkaban very soon.

Narcissa and Draco wouldn't dare to go against him. While he was indebted to them for saving his life at Malfoy Manor and during the Battle, they were just as tied to him with debts of their own. Added to this he had used his influence and testimony to keep them out of jail.

Ginny, Hermione and Ron hadn't been happy with him about that. They had had a huge fight, however, maybe for the first time he had asserted himself against them, and defended his decision, instead of retiring into himself and waiting until the storm was over and they were back to normal.

Malfoy was a backstabbing coward, but no murderer. He had been a frightened kid who had been hung out to dry by the adults in his life, just like him. It was only luck that Draco had ended up on the losing side of the war. The humiliation the Malfoy name had gone through was punishment enough. There was no need to send him to Azkaban on top of that.

'Another helping of eggs and bacon, Harry?'

Mrs Weasley's voice startled him out of his thoughts, and he looked up.

'Thank you, Mrs Weasley, but I'm good.'

They were alone in the kitchen. Mr Weasley and George had already left for work, and Ginny was still asleep. Harry let out a soft chuckle. His girlfriend wasn't a morning person, in contrary to him. She loved to stay in bed until Mrs Weasley yelled for her to get up. Even then the dark circles under her eyes still talked of too little sleep. He sobered and put his half-eaten piece of toast back on his plate.

They were all still suffering from the repercussions of the last year. Most likely she still cried for Fred every night when alone, until she fell asleep. Maybe he ought to do something nice for her today, to take her thoughts off her grief for a while. A picnic in that secluded clearing in the woods beyond The Burrow sounded good. They'd be out of Mrs Weasley's sight, and maybe they'd be able to do a little more than snogging…

Heat crept into his cheeks, and he lowered his head over his plate. There was no need to alert Mrs Weasley. He swore that woman was a powerful Legilimens when it came to Ginny and him.

A pecking at the window made him look up. A long-eared owl sat on the window sill. The letter attached to its leg bore the seal of Gringotts.

Mrs Weasley went to the window and let the owl in. As she reached out for the letter, the owl pecked at her with its sharp beak.

'Ouch!' Mrs Weasley withdrew her hand at a lightening speed. She had not been fast enough: a bloody scratch appeared at the back of her hand. She glowered at the owl and took her wand out of the pocket of her apron to heal the cut.

The owl flew to Harry and held its leg out to him. Harry untied the letter, his brows furrowed. His stomach tied itself into a knot. What did the Goblins want from him? Was this about his break-in at Gringotts?

The owl left as soon as Harry had untied the letter. He broke the seal and unfolded the letter.

His stomach dropped to his shoes, and he let out a soft moan. Why in the world did he have to have that second helping of bacon and eggs? He folded the letter and stood up.

'I need to go to Gringotts.'

Mrs Weasley eyed him, concern in her eyes. 'It's about the break-in, isn't it?'

He nodded.

The concern on Mrs Weasley's face became more pronounced. 'In that case, you ought not to go alone. Let me Floo-call Arthur; he'll -'

Harry shook his head. 'That's nice of you, Mrs Weasley, but I don't have the time for that. The letter said the Goblins want to see me right now.' He stood up and stuffed the letter in the back pocket of his jeans. 'Don't worry, I'll be fine. If I'm not back by dinnertime, inform Kingsley.'

He gave Mrs Weasley a small hug, left the kitchen, and walked to the Apparition point just outside the wards of The Burrow.

A split second later he re-appeared at the public Apparition point in Diagon Alley. It was still early in the morning, and the alley was only sparsely populated by wizards and witches who hurried to get to their jobs in the shops of the alley. The cupola of Gringotts gleamed white in the morning sun, unblemished as if never a dragon had broken free through it, three bank robbers on its back.

Harry held his head low as he hurried down Diagon Alley to the bank. Two Security Trolls still guarded the entrance. The moment Harry tried to step inside the building, they swung their clubs at him and growled something in Troll.

'Uh - I need to get in there. I got a summons this morning,' Harry said.

The Trolls stepped closer, bared their teeth at him and swung their clubs even more threatening.

What now? He needed to present himself to the Goblins, but these damned Troll guards wouldn't let him in. Harry scratched the back of his head until enlightenment hit him. Of course, the letter! He pulled the letter out of the back pocket of his jeans and handed it to the Troll next to him.

The Troll grumbled some more, squinted at Harry through narrowed eyes, and took the letter. He put it close to his face and sniffed at it.

Bugger, Trolls were so stupid they probably couldn't read. How was he supposed to make the idiotic creature understand that he needed to see the Goblins?

The Troll raised his head and shouted something in Troll into the bank. Harry had no idea what he'd said, however, it didn't sound good.

The next moment the doors of Gringotts flung wide open, and Goblin warriors stormed out, clad in dragon skin armour and armed with nasty looking halberds. However, these were not your average, small Goblins. Each of them at least reached Harry's shoulder.

Harry had no time to react. The two Goblin warriors at the top swooped down on him, grabbed him by his upper arms, and held him in a dead grip. They seemed to be as strong as Giants, and their long fingernails hurt like hell where they dug through the thin fabric of his faded t-shirt into the soft flesh of his arms.

The blood rushed in Harry's ears, and he pressed his mouth shut to stifle the scream that welled up in him. What were they going to do with him?

The Goblin to his left snarled a command in guttural Gobbledygook. Four warriors lined up in front of them. They gripped their halberds with both fists as if ready to strike. The remaining guards moved behind them. They looked as belligerent as the guard in front of them. Another command in Gobbledygook, and the warriors set into motion in a double quick march.

His bad physical state took its toll. Harry couldn't keep up with their pace. After a few steps his guards dragged him between them into the bank like a sack of potatoes. They dragged him through the counter hall and down a hallway that seemed to have been cut into rough stone. Torches at the walls cast the hallway in an eerie light.

His pulse raced, and he broke into a cold sweat. At the same time, he was hyper aware of everything going on around him. The cadence of his wardens boomed in his ears like thunder. A cold draft blowed through the hallway and dried the sweat on his skin. He shivered.

They reached a tall double door, made out of a dark, almost black wood, and adorned with golden hinges and fittings. It was guarded by another troop of Goblin warriors. At a sharp command in Gobbledygook the doors opened in front of them and gave entrance to a huge cave.

The cave was lit by torches, and at its end, three iron chandeliers suspended in the air and cast a bright light on the platform below.

Behind a judge's table, cut out of the rough stone of the cave, sat twelve Goblins en banc. They were clad like the warriors who had captured Harry. Behind each of them, a tall halberd leaned against the back of the cave. The twelve Goblins were ancient, but that didn't make them less intimidating than the warriors who had dragged him into the cave. They gave him looks which it appeared were calculated to make his blood freeze in his veins.

They were successful, if this was indeed their desire. He clenched his teeth to prevent himself from asking blubbering questions.

His wardens thrust him upon a rock in front of the podium. Heavy iron chains were attached to the stone. The moment Harry touched the plinth, they wrapped around his legs and upper body, pressing him so tight against the rough stone at his back that his shirt was ripped and the cold stone dug into his flesh, making it difficult to breathe.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a brief second. This was going to be very, very bad.

The Goblin warriors lined up to the left and the right of the rock Harry was chained to.

Silence descended onto the cave. The Goblin warriors to his left and his right stared straight ahead, but the twelve ancient Goblins in front of him kept looking at him as if they were considering the most painful ways to kill him, resurrect him, and then do it all over again.

The silence dragged on.

Harry's breath came in short, ragged gasps. He'd known the risk of a break-in at Gringotts. At that time, the price had seemed worth the risk. It still was, even in hindsight. Now the time to pay the piper had come.

He looked at the Goblins in front of him. Yes, they were out for his blood. So, he wouldn't make it out of here alive.

He gulped. He wasn't afraid to die: he'd been there already and knew what to expect. But why did it always have to be him? And why right now, when he thought he finally was going to have the happy life he'd always dreamt about? He'd found the girl he wanted to spend his life with. He wanted to marry her, have children with her… That would never happen. That he wasn't allowed to say goodbye to Ginny was the meanest blow of all.

'Wizard, do you know why you've been summoned in front of the Goblin High Council?' the Goblin at the leftmost side said. His voice was barely above a whisper, but in the quiet cave it rolled like thunder.

Harry was about to shake his head, but halted. He remembered the talk he'd had with Bill about Goblins, back at Shell Cottage. Goblins had another view of the world than wizards, and different values. Even though a highly intelligent species, they still were treated as inferiors by wizardkind and resented it - with good reason.

This was a trick question. His heart thumped in his chest, and sweat trickled down his back. If he denied, they'd take that as a proof that wizards always tried to wriggle out of the consequences of the offenses they committed against Goblins. If he answered in the affirmative, he laid his head on the executioner's block. What by Merlin was he supposed to say?

However, he had broken into Gringotts. He had stolen a valuable object from one of their vaults. He had compromised their security and undermined the trust of their customers. He had freed one of their dragons, though involuntarily, and damaged the building. It was time to face the music.

He squared his shoulders. 'Yes, I do. I'm here because I broke into Gringotts, stole a valuable object, freed the dragon that guarded some of the high security vaults, and damaged the building as I fled on the back of said dragon.'

The Goblins froze. Another heavy silence descended on the cave. The ancient Goblins in front of him didn't go as far as to stare, but the surreptitious looks they cast at each other from the corner of their eyes betrayed how much his answer had surprised them. Good. Surprise was the mother of attack. If he managed to throw them off balance, he might even be able to talk himself out of this mess - with a damned big portion of luck.

The ancient Goblin at the leftmost side cleared his throat. 'Very well,' he said. 'Wizard, you have just admitted to having committed the biggest offense imaginable to Goblinkind. Under Goblin law, this offense can be punished with death. How do you plead?'

That was it. He had to sign his own death warrant. He looked the ancient Goblin straight into the eyes.

'Guilty.'

He closed his eyes. The memory of Ginny, eyes blazing, and the feeling of her lips on his had helped him once through what he thought were his last minutes on this earth. They'd also help him this time.

However, his mind went blank. No matter how hard he tried, the memory of Ginny's face slipped just out of his reach.

He opened his eyes wide - only to look at the most disconcerting sight no wizard before him had ever seen: twelve ancient Goblin warriors bared their pointed teeth at him in broad grins.

'You are a very unusual wizard, Mr Potter,' the leftmost Goblin said.

'Uh - thanks, I guess. But, please, call me Harry.'

The ancient Goblin let out a rumbling laugh and clicked his fingers. The heavy chains fell off Harry's body. They rattled and heaped at his feet in a small mountain.

'Call me Ragnok,' the ancient Goblin said.

Harry nodded, and he had to grip the rough rock with one hand to prevent himself from falling. His voice deserted him. One minute he thought he'd forfeited his life, and the next moment the Goblins were grinning at him and set him free. That was a lot to take in. He took a deep breath and tried in vain to get his trembling body under control.

'You are the first wizard ever who has committed a serious offense against the Goblin nation and who had the sense to admit to his crimes and earned himself the right to enter into negotiations with us,' Ragnok said.

He couldn't care less about that right now, but had the presence of mind to realise that the Goblins expected a sign of sufficient humility of him. 'I'm honoured, Ragnok,' he said. His voice was barely above a whisper.

'So you should be,' Ragnok said and clicked his fingers once again.

The cave morphed into a conference room with cream coloured walls. A thick oriental carpet covered most of a gleaming hardwood floor. A long conference table, made out of mahogany, stood where seconds before the judge's table had been. The twelve ancient goblins remained in their seats, but instead of the warrior gear they now wore conservative business suits.

Harry looked at the wall behind them. The halberds were gone. He heaved another deep breath.

Ragnok nodded at the warriors who still guarded Harry at both sides. A sharp command in Gobbledygook, and the warriors turned around and marched out of the room.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Ragnok motioned with his hand to a chair that had appeared opposite of the ancient Goblins. 'Sit down, Harry.'

On legs as wobbly as jelly Harry walked the short distance to the table. His vision swam, and everything around him seemed oddly distant and unreal. He plopped into the chair just the second his legs threatened to give out under him. He took a couple of deep breaths. This was the worst moment imaginable to faint on the Goblins. This was not yet over, and he needed to keep his wits about him.

'As you have already admitted that you have committed crimes against the Goblin Nation, we now ought to talk about what you can do to put the injustice we suffered through your actions back to rights, Harry,' Ragnok said, and gave him another grin that showed way too many pointed teeth.

Harry gulped. 'Right,' he said. His voice sounded stronger, but still as if it didn't belong to him. He cleared his throat. 'As it seems, I'm not in the position here to make demands. Why don't you just tell me what you want from me?'

Ragnok's face once again morphed into that disconcerting grin.

Couldn't he stop that? Harry squirmed.

The ancient Goblin clicked his fingers. A sheet of parchment appeared on the table in front of him. He pushed it towards Harry. 'That's what we demand as compensation for the damage you caused to our bank and our reputation.'

Harry took the parchment in his hands and read the column that was written on it. Each charge was listed. The single demands were all follow-ups of the damage he had caused, and didn't sound exaggerated. It was the total at the bottom of the line that had him gasp. 'That's a damn lot of Galleons,' he said, and looked at Ragnok. Was there enough money in his vault to pay for that damage?

'Oh, you're good for it, Harry. This is your current vault statement,' Ragnok said. Again, he clicked his fingers. Another sheet of parchment appeared in front of him, and he shoved it to Harry.

Harry pulled the parchment towards himself and studied it. He suppressed another gasp. He'd never known that there was so much money in his vault. Of course, he'd never asked…

He compared the numbers on both sheets, and did some quick calculating in his head. If he agreed to the demands of the Goblins, he had exactly one Knut left in his vault. Greedy little bastards.

His face hardened. He looked Ragnok square into the eyes. 'If I agree to sign over everything that's in my vault to you, I want something in return for that.'

Ragnok frowned, but nodded. 'Name your demands, Harry.'

'Firstly, I want a signed agreement between Gringotts and me that all demands from the break-in are settled, and that Gringotts isn't going to come after me with additional demands at a later time.'

Ragnok exchanged looks with the other Goblins.

Harry's hands became clammy. Would they agree?

'Accepted,' Ragnok said.

He almost slumped in his seat, but pulled himself together. This was not yet over. 'Secondly, with this agreement all demands Gringotts might have against Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley are also settled.'

Ragnok grinned. 'I was already wondering when we would come to your friends, Harry. But we accept.'

Harry shifted in his seat. This was too easy. Why were the Goblins that accommodating? He took another deep breath. 'Thirdly, Gringotts agrees to continue to accept Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley and me as customers from now on.'

'Oh, but of course,' Ragnok said, and made a dismissive gesture with his hand.

Harry narrowed his eyes at him. 'Alright, where's the catch?'

For the second time that day Harry was exposed to a sight no wizard before him had ever seen: twelve ancient Goblins breaking out into laughter.

'There is no catch at all, Harry,' Ragnok told him, still chuckling. 'You know that you're the Potter heir, don't you? That vault -' he indicated with his hand to the vault statement in front of Harry -, 'That vault is your father's old trust vault his executor set up for him after the death of your grandfather. That's the only gold you currently have at your disposal. The bulk of your gold is held in the Potter family vault, but you'll not be able to lay your hands on it without your executor's agreement. However, you'll be able to do so when you're thirty. You're still a very rich wizard, Harry, and Gringotts will be honoured to do business with you.'

Harry leaned back in his chair. That explained a lot.

Ragnok clicked his fingers yet another time. A third sheet of paper and a blood red quill with a pointed tip appeared in front of him. He pushed the parchment to Harry. 'Will that suffice?'

Harry read the parchment. The conditions of his settlement with the Goblins were listed on it in neat penmanship. 'I agree,' he said, and pushed the parchment back to Ragnok. 'After you, if you please.'

The ancient Goblin chuckled once again. 'You've got a very level head for business on your shoulders, Harry.' He picked up the quill and signed the settlement, not heeding the cut that appeared on the back of his hand as he did so.

Harry made a face. He hated blood quills.

After Ragnok, the other eleven Goblins also signed with their blood. Harry was the last one to sign the settlement. He pushed the settlement across the table towards Ragnok.

'Very well,' the ancient Goblin said. He duplicated the signed settlement with a click of his fingers and gave the original back to Harry.

Harry folded it and put it into the mokeskin pouch he wore around his neck.

Ragnok stood up and held his hand out to him. 'It was a pleasure to do business with you, Harry. I'm looking forward to many prosperous deals for us in the future.'

He'd bet the old bastard did. Harry forced a polite smile on his face, rose from his chair and shook the Goblin's hand. 'The pleasure is all mine, Ragnok.' He heard how the tall doors behind him opened, bowed to the eleven other Goblins and took that as his cue to leave the room.

The feeling of surreality stayed with him as he walked out of the bank and to the Apparition point. By now, Diagon Alley was crowded by early morning customers. Many bright smiles and respectful greetings were directed at him. Harry nodded and waved into the crowd, and even managed to smile, but he'd be hard pressed to describe the wizards and witches he acknowledged.

The morning with the Goblins had been - intense. He reached the Apparition point and took a few, deep breaths to center himself. He had no desire to splinch himself.

A last, deep breath, and the next second he stood in front of the gate to The Burrow. He stumbled and grabbed for the gate post to keep his footing. Damned, since when was Apparition that exhausting? He took a look over the overgrown hedge. Ginny was in the vegetable garden, tending to the plants.

She straightened up when she heard his steps. A smile appeared on her face that didn't quite reach her eyes. She was always so concerned for him.

'Harry, how did it go with the Goblins?' she asked.

Instead of an answer, he took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. He had to make sure that he still was alive, that he still had a future…

She put her hands on his chest and gently pushed him away. 'What was that for?' Her voice sounded amused, but her smile had vanished, and her eyes searched his face as if she didn't like what she saw there.

'Can't a guy just be happy to see his girlfriend?' he asked. Why bother her with what he'd been through this morning? She already had enough to worry about, with Fred gone, and her parents and George still having a hard time comprehending the loss. After all, his encounter with the Goblins had been just another hair-raising adventure in the crazy life of Harry Potter. He'd been through worse.

'Something's bothering you,' she said. Her eyes still scrutinised his face.

He shrugged. 'I made a settlement with the Goblins about the break-in. I agreed to pay for the damage, but they'll leave me and Ron and Hermione in peace about that from now on, and even agreed to do business with us in the future.'

Her face became tense. 'How much?'

He gave another shrug. 'About everything that was in the vault I inherited from my father.'

She paled at that.

Harry pulled her closer and gave her a short kiss. 'Don't worry about that, Ginny. True, I'll be pretty broke until I start Auror training in September, but I'll manage. I'll earn enough for a living after that.' At least, if he managed to fool the healer about his condition during his upcoming health exam…

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

11

The Rectory, June 1998

Dinner at The Rectory was a simple affair when Father and Mother had no guests to entertain. The family met at a round table in the breakfast room off the kitchen that faced the walled-in patio next to the entrance of the house. Floor to ceiling windows let in a lot of natural light, and comfortable rattan furniture and a collection of everblooming, delicate orchids on low tables made it a cosy room for informal meals.

Daphne helped Astoria to manoeuvre her wheelchair to the table, and sat down in her usual place beside her sister.

Father looked at her across the table. There was something in his eyes, a pronounced smugness… What was he up to now?

He placed his napkin in his lap. 'I had lunch with Ragnok today.'

Ragnok was the Director of Gringotts, and an old friend of Father's. They had lunch together at least once a month, so the fact alone wasn't remarkable enough to be mentioned. It must be something that came up during that lunch…

She followed Father's example and also put her napkin in her lap. 'I hope he is well.' She turned to Matty, who put a bowl of soup in front of her, and thanked her. From the corner of her eyes she glanced at Father. He still looked rather satisfied with himself. Her heart thumped in her throat. What was going on here?

Father dipped his spoon into his soup. 'Ragnok made a settlement with young Harry this morning, about the damage he caused when he broke into Gringotts.'

Astoria came to her support. 'I hope he didn't press the last Knut from Harry for that,' she said, and took a spoonful of soup.

Father placed down his spoon and dabbed his mouth with his napkin. He put his fingers around the stem of his wine glass. 'It didn't come that far. Ragnok told me he had exactly one Knut left in his vault when they were finished.'

Daphne's spoon clattered into her bowl from nerveless fingers. Soup splotched onto the tablecloth.

'Daphne!' Mother said, and gave her a disapproving frown.

She didn't care. The muscles in her neck tightened. 'But - How is he supposed to care for himself without gold? He hasn't finished his education yet, and Auror Academy won't start before September. You made it pretty clear that you won't give him access to the Potter estate. Or have you changed your mind?' She glared at Father.

'I don't have to change my mind,' Father said, and ate his soup as if he didn't have a care in the world. 'Also, I won't deny that this suits me just fine. Young Mr Potter will be forced to ask me for help sooner or later.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

12

St Mungo's, June 1998

The young mediwitch ushered Harry into one of the examination room at St Mungo's. 'Healer Payne will be with you any moment.' She gave him a blinding smile.

She was very pretty, the ugly nurse's uniform couldn't hide that fact, and under normal circumstances his seventeen year old, hormonal self would have responded to that. However, nothing was normal with him anymore. He had weakened even more over the last couple of days, and was already out of breath from the short walk from the waiting area to the examination room. He couldn't care less about female beauty right now.

He sat down on the uncomfortable patients chair in front of Healer Payne's desk and looked around. The examination room was small and functional: white walls, decorated with posters about the functions of the human body, a desk, chairs, a bookshelf, and an examination bed. The dust covered potted plant on the window sill didn't succeed in making the room look cosy.

The examination was only a formality, Kingsley had assured him yesterday evening when he and Hestia visited for dinner. Everyone who had been in the D.A. and fought for the Light at the Battle would be accepted. They didn't need the N.E.W.T.s in the required subjects; they only had to pass the health test and have reasonable O.W.L. marks.

However, that was exactly the snatch in the plan. He'd lost even more weight in the last week since his encounter with the Goblins, and looked like death warmed up. Thank Merlin for Glamour Charms and Illusion Charms.

Had he any gold left then he would have sought out a healer, but he didn't, so the point was moot. Besides, as an Auror, his medical treatment would be covered by the Ministry. He only had to make it through today…

The door opened, and Healer Payne came in. Harry rose from his seat, and they shook hands.

Healer Payne sat down behind his desk and gave Harry a long, appraising look. He furrowed his brows, pulled his wand out of the breast pocket of his robes, and directed it at Harry. 'Finite Incantatem.'

Busted.

Harry lowered his eyes and studied the tips of his battered trainers.

Silence descended onto the room.

Healer Payne was the first to break it. He cleared his throat. 'Since -' His voice gave out, and he cleared his throat once more. 'How long have you been in this condition, Mr Potter?'

Harry didn't look up. He didn't want to see the horror and the pity in Healer Payne's eyes. 'I had already lost a lot of weight during the time on the run,' he said. 'It was incredibly hard to find enough food, you know. It got better after the Battle, but it seemed that no matter how much I ate, I kept losing weight. Lately, I have also had problems keeping food down. For a week or so I've been throwing up as soon as I leave the table.' It had been damned hard to hide that from Mrs Weasley.

'I understand. Please, lay down on the examination bed, Mr. Potter.'

Harry stifled a sigh, stood up and shuffled to the bed, still not looking up. He kicked off his trainers, laid down and closed his eyes.

He heard Healer Payne step next to him. From the rustle of his robes he assumed that the healer waved his wand across his body, but he heard no spell being uttered. A faint smell hung in Healer Paynes robes, a mix of potions, disinfectants and mint; not unpleasant, but it made his nose tingle, and he hardly suppressed a sneeze.

The minutes trickled by.

'We need to talk, Mr Potter,' Healer Payne said.

Harry heard him turn around and walk back to his desk. He slipped into his trainers and followed him.

The healer leant back in his chair; his chin in his hand and his index finger tipping against the side of his nose he looked ahead with a vacant expression on his face. When Harry sat down, he leant forward and put his forearms onto the desk pad. 'You probably already know that I can't give you a clean bill of health for the Auror Academy.'

Harry's stomach tightened. What was he supposed to do now? He had set all his hopes on entering the Auror Academy in September. All his dreams depended on that. He slumped in his chair and nodded.

'I'm not going to sugarcoat things for you, Mr Potter.' There was a lot of compassion in Healer Payne's voice. 'You are seriously ill. Your body shows all signs of someone who has been exposed to Dark Magic for years.'

Harry's head shot up. How could that be? Yes, he'd carried Voldemort's unintentional Horcrux inside of him, but the horrible thing had only messed with his feelings, hadn't it?

'Magic always leaves a mark. When a body is exposed to Dark Magic, and the exposure is removed, there are always repercussions. For lack of a better word, the exposure is sucking power out of the body of the victim. Depending on how long the exposure lasts, or how strong the Dark Magic was, the victim may need anything from a couple of weeks up to a year to recover from that. In your case, however…' Healer Payne's voice trailed off, and he shook his head.

'I've never seen a case as severe as yours. Curiously enough, your magical power is not affected. Your magical core is just fine and is unbelievably still growing. The exposure, or whatever it was, has inflicted severe harm on your body. Virtually the system within your body is afflicted. Added to this my scan indicates long-term exposure to abuse and starvation from a very early age in life, Mr Potter. Quite simply, you're suffering from severe long-term trauma.' Again, the healer shook his head.

He looked Harry square into the eyes. 'Even with the help of your amazingly strong magic, your body isn't strong enough to cope with it all, Mr Potter. If you don't get treatment soon, you'll be dead within three months.'

Harry gasped. The air was pressed out of his lungs as if a Bludger had hit him in the stomach. This was just another nightmare. Mrs Weasley would come in and shake him awake any moment…

He turned his head away from Healer Payne and looked out of the window. Below, the London traffic rushed past. Cars and pedestrians seemed as small as ants from up here. Quick steps walked down the hallway in front of the examination room. Two people talked to each other. One of them laughed. A whooshing sound indicated that the door at the end of the hallway was being pulled open, and the steps and the voices faded away until the sharp noise of the door clicking shut drowned them out.

No nightmare, but harsh reality. He turned back to the healer. 'So, there's a treatment?'

Healer Payne bit his lower lip. 'There is a treatment,' he said. 'It's a very complicated potion. Only a handful of potion masters in the world are skilled enough to brew it. Besides that, it needs very rare and expensive ingredients, which is what makes it extremely expensive.'

'Which potion do you mean?' he asked.

'It's called Le Renouvellement*,' Healer Payne said. 'It has been invented by a French witch in the late 19th century. It is very costly, because of the rare ingredients, as I've already mentioned, and also because of the complexity of the brewing process. Each round has to be tweaked to target a specific problem within the body. However, the results are astounding: once the patient has finished the assigned doses of the potion, their body is restored to the best version of themselves at their current age.'

That didn't sound good. At the moment, he didn't have two Knuts to rub together in his vault - literally. It wasn't enough to buy himself a simple Pepper-Up-Potion, let alone something so rare as the Le Renouvellement Potion.

Nevertheless, he had to ask. 'How much will it cost?'

'A million Galleons, if not more. It depends on the extent of the damage that has to be treated. Unfortunately, your body is very damaged, Mr Potter.'

Harry slumped even further into his seat. This was hopeless. He'd never have that much money. Before his settlement with the Goblins it wouldn't have been a problem. He let out a bitter laugh. He had given the Goblins his money to escape death, only to discover that he'd need that money to get a treatment that prevented him from dying. How ironic was that?

He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He wasn't afraid to die. However, he needed to make some preparations before that. He needed time to think. Maybe there was still a way out of this mess he hadn't thought of yet. Damn it, he didn't want to die; he still had so many plans…

He stood up and held out his hand to Healer Payne. 'Thank you for your honesty, Healer Payne. You'll understand I need some time to digest this.'

Healer Payne took his hand and shook it. 'Let me know when you're ready as soon as possible, Mr Potter, so that I can inform my colleague at the Hotel Dieu Magique in Paris to begin with the brewing. The brewing takes at least one month. Of course, my colleague will have to examine you before that, to determine how the potion needs to be tweaked for your special case.'

Harry only nodded to that and left the room. Healer Payne thought of him as a rich young man. After the war, it had become public knowledge that he was the heir of the last Black and what was supposed to be their vast fortune. Nobody knew, however, that the huge fortune had been reduced to a still sizeable amount of gold during the time of Walburga Black's management. The gold had been added to his vault after Sirius' death and had been part of the compensation he had paid to the Goblins.

He didn't restore the charms on himself. He dragged himself out of the hospital and onto the street, not heeding the many unabashed stares he got for his horrible appearance. They ranged from pitiful to disgusted.

'Horrible, these drug addicts,' a Muggle woman said as he passed her.

He didn't care. He put one foot in front of the other, like a puppet on a string, and without an aim. This was the third time within six weeks that he was at the brink of death. That was a new record, even for him. He snorted.

A Muggle man, who passed him walking his dog on a leash, turned around and stared at him. He tipped with his index finger against his forehead and walked on.

Right, this was crazy. Why did horrible things always have to happen to him?

He hadn't looked where he was walking while he was lost in his thoughts, and found himself at the Thames. He looked around to get his bearings. He was on the Victoria Embankment, near New Scotland Yard. The entrance to the Ministry of Magic wasn't far from here.

He sat down on one of the benches that lined the broad pedestrian walkway, and looked out onto the river. The waters hurried by, indifferent to his problems.

What was he supposed to do now? He'd be damned if he'd give up without at least trying to get the gold for the treatment. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The early summer sun warmed his weary bones.

He didn't have the gold right now, but he was the heir of the Potters. Though Cyrus had left no doubt that he wouldn't get a single Knut as long as he didn't bow to his demands, he couldn't withhold the gold from him indefinitely.

He opened his eyes wide. That was it! He could ask the Goblins to lend him the gold, with the promise to pay them back as soon as he came into full control of his inheritance from his father's side.

He stood up and walked into the direction of Whitehall. Fifteen minutes later, he reached the Leaky Cauldron, and lost no time in walking through the crowded taproom towards the entrance of Diagon Alley. Though many wizards and witches turned their heads and stared at him, nobody seemed to recognise him. He grinned to himself. Finally, his emaciated appearance was good for something.

Another ten minutes later he sat in front of Griphook and explained his problem.

However, Griphook shook his head. 'Sorry, Harry, but I can't do that. Where is your equity? Where are your securities?'

'I can offer you a mortgage on the house I own on Grimmauld Place,' Harry said.

Griphook gave him a contemptuous snarl. 'A house that's unplottable and under a Fidelius Charm on top of that. I've also heard that it's infested by all kinds of magical vermin. That makes your so called security pretty worthless, I'd say.'

Harry's shoulders slumped. He had counted on the Goblins to get the gold he needed. He tried one last time. 'As soon as I'm in control of my inheritance I'll be able to pay you back.'

'Who guarantees that your inheritance still holds the gold you owe Gringotts in thirteen years? The answer is still no.' Griphook glowered at him. There was no doubt this had been his last word on the subject.

Harry stood up. His heart was heavy in his chest. 'Sorry for wasting your time, Griphook,' he said, and left the office.

What now? How was he supposed to get the gold for his treatment? His head lowered, he walked to the public Apparition point. He had the gold in his grandfather's estate, at least he thought so. He only had to persuade Cyrus to give him access. That posed a bit of a problem after their last encounter, but surely Cyrus would give in if he told him what was at stake? He was of no use to Cyrus when he was dead; after all, he wanted him to become his successor.

Harry made a face. There was no way around it: he had to swallow his pride and talk to Cyrus.

He turned on the spot and Apparated to The Rectory.

Like the last time, the front gate opened when the handle recognised him. He walked up the long coachway. In the midday sun, the walk seemed longer and more exhausting than he remembered, and he had to pause more than once. He was rather out of breath when he reached the iron gate in the wall that sheltered the back side of the house.

He took a few minutes in front of the gate to catch his breath. Merlin, he hated how weak he felt. When he put his hand on the handle of the gate, it vibrated, and the gate opened. Like on his previous visit, Matty stood in the open door to receive him; her eyes grew large as she took in his appearance.

'Is Mr Greengrass at home, Matty?' he asked the house elf. 'I have something of importance to talk about to him.'

Matty held the door open and motioned him inside. However, instead to the study, she led him to a formal sitting room further down the hall.

Harry sat down in one of the chairs and looked around. Deep, overstuffed sofas and chairs lined the walls opposite of an ornate fireplace that was high enough to stand in. Oil paintings of serene landscapes adorned the walls. They were Muggle paintings; nothing moved inside of them. He hadn't expected that in the house of a magical family. He leaned his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. He'd better prepare himself for his encounter with Cyrus.

Matty returned a few minutes later. 'Master is ready to see the great Harry Potter.'

He followed the elf to Cyrus's office. As he reached the door, he motioned the elf to wait before she opened the door. He took a deep breath and centered himself. He nodded at Matty. 'I'm ready.'

Matty opened the door. 'Mr Harry Potter, Master.'

Harry stepped into the room.

Cyrus was writing on a parchment. He didn't look up at once when Harry walked into the room.

Harry suppressed the urge to snort. He'd dealt with Snape for six years. Snape had been a master in the art of intimidation, and he'd learned from him all the mean tricks. He'd be surprised if Cyrus was really writing on an important letter. This was nothing than an attempt to make him squirm.

Well, he wouldn't comply. Since Cyrus took his sweet time to end his letter, he cast a Cushioning Charm on one of the chairs while he wasn't looking. He'd be damned if he'd sit down on that uncomfortable chair once again without one. He needed to keep his wits about him during their upcoming talk, and he wouldn't let himself be distracted by an uncomfortable chair.

Cyrus ended his letter and looked up. His eyes were cold. Whatever he intended to say, however, died on his lips. He froze, and his eyes seemed to bulge out of his head. His voice seemed to have deserted him. He motioned with his hand for Harry to sit down, and cleared his throat repeatedly.

Harry sat down on the offered chair. Yes, with a Cushioning Charm it was much more comfortable. His heart began to thump in his throat. Would Cyrus agree to his request?

'What - What has happened to you, Harry?' Cyrus finally asked.

'That's a long story,' Harry said, and began to tell him what had happened that morning during his health check.

Not a muscle moved in Cyrus' face while he listened to the story. However, when Harry came to Griphook's refusal to lend him the gold, his look became calculating.

He didn't talk at once when Harry finished. He bent forward, his forearms on the desk pad, and folded his hands. 'I assume you expect me to give you the gold out of your grandfather's estate?'

'That would be very welcome, sir. At least if there's enough to cover the treatment.'

'Oh, there's more than enough.' Cyrus' voice was dismissive. He straightened and looked Harry square into the eyes. 'However, my conditions haven't changed.'

Invisible iron clamps seemed to tighten themselves around Harry's chest. He took a laboured breath and gaped at Cyrus. Surely he hadn't heard him right? The man wasn't going to blackmail him, was he? Time slowed down while he tried to find his voice. A fly buzzed against the window pane over and over again in a futile attempt to get out. Other than that, no sound was heard in the tiny study.

Harry's heartbeat raced. He sympathised with the poor fly. He also felt like running away, but was rooted to the spot.

'Do you mean you still want me to marry your daughter and become your successor to get the money, or you will let me die?' His voice didn't sound as if it belonged to him when he finally croaked his question.

'Exactly that,' Cyrus Greengrass said.

t.b.c.

The credit for the invention of the Le Renouvellement Potion belongs to Shygui, including all the details about who invented it, how it is supposed to work and why it is so expensive. He used it in his amazing story A Fateful Walk. If you haven't read it yet, do it right now, it is worth it.

Chapter Text

13

The Rectory, June 1998

Which ever sadist thought that young witches still needed to have the same accomplishments as their great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers ought to be given a reality check on life in the twentieth century. Daphne stared down at the messy piece of cloth she called her embroidery, and let out a deep sigh. Once again she'd messed up the colours, and her stitches were crooked and raggedy.

As with every morning, she and her sister were working on their 'accomplishments', as the silly tradition that forced young girls to learn a lot of pointless things were still venerated by the older generations. They sat in Astoria's room on the second floor of The Rectory, next to Daphne's. Astoria loved to look over the park while she worked on her embroidery, and Daphne couldn't care less where she had to endure this hour of torture, so the arrangement suited both sisters just fine.

Daphne cast a jealous look at Astoria. Her hands moved the needle deftly through the immaculate white linen on her lap and created another masterpiece Mother would parade around when her female friends came to tea.

'How are you doing that, Astoria?' she asked.

Astoria laughed. 'It's genetic, I guess.'

Daphne sighed again. 'That explains why I'll never be a true Pureblood lady. I can't do embroidery, I can't paint, I can't sing and I can't play the piano or harp. I'm such a disappointment for poor Mother.'

'But not for Father,' Astoria said, her head still bowed over her work. 'You are everything he wished for in his heiress: you are disciplined, a good student, magically powerful and more than just interested in leading the family business one day and now dipping your pinky finger into politics. On top of that all, you hardly ever contradict him.'

'You mean, I'm too cowardly to do so,' Daphne said, and unravelled the threads of her embroidery.

Astoria raised her head from her work and gave her a shrewd glance. 'Cautious, Daph, not cowardly. You know how and when to pick your battles with him.'

Daphne's cheeks grew warm. Astoria looked up to her and always saw the best in her. If only she could be as sure that she'd be able to stand up against Father when it counted. She opened her mouth to reply, but the chiming of the ward bell interrupted them.

The sisters exchanged a look. The sound of the bell indicated that it was a friend of the family, however, it was still too early for the fashionable visiting hour of the upper class Pureblood women.

'Who might that be?' Astoria asked.

'We'll find out in another minute,' Daphne said. She stuffed her embroidery into the small basket by her side, not caring whether the linen became crumpled or the threads tangled up even more. She stood up and walked to the door.

Astoria giggled. 'Don't get caught peeping. Mother will have kittens.'

'I won't,' Daphne said. She cast a Silencing Spell and a Disillusionment Charm on herself and slipped out of the door. Astoria's laughter followed her.

Daphne hurried down the hallway and the stairs as quiet as a mouse. On the first floor hallway she halted, and cast the Homenium Revelio Spell at the door of her parent's bedroom. It came up empty, and she let out a breath. Mother was already downstairs and wouldn't catch her when she left her bedroom. Good.

She dashed quietly down the remaining steps to the small landing between the ground floor and the first floor, where the stairs turned, and pressed herself flat against the wall. From here the door to the formal sitting room was in plain sight. Any visitor who hadn't an appointment would be brought to that room first. Father hadn't mentioned any appointments for today at breakfast. He'd said that he needed to write a couple of letters, pertaining to the magical part of Crystal Fairy, before he'd start his day at the Muggle headquarters in London.

She didn't have to wait long before she heard the light pitter-patter of Matty's feet as she went from the kitchen to the vestibule. The distinct creaking as she opened the door that led from the hallway to the vestibule was hard to miss. The creaking didn't sound again, what meant that Matty had left the door open. Perfect; she'd be able to listen into Matty's conversation with the visitor.

Matty opened the front door. Slow, dragging steps scrunched on the gravelled path between the gate and the front door. 'Is Mr Greengrass at home, Matty?' a male voice asked. 'I have something of importance to talk about to him.'

Daphne managed to stifle a gasp. She'd have recognised that voice anywhere. Harry! Her heart missed a beat, then jumped to her throat. She cupped her cheeks in her hands that were all of a sudden cold and clammy. What did he want from father? After the outcome of their last talk she'd thought they'd never again see him at The Rectory.

She listened how Matty invited Harry into the house and led him down the hallway. The dragging steps came closer. In a few moments they'd round the stairs to get to the door to the formal sitting room at the bottom of the stairs.

There he was. An icy hand grabbed around her heart. What had happened to him? His head looked like a skull, and his clothes hung down at his body. Though almost everything of him was covered, it seemed as if his arms and legs were mere sticks. His hands looked like they belonged to a skeleton. She covered her mouth with both hands to suppress the cry of horror that welled up in her throat.

Matty ushered Harry into the sitting room, closed the door behind him, and scampered to Father's study to announce Harry.

Daphne leaned back against the wall. Her legs trembled and threatened to give out under her. She needed to get a grip on herself. Harry looked as if he needed help, and she wouldn't be able to help him if she fainted like a damsel in distress at the first signs of trouble.

She took a deep breath and straightened up. She'd find out what was going on, and help Harry as best as she could. But how? It was unlikely that she'd be asked to the talk between Harry and Father.

She furrowed her brows and pondered the problem at hand. The corners of her mouth curved up in a sudden smirk. Thank Morgana, magic had a nifty spell for almost everything. She slipped her wand out of the invisible holster on her forearm and waited.

It didn't take long until Matty returned. She opened the door to the formal sitting room. 'Master is ready to see the great Harry Potter.'

Harry walked out of the sitting room. A faint blush tinted his cheeks. Daphne smiled, despite her worry for him. How endearing was it that the praise of a house elf made him blush? But she had no time to dwell on that thought. She raised her wand and cast a Bug Charm on him. It had been one of the first family charms Father had taught her outside of the Hogwarts curriculum. Now she'd be able to listen into Father's conversation with Harry, at least for the thirty minutes the charm lasted.

There was no need to stay on the landing and risk being caught by Mother. She hurried up the few remaining steps to the first floor and slipped into the guest room next to her parent's master suite. There she sank down into an upholstered chair beside the window and listened,

Harry stopped in front of Father's study and took a deep breath. The door opened.

'Mr Harry Potter, Master.'

A few steps - Harry's? The sound of the closing door. Then nothing. She strained her ears. Was that the scratching of a quill? - Yes, it was.

A grim smile played around her mouth. So, Father was playing the waiting game that was intended to turn the victim into a blubbering mess as soon as he deigned to speak to him. It had worked on her when she was younger, until she'd looked through his act.

A mirthless giggle escaped her. Good luck using this tactic with Harry. Father was tough and had next to no scruples when it came to the wellbeing of his family. But he didn't possess the intimidatory meanness of Snape, or the inherent vileness of Umbridge. He did what needed to be done, but he did not necessarily like doing it. Harry had dealt with Snape and Umbridge. He had never cowered in front of them, and therefore it was likely there was little Father could do that would intimidated him. The lasting silence confirmed her reasonings.

The scratching of the quill stopped. There was a rustle of fabric, and a faint squeak, as if someone sat down on a wooden chair.

Still, nobody spoke.

'What - What has happened to you, Harry?' That was Father's voice, but it sounded strange, as if he'd suffered a shock and was still trying to digest what he saw. She didn't blame him. Harry looked like the walking dead.

'That's a long story,' Harry said. 'I had my Auror health exam this morning. I haven't been feeling well and I've been losing weight ever since the Battle, but I managed to cover up my unhealthy appearance with Glamour Charms and Illusion Charms. I thought I could make it through the exam that way, but the healer saw right through me. Suffice to say that I didn't get cleared to join the Aurors. The healer thinks my condition is the result of long-term exposure to Dark Magic. Well, actually I've been exposed to Dark Magic ever since the night my parents died.'

Her eyebrows shot up at that. What by Morgana had happened to him?

'That probably explains my condition. The exposure ended when Voldemort died. However, the healer told me that after long-term exposure there are always repercussions for the victim. In my case, every part of my body is afflicted. It's so bad that my magic can't heal my body anymore. I'm going to die in approximately three months, at the most, if I don't get treatment.'

'No!' Daphne cried out, and clapped her hands in front of her mouth. That couldn't be true. Tears welled up in her eyes. Hadn't he had to suffer enough in his life? Why did these things always happen to him? At least he'd spoken of a treatment, so there was hope he'd make it through this ordeal. She let out a shuddering breath and focused on the disembodied voices.

'There's a potion that can help me: Le Renouvellement. I don't know if you ever heard about it,' Harry said.

Daphne had. Though she was no prodigy in potions, she was well versed in the subject, out of an interest in the company she'd inherit one day. It was the most expensive and most complicated potion known to magicalkind. That the healer suggested it, spoke volumes about the condition that Harry was in.

'I need at least one million Galleons for the treatment,' Harry said in Father's office. 'Unfortunately, I had to use the content of my trust vault, the one I inherited from my father, to pay for the damages that I caused when I broke into Gringotts to get the - well never mind. Suffice to say it was necessary, as it cleared the way to one of the obstacles we need to remove on our way to bringing Voldemort down. Anyway, that vault is empty. I tried to lend the gold from Gringotts, but they don't want to accept my promise to pay them back when I come into the inheritance left to me by my grandfather.'

Another silence settled on Father's study.

There was the rustle of robes. 'I assume you expect me to give you the gold out of your grandfather's estate?' Father said.

'That would be very welcomed, sir. At least if there's enough to cover the treatment.'

'Oh, there's more than enough.' Father's voice sounded dismissive. 'However, my conditions haven't changed.'

Daphne's chest tightened, and her mouth hung open. Had she heard Father right? Was he going to blackmail Harry? Ice seemed to spread from her stomach, twisted out through her veins and eventually covered her body.

The seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. No sound could be heard from Father's study except the buzzing of a fly. Her heart thumped heavy in her breast while she waited for Harry's reply to Father's atrocious demand.

''Do you mean you still want me to marry your daughter and become your successor to get the money, or you will let me die?' Harry said. His voice sounded hoarse.

'Exactly that,' Father said.

She had heard enough. Maybe Father wasn't willing to raise a finger for Harry without something in return, but she was. She cancelled the charms on herself and Apparated back to Astoria's bedroom.

Astoria started and let out a small cry when Daphne appeared by her side. Her hand flew to her throat. 'Merlin, Daph, can't you come in through the door like a well-bred human being?' She looked at Daphne's face and frowned. A look of concern appeared in her eyes. 'What has happened?'

Daphne slumped down in the chair beside her and told her what she had overheard.

The expression on Astoria's face became darker by the minute. However, when Daphne ended her tale, she looked outright furious. Her hands grasped the arm rests of her wheelchair until her knuckles stood out white. 'Has it ever occured to you that our father is an arsehole, Daph?'

Daphne let out a bitter laugh. 'Oh, often. But it was never directed at someone I … well … love, so I just went along with it. But this time he's gone too far.'

Astoria nodded. 'Most definitely. What are you going to do now?'

Daphne jumped up from her chair and paced the room. 'Try to find a way to raise the gold, I guess. How much have you left in your vault?'

'About one hundred thousand Galleons, I think. It's yours when you need it.'

Daphne cast her sister a warm smile. 'Thank you, Tori. I have a little more than one hundred thousand Galleons in my vault. Do you think the Goblins will be willing to lend eight hundred thousand Galleons to me?'

The soft POP of an elf Apparition prevented Astoria from an answer. 'Master asks Missy Daffy to join him in his study,' Matty said and disappeared.

Daphne started. Now the day had come, she would go against Father's wishes for a first time. She wouldn't allow him to treat Harry like a piece of merchandise, and she most definitely wouldn't allow him to make herself a part of that despicable bargain. There was a limit to her daughterly obedience. Her breast heaved, and she balled her hands into tight fists.

She raised her chin. 'Wish me luck,' she said to Astoria, and walked out of the room. She marched down the hallway and the stairs. In front of Father's study she paused for a second and knocked, opened the door before he called her in and walked into the room, chin held high, and her mouth pressed in a thin, hard line.

If Father was surprised by that unusual behaviour of hers, he didn't let on. Instead, he gave her a broad smile. 'Ah, Daphne. Thank you for answering my request that promptly.' He motioned her to sit down.

She obeyed and tried to gauge his mood. He looked like the Kneazle who had had caught the Golden Snidget.

'Harry came to talk to me this morning,' Father said.

She sat very rigid, as her governess had taught her, and as her fury made her. At his words, she raised her hand to stop him. 'I know. I've seen him, and I've cast a Bug Charm on him, so I know what a despicable offer you made to him. How could you, Father? And how could you ever expect I'd be a part of that bargain?'

Father became tense, and his eyes widened. He stared at her for a few seconds, but eventually he relaxed, and a low rumble rose in his chest. 'Well, well, well, you are every inch my daughter, Daphne. Though, I wouldn't have thought you had it in you to cast a Bug Charm on your beau to spy on me. Well done!'

Her hands balled to fists in her lap, and her teeth clenched. 'Well done! That's all you've got to say? I've heard every word that's been spoken in this room, Father. Harry is dying. You can prevent that outcome if you agree to give him access to the income from his estate. Merlin knows there's more than enough to pay for his treatment. Instead, you withhold what is his from him, and blackmail him into following your demand. That's despicable, Father. You're toying with his life!' Her sight was blurred by tears, and she blinked them away. She wouldn't break down crying in front of him. He couldn't do that to Harry, and she'd make him see reason.

The humorous expression vanished from Father's face. He narrowed his eyes. They were as cold as ice. 'I am not toying with him, daughter. It is his choice if he will live or not.'

The hairs on her arms stood up, and her insides became cold. For the first time, Father's steely will was directed at her. She took a deep breath and raised her chin. 'You forget that you also need my consent, Father. I won't give it.'

The ice in his eyes didn't melt. 'In that case you'll be condemning the man that you profess to love to his death, daughter, not me.' His voice sounded dispassionate, as if he was stating a fact like the weather.

She stared at him. 'So, you're not only blackmailing Harry, but also your daughter?'

Father didn't answer to that, neither did his gaze soften.

'Shall I take that as your final word on the subject Father?'

'Absolutely,' Father said.

His serenity made her want to slap him. She rose from her chair. 'Well, it's not mine. I won't give in without a fight, Father.'

She walked to the door, paused, and turned around. 'You know, Father, I don't think I will ever forgive you for this. You're condemning both of us to a soulless marriage. I have always tried to understand your motives, but this, this is heinous and I hate you for it.'

She walked out of the room. The door shut behind her with a satisfying bang. She took a deep breath, spun on the spot and Apparated away.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

14

The Rectory, June 1998

Cyrus Greengrass stared at the door that had just banged shut behind his oldest daughter.

How dare she defy him? He'd raised her better than that. From the day she was born he'd taught her how important the interests of their family were. She knew that her own wishes and feelings were insignificant, compared to the well-being of the family as a whole. She could count herself lucky that Fate decided to give her the man she longed for.

But no, the little miss had to throw a temper tantrum and storm out of the room.

He rose to his feet and turned to the window. It was another wonderful early summer's day. It seemed as if Mother Nature was celebrating with them over the downfall of that monster. He looked down at the colourful flower bed in front of his window, but his brain didn't register what his eyes saw.

Where had he failed? Should he've been harsher with her? He'd always shied away from the means other Pureblood men employed to secure the compliance of their daughters. Daphne had been his joy and the apple of his eyes from the moment the midwife had placed the little, red-faced bundle into his arms. Never before had he felt such a rush of helpless love overwhelm him as in that moment.

When Daphne grew up, he'd not once regretted she wasn't the son he and Isabella had hoped for. She was everything a proud Pureblood father could wish for: diligent, disciplined, interested in the family business, and always willing to listen to him and accompany him while he worked. On top of that, she was magically powerful and a good student.

Who cared that she wasn't male? She was destined to marry the Potter heir, anyway. Both his father and Uncle Fleamont had urged him and James to renew the marriage contract they had made for their future children. That had never come to pass. Whilst James and himself were inclined to give in to their father's wishes, Isabella and Lily had been dead set against it, and there were just some arguments he didn't feel inclined to have with his wife. However, the two of them had agreed to raise their eldest children with the prospect of inducing a match, should they happen to be a boy and a girl, and wait and see what became of that.

Fate had decided otherwise. James and Lily had gone into hiding for reasons they never disclosed to him. Not even two years later they were dead, and their son grew up cut off from the magical world. He'd never forgive Dumbledore for that. He and Isabella would have loved to take the boy in, but Dumbledore refused. Security reasons, he'd said. Unfortunately, he probably had a point there, so he'd agreed not to search for the boy, although his instincts had told him otherwise.

The news Daphne brought home about the boy as soon as they'd both entered Hogwarts confirmed his doubts. Yet he had bowed to Dumbledore's wishes - as so many had in their world. However, the boy had grown up to become an extraordinary young man. He had the best of both of his parents in him. James had been like a little brother to him, and Lily had become his little sister in the short time he'd known her. He'd be honoured to welcome their son into his family.

Unfortunately, the two young people concerned had to be the most obstinate, pigheaded individuals known to magical kind.

A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. They were more alike than they knew and would make an impressive couple. Why Harry insisted on remaining with that ill-bred and Quidditch obsessed Weasley brat when he could have Daphne was beyond comprehension, just as it was beyond comprehension how a gentleman like Arthur Weasley could have fathered his four youngest children. They probably took after their mother, Molly Prewett, that ill-mannered harpie.

His face hardened. Daphne and Harry were meant for each other, and he'd fulfill the wish of his father and godfather, whether they liked it or not. There had been just enough fear in both of their eyes when he told them of his final decision that he knew they'd eventually cave to his demands - kicking and screaming, no doubt, but they would both come to see reason.

If that meant he had to blackmail the son of his godson and his beloved daughter, and endure their hatred until they accepted their fate, then so mote it be.

A knock at the door interrupted his musings.

'Come in'

The door opened, and Matty scampered into the room. 'Mr Nicky Greco, master.'

Greco? They didn't have an appointment, so what brought him here? Did he have news on the girl?

'Tell him I'm happy to see him, but I don't have much time before my next appointment, Matty.'

Only minutes later Matty led Greco into the room. Cyrus rose from his chair, and they shook hands. 'Nicholas, what an unexpected visit. Do you have news about the girl?'

Greco nodded while he sat down on the chair Cyrus offered to him. 'Indeed. I have proof that she is still with her lover. I managed to catch them red handed last night. Here is my report.' He pulled a folder out of his briefcase and pushed it across the desk towards Cyrus. 'Photos included, of course.'

'As always, Nicholas, I expect that you delivered nothing less than thorough and exemplary work,' Cyrus said, but refrained from opening the folder and inspecting the evidence. There might be aficionados of wizarding photos of steaming teenage sex, but he didn't belong to them.

Greco inclined his head, indicating that the work was to his usual standard, as well as accepting the minor praise offered.

'I of course will arrange for your usual fee to be deposited into your account , and will call on you again when I need your assistance.' Cyrus gave his own small nod, acknowledging the professionalism and dedication shown by the man.

Greco stood, gave another small nod, and took his leave.

Cyrus sat at his desk and looked for a long time at the folder in front of him. What should he do with it? It wasn't necessary anymore to present it to Harry, the boy was already backed into a corner and would do what he expected from him.

Of course, the folder would be prime blackmail material against the girl, too, should she decide to meddle more with Harry's marriage than he was willing to tolerate. He would point both eyes the other way, should Harry decide to keep her as his mistress, and so would Daphne. She had been raised as a Pureblood woman and knew her duties. However, the girl was a wild card, given her upbringing.

Yes, he would keep the evidence and not hesitate to use it against the girl, should she cross the invisible line.

His mind made up, he locked the folder into his filing cabinet and left his office.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

15

The Burrow, June 1998

Harry dragged himself to the back door of The Burrow. The sun went down behind Stoatshead Hill in another display of fiery beauty. It seemed as if nature was mocking his misery.

What was he supposed to do now? Damn Cyrus Greengrass and his blackmail! How could he give him the choice between dying or marrying his daughter? At the moment he was hard pressed to decide which fate was worse.

He had to tell Ginny. Gad, how he hated to hurt her - yet again. How would Ron react when he found out that he'd dumped his little sister for a second time? What would Mr and Mrs Weasley say? He'd have to leave The Burrow, of course.

Damn, was there really no way out?

His thoughts went round in circles ever since he'd left Cyrus Greengrass' study.

He'd thought of making his story public. The Daily Prophet would have a field day, no doubt, that a scion of one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight tried to withhold what was his from the Chosen One. The same was probably true for the Muggle press. Crystal Fairy Beauty Products was a huge company, and news about a fight between the owners would damage their reputation.

However, there was a downside to this plan. Rita Skeeter would sink her teeth into the story like a shark who smelled blood, and paint him as the poor, mistreated hero. He'd had enough of that during the Triwizard Tournament and wasn't keen on a repetition. Damaging the reputation of the company in the Muggle world meant damaging his family's legacy. He didn't want that, either.

So, he had to choose: his personal happiness against his privateness and against his family's legacy.

However - who'd guarantee that Cyrus would cave in soon enough for him if he chose that course of action? He lived on limited time, after all. Three months, at the most, Healer Payne had said, and the potion needed a few weeks for brewing.

He'd spent the day walking around, Apparating to places that had meaning to him: the destroyed cottage in Godric's Hollow where everything had started, the graves of his parents - and Hogwarts. He hadn't entered the grounds, but stood outside the wards, staring at the castle and thinking about everything that had happened to him since his eleventh birthday.

At Hogwarts, he'd found Ginny. She'd made him happier than he'd been ever before in his miserable life. Now that happiness was going to be taken from him.

He'd spent another hour sitting in front of the graves of his parents, trying to figure out what they'd tell him. They'd sacrificed their own lives so he could live.

He couldn't throw away the sacrifice they'd made for him; not if there was a way out. Was he being selfish? Was he taking the easy way out? What was wrong and what was right in this situation?

His stomach rolled, and his hands were clammy and cold. Merlin, he'd rather face Voldemort once again than going to have this talk with the Weasleys.

He took a deep breath and pushed the door open. As he'd expected, the family was in the kitchen.

Mr Weasley sat at his usual place at the head of the table. Mrs Weasley stood at the stove, stirring something in the iron cauldron, and directing a knife cutting a loaf of bread with her wand. No doubt she was going to serve them another delicious, home-cooked meal soon, but today the smell that wafted through the kitchen from the cauldron made the bile rise in his throat.

Ginny and George sat side by side on the bench, their heads bent over the newest issue of Which Broomstick? and squabbled over the advantages of the new Nimbus 3000 over the Firebolt.

The door fell shut behind him. Everybody looked up.

Mr Weasley lowered his newspaper onto the table. There was a grim expression around his mouth, and his face had suddenly turned very pale.

The hand that held Mrs Weasley's wand became slack. The knife clattered to the ground, and her cauldron of stew was forgotten as she gaped at him, her eyes almost bulging out of her head.

Ginny and George stared, open mouthed. George averted his eyes first and buried his face in his hands.

Ginny, however, kept staring at him, her eyes blazing. She was the first to break the silence.

'What has happened to you?'

Her voice was barely above a whisper, but in the quiet kitchen it seemed unnaturally loud.

Harry dragged himself to the bench opposite of George and Ginny. He sat down, his shoulders hunched, and hid his trembling hands under the table, between his knees he had pressed together to keep himself from shaking.

Mrs Weasley sat down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. 'Harry, what's the matter with you? You look horrible. I'm going to call Poppy; she'll set you to rights in a jiffy.' She rose from her seat, but Harry put a hand on her arm and held her back.

'Don't, Mrs Weasley. There's nothing Madam Pomfrey can do to help me.'

She sunk back on her seat. 'What -'.

He held up his hand to interrupt her. 'This is very hard for me, and I only want to tell this story once, so please, don't interrupt me.'

Everyone nodded. 'Of course, mate,' George said. Ginny kept quiet, still regarding him with that blazing look.

Harry shuddered. Was she going to burn him alive? He suppressed a nervous giggle.

Halting at first, he began his tale. He told them how he'd become weaker each week that had passed since the Battle, and how he had hidden his appearance from them with Glamour Charms and Illusion Charms. When he described his talk to Healer Payne, Mrs Weasley broke out into tears and took him in her arms. She didn't crush him, but held him as gentle as a fragile little bird: it said more than words about her concern for him.

'There has to be a treatment,' she said. Big tears rolled down her cheeks that had become thin and pale since Fred's death.

'Yes, there is,' he said.

Mrs Weasley heaved a big sigh and smiled at him. 'Well, then everything will be alright.'

He let out a mirthless snort.

Ginny gave him a strange look and turned to her mother. 'Don't get your hopes up, mum. I think there's a snag that comes with that treatment.'

Harry sighed. 'You have no idea how right you are, Ginny.' He extricated himself from Mrs Weasley's arms as gentle as possible. 'There is this potion, Le Renouvellement.'

George's head shot up at that, and he stared at Harry. The rest of the Weasleys, however, looked blank.

'I see you've heard about it,' Harry said. No surprise there. During their Hogwarts days, the twins had downplayed their prowess, and sailed through schoolwork with as little effort as possible, while they concentrated on research for their joke products. Considering what they'd come up with for their shop, they had to be much better at Potions as they ever let on.

George nodded. 'It's devilishly complicated to brew, needs a lot of rare ingredients and is the most expensive potion imaginable.'

'You've summed up everything correctly,' Harry said.

Ginny gasped. She had her hand pressed before her mouth and stared at Harry. When she caught his gaze, she lowered her hand. 'How much?'

'One million Galleons, at the minimum.'

His answer was met with silence.

'The Goblins emptied the vault I inherited from my father, so I don't have the gold at hand,' he said into the silence. 'However, I was told that I inherited a small mountain of gold from my grandfather.' His heart began to thump hard in his chest. How would they take the news? 'Unfortunately, that gold is under executorship.'

'That's why Cyrus Greengrass wanted to talk to you, isn't it?' Mr Weasley said.

Harry nodded. 'Yeah. Apparently, the Greengrasses and the Potters have been business partners and friends since the times of my grandfather. Cyrus is the executor of my grandfather's will. He's willing to give me the gold, but he's got certain demands.'

'What demands?' Ginny asked. Her voice was sharp.

Harry looked at her. Her face was flushed, and there was a strange gleam in her eyes. They exchanged a long look. He didn't need to tell her; she remembered what he'd told her about his first meeting with Cyrus, and the demands he'd made.

Her parents and her brother looked at him, confusion on their faces.

Harry rubbed his face with the palms of his hands. He lowered his hands on the table and looked at the Weasleys. 'In exchange for the gold, he wants me to become his successor at the company he leads, and I … I have to marry his oldest daughter.'

'What?' That was Mrs Weasley. Her face had become rather red, and her body trembled. She jumped up and fumbled with the strings of her apron.

'What are you going to do, Molly?' Mr Weasley asked. He sat up straight and looked at his wife, his eyebrows drawn together.

'I'm going to give this scum a piece of my mind,' Mrs Weasley said. Her apron had come down, and she marched to the fireplace.

George and Ginny stared at her, open mouthed.

Mr Weasley sprang up and held her back. 'Don't, Molly. It's never a good idea to jump into a fight without knowing all the facts.'

She glowered at him, but relented, and sat back at the table with a huff.

Harry reached out with his hand and touched her arm. 'Thank you, Mrs Weasley. It means a lot to me that you're willing to fight for me. But I don't think it'll be of use. Cyrus Greengrass doesn't strike me as the kind of man who changes his mind very often.'

'I'm afraid you're right with that,' Mr Weasley said.

Mrs Weasley looked from Harry to her husband. 'But - Are you going to give in to this atrocious demand without a fight?'

Mr Weasley sighed and rubbed his forehead with a hand as if to wipe away an oncoming headache. 'Of course, Harry could sue him for the gold. Unfortunately, with the Death Eater trials still underway, such a case wouldn't be dealt with before autumn. Harry doesn't have the time for that, I'm afraid.'

Silence settled down on the homely kitchen of The Burrow.

Harry cast a glance at Ginny from the corner of his eyes. She was still rather red in the face, and looked down on her hands that were clenched together so that the knuckles stood out white. When she felt his eyes on her, she looked up. Their gazes locked.

Her face was hard, and there was a scorching heat in her eyes that engulfed him like a wall of fire. Was that hate? Impossible; his sweet, caring Ginny wasn't capable of hating someone.

She kept staring at him, and he averted his eyes. He had failed her for a second time. She had every right to be furious with him.

'What about the Ministry?' she asked. Her voice sounded strange, clipped and cold. 'Can't they help Harry?'

Mr Weasley let out a mirthless laugh. 'The coffers of the Ministry are empty, Ginny. As it is, Kingsley is governing with gold that was lent to magical Britain by the ICW. There is no room in the budget for a loan of one million Galleons. Do you have an idea how much gold that is? It's about ten percent of the gold the Ministry generated in a normal year prior to the two wars.'

'I see,' Ginny said. Her voice still had that clipped quality. 'What about a fundraiser to get the gold Harry needs? He's the Chosen One, after all. People would be happy to help him.'

Harry frowned. He didn't like the way she had emphasised his hated monicker. It sounded - off, but for the life of it he couldn't place his finger on what it was exactly that rubbed him the wrong way.

This time, it was George's turn to snort. 'Sorry, sis, you need to do the math before you suggest things like that. Thanks to the two wars in quick succession, the magical population of Britain has dropped down to about ten thousand wizards and witches, children included. That means everyone would have to pay at least one hundred Galleons. That's about as much as most wizards and witches earn within a month, not to mention that we have the biggest economic crisis since the end of the war with Grindlewald. About twenty percent are out of work.'

Ginny stared at Harry. 'What are you going to do?'

He returned her gaze. This was it; he had to come clean with her. Gad, he hated to do this to her.

'I don't want to die, Ginny.'

'Of course not!' Mrs Weasley flung her arms around him and broke out in tears.

Ginny still stared at him, her jaws clenched. The expression in her eyes was unreadable.

She jumped to her feet, her hands balled into fists. 'I hate you!' she screamed, and ran out of the house.

Everyone froze.

The sound of the door slamming shut reverberated through the quiet kitchen.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

16

London, June 1998

The evening sun cast long rays of golden sunshine over the city. The unruly surface of the river reflected the light of the sinking sun in millions of sparks. The scenery had an almost mediterranean, easygoing feel. Tourists and citizens alike ambled on the promenade alongside the river, enjoying the view and the beautiful weather.

Daphne sat on one of the benches that lined the pedestrian walkway at Victoria Embankment, her back hunched and her face hidden in the palms of her hands. Her feet hurt from a long day walking through the city aimlessly, while she racked her brain for a way to help Harry, and came up empty at every turn.

The Goblins had downright laughed at her when she asked for a loan. She had tried to plead with them, but to no avail. In the end, they had threatened to let her throw out of the bank by a Goblin guard if she didn't give in and leave.

Ever since then, she'd walked through the streets of London.

Each plan crazier than the next had led her to a dead end.

Harry didn't have the time to sue Father for the gold. He'd be dead before even the case would be treated at court. From her discussions with Father she knew the Ministry was not in a position to give him a loan. Fundraising would never bring the needed amount of gold - and Harry would hate the attention. She probably could sell the story to the newspapers. It wouldn't bring all the gold Harry needed, but perhaps enough to keep him alive for the time being. Also, there was the added benefit it would spite Father and force him to relent in the end; after all Father hated public attention as much as Harry did. However, it would hurt the reputation of the company and most likely lead to job losses. There was no way she'd let innocent bystanders suffer from this.

She had to make a decision.

A snort escaped her. Who was she fooling? Her decision was obvious, wasn't it? As if she'd let Harry die.

If Harry agreed to that atrocious plan of Father, she'd marry him.

Hot tears welled up in her eyes and trickled through her fingers. She'd never imagined this outcome.

This marriage was going to be a disaster before it even began.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

17

Diagon Alley, June 1998

Diagon Alley was still rather crowded when Ginny appeared on the public Apparition point. Many wizards and witches had taken advantage of the beautiful weather and were strolling through the alley, doing some window shopping on this balmy summer evening. The outside sitting areas of the only cafe and the restaurant Diagon Alley offered were well attended.

She took a quick look around. Shit! There was only little hope nobody would recognise her when she walked down the alley. Her red hair was a dead give away. However, she had to take the risk. She needed to see him. They needed to make new plans. Damn, why did Harry have to screw up her life like this - once again?

She lowered her head and hurried down the alley, mindful not to bump into anyone and raise any unnecessary attention. When she reached the small passage between the bakery and the adjoining house, she vanished around the corner as unobtrusive as possible. At the entrance to the backyard she halted and looked back, her wand at the ready. Had anyone followed her? In that case, she'd cast a Confundus Charm on them and deal with the repercussions later. At least the alley teemed with so much magic that the Ministry wouldn't be able to tell that she'd been the one who'd used underage magic, just that it had been used.

A few minutes passed by. When nobody appeared at the entrance of the passage, she let out a deep breath and looked over into the backyard. It was empty. The houses around the backyard shut out the evening sun and cast the backyard in a blue light. She sprinted across the open space and flew up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time.

She knocked. Thank Merlin, he opened almost immediately.

'Ginny? I didn't -'

'Shhh!' She glared at him and slipped into the flat.

He closed the door and turned around to her. 'Not that I'm not happy to see you tonight, love, but what brings you here? Didn't we decide that it's too risky to come here when it's not yet dark?' He bent down his head to kiss her.

She braced her hands against his chest to forestall him, slipped past him and slumped down into a chair of the small eating area next to the old-fashioned stove. 'This is an emergency,' she said. 'We need to talk and make new plans. Harry's screwed up everything.' Her hand played with a teaspoon that laid on the table, beside a half-emptied mug of tea.

'What do you mean: Harry screwed up everything?' He sat down opposite of her and put his hand on hers.

She let go of the teaspoon and laced her fingers with his. 'After Wonder Boy gave up the content of his vault to the Goblins without a fight, he discovered that he is severely ill and needs an extremely expensive treatment for that, or he'll be dead within three months. Suffice to say that he didn't make it into Auror Academy, either, because of it. Lucky for him, he still has the gold from his grandfather's estate. Unfortunately for him, Cyrus Greengrass has his hands on the estate, and isn't willing to give him the gold without certain… stipulations being met.'

His eyebrows rose at that. 'And what would that be?'

Ginny grinded her teeth. Her fingers tightened around his.

'Ouch, you don't have to take your anger out on me,' he said, and withdrew his hand.

She deflated. 'Sorry, love.' She took his hand in hers, raised it to her mouth and gave him a small kiss. 'There, I've made it all better.'

He snorted. 'You do know, I'm not a three year old, right?' His face sobered. 'Out with it, Ginny, what has you so riled up?'

She let go of his hand and sprang up. She crossed the small room with a few long strides and looked out of the tiny window, her back turned to him, yet still mindful not to be seen from the street in the waning light of the evening. Her hand clenched the fabric of the curtain. 'In return for his agreement to release the gold, Greengrass has demanded that Harry will become his successor at the company and...' Her voice faltered.

'And what?'

Heat flashed through her body, and she tensed. Damn Cyrus Greengrass for fouling up her plans. Double damn Harry for being so indifferent about gold that he gave everything he had to the Goblins, and now had to give in to Greengrass' machinations. She whirled around, her hands balled into fists. 'He demands that Harry marries his wallflower of a daughter.'

He stared at her, his mouth agape. 'You're taking the mickey.'

'I wish I was.' All of a sudden, the tension left her body, and she returned to the table.

He reached out with his arms and pulled her on his lap.

She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. 'What are we supposed to do now?'

'Regroup and adjust our plans to the new development,' he said, wrapped his arms around her, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. He shook his head. 'I can't wrap my head around that. The slob and the prim Pureblood princess; come off it! This is going to be a match made in hell. They'll forever be at their throats.'

Ginny jerked her head up, tilted her head, and looked him in the eyes. 'Really?' That would be too good to be true.

'Absolutely! Can you imagine two people as different as those two?'

He had a point there. A reluctant smile crept across her face. That served Harry right. He'd made her the happiest she ever felt, only to condemn her to loneliness, despair and torture. She'd never forgive him for that. If she played her cards right, she even might be able to give him a taste of his own medicine...

A hand cupped her face. 'A Knut for your thoughts,' he said.

She wrapped her arms around his neck. 'I was just thinking about how nice their honeymoon will be if the groom is still pining for his ex.' She gave him a light kiss on the lips.

His response was less than enthusiastic. He furrowed his eyebrows, biting his lips, and scrutinised her face. 'Are you sure you are over Harry Potter, love?'

'I am.'

His eyes darkened.

Damn, her response had been too fast. She threaded her hands through his dark hair. 'I got over him once, and I'll get over him again, thanks to you, love.' She looked him deep into the eyes. 'The first time, I didn't give up on him. The second time, however, I have. The way he discarded my feelings and my loyalty to him when he broke up with me he doesn't deserve me. But that doesn't mean that I have given up on getting my fair share of his fortune.' She flashed him a broad smile.

'I'm all ears, love,' he said, and tightened his arms around her.

'Well, he's going to marry the little blonde mouse, but that doesn't mean that he has to let go of me. As soon as he's fulfilled his duty and fathered an heir, he can divorce her, and marry his true love - me, who patiently waited for him.'

He tilted his head back and laughed out loud. 'Remind me never to cross you, love. I had no idea you can bear a grudge that long. You're downright frightening, you know that?'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

18

The Burrow, June 1998

Night had settled down on The Burrow, calm and balmy. The wind had died down when the sun set behind Stoadshead Hill, and the ancient apple trees stood motionless against the starry sky. Everything was quiet, except for the crickets chirping in the unkempt grass under the trees of the orchard.

Ginny hadn't returned yet. As soon as he'd recovered from his shock after her outburst, he'd jumped up and ran after her. He'd been too late: he had come out just in time to see her turn on the spot outside of the wards and Apparate away.

Harry looked up into the nightly sky. He hadn't even tried to go to sleep tonight. He lay on his back in the soft grass of the orchard, listened to the sound of the crickets, and tried to find some comfort in the sweet smell of the grass below him.

He wasn't going to search for Ginny. She would need some space to come to grips with the fact that she'd lost him for a second time, this time for good. He wouldn't be of any use for her, anyway. He couldn't comfort her - not anymore. The less they saw of each other from now on, the better. Maybe her pain would go away - eventually. Even though she'd cried she hated him that wasn't true; it was her hurt and pain that had spoken, and her Weasley temper had made her lash out at him.

He sat up as he heard soft steps in the grass behind him and turned around. It seemed he was not the only one with sleep problems tonight.

Mr Weasley sat down beside him. 'Would you mind if I keep you some company, Harry?'

He shook his head. Heat crept into his cheeks. Thanks Merlin it was dark, so Mr Weasley wouldn't see him blush. What in Godric's name was he supposed to talk about with the father of the girl he had just left to marry another girl?

Mr Weasley cleared his throat. 'Look, Harry, I know that you're hurting. That's only natural in your situation, I guess. I also don't want to marginalise your feelings, but I wanted to tell you one thing: this is not the end of the world.'

Harry turned his head and looked at Mr Weasley. 'What do you mean by that?' Was Mr Weasley going to give him the same kind of prep talk he got each year from Dumbledore? A pat on the shoulder and a few platitudes? Merlin, he could do without that.

'I've watched you and Ginny together ever since the Battle,' Mr Weasley said. 'While I won't deny that you care for her deeply, I'm sure you don't love her, Harry.'

Harry froze. Mr Weasley had no idea what he was talking about. After all, he'd intended to propose to Ginny as soon as possible. Didn't that show he loved her?

Mr Weasley put a hand on his shoulder. 'If you're honest with yourself, Harry, you'll admit that it's the thought of being a part of a big family that attracts you to Ginny. I've seen that wish in your eyes ever since you came to visit us for a first time.'

He opened his mouth to protest. That definitely was not the reason why he felt attracted to Ginny. She was fun and a damned good flyer and Quidditch player. Besides that she was a wonderful kisser and felt just right in his arms.

But Mr Weasley beat him to that. 'There's another point to consider. You probably won't like it, but that doesn't change the fact that as the Vanquisher-of-Voldemort you're going to hold a position in our society one day very similar to the one previously held by Dumbledore. Even if you are unaware of it, you are already using the weight of your public face to influence the public towards the changes that you want to see in our world.'

Of course not! He hated to be in the limelight. 'I'm not,' he said.

Mr Weasley's teeth gleamed in the darkness, the only hint that he was grinning. 'But you are, Harry, even if you don't see it. For example, what about the two interviews you gave after the Battle?'

Harry opened his mouth, and closed it again. Damn it, the man was right. In both interviews he'd stressed that changes needed to be made, and what he thought some of those changes should be, in the full knowledge that people would listen to what he had to say and potentially act on his recommendations.

'Yeah, you're right,' he said, and sighed. 'But what's that to do with Ginny and me?'

'Well, I love my daughter very much, but as much as I would like to, even I can't deny that her interests are rather limited. There isn't much beyond flying that she cares for. She certainly doesn't care for Ministry politics. You, on the other hand, plan to join the Ministry as an Auror. Whether you like it or not, Harry, that will push you into the political arena. I've also no doubt that you'll be offered a seat on the Wizengamot as soon as you're twenty-one. You will need a woman by your side who will support you in your political career; and have no doubt Harry: there is as much politics in the Auror department as there is in the Wizengamot. As much as it pains me to say it: Ginny is not made for that role.'

'I'm sure she'd have grown into it,' Harry said. 'But that's a moot point now, isn't it? Are you trying to tell me that Greengrass is better suited in that regard?'

'Much better,' Mr Weasley said. 'She's been brought up for that role, as her father's heir she would have known what her role was to be from a very young age. Look, Harry, I know you're heartbroken, and you'll probably hate me for what I tell you now. You had to grow up without your father, so let me give you the advice he'd have given you today. We all have to go through a heartbreak when we're young; it's a rite of passage, like measles for the Muggles. Hardly anyone marries his first girlfriend.'

He squeezed Harry's shoulder. 'You'll get over Ginny one day, Harry. All I ask of you is not to take out your disappointment on the Greengrass girl. She doesn't deserve it, and is in all likelihood being pushed into this like you. Allow yourself to give your relationship a chance; you never know, maybe you and Miss Greengrass can have something incredibly special.'

He gave Harry's shoulder another squeeze and got up.

Harry's eyes followed him as he walked back to the house. Mr Weasley was the closest thing to a father figure he knew. Sirius had always acted like a mate. He'd tried, but he'd always seen James in him. Getting advice in what he thought of as one of the worst times of his life meant a lot to him.

Mr Weasley was right, it would be unfair to take out his disappointment on the girl. But he was also dead wrong: he'd never get over Ginny.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

19

The Rectory, June 1998

The last time he'd felt a sense of hopelessness like this was when he walked into the clearing in the forest to face Voldemort. Back then, he'd known that everything would be over within the blink of an eye: the flash of a green spell, followed by nothingness.

Dying had been a piece of cake, as Sirius had said, compared to what he was going to do right now: he was going to shackle himself for life to a girl, a girl he'd not spoken to once outside of class. Of all the dangerous adventures he'd been through in his short life, this was the most daunting one. What if they couldn't stand each other from the very beginning? What if she was secretly in league with the Death Eaters? Would he have to sleep with his wand in his hand from now on? Shit, from their wedding night on they would share a bed! His heart plummeted into the deepest pit of his stomach.

He snorted. What an idiot he was! It was a bit late to think of that complication, wasn't it?

'The great Harry Potter, Master,' Matty said, and held the door to Cyrus' study open for him.

Harry's heart thumped in his breast like a hammer on an anvil. Nevertheless, he thanked the small creature with a smile as he stepped into the room. He'd rather die than to let Cyrus see how shaken he was.

Cyrus sat behind his desk, but rose when Matty closed the door, and gave him a polite handshake.

'I see, you've come to a decision, Harry.' He motioned with his hand to the uncomfortable visitor chairs.

Harry braced himself. Now was the time for some expert acting. Cyrus might have the upper hand for the time being, however, that didn't mean that he'd be his puppet. He hadn't given in to Voldemort, and he wouldn't give in to Cyrus Greengrass. He raised his chin at Cyrus, slipped his wand into his hand, gathered his magic, and cast a silent Cushioning Charm on both chairs.

The charm would be as good as permanent, thanks to his power as the master of the Elder Wand, but also thanks to the power the Elder Wand had transferred to his own holly and phoenix feather wand when he had used it to repair his wand. He'd discovered his increase in magical power a week after the Battle, and so far hadn't discussed it with anyone, not even Ginny or Ron and Hermione.

Let's see how Cyrus would deal with that when he discovered it. He bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from grinning.

Cyrus' eyebrows went up at his actions, but he didn't comment. Was there a hint of admiration in his eyes? It was hard to tell; it was gone within a split second, and his face was that bland wall once again.

Harry slid the wand back into its holster and sat down. For nothing in the world he was going to show Cyrus how much this talk was terrifying him. He leaned back in his chair, his arms on the armrest, and crossed his legs. As long as he didn't start to bop his leg up and down, he'd look nonchalant and calm that way - at least he hoped so. He looked Cyrus in the eyes. 'Well, yes. You didn't leave me much of a choice, did you? Since I'm not inclined to bite the dust anytime soon, I'm going to accept your most generous offer.'

If Cyrus felt offended by the unveiled sarcasm in his voice, he didn't let on. A broad smile appeared on his face. 'That's wonderful, Harry. I'm sure you're never going to regret your decision.'

Harry didn't answer. At the moment, it was hard to share Cyrus' optimism.

'However, before I call my daughter to this meeting, I need to be sure that you'll keep your part of the bargain,' Cyrus said.

The breath caught in Harry's throat. What did Cyrus want from him? 'Do you want a magical oath?'

Cyrus shook his head. 'No, tricky business they are, and most likely will come back to bite us. I want your word, Harry, your word as a man and an honourable one, that you agree to marry Daphne and stay married to her until at least one heir is born to you from your union. I don't care whether it's a boy or a girl.'

That sounded reasonable. 'You have my word on that,' Harry said.

Cyrus gave him another broad smile and clicked his fingers.

Matty appeared beside him with a soft PLOP.

'Please, ask Miss Daphne to join Mr Potter and me in my study,' Cyrus said.

The elf nodded and Apparated away.

Harry put both feet on the ground. There was no way he wouldn't start bopping his foot if he kept his legs crossed while he waited for his future wife. He put his hands on his thighs, palms down. Why were they that sweaty all of a sudden? He subtly flexed his fingers, and dried them on his robes with the miniscule movements.

Silence descended on the small room. The blood rushed in Harry's ears, and his heartbeat sped up at an alarming rate. Dizziness overcame him. He blinked; he was not going to faint on his future wife! He concentrated on his breathing: in … and out - in … and out, slow and deliberate. His heartbeat slowed down, though it still was so loud he was sure Cyrus must hear it.

There was a soft knock on the door. Harry's heart jumped in his throat and stayed there, pumping hard.

'Come in,' Cyrus said.

The door opened. Cyrus rose to his feet. Harry followed his example and turned around. For the first time since the Sorting in his first year he took a deliberate look at his future wife.

At the Sorting, she'd been an eleven year old on the smaller side, and cute in the way all little girls were cute. Her long, blonde hair had been held back by a bandana, and the Sorting Hat hadn't needed long to put her into Slytherin. She'd seemed to be rather pleased about that.

She hadn't changed much since their first day at Hogwarts. She was still on the smaller side: the top of her head just reached his nose. Her straight hair had darkened slightly. It now had the colour of ripe wheat and was still held back with a bandana, and fell down past her shoulders to her waist. The skin of her unmoved oval face was clean, with no trace of freckles, and as white as a sheet. She had delicate eyebrows over eyes as blue as the sky, a straight nose, and full, pink lips that were shaped slightly upwards at the corners of her mouth and gave her face the appearance of a permanent smile, though her eyes at this moment were cold and distant. She was a pretty girl, yes, but she had nothing on Ginny's vibrant beauty. She was the kind of girl who melted into the background and was always overlooked. No wonder he hadn't been able to match a face to the name when Cyrus' letter arrived.

'Thank you for coming that promptly, my dear,' Cyrus said. 'Daphne, allow me to introduce you to Mr Harry Potter. Harry, this is my oldest daughter, Daphne.'

'It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Greengrass,' Harry said, and kissed the knuckles of the hand she held out to him. Mr and Mrs Weasley had drilled him that morning at breakfast about how to behave when he met his intended bride for the first time.

Her fingers, clammy and cold, trembled in his hand. So, she wasn't as aloof and indifferent as she appeared to be?

'The pleasure is all mine, Mr Potter.' Her voice was flat.

With the introductions out of the way, Cyrus motioned them to sit down. Harry waited until Daphne sat down, and used the time to take another look at her.

Her eyes widened for a split second when she sat down and noticed the Cushioning Charm on the chair, and she shot him a scrutinising glance from under her eyelashes. The next moment, however, her surprise and curiosity was overcome by the seriousness of their situation. She pressed her knees together, and clenched her hands in her lap. No, she definitely wasn't calm about this.

Cyrus cut the crackle straight away. He turned to his daughter. 'My dear, as you know, Mr Potter and I have been negotiating a union of our families in marriage, and we have come to an agreement. Mr Potter asked for your hand in marriage. How is your answer to that offer?'

Harry bit his tongue. Neither had there been any negotiations, nor had he offered for Greengrass' hand in marriage. What a farce this meeting was!

He examined his bride-to-be from the corners of her eyes. She sat very straight.

Her bland face betrayed no emotion at all, but her eyes were two blue shards of ice as she looked at her father. 'I am honoured, and I gladly accept Mr Potter's offer.' Her voice still was void of all emotion, however, her hands, clasped together until the knuckles stood out white, told another story.

How much say had she in this so-called negotiations? There was no way to ask her in Cyrus' presence. Later, maybe.

'I am honoured by your trust in me, Miss Greengrass,' he said, as Mr Weasley had instructed him.

She didn't answer, nor did she look at him.

'Wonderful,' Cyrus said into the silence and rubbed his hands. 'Congratulations to both of you. Today is a lucky day for our families.'

That still remained to be seen. Harry clenched his teeth.

Cyrus turned to Harry. 'We have a lot to talk about. No offense meant, Harry, but I guess you don't have much time to lose to get your treatment under the way, so I'd suggest a wedding at the earliest date possible. I hope you understand that I won't give you access to anything before you two have taken the vows.'

Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest and scowled at Cyrus. 'I didn't expect anything else, Cyrus.'

'The wedding will take place in the park of The Rectory, as is the custom for the girls of our family. Closest family only, I think. Also, I think it's better not to announce the engagement. That will cause too much unwanted attention. I'm going to send the announcement of the wedding to The Daily Prophet afterwards, together with the notice that you're on honeymoon in France. Is that alright with you?' Cyrus asked.

Harry nodded. He couldn't care less about the details of the wedding.

'Of course, Father,' Greengrass said.

'Good. You are my heir, Daphne. Instead of the customary dowry you'll receive the usual stipend as the heir of the house of Greengrass from the day of your wedding until you both take control of the company from me. For you, Harry, I'll make the same provisions I made for your father when he married your mother. However, I think it advisable that you live with us at The Rectory following the wedding.'

Harry froze. No, by no means! He didn't want to live under the same roof as his in-laws. Given how this marriage started, and considering his temper, he was probably going to explode at some point, sooner rather than later, if he didn't have some space. He and Greengrass would never have a chance at a proper relationship if they had to begin their married life under the close inspection and constant meddling of Cyrus Greengrass. 'Didn't you say something about a few Potter houses I could take my pick from when we first met?' he asked.

Cyrus gave him a close lipped smile. 'That's true, but things have changed significantly since then, don't you agree?'

Heat flashed through Harry's body. He glared at Cyrus and clenched his fists. The next thirteen years until he'd be independent seemed a very long time.

'Besides that, it's only a hop and a skip from here to Canterbury University, where you both will begin your studies in September. Not to mention that you need to be in close proximity to me, since I'm going to be introducing you to your duties as my successor.'

Harry gritted his teeth until his jaw hurt. So, Cyrus had already planned what he was supposed to do in September? There was little he could do about Cyrus meddling in his life and about the Potter houses, at least not as long as Cyrus held the executorship. He'd have to talk to Greengrass during their so-called honeymoon. Maybe between them they'd have enough Galleons to rent a cottage or a flat somewhere. Or would Cyrus cut off the gold if they moved out?

Greengrass gave him a short side glance. He couldn't read her expression. She cleared her throat and straightened. 'I don't agree with that, Father.' There was more than a hint of steel in her cold voice.

Harry turned his head and stared at her. Was that the same girl that had entered the room? Well, at least she seemed to agree with him on that point, though she most likely had her own reasons for that.

A faint blush dusted her cheeks. She looked straight at her father, but her hands twisted in her lap.

'Look, Daphne -' Cyrus said.

'No, Father. I want my own house.' The steel in her voice became more pronounced.

Father and daughter exchanged a long, hard stare. Cyrus was the first to avert his eyes. 'You and Harry need to live close to me because of the reasons I explained, Daphne. What else do you suggest?'

Harry sucked in a sharp breath. So, his daughter was Cyrus' weak spot? That was good to know.

'What about The Coach House? It's been empty ever since great-great aunt Marigold died. We'd be living next door, but would have our own house,' Grerngrass said.

Cyrus gave a slow nod. 'That would work.'

Greengrass jutted her chin ever so slightly, and the corners of her mouth turned upwards.

Cyrus took a sheet of parchment out of the drawer of his desk. He dipped the eagle-feather quill into the silver inkwell and wrote a few paragraphs. 'I've written down the points of our agreement,' he said, and handed the parchment to Harry.

Harry took the parchment from him and read it. The agreement was short and to the point. It covered everything they had agreed on, and there seemed to be no hidden catches.

He nodded his consent and handed the parchment to Greengrass. 'Is that alright with you?'

Her head jerked back, and she blinked while her mouth formed a silent "oh", took the parchment out of his hand, and read it thoroughly. 'I agree,' she said.

Cyrus handed her the quill. She signed the agreement and pushed the parchment and the quill towards Harry.

He took a deep breath and scribbled his name beside hers. He closed his eyes for a brief second and breathed out. The deed was done. Had he sold himself to the devil? Only time would tell.

t.b.c

Chapter Text

20

The Rectory, June 1998

It was already late in the afternoon when Cyrus returned to his study. He sat down behind his desk and contemplated the events of the day, a satisfied smile on his face.

To be honest, when the hours passed yesterday and Daphne didn't return, he'd been concerned she'd found a way to get Harry the money he needed for his treatment. He knew his daughter, she was a resourceful and cunning young woman. If she had sold the idea to the newspapers, Muggle as well as magical, he would've been forced to yield immediately, or the damage to the family and the company would've been too big. Thank Merlin she had refrained from using this means, probably for the same reason.

He hadn't been so sure about Harry's decision, either. He'd put Greco on Harry's case as soon as he returned into the magical world, but Harry had been carefully guarded; even an investigator as skilled and cunning as Greco hadn't been able to find much more than the many rumours that surrounded the young man. However, together with what Daphne had told him about Harry, he'd had the impression it was almost impossible to force him to do something he didn't want to do.

On top of that, he was the epitome of a Gryffindor, proud and brave. He wouldn't have put it past the young man to tell him he'd rather die than yield to his demands. Of course, in that case he would've needed to find a way to get the money to Harry.

That also meant he would've needed to use the evidence Greco had collected about the Weasley girl to guide Harry into the right direction. He made a face at the mere thought. Ugh, that would've been an ugly business. No man, no matter how young or old, would react kindly if he was told he'd been cuckolded. Thank Merlin he'd been spared that.

His gaze fell upon the visitor chairs in front of his desk. Harry had cast a Cushioning Charm on them this morning. Most likely the charm had already expired, but he should make sure if that was the case. The uncomfortable chairs in both of his offices, at home as well as at the company's headquarters, were part of his time management. Nobody wanted to sit in them longer than necessary, which helped him to reduce his many meetings to the absolute minimum.

He cast a Detection Spell on the chairs. The chairs gave off a faint green light. Cyrus eyebrows rose up. So, the Cushioning Charm was still active? Well, that confirmed everything what he'd heard about Harry's amazing magical strength. What beautiful and powerful children he and Daphne would have!

Cyrus flicked his wand at the chairs to end the charm, and cast another Detection Charm to make sure Harry's Cushioning Charm had been taken down.

Again, the chairs gave off a faint green light.

This time, Cyrus' eyebrows almost reached his hairline. This was the first time in many years a silent spell didn't work for him. Harry must be even more powerful than the stories he'd heard led him to believe.

He flicked his wand again. 'Finite Incantatem.' This should have done the trick. With a smile, he cast the silent Detection Spell.

'What the hell!'

'FINITE INCANTATEM!'

This should be enough. He cast the Detection Spell. The soft green glow of the chairs mocked him.

'Finite Incantatem!'

He put a little more emphasis behind the vocal spell. Another Detection Spell made the chairs glow green once again.

'Merlin's beard!' Cyrus took a deep breath.

'FINITE INCANTATEM!'

Yet another time his shouted spell had as much impact as if a first year Hogwarts student had cast it. His eyes almost bulged out of his head as the chairs glowed in a soft, green light.

'FINITE INCANTATEM!'

Again, he shouted the spell, and again his Detection Spell came up with the result he'd dreaded. He took a deep breath, gathered his magic and concentrated on his intend to rid the chairs in front of him of that blasted Cushioning Charm.

'FINITE INCANTATEM! FINITE INCANTATEM! FINITE INCANTATEM!'

Sweat beaded on his forehead, his heart raced, and he breathed hard, as if he'd just ran a mile. Now the damned Cushioning Charm should be gone, or his name wasn't Cyrus Greengrass.

He took another deep breath to recuperate, then cast the Detection Spell.

The chairs glowed green.

Cyrus' mouth fell open. He gaped at the chairs for a full minute. This couldn't be true! Never before he had been unable to remove a spell!

A slow rumble began deep in his throat. The next minute, he laughed until the tears streamed down his face. Oh yes, Daphne had chosen well, Harry would be a son-in-law to be proud of. He never would have to worry if he was capable to protect his precious little girl, so much was sure. On top of it, he seemed to have inherited some of Jame's prankster genes. If James saw him now, he'd be howling with laughter.

He wiped his face dry with his handkerchief, flicked his wand, and Vanished the chairs with a silent spell.

'Matty!'

PLOP

'What can Matty do for Master Cyrus?'

He heaved a deep sigh. 'Please, get me two wooden chairs from the attic. And no word of this to anyone!'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

21

The Rectory, June 1998

Daphne stared at herself in the mirror of her vanity as she brushed her hair, as she did each night before she went to bed. The events of the day played before her inner eye over and over again. So, she was engaged to Harry Potter. She should be over the moon, shouldn't she? Instead, there was only - emptiness. How was she supposed to go on from here?

A knock on the door startled her out of her morose thoughts.

'Come in,' she said.

The door opened, and Astoria rolled her wheelchair into the room. She was already dressed for bed, with a blue terry cloth bathrobe over her pyjamas, soft slippers on her feet, and her dark hair in a braid that hung over her left shoulder. She raised her wand at the door and closed it after herself with a silent spell, then turned to Daphne.

The sisters looked at each other in the mirror. 'How are you, Daph?' Astoria asked. 'And don't give me the dragon manure you told Mother in the drawing room today. I want to know how you really feel about your engagement to Potter.'

Daphne sighed and put the brush down on her vanity. She turned around on the stool to face her sister, her hands in her lap.

'You know, I've been asking myself that for the past ten minutes.' She bit her lower lip and shrugged. 'I feel - empty, if that makes any sense. Empty and scared to death.'

Astoria rolled her wheelchair closer to her until their knees were almost touching. She bent forward and put her hand on Daphne's. 'What is it you're afraid of, Daph?' Her eyes were dark and troubled.

Daphne sighed again. Could she dare to confide into Tori? Tori was so fragile, thanks to the damned Blood Curse that ran in the Greengrass family. According to the healers she and her future children would escape the curse, and while she'd be forever thankful she'd been spared Tori's fate, she also would feel guilty because of it forever. The stress of the last year had wreaked havoc with Tori's health, and as a result she was now bound to a wheelchair.

'Quit the guilt trip on my behalf and tell me already, Ducky,' Tori said. She sounded impatient.

Daphne smiled at the nickname Tori had given her when she began to speak, and she pressed Tori's hand in hers. 'You always could read me like an open book, Ria.' She was barely two years older than Tori and had found her sister's name impossible to pronounce as a small child, so she'd shortened it to the last syllable. Mother had been horrified and corrected her over and over again until she could pronounce the name. Father, however, had been amused. A sharp pain shot through her. Best not to think of Father right now.

Tori snorted at that. 'That's easier than you think, Daph. I know that you like to present a blank face to the world, but I know how your mind works, so you can't deceive me. Out with it, what worries you?'

'Harry,' Daphne said.

Tori rolled her eyes. 'I thought as much. It's always about him with you. You need to be more specific, you know.'

'I never expected to marry him,' Daphne said. She took a deep, shuddering breath. She wasn't going to burst out into tears about this. 'It's not me he wants, it's the Weaselette, and I know that in his eyes I'll never be able to hold a candle to her. I never imagined Father would blackmail him into marrying me. During our talk with Father today I saw how angry and hurt he is. He'll always hold that against me, Tori. What if he hates me forever?'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

22

The Burrow, June 1998

Plock!

Harry shot bolt upright, wand in his hand, and looked around what had hit him. Where was he? Last thing he remembered was leaving The Rectory after his talk to Cyrus and the signing of the marriage agreement between him and Greengrass - though he probably should think about her as Daphne from now on.

The meeting had taken a lot from him - too much, if he was honest with himself. He'd hardly made it to the Apparition point on the grounds of The Rectory. It was a miracle that he'd made it back to The Burrow without Splinching himself. He'd needed some alone time, and instead of entering the house, he'd gone to the orchard and sat down below one of the ancient apple trees. He must have fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

He took another look around. No living soul was near him. A balmy breeze rustled in the ancient trees.

Plock-plock-plock-plock-plock!

Harry was pelted by a shower of dead baby apples. No attack, then. He slipped his wand back in its holster and laid back. His hands crossed behind his head, he went over the last events in his mind.

The deed was done. He as good as tied himself for the rest of his life to a girl he didn't know at all. Worst of all, he didn't know what kind of woman his future wife was. She seemed to be as excited to marry him as he was to marry her. Had she been forced into this marriage by her father? Would that make them allies or deadly enemies? He had no idea.

He sighed and rubbed his face.

At the sound of soft steps in the grass he sat up and looked over his shoulder.

Ginny walked towards him. She wore tight jeans and a cropped top, and her beautiful hair flew free over her shoulders.

The breath caught in Harry's throat. She was so beautiful - and lost to him forever. His heart hammered in his chest, and his eyes were glued to her face.

Ginny sat down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.

His hand twitched, wanting to cover hers, wanting to hold to her and never let her go - but no, he didn't have the right to do that any longer. He clawed his hands in the grass beside him to keep himself from touching her. However, he couldn't stop himself from looking at her.

Her face was pale, and there were dark smudges under her eyes. He had no idea when she had returned to The Burrow last night - or if she'd returned at all. He'd been too occupied with his own feelings of loss. What an insensitive, egotistical prat he was!

But what could he've done to make this any easier on her? The only thing he could do was to keep away from her, and hope she'll get over him and move on. She deserved to be happy.

The wind carried the sweet, flowery scent that was so typical Ginny to him. He closed his eyes. His hands clenched into the grass until they hurt. 'I'm so sorry, Ginny.'

The grip of her hand on his shoulder tightened. 'There's no reason for you to be sorry, Harry. Cyrus Greengrass ought to be sorry; he left you no other choice.'

He turned his head and looked at her. Her beautiful, chocolate brown eyes looked at him with that hard, blazing stare that never failed to shake him up. He clenched his teeth. This was like on his seventeenth birthday. She was suffering, but determined not to show. This time, however, there was no silver lining on the horizon. He wasn't going to return to her from the adventure he now embarked. A dull ache spread in his chest.

'I've signed the marriage agreement with Greengrass,' he said. Was that really his voice?

Her fingernails clawed into his shoulder. 'I thought as much,' she said. Her face was calm and didn't give away the hurt and loss he knew she felt. 'When will the wedding take place?'

'In about four weeks. My treatment will start immediately after that. I can't afford to put it off any longer.' His voice still sounded as if it didn't belong to him.

She nodded at that. 'What…' Her voice faltered, and she had to clear her throat. 'What are the terms of your agreement with Greengrass?'

Harry shrugged his shoulders. 'Rather straightforward and simple, I guess. I agreed to marry her and stay married with her until we have a child. That's all.'

Ginny's gaze became calculating. 'Did they demand a magical oath from you, or had you to sign the agreement with a blood quill?'

He shook his head.

A blinding smile lit up her face. 'But - That's wonderful, Harry!' She flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tight.

His arms encircled her on their own accord, and he pulled her close. She turned her face to kiss him.

Harry froze. What was he doing? He had no right to lead her on. He gently pushed her away, though every fibre in his body screamed no.

Ginny lowered her arms. All warmth seemed to leave him with that movement.

She looked at him, a pout on her face. 'Why are you doing that, Harry?'

'I fail to see what's so wonderful about my marriage agreement with Greengrass,' he said.

Again, she put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. 'You aren't bound by magic, Harry. That means you can leave her as soon as you've had the treatment.'

Harry startled. That thought hadn't occurred to him. But - 'I gave my word to Cyrus Greengrass that I'll keep my part of the bargain.'

Ginny stared at him. Her hand slid from his shoulder. 'Bugger. I know how irritatingly honourable you are, it's very likely that your magic will acknowledge that as a binding vow.'

'Yeah, I've thought of that myself already,' he said.

She edged closer and put her arms around his neck once again. 'Oh, well, in that case we'll have to wait until the baby is born, and you'll leave her afterwards.'

What? Each muscle in Harry's body tensed. He reached up with his hands and pulled her arms from his neck. How could she think he'd ever leave his child?

'Harry! What's the matter with you?' The pout on her face would've been adorable, if he hadn't been furious with her. He gritted his teeth.

'I'm not going to let my child grow up without a father, Ginny.'

She recoiled from him. 'But -.'

'There's no "but" about that, Ginny. I could never do that.'

She gave him another hard, blazing stare, sprang to her feet, and ran away.

His eyes followed her, his body tense. Did she know him so little that it never occurred to her that it was impossible for him to break his word or leave his child?

The sound of the back door of the kitchen banging shut startled him as the noise reverberated through the garden.

Harry deflated. He shook his head. No, he was being too harsh on her. He'd hurt her deeply, for the second time. She was probably clutching at every straw she could find, no matter how flimsy it was. He couldn't blame her for that. After all, everything was his fault, wasn't it?

He palmed his face in his hands. Tears pricked behind his eyes. He squeezed them shut and bit on his lips until the urge to break down subsided.

Ginny must hate him now. His heart plummeted into the deepest pit of his stomach. He took a deep breath. That was good, wasn't it? It would help her to overcome their separation.

He was the one that decided to break into Gringotts… if he hadn't there was a good chance they'd all have been killed by Tom by now. He'd have to hold onto this thought and try to find strength in it, though right now he had no idea how he was supposed to move on.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

23

The Rectory, July 1998

Was it really July already? Was today really his wedding day? Harry reached up with his right hand and pinched himself into his left forearm - hard.

Ouch, that hurt. So, it was real. Not dreaming, then. However, the unrealistic feeling stayed as he looked out of the window of what was supposed to become his and Daphne's future bedroom at The Coach House. His eyes wandered about the walled-in and well-kept kitchen garden that spread around the house.

The Coach House was attached to the main house and surrounded by the enclosed patio at the front and the walled-in garden at the back: a virtual prison, albeit a beautiful and rather luxurious one.

He turned around and looked at the room. During one of the few "dates" he and Daphne had had under the watchful eyes of her mother to get to know each other, Daphne had told him that The Coach House needed to be refurbished. She'd asked him for his favourite colours and preferences. He had had no opinion to offer; after all, what did he know about interior design? He only knew that he didn't want to live in a house as bland and artificial as Privet Drive number four.

His bride had good taste, he had to admit. The room had the same cosy feel as the Gryffindor dorms, though she'd chosen a deep burgundy red for the hangings on the dark four poster bed and the curtains, and the cords and tassels that held back the curtains were a silvery grey.

The door opened, and Bill Weasley entered the room. 'Are you ready?' he asked.

Harry grimaced. 'As ready as I'll ever be, and that means not ready at all.' He walked to the wardrobe and pulled the hanger with his wedding robes from it. They also were Daphne's choice, as everything else was. However, he could live with the colour: a deep midnight blue. He shrugged into the robes and adjusted his matching tie. 'Ready.'

Bill stepped towards him and put a hand on his shoulder. 'I'm honoured that you asked me to be your best man, Harry. I know how much you'll miss Ron today.'

Harry shrugged. 'There's no way an owl would've reached him and Hermione in time. Besides that, you know how important it is for Hermione to find her parents. The last seven years have always been about me and my problems. I couldn't come between Hermione and her parents, I'd never forgive myself for that.'

Bill squeezed his shoulder. 'You're a good friend. You know that Ron and Hermione wouldn't have minded.'

Harry only nodded in response. Yeah, they'd have stopped looking for Hermione's parents and returned to England in a heartbeat, had he asked them. However, there was no denying that he was relieved that they weren't here at the moment.

He loved his best friends dearly, but he had no illusions about their faults. They'd have driven him up the walls: Ron would've resented him making Ginny unhappy, and Hermione would've wanted to analyse his feelings about his forced marriage over and over again, while she researched every source known to her for a way to help him escape his fate.

No, it was a relief they weren't here today. This way, he'd have time to adjust to his new life before he had to deal with them.

Aloud he said, 'If I can't have Ron with me, I'm glad that you agreed to be my best man, Bill. I've always wanted a big brother like you, and believe me, today I need one, or I'll be running for the hills.'

Bill's face became hard. 'I imagine. The way you are treated by the head of this family…' His voice trailed off, and he gave Harry's shoulder another squeeze. 'You know that you'll always be a honorary Weasley, little brother.'

Harry reached up and put his hand on Bill's. 'I know. You have no idea how much that means to me. And in case I forget later, I want to thank you and Fleur for everything you've done for me over the last few weeks.'

Bill patted him on the back, and then led Harry out of the room.

The Weasleys had been great to him during the last four weeks. After the signing of the marriage agreement and his last encounter with Ginny he had decided to leave The Burrow. Mr and Mrs Weasley, however, didn't want to hear anything of that. They had not only insisted that he'd stay with them until the wedding, they'd also taken on the role of the parents of the groom as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Mrs Weasley had even gone so far to invite the Greengrasses to dinner one night. Despite the awkwardness of his betrothal, the evening had been a success, thanks to Mrs Weasley and Mrs Greengrass' determination to make everything seem normal. Ginny had not been there, while George, Bill and Fleur, and even Percy and his girlfriend had been in attendance and supported him.

Fleur had been great. She and Daphne had hit it off at once, and Fleur had welcomed his bride-to-be into the family as her honorary sister-in-law. Had she done that to spite Ginny? Probably; she and Ginny still didn't get along.

However, he hadn't had much time to think about the changes in his life. The day after the signing of the marriage agreement he'd made an appointment with Healer Payne. As a result, he'd spent the next days in a hospital room at the Hotel Dieu Magique in Paris, where Healer Petite had prodded at him until he had determined how to brew the potion.

They'd reached the small gate in the wall that surrounded the kitchen garden and stepped out into the park. The terrace of the main house was to their right. In front of them, a lush lawn sloped down to the lake. The white pavillon on the island in the middle of the lake was decorated with an abundance of pink and white roses. A row of chairs was set up around the pavillon. That was where the wedding would take place.

Harry and Bill walked down the gravelled path that led alongside the western boundary of the park to the lake.

'Harry, wait,' a female voice called behind them.

They turned around. Ginny stepped down the few steps from the terrace and walked towards them. Bill frowned, but said nothing as his sister came closer.

Harry gulped. His heart missed a beat and then jumped right in his throat. He licked his lips and walked a few steps towards her.

'May I have a word with you, Harry?' she asked as she reached him, and put her hand on his arm. She wore traditional teal coloured robes, and her gleaming hair was held back with silver combes. The sunlight strew fiery reflexes on it.

'Of course,' he said. He looked at Bill. 'Excuse us for a moment.'

The frown hadn't left Bill's face. He gave a sharp look from Harry to Ginny. His gaze lingered on Ginny, and the frown deepened. He opened his mouth as if to say something.

Ginny glowered back.

Bill shut his mouth with an audible snap. 'Alright. Two minutes.' He turned around and walked down the path until he was outside of hearing distance.

'I'm sorry, Harry,' Ginny said. Tears were in her eyes.

Harry moved forward and raised his arms to comfort her, but halted in his steps. He had no right to comfort her, not anymore. His arms dropped down by his side, and he slumped. 'No, Ginny, it is I who has to be sorry. I dragged you into my mess and hurt you, yet again. It's better if you don't see me anymore.'

'No!' Her reply was quiet, but determined. Her eyes blazed into his. 'I don't want to lose you, Harry! Yes, you have to marry her, but why does that have to change things between us? She has to know that you don't love her, and she knows that you were with me, so she can't expect that you're faithful to her.'

He blinked and took a step back. Her hand slid from his arm. 'Are you suggesting…'

'Yes.' She stepped closer, invaded his personal space. Her hand came up and played with the lapel of his robes. 'You only have to say the word, Harry.'

He closed his eyes, inhaled her sweet fragrance, and gulped again. It would be so easy, wouldn't it? He could have everything - his health, a family, and Ginny. But at which price? Did she have an idea to what a life she condemned herself, always in the background, never openly by his side? That wasn't the way he'd dreamed their life together to be. She deserved better.

He stepped back and loosened her hand from his lapel with his. He pressed her hand for a brief moment and let it go. 'No, Ginny, I can't do that. It wouldn't be right, for either of you. You deserve better than that, and Daphne -. Well, I have reason to believe that she doesn't like this marriage anymore than I do. Nevertheless, she agreed to marry me, and in doing so she's saving my life. While I don't think I will ever love her, I at least owe her to treat her decently.'

Ginny gave him a last, hard stare, then turned on the spot and walked away.

His eyes followed her until she vanished into the house. The ache in his chest was unbearable. His shoulders slumped, and he let out a sigh. He turned around and stumbled down the path until he reached Bill.

Bill caught him in his arms. "Careful, there, Harry. You don't want to dirty your nice robes by falling headlong on the path.'

Harry quirked his mouth into something he hoped looked like a smile. 'No, of course not.'

Bill wasn't deceived. He put an arm around Harry's shoulder and hugged him. 'I know you're heartbroken, little brother. However, you'll learn to live with that, just as you learned to live with all the other losses you've suffered. You are strong, Harry, you can do it again.'

'Yeah, of course.' He had to tell that himself a dozen times a day, and maybe it would become true one day. He took a deep breath and straightened. 'Come on, Bill. Let's get this show on the road.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

24

The Rectory, July 1998

She stood at her bedroom window, hidden behind the curtains, and looked out onto the park and the festively decorated pavilion on the island. Everything was ready for her wedding - except herself. Oh, she was already dressed in her wedding gown, her hair done up, and exquisite makeup applied to her face by a stylist, but she'd never be ready to say her vows to a man who'd been blackmailed into marrying her and probably hated her for that.

Daphne took yet another deep breath and straightened. Of course she'd do what was expected of her. She was a Greengrass, she'd do what was best for the family. While she didn't agree with Father's reasonings, let alone his means, he was the head of the family and she owed him her obedience.

Not that it would have mattered if there'd been another way to help Harry.

At least Harry had agreed to have a child with her. A baby, no, his baby, would be a compensation for a loveless marriage, and maybe it would help Harry and her to bond eventually.

At a knock on her bedroom door she turned around. 'Come in.'

Father entered the room. His eyes lit up when he saw her. 'You are beautiful, princess.'

Sudden tears shot in her eyes. It had been his pet name for her when she was a little girl, but he'd never again called her by a pet name after she'd entered Hogwarts. Why did he do this to Harry and her? Surely he could have found some other way to achieve his goals.

Father held his arm out for her. 'Are you ready?'

She took a deep breath. 'Just a moment.'

She picked up her bridal bouquet from a low table near the window. An ancient looking house elf had delivered it to her that morning. 'Master sends this for future mistress with his regards,' he had croaked in a bullfrog voice. That had been a pleasant surprise. She hadn't expected Harry to do that, and already arranged for a bouquet made of flowers from the park being delivered to her by their gardener before the ceremony began.

She held the bouquet to her nose. It was made of sweet smelling, pink and white vintage roses. Someone must've told him her favourite flowers - or he just went along with the decoration theme. However, she decided to take his thoughtfulness as a good omen for their future.

'Now I'm ready.' On Father's arm she walked down the stairs and onto the grounds. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears, and her legs were like jelly. Her eyes automatically sought out the raven-haired young man who stood beside the officiator. He had reapplied the Glamours and Illusion Charms, and in the deep blue robes she had selected for him he looked very sophisticated. However, there was no warmth in his eyes when she neared the pavilion on Father's arm. His eyes seemed to look straight through her, cold and expressionless, and his jaw was set into a taut line.

She blinked away the tears that welled up in her eyes. This was not the way she'd seen her future husband looking at her on her wedding day in her girlish dreams. She probably should count herself lucky that he'd shown up and didn't bolt for the hills.

They had reached the officiator. Father gave her a kiss on the forehead and put her hand into Harry's. His hand was cold and clammy, just like hers. He still looked right through her.

She suppressed a sigh, pulled herself together and turned to face the officiator. What did she expect? That he'd fall head over heels for her when he saw her in her wedding dress? The officiator began with the ceremony. She'd better concentrate on him. Mother would never forgive her if she messed up her vows.

The ceremony went by in a blur. Daphne gave the answers that were expected from her in the right moment, as did Harry. The latter was really amazing: he still looked completely zoned out. The officiator performed the bonding spell. The light was bright enough not to cause raised eyebrows, but she'd seen brighter ones at weddings.

'You may now kiss the bride,' the officiator said to Harry.

If he felt any revulsion, he at least didn't let it show. He bent down and gave her a short kiss. His lips were cold and impersonal. So much for the fireworks she'd dreamt of if he ever kissed her.

'Ladies and gentlemen, I present Mr and Mrs Potter,' the officiator said. There was the usual clapping and cheers, though they sounded rather meagre. They had only invited the closest family: her parents, Astoria, Mr and Mrs Weasley and the Weasley children who were in England. When she'd suggested to send an invitation to the relatives Harry grew up with, he'd almost bit off her head and clammed up. Obviously, there was some bitter history. Would he ever deem her worthy enough to tell her? Probably not.

Her parents were the first to congratulate, followed by Astoria. Mr and Mrs Weasley came after them.

Mr Weasley gave her the formal kiss on the knuckles and then kissed her cheeks. 'I wish you all the happiness in the world, Daphne.' His eyes were warm and caring.

His wife also did and said what was expected from her. She hugged Daphne and congratulated her, but her heart wasn't in it: her movements were stiff, and her eyes were guarded. However, she couldn't blame Mrs Weasley. The way she acted towards Harry made clear she saw him like an honorary son. As a mother, she'd also have been scared out of her mind for the future of her young in Mrs Weasley's stead.

The three Weasley boys and their respective partners were pleasant surprises. They all behaved perfectly polite and friendly towards her. Especially Fleur, who was quickly becoming the older sister she'd never had.

The Weaselette, however, was something else. She was the last in the reception line that had assembled in the formal drawing room of The Rectory. She barely touched Daphne's hand with hers and murmured something unintelligible. Her brown eyes stared at her with a venom that made Daphne shudder.

She suppressed a nervous giggle. If looks could kill, Harry would've become a widower on his wedding day. She watched how the redhead stepped to Harry, put a hand on his arm and gave him a lingering kiss on the cheek. Harry turned as pale as a ghost.

She averted her eyes; she had no right to invade his privacy. It was obvious that he still had strong feelings for the girl. Well, she wasn't in much of a position to complain about that, was she?

Oh, who was she fooling? It hurt like hell. However, Pureblood marriages hardly ever were made in heaven, and she'd been brought up she may have to tolerate the … indiscretions of her husband. She wouldn't object Harry continuing his relationship with the Weaselette - well, at least on the outside. Internally it would slowly kill her, but she'd tolerate it. If only she was convinced the girl was worth his devotion! That point was still very debatable.

Someone pressed a glass of elven champagne into her hand. Father made a toast, followed by Bill and Mr Weasley. She forced a smile on her face and did what was expected of her, her hand on Harry's arm. He felt as stiff as a board under her touch.

Astoria rolled her wheelchair next to her. 'Are you alright, Ducky?' she asked in a low voice, covered by the din of the many voices in the room.

She bent down to her sister and hugged her. 'I'm as good as can be expected, Ria,' she said into her sister's ear. 'Don't worry about me; I'll get through this.'

The small wedding party moved to the dining room. A delicious meal and more toasts followed. However, her throat was constricted, and she only brought down a few spoonfuls of the food on her plate. Beside her Harry didn't fare better; if out of nervosity or due to his condition was hard to tell. He hardly spoke a word to her throughout the meal.

Sooner than she was ready it was time to leave the reception and get changed for their honeymoon. As unobtrusively as possible she left the dining room and for a last time made the way up to her bedroom.

'A word, Greengrass,' a female voice said behind her as she reached the hallway in front of her and Astoria's bedrooms.

She turned around.

The Weaselette stood at the top of the stairs and glared at her across the hallway.

She braced herself. 'What do you want, Weasley?'

The girl stepped closer with swaying hips. An ugly sneer appeared on her face. What in the world did Harry see in that tart? Or was this a side of her she hid from him?

The Weaselette came even closer until she invaded her personal space. She stopped, her face not even one foot apart from Daphne's. She could smell the alcohol in the Weaselette's breath. Ugh, now she had to deal with the intoxicated ex of her husband on her wedding day. This was exactly what all new brides dreamt about.

However, when the girl started to speak, her voice was strong and clear, without any sign of intoxication. 'So, now you're the wife of the Chosen One, Greengrass. It's exactly what you wanted, isn't it?'

Daphne startled.

The Weaselette let out an ugly laugh. 'Oh, I've seen how you looked at him across the tables, Greengrass. You've pined for him for years. Well, I have to give to you: this round goes to you.'

She leaned closer; her nose almost touched Daphne's, and her eyes blazed. She raised her right hand, her index finger pointed out at Daphne. 'However, you'll never have him, not really. You know it's not you he loves, and I'll never let him go.' She accented each sentence with a jab of her finger at Daphne's breastbone.

'Whenever he touches you, whenever he kisses you, or whenever he sleeps with you, he'll be thinking of me.' She gave Daphne a last jab and a sneer and turned on her heels.

Daphne leaned with her back against the door of her bedroom. She trembled all over her body, her heart raced, and he crossed her arms over her midriff and hugged herself.

She had to pull herself together. She had to get ready: their Portkey to Lutétia, the magical part of Paris, was due in not even an hour. She couldn't show herself in front of Harry in this distraught state; their first time alone together was going to be awkward, and she needed to keep her wits about her.

She took a few, calming breaths. The trembling subsided. There, that was better. She turned around and opened the door to her bedroom. In her room, she sunk down in her favourite chair next to the window.

Her reflection looked back at her from the mirror above the fireplace. Everything about her was pale and insignificant.

The Weaselette was right: she could never compete with her.

Daphne palmed her face in her hands and cried.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

25

The Burrow, July 1998

The Weasleys returned to The Burrow in the late afternoon.

Mrs Weasley sat down at the kitchen table and kicked her high heeled pumps off her feet. 'Ahh, that's better. Well, in spite of everything, it was a nice wedding, wasn't it?'

Ginny made a face. 'If you say so. Excuse me, mum, I need to get out of these horrible robes and change into something comfortable. Do you mind if I visit with Luna afterwards? She's asked me to stay overnight.'

'Of course not, dear.' Mrs Weasley got up and gave her youngest a hug. 'I understand that you'll need the comfort of your friends tonight.'

Ginny returned the hug. 'Thank you, mum, you're the best.' She hurried up the stairs, a broad grin on her face. Mum was right, she needed comfort tonight. However, the comfort she had in mind wouldn't be anything mum would've approved of.

Thirty minutes later she stood in front of the familiar dark door. He opened the door at her first knock and pulled her into his flat.

'How was the wedding?' he asked.

'Horrible,' she giggled. She leaned her head against his chest and looked up at him. 'You should've seen them: they were both paralysed with horror.'

He shook his head at her. 'It's not nice to gloat about other people's misery.'

'They deserve it.' Her voice was sharp, and her eyes flashed. 'They've messed up our plans.'

He enveloped her in his arms and drew her closer to his chest. 'I take it that your last contingency plan with Potter also failed?'

She huffed at that. 'He's too noble to make me his mistress. Oh, and Greengrass doesn't deserve to be cheated on. Apparently he thinks her some kind of saint because she agreed to marry him and save his sorry arse.'

He grimaced. 'Ouch and double ouch. Firstly, someone forgot to remind him that the girl's a Slytherin? I was in the same house with her longer than I care to admit, and I know she'll have her own agenda. Secondly, was he really dumb enough to tell you that? I bet that went down well.'

Ginny tilted her head back and broke out into laughter. 'You know me too well, love.' She raised her hand and tousled his dark hair. 'Yes on all accounts. Oh, I know Greengrass' agenda. She's head over heels in love with him, has been since at least the Triwizard Tournament, maybe earlier. I've watched her often enough gazing at him across the tables with those big cow eyes to be sure about that.' Her eyes narrowed. 'Of course, I made them both pay.'

'You are a devil when your ire is provoked,' he said. 'What did you do to the poor sods?'

'Oh, I made sure that Harry will be pining for me for a very long time - and I made sure she knew it. Whatever happens in that marriage, I'm always going to be an invisible part of it.' She gave him a smug grin.

His face sobered. 'I thought you've given up on Potter? I've already arranged a tryout with the Taos Tornados for you, as you've suggested. Their trainer is looking for some fresh talents from the Old World.'

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. 'You are wonderful.' She trailed the tip of her right index finger along his cheekbone and across his lips. 'Yes, I've given up on Harry, but as I've told you, I haven't given up on his gold yet. However, now is not the time for another try.' She paused. 'Let us proceed with the new plans we've made. He'll be fed up soon enough with plain Jane, I'm sure. That'll be the time for another try.' Her face hardened. 'However, before I make another move on Harry, Greengrass has to be out of the picture, I'm afraid.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

26

Paris, France, July 1998

It was about mid afternoon when they arrived in the Portkey terminal of Lutétia within the magical quarter of Paris. It was situated in the middle of the Ile de la Cité, and hidden from the Muggles by a portal in an underground parking garage on the Rue de Lutèce, behind a door that led to a maintenance room.

Daphne and Harry emerged from the underground garage into the bright sunshine of a July afternoon. Harry had been in Paris before for his preliminary examination and took the lead. 'It's down there,' he said. 'This street leads directly to the hospital complex. The main entrance, with the entrance to the court from where the magical part of the Hotel Dieu* is accessible, is at the place in front of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame.'

Daphne only nodded to that. She gave Harry a surreptitious side glance. His face was ashen, and his jaw was set in a taut line. He had hardly spoken to her ever since they had met in front of The Rectory to tell their guests goodbye and to take the Portkey. Not that she blamed him for that. Her stomach was tied up in a hard knot. Would the French healer be able to help Harry? If she felt like this, how must it be for Harry, who would submit himself to what was known to be one of the hardest treatments wizardkind had ever invented before another hour was over? What awaited them? Would he survive the treatment, as weakened as he was?

The French healer had told Harry he needed an anchor during the treatment, whatever he meant by that. Since this was supposed to be their honeymoon - at least in the eye of the magical public - they had agreed that she should take that role, whatever it was. Anyone else than his new wife would raise questions, and even more so if Harry's treatment ever became public. Though reluctant at first, Harry had agreed to the plan.

As they drew closer to the Place Jean-Paul II in front of the cathedral, she turned her gaze to the Hotel Dieu built alongside the left side of the square: a huge, uninviting block of brownish stone, darkened by the fumes of Muggle Paris, it seemed to loom over them.

Harry shuddered. Daphne's heart began to beat faster, and she reached out with her hand to him. Would he let her comfort him?

He did.

Her heart gave a little skip as his hand closed around hers. His fingers were ice cold, but he gave her hand a small squeeze as if in thanks, and kept it in a firm grip.

Their steps faltered until they drew to a halt; they looked at the building in front of them, and tried to find the courage between them to continue. Harry was the first to be ready. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. 'Shall we?' he asked. His face was a stony mask, but the slight quiver in his voice gave his fear away.

She nodded, and together they entered the hospital through modern sliding doors that were in a stark contrast to the ancient façade of the building. Harry had been here before and knew his way, so they ignored the reception desk and turned left. Going through another set of sliding doors they entered the courtyard.

Daphne stopped in her tracks. The courtyard was filled with sweet scented, colourful flowers, planted into a complicated pattern between low boxwood hedges. On two sides it was bordered by arched hallways.

It was peaceful here, peaceful and soothing. The tightness in Daphne's chest lessened, and she drew a deep breath.

Harry's stiff posture relaxed, although his eyes still remained dark and troubled. He turned his head to her. 'It's beautiful, isn't it?'

Daphne nodded. She pointed to a door that materialised out of the cream coloured stones of the archway on the opposite side of the courtyard. 'I suppose, that's the hidden entrance to the magical part of the hospital. Are you ready?'

'I'm as ready as I'll ever be,' Harry said, and gave her his lopsided grin, though it lacked a lot of its usual cheekiness.

They walked around the courtyard. The magical portal opened for them as soon as they approached it, and within the next second they found themselves in the entrance hall of the Hotel Dieu Magique.

Daphne looked around. It didn't look much different from St. Mungo's. There were rows of chairs for wizards and witches waiting for treatment. About half of them were occupied. A young witch held a small boy in her lap who was emitting bright, blue bubbles from his ears. The bubbles rose up into the air, and burst right above the boy's head with a loud Ping! The young mother had conjured earplugs for herself, and so had the wizards and witches around her. Not that she blamed them; the noise was already getting on her nerves.

She followed Harry to the Welcome Witch.

Harry cast a Translation Charm on himself. He looked at her. 'Would you like me to perform the charm on you?'

She shook her head. 'Thank you, Harry, it's not necessary. Mother insisted that Tori and I should learn French.'

Harry turned toward the Welcome Witch. 'Good morning. My name is James Evans. I have an appointment with Healer Petite,' he said.

She had warned him that Rita Skeeter had spies at St. Mungo's, so it was likely that the French press had similar informants in place. To keep his privacy, Harry had admitted himself to the hospital under an alias.

'Bonjour, Monsieur Evans,' the young witch at the front desk said. 'Healer Petite is ready to see you. He's waiting for you in diagnostic room number four. Down that corridor, please.' She motioned with her hand to a corridor at the left.

'Merci,' Harry replied, and turned away from the front desk.

Together, they walked down the corridor. Daphne's chest tightened once again, and she fingered her necklace. She cast a look at Harry. He held his head up high, but his gaze darted from one side of the corridor to the other, and there was a light sheen of sweat above his upper lip. Other than that, nothing in his demeanour gave away the anxiety he was feeling.

Diagnostic room number four was the last room on the left, before the corridor made a turn. Daphne motioned towards a couple of chairs opposite of the door of the diagnostic room. 'I'll wait here for you until your examination is over.'

Harry nodded. He was as pale as a sheet.

She stepped closer towards him, raised her hand, and put it on his shoulder.'You're not alone in this, you know.'

Harry stiffened under her touch, before he took a deep breath and nodded. The next moment he knocked at the door of the diagnostic room and was called in.

Daphne watched him disappear behind the door, and then plopped down in one of the chairs. She crossed one leg over the other and leaned back.

The examination lasted far longer than she thought it would. Daphne folded her hands around one knee while she waited. She would not look on her wristwatch again: she had done that an embarrassing number of times during the last hour.

At last, the door to the diagnostic room opened, and Harry came out, followed by a man in white healer robes who was at least six feet five tall. Her lips twitched; Healer Petite, indeed.

That remained to be the only humorous moment of the day.

Harry introduced her to Healer Petite as his wife. The Healer greeted her with a kiss on her knuckles, and then led them to a hospital room.

'I'll wait outside until Monsieur Evans has changed,' he said and left the room.

Harry and Daphne looked at each other. A faint blush crept in Harry's cheeks. Daphne walked to the window and looked outside. 'Get changed,' she said, and kept her eyes trained on the dull courtyard below the window.

The quick rustle of his clothes behind her back indicated he got changed within record time. Well, their wedding night surely started unusual.

'I'm ready,' Harry said.

She turned around.

Harry leaned back in the cushions of a hospital bed, his upper body slightly raised. He was clad in one of his own pyjamas and had covered his body with a white blanket. He had cancelled the Glamours and looked like death warmed up.

Daphne took a better look around the room. For a hospital, the room was rather nice. There were tasteful drapes at the window, and comfortable looking, upholstered chairs stood at each side of the bed. Harry's nightstand was made out of mahogany, and so was the wardrobe at the far wall of the room. The marble top of his nightstand hosted an impressive looking number of potion vials.

Daphne sat down in the chair at Harry's left side. He gave her a small smile that didn't reach his eyes.

Healer Petite came back into the room. He took the first potion vial from the table top and handed it to Harry.

'This is a Stomach Soothing Potion, Monsieur Evans. We don't want you to throw up the potions that do the hard work, n'est-ce pas?'

Harry grimaced, took the vial and downed it in one gulp.

Healer Petite handed him the next one.

Harry also downed it without pause. A violent shudder went through his body, and he closed his eyes.

Daphne tensed. She leaned forward and clasped his left hand that lay on the blanket between both of her hands. It felt clammy and cold.

Nobody spoke a word as Harry downed potion after potion. His breathing became more laboured with each vial he emptied. Daphne counted a dozen vials until she gave up. She shuddered. The state of Harry's body must be even worse than Healer Payne had told him. The number of potions he had to take was alarming, and each of them was supposed to take care of a different aspect of his body. Merlin, how ill was he? What if it was already too late for the treatment to work?

Finally, Healer Petite handed Harry the last vial. Harry's hand trembled when he put it at his lips. She reached up and steadied his hand. He gave her a weak smile of thanks and downed the potion. The empty vial slid out of his fingers. Daphne hurried to catch it, or it would have dropped onto the blanket.

Harry sunk back into the cushions and closed his eyes. A deep furrow appeared between his eyebrows and he let out a small grunt.

Daphne settled down in her chair and took his hand between hers. She almost dropped it: it was burning hot. This couldn't be right, could it? She looked at Healer Petite who sat in the chair opposite of her.

His eyes never waived from Harry's face, however, he looked calm and composed. He used his wand and cast a string of silent spells with complicated wand movements over Harry's still form. An array of runes appeared in the air.

She tried to decipher the runes before they simmered out and were replaced by new ones. It was a lost cause: the complicated array was way beyond her skills. So much for being among the top three of her class at Ancient Runes, and the apprenticeship she had done with Madam Pomfrey.

Healer Petite read the array without any problems. As the last runes blinked from existence he leaned back in his chair with a satisfied nod and continued observing Harry.

She allowed a breath that she didn't know she was holding to escape; everything seemed to be going as well as it could be expected. The tension in her muscles lessened.

Silence descended onto the hospital room, only disturbed by an occasional grunt of pain from Harry. His eyes were still closed, but she could see their shuddering movement under his lids.

After an hour, the grunts became more frequent, and his breathing became laboured once again. His hand, still burning hot with fever, twitched between hers.

'Shh, Harry; everything's going to be alright,' she told him and brought his fevered hand to her lips.

What an idiotic thing to say: it still remained to be seen if the potions would work as hoped and give him back a healthy body.

Healer Petite gave her an encouraging smile, and performed another round of examination spells on Harry. Everything seemed to be progressing as it should, if the satisfied gleam in his eyes was anything to go by.

The hours crept on with agonising slowness and pain in Harry's case. Day progressed into night, and Harry's condition seemed to deteriorate by the minute. He appeared to be on fire, being burnt alive in his own skin, and the groans of pain had given way to a constant soft wail, the wail of a very small child. It tore at her heart. She held his sweaty hand between hers and comforted him as best as she could. Did he hear her? It was impossible to tell.

Not long after dusk the convulsions began. Without any forewarning, Harry arched his back in an impossible looking bow and screamed.

Daphne let go of his hand and jumped to her feet. 'Harry!'

'Don't worry, Madame Evans. The potions are working just as they should. The convulsions will last for three or four hours, followed by a phase of heavy hallucinations. After that, Monsieur Evans will break out into an even heavier sweat and fall into a natural sleep of healing until tomorrow morning,' Healer Petite said. His voice seemed to come from far away.

Daphne looked down on Harry's body as it twitched and flexed on the bed. How small he looked! Fragile and somewhat broken. Tears pricked behind her eyes and streamed down her cheeks the next second. She didn't bother to wipe them away.

She resumed her post beside his bed. His hand shot out and grabbed hers and held it in a death grip. The next convulsion hit him, and his iron grip almost broke her fingers. Afterwards, she leaned forward and brushed the fringe from his damp forehead. He relaxed under her touch.

Convulsion followed after convulsion. How was his frail body supposed to make it through this? Daphne lowered her head and closed her eyes. Was there a way out; she couldn't bear to watch him suffer anymore. She bit her lips until she tasted blood. Of course she would stay. A Greengrass never ran away from a responsibility she had accepted.

The time between the convulsions spread out longer, and their intensity lessened.

Healer Petite looked at his watch. 'This should have been the last one.'

Daphne stood up and loosened her cramped muscles. Her hand hurt and was slightly swollen. She looked at Harry's frail body in the bed. Who would have thought he still was that strong?

'Show me your hand, Madame Evans.'

Daphne startled. She hadn't noticed that Healer Petite also got up and now stood beside her. She held out her hand to him. He cast a silent healing charm on it. The pain subsided, and she let out a relieved sigh.

He gave her a small smile. 'That should last you through the next couple of hours. The hallucinations are going to begin any second.'

The words had barely left his mouth, when a heartbreaking wail from Harry's bed made them both whirl around.

'No, Uncle Vernon… please… not the belt! I promise to be a good boy!'

'Pour l'amour de Dieu!' Healer Petit exclaimed as they both rushed to Harry's side. 'Wasn't it enough that he was almost starved to death as a child?'

An answer was impossible: her chest constricted, and she had difficulties to breathe. She picked up Harry's hand, pressed it between the palms of her hands and raised it to her lips. 'Shh, Harry; it's over and you're safe. He can't harm you anymore.'

Harry relaxed at her words. However, the reprieve was a short one. Not even five minutes later, he was hallucinating again.

Healer Petite cast strong Privacy Wards on the room. 'The patients will relive the worst moments of their lives under the influence of these potions. All their secrets come out into the open. While I'm bound by my oath of confidentiality as a healer, you never know who's passing that door in the hallway,' he said.

He hadn't exaggerated. During the next three hours, she became privy not only to the abuse she had already suspected, but also to the truth behind the rumours that had flown through the hallways of Hogwarts about Harry. The rumours paled in comparison to the truth. She held his hand against her cheek and comforted him in a soft, steady voice, while the tears streamed down her face.

His strength was unbelievable. How had a small boy of eleven found it in himself to stand up against the darkest wizard of their time? What had possessed him to go down into the Chamber of Secrets and fight a Basilisk? And where, by Morgana, had the adults been who were supposed to take care of him and make sure he wouldn't come to harm? On the contrary, it seemed as if Dumbledore took a perverted pleasure in putting him in harm's way over and over again.

It was past midnight when Harry finally calmed down. He let out a deep sigh, then sweat began to pour out of his body and soaked his pyjama and the bed linens. Within the next second, he was in a deep slumber. A small smile played around his lips and made him look so very young and vulnerable.

Healer Petite cast a diagnostic spell on Harry. His face lit up as he read the array of runes above Harry's body. 'Excellent, the potions worked even better than I dared to hope,' he said.

At those words all tension left her body, and she sagged back into her chair in an ungraceful heap. She pressed the balls of her hands against her eyes. It was of no use: the tears poured down her cheeks once again. This time they were happy tears.

A hand touched her elbow, and she looked up.

Healer Petite smiled down at her. 'Go, get some sleep, Madame Evans. This has been a hard day.' He pointed towards a camp bed he had conjured in front of the wardrobe.

'No kidding,' she agreed, and got to her feet. Her knees were pure jelly, and Healer Petite had to steady her until she could stand on her own. She cast a last look on Harry: he was sleeping as peaceful as a small child.

She slipped out of her ballet flats and laid back on the camp bed, not bothering about her clothes. The next moment she was out like a light.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

27

Salem, July 1998

Even though he had fled from his home country twenty-three years ago, Father had insisted to subscribe to The Daily Prophet. He needed to keep up with the goings on back home, he had argued.

After Father's death, Mother had kept the subscription. Who would've thought that she was capable of nostalgic feelings?

However, he didn't mind. That way he was able to keep track of his future victims. Potter made the newspaper at least every other day. It was inexcusable how many girls that bloke had in one week and ditched them soon after. Father's family was not as prominent, but they appeared in the newspaper often enough for him to get a feel of their life.

This morning, his eyes wandered over the page with the family announcements. The announcement was small and hidden between two advertisements, but the names caught his eye.

Cyrus and Isabella Greengrass would like to announce the marriage of their daughter Daphne Isabella Greengrass to Harry James Potter, son of late Lily and James Potter. The couple was married on July 11th, 1998 in a quiet ceremony at the gardens of The Rectory, the Greengrasses' ancestral home. The wedding was officiated by Officiator Bilius Ditcot and followed by a reception at The Rectory. Daphne and Harry left for a prolonged honeymoon in Paris, France, immediately after the reception.

He thrust the newspaper to the ground, sprang up, and walked to the window in a few, long strides. His teeth bared in an ugly snarl, he looked out onto the quiet, tree-lined street. He had no eye for the beauty of the ancient houses in the neighbourhood while his mind processed the implications of the announcement.

Eventually, the tension left his body. A broad smile crept over his face. Paris was supposed to be beautiful this time of the year, and he was in need of a holiday, anyway.

He ought to pay his respects to the newlyweds, n'est-ce pas?

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

28

Paris, France, July 1998

'tschilp - tschilp - tschilp!'

The sparrows in front of the window were awake far too early and already way too energetic for this unholy hour of the day.

'Shut up,' Daphne said, and pulled up the blanket over her ears.

'tschilp - tschilp - tschilp.'

Damned birds! She yawned and stretched. The faint noise of many cars mingled with the chirping of the obnoxious birds. Cars? There was hardly ever a car on the country road that passed The Rectory. The mattress below her also was unfamiliar: hard and uncomfortable. This wasn't her bed at home. Where was she?

She opened her eyes. That wasn't a good idea: her eyelids were as gritty as sandpaper. She rubbed them with the balls of her hands to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling, yawned again, and took another look. The room was bathed in a grey light, and completely unfamiliar. Her gaze fell onto a bed next to hers. It's raven-haired occupant was still sound asleep. He looked peaceful and relaxed; a small smile played around his lips.

Yesterday's events came back to her like an avalanche: the wedding, her encounter with the Weaselette, and the gruelling hours she had spent sitting next to Harry's bed while he endured the first round of his treatment.

A small snort escaped her lips. How would the Weaselette have dealt with that on her wedding night? She cast another look at her sleeping husband, and her heart melted into a puddle. She'd never seen him looking that unguarded and vulnerable when he was awake. That was a sight that would be hers, and hers alone from now on, well … at least she hoped so. Harry would no doubt want to continue his relationship with the Weaselette. However, would he have the decency to keep appearances and return to the marital bed each night? That still remained to be seen.

She struggled into a sitting position. Her muscles protested the movement, and a small groan escaped her lips. That was the price she had to pay for the tension she had been in all day long yesterday. She sighed; today wasn't going to be any easier. At least she now knew what to expect.

Daphne looked down at herself and made a face. Yuck, she still wore the clothes she had worn the previous day, and her body was sticky with dried sweat. If there ever was the time for a shower, it was now. She looked around in the room. Ah, there was another door next to the wardrobe. Thank Merlin, Harry's private hospital room came with an ensuite bathroom.

She dragged her protesting body out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom. The hot water loosened her cramped muscles. Ah, the luxury of a long, hot shower! She stayed longer under the spray as she'd intended. Still reluctant, she turned off the water and grabbed for a towel. She took her shrunken trunk out of the pocket of her dress and changed into fresh clothes. When she stepped back into the hospital room, a growl from her stomach reminded her that she'd hardly eaten anything at the wedding lunch, and forgot completely about dinner during Harry's treatment.

She stopped right in her tracks. Harry blinked at her from his bed, his brows knitted into a slight scowl.

'G...Good morning, Harry. I'm sorry I woke you. You need your rest.'

If anything, the scowl on his face became even deeper. He motioned with his hand toward the camp bed. 'Have you stayed here all night long?'

Daphne nodded. 'It was already past midnight when you finally fell asleep. I was completely knackered, so Healer Petite conjured a camp bed for me.' Her voice faltered. Was he angry at her?

The scowl on his face ceased. 'Oh -. That's alright, then,' He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. 'I need to go to the bathroom.' He took a sniff at his pyjamas and grimaced. 'And I need a shower.' He stood up, made a step forward, and swayed.

Daphne rushed to his side and caught him before he crashed to the ground. 'Umph!' Her knees buckled under his weight. He might look like a walking skeleton, but he still seemed to weigh a ton.

Harry grabbed with his hand behind him and lowered himself back onto the bed, assisted by Daphne. He looked up to her, a lopsided grin on his face. 'Thank you for keeping me from face planting, Daphne, the floor looks uncomfortably hard.'

A swarm of butterflies settled down in her belly. That devastating grin ought to come with a license to carry a deadly weapon. She lowered her eyes. None of Miss Ogden's lectures how to behave like a lady had prepared her how to deal with the charming smile of a young man who was too handsome for his own good, even when he looked like death warmed up.

The memory of her stern governess was like a bucket of ice cold water dumped on her. At least it helped to get her breathing under control. 'I'm afraid you'll have to be content with Nursing Spells for the time being,' Daphne said, and slipped her wand out of the holster on her forearm.

His wand was in his hand within the blink of an eye, and an almost opaque shield appeared between them. Where did he take that magical strength from, as weakened as he was? 'What do you think you're doing, woman?' He snarled like an angry dog.

She startled. Great, they were not yet married for twenty-four hours, and he was already snapping at her. That had to be a new record.

'I was about to cast a few Nursing Charms on you to make you feel better, since you're not yet strong enough to go to the bathroom.'

The angry expression on his face gave place to a sheepish one. 'Oh -. Who taught you that?'

'Madam Pomfrey showed me the charms so I could take care of Astoria in the dorms when she had one of her episodes. She hates to be in the infirmary.' Her eyes were lowered to the floor. She should have known better than to brandish her wand without a word of forewarning in front of Harry.

He chuckled. 'I can't blame her for that.'

Daphne's eyes got wide and her head snapped up. The lopsided grin was back, thank Merlin.

He pointed at her wand. 'Go ahead!'

She performed a Nursing Spell on his bladder and was rewarded with an instant look of blissful relief on his face.

Their eyes met, and he turned red.

'That's alright, Harry. Where's your trunk? I imagine you also want to change your pyjamas.'

'Yes - what?!'

She giggled. 'There's an advanced Switching Spell for that. Don't worry, I won't offend your modesty.'

He blushed once again and nodded with his head towards the wardrobe. 'I've shrunken it and put it in the wardrobe.'

'Alright.' She walked to the wardrobe to get the trunk, and enlarged it with a flick of her wand. A huge mess greeted her when she flipped the lid open. His clothes seemed to have been stuffed into the trunk at random, and a pair of the most battered trainers she'd ever seen had been dropped on top of them. Merlin help her, her new husband was a slob.

She looked at him over her shoulder. 'Did nobody ever teach you the Packing Charm?'

Again, he blushed. 'Eh…'

She sighed. 'I'll take that as a no. Oh well, I guess that's my job anyway from now on.' She flicked her wand, and his clothes rose into the air and deposited themselves on the empty chair beside his bed. With a series of small silent flicks of her wand each piece floated into the air, folded itself and then sunk back into the trunk, until all of Harry's clothes were back in the trunk in orderly stacks.

'Wow, how did you do this?'

'My governess taught me before I entered Hogwarts. I think she made me practise it about a million times on my doll's clothes. Well, at least it felt that way.'

'Time well spent. I don't think my trunk has ever been this neat.'

She blushed at his praise. So far, they got along better than she had dared to hope.

A few silent Nursing Spells later, Harry sat in his bed, clad in fresh pyjamas.

A knock on the door announced a nurse coming in with the breakfast: a bowl of porridge for Harry, and a café au lait and a croissant for Daphne.

Harry looked into his bowl and sighed. 'The food in this place leaves a lot to be desired. You'd think with the amount of Galleons I have to pay for my stay here they'd feed me something good.'

Daphne laughed and picked up the croissant. 'Well, Healer Petite mentioned yesterday that the potions you have to take aren't easy on your stomach. Probably your stomach can't handle anything more substantial than porridge on top of that.' She took a hearty bite.

He made a face and opened his mouth, no doubt to object, but was interrupted by the opening of the door.

Healer Petite came into the room, followed by a nurse who carried a tray filled with more than a dozen vials of potion.

'Good morning, Monsieur Evans. How are you feeling?'

'Good morning, Healer Petite,' Harry replied with a straight face. 'I'm fine.'

Daphne harrumphed at that.

Healer Petite regarded him with a small smile. 'I know for a fact that you can't be "fine" today, Monsieur Evans. The truth, please, and not a polite statement.'

'To be honest, I'm pretty sore,' Harry said.

Healer Petite nodded to that. 'That sounds more realistic. That was to be expected, Monsieur Evans. Let me assure you, the examination I did after the first round of potions came up with a better result than I had hoped.'

A reluctant smile appeared on Harry's face. 'Really?'

'I wouldn't lie to you about something as important as this,' Healer Petite said. He settled down on the empty chair beside Harry's bed and waited until he had finished his breakfast. As soon as the nurse had taken away the tray and left the room, he picked up the first vial of potions and held it out to Harry. 'Shall we?'

Harry nodded, took a deep breath, and downed the first potion. From then on, everything played out like the day before: Harry was in increasing pain until lunchtime, convulsed all afternoon long and finally started to hallucinate in the early evening.

Daphne never left her place by his side, held his hand, carded her fingers through his hair and comforted him as best she could, until the sweat broke out and he fell into another deep natural sleep.

She covered her face with the palms of her hands. Today had been the second day of his treatment, and there were five more days to come. How was Harry going to survive that gruelling treatment? How was she supposed to keep her sanity?

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

29

Paris, France, July 1998

Where was Potter?

He hit with his flat palm against the pane of the tiny window. Below him was the Chemin Glauque, Lutétia'scounterpart to Knockturn Alley. He'd taken a room in a shabby inn here, rather than at the fashionable Le Marrakech on Champs Magique. He didn't want to draw attention to himself, and the staff there probably would've recognised him.

He turned around, crossed the room with two long strides, and threw himself onto the bed. The bed springs creaked in protest, and the mattress was lumpy and thin under his back. Merlin, he wanted to get out of here!

However, first he had to find Potter and his whore.

They didn't stay at the Le Marrakech. It had been the first place he'd checked, and he'd come up empty. His discreet investigations at the top ten Muggle hotels in Paris also had led him to a dead end. Unthinkable they'd consider anything else for their honeymoon: they both had more gold than was good for them; they had to stay somewhere else.

Where could they be? Where would he go if he was the Chosen One? What would a newly wed couple in Paris do, if gold was no object?

He let out a snort. They were teenagers and newlyweds; they'd be shagging like rabbits, of course. Being Britain's new celebrity couple, they'd most likely looked for a private place.

Damn! He hit the mattress with his flat palm. A small cloud of dust rose up, and he sneezed. They'd rented a private house, that was the only explanation why he hadn't found them yet. However, not in Lutétia. Word would've spread like wildfire among the magical population if the Chosen One and his bride stayed somewhere in the confines of the magical district.

Somewhere in Muggle Paris, then. Not a Muggle house, either; they were both used to the comfort magic and house elves could provide.

He let out a sigh. Searching for a magical house in the Muggle part of Paris was like searching for a needle in the haystack.

Servants ... surely they had servants waiting on them hand and foot, and if those servants were house elves, there might be a way to find them. The dumb creatures all were connected somehow; there was a theory they existed on symbiotic bonds among each other and the wizarding families they were bound to. Another proof of the inferiority of that species to wizardkind. However, that was beside the point. More important was the first potential lead he might have to Potter's whereabouts.

'Seedy!'

CRACK!

A house elf apparated into his room and bowed, it's nose almost reaching the ground. 'What can Seedy do for Master?' The elf didn't look up to him; his gaze was directed somewhere at his knees.

He smiled. At least his house elf still knew where his place was. 'Find Harry Potter and his whore. They are staying somewhere in Paris. I order you to use your connection to the house elf population to find them. You have one hour to find them, or I'll break your fingers in the door of the oven tonight.'

The elf let out a small squeak at this.

'Stop squeaking. You've got your orders. Go, or I'll start breaking your fingers right now.'

'Y...yes, Master!'

CRACK!

The house elf was gone. A smile played around his lips. House elves indeed were useful creatures - once in a while. He folded his arms behind his head, made himself comfortable on the lumpy mattress and closed his eyes.

CRACK!

He shot bolt upright and grabbed for his wand. A Bone Breaker Curse sizzled towards the elf in front of him and hit him on the arm. There was a sickening crack, and the arm hung limp to the house elf's side.

'Ouwouwouw!' An infernal wail assaulted his ears.

He stood up from the bed and gave the elf a kick to the shin. 'Stop wailing!'

The offending noise stopped.

The waning light that emitted through the small, dull window indicated that dusk had fallen, leaving the shabby room dark and foreboding. He must've fallen asleep after his house elf left to search for the Potters.

'Lumos.'

An oil lamp on the bedside table lit up. It didn't succeed in illuminating the room. He turned back to the elf. 'Have you found them?'

Seedy proffered the same low bow as before, supporting his broken arm with his good one.

He chuckled. It really was a funny sight to behold.

'Seedy has found them, Master. The great Harry Potter stays at the Hotel Dieu Magique the elves of the hospital told Seedy. Seedy couldn't get in there; the wards are too strong. The beautiful wife of the great Harry Potter is with him. The great Harry Potter will be released from the hospital the day after tomorrow, very early in the morning.'

He started. Why in the world was Potter in the hospital? He shook his head, that wasn't important. He now knew where Potter would be in two days.

'You may go, Seedy.'

The house elf bowed again and disappeared.

He went to the door and took his cloak from the hook. He had preparations to make. A big grin spread over his face.

In two days, Potter and his whore were going to die.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

30

Paris, France, July 1998

Harry left the worst moments of his life until the last day.

'Take this, Madame Evans,' Healer Petite said and pressed a vial in Daphne's hand. 'It's a simple Stomach Soothing Potion.' With a flick of his wand he Vanished the puddle of sick from the spot where she had emptied her stomach.

Daphne gave him a weak nod of thanks. Her eyes never left Harry's face. Merlin damn Albus Dumbledore! Did he really believe there was no other way to get rid of the Horcrux inside of Harry than manipulating Harry into letting himself get killed by the monster? There always was more than one way to reach your goal, Father had taught her. Dumbledore should have known that this would also apply to something as unspecified as the prophecy.

Instead, it seemed as if he had deliberately condemned Harry to a life full of misery and abuse at the hands of his relatives, followed by more abuse and ridicule by the magical world. Dumbledore was not one iota better than Voldemort: he had manipulated an innocent child into believing his life wasn't worth much. That belief had manifested itself in the young man, who had walked to his own death like a sacrificial lamb.

She wiped away the tears that ran down her cheeks and downed the potion.

She would make sure that Harry got the chance to live a happy life from now on, and if it was the last thing she did!

'Madame Evans.' Healer Petite's voice startled her out of his thoughts. She looked up.

The healer regarded her with a thoughtful look. 'This young man - his name isn't Evans, n'est-ce pas? This is Harry Potter … Non?'

There was no use in denying. Healer Petite had heard too much during the last days not to draw the right conclusions. Besides that, she had always used the name Harry, instead of James, when she talked to him, and of course the famous scar, though it had fainted since the Battle, was still visible on his forehead and a dead giveaway.

She nodded. 'Yeah, he is.' She narrowed her eyes at the older man. 'Since you've found out his secret, I don't trust you that you'll keep to yourself what you've learned during the last couple of days, Healer Petite, your oath of confidentiality notwithstanding. I demand a magical oath from you that you won't reveal anything of what you've learned in this room during the last days.'

Harry would be angry at her, no doubt. He didn't think much of magical oaths. Oh well, he would never find out, and someone had to look out for him. Merlin knew he was as apt at looking out for himself as a newborn baby.

'Oui, bien sûr, Madame Potter,' Healer Petite said, and she breathed a silent sigh. 'Will Nurse Leclerq do as a binder?'

'Yes, that will suffice,' she replied.

Harry let out a deep sigh. Daphne jerked her head around to the bed. Thick beads of sweat pooled on his forehead and ran down his temples. He was fast asleep. Thank Merlin, the torture was over. She walked toward the bed, conjured a wet cloth and wiped his face.

Healer Petite followed her and performed a set of diagnostic spells over Harry. His face beamed when he straightened up. 'The potions worked perfectly. Monsieur Potter will be as good as new when he wakes up tomorrow morning.'

Daphne whooped and pumped her fist in the air. She rushed around the bed and grabbed Healer Petite in a tight hug. 'Thank you, thank you, thank you!'

He laughed and patted her back. 'You're welcome, Madame Potter.'

Rather red in the face, she pulled away.

'Now, let's see to that magical oath you asked for…' Healer Petite said.


For a last time she woke up to the chirping of the obnoxious sparrows. She yawned, stretched, and turned around to look at Harry. Watching him in his sleep before he woke up had become an obsession and a guilty pleasure for her.

Today, however, a pair of fascinating emerald green eyes looked back at her. Heat shot into her cheeks. 'G...good morning.'

'Good morning.' He frowned and pointed with his hand towards the camp bed she lay on. 'Did you sleep on that uncomfortable thing all week long?'

She held her breath and nodded. How would he take that revelation?

The frown on his face deepened. 'Why didn't you stay in a hotel room at night?'

She sat up and put her feet on the floor. 'Well, we're supposed to be on our honeymoon. It would look weird if I turned up at the Le Marrakech all alone for seven nights in a row, wouldn't it?'

He mirrored her movements. 'The Le Marrakech?'

'Posh hotel in the magical quarter of Paris,' she said, and slipped into her ballet flats.

'Oh, I see. Couldn't you've rented a room in a Muggle hotel?'

That would've meant to let him out of her sight while he fought for his life. As if she'd ever do that. Again, heat rushed into her cheeks, and she bent down and pretended to adjust her shoes. Her face still was warm when she straightened, but that could be blamed to the blood rushing into her head when she'd bent down. 'Though we don't shout it from the rooftops, the connections of my family to the Muggle world aren't a secret, either. You can bet that The Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, and the other big European newspapers have their reporters hunting for us in Muggle Paris as we speak. I suppose you can also imagine the headlines, had they caught me without you.'

'Right, yeah; should've thought of that.' He averted his face and cleared his throat. 'I guess we ought to get used to sleeping in the same room, anyway.'

The heat returned into her cheeks in a giant wave. Damn him, she just got a grip on herself. She bent her head and hid her glowing face behind her long hair. 'Yeah, guess so.' Her voice sounded weak, even in her own ears. From tonight on, they'd not only share a room, but also a bed. Her heart thumped a drumroll in her chest.

She jumped to her feet and almost fled to the bathroom, mindful not to look at him. 'I'd better get ready. Healer Petite said he'll give you your final exam early in the morning.'

The morning routine helped to regain her composure. She took a deep breath. They'd get used to it; after all, they didn't know each other, even though she'd become privy to most of his secrets over the past seven days, and had found out he was a difficult patient. Yes, he was endearing when he complained about the porridge he got each morning, but that hadn't kept her from threatening him with Silencing Charms if he didn't shut up. At the thought of their easy banter about the hospital food a grin spread over her face. Somehow, they'd also get through everything else their awkward situation would throw at them.

Harry still sat on the edge of the bed when she entered the room. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest, and his head bowed, and seemed to contemplate his bare feet that stuck out from pyjama bottoms that ended at his calves.

Daphne blinked. Hadn't these pants been much longer when she helped him to the loo yesterday morning?

At her entrance, he looked up. Why didn't he wear his glasses?

'Do you think I can take a shower this morning instead of the Nursing Spells?'

'Yes, why not?' she said. 'Healer Petite said the treatment worked just fine and that you're as good as new. However, you've been bedridden for a week, and Merlin knows how your circulatory will react when you try to stand for some time. I'd feel better if you don't lock the bathroom door behind you.'

He gave her a lopsided grin and pushed himself off the bed. 'Can't wait to peek on your new husband, can you?'

Gone was her composure. Once again, her face, neck and ears became incredible hot. 'That's … that's not what I meant.'

He paused in front of her on his way to the bathroom and touched her arm. 'Sorry, Daph, but I couldn't resist. What do you expect when you hand it to me on a plate?'

She gasped. He had grown overnight. One week ago, the top of her head had reached his nose. Now, it barely reached his chin. Electric sparks shot through her arm where he touched her, and a swarm of butterflies took residence in her stomach. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Oh, that was just great: reduced to a jittering mass of goo by just one casual touch.

He'd already turned his back on her and vanished into the bathroom. With a little luck, he hadn't noticed her reaction.

Not even fifteen minutes later he returned, showered, shaved and dressed. How was he doing that? She always needed at least half an hour.

His return was on time with the nurse who brought the breakfast. Harry's eyes lit up at the sight of the tray with café au lait and a croissant. He polished his plate within minutes. 'Not bad, but a full English breakfast is better.'

Healer Petite came right after breakfast. 'Please, remove your shirt, Mr Potter,' he said, and pulled his wand out of his pocket for the examination.

Harry shot Daphne an uneasy glance, but obeyed and pulled his shirt over his head.

Daphne's breath caught in her throat. Healer Petite hadn't exaggerated: Harry was even better than new. Not only had he grown at least four inches, he'd also filled out rather appetising. For the first time since she knew him he seemed to have a normal weight, and now sported broad shoulders, narrow hips and a nicely toned body. Merlin, how was she supposed to keep her hands to herself?

She cast a surreptitious glance at Harry. Did he notice her admiration of his new body? Thank Morgana, no; Healer Petite kept him distracted with a lot of questions.

Healer Petite put his wand back into his pocket. 'By the way, Monsieur Potter; I already told your wife, but I want to tell you as well: you don't have to be afraid that I'll reveal anything of what you said when you were hallucinating. My healer's oath prevents me from that, and your wife made me take an additional magical oath.'

Harry became rigid. His head jerked around, and he frowned at Daphne.

Drat; that was not the way she'd planned to tell him what had happened while he hallucinated, and why she'd demanded a magical oath from Healer Petite.

Healer Petite held out his hand to Harry. 'I wish you all the best, Monsieur Potter. I hope you and Madame Potter will enjoy the remainder of your stay in our city. Please, don't forget to schedule regular check-ups with me. I'd like to see you at least twice a year.'

The two men shook hands, and Healer Petite kissed Daphne's knuckles in goodbye. As soon as the door had closed behind him, Harry turned to Daphne. 'Now, my dear wife, when were you planning to tell me about that interesting little piece of information Healer Petite just gave me?'

Her eyes met his glare fair and square. 'As soon as we are somewhere more private, Harry.'

His glare didn't lessen. 'What did I reveal while I was hallucinating?'

She bit her lips. 'Pretty much all the bad things that happened to you in your life. Healer Petite said he prepared one batch of the potion to deal with the mental trauma you've suffered. In order to cope with it, you had to relive everything you went through.' A violent shudder shook her body. 'I've no idea how you survived.'

He huffed, slipped into his shirt and grabbed her by the upper arm. 'We are going to have a long talk, as soon as we're in our hotel room, dearest wife,' he said, and led her to the door.

Daphne cast a side glance at him. His jaw was set in a taut line, and his brows were knitted in a deep frown over his angry eyes. No doubt, he was livid. What a great way to start their honeymoon.

She let out a sigh. 'Of course, Harry.'

They walked out of the hospital and onto the place in front of the cathedral. Harry was still seething. What a sweet tempered husband she had. Was he always like this when he was rubbed the wrong way? He'd better not. Compared to Father's icy displeasure whenever she didn't meet his expectations, Harry's outbursts were rather childish and not at all impressive.

'Whereto?' he asked. They had left the hospital and stood under the mature trees that adorned the front of the hospital.

She gestured with her hand across the Seine towards the opposite side of the river. 'Our hotel is near the Petite Pond, just across the river.'

'Alright, what are we waiting for?' His voice still sounded angry.

Daphne jutted her chin. If he thought he could take out his bad mood on her, he'd better think twice. She was a Greengrass and the heir of her house; no matter how much she loved him, she wasn't going to let him walk all over her. Their talk was promising to become temperamental.

Harry led her to the zebra crossing in front of the hospital. As soon as she put her foot on the pavement of the street, she heard it: the roaring engine of a motorbike. It sounded close - too close. Her head whipped around. A black motorbike sped towards her. The driver wore black biker gear, even his helmet was black, except for the visor. It mirrored the surroundings, and made it impossible to see the driver's face. He held something out into their direction. Daphne's subconscious registered all that within a split second, while the motorbike seemed to creep towards her as if a Time Manipulating Spell had slowed everything down.

She screamed.

CRACK!

Her body was squeezed as if pressed through a hose. The next moment she found herself on the walkway on the other side of the street. She whirled around. The motorbike just roared through the space where she and Harry had been not even a split second before. The roaring of the engine quickly diverged, now intermingled with the siren of a police car.

'What an idiot!' she said, her voice shaky.

Harry still looked into the direction where the motorbike had vanished. 'Yeah.' He turned his head towards her. 'You alright?'

She let out a shuddering breath. 'Yeah, thanks to you. You saved my life when you Apparated us away. You -'

A police officer on a motorbike stopped right in front of them and interrupted her. He got off his motorbike and walked towards them. 'Madame, monsieur, have you been hurt? I'm afraid I need your statement about this incident.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

31

Paris, France, July 1998

It was almost lunch time when he entered the Chat Noir. He slammed the door shut behind him and stormed through the tobacco-smoke clouded taproom towards the crooked staircase, unmindful of the curious stares from the patrons in the shabby inn that followed him.

Merlin damn Potter! The bastard had Apparated himself and his whore away when he realised that they'd be bowled over by the motorbike.

And Merlin double damn those French cops. They'd been on his heels mere seconds after the incident and hunted him through the city. Thanks to magic he'd given them a nice, long chase. However, it had been the devil's own task to get out of their sight long enough to shrink the motorbike and Apparate away. They had cost him the better part of the morning. Now he was hungry and thirsty and soaked in sweat under this ridiculous Muggle motorbike outfit.

He stomped up the creaking stairs, towards his room, and yanked the door open.

'Seedy!' he called the moment he entered the room, and threw his motorcycle helmet onto the still unmade bed.

The sound of the Apparition of his house elf was in sync with the door banging shut.

'Master has called Seedy? How can Seedy serve Master?' Seedy bowed; his injured arm still hung limp at his side.

How ridiculous! If he wasn't in such a bad mood, he'd actually find the ugly vermin amusing. He kicked the elf in the stomach. 'Don't talk so much, you useless little shit.'

Seedy doubled over, clutching his stomach with his good arm. However, he didn't utter a single noise.

'Bring me a butterbeer, and lunch. Immediately,' he said.

He turned towards the decrepit wardrobe, made a face at his reflection in the stained mirror, and pulled down the zipper of his motorbike jacket. He couldn't wait to get back into robes. Muggle clothes were so undignified.

'Where have you been?' a female voice behind him said.

Every muscle in his body tensed. How had she found him? He whirled around, his mouth agape.

The air in front of the opposite wall shimmered for a brief second as she moved and cancelled the Desillusion Charm on herself. Now she looked as always: smaller than him, every piece of her mouse coloured hair in place and tucked away in a stern bun at the nape of her neck, and clad from head to toe in black. The expression on her face also was as always: cold and aloof; the only indication of her mood was in her eyes, which glowered at him, hot and piercing, as if reading each of his thoughts.

Damn, she did; she was a master Legilimens, and he'd never managed to master the art which would protect his mind from her. He closed his eyes, though it was probably too late. What had she seen?

She stepped closer. 'So, you tried to kill Potter and the girl. Well, I appreciate your strength of purpose. Too many followers of our valiant Cause content with mourning the death of the Dark Lord and curse Potter, without ever contemplating action against that parvenu.'

He relaxed his taut muscles and allowed himself a small smile. Praise from her was a rare thing.

She took another step towards him, raised her hand and slapped him into the face. Hard. His head flew back from the impact.

He covered his burning cheek with the palm of his hand. 'What was that for, Mother?'

What a silly question; as if she'd ever needed a reason to punish him.

'Shut up!' Her eyes burned into his, extinguishing any thought other than the fear of her displeasure.

'You are an idiot, son. Did you really think you could best Potter? He is way out of your league, as your clumsy and much too complicated plan to kill him and his whore showed. He escaped with a simple Apparition, and left you no other choice than to flee and to be hunted by the Muggle police like a rabbit. For shame!'

Each of her words pierced, invisible needles of steel. She turned around and walked to the door. 'I'm ashamed to say you are not half the man your father was. Get changed and pack your things. You will meet me in the lobby of the Le Marrakech in exactly thirty minutes. I've booked a Portkey for this afternoon that will take us home.'

She walked out of the room.

'Yes, mother,' he said to the door that closed behind her, and clenched his fists by his side.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

32

Paris, France, July 1998

The air rippled in waves above the sun-scorched pavement when at last Harry and Daphne were allowed to leave the Préfecture de Police around lunch time. Heat enveloped them like a blanket the moment they stepped out of the building. Thank Merlin, the Préfecture was right next to the Hotel Dieu and the cathedral, so they didn't have to walk far to get back to their hotel.

They halted on the small landing in front of the door, and Harry's stomach gave an audible rumble. It was followed only a second later by a rumble not quite as loud from Daphne. They looked at each other. Harry's lips twitched first, and they burst out laughing.

'I guess that takes care of our plans for the next hour,' Harry said.

Daphne only nodded and cast her new husband a glance from under her eyelashes. It seemed the never-ending questioning about the incident with the motorbike this morning had distracted him from his anger at her.

However, they'd have to talk about that at one point, or it would come back and blow up in their faces. Ugh, that wasn't something she looked forward too. From what she'd gathered listening to Harry's hallucinations and what Healer Petite had told her about his mental trauma, Harry was used to bottling up everything inside of him and dealing with his problems alone, until he blew up under the pressure. At least the potion had dealt with that issue: he'd be much more forthcoming from now on, even though it wasn't likely that he'd confide in her. Probably he'd talk with Granger and the Weasel, or - Merlin forbid - the Weaselette.

'Let's find a restaurant,' she said, and began to walk down the steps to the street. 'I don't know about you, but I tend to become grumpy and insufferable when I'm hungry. '

'Heaven forbid that I'll have to deal with a grumpy wife,' Harry said and offered her his arm. 'Let's get you fed. What about that Italian restaurant over there?' He pointed with his finger to a building at the other side of the river.

'Looks good to me,' she said. Did her voice sound breathless? His arm felt so much different than on their wedding day, supple and musculous. Her fingers burned where she touched him, sending delicious tingles all over her body.

Five minutes later a waiter seated them at a table on the terrace of the restaurant from where they had a fantastic view across the river and at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Daphne sunk into her chair with a small sigh. The shade the huge awning provided was a welcomed relief after their short walk through the midday heat. Even more welcomed were the cool drinks the waiter served them almost immediately. Daphne leaned back in the comfortable wicker chair and looked around. The terrace was well filled; they'd been lucky to catch one of the last free tables outside. Laughter and soft conversations in at least half a dozen European languages reached her ears. The smell of delicious Italian food wafted from the kitchen towards them, and her stomach gave an appreciative little skip.

They both were hungry enough to opt for one of the three course menus du jour the restaurant offered, and had a good laugh when they discovered that they both disliked the raw oysters with lemon for starters and opted for the salad instead.

However, the frown returned on Harry's face while he ate his salad. Was he mad at her again?

He looked up; something in her expression must've told him she was concerned, for he smiled at her and said, 'Don't worry, this isn't about you. There's something about that motorbike incident that troubles me. Something I've seen, but everything was over that fast that I hadn't the time to process what I saw.' He let out a frustrated sigh, stabbed at his salad with his fork, and lowered his voice. 'I wish I had a Pensieve.'

'A Pensieve? What's that?'

His eyebrows quirked up at her question, and he looked around. Nobody was near them. He hid his right hand under the white tablecloth, made an unobtrusive move, and grinned at her. 'Now we can talk without anyone listening in.'

Her hand with the fork in it stopped midway between her plate and her mouth, and her eyes widened. 'Did you just cast a silent Privacy Ward?'

'Yep, something like that. It's a nifty little charm your former head of house invented, and that prevents anyone from understanding what we say.'

She choked on the bite in her mouth, coughed, and took a sip of water to clear her throat. 'You mean Muffliato? How by Merlin's beard did you learn that spell? Snape taught it exclusively to us snakes.'

'Well, obviously the knowledge isn't that exclusive,' he said and smirked. 'To answer your first question: a Pensieve is a magical device that looks like a bowl, but is made out of stone and has runes inscribed on it. You can put your memories into it and watch them like a Muggle film. Very useful if you want to revisit certain memories for details.'

She stopped eating at his explanation and put the fork back on her plate. 'Wow, I had no idea something like that exists. You own one?'

Now it was his turn to look at her with wide eyes. 'I thought they were common knowledge.' He shook his head. 'No, I don't own a Pensieve. It was Dumbledore's, or maybe it belonged to Hogwarts; I wouldn't know.'

Daphne picked up her fork again and speared some lettuce. 'That makes sense; we're told from early childhood on that Hogwarts houses a lot of amazing magic unknown to most of wizardkind.' She put the fork into her mouth, chewed and swallowed, and said, 'I can see that a Pensieve might come in handy with what's bugging you about your memory. We'll have to do without one and figure out by sharing our memories, I guess.'

'Alright, you first or I?' Harry asked.

She gestured with a forkful of salad at his already empty plate. 'Go ahead.'

He chuckled, took a sip of his drink and leaned back in his wicker chair. 'Well, to be honest, I was rather distracted when we walked onto that zebra crossing.'

Daphne didn't comment on that. Was he over his funk already? She didn't know him good enough to be sure.

'I didn't notice the motorbike until the engine roared up, and I looked into the direction from where the sound came. Next thing I know is the bike racing towards us, and that it was going to hit us, so I did the only thing that came to my mind and Apparated us to safety.'

She swallowed the last bite of her salad and put the fork down. 'Thanks Merlin for your quick thinking. We could both be dead now. What else do you remember?'

'I was a black bike, and the driver was clad in black motorcycle gear. Even his helmet was black.'

'Year, but the visor was a kind of mirror,' Daphne said. 'I remember how I freaked out about that. It looked scary.' She closed her eyes and replayed the scene in her memory. Yes, of course, now she remembered. She opened her eyes wide. 'He had a wand in his hand and pointed it at us.'

'Are you sure about that?'

She nodded.

Harry stared at her, his eyes dark, and rather pale in the face. 'A wizard, then.'

She nodded. 'Yeah, or a witch. It's impossible to tell because of the mirrored visor, and the hunched position on the motorbike makes it hard to estimate his or her height.'

'You've got a point there.' He smiled at her. 'You're as logical as Hermione.'

Heat crept into her cheeks. Comparing her to his best friend was probably a high praise in his eyes.

The smile vanished from his face as quick as it had come. 'It's a safe bet to assume that this wasn't just an idiotic motorcyclist, but an attack on me.' He rubbed his face with the palms of his hand. His eyes were troubled when he looked at her again across the table. 'I'm sorry, Daphne. This wouldn't have happened to you, if you weren't married to me.'

The waiter chose that moment to serve the main course and interrupted their talk.

He never would've survived in the house of snakes, so much was sure. A Slytherin never took the blame for something that was out of their control. Of course, this was due to his horrible upbringing by his disgusting relatives who blamed everything on him. She would have to teach him to look out for his own interests.

Daphne played with the stem of her water glass, waited until the waiter had left and gave her husband a hard stare. 'Who says this is about you, Harry? Did you forget the threats Lucius Malfoy made against Mother, Tori and me back in June? Whilst I can't see how he has managed to stage an attack out of Azkaban, the possibility is still there.'

Harry didn't answer at once. Maybe he needed some time to let her words sink in. Silence descended between them.

A riverboat passed the cathedral at a slow pace, and the voice of the guide explaining the sights wafted over to them. She toyed with the food on her plate while she waited for Harry to come to a conclusion.

A slow smile crept in Harry's face, and the tension left his body. 'How could I forget about good, old Lucius? He's been a pain in my arse for longer than I care to admit, so why should he stop being a prick just because he's in Azkaban?' He picked up his cutlery and took a bite of his lasagna. 'I guess we should inform the Aurors. I'll send my Patronus to Kingsley as soon as we're in our hotel room.'

He'd said "we". A warm feeling spread in Daphne's belly. For the remainder of the meal she was on cloud nine.


Entering the hotel room Father had booked for their honeymoon together with Harry was as embarrassing as she had feared. Father had gone all out, and for a couple in love it would've been a wonderful surprise.

A huge, inviting four poster bed, covered with a deep blue satin quilt and decorated with lots of matching pillows, dominated the room. A trail of rose petals led across the shining floor from the door to the bed, and a silver cooler with champagne and a plate with Honeyduke's finest chocolate waited for them. Daphne cast a glance through the open door of the bathroom. More rose petals, this time swimming in the marble bath tube that was big enough for two, and scented candles on top of that. She didn't dare to meet Harry's eyes. Her burning cheeks without any doubt matched his red face at the moment.

He walked to the cooler and pulled out the bottle of champagne. 'Well, we might as well enjoy it as long as it's still cold. Might even help us to relax for the talk we need to have.' He started to open the bottle.

'Don't!' Her voice sounded sharper than she'd intended.

Her turned around and looked at her, his brows knitted together.

'I won't put it past Father that he's laced the champagne and the chocolate with a certain potion to get things between us going.'

His face went from confused to horrified within the blink of an eye, and he let go of the bottle as if it was scalding hot.

Laughter bubbled up in her and spilled over her lips. 'Oh, by Circe, Harry, your face!' She doubled over and held her side.

The frown on his face was replaced with a reluctant grin, and the next moment he joined her laughter.

They both ended sitting on the floor, their backs against the mahogany footrest of the bed, breathless from laughter. At least their outburst had cleared away the awkward tension between them. Daphne pulled out her wand and Vanished the champagne and the chocolate. 'Better safe than sorry,' she said, and slipped her wand back into the holster on her arm.

Harry scrambled to his feet, walked to the telephone by the bedside, and picked up the receiver.

'What are you doing there, Harry?'

He turned around and grinned at her. 'Ordering a fresh bottle of champagne. As I told you, we'll probably need it.'

She shook her head, laughed, and let him have his way. They would've needed the champagne and a dose of Love Potion, were the old stipulations of Pureblood marriage agreements still in fashion that forced the couple to become intimate within a set timeframe, usually twenty-four hours after the bonding ceremony. At least Father had spared them that.

While they waited for the room service, Harry cast his stag Patronus and gave him a message for Minister Shacklebolt.

Daphne watched the beautiful animal. 'Are you sure your charm is strong enough to get to Minister Shacklebolt?'

'Positive,' Harry said and slipped away his wand. 'I sent him a Patronus from Hogwarts to London a few days after the Battle.'

She stared at him. Had he any idea how strong his magic was? She'd always prided herself on her magical strength. Compared to him, she was mediocre, at best. A knock on the door announced the room service and prevented her from staring at him like a fangirl any longer.

Harry opened the bottle, poured two glasses and handed one to her. He raised his glass to her. 'Daphne, I have no idea what kind of husband I'll be. I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not; you know why I married you, and it wasn't out of love. I have no idea why you agreed to your father's plan, however, I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. I promise to you that no matter what I'll try to be a good husband.' He clinked his glass with hers.

How was she supposed to answer to that? She took a sip of the cool, bubbly drink. 'Thank you, Harry, I appreciate your honesty. I'll try to be a good wife to you.'

He jerked his head towards the tiny balcony in front of their room. 'Why don't we sit down outside, admire the view and have a talk about this morning and where we go from here?'

She nodded to his suggestion and followed him outside. The balcony was just big enough for two white iron chairs and a matching small, round table between them. However, it boasted an amazing view across the Seine towards the Cathédrale Notre-Dame.

Harry put his glass and the bottle of champagne onto the table and sat down. Daphne followed suit. He picked up his glass, took another sip and looked at her, as if pondering how to start their conversation.

He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before deciding on what to ask. 'What happened in that hospital room while I was unconscious? How much did I tell?'

Her heart plummeted into the deepest pit of her stomach. Now the time to come clean with him had come. She took another sip of champagne to fortify herself for his next outburst of anger and put the glass onto the table. 'Pretty much everything, I guess. Healer Petite said that you were suffering from a severe mental trauma, and that he'd designed a part of the potions to deal with that. During the treatment, you hallucinated for a couple of hours each day, and went through what seemed like every bad memory or experience that you have ever had.'

Her hands trembled in her lap, and she folded them to hide the trembling from Harry. 'I had no idea that a human being could go through so much without breaking apart. You relived the moment when Voldemort killed your mother and what followed after that on that night in every detail until you finally fell asleep in Professor Hagrid's arms. It was the same with everything else. I… I know how your relatives reacted when they found you the next morning, and where they kept you. I know everything about the Harry Hunting and the beating, and I've learned about every injury you suffered under their so-called care.'

She cast a side glance at Harry and bit her lips. Her heart beat in her throat. How would he react?

He avoided to meet her gaze and stared across the river, his eyes empty and unseeing. The fingers of his right hand tapped a nervous dance on his thigh. 'What about my time at elementary school? What about Hogwarts?'

Daphne lowered her head. 'The same.' Something caught in her throat, and she took a sip of champagne to go on. 'I know about the incident with the blue wig.' A small giggle escaped her at that. Her head jerked up and she stared at him. 'Sorry, Harry, I don't mean to disrespect what you've been through. But it was kind of funny, you know. He'd been so unfair to you and deserved it.'

He froze and stared back at her, his jaw set and his eyes cold. Merlin, he'd never forgive her this. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she blinked until her sight wasn't blurry anymore. She wasn't going to show him how much his attitude affected her, she was already vulnerable enough because of her feelings for him; no need to give him more ammunition.

Harry's stare was replaced by a reluctant grin. 'I guess it was funny.' The grin vanished. 'What came next wasn't so funny, however.'

'No, it wasn't. Neither was what your uncle did to you after the rooftop incident.'

His fingers resumed their nervous dance on his thigh. 'I guess it's a safe bet to assume that you now know every detail about my encounters with Voldemort, and about the… Horcruxes?'

Daphne bit her lips and nodded. 'Yes.' Her voice was barely above a whisper. 'I also know about the one you carried inside of you. Which is why we are now here, the last memory was of your medical with Healer Payne when you were going to join the Aurors.' Again she had to blink back the tears.

The fingers stopped dancing. Harry's eyes probed her face, his expression guarded. 'What are you going to do with the knowledge you've obtained? Are you going to blackmail me into submission, like your father did? Will I be your puppet and have to dance to your tune for the rest of my life?'

What? What was he thinking of her? Heat flushed into her face, and she glared at him, her hands balled to fists in her lap. 'I'll never betray you, Harry. If you want me to, I'll take a magical vow of confidentiality.'

His eyes widened, and he tilted his head to the side, his brows gathered. After a few seconds, his lips parted in a silent "oh", and he straightened. 'No …' He coughed clearing his throat. 'That won't be necessary. You'll have my trust Daphne, and you'll have it until you prove that you can't be trusted.'

She blinked. That was unexpected; it was against everything she'd learned about him while she listened to him talking about his past under the potion.

'You seem surprised?'

Daphne nodded. 'Yeah; that's not what I expected.'

'Mr Weasley gave me some good advice on the night I decided to take your father's… offer. He said not to take it out on you, to give you - us - a chance to find out what we could be. I'd really like to see us become at least friends and partners. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have insinuated that you would use what you learnt against me, I just … As you already know, I don't have a good track record on having people in my life whom I can trust, but I need to start somewhere with that, so I will trust you, though it goes against every instinct for self preservation that I have, I can tell you.'

Warmth spread through her whole body, and she closed her eyes for a second. He wanted to become her friend… at least, he'd said. Did that mean - even more? Her heart drummed in her chest, and it was impossible to contain her broad smile. 'Thank you for your trust, Harry. I hope I'll never disappoint you. I'd also like to see us become at least friends and partners.'

He raised his glass at her. 'Here's to that!'

She clinked her glass with his. The swarm of butterflies had taken residence in her belly once again, and a smile seemed to be tattooed permanently to her face. He'd given her a sign of hope, and she'd be damned if she let this chance slip through her fingers.


tschilp - tschilp - tschilp

The infernal sparrows felt as at home in this part of Paris as they did on the Ile-de-la-Cité.

Daphne groaned and opened her eyes for a slit. The early morning sun fell through the open door of the balcony. A flock of sparrows had settled down on the iron chairs and table and picked up the crumbles left from the dinner she and Harry had shared on that balcony yesterday night.

Harry! Would she ever be able not to grin like a loon whenever she thought of him? She turned around to his side of the bed to find it empty, however, the sound of the shower running in the bathroom betrayed his whereabouts. She laid back and snuggled into the duvet.

He'd been the perfect gentleman last night and even suggested to transfigure the chair in front of the vanity to a camp bed for him. Of course she'd put an end to that nonsense at once. They'd have to live as husband and wife from now on, so they'd better get used to sharing a bed right from the start. Everything else would happen in its own course, whenever they were ready for that.

Actually, Harry seemed to be thankful for her matter-of-fact attitude towards their situation, and in the cover of the darkness that mercifully prevented them from having to look at the other they had managed to have a long talk about how they wanted to progress with their marriage and their future family. She'd take it as a good omen that they were on the same page with almost everything they had talked about.

The shower stopped; a few minutes later the door of the bathroom opened and Harry stepped out. He had wrapped a towel around his narrow hips and strode towards the only chair of the room where he'd put his jeans the previous night. Her breath caught.

Yes, the potion had done a wonderful job. There was nothing left of the scrawny kid she remembered from school. The new Harry looked delectable, there was no other word for it. The hairs raised on her arms and neck, and her belly fluttered almost painful. For how long was she supposed to keep her composure if she was treated to a sight like that day after day from now on?

He turned around, and their eyes met. A wave of heat shot into her face. This would be the right moment for the earth to open and swallow her. Or maybe she could get away with just drawing the blanket over her face and pretending to be still asleep? She closed her eyes.

'Good morning, Daphne. Peeping at your husband again?'

She didn't need to see his face to know he was grinning: the amusement in his voice was impossible not to hear. She opened her eyes and glared at him. 'Most unintentionally, I assure you. You are the one who flaunted it.'

He had his jeans in his hands and searched for something in the pockets. 'If you say so, my dear wife.'

There was that devastating lopsided grin again. Oh, he was so begging for it! She grabbed the pillow beside hers and threw it at him.

He tried to pull his hand out of the pocket of his jeans and catch the pillow, got stuck, and the pillow hit him midriff. The towel around his waist loosened under the impact and slid to the ground.

'Eeep!'

His eyes widened, and his face flushed a violent shade of red. He shook his hand out of the pocket of his jeans, bent down to pick up the towel and the jeans, and with both pressed in front of his neither regions dashed to the bathroom as fast as a bolt of lightning.

The door banged shut behind him.

Something bubbled up in Daphne, and the next moment she laughed until the tears streamed down her face.

Harry came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, this time fully dressed, though his face was still flushed.

She didn't bother to hide her amusement and gave him a broad grin.

'You owe me one,' he said.

'Dream on, Potter.' She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and got up. Her short, lacy nightgown didn't cover up much of her. It had been Astoria's wedding present, and of course her little sister had managed to embarrass her beyond anything when she gave it to her the night before her wedding, and by ensuring that Matty had removed all her other sleepwear.

Tori had laughed at her. Don't be daft, Ducky. You want him, so you've got to use everything at your disposal, she'd said. Tori had a point: she wanted him. However, she wanted more than his body, she also wanted his heart, his soul, his mind … she wanted all of him. She bit her lip. Well, she had to start somewhere, hadn't she? She wouldn't get any of it if she didn't catch his attention. It was time to act on Tori's advice.

She took her time walking to the wardrobe where she had deposited her shrunken trunk the day before, and made sure to wriggle her behind once or twice as she bent down to pick up her clothes for the day. Was that enough to catch his interest? Yes, if the silence in the room was any indication. She turned and walked to the bathroom. Her hand on the handle of the door, she looked over her shoulder.

Harry turned his head away, face flushed, and licked his lips.

She gave him her sweetest smile. 'I'll be ready in a jiffy.'

'Right, yeah,' he said. His voice sounded hoarse, and his eyes didn't meet hers.

She slipped into the bathroom, her heart hammering in her chest. Oh yes, she had caught his attention. A broad smile spread over her face, and she pumped her fist in the air.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

33

Paris, France, July 1998

About an hour later they walked down into the lobby.

'Madame et monsieur Potter, you've got visitors.' The receptionist indicated with his hand towards a group of upholstered chairs around low coffee tables in the hotel lobby.

Daphne looked at Harry. Who would visit them on their honeymoon?

Harry's face lit up. 'Great, I was afraid they couldn't make it.' He took Daphne by the arm and led her towards the lounge area.

A young couple smiled at them.

Daphne gasped. 'Fleur, Bill!' She rushed to the young Veela who had become a friend to her over the last couple of weeks and hugged her. 'I had no idea you were in Paris.'

Harry, who exchanged a handshake with Bill, turned around at her words. 'I contacted them and asked them to come yesterday evening when you were in the bathroom. You mentioned you needed to go shopping for a dress for that Golden Apple Charity Dinner your mother is hosting in October, so I thought we'd better enlist Fleur's help. Afterall, she lived in Paris before she married Bill, and she tells me she knows all the best places.'

She put a hand on Harry's arm and beamed at him. 'Thank you, that's sweet of you.'

Fleur linked her arm with hers. 'Harry also asked for Bill's help. Apparently, you're not the only one who wants to go shopping.'

Harry laughed and gestured with his hands to the legs of his jeans which ended at his ankles. 'I had an unexpected growth spurt lately and am now in dire need of a new wardrobe.'

'Not only a growth spurt, it seems,' Bill said and eyed Harry's shirt that fit rather snug in the shoulders. 'You're looking good, Harry. What became of your glasses?'

Harry grinned. 'I don't need them anymore.'

Bill slapped him on the shoulder. 'That's great. So, everything's alright with you?'

'Yes, I'm better than I've ever been in my life,' Harry said, and led them to the breakfast room. He lowered his voice. 'The potion has worked several miracles. However, it was also the hardest time I've ever had in a hospital. Regrowing the bone in my arm with Skelegrow after Lockhart had vanished it was nothing compared to what I … we have just been through.'

Daphne's cheeks warmed slightly. He had included her! 'You can say that again,' she said, and a mirthless laugh escaped her lips.

They entered the elegant breakfast room. The smell of strong coffee and fresh croissants welcomed them. Bill held out a chair for his wife at a table for four. 'Was it that bad?'

'It was the worst thing I ever had to go through,' Daphne said. Her eyes stung, and she blinked a few times to keep herself from crying. Harry's hand was on the table beside hers, and after all these gruelling hours she'd spent beside his bed, held his hand and comforted him, it was the most natural thing on earth to take his hand.

Harry turned his head, his eyebrows raised, and gave her a contemplative look.

Heat rushed in her face. Of course he wouldn't remember what had happened while he was under the potion, he hadn't been himself most of the time. She pulled her hand away and cast a side glance at their guests. Had they noticed the moment of awkwardness?

Bill was studying the menu in search for additions the hotel offered to the plain continental breakfast of croissantsbaguette, butter and jam. Fleur, however, gave her a small, knowing smile and a wink that indicated they'd talk later.

During breakfast, they made plans for the day. Fleur insisted they split up. 'I'll take Daphne to my favourite shops, and you'll go with Harry, Bill, or we'll never get everything done until tonight.'

'Yes, my love,' Bill replied, an amused smile around his lips. 'What about lunch?'

'Daphne and I will grab a salad somewhere,' Fleur said and waved her hands in a dismissive gesture.

Bill and Harry froze and exchanged an appalled look, and Daphne almost laughed out loud. No way they'd be content with a salad for lunch. 'Why don't you two have lunch together, and we all meet tonight for dinner?' she said.

Her idea met approval, and a short time later the two young couples split up and headed to their different destinations.

Fleur hailed a taxi. 'Galeries Lafayette,' she said to the driver and added something in rapid French Daphne didn't understand. She turned to Daphne in the back seat of the car. 'What kind of dress are you looking for?'

Daphne bit her lip. Until now, she'd done all her shopping for clothes together with Mother, and Mother's notions of what was becoming for a young girl were somewhat Victorian at their best. 'Something different, that's for sure. I'm so tired of looking like a little girl.'

Fleur's eyebrows went up, and she gave her an appraising look.

Oh, she knew how Fleur must see her: she looked like a twelve-year-old. She'd held back her hair with a bandana, and dressed in a straight jeans skirt that ended well below her knees, a light blue blouse with little puffed sleeves and matching ballet flats. There wasn't anything better in her wardrobe, Mother had prevented that.

'I see your point. So, you're striving for a complete new look?' Fleur asked.

Daphne took a deep breath. It was now or never. 'Yes!'

A delighted grin spread over Fleur's face, and she clapped her hands. 'Merveilleux! Of course you'll need a new haircut. There's a wonderful coiffeur at the Galeries. Oh, I can't wait to begin!'

Not even ten minutes later the taxi pulled up in front of the famous department store. Fleur left her no time to get her bearings, grabbed her by the hand, and almost dragged her to the hairdresser. In another blink of an eye she was seated in front of a huge crystal mirror, a pink cape spread over her clothes, and a young woman, not much older than her, asked for her wishes in rapid French.

She shrugged her shoulders and held out her hands, palms up, in a gesture of defeat. 'I didn't understand a word.'

Fleur laughed. 'She asked what haircut you wanted.'

'Something completely different. I want to get rid of the Alice-look.'

'Alice look?'

Daphne cast the young hairdresser a look from under her eyelashes. Most French didn't understand English, though, you never knew. Under the cover of the cloak she slipped her wand in her hand and thought, 'Muffliato!'

'Alice in Wonderland, a famous book by the Muggle author Lewis Carrol. One of my great-grandmothers was friends with him, so Tori and I grew up with this story. Alice is a young girl about twelve, I think, and often depicted in a demure dress and her hair held back by a bandana.'

The hairdresser stuck her finger in her ear, as if she had problems with her hearing. Good, the spell worked.

Fleur laughed. 'Ah, I see! Do you trust me, Daphne? I have an idea how to get rid of that look. However, it will mean you have to depart with most of your hair.'

'I trust you Fleur, do your best,' Daphne said. Anything was better than her boring straight, long hair. As soon as the words were out, her heart plummeted into her shoes. Into what had she got herself?

However, it was too late. A frantic gleam had appeared in Fleur's eyes, and she conversed in rapid French with the hairdresser - too fast for her to follow - while the hairdresser draped and combed her hair in different directions.

The discussion ended, and the hairdresser vanished behind a curtain that closed off a back room of the salon, only to return a couple of minutes later with a plastic cup filled with a strong smelling blue foam and a roll of aluminium foil in her hands. For the next thirty minutes, the hairdresser, assisted by an even younger apprentice, put the blue foam on strands of her hair with a brush and wrapped them in aluminium foil.

Daphne regarded her reflection in the mirror with furrowed eyebrows. She looked hilarious; thank Merlin Harry didn't see her like this.

Fleur had sat down beside her and paged through a couple of fashion magazines. Every now and then she'd point out looks to Daphne she thought would suit her.

'What is she doing with my hair?' Daphne asked in a whisper.

Fleur looked up from the magazine and gave her a broad smile. 'Don't worry, she's putting highlights in your hair. You'll love it. It's very difficult to get the same result with a Colouring Potion. You can freshen up the highlights with a Colour Spell if you don't want to go to a Muggle hairdresser every few weeks.'

She still had no idea what Fleur was talking about, and just nodded. A few minutes later the hairdresser put her under a hairdryer Fleur called the strange thing that looked like a plastic bonnet that hovered over her head, and gave her some fashion magazines to read.

It was warm under that hairdryer, too warm for an already hot early July morning, although the building was rather cool, thanks to whatever the Muggles had invented to imitate Cooling Charms. She looked around for the hairdresser. Thank Merlin, she was coming back to her.

The hairdresser unwrapped one of the strands, nodded, and motioned Daphne with her hand to walk to a line with sinks.

Ten minutes later she was back in front of the mirror. The aluminium foil was gone, and she had a first look at her still wet hair. It seemed lighter, however, the hairdresser left her no time for contemplation when she grabbed for her scissor, took a strand of Daphne's hair between her fingers and cut it off rather high.

Merlin, what was the woman doing to her? She closed her eyes. She didn't open them as the girl put away the scissor after what had been the most daunting forty minutes of her life, and now took a brush, a blow-dryer, and some sort of spray and styled her hair into a new form.

'Voilá,' the hairdresser said, and put out the blow-dryer.

She opened her eyes and looked into the mirror. The Alice-in-Wonderland-look was gone, that much was for sure. Her hair, now a shade lighter because of the highlights, was only just reaching her shoulders and played around her face in a fringy haircut.

'How do you like yourself?' Fleur asked. Her face beamed at her in the mirror.

Did she like it? It was a shock to see her waist long hair gone; barring that, she'd overcome the Alice-in-Wonderland-look without any doubt. Gone was the school girl, and a stylish young woman looked back at her from the mirror.

A huge smile spread over her face. 'Yes, I love it!'

'Good!' Fleur hugged her from behind. 'Lean back, we need to do your makeup.'

Daphne closed her eyes again. She as good as never wore makeup; Father detested it and deemed it inappropriate for young girls, except for special occasions. She'd used some colourless lip gloss and mascara at school, albeit never at home. It was about time to change that, too.

Twenty minutes later she looked at her new appearance in the mirror. Thank Merlin, she was still able to recognise herself. Even though she wore a full face of makeup, she didn't look like it. Her eyes were emphasised with some mascara and eyeliner, and instead of lip gloss she now wore lipstick in a light shade of red. She could live with that.

'Are you ready for the real fun?' Fleur's voice broke into her thoughts. She nodded, got up and went to pay.

Fleur linked arms with her and led her to the women's clothes department. From that point on, things became hazy. Father had given her a Bottomless Pouch and a Muggle credit card on the night before the wedding, together with the vault statements for her and Harry's vaults. The numbers at the bottom of the statements had made her eyes bulge. Even though her family was one of the wealthiest in Europe, Father had kept Tori and her on a short leash and watched their expenses closely. She knew that even with the staggering sum Harry had to pay for his treatment, there was more than enough money left for Harry and her to indulge themselves.

So, when she and Fleur sat down for a late lunch four hours later at the almost deserted salad bar of the Galeries Lafayette, shopping bags piled up in the empty seat beside her. They had not only found the perfect dress for Mother's charity event in October, but also bought a complete new wardrobe for her, and every piece more sexy and eye-catching than Mother ever would've deemed appropriate - not to mention Father.

The waiter came to take their orders, and served their drinks almost immediately.

Daphne let her eyes wander around. She had been shopping at Harrods' before with Mother. After all, the Greengrasses had vast interests in the Muggle world, and therefore frequently had to interact with Muggles. Contrary to most wizards and witches they knew how to dress, act and mingle with Muggles without raising suspicion. However, the elegance of the Galeries Lafayette surpassed the somewhat stiff atmosphere of the traditional British department store. Three floors of galeries rose above a huge ground floor. Everything was crowned by a gigantic glass cupola. From her place near the railing she had a good view at the shoppers in the opposite galeries and on the ground floor.

She gave Fleur a smile. 'I like it here. Thanks for taking me shopping here.'

'It has all my favourite shops,' Fleur said and took a sip of her drink. 'You'll get everything you need here, and you can take a break at one of the many restaurants when your feet hurt or you are hungry.'

She winked at Daphne, and Daphne broke out into giggles. Both girls had slipped out of their shoes as soon as they sat down.

The waiter served their salads soon after. After he had left, Fleur gave her an appraising look across the table, took her fork and speared some lettuce. 'How are things between you and Harry?'

'Better than I expected,' Daphne said, and picked up her own cutlery. 'Things were tense for a while when he found out that I learned most if not all of his secrets during his treatment, secrets he'd rather have kept under the rug. Entering that hotel room with him also wasn't easy. We had a long talk about our situation yesterday, and agreed on how we want to go on.'

Fleur raised her eyebrows, slid closer on her chair and leaned towards Daphne. 'And that is?'

Daphne's cheeks grew warm. 'Well, we agreed that we want to get to know each other and become friends before we… progress.' She didn't dare look at Fleur.

'Oh!' Fleur's eyebrows almost reached the line of her hair. 'How soon do you want to progress, if I may ask?'

Daphne shrugged her shoulders. 'It depends how comfortable we feel with each other, I guess.' She took a sip of her drink to hide her glowing face.

Fleur gave her a knowing glance. 'Guessing by the clothes you bought this morning, I suspect that you can't wait to become comfortable with him.'

The heat in Daphne's cheeks intensified. Could this talk get any more embarrassing? A warm hand covered hers.

'Don't worry Daphne, I'll help you,' Fleur said.

Daphne startled. 'Why are you doing this?'

Fleur retreated her hand. 'Because you are my friend, a very new friend but a friend nonetheless, and I get the added bonus that it'll anger my loving sister-in-law to no end.'

Daphne let out a small snort. 'I take it you don't like her.'

'Not at all.' Fleur said with a harsh laugh. 'I tried, really, I did. Nothing I did mattered or helped. She was against me from the very first moment; she put in zero effort to get to know me. Do you know that she calls me Phlegm behind my back? She thinks I am unaware. How dumb does she think I am? I wasn't chosen as a Triwizard Champion by the Goblet of Fire for nothing.' She took a shuddering breath. 'I shouldn't let her get to me like that. She's nothing but a spoilt brat. However, she's also Bill's baby sister, and he loves her to bits. I have to try and get along with her for Bill's sake, it isn't easy though, I can tell you.'

She gave Daphne a broad smile. 'So, if you want to pry your husband's heart out of Ginevra's clutches, I'm game. Harry's much too nice and far too forgiving for her; she will and does walk all over him. However, I can't point that out to him, unfortunately he won't see it yet. So I will help and protect him in any way I can. Tell me what you want to achieve, and I'll help you; I will help Harry by helping you capture and keep his heart, if that is what you desire.'

Daphne bit her lower lip. Should she tell Fleur about her attempt to catch Harry's interest, could she capture his heart? Truth to be told, she'd have been out of her depth if he'd done more than just stare at her, however titillating that had been. After all, Fleur was married for almost a year and had way more experience than she had, surely she'd be able to give her some good advice on enrapturing the man of her dreams?

She took a deep breath and told Fleur what she'd done that morning to attract Harry's attention.

Fleur listened while she ate her salad. When Daphne finished her story, she clapped her hands with a delighted chuckle. 'C'est fantastique! You are already well on your way, I'd say. However, new outfits isn't everything you need. I know exactly the place where we will go this afternoon. Harry won't know what hit him.' A feral grin spread over her face, and for a blink of an eye Daphne saw the predator-bird-like creature behind the beauty.

After their lunch, Fleur led her out of the department store and hailed a taxi that drove them to a small shop on the Rue St. Honoré.

Daphne's face, neck and ears became uncomfortably hot as soon as she entered the shop and her eyes fell on the most exciting lingerie she'd ever seen. Compared to this, the negligé Tori had given her for her wedding night seemed prudish.

Harry wouldn't know what hit him, indeed, if she ever had the guts to parade around in front of him in these delicate objects. However, would she know how to deal with him? She took a deep breath. She had to start somewhere, hadn't she?

Fleur must have seen her face and understood her dilemma, 'I think you misunderstand, my dear Daphne; these aren't for Harry alone. No, these are for you, if he sees you in them, so much the better. There is a silly little English saying that I have heard, "Cotton for you and Lace for him." Rubbish!'

Fleur looked her in the eyes. 'These will empower you, you will feel sexy in them, powerful, yet feminine. When you put these on, no one except someone you want to see them will see you in them, but you will know that you are wearing them and you will feel confident that you are a beautiful, sexy and powerful woman, and nothing can stop you from achieving your goals.'

Fleur gave her a conspiratorial wink. 'Lay a set of these out before you get ready, and he will be thinking all night about what you look like in them.'


Harry was already back in their room when she returned late in the afternoon. He lay on the bed and watched tv. At her sight his eyebrows went up. 'Wow!'

She blushed, raised her hand and twirled one of her short locks around her finger. 'Do you like it?'

He gave her an appraising look, then nodded. 'Yes; you looked like a twelve-year-old.' He cringed as the word slipped out. 'Sorry. This is much better.' He indicated with his hand at the shopping bags in her hands. 'I hope you left something in the shop for the other customers to buy.'

'Oh, plenty,' she said, leaned the shopping bags and her purse against the wall and, emboldened by his agreement with her new look, plopped down next to him on her side of the bed. She slipped out of her ballet flats and stretched out on the soft bed with a tired sigh. 'These are the bags I carried for the benefit of the staff. The rest are shrunken and in my purse.'

He gave her his trademark lopsided grin. 'My, my, Mrs Potter, you've been busy.'

The swarm of butterflies that had taken permanent residence in her belly ever since their wedding fluttered, and she averted her eyes. Her gaze fell on the chair in front of the dressing table. A stack of shopping bags covered the seat, and additional bags leaned against its legs. She snorted. 'You're one to talk.'

He joined her laughter, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got up. 'Merlin, I'm parched after this day of shopping.' He went to the minibar and got a bottle of water out of it. He showed it to her. 'You want some?'

'Yes, please.'

He poured the water into two glasses, handed one to her and settled back onto the bed, his upper body propped up against the headboard. 'Bill made dinner reservations for tonight,' he told her between two sips.

Daphne put her glass on the bedside table and looked at her wristwatch. 'And you tell me that now? How much time have we left until we have to be ready? I need a shower, and I need to change.'

Harry grinned. 'Don't worry, we're going to meet them at eight. Plenty of time to get ready.'

'That's something only a male can say,' she said and sprung to her feet. 'You can shower and change when I'm ready.' She walked over to her stack of shopping bags and pulled out a set of the sinful new silk lingerie she'd bought that afternoon. She put the underwear at the foot of her side of the bed, took a handful of shrunken shopping bags out of her purse and enlarged them. While she searched the bags for a dress to wear that evening and matching shoes, she cast a surreptitious look at Harry.

The clothes, or strips of fabric rather, on her side of the bed were hard to overlook. He had his head averted and a faint blush dusted his cheekbones.

Daphne grinned into the bag in front of her. Oh, Fleur had been spot on with her advice. It didn't take much to keep him on his toes around her. She snatched up the items of clothes she had decided on and slipped into the bathroom to shower and dress up for the night in a blue sleeveless dress with pink and white flowers printed on it. The wide skirt billowed over a matching white petticoat with blue and pink flowers that stuck out from under the skirt for four inches, yet still ended so high above her knees that Mother would suffer a severe shock. Her waist looked tiny in the dress, and her legs seemed endless, a fact emphasised by the white, high-heeled sandals she wore.

When she emerged from the bathroom, Harry still was on the bed. He had a deep frown on his face and studied a newspaper clipping in his hand. More clippings were scattered around him.

At her entrance he looked up, and the frown on his face gave place to an appreciative smile. 'Wow, you look good.'

Warmth crept into her cheeks. This was the second compliment he paid her, she could get used to that. 'Thank you.' She sat down on her side on the bed and motioned with her hand towards the newspaper clippings. 'What are you reading?'

The smile vanished from his face, and he frowned again. 'Your father sent Matty with these while you were under the shower. It seems The Daily Prophet has a field day with our marriage. There are other clippings, too, from a few European newspapers, and from the USA, Australia and India; however, they aren't as bad as the articles in the Prophet.'

Daphne rolled her eyes. 'That was to be expected, wasn't it? Let me guess, I'm a scheming, budding Dark Witch who got you in her clutches by Love Potions and Dark Magic?'

That made him laugh. 'Right in one. However, they changed their tunes when your father made a press statement that our marriage was because of an old family agreement.'

'And that's better because…?' She raised her eyebrows at him.

He shifted on the bed and turned red. 'Uh… Not really. Now Skeeter speculates about the state of our marriage, and how long it will last.' His eyes didn't meet hers. 'I'd better get ready, too,' he said and got up.

Daphne didn't reply. She watched how he took fresh clothes out of his bags and walked into the bathroom, then she gathered the newspaper clippings and studied them.

He hadn't told her everything. Skeeter was well aware of Harry's relationship with the Weaselette - after all, they hadn't made a secret about it - and gushed about the separated lovers, while she also spared a few lines of false sympathy for her: would Harry be faithful to her or would their marriage forever be overshadowed by a continued adulterous relationship to the Weaselette?

Well, that was something she and Skeeter had in common. She'd also like to know whether Harry planned on continuing his relationship with the obnoxious redhead. However, that was an elephant in the room she didn't dare to bring up, at least not yet. They didn't know each other well enough for that discussion.

The door of the bathroom opened and interrupted her thoughts. Harry came out, dressed in tan slacks and a white and emerald striped button-down shirt. He still didn't look at her while he slipped into a pair of dress shoes.

The elephant in the room grew until it took up almost all of the space.

This was ridiculous. She had to do something about it. She cleared her throat. 'We have to talk, Harry.'

He turned around to her and shoved his hands into the pocket of his slacks, though his eyes still didn't meet hers. 'What's there to talk? This is our fourth year all over again, isn't it? Skeeter will write about us what she pleases and we can't do anything about it.'

He bent his head and scowled at the floor.

She got up, walked over to him and put a hand on his arm. 'Yes, that's true, unfortunately. However, it depends on us if we give her additional ammunition, don't you think?'

Harry's head jerked up, and he stared at her, a frown on his face.

'She can't do much if we present a united front at the outside. Oh, she will speculate, there's no doubt about that, but people won't listen to her if what they see doesn't match up to what she writes.'

His eyes searched her face. 'Alright, what do you want from me? I'm not following you here.'

'You and I have to appear as the happy young couple in public. We never, ever show that we didn't enter in this marriage on our own free will. We're not allowed to show any disagreement between us when we're in public. If we do have disagreements, we need to clear the air in private and behind strong privacy wards.'

Harry nodded to her words, and a weight lifted off her mind. Phew, who'd have thought he'll agree that easily? However, she had to mention the Weaselette, there was no way around it. She bit her lip, took a deep breath and steadied herself.

'There's one thing more. Whatever you're going to do, please be discreet about it.'

He stared at her, incomprehension written all over his face. Then his eyes went huge, and he blushed. He turned away from her. 'You don't have to worry about that.'

She stared at his back, and her heart sank into the deepest pit of her stomach. So, he was going to continue his relationship with the Weaselette. Well, she'd expected that, didn't she? She bit on her lips until the pressure behind her eyes subsided. She was the intruder in this ménage à trois, she had no right to feel hurt. If she repeated that mantra to herself often enough, she'd be able to believe it - eventually.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

34

Paris, France, July 1998

Bill had reserved a table for them at the La Poule au Pot. It was a dainty place, with flowered wallpaper and a bar gleaming with lots of brass. They sat on bistro chairs around a round table that was covered with a white tablecloth and had a vase with flowers in the middle.

Daphne looked around. 'It has somehow the feeling of a private dining room at the house of an old-fashioned aunt.'

'Oui, it was founded in the thirties and hasn't changed much since then. It's one of the traditional bistros that still serve traditional French food,' Fleur said.

The waiter served their aperitives, and Bill raised his glass. 'To Daphne and Harry. We wish you all the happiness in the world.'

Harry suppressed a sigh as he replied to the toast. They'd need all good wishes they could get, although thus far they got along better than he'd dared to hope.

He cast a side glance at his bride. She'd surprised him with her new look this afternoon, the shoulder length haircut suited her and she'd also ditched the childlike clothes she'd worn whenever they'd met prior to their wedding. Those clothes had apparently hidden her figure to a point where he hadn't realised she had curves.

His jaw almost had hit the floor when she came out of the bathroom, dressed up to meet Bill and Fleur. It had taken all his willpower not to gape, and he'd caught himself that he checked out her long, shapely legs when he walked behind her to the elevator and briefly found himself trying to picture her in the tiny underwear she had laid out, a line of thought he severed when he felt heat begin to rise in his face. Yep, in the looks department of his wife he was one lucky wizard, however, looks weren't everything…

'What are your plans for your stay in Paris?' Fleur's voice interrupted his musings. He exchanged a look with Daphne.

She shrugged her shoulders. 'To be honest, we haven't talked about that yet.'

'Yeah, I haven't thought about that, either. What do you suggest, Fleur? After all, you lived here.'

Fleur gave him a blinding smile. 'I'd hoped you'd ask that.' She launched into a detailed enumeration of the many things a young couple in love could do in Paris, that began with a visit to Montmartre and ended with an intimate dinner at the Jules Verne, the restaurant on top of the Eiffel Tower. Her Parisian must do lecture lasted well until after the waiter had served them the first course.

Harry's throat tightened while he listened to Fleur. He lowered his head and swallowed hard, while his fingers clutched around the cutlery in his hands. Merlin, he would've loved to do all these things with Ginny, however, he couldn't see himself doing any of it with Daphne, not for the life of him.

Bill seemed to sense his uneasiness. He put his hand on his wife's. 'Maybe it's too soon for them to do anything of that, love.'

Fleur's face fell.

Daphne came to her rescue. She put down her cutlery and wiped her mouth with her napkin. 'Besides that, I'm not sure if it's such a good idea for us to stay in Paris most of the time anyway, what do you think, Harry?' She looked at him, picked up her wine glass and took a sip.

'Why's that?' Bill asked with raised eyebrows.

'Well, Cyrus sent me the newspaper clippings about our wedding this afternoon. I guess you've read them, so you know that Skeeter wasn't very nice in her dealings with Daphne. Since it's known that we're in Paris, we think it's very likely that she and at least a couple more reporters are here, looking for us. We talked about that on our way to the restaurant and agreed that we don't want to deal with them until we're more… uh, comfortable with each other,' Harry said.

Daphne nodded to his explanation.

Bill and Fleur exchanged a look. 'That makes sense,' Bill said.

A mischievous gleam appeared in Fleur's eyes. 'You'll have to get the Apparition Point Registry for France. There are so many fabulous places where you can go. For instance, there's Fecamp in Normandy...' She launched into another detailed exposition on the wonders of France.

The other three looked at each other and broke out into laughter.


The next morning, however, Harry sat in the lush grass on top of a cliff and looked down on the amazing shapes nature had carved out of the white high coast that dropped into the sea almost vertically. One rock jutted out of the water like a needle, and the one next to it looked like an elephant that dipped its trunk into the water. A warm, salty smelling summer breeze played with his hair, and above all were the constant cries of the seagulls.

'It's beautiful here, isn't it?' a soft voice beside him said. He turned his head and looked at the young woman next to him. His wife - would he ever get used to calling her that? Even more important, would he ever get used to living with her?

He suppressed a sigh and forced a smile on his face. 'Yeah, it is. Are you ready to continue our walk?'

A stroll on top of the cliffs of Étretat had been one of the many things Fleur had suggested to them during dinner. He and Daphne had discussed her suggestions as they ambled back to their hotel rather late at night, and agreed to try out at least a few of the places she had recommended. He'd called Kreacher that morning while Daphne was still in the bathroom, and asked him to get an Apparition Point Registry for France.

Daphne returned his smile and scrambled to her feet. 'Yeah, I'd love to see more of this amazing coast.'

Harry followed suit. He cast another look at her. She'd changed in the few days since their marriage.

Most noticeable and obvious was the change in her appearance. He hadn't been overly impressed with her when he saw her for the first time on the day they signed their wedding agreement. She'd been pretty, yes, but also rather pale and insignificant, a girl that always melted into the background and was overlooked. The clothes she'd worn had added to that impression.

That wasn't true anymore. While nothing about her screamed for attention, she couldn't be overlooked, either. Her new haircut and the subtle makeup she wore emphasised the fine-boned, classical structure of her face. She was a beauty, however, not as stunning as Ginny; Daphne's beauty was elegant and understated, and would probably last beyond the time when Ginny's looks began to wither.

Now, where had that thought come from?

'I'd give anything to have my broom right now and take a fly among these cliffs.' She pointed down to the bizarre formations below them.

'You like flying?'

She laughed and pushed a strand of her hair the wind had blown into her face behind her ear. 'Yeah, what's so amazing about that? All wizards and witches fly.'

He shook his head. 'No, that isn't strictly true. Hermione hates flying, and I don't think I've seen Neville on a broom ever since flying instruction in our first year. Not to mention I've never seen you flying at Hogwarts, either, beyond that class.'

'Well, that's because there's not much opportunity for flying at Hogwarts outside of the Quidditch teams, and Slytherin unfortunately has or had a no-girls-policy for their team,' Daphne said and grimaced.

Harry's eyebrows shot up at that. 'You play Quidditch?' He cast a surreptitious look at her soft and delicate body that was so unlike Ginny's muscular, athletic figure. She'd never have the strength to hold on to a broom for a long, fast paced match.

'Merlin, no!' She laughed and shook her head and nudged his shoulder with her own. 'I love the feeling of freedom while I'm in the air, but the thought of a Bludger slamming into my face never appealed to me, though I love to watch a good game. I always enjoyed your games when we were at Hogwarts, never a dull moment, when you were on the pitch.'

A slow smile spread over his face. At last he'd discovered something they had in common. Should he suggest to find out where to rent brooms and have a flight along the coast? Why not?

Daphne put a hand on his arm and pointed with her free hand down to the base of the elephant-shaped rock in front of them. 'Look, Harry.' A small, open boat cruised through the portal framed by the legs and the trunk of the elephant. 'It seems there are tours along the coast available from Étretat. Maybe we can take one when we're back in the village?'

He looked down on her hand on his bare arm. His skin tingled where she touched him, however, it wasn't an unpleasant feeling.

'Yeah, looks like fun.' He gave her a small smile, and they continued their walk.

Daphne's behaviour towards him was different to the few times they'd met, chaperoned by her mother, previous to their wedding. She'd kept her distance then, as if she'd been afraid of him. That had also changed. She'd opened up, and she'd often search physical contact with him, might it be that she took his hand or put her hand on his arm.

Strangely enough, he didn't mind. It was… nice. It felt familiar, as if she'd done it many times before. What had happened between them while he'd been under that potion? His memories were hazy, he'd been unconscious most of the time, however, he remembered a loving voice and a tender hand that had kept him from falling into the black abyss that threatened to swallow him. Had that been her? After all, she'd acted as his anchor, he really needed to look into what that meant. Was it more than just being there to watch over and care for him? If yes, he owed his life to her, not only because she agreed to marry him.

He cast her another side glance. She looked down to the ground, as if contemplating the tips of her white sneakers.

'Uh… Daphne?'

She raised her head and smiled at him. 'Yes, Harry?'

'You mentioned yesterday that we'll have to play the loving couple when we're out in public. What exactly did you mean by that?'

'Well, we can't hide in the Muggle world or behind the wards of The Rectory forever, can we? You'll need to buy new robes, so we have to go to Diagon Alley as soon as we're back, and we'll both attend the magical part of Canterbury University in September. People will see us together, and they'll gossip about us. To prevent the ugly talk, we just have to act like a young couple in love when we're out in the magical world.' A faint blush had crept into her cheeks, and she avoided his eyes.

He swallowed, and his face became hot. She couldn't mean what he thought she meant, could she? He had to be sure. 'Do you mean… we have to be affectionate with each other?'

She didn't answer to that, only nodded, and the blush on her face intensified.

Bugger. This couldn't be true. He tugged at the neckline of his shirt that within the blink of an eye seemed to have become tighter and threatened to choke him. Of course, he knew he would've to become physical with the girl at some point to fulfill the demands of their wedding agreement. Even though he'd had an abysmal upbringing and had next to no experience except some snogging, he'd caught on to the fact that babies didn't grow in cabbage patches.

Well, they had to start somewhere. He swallowed and held his hand out to her. 'Alright; let's get some practise, then.'

She gasped and gave him an incredulous look, but took his hand.

Their fingers interlaced; pleasant tingles spread from his hand through his arm across his whole body. He most likely looked like a tomato in the face right now, and he didn't dare look at her as they continued their walk along the coastline.

When lunchtime drew closer, they decided to return to Étretat. They both were parched and hungry from their walk.

'I've learned my lesson: if I want to have a happy life, keep Daphne fed and watered,' Harry said and winked at her. By now it had become the most natural thing to hold her hand.

She gave him a playful shove with her shoulder. 'That sounds like I'm a horse.'

'Oops!'

They continued their banter as they returned to the village and found an empty table at a crêperie opposite of the old market hall. Over galettes filled with cheese, ham and egg*, a glass of cidre, and under the cover of the Muffliato Charm they talked and got to know each other better, in what, Harry was sure by necessity, was going to be the first of many such conversations.

She told him about her childhood in a Pureblood family that was also living with one foot in the Muggle world. It was apparent by every word and every gesture how much she loved her family, and especially her little sister. Tears glistened in her eyes when she told him of the Blood Curse that had manifested in Astoria when she was still a toddler.

'There's no cure against it. Astoria is strong and fights against her illness, but the Healer at St Mungo's told Mother and Father that she won't live to see her thirtieth birthday. With all the strain of the last year that forced her into the wheelchair I'm afraid it won't be even that long.'

A single tear ran down her cheek.

Before he knew what he was doing, he bent forward and wiped it away with the pad of his thumb.

Her smile was rather watery and she gave his hand a slight nuzzle with her face before he had the chance to draw it away.

A slight electric jolt went through his body, but she averted her face a split second later. Strange, where did that sense of loss come from? At least she hadn't withdrawn her hand that still was holding his other hand, their fingers entwined.

She'd grown up with loving, yet stern and demanding parents. She told him about the days out she had enjoyed with her father when she was a little girl, from the tree house he built for her in the park of The Rectory to the days he took her with him to the headquarters of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products, where she followed him like a small pup, eager to learn about her future duties and excited that she'd work side by side with him one day.

'I've always been Father's girl, while Tori was Mother's girl,' she said. 'I suppose, that's why it's so hard that he -.' She broke off and bit her lips.

Harry startled, and his breath caught. All of a sudden he knew why she had agreed to marry him. 'He blackmailed you into our marriage like he blackmailed me, didn't he?'

She nodded hesitantly. Her face contorted, and she lowered her head until her features were hidden by her hair. She took a few, deep breaths. When she looked up again, her eyes were dry, and her face was calm. How had she managed that? Her self control was amazing.

'Yes, he did. I should hate him for what he did to me - to us - but I can't. He's my father, and I still love him. And as much as I disagree with his means, I know he did what he believed was best for the family and us.'

Harry made a face at that. 'It still remains to be seen if it was for our best. However, I don't blame you that you don't hate him. He's your father, after all. And while he's not my favourite person right now and I doubt that will change, I promise I'll try not to fight with him, if only for your sake. I don't want you to get caught in a fight between me and your father.'

She put a hand on his arm. 'Thank you, Harry, that's very considerate of you.'

They finished their meal in a contemplative silence.

Harry took a last bite, put down his cutlery and wiped his mouth. He took a sip of the sweet, refreshing cidre, put the glass back on the tableand looked at his wife. There was something about the plans Cyrus had made for them he didn't understand yet. 'Say, Daphne, your father said we both have to start at Canterbury Magical University in September. I don't know about you, but I haven't taken my N.E.W.T.s, so how's that possible?'

'I didn't take my N.E.W.T.s, either,' she said. 'However, for the course in Magical Economics we're both taking we don't need them; the O.W.L.s will suffice. The course is based on the Muggle curriculum, with only little magic, you know. If we like to, we can finish our N.E.W.T.s while working on our university degree. I plan on doing so, I haven't ruled out yet the possibility of taking a Potion Mastery one day.'

He grinned at her. 'Wow, I'm impressed. I was always glad when I made it through potions without blowing up my cauldron.'

'Yeah, Snape had it for you, didn't he. Although I noticed you did much better under Slughorn.' She put down her cutlery and drained her glass. 'What do you think, do we have room for dessert?'

Harry laughed, gave a small inclination of his head and signalled the waiter. 'As madame wishes.'


The rest on their honeymoon went by in similar fashion. When the week was over and their Portkey dropped them in the living room of The Coach House, they were at least able to act naturally around each other when they were in public. They'd become friends, though they hadn't made any real progress in their physical relationship apart from the holding of hands, the occasional hug and other gentle touches like shoulder bumps.

Harry looked around in the spacious room. He'd had taken no interest whatsoever in what his future life with Daphne would look like, prior to the wedding, and after she'd managed to persuade her father to let them live in the old coach house next to the main house of The Rectory, hehad left it to her to get the house ready for them. He had to give it to her: she had good taste in decor.

Huge, comfortable upholstered blue chairs and sofas were grouped around a fireplace that was big enough to stand in. Their Floo connection, he assumed. A table with six chairs around it, but with room for eight, stood at the opposite side of the room, marking the dining area. Three windows and a glass door that opened to a terrace and the kitchen garden let in a lot of light, and dark beams under the low ceiling gave the room a rustic feel.

'Come on, I'll show you around,' Daphne said and linked arms with him. She led him out of the room into a small hallway. Ahead of them, a steep staircase led to the first floor. Daphne indicated with her hand to a door next to the staircase. 'That's the loo. The door to the left leads to the kitchen.'

Harry opened the door and peeked inside. The white and yellow kitchen had all the essentials, and there was even room for a tiny breakfast corner for two. 'Who's going to cook our meals and do the cleaning?' he asked and closed the door.

Daphne made a face at his question. 'Father insisted that it's too much work for Matty and her daughter Mipsy to clean and cook for us on top of their duties in the main house, so we're on our own, I'm afraid. Unfortunately, how to cook and keep a house clean is not part of the "accomplishments" a Pureblood girl needs to have as part of her repertoire, so I'm pretty clueless when it comes to housekeeping charms. If you ask me, Father did that so we're still forced to take our meals at the main house and he can keep an eye on us.'

Her voice sounded bitter. This was not the first time since their wedding she'd made a rancorous comment about Cyrus Greengrass, and it showed she still hadn't forgiven her father that he'd blackmailed her into this marriage.

'Then you'll be happy to know that I've inherited a house elf from my godfather. Poor Kreacher has had to stay at Hogwarts for the time being, since the house I inherited from my godfather has been vandalised by Death Eaters during the war. I haven't had the time and the money to restore it to its former glory.'

'So, it was your house elf who delivered the flowers to me on our wedding day?' Daphne asked and turned red. 'Thank you, by the way. They were very pretty. I hadn't counted on you sending me flowers.'

His face grew warm. 'You're welcome. But if we are being honest, Bill and Arthur reminded me that I should send you flowers.' He cast her a side glance. Was she offended?

He let out a breath when she broke out into laughter.

'I should've known that!' She took him by the hand and pulled him up the staircase with her. On the first floor landing she pointed to a door to their right. 'I guess you've already seen the bedroom and ensuite.' A faint blush tinged her cheeks, but she didn't give him the time to think about it, and opened a door ahead of them.

Two desks facing each other and a lot of shelves marked this room as a joined study.

Harry whistled. 'Cyrus really meant it when he said we would start our studies in September, didn't he?'

'Oh yes, that he did,' Daphne said. 'And you'd better get rid of your atrocious learning habits, by the way. Believe me, you don't want to be called into Father's study and explain why your grades aren't up to what he expects from his potential successor.'

His irritation levels rose, why didn't that surprise him? Of course Cyrus would take the opportunity to exercise his power over him. He crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at her. 'Exactly what would you know about my study habits?'

She rolled her eyes at him. 'The whole school knew about them, Harry. It was no secret that you and Weasley preferred to play chess or fool around instead of studying, and that both of you wouldn't have been in the upper half of the class if Granger hadn't made sure you at least did your homework on time.'

Once again his face became hot. 'I'm not that bad. Actually, I revised hard for my O.W.L.s, and I did a lot of extra work for Defense in our fifth year.'

'Yeah, and that was because it was your favourite class,' she said. 'However, you didn't decide to study Magical Economics with your own free will, so I expect it'll be hard for you to keep on task. I'll try to help you with that, but I'll also give you fair warning: I'm not going to run interference between you and Father, so you'd better do your best right from the start.' She poked him in the chest with a finger. 'Or I'll kick your arse before Father gets to have a go at it.'

What the…! He gaped at the petite girl in front of him. She was all soft and delicate femininity, but something in her expression warned him not to cross her, or she'd subject him to far worse things than anything Cyrus would do to him.

Not that he planned on neglecting his studies. He'd had a lot of time to think about his new situation in the previous weeks, and come to the conclusion that he'd never willingly endanger his grandfather's legacy. He knew so little about his family, and had even less that reminded him of them, so working to become Cyrus' successor and thus also following in his grandfather's footsteps gave him a connection to his family that he'd never had before and it was one that he cherished.

If only he'd known about that sooner, he would've worked harder during his time at Hogwarts and also would've tried to pick up the things Daphne had been educated in outside of the Hogwarts curriculum. He doubted he ever would've thought of becoming an Auror, had he known there was a family business waiting for him. However, Cyrus didn't need to know that.

'Yes, ma'am,' he said, and grinned at her.

Her face softened. 'Good for you.' She closed the door to the study and took his hand. 'That's the end of the tour. I told you, the house is tiny.'

'What, no additional half a dozen bedrooms for our future children?' he asked with a snort as they walked back downstairs. 'I thought your father expects us to continue the family line asap.'

Daphne blushed. 'I guess we'll have either to move into the main house then, or persuade Father to give us access to your grandparent's house. However, since we both agreed that we don't want to have children before we finish our studies, the house is big enough for the time being.'

'Speaking of your father, will your parents expect us to come over today?'

She shook her head. 'Mother, Father and Tori are still at our holiday villa in France. They won't be back for another two weeks.'

Harry raised his eyes heavenwards. Thank Merlin, prayers are sometimes answered, he wouldn't have to deal with his in-laws yet. How was he supposed to interact with Cyrus on a daily basis after what that man had done to him and Daphne? He didn't love her, but as his wife she was now his responsibility, and he'd be damned if he allowed Cyrus to use her as his chess piece any longer.

Even more important: he'd have additional two weeks to get used to living with Daphne. He'd spared no thought before their wedding on what daily life with a girl would entail. He'd had some vague dreams about a life with Ginny, however, after two weeks of marriage he already knew they failed the reality check. Who'd have thought that girls could be that… that omnipresent?

It had started with her scent. He was used to Ginny's flowery scent, however, it hadn't dominated The Burrow. Daphne's scent was different, light, yet spicy with a lemony note. It was the first thing he smelled on the pillows when he woke up in the morning, it hung in the air of the bathroom when he went to get ready for the day, and it eventually permeated the wardrobe they shared and where they had put their new clothes for the time of their stay in Paris. Not to mention that he got a whiff of it every time she moved close to him. It wasn't unpleasant, by no means, however, it wasn't the scent he'd grown to love.

Then there were her things. It seemed they had a life of their own, and eventually spread all over their hotel room and intermingled with his belongings. There was her cardigan at the foot of his side of the bed where she'd placed it when they returned to their room after a day out. There were at least three pairs of shoes - why did women need so many shoes, by the way? - lying on the floor of their hotel room, in close proximity to his trainers. There were the fashion magazines she'd bought to read and dropped on his bedside table. Well, of course he'd had a peek inside - after all, he was supposed to find out how the mind of his new wife ticked, wasn't he? And the crossword puzzle had been interesting.

He wouldn't even mention her brushes next to his shaving kit, or her shampoo standing next to his soap in the shower - no, the most nerve-racking thing had to be, well, the things girls wore under their clothes and at night. Oh, he'd got a lot of experience with that stuff during his time on the run, when he'd been alone with Hermione. They'd taken turns with the household chores, and he'd done Hermione's unmentionables and her night things more than once when he had to do the washing.

However, the sensible, plain cotton bras and slips and flannel pyjamas Hermione wore couldn't be compared to the flimsy pieces of silk and laceDaphne preferred, he never would have suspected this, given her outerwear prior to their marriage, and it kept him on his toes. They seemed to be everywhere: she had the annoying, yet exciting habit to leave her lacy bras at the door handle of the bathroom after she'd changed her clothes for the night. He probably had looked as if he had a tomato for a head each morning when he left the bathroom during their honeymoon, and he'd had a hard time not to imagine her in these tiny pieces of clothing every time he looked at her.

And would he ever get used to seeing her in the short nothings she called nightgowns and that barely covered anything? Merlin, had she an idea what she did to him each morning when she got up, stretched, and the shift rode up on her long legs several inches?

No, it wouldn't be a sacrifice at all when they had to become physical, however, how he was supposed to keep calm around her until she'd gotten used to their awkward situation was beyond him.


The next morning Harry was the first down in the kitchen. They'd spent the previous evening getting their things sorted, and went out for an early dinner to Muggle London, since the larder and the fridge of their new home were still empty, and had bought what they'd need for breakfast at a Tesco on Dean Street on their way back home. They had both been knackered when they returned home and gone to bed early, without talking to Kreacher about his new duties.

He still wasn't in the mood to deal with his house elf, though the poor old thing would be beyond happy when he called him. No matter what Hermione said, house elves needed their masters to be content and happy.

Harry put the kettle on the stove, thank Merlin he'd learned how to operate a magical stove during his time on the run. He opened the cupboard that looked on the outside like a Muggle refrigerator, but was nothing more than a cupboard with permanent cooling charms placed on it, and took out the bacon and eggs.

He whistled a little tune, put the pan on the stove and cracked the first egg open.

Tea, bacon, and eggs had just finished, and the toaster - yet another Muggle looking device that operated on magic - popped out the last slice of toast, when the kitchen door opened and Daphne walked into the room. At the sight of the almost finished meal and the set table her eyes went huge.

'I had no idea you could cook,' she said and sat down.

Harry slid a fried egg on her plate and one on his own, put the pan back on the stove and sat down opposite of her. 'I won't claim that I'm a master cook, however, I know how to prepare breakfast and a few other dishes.'

'Had I known you know your way in a kitchen, I wouldn't have been that standoffish the day you proposed. A man who can cook is definitely a good bargain.' Daphne smirked at him and took a bite of her eggs and bacon. 'Mmmmh, that's good.'

He snorted. 'You're almost as bad as Ron when it comes to food.'

She put down her fork and gave him a mildly offended look. 'I prefer to think that I have better table manners.'

'Oh, you have, but that's not difficult,' Harry said and hid his broad grin behind his teacup. It was so easy to get a rise out of her, not to mention she looked cute when she pouted and mock-glared at him, just like right now. He'd come to enjoy the easy banter they'd established between them.

A peck on the window pane prevented her from the retort that was without any doubt on the tip of her tongue. He got up and let the post owl in. It carried a copy of The Daily Prophet, and he fished in the pocket of his jeans for some loose coins to drop the needed five Knuts in the small pouch attached to the owl's leg. The owl hooted and flew off. Harry closed the window, picked up the newspaper and returned to the breakfast table.

'I had no idea you subscribed to the Prophet,' he said, and gave the newspaper to Daphne.

She put down her teacup and took the paper from him. 'It's always good to know what venom Skeeter is spreading,' she said, unfolded the paper and handed him back the sports section.

He took it with a small chuckle. 'Too right.' However, the laughter got stuck in his throat when he unfolded the sports section and his eyes fell on the headline.

US CLUB STRIKES DEAL WITH BRITISH UP-AND-COMING CHASER TALENT

Below that was a huge photograph of a smiling Ginny beside the manager and owner of the Taos Tornados as she signed the contract.

His fingers became numb, and he grabbed the newspaper even harder so it wouldn't fall to the ground and alert Daphne. He read the article, and had to read it for a second time, because his brain refused to process the words his eyes saw.

At last, the meaning of the words sunk in. Ginny was moving to the USA - no, she already was there. So, that's what he'd done to her. He'd broken her heart for a second time, and this time her hurt was so bad she'd fled the country. There was no way Ginny would've ever left her family, if he hadn't shattered her heart for a second time.

His breakfast turned into a cold hard stone in his stomach, and he had to suppress a groan. Merlin, how could he ever look the Weasleys into the eyes again? Ginny was the apple of their eyes, and he had driven her away from her family.

The newspaper slipped out of his nerveless fingers and slid to the floor.

'Harry?' Daphne looked at him from behind her part of the newspaper. Something on his face must have given him away, for her face fell. She turned her head to where the sports section had fallen. The headline and Ginny's photograph were impossible to miss.

Daphne's face turned ashen.

Harry's chest tightened. Merlin, he was such a cad. He'd hurt Ginny beyond belief, and now he'd also hurt Daphne. She'd gone out of her way to help him through their awkward situation. Even worse, he in all likelihood owed his life to her, not only because she agreed to marry him, but also because she kept him anchored to this life while he was under the treatment. While he didn't think he could love her, he at least owed it to her to treat her decently and never let her realise that he still wasn't over Ginny. Well, he'd well and truly screwed that pooch, hadn't he?

The tightness in his chest intensified. He took a laboured breath. This was too much, he had to get out of here…

'Harry?' Daphne's voice sounded alarmed.

He looked at her. 'I'm sorry, Daphne, I … I can't -'

He couldn't finish the sentence. With a last pleading look at his wife he Apparated away.

t.b.c.

 

Chapter Text

35

Grimmauld Place, August 1998

Harry appeared in the garden of the square at Grimmauld Place and looked around. The square was deserted, however, blaring tvs could be heard from a couple of open windows of the houses surrounding the dilapidated place. He cast another look around, just to be sure, and stepped out of the overgrown shrubbery. Number twelve materialised in front of him as if out of thin air.

Thank Merlin, the house was still standing. He'd left The Coach House without a plan in mind, he only knew he had to get away from a situation that threatened to overwhelm him, and had Apparated to the first place he thought of - Grimmauld Place, Merlin only knew why.

He crossed the road in a few, long strides, hurried up the steps to the door, and opened it with a tap of his wand.

As soon as the massive oak door closed behind him, he took a look around and let out a low whistle. He'd expected the house to be vandalised by the Death Eaters after Hermione had accidently taken Yaxley into the sphere of the Fidelius Charm with her after their foray into the Ministry. The Death Eaters didn't disappoint him: they'd done a bang-up job.

The portrait of Walburga Black was reduced to scraps of scorched canvas sticking to the wall here and there and a few splinters of blackened wood from the frame lying at the base of the wall where the portrait once hung. Well, he wouldn't complain about that. He also wouldn't complain that the curse Moody had put up to keep Snape out had been broken. All that remained was a pile of ashes in the middle of the hall, next to the scorched remains of the umbrella stand made out of a Troll leg. Good riddance to that, too.

In fact, the Death Eaters had reduced everything that had once celebrated the proud Pureblood heritage of the Blacks to rubble. They'd also destroyed the vermin that infested the house, he noticed during a quick tour through the house. Well, that was a welcomed side effect. All he had to do was to clear the rubble away and remodel everything. A mirthless laughter shook him. Should he write a thank-you note to the Death Eaters in Azkaban?

Well, before he did anything about that, he needed to tear down the old Fidelius Charm and put up a new one. Merlin knew who was included to the Fidelius Charm - probably every Death Eater and their grandmother. He didn't need any uninvited visitors.

'Kreacher,' he called.

Plop!

The ancient house elf appeared next to him, and at once threw his arms around Harry's legs. 'Master Harry called Kreacher. Kreacher is so happy!'

Harry winced; Kreacher's bullfrog voice hadn't changed one iota during the war. He patted the head of the old elf who still clung to his legs and looked up at him, an expression of pure adoration on his wrinkled face.

'Kreacher, please ask Professor Flitwick if he can spare some time to come here and show me how to take down an old Fidelius Charm and cast a new one.'

'Kreacher will do,' the old house elf said, and Apparated away.

Harry sat down on the lowest steps of the broken staircase and buried his head in his hands. The state of Sirius' house had distracted him for a short time from his problems, however, they came crashing back on him as soon as he was alone.

How was he supposed to go on from here? He couldn't stay away from Daphne for an indefinite period, of that much he was sure. People would start talking if one of them turned up alone anywhere this early in their marriage, and Skeeter would have a field day with that. The last thing he wanted was dragging his and Daphne's problems into the open. He could do without the attention, and Daphne didn't deserve it.

However, ever since Healer Payne sprung the devastating diagnosis upon him, all he'd done was try to survive. He'd entered in his marriage with Daphne because he saw no other way out, but he hadn't dared to give much thought about what that might mean for his life from then on. After their wedding, he and Daphne had been scooped up twenty-four/seven for two weeks, and he just went with the flow, thankful that they seemed to slip into their new life together without any major fights or hardship.

Nevertheless, he needed some alone time. He needed to yank Ginny out of his heart once and for all - if that was even possible? He had to try, he owed it to Daphne and himself, if they ever wanted to have a chance of at least a friendly and content marriage.

Would Daphne be understanding of this?

Plop!

Harry startled, he'd forgot about Kreacher over his musings about his situation.

'Professor Flitwick will have time for Master Harry tomorrow at eleven,' Kreacher said.

'Thank you, Kreacher. Please, go to The Coach House from here and tell your mistress where I am, and that I need some time alone, but will return as soon as I can. Also, I want you to stay with your new mistress and help her instead of returning to Hogwarts. Is that alright with you?'

One look at his house elf confirmed he didn't need to ask the latter question. Kreacher bobbed up and down on the balls of his feet in a way he'd only previously associated with Dobby.

'Kreacher will love to serve new mistress!' The next second, the house elf Apparated away.

Harry chuckled. 'Well, at least one of us is happy about this situation,' he said to himself. He got up from the steps and took a look around. Where to begin to clean up this mess? He shrugged, one place was as good as the other, given the state the house was in. He slipped his wand into his hand and Vanished the rubble right in front of him. Foot by foot and yard by yard he worked his way through the hall, until he had Vanished all the rubble and had removed the wall plaster.

It was already late in the afternoon when he stopped, sweating, tired and with a somehow light headed feeling because he'd missed lunch. He called Kreacher, ordered him to bring him an overnight bag, and then made his way out of the house in search of a place to stay for the night.

He rented a room at the Islington Inn on Essex Street, took a shower, dragged himself out to grab a bite to eat, and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion as soon as he went to bed rather early that night. Early the next morning he was back at Grimmauld Place, continuing with the removal of the rubble and detritus from the house.

Professor Flitwick arrived on time. Harry heaved a big sigh when the old Fidelius Charm was removed and the tiny professor showed him how to cast a new one, with Harry being the Secret Keeper. The Professor had also shown him how to access the other wards on the house and how to alter their setting, allowing him a control over who could access the property even if they knew the secret. He resumed his work, and again fell into his bed at his hotel room dead tired once more.

Over the next couple of days he established a routine. He'd get up early, have breakfast at the hotel, go to Grimmauld Place, clean one room, grab some grub at a pub near the house for lunch, clean the next room in the afternoon, have dinner at another pub on his way back to the hotel and fall into bed dead tired each night. The monotonous work somehow calmed his nerves, and gave him time to think about everything that had been getting to him. The cleaning progressed, and so did his train of thoughts, until a picture began to form.

Almost two weeks later, Harry pointed his wand at the last pile of rubble in the conservatory he had discovered on top of the flat roof of the house. With a flick of his wand, the rubble was gone.

His shoulders sagged, and he took a deep breath. Lost in his thoughts, he walked down the staircase and out of the house. For a last time, he locked the door with his wand. His work was done; the house was clean of the devastation the Death Eaters had left in their wake. The house was ready for a new start.

And so was he. He had come to a decision, and he had no excuse to stay away from his wife any longer.

The only sticking point would be whether or not Daphne agreed with his decision.

He took another deep breath and Apparated away.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

36

Daphne stared at the spot where her husband had just Apparated away from.

Why had he done this? They'd got along so well in the week since the end of his treatment. Harry seemed to have accepted their situation, if he felt any resentment against her because of Father's deeds, he'd not once let on. In fact, he seemed to make a genuine effort to become friends and get to know her.

For one week she had managed to delude herself that their marriage might work against all odds.

Her gaze fell to the newspaper on the ground. Ginny's smile as she signed the contract with her new club over and over again mocked her. She propped her elbows on the table and covered her face with her hands. She'd been so naïve, she should've known that the deep feelings he had for the Weaselette wouldn't vanish overnight. He'd been nice enough not to let her see how much he missed the girl during their so-called honeymoon, but when her photograph was sprung on him this unexpectedly, it was too much for him, and his façade had cracked.

She pulled her hands off her face and looked down at the newspaper once again. 'You were right,' she said to the smiling girl in the photograph. 'He still isn't over you, and considering how faithful he is to those he loves, he'll probably never get over you. While I don't think that you deserve him, it's his choice to make. Although it would solve one of my problems, I won't go so far as to wish that you'd fall from your broom and break your neck in your first match. On the contrary, I wish you a long and prosperous career in the USA so you'll have no reason ever to come back.'

She slipped her wand out of the holster on her arm and Vanished the newspaper on the ground. It didn't make her feel better, but at least she didn't have to look at the Weaselette any longer.

The remains of the breakfast Harry had prepared still were on the table. She looked at her half emptied plate, and her stomach squirmed. With another flick of her wand she Vanished the cold food on her and Harry's plates, Levitated the empty plates to the sink, and got up and walked to the sink. She'd better get the dishes done right now, or -

Plop!

She whirled around. In front of her stood an ancient looking house elf and beamed at her with bright eyes.

'Master sent Kreacher to serve Mistress. What can Kreacher do for Mistress?' the small creature said in a bullfrog voice.

Daphne startled, and her heart beat a drumroll. This was Harry's elf, she now recognised him from her wedding day when he'd brought her the flowers. Kreacher had said Harry sent him… that meant -

'Kreacher, where's your master?'

'Master tell Kreacher to tell Mistress that he is in Master's house. Master say he need time alone and he will return soon. He tell Kreacher to serve Mistress.'

An avalanche rolled off her chest, and she heaved a deep breath. Harry was safe and he actually planned on returning. That was more than she'd hoped for as she saw the forlorn look in his eyes when he Apparated away. It was understandable that he wanted some alone time. If anything, she probably should be surprised he didn't crack sooner, after everything he went through since… Well, to be honest since Halloween eighty-one.

Harry didn't show the wounds he'd suffered, that much she'd learned while she sat beside his bed and listened to his hallucinations. He buried them deep inside of him, and never allowed them to come back to the surface, unless it was under supreme duress. Of course, that didn't make the hurt go away. It had accumulated in the depths of Harry's soul, pestering him from there like a permanent mental toothache, and together with Voldemort's soul piece in his scar that influenced Harry's feelings as the monster grew stronger had made for a very irritable, sometimes even irrational young man.

Harry had become calmer ever since he got rid of Voldemort's soul piece inside of him, and the potion had forced him to face his past and deal with his hurt. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been that serene about their situation during the last week, or that considerate of her feelings. Fifth year Harry, for example, would've hexed her into the next millennium five minutes after their wedding.

She snorted.

'What can Kreacher do for Mistress?'

The bullfrog voice of Harry's house elf yanked her out of her thoughts, and she looked down at the small creature in front of her. She'd grown up with house elves and knew they drew their magical strength from the bond to their masters. Serving their masters strengthened the bond. From the little Harry had told her about Kreacher yesterday evening, she also knew the poor thing had to live without that magical sustenance for most of the time ever since Walburga Black died. It showed in Kreacher's withered looks. Well, while Harry was still stubborn and didn't want her help, she at least could help his house elf.

'Please, clean the kitchen, Kreacher, and after that tidy up the bedroom and the bathroom. There's also a lot of laundry you need to take care of.'

Kreacher's face brightened. 'Kreacher will do!' He clicked his fingers; the next moment the sink filled with steaming hot water, and Kreacher hummed a happy little tune as he collected the pan and spatula.

Daphne turned around and left the kitchen, a smile on her face. At least one member of their little family was happy. She walked out of the house and to the garden shed; she'd better keep herself occupied for the time that Harry needed to think, or else she'd become crazy waiting for him.

Gardening had always been one of her favourite pastimes, much to Mother's dismay. She gathered her tools, but spurned the gloves. Mother would have kittens if she saw that. Mother couldn't understand she needed to feel the earth under her fingers, and thus she never bothered with gardening gloves. Of course that showed on her hands, and no amount of beauty products, magical or Muggle, was able to turn them into the white, unblemished hands of a Pureblood lady Mother so wanted her to have.

Five minutes later she knelt in the kitchen garden and took care of the vegetable beds. Thank Merlin it was August, the month everything needed to be harvested, and Marty and his son Monty, the two house elves who took care of the vast gardens of The Rectory, were thankful for every additional pair of hands. She'd have more than enough work to keep her from wanting to think about or - Morgana save her - go after Harry.

While the two elves worked in the orchard, Daphne took care of the vegetable garden. They'd bring the harvest into the kitchen, where Matty and Mipsy, assisted by Kreacher, worked from dusk till dawn to preserve the many fruits and vegetables the garden provided. It was a satisfying work, and it helped to keep her thoughts off Harry, well, at least most of the time. In the evening, she was too tired to care about little more than a shower and a bite to eat, and was fast asleep the moment she put her head on her pillow.

One week passed in this way, and she had yet to freak out about Harry's absence. He'd asked her for some space, and she would give it to him. At least, she ruefully conceded to herself, she did better in the understanding-wife-department than she thought she ever would.

However, when the second week began and almost came to a close without any sign of Harry, her self restraint weakened with each passing day. What was taking him so long? While she was understanding of his need for some space, he was now pushing his luck. A heads up that he was alright would've been nice and surely the least she could expect.

She bit her lips, a frown on her face, while she put her gardening tools away late in the afternoon after she had prepared the last vegetable bed for the new seeds that would go in for the next year. If only Tori were here; she had a good head on her shoulders, and her advice was always spot on. Well, Tori would return in a couple of days. So would Father. She wasn't looking forward to having to explain to him that she somehow had lost her new husband two weeks after the wedding.

Damn it, where was Harry? He knew that Father was going to return any day now, and that they'd both be in a right fix if Harry wasn't at The Rectory then. Should she ask Kreacher to take her to him? However, how would he react if she invaded his privacy?

She closed the door to the garden shed and walked to the gates of the house.

Crack!

At the sound of an Apparition her heart began to hammer in her breast. The ward bell hadn't chimed, which meant it had to be one of four people: Father, Mother, Tori - or Harry.

She almost ran the last twenty yards to the circular place in front of the house.

He stood with his back to her and just put his hand on the handle of the gate to get admittance to the house.

'Harry!'

At the sound of her voice he turned around. Her eyes swept over him: how had he fared during these last two weeks? He didn't seem to have lost any weight, and his skin looked healthy, without any signs of sleep deprivation. Though having said that, his looks couldn't be trusted, he had already proven his aptitude with Glamour Charms and Illusion Charms were above average. She took another, closer look.

No, this was the genuine article, thank Merlin. She let out a huge breath.

Harry watched her approaching him, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans, and with rounded shoulders and shuffling feet.

So he had a guilty conscience about how he treated her? Good! She raised her chin.

'Nice you decided to return home, Potter.' Damn, that came out sharper than she intended. She blew a strand of her hair out of her face. He deserved it, didn't he? He'd left her behind and hadn't given a peep for almost two weeks. He should've known she would worry. On top of that she was hot, sweaty and grubby after a long day of work in the garden, not to mention hungry and thirsty. She had a right to be irritable, didn't she?

Harry's face flushed a deep shade of red. He pulled his hands out of the pockets of his jeans, made a step towards her, and raised his arms.

Daphne's eyes widened. Was he going to hug her?

No, he stopped one step apart from her and put his hands on her upper arms.

'I'm sorry, Daphne. I shouldn't have run away like that. When I saw that article...' He trailed off and bit his lips, his cheeks still tinted.

She deflated at his obvious discomfort. It was a still a tad much to expect he'd discuss his feelings about the news of his girlfriend having left the country with her, wasn't it? Did he blame himself for the actions of the Weaselette? Most likely; he had the irritating habit of taking the blame for every piece of dragon dung that happened in his life, this was obvious as she sat there listening to his hallucinations. Though it was doubtful he had anything to do with the Weaselette's decision, he wouldn't be able to see that; no, when it came to the redhead he was even blinder than usual.

She looked in the emerald green eyes she loved so much; they were dark and troubled. Ice spread in her chest. He wasn't over the Weaselette yet. Would he ever be? Probably not. Forcing him to live with her must be hell on earth for him.

For one week out of four she had lived the impossible dream of being Harry's wife. She should've known this was never meant to be. He had his health back, a considerable amount of gold in his vault, and was now in the position to fend for himself, even if they'd provoke Father's wrath with what she was going to do. She was in the position to ease his pain, and if she loved him as much as she thought she did, she had to let him go, set him free. Her eyes stung with sudden tears, but she blinked them away. He must never know how hard this was on her.

She opened her mouth. 'We have to talk, Harry.'

He nodded and looked as if he was about to reply, however, the chiming of the ward bell, announcing the arrival of a friend of the family, interrupted him.

Crack!

They both turned around to face the Apparition Point. Two people materialised out of thin air.

Daphne's heart sank into the deepest pit of her stomach. Out of everyone in this magically damned world, why did Granger and the Weasel have to chose this moment for their welcome-back visit to Harry?

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

37

No, this couldn't be happening, why did Ron and Hermione have to choose this moment for a visit? Daphne and he needed to talk, he was past overdue to explain his actions to her, especially if her annoyed welcome had been anything to go by.

However, she'd back pedalled after that, said they needed to talk. He couldn't agree more.

Harry cast a look at his wife. How did she take Ron and Hermione's appearance? Her face was stony, like on the day they'd signed their wedding agreement. Even though they'd only spent a short time together, he already knew her well enough to suspect that this expression hid high agitation on her part.

He squeezed her upper arms in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture and let go. 'We'll talk later,' he said in a low voice, and walked toward the Apparition Point to greet his friends.

'Harry!' Hermione cried, and shot towards him like a cannonball. The next moment she grabbed him in a bone crushing hug, and his sight was obscured by masses of bushy, brown hair.

A heavy hand fell on his shoulder. 'Harry, mate, good to see you,' Ron said and joined the hug.

Harry emerged from the group hug a few moments later, a huge smile on his face. 'Why are you guys already back in England? I didn't count on your return before the end of this month.' He looked from Hermione to Ron. They both were tanned and looked relaxed and happy. Hermione had gained the weight she'd lost during the long months on the run, and the dark circles around her eyes that had still been prominent when she left at the end of May were gone.

'Well, it was easier to find my parents and restore their memories as we'd thought before,' Hermione said, and gave him another hug. 'After that, my parents decided they wanted to stay in Australia, so we had a long, nice family time with them until -'

'- until we got your letter that you're going to marry Daphne Greengrass, but without any explanation about why.' Ron finished Hermione's sentence.

Harry cast a look at his best male friend.

Ron scowled, but his ears had a normal shade.

Harry let out a breath. So, Ron wasn't mad, at least not yet.

'It took us some time to get an International Portkey back to England.' Hermione picked up the tale where Ron had left. 'We arrived yesterday, and had a long talk with Mr Weasley and Bill about what had happened.'

Ron gave Harry another slap on the shoulder. 'Yeah; they managed to clean up a few … misconceptions I might have had about why you left Ginny for a second time and married a Slytherin in that hurried fashion.' A slight tinge of pink rose into his cheeks, and the corners of Hermione's mouth twitched.

Merlin bless Mr Weasley and Bill. It seemed they'd stepped in on his and Daphne's behalf and managed to prevent Ron from working himself in a frenzy about his surprise marriage.

He turned around, linked arms with his friends, and led Ron and Hermione over to where Daphne still stood in front of the gate to the house. She looked at them, a smile plastered on her face, though it didn't reach her eyes.

'Hermione, Ron, I don't think you have formerly met Daphne yet. Daphne, these are my oldest and closest friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.'

He held his breath. There weren't many people as different as his two best friends and his wife. How would they react to each other? How much did Ron and Hermione know about the circumstances of his marriage? Even more important, would they hold Cyrus' actions against his daughter?

'There's no need for an introduction, Harry. Gr… Daphne and I have had Runes and Arithmancy together since third year,' Hermione said. She slipped her arm out of his, and the next second Daphne was engulfed in one of Hermione's trademark hugs. She murmured something in Daphne's ear he couldn't understand.

Daphne emerged from Hermione's hug with rather bright eyes and a flushed face. 'Thank you, Hermione,' she said. Her voice sounded choked.

Ron stepped forward. He took Daphne's hand and executed a perfect bow over it. 'My congratulations on your marriage, Daphne.' He kissed Daphne's hand, and then gave her a kiss on the cheek, and also said something to Daphne that Harry again couldn't hear or understand.

Daphne blushed even more. 'Thank you, Ron.'

Harry blinked. Now, who would've thought that? He let out a deep breath. He wouldn't complain that his best friends seemed to have decided to be sensible about his marriage and not to create a scene, though there was no doubt they'd have a lot to say on that matter as soon as they were alone.

'Let's get inside and ask Kreacher to bring us a butterbeer,' he said. 'I don't know about you, but I've worked hard all day long, and I'm parched.'

He opened the gate for his wife and his friends. 'We live in the old coach house,' he said. 'The entrance is left of the main house.'

Ron and Hermione took in their surroundings with big eyes: the well maintained gravelled path, the rows of cypresses that separated the path from the patios behind them, and the colourful flower beds that surrounded the patios. Harry saw how they exchanged a surreptitious glance. He didn't blame them, the opulence of the Greengrass estate had overwhelmed him as well when he saw it for the first time. It was quite the contrast to The Burrow.

'So, you have your own house?' Hermione asked as they walked across the patio to the entrance of The Coach House.

'Yes, thank Merlin,' Harry said, and Daphne nodded.

'The Coach House is traditionally used as the dowager house of my family, or for older, unmarried relatives. Father agreed that Harry and I can live here for the time being.' She evaded Harry's gaze. As soon as they were inside of the house, she excused herself. 'I need to get changed, or I'll drag dirt into the living room,' she said, and pointed at her earth-stained clothes. 'The house elves are still busy preserving the fruits, and don't need the additional work.' She gave them a small wave with her hand and climbed up the stairs.

Harry opened the door to the living room and ushered his friends in. 'Have a seat.' He gestured towards the sumptuous chairs in front of the fireplace.

Ron and Hermione sat down side by side on the loveseat, and looked around. Ron let out a low whistle. 'This is quite the difference to Grimmauld Place or the tent, mate.'

Harry chuckled. 'Tell me about that.' He sat down in a chair opposite of his friends. 'Especially right now. I've spent the last two weeks at Grimmauld Place and cleared away the rubble the Death Eaters left behind.'

Hermione gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth. 'They've vandalised the house after we left?'

'Oh yeah,' Harry said. He leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. 'They did a damned thorough job. There was nothing left except a huge heap of rubble. Even Mrs Black's portrait was reduced to shreds.'

'Not a big loss, if you ask me,' Ron said and put his arm around Hermione's shoulders.

Harry laughed and nodded to that.

Hermione, however, froze. 'What about the library?' she asked in a shaky voice.

The corners of Harry's mouth twitched. Trust Hermione to be concerned about mouldering books, one more horrible than the other. He shook his head. 'I'm sorry, Hermione, they are all gone.'

Hermione's eyes seemed to bulge out of her head. 'Gone?'

'Yeah; Most of them had been burnt or torn apart so I Vanished what was left of them, together with the other rubble.'

She stared at him, mouth agape.

Ron pulled her closer towards him with one arm and grinned at Harry. 'I think you broke her, mate.'

Both young men broke out into laughter.

Their laughter brought Hermione back to her senses. She gave Ron a playful slap and sat upright. 'Quit being complete prats. Besides that, we haven't come here today to talk about the renovation of Grimmauld Place.'

Harry sobered. He should've known his best friends had questions about his surprise marriage and wanted answers.

Hermione cast a look towards the door. 'Will Daphne join us?'

'I doubt it,' Harry said. He and Daphne were still dancing around each other after he'd left that sudden two weeks ago, she wouldn't want his friends to see that; it was against their agreement to keep things between themselves.

'Good,' Hermione said. She drew a deep breath through her nose. 'Will you please set up a Privacy Ward, Harry, if that's possible?'

Harry's heart plummeted into the deepest pit of his stomach. Now the time to justify himself had come. Would his best friends be understanding of his predicament? Or would his marriage cause a serious rift in their friendship? He slipped out his wand and cast 'Muffliato' around them. 'Look -'

Ron held up his hand, palm outwards. 'There's no need to justify yourself, mate. Dad and Bill told us what was at stake, and they also told us about the way Cyrus Greengrass blackmailed you. We won't hold that against you. We also won't hold it against Gr… Daphne. She's from an old Pureblood family, and the children of these families, especially the girls, hardly ever have a say in whom they are going to marry.' A reluctant grin spread across his freckled face. 'On the contrary, we probably ought to be thankful to her that she's willing to put up with a git like you and saved your scrawny arse.'

Hermione elbowed him in the side. 'Language, Ronald!' Her eyes swept over Harry. 'Although I have to say you're not at all scrawny anymore, Harry. Are you alright again? And what happened to your glasses? Did the treatment also take care of your bad eyesight?'

Harry smiled, that barrage of questions was so typical Hermione. 'Yes; I've Vanished my glasses, and yes.' He turned to Ron while Hermione puzzled out his answer. 'Who are you, and what have you done with Ron Weasley?'

Ron laughed and ran a hand through his hair. The tips of his earlobes pinked. 'It's me, mate, and no worries, I can see why you're amazed; I never was the most grown up when it came to things that happened to you and around you during all these years. However, I've learned my lesson when I left you and Hermione during the time on the run. I swore to myself never, ever again to turn my back on you. Of course it helped that dad and Bill explained what happened to you.' His face darkened. 'And there I thought everything would be alright after you got rid of that soul piece of Voldemort.'

A lump formed in Harry's throat. 'Thank you, Ron, I really appreciate this.'

Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand. There was a suspicious brightness in her eyes. 'You know we'll always have your back, Harry.'

Silence descended on the room. The three friends looked at each other, not sure how to go on. Not surprising, it was Hermione who found the obvious solution. 'Why don't you tell us what happened since we left The Burrow from your point of view, Harry?'

Harry straightened in his seat. 'Yeah, I suppose you want to hear the whole story.' He took a deep breath. 'Well, it all started with that owl I got from Cyrus Greengrass a couple of days after you'd left for Australia…'

He talked and talked, and Hermione and Ron listened to him. Sometimes they'd exchange a look and pass a silent message between them he didn't understand - not anymore. He looked at their entwined hands. They'd not only grown close during their time in Australia, they'd also grown apart from him. Oh, they were still his closest friends, there was no doubt about it. However, they had developed a relationship apart from the friendship the three of them shared; he had to get used to that. He clenched his teeth. He was happy for them, they deserved only the best. But it hurt, too. Would he ever have that kind of intimacy with Daphne?

They not once interrupted his talk; that had to be a first. When he finished his story, Ron and Hermione exchanged another silent message. Hermione gave Ron a kiss on the cheek and stood up. 'I think I've seen Daphne in the garden. Why don't you two enjoy some male bonding time while I have some girl talk with her?' She walked to the glass door and slipped out into the garden.

Harry stared after her. What, why wasn't she giving him the third degree about his feelings?

'How are you holding up, mate?'

He jerked his head around. He'd have expected that question from Hermione, but never from Ron.

Ron raised his hand in a placating gesture. 'Easy there, mate. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. However, we both know how Hermione is, and that she'll make you uncomfortable with her nagging questions, so we agreed that I should do the talking.'

Harry shook his head. 'Things really have changed a lot between you guys.'

A broad smile appeared on Ron's face. 'Yeah, it's brilliant.'

Harry made a face at that. 'You know, I'm happy for you two, but please, don't rub it in, will you? At the moment, I'm a trifle sensitive in that regard.'

Ron's face sobered. 'I imagine.' He paused. 'However, there's something I want you to know, mate.'

'That is?'

'I know you're heartbroken about my sister, Harry. You'll get over it, and soon, I'd say. In hindsight, I can tell you that you and Ginny never had what Hermione and I have.'

Harry's head jerked back. 'How would you know?'

Ron gave him a knowing glance. 'You had, what, two, three weeks together during our sixth year? I'd be surprised if you did anything else than snogging and find a way how to get under her shirt, Potter.'

The heat crept in Harry's cheeks, and he didn't dare look at his friend. Of course, Ron was spot on.

'Hermione told me how you obsessed over Ginny's dot on the Marauder's Map. Well, so you must know what happened to her while you were on the run.'

Harry whipped his head around. 'How do you know about that?'

Ron let out a mirthless laugh. 'Hermione and I happened to meet Lavender in Cairns. Turned out that her folks fled to Australia during the war, and she joined them after she had recuperated from the wounds she suffered during the Battle. You know Lavender; she brought us up to speed about all the juicy gossip.' He leaned forward and put his elbows on his thighs. 'The point is, have you and Ginny talked once about her time at Hogwarts after the end of the war? Have you and Ginny talked once about what happened between you and Voldemort in the forest? Have you and Ginny talked once about anything beside Quidditch? Have you ever talked about how you two envision your future life?'

Harry lowered his gaze. Of course not, he'd been so happy everything was over, and she'd been so devastated about Fred's death that he didn't want to bring up additional sad memories. And she was still so young and not ready to talk about a future together -.

A hand on his knee interrupted his musings. He looked up, right into Ron's eyes. There was a lot of understanding in them, just like in Bill's eyes on his wedding day.

'You don't have to tell me, mate. I've watched you and my sister together and know for a fact that your relationship didn't progress one bit after the war. You never made it beyond the snogging stage.' Ron gave him another pat on the knee and straightened. 'That's why I know that your relationship with my sister wouldn't last. If someone's going to become a serious partner, you talk, mate. You never talked to Ginny. You came to Hermione and me with everything that bothered you, but you never turned to Ginny.'

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. Damn, Ron was right. Ginny was fun; he'd loved to fool around with her, and he never wanted to spoil that fun by bringing up the many ugly things being Harry Potter entailed. He hadn't told her about his day at Gringotts, either.

Ron gave him an indulgent smile. 'What about Daphne?' he asked in a soft voice. 'Do you talk to her?'

'Well, we're bound to, or this whole marriage would be an even bigger disaster than it already is.' Harry rubbed his eyes with the balls of his hands, lowered them, and looked at his friend. 'I told you she acted as my anchor while I was under the potion. However, I haven't told you yet that during that time she found out about everything bad that ever happened to me in my life.'

'Bugger!'

Harry let out a harsh laugh. 'Yeah, you can say that again. Well, because of that I was forced to talk to her afterwards. I needed to find out her intentions.'

'I hope you made her take an Unbreakable Vow, mate.'

He shook his head. 'It wasn't necessary. I'm sure Daphne never will betray me.' He still had no idea what Cyrus had used against her to make her agree to his despicable plan, however, ever since their first talk on the balcony of their hotel room in Paris he suspected she might have feelings for him. She'd been so agitated when he'd accused her of using her knowledge for blackmailing him into submission.

'So, you've decided to trust her? A trifle soon for my liking, but given your circumstances, I'd say good for you, mate,' Ron said.

Again, Harry shook his head. 'I have no idea if that's due to Hermione's influence, but you've grown up, mate. You sound more like Bill than like yourself.'

'I have you to know I have a bigger emotional range than of a teaspoon,' Ron said. 'Too bad I never chose to show it.'

They broke out into laughter.

'Those were the days,' Ron said, a reminiscent smile on his face.

'Yeah, the days Voldemort still was after me,' Harry replied. 'Sorry, Ron, but I prefer how things are today, my not-so-willing marriage included.' Again, he rubbed his eyes. 'However, right now I have to find a way how to clean up the mess I've created between Daphne and me when I saw the article about Ginny in The Daily Prophet.'

Ron heaved a big sigh. 'What have you done this time?'

Harry gave him a sheepish grin. 'I Apparated away and stayed at Grimmauld Place for more than a week until I had come to grips about my feelings about Ginny.'

'Typical for you, but I guess Daphne wasn't impressed.' Ron shook his head and got to his feet. 'You'd better talk to her, soon.' He gave Harry a sharp glance. 'And you'd better get over my sister. She wasn't right for you, and we both know it, as much as it pains me to say it.'

Harry returned his glance fair and square. 'I already have, Ron. I've decided to move on and make the best out of my marriage to Daphne.'

A smile crept over Ron's face, and he put his hand on Harry's shoulder. 'I'm happy to hear that, mate. However, it's not me who needs to hear that. Go, and talk to your wife, Harry.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

38

The bower in the middle of the kitchen garden was just the place to hide away. Over the years, hornbeams planted in a circle had formed a cupola, and their thick foliage provided pleasant cool shade. Daphne sat down on the bench in the middle of the bower. The dim, mysterious light was a balm to her frenzied nerves, and she let out a long breath.

She slipped out of her shoes, propped her legs up on the seat of the bench, pulled a Muggle notepad and biro out of the pocket of her red-flowered summer dress, enlarged them and put them on her thighs for better writing. She needed a plan for when she and Harry would inevitably split up.

First thing was to make sure she'd have enough money to pay for five years of education at the magical campus of Canterbury University and her living during that time. She pulled her latest vault statement out of the pocket of her dress, read the number at the bottom and sighed. Even without the dent her shopping spree in Paris had made into her gold, the remaining gold in her vault was just enough to pay the university tuition. It was less than unlikely Father would give her access to the income of the Greengrass heir any longer if she divorced Harry, so she somehow had to get the money to see her through the next five years until she had finished her education.

Although she didn't like it, she had to talk to Harry about money. The yearly sum Father had granted him out of the income of the Potter estate was more than enough to see ten students through five years of university, tuition included. He could lend her the money she needed without problems, even though Father would likely cut him off his money, too, if Harry agreed to her suggestion.

She jotted talk to Harry about loan on her notepad.

What next? There was no way she'd move back into her parents house. Harry was lucky enough to have a house of his own, but she was not that fortunate.

Find a place to stay was the next item on her list.

'I hope I'm not disturbing you,' a female voice interrupted her thoughts.

She looked up. The entrance of the bower was darkened by the silhouette of a girl, black against the bright light of the August afternoon. However, the bushy haired halo standing up around her head was a dead give away.

Daphne forced a smile on her face, closed her notepad and put her feet on the ground. 'Oh, hello Gr… Hermione. I didn't hear you coming.'

Hermione came closer and sat down beside her. 'Your parent's estate is beautiful.'

'Thank you,' Daphne said. What was she supposed to talk about with Gr… Hermione?

'I wanted to thank you once again for saving Harry,' Hermione said.

'It was nothing.'

Hermione smiled. 'I wouldn't call it nothing to marry someone to make sure he has the money for an expensive treatment. But that's not everything you did for Harry, is it?' She bit her lower lip with her teeth and gave her a side glance. 'George and Bill told us about the potion Harry took, and that you acted as his anchor.'

Hermione fiddled with the hem of her shirt, 'Well, I did some quick research this morning. The anchor has to be someone with a deep emotional bond to the patient. Otherwise, the patient will likely die, or so my information tells me. It said the patients magic is in such flux that without an anchor to dampen the effect, the patient's body is overwhelmed and their cells literally breakdown, especially when the body is significantly damaged with dark magic. Or their mind breaks from the horrors that have been inflicted on them, if someone isn't there to sooth them away.'

The bushy haired girl turned her head and looked into her eyes with a piercing gaze. 'You can downplay your own role in Harry's recovery if you want, but when Harry asks me exactly what an anchor does, if he doesn't find out himself, I won't be sugarcoating exactly what it is you have done for him, Daphne. I've talked to Mr Weasley and Bill, and I know how damaged Harry likely was. There are few people who could have done what you did for Harry.'

Oh, great, now Harry's best friend also had found out about her impossible dream. The entire time he had been in that hospital bed all she had done was pray for a chance to show Harry that someone truly cared and loved him. Daphne's cheeks grew warm, and she didn't look at Hermione. 'Your point is?'

A warm hand covered hers. 'You have feelings for Harry, don't you?'

Her cheeks must glow in the dim light of the bower, they were so hot. She still didn't look at Hermione. 'Much good that they do me.' Was that bitter voice hers? It had to be.

Hermione pressed her hand. 'You'd be surprised. Harry has experienced so little friendliness in his life, so he cherishes everyone who is friendly to him. He might not yet have grasped what you did for him to the full extent, but he will soon, and he'll count you among his closest friends.'

Daphne gave a mirthless laugh. 'It's not his friendship that I want, Hermione.'

'Friendship can turn into more.'

'Not as long as the Weaselette is around.'

'Well, it's a good thing she's off to the USA then, and that you're going to be here,' Hermione said. 'Besides that, I doubt you'll have to worry about her in the long run.'

Daphne raised her head and looked at Hermione. 'What do you mean with that?'

Hermione pressed her hand yet another time. 'Harry is very close to me. I don't think there's anyone except maybe Ron who knows him better than I. Harry broke up with Ginny when their relationship was still new, in the honeymoon-phase, so to speak. Ginny hadn't yet done anything majorly wrong that would vex him. On top of that, she acted like a heroine out of a trashy romance novel when he broke up with her, and Harry fell for that, hook, line and sinker. Of course he missed her while we were on the run, but he didn't miss the real Ginny, he missed the picture he had built up in his mind of her. Until the time after the Battle he'd put Ginny on a pedestal and adored her in a way that really wasn't healthy.'

Daphne's stomach flip-flopped. Tori had tried to tell her the same. Tori was very observant, and Hermione knew Harry in a way nobody else did. Could it be they both saw something she wasn't able to see because of her feelings for Harry?

'Ginny took advantage of that. She always wanted Harry, though I'm still not sure if she ever saw anything else in him but the Boy-Who-Lived.' Hermione sighed. 'However, that's not all. You're a Slytherin, so I suppose you know what Ginny did during the war?'

Now it was Daphne's turn to sigh. 'You mean the fact she practically lived in the bedroom of Hogwarts' biggest man-whore from September until the beginning of the Easter holidays? You can't blame her for that, Hermione, you've no idea how it was at Hogwarts during that last year. The Carrows really had it in for her; they would've killed her within the first week of school hadn't he stepped in. He might be rather full of himself and the biggest womaniser I ever met, but he's a good man at heart, that's why he claimed her. To be fair: nobody knows what went on in that bedroom when they closed the door behind themselves.'

Hermione snorted at that. 'For a Slytherin, you're rather naïve.'

'You know, my sister said something like that to me when Father first brought up the idea of a marriage between Harry and me.' Daphne gave Hermione a brief smile. 'I told her that I'm not naïve, but trying to be rational about the situation. I don't want to delude myself with false hope. I did that during the last four weeks, and already it's come back to bite me.'

Her eyes stung, and she lowered her head. She wouldn't break out in tears about Harry in front of his best friend.

Hermione pressed her hand again. 'Do you want to talk about it?'

Daphne startled. Did she want to talk about her problems with Harry to his best friend? To be honest, no, but the whole situation was getting her in over her head; and it would be a relief to unburden herself to someone. Hermione had been nothing but friendly and understanding so far.

She gave Hermione another small smile. 'I don't know if it's a good idea to talk about Harry to you of all people, but I only have a vague idea of when my sister will return, and Merlin knows I need someone to talk to, or I'll go crazy.' She took a deep breath, and told Hermione everything that had happened on the morning after their return from their honeymoon, Harry's reaction to the article about the Weaselette, and finally the decision she had made. 'He'll be forever miserable in this marriage. I can't do that to him, Hermione. Even though my father will probably cast me out of the family for what I'm planning to do, I'm going to divorce Harry as soon as possible and let him make his own choices.'

Hermione gaped at her. 'You're going to do what?'

'I'm going to divorce him.' Daphne let out a tired sigh. 'I would've thought you'd be ecstatic about that.'

'Well, I'm not,' Hermione said, and straightened. 'Daphne Potter, you're an idiot. I can see now what Mr Weasley, Bill and Fleur meant when they told us that you and Harry will make a good match if you ever manage to pull your heads out of the place where the sun never shines. After what you told me about what you're planning on doing, I'll even say you're designed to be with each other. Are you sure the Sorting Hat never considered Gryffindor for you? It's exactly the kind of hairbrained, well-meaning and utterly idiotic gesture Harry would conceive and execute. I tell you now, if you turn your back on Harry, thus throwing away the best man you could ever want to have, and drive him back to Ginny, I'll hex you into the next millennium.'

The blood rushed in Daphne's ears, and her breath caught in her throat. Did she hear right? She blinked, and stared at Hermione, mouth slack. 'Do you… Do you…?'

Hermione scooted closer to her on the bench and put an arm around her. 'I want to see Harry happy, Daphne, but I seriously doubt he'll find that happiness with Ginny; not after what I observed while we all were together at The Burrow after the war, and not after everything Lavender Brown told us about Ginny's exploits during the last year when Ron and I met her in Cairns a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I've ever seen Ron that angry. He loves his little sister to bits, but he also loves Harry, and the thought she might be using Harry has shaken him up pretty bad.'

She gave Daphne a short hug. 'Look, if you're going to divorce Harry right now, he'll no doubt run back to Ginny as soon as he's free. All I ask of you is put back your plan until Harry has had the time to get over Ginny. If your marriage still doesn't work out at that point, you can get divorced then, with my blessing and help.'

Daphne turned her head and looked at Hermione. 'Why are you doing this? I always thought you and Weasley were best friends.'

'Who? Ginny and me?' Hermione burst out into laughter. 'Sorry, but I don't understand why people always think that. Ginny and I have nothing in common, except Harry, and even that is doubtful, considering her attitude towards him. We get along well enough, but she's not anyone I could talk to or confide in.'

She gave Daphne another hug and got up. 'Think about it before you make a rash decision, that's all I ask of you.'

Daphne held her back by the arm. 'Please, don't tell Harry what I told you. I don't want him to know yet what I feel for him; it's too embarrassing, and I don't want him to feel pressured into pretending to feel something for me in return when he actually doesn't.'

'Don't worry, I won't, though I will tell him everything I found out about how the anchor during the treatment is supposed to work if he asks me. And you and I both know that he will ask me at some point. Who knows though, maybe, just maybe, this will be the catalyst that gets him to think about what he could have with you.' With a small wave at Daphne she left the bower.

Daphne leaned back on the bench, closed her eyes, and let out a long sigh. Hermione had given her a lot to think about. She'd had no idea that his closest friend had doubts about Harry's relationship to the Weaselette. This changed everything, didn't it?

She sat like that for a long time, her thoughts running in circles.

After a while, she opened her eyes and sat straight. No, it didn't change anything. It was not Hermione's place to make decisions about Harry's life, it still was up to him. She'd talk to him as soon as Ron and Hermione were gone, and…

Tears welled up in her eyes, and she wiped them away with an impatient gesture of her hand. She'd do nobody a favour if she broke down like a damsel in a bodice ripper novel, like Millicent used to read. 'Get a grip and finish your to-do list,' she admonished herself.

She pulled the notepad to her, opened it and put it on her knees. The biro poised over her short list, she thought of what else to do, but her mind was blank. Her future seemed to loom ahead of her, dark and bleak, and it was impossible to get past that.

'I should've known I'll find you in your hiding place. You always come here when you need to think,' a male voice interrupted her thoughts.

Her head jerked up, her nerveless fingers lost the grip of the biro, and it clattered to the ground.

'Father!'

Where had he come from? She'd been that immersed in her morose thoughts she hadn't heard his footsteps on the gravel of the path. She put the notepad beside her on the bench and went up to give him a dutiful kiss on the cheek in greeting.

He put his arms around her, gave her a small hug, and led her to the bench. His eyes fell on the notepad that still lay opened on the cushion, and his face became hard.

Sudden coldness hit her at the core and spread through her whole body. Damned! Why had she allowed him to catch her by surprise? Why hadn't she thought of closing the notepad? Her head hammered, and she braced herself for what she knew was going to come.

'Don't tell me you're planning on leaving your husband, daughter? The husband that I went to such trouble to arrange?' Father's voice was low and ice cold, and his eyes bore into hers.

She gathered herself, straightened, and reciprocated his cold stare. 'That's exactly what I'm going to do, Father, and you can't do anything to stop it. I was forced to agree to your despicable plan because I saw no other way to help Harry and prevent him from dying. However, you ran out of means to use as leverage, Father. Harry is as healthy as he has ever been in his life and can start training with Auror Academy in the spring, if he still wants to. Among the two of us, Harry and I have enough money to see us through any education we'd like to pursue. It's not in your power to pressure us into an unbearable marriage any longer, Father.'

Father's gaze didn't soften one bit. 'Oh, I think you'll find out that I still have leverage over you, daughter. If you pursue that route of action, I will cast you from the family.'

Daphne didn't even flinch. 'I thought as much. It's your decision to make, Father, as it is my decision to make with whom I'm going to share my life. If you're going to cast me out of the family for defending my freedom, so mote it be.'

Father's face turned ashen. 'I forbid it!'

'You're not in the position to forbid anything any longer, Father.'

He stepped closer and gripped her shoulders. 'Listen, Daphne -.'

'You heard what she said,' came a voice from the entrance of the bower.

They both whirled around.

Harry! Where had he come from that sudden?

Harry left his place at the entrance, stepped beside Daphne, and put his hand on the small of her back.

His silent support bolstered up her resolve, and she stood a little straighter.

'Any decisions that need to be made about this marriage are up to Daphne and I. So, if you would please excuse us, sir?' Harry said, and made an unmistakable gesture with his head towards the entrance of the bower.

Father's eyes went wide. For a brief moment he looked as if he was going to lash out at Harry, but another look at Harry seemed to make him think better of that.

She couldn't blame him on that; power radiated from Harry in almost palpable waves. Her skin tingled where he held his hand on her back, and his magic seemed to permeate her skin and mingle with her blood.

Father nodded, pressed his lips into a thin line, and left the bower.

Daphne and Harry stood still and listened until his steps faded away.

Harry's hand on the small of her back propelled Daphne back to the bench. He sat down, took her hand and pulled her beside him.

The feeling of loss when he pulled his hand away made her breath hitch. Damned, what did he do to her? She was going to break up with him, but she'd never be able to do so if a simple touch of his hand made her feel so… so complete. She looked up to him. 'How much did you hear?'

'Every word you spoke since your father entered here.' He slipped his wand out of its holster and cast a silent Muffliato, she recognised the spell by the movement. 'Now we can talk in private.' He picked up the notepad that lay between them and read the two lines she'd written.

Daphne held her breath. What would he say to her plan?

He looked up from the notepad and gave her a small smile. 'You're as thorough as Hermione in your preparations.'

'How would you know? I haven't come far yet.'

'No, but I recognise an organised mind when I see one,' he said, closed the notepad, and put it on the ground. He turned around and took both of her hands into his.

'Look, Daphne, I'm the last person in the world who wants to hold you in this marriage against your will. If a divorce is what you want, I'll back you and help you in any way I can to deal with the repercussions. However…' He trailed off and took a deep breath. 'I want you to think carefully about your decision. Don't rush into it, that's all I ask of you. Your father's threat to cast you out isn't something to be taken lightly. In the time we spent together, at least whilst we were in France, you've told me a lot about your family, and I know how much you love them, all of them, even your father.'

He paused and bit his lips. 'I grew up without a family, Daphne. Believe me, being alone is hell and not something that I would wish on anyone. Don't throw away something you cherish that much on my behalf.'

His words went straight to her heart. Tears welled up in her eyes, and this time it was impossible to blink them away.

'I'm not who you wanted.' She blurted out the first thought that came to her mind, and bit her tongue. A fine Slytherin she was!

'No, that's true, you aren't. But in the end, you might be who I need, and who knows what else we might discover about each other along the way.'

A jolt went through her body, and she caught her breath. Did he mean what he just said? Didn't he want to get out of this marriage? 'What do you mean by that?'

He pressed her hands, and again his magic seemed to connect with her.

'Well, I've thought a lot ever since I left you in such a hasty fashion.' He quirked her an ironic eyebrow, and she couldn't help the small snort that escaped her. 'I had no idea that I'm part-owner of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products. At the moment it's about all I have from my family, and so keeping the company alive and prosperous is very important to me. However, unlike you, I wasn't raised to lead a company, and thus I'm dependent on your help and the help of your father.

'If we get a divorce, things are going to become awkward between our families. I'd be the cause of the rift in your family; your father will resent that, and so will you, most likely, as soon as you've calmed down. That'll be detrimental to the prosperity of our company, I'd say. However, that's not all.'

Harry took a deep breath. 'I don't like it at all, but Mr Weasley was right when he said one day I'll hold a position in our society like Dumbledore did. It's already beginning; I can see it in people's faces when I talk to them, I can see in the way they stand when they are talking to me, testing me, wondering about my thoughts on a plethora of subjects that I know nothing about. Well, unlike Dumbledore I won't try to find the middle ground that suits everybody including the vocal minority. I'm not planning on sitting back, twiddling my thumbs and bemoaning the state of our magical society. I want change, and I'm going to use my name and my fame to make it happen.'

Daphne's eyes never left his face. Her heart hammered in her breast. Was this the silver lining she'd prayed for?

'I need your help to achieve my goals, Daphne. You have the connections to the moderate Purebloods I need to get on board, and your family has a hereditary seat on the Wizengamot through which I can potentially broadcast my ideas. I doubt your father will be averse to the idea of supporting me in these matters; On the contrary, it would be to his advantage to be known as a close confidante of the Man-Who-Conquered.'

He paused. 'And there's yet another thought that occurred to me after I talked to Ron today. Our wedding day wasn't among my worst memories, right?'

She nodded her head. Where was he going with that?

He gave her his devastating smile, and her heartbeat sped up. 'I think that counts for something, don't you agree? So, what do you say, Daphne? Will you forgive me for running away and not talking to you? Are you willing to give our marriage another try?'

He had to hear her heart, it was thumping so loudly it was deafening in her ears. Was she willing to give their marriage another try? Of course she was; this was what she'd hoped for: a reason to stay with him and not to apply for divorce, a chance to show him that she was worth his time. On top of it, he had asked her to stay, he wanted to continue the marriage. Was Hermione right, after all? Were his feelings for the Weaselette not what she always thought? Only time could tell, but she'd be an idiot if she let him go.

She took a deep, shaky breath. 'Yes, I am.'

His face lit up. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. 'Thank you, Daphne. You have no idea what it means to me, especially after the way I treated you during the last two weeks.'

'It hurt me Harry, it hurt me a lot when you just apparated away, I thought …' she shook her head; it wouldn't help to bring this stuff up, but she had to say something. 'I won't deny that you've hurt me, Harry. Please, don't let something like that ever happen again. If you have problems coping, talk to me, but don't run away.'

He gave her a sheepish grin. 'You know, Ron said the same. If two people as different as my best friend and my wife agree on something, I'd better listen.'

A broad smile spread on her face. 'I knew there's hope for you, Potter. Keep that up, and we'll get along fine.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

39

The Quidditch stadium and training grounds of the Taos Tornados were located in an unplottable valley of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, and warded against Muggles with countless Muggle-Repelling-Charms and Notice-Me-Not Charms, on top of the amazing protection the resident population of Native American wizards and witches had cast on the place.

The sun had just risen over the mountain tops and sent long, golden rays of light on the gigantic stadium when Ginny mounted her broom - a new Nimbus 3000, courtesy of the sponsor of the Tornados - and started her daily warm-up flying before practise. There'd be a training for the whole team after this, and special training units for the chasers in the late afternoon, when the sun was descending and it wasn't that frigging hot anymore.

She was halfway through her usual routine when she saw one of her teammates and co-chasers, Clay Cheevers, coming into the stadium, accompanied by two young men she hadn't met yet. Blonde and broad-shouldered Clay was at the age of twenty-two the only other unmarried player of the team beside her, and he had taken it upon himself to show her around and introduce her to his friends.

Not that she minded, just the contrary. Clay was from a very wealthy family, and was used to moving in the upper echelon of US magical society from early in his childhood. He was also known as an easy-going, friendly fellow, who would go out of his way for his teammates. That was one of the reasons they'd chosen the Taos Tornados: Clay was her ticket to the upper class of her new home country.

Clay waved at her with both arms. She did a final barrel roll and brought her broom down to land next to the three young men. She pulled her hair band out of her hair and shook her long, red mane. In the early morning sun it gleamed and sparkled like silken flames. From the corner of her eyes she cast a surreptitious look at the three young men. Their eyes were glued to her. Excellent, three potential candidates attracted. Now she only had to pick out the biggest fish among them and got him hooked.

'Morning, Clay! Do you want to get me into trouble with the trainer already that you disrupt my warm up?'

Clay laughed in response. 'Nah, old Willy wouldn't mind, I'm sure. I wanted to introduce two of my classmates to you. Ginny, meet Alexander Carrington and Elias Frudge. We shared a room at school for longer than I care to admit. Boys, this is our new star chaser, the amazing Ginevra Weasley.'

Alexander Carrington and Elias Frudge. Ginny mentally went through the record cards they had prepared before her move to the States that enlisted the potential candidates, their estimated wealth and their background.

At the name Carrington her inner alarm bell rang. Sure, they were an old and extremely rich family, but also ardent Pureblood supremacists, though the stance of the youngest scion of the house on that matter was not yet determined by the public. She'd treat him friendly, but keep her distance. Besides that, he wasn't much to look at: mouse coloured hair, eyes of a nondescript colour, somewhere between grey and brown, and a abysmal posture. On top of it he wasn't much taller than her.

Now, Elias Frudge on the other hand… His family was even richer than the Carringtons, and Elias was already the head of his house after his father died in a Muggle car accident a few years after his birth. Last year he had also lost his mother. Maybe she could comfort him? It wouldn't be much of a sacrifice on her part; he was extremely good looking, tall, with broad shoulders and a mop of wavy auburn coloured hair and dazzling blue eyes. Just as she liked her men, and not such a scrawny, small assortment of bones like Harry.

She held her hand out to the two young men and put on her most charming smile. 'Mr Carrington, Mr Frudge, it's a pleasure to meet you.'

They both bowed over her hand and kissed her knuckles, Carrington first, then Frudge. Carrington turned away after that and began a conversation with Clay.

Frudge offered her his arm. 'May I escort you to the cafeteria, Miss Weasley? You must be parched after your early training.'

She put the tips of her fingers on his arm. 'Thank you, Mr Frudge, that's very considerate of you. But please, call me Ginny.'

'Oh, in that case you must call me Elias, Ginny.'

He led her to the cafeteria, and Ginny let out a silent crow of triumph. Elias Frudge didn't know it yet, but he'd fall for her, fast and hard, or her name wasn't Ginevra Weasley.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

40

Matty was waiting for them when they returned to the house.

'Mistress Isa ask Miss Daffy and the great Master Harry Potter over for dinner tonight.'

Harry's stomach clenched. Was there a way to avoid that? He exchanged a look with his wife. Her face had turned into a stony mask, and her eyes were dull, almost grey.

'Must we?' he asked.

She made a face and nodded. 'I'm afraid we must.'

'Ugh.' A dinner with Cyrus was the last thing he wanted right now.

She gave him a wry smile, squared her shoulders and turned to Matty. 'Please, tell Mother we will be over at seven.'

'Yes, Miss Daffy,' the elf replied and Apparated away.

Daphne looked at her wristwatch and then at Harry. 'You'd better hurry to take a shower and change, Harry. You look and, excuse me, smell as if you'd worked on a building site all day long.'

'Oops, sorry.' He gave her a rueful smile. 'That's because I have.'

She frowned. 'You've what?'

'I'll explain later,' he told her over his shoulder, already on his way out of the living room.

He took a quick shower and dressed in a pair of light summer slacks and a button down shirt. Daphne was still in the living room when he came down. She sat on the sofa, lent back, her legs crossed, and staring into the air ahead of her with unfocused eyes, her brows furrowed and her chin in her hand.

His chest tightened, and he bit his lips. This was all his fault. He hadn't been able to hide from her how much the article about Ginny had upset him. On top of it, he hadn't explained himself, but left her, and as a result she had come to the wrong conclusion about his motivations.

She'd risen even more in his esteem today; he'd already held her in high esteem for what he suspected she'd done for him, but he didn't dare think about what it must have cost her to offer him divorce, sound in the knowledge that her father would disown her. Thank Merlin he'd managed to talk her out of that notion. There was no doubt that Cyrus would have acted upon his word and disowned her. There also was no doubt she wouldn't have been able to deal with losing her family in the long run. And yet she'd been determined to face that destiny because she thought it would make him happy.

At the sound of his steps she looked up.

He held his hand out to her. 'Are you ready to face the music?'

She took his hand and got up. 'Not at all. Father is most displeased with me and will want to give me a piece of his mind.'

He tensed. 'He's not in a place to judge us. He forced us into this marriage, so he should've expected we'd have a hard time trying to adjust and that we would hit a rough patch sooner or later.'

'Oh, he did, Harry, he did. However, you have no idea how marriages are handled in Pureblood circles. Arranged marriages are still the norm. We girls are raised for that and expected to do our duty. I rebelled against my duty as your wife and a daughter of the House of Greengrass, and that's a huge offense in Father's eyes.'

Harry's pulse sped up, and his face went hot. 'What a bullshit.'

He was rewarded with a soft giggle from his wife, and intertwined his fingers with hers. 'Don't worry, Daph, I won't allow him to harass you.'

She seemed to blush at his words. 'Thank you, Harry.'

They left their house and walked across their patio to the adjoining patio in front of the breakfast room of The Rectory.

'So, will you tell me what you've been up to during the last two weeks?' Daphne asked, her hand still in his. 'All Kreacher told me was that you were in your house. I suppose he meant the house your godfather left to you?'

He startled and gave a small laugh. 'You know, it's still hard to get used to the fact you know almost everything about me and I don't have to tell you much.'

'I know only the bad memories. You still have to tell me the good ones.'

There must have been something in his face or his body language that gave him away, for she stopped in her tracks and gasped. 'No… You can't be serious. You must have at least a few good memories.' She stared at him with wide eyes.

'I'm Harry. Sirius was my godfather,' he said in a deadpan voice, and got a light slap on his arm for that from his wife right away.

'Quit making jokes, Harry! You must have some good memories.' She blinked.

Were there tears in her eyes? Merlin, he had a knack for making his wife uncomfortable, hadn't he? So much for his resolve to make things between Daphne and him work.

He pulled his hand out of hers and gave her a small, one armed hug. She didn't resist; her body moulded into his in a very pleasant way.

'Sorry, Daphne, I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. Yes, there are some good memories, though very few and very far in between, at least it seems so to me.' He let go of her and took her hand again.

She turned her head around to him. A faint blush dusted her cheeks. 'Will you tell me about them?'

'If you like.'

She pressed his hand. 'I'd love to hear them.'

They had reached the arch between the cypresses that led to the patio in front of the breakfast room. He looked around.

Delicate wicker chairs, decorated with colourful cushions, stood around a massive, wooden table. A huge sunshade cast a pleasant shadow over the table that was already set with colourful placemats and matching china and glasses. A jug, filled with sunflowers, stood in the middle of the table.

The French doors to the breakfast room stood open and allowed him a glimpse on rattan chairs around a round table and an abundance of orchids. He could see Matty and another house elf who looked like a younger version of her through the window of the adjoining kitchen.

A heavenly smell wafted through the open doors, and his stomach reacted with an appreciative growl. Daphne's stomach followed only seconds later. Harry grinned at her. 'I hope your elves hurry up with dinner. I don't want to deal with a grumpy wife on top of everything today.'

She gave him a small shove with her shoulder. 'I resent that, Potter.'

'So you already found out about Daph's dirty little secret, Harry?' an amused voice interrupted their banter. They turned around.

Tori moved her wheelchair around the corner of the west wing of the house. He knew from what Daphne had told him about the layout of the house and grounds that a path led from the patio around the west wing into the park. Cyrus followed right behind her, Isabella on his arm.

At the sight of Daphne, Isabella gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth. 'Daphne! What have you done to your beautiful hair?'

'You look great, sis,' Tori said at the same time.

'Your skirt is too short,' Cyrus said.

'I don't think so,' Harry said to Daphne in a low voice, winked at her, and gave a pointed look at her legs that were advertised by the rather short, flaring skirt of her red-flowered, sleeveless summer dress and a pair of high heeled sandals.

A small giggle escaped Daphne's mouth, though she blushed. She twirled a lock of her hair around her finger and turned around to her mother. 'Don't you like it? Fleur told me it's the latest Muggle fashion, and all the girls are getting what they are calling the Rachel hairstyle.'

Isabella stepped to her daughter and pulled her into a hug. 'You know that long hair is the most becoming asset of a girl, Daphne. I'm sure Harry is most displeased with you that you cut off your hair.'

Merlin, Daphne hadn't exaggerated when she told him about her parents. Isabella seemed not yet to have caught on that they were approaching the next turn of the century, and that fashion had changed quite a bit since the last. Besides that, Daphne had a couple of other, most attractive assets, her hair being the least of them.

'Actually, I think Daphne looks great,' he said, and rolled his eyes at his wife behind Isabella's back.

Isabella turned towards him and hugged him. 'If you say so, Harry.'

She let go of him, and he bent down to give Tori a hug.

'Don't let Mother and Father get at you. They are more than a trifle old fashioned,' she said into his ear.

He straightened and winked a thanks at her. Of his in-laws, he liked Tori best. She had a wicked sense of humour, and if she felt any resentment about the illness that was going to kill her at a very young age, she never let on.

'Daphne, I like to have a word with you before dinner.' Cyrus' voice cut into his greetings with Tori.

Harry turned to his wife. She had turned pale, and the look on her face was the look of a deer caught in the lights of the approaching car. He stepped beside her and put his hand on the small of her back to assure her. His hand tingled where he touched her. 'If this is about the talk we had in the bower, sir, I don't think that's necessary. I've said everything that needs to be said on the subject, and I'm sure Daphne shares my opinion.'

Daphne leaned towards his touch, and she nodded.

He increased the pressure of his hand against her back. The tingling intensified. He'd be damned if he let Cyrus walk all over Daphne and harass her even more than he already had.

Cyrus looked from him to Daphne and back with flashing eyes, and pressed his lips into a hard, thin line. 'I see,' he said, and held a chair out for his wife.

Daphne swayed, and Harry slipped his arm around her waist and held her to offer his support. She turned her head and gave him a weak smile, to which he answered with a soft squeeze, and then helped her to sit down in the chair he held out for her.

He was well aware of the questioning looks Isabella and Tori cast at him and Daphne, and of the frown that still marred Cyrus' face when he took his seat beside his wife, but he ignored them. He'd promised Daphne to back her up in any confrontation with her father, and that was what he was going to do. Under the cover of the table he grabbed for Daphne's hand she had clenched into the skirt of her dress, and pressed it lightly.

She turned her head and mouthed a silent 'Thank you' at him.

Matty relieved the tension by serving the first course, and Isabella and Tori added to that by asking about their honeymoon in Paris during the meal. However, the meal was one of the most uncomfortable he had ever had, his meals at the Dursleys included, and that was saying something.

Daphne's shoulders slumped when her parents and sister went into the house much later that night, and they walked back to their own house. 'Thank you for supporting me, Harry.'

She looked worn, the evening under Cyrus' disapproving stare had got to her, and she'd barely eaten anything of the delicious food they'd been served.

He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring hug. 'It's yours when you need it, besides, it seems it's in the job description of a husband, you know. At least that's what I've been told.'

She laughed and leaned her head against his shoulder.

A slight tingle went through his body. He looked down at her blonde head; this was nice, he could easily get used to this.

The light scent of lavender from the flower beds that surrounded the patio hung in the air as they ambled back to their house through the warm summer night. In silent, but mutual agreement they settled down on the big sofa in the living room. There really was no reason to pull away his arm; Daphne fit in just right.

'Kreacher,' he called.

Daphne gave him a questioning side glance. He grinned at her.

Plop!

'How can Kreacher serve Mistress and Master?'

'Kreacher, can you nick some of the delicious blackberry pie and ice cream we had for dessert at the main house? Your mistress wasn't able to do it justice during dinner.'

Kreacher nodded and Apparated away. Seconds later he appeared again and put a plate with an enormous slice of pie and ice cream on the coffee table in front of Daphne.

She let out a delighted little scream, scooped up the plate and the spoon and took a bite. 'Mhmmm!' she said with closed eyes, and let herself sink back against Harry. She swallowed, turned her head, and gave him a small peck on the cheek. 'You know, for a new and rather unwilling groom you're doing very well in the husband department.'

His cheek tingled from the sensation of her lips on his skin, and his face grew warm. He grinned down at her. 'That's pure self-preservation, my dear wife. Merlin knows what you'll do to me if I don't feed you properly.'

She didn't deign him an answer and continued devouring her dessert in a manner that would have given her mother a fit.


The rest of the summer went by in a blur.

The next morning he showed Grimmauld Place number twelve to Daphne. Side by side they wandered through the house, and he told her about the Christmas break he'd spent here with Sirius.

'It was the only time we got to spend more than a couple of hours together,' he said. Their footsteps echoed in the bare house. 'However, it wasn't enough, and we hardly ever had the time for an undisturbed talk.'

'Why's that?' she asked.

'Well, the Weasleys stayed here. You've heard my memory about how Mr Weasley got bitten by Voldemort's pet snake at the Ministry?'

She shuddered and nodded to that.

'They stayed with us to be near him while he was at St Mungo's. Mrs Weasley didn't trust Sirius at all. Back then, I thought it was because she still believed he betrayed my parents and killed all these Muggles. Nowadays, I'm not so sure anymore.'

Daphne looked up in his face with furrowed eyebrows.

'I think it's because she thought him irresponsible when it came to me. He didn't act like a man in his mid-thirties, you know? Sometimes, he still behaved like a teenager. I remember at one point Remus warned him of not taking me for my father.'

She had nestled her hand into his when he began to tell her his memories about Sirius, and now pressed his hand lightly. 'That's probably due to his time in Azkaban. He was thrown into jail at the age of twenty-one, and had no contact to other human beings except of the wardens. How was he supposed to make the experiences other men of his age made? To fall in love, marry, start a family, or simply start rising through the ranks in the job he'd chosen?'

Harry stopped in his tracks and stared at her. 'You know, that thought never occurred to me.' He smiled and returned the pressure of her hand. 'You're a very insightful woman.'

She blushed at his praise. Come to think of that, she always did when he said something nice to her, and she also looked rather cute when she did so. Perhaps he should say more nice things to her…

'Of course, Mrs Weasley's attempts to keep me away from Sirius vexed me to no end. Merlin, I was a teenager, and I thought him cool. Besides that, he was the only thing close -' He broke off and bit his lips. No, it was too embarrassing to admit to his longing for a father.

'He was the only thing close to a father you ever had,' Daphne said in a low voice, finishing the sentence for him.

His sight blurred, and his throat constricted, so he just nodded.

Daphne slid her arm around his and squeezed it lightly. She didn't say a word, but melted against his side. Warmth spread through his body and soothed him, like balm on an open wound. The pressure in his throat subsided.

They didn't talk much anymore until they reached the conservatory on the flat roof top.

'This is beautiful,' Daphne said. She held the two sides of the doorframe with her hands and looked into the conservatory. 'This is a wonderful room to have tea or read a book during the cold months, and feel as if you're miles away from the city.' She pushed herself off the doorframe, turned around to Harry, and linked arms with him. 'You know, this would be a good place to start a family after we've finished our education. There are ten bedrooms here, enough for a Weasley sized family,' - she winked at him - 'and the room behind the kitchen at the back of the house would make a wonderful family room. Not to mention that the garden is huge for a house in London.'

The heat crept into his face; they hadn't even kissed yet, let alone done anything that harboured the remote chance to lead to the heir Cyrus hoped for. However, he had to agree. 'Yeah, and the house has the additional advantage to be unplottable and under a Fidelius Charm.'

'So Father can't get in,' she said, and nodded.

'That wasn't what I meant,' he said, and the heat crept in his cheeks. Could she tell he was lying? Yes, she could.

The corners of her mouth twitched. 'Liar. It was what you thought. Though I agree.'

They laughed, and neither Cyrus nor their future family were mentioned again that day. Instead, they Apparated to a remote place at the Cornish Coast and had a long walk with the sun on their faces and the wind in their hair. They had a late dinner at a historical inn with a huge fireplace, a low, beamed ceiling and lots of copper pans and other copper kitchen utensils hanging at the walls. Afterwards, they lingered over a bottle of wine and talked.

It had become their habit when they were out together to hold hands across the table, even when they were in the Muggle world, always mindful of the odd wizard or witch who might see them. Today, however, it no longer seemed that much of an obligation, and he'd studied her hand in his for the last couple of minutes.

Her fingers were so tiny and frail next to his, but surprisingly strong and calloused from her gardening. There were still faint traces of dirt under her short fingernails that she hadn't been able to scrub away. Who would've thought that his well-groomed Pureblood wife liked to burrow her hands in the earth like a mole? He definitely needed to introduce her to Neville.

'Harry, why don't we get Grimmauld Place ready right now?' Daphne asked.

'Huh?' Her question startled him out of the contemplation of her hand. He looked up.

She leaned forward; her eyes shone, and her free hand fiddled with the stem of her wine glass. She raised her hand and pushed a strand of her hair out of her face. 'I mean, you've seen how Father is. Don't think that this will be the last time he tries to meddle with our affairs, even though you've put him in his place. He'll try again; I know him, it's how he is, he is nothing if not persistent.' She bit on her lower lip and went on. 'I think it'll be good to have a place to escape to if he becomes unbearable.'

Harry gaped at her. Was she serious? She almost bounced in her chair as she waited for his response with an expectant smile on her face.

'You might be on to something.'

Her smile broadened, and she squeezed his hand. 'I knew you'd agree.'

'Hold your Hippogriffs.' He raised his hand to caution her. 'Won't he cast you out for that step, too?' He picked up his glass and took a sip. His breath caught at the devious expression in her eyes: all of a sudden he knew why she had been sorted into Slytherin.

'No, and that's the beauty of it. He can't blame me on following the orders of my husband.'

'What?' Harry choked at his wine and coughed. He took another sip to clear his throat and looked at her with watery eyes. 'Thank you very much, Mrs Potter. Will you always feed me to the wolves if it suits your purpose?'

'You can handle him,' she said, not at all impressed by his dilemma.

He shook his head at her, but laughed nevertheless. Yes, her idea had merits, but…

'Do we have enough money to bring the house into order? And assumed we're going to tell your father to shove it at one point, do we have enough money to get us through our education? Remember, in that case we'll most likely have to wait until I'm thirty to get access to the estate.'

Daphne rubbed her brow with a finger and shook her head at him. 'Uh… Harry… Did you ever read the vault statement Father gave you?'

'Yes, I did. However, I have no idea about the cost of things, so I wouldn't know whether it's enough or not.'

'It's more than enough to set the house to order and get us through any education we'd like to pursue.' She smiled at him. 'So, what do you think of my suggestion?'

He returned her smile and pressed her hand lightly. Warmth spread from their linked fingers up his arm and then through his whole body. 'I think it's brilliant.'


Over the next two weeks they spent every spare minute of the day at Grimmauld Place. With Kreacher's help, they put new plaster and wall paper on the walls, polished the floor boards in all the rooms, and even installed new bathrooms. It was hard work, but had the added bonus to keep them away from The Rectory and forestall any further attempts Cyrus might want to make to meddle with their marriage. Not to mention he was having fun working together with Daphne.

She insisted that they interrupt their work on the house for a day and spend it in Diagon Alley, where she talked him into getting measured for new robes at Twillfitt and Tattlings. They had an early dinner afterwards at the only restaurant in the alley, their first appearance as a married couple in the magical world.

They'd planned that performance ahead, and he liked to think he did very well. Daphne had instructed him about how to behave, so he'd offered her his arm, held doors open for her and kissed her hand and cheek at every opportune moment. That hadn't proved to be too onerous for him, either. Her cheeks were velvety soft under his lips, and the spicy fragrance she wore was growing on him. Of course, Daphne had also played her part, and clung to him in a way he didn't mind at all.

They were found out by Rita Skeeter's spies - no surprise there -, and the next morning The Daily Prophet featured a story about them, together with a rather blurred paparazzi photo. In the wake of that story Skeeter earned at least a month's rent by writing additional articles that speculated about the state of their marriage.

'You know, I had no idea you're secretly in love with one Raoul Dubois,' he said at breakfast three days after their visit in Diagon Alley, and turned the page of The Daily Prophet in search of something more interesting to read.

Daphne almost choked on the bite of sausage she had just taken. 'I'm what?' She gave a wheezing breath, coughed, and took a sip of tea to clear her throat. 'Merlin, Harry, if you want to get rid of me, there are easier ways than springing such nonsense at me and hope I'll choke to death.'

'Well, it says so in the Prophet,' he said, and grinned at her over the edge of the newspaper. 'If it's in the paper, it must be true, don't you think?'

'Prat. And I'm going to kill Skeeter. Raoul was my date for the Yule Ball. He was a smarmy git who used every trick in the book trying to get into my knickers.'

He wriggled his eyebrows at her from behind the newspaper. 'Was he successful? If yes, do you think he'll share the secrets of his success with me?'

She narrowed her eyes at him. 'Don't push your luck, Potter.'

Indeed, she was cute when she was riled up. However, during the last weeks he'd also learned not to push her too far. She was way too proficient with the Pinching Hex for his taste, and could even cast it without a wand, something he'd found out after one of their light hearted banters had ended in a mock duel and he had disarmed her with his trademark spell. He hadn't been able to sit without Numbing Charms on his derriere for the rest of the day.

She was right, it was better for him to stop here and now. He changed the topic. 'At least your father left us alone.'

'He's afraid of you,' Daphne said with a straight face, and cut off another piece of her sausage.

Harry lowered the newspaper. His eyebrows must reach his hairline, he was sure. 'Afraid of me?'

Daphne chewed, nodded, and swallowed. She took a sip of tea to clear her throat. 'Of course,' she said, putting the teacup back onto the saucer. 'Father might have had the upper hand while you were ill and weak, but that has changed. You can hex him into the next millennium, and he knows that ever since our encounter in the bower. You're the Vanquisher-of-Voldemort. No wizard or witch in their own mind would dare to mess with you.'

'Except for my own wife,' he said, and ducked back behind his newspaper just in time to avoid the piece of toast she threw at him.

He lowered the newspaper and glared at her, though the corners of his mouth twitched. She responded to his fake glare with an angelic smile.

The peck of an owl at the kitchen window interrupted what might have led to another painful Pinching Hex to the buttocks for him. Daphne went to the window to claim the letter, but as soon as she had opened the window, an excitable ball of feathers zoomed over her head and into the kitchen, where it circled just below the beamed ceiling, very much like the wind-up aeroplane Dudley got for his fifth birthday and which he'd managed to destroy on its maiden flight through the backyard.

Daphne gaped at the owl over her shoulder, her hand still on the frame of the open window.

Harry grinned and pointed his wand at the circling owl. 'Accio, Pig.'

The owl let out a startled squeak and zoomed straight into his outstretched hand.

'Pig?' Daphne asked, and closed the window. Her voice had raised at least one octave.

'It's Ron's owl,' he said, his attention focussed on the wriggling owl. Damned, Pig was even worse than an eel. How was he supposed to remove the letter from the owl's leg if it fluttered like mad?

Daphne snorted and sat down again. 'I should've known that, only a Weasley could own such a crazy familiar.'

He only nodded to that, Pig left him no room for distractions. Finally! He let go of the bird, and Pig at once fluttered over to the kitchen counter where he settled down and preened as if he'd just delivered a letter in the most stately manner.

Harry opened the letter and read it. 'It's a joint letter from Ron and Hermione,' he said, and looked up to his wife. 'They want us to meet them at The Delhi Tulip, an Indian restaurant in Ottery Saint Mary. Hermione wants to spend an evening with us before she heads back to Hogwarts to repeat her seventh year.'

She didn't answer at once. Instead, she lowered her gaze to her plate and worried her lower lips between her teeth.

'Daphne? Is something wrong?'

She looked up. 'Are you sure they want me to tag along?'

She had a point there. Before Ron and Hermione's surprise visit he'd also have had his doubts. However, they'd both been sensible about his marriage, and Ron, of all people, had even advised him how to overcome the awkward situation with Daphne. He folded the letter and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans.

'Yes, I'm sure they want to see you, or they wouldn't have said it.'

She still bit her lips. 'Even so, you haven't seen each other for months. You must have a lot to talk about you feel uncomfortable to share with an outsider.' She shook her head and smiled at him. 'No, Harry, go alone and enjoy some quality time with your friends.'

His face went slack. They'd spent so much time together during the last couple of weeks that it was somehow wrong not to have her with him. Or… Didn't she want to be with them… him? His breath hitched.

'Alright,' he said. His voice sounded less than enthusiastic.

She must've heard it, too, for she raised her head from the toast she just prepared, and gave him a small smile. 'I'll visit with Tori tonight. I've neglected her a bit since our wedding, and besides she'll also be off to Hogwarts next week.'

He shifted in his seat. Merlin, he was such an egotistical and insensitive prat; he'd hogged all her time over the last couple of weeks, without once thinking she might like to spend time with her sister, a sister she was incredibly close to. The pressure in his chest vanished, and he smiled at her. 'Alright, I'll miss you though.'

That had been out before he thought about it. Now she must think him a possessive git. His face grew warm.

Her head jerked up; she gaped at him, then slowly a broad smile spread over her face.

'I'll miss you, too.'

His heart made a flip-flop, and the corners of his mouth turned up until his smile matched hers. They looked at each other for a long moment; the smile still stayed on his face when he returned behind his newspaper.


Harry entered The Delhi Tulip, stopped in his tracks and blinked a couple of times. This place looked the way he'd always imagined Aladdin's cave would. A big crystal chandelier, suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room, cast a golden, glittering light over the scene, colourful silk drapes hung from the chandelier to the sides of the room and transformated what was a former country pub into a luxurious tent. The impression was only enhanced by the huge oriental carpet that covered the floor, and the red, velvet-covered chairs and benches around oval tables made out of a gleaming dark wood. There were brass bowls and other exotic looking knicknacks everywhere. Drifting over everything there was the inviting smell of the exotic and spicy Indian food. His stomach gave an appreciative growl; he and Daphne had spent the day shopping furniture for Grimmauld Place, and he had worked up quite an appetite.

Ron and Hermione waved at him from a table in a corner of the room.

'Where's Daphne?' Hermione asked, as soon as the greetings were over and he'd slipped into the bench opposite of his friends.

'She told me to give you her best, however, she insisted that I should meet you alone tonight, firstly because we haven't seen each other in ages and need to have some quality time, and secondly because I have been monopolising her time; she is spending some quality time with her sister before she too heads back to Hogwarts.'

Hermione's face slacked. 'Oh.' She shifted in her seat. 'Pity! I would've loved to get to know her better.'

He blinked. Now, who would've thought that? 'Would you?'

'What's so surprising about that?' Hermione asked. 'I put up with you two for seven years, and eventually would love to have some female support against the two of you.'

Harry gave a small laugh. 'You had Ginny,' he replied. Hermione and Ginny always had been best friends, hadn't they?

Hermione exchanged one of these looks with Ron. It was Ron who answered.

'Er … well … mate, Hermione and Ginny, they're kinda as different as you could get. All they had in common was you and me, mate.'

He bit his lips. Ron was right if he looked at it from this point of view. He'd never given the relationship of the two girls much thought, had always assumed they were best friends because they often were in each other's company… What else had not been like he thought it was?

'Don't get me wrong, Harry, Ginny and I get along well.' Hermione's voice prevented him from pursuing that unwelcomed thought. She'd put her hand on his and squeezed it. 'It's only… I'd love to talk to a girl who shares significantly more of my interests.'

He tilted his head to the side. 'Daphne is such a girl?'

Hermione let out a small laugh. 'Oh yes, she is. You know, except for Parkinson and Bulstrode the girls of all four houses kept civil, if not friendly relationships. I always was on polite terms with the three other Slytherin girls, Davis, Roper and Daphne, though we never advertised it for obvious reasons.'

She paused and fiddled with a beer mat. 'Parkinson and Bulstrode were best friends, and so were Roper and Davis. Daphne was always the odd one out among her Slytherin yearmates. We were often paired up in Runes and Arithmancy and worked well together. I would've loved to get to know her, but you know how it was.'

Harry leaned back in his seat. Who would've thought that his spat with Malfoy on the train, before they even set a foot into Hogwarts, had such repercussions? The bitter animosity it had caused between him and Malfoy had forced every student of their year to pick a side. How many possible friendships or alliances had they destroyed by their childish behaviour?

He gave Hermione a strained smile. 'I'll tell Daphne what you said. I think she'll like it. Maybe you can meet for a girls day out before you return to Hogwarts.'

'I'd love that,' Hermione said, beaming at him.

The waiter served their drinks, and afterwards they gave in to Ron's whines and sampled their dinner from the buffet. Daphne wasn't mentioned anymore; when the three of them were together, they never ran out of topics to talk about.

But Hermione's words were still on Harry's mind when he Apparated back to The Rectory a couple of hours later.

He opened the gate to the courtyard. Ahead of him, the big house was quiet and dark. However, when he walked into the patio in front of The Coach House, golden light shimmered through the closed curtain in front of the living room window. So, Daphne was still awake and had waited up for him?

Harry entered the house and opened the door to the living room. Daphne was curled up in a corner of the big sofa, sound asleep. She had already changed for the night and covered herself with the afghan that usually lay across the armrest of the sofa. In the soft light of the Everburning Candles in the sconce behind her she looked very young and vulnerable.

He put a hand on her shoulder to wake her up. She stirred and cuddled deeper under the blanket, but didn't wake.

'Daphne? Wake up; it's late, you'll be more comfortable in bed.'

No response.

Again, he shook her shoulder, gentle so he wouldn't startle her. Just like him, she wore her wand all the time in an invisible holster at her wrist, and Merlin knew how she'd react if he startled her out of a deep sleep.

There still was no response. Harry chuckled; his new bride surely had a healthy ability to sleep.

He looked down on his sleeping wife and contemplated his next step. Should he let her stay here all night? No, that wasn't an option, she'd wake up with a kink in her neck and would be grumpy because of it all day long. That left him with only one possibility.

He bent down, slid his arms behind her back and in the hollow of her knees, and straightened. She was as light as a feather. He cradled her to his chest; her head rolled against his shoulder, her hair tickled his face, and he got a whiff of the spicy fragrance he by now associated with her. She snuggled to his chest, a small smile appeared on her lips, and she let out a soft noise of contentment.

His stomach gave a light flutter, warmth spread through his chest where she snuggled against him, and he held her closer.

His sleeping wife in his arms, he made his way up to their bedroom.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

41

Fleur had been spot on with her advice. If this dress didn't make Harry's eyes bulge out of his head, her name wasn't Daphne Potter.

She made a last pirouette in front of the floor length mirror in the bathroom of their hotel suite. The black dress had a tight bodice and hugged her hips, before it fell down to the floor in graceful folds and ended in a small train. The eyecatcher, however, was the collared neckline and one-shoulder strap, which left her left shoulder and most of her back bare.

She'd put up her hair in a simple hairdo to enhance the effect, Fleur had also advised her not to put on jewellery for the same reason. A plain black clutch and matching high heels completed the outfit. Nothing, and I mean nothing, ought to take Harry's attention away from you, Daphne, Fleur had said.

Today was the day of the Golden Apple Charity Dinner, an event Mother had created to fund the research into rare diseases when Tori's condition first became apparent, and that was sponsored by Crystal Fairy Beauty Products. She had to be content to help in the Muggle world; the magical world at large had not yet realised the need for scientific research on rare diseases. The notion that nothing could be done against curse-induced, inheritable ailments still prevailed, so why squander good gold on a lost cause? After all, at some point in history the families affected by such an ailment must have done something to deserve it.

Daphne blinked away the tears that welled up in her eyes at the thought of her sister. Tori's fate was so unfair, yet she had to deal with it as best as she could.

She walked into the living room. Harry stood in front of the fireplace, his back turned to her; even in this position it was obvious how uncomfortable he felt in his evening clothes. Her heart melted like chocolate in the sunshine; in spite of all the horrible things that had happened to him, he was still such a lost boy.

At the sound of her entrance he turned around. His jaw slacked; he stared at her for a long moment, and gulped. 'Wow… I just ... ummm ... Wow, you look … amazing.' His voice sounded hoarse.

She bit her tongue to hold back the cry of triumph that welled up in her. Not even in her wildest fantasies had she dreamed that she would induce such a reaction. She put on her sweetest smile and sashayed towards him, while her heart beat like the drummer at the Edinburgh Tattoo. 'I take it you like my dress?'

'Uh… oh yeah.' His eyes were glued to her; he put two fingers behind his collar and pulled at it.

'Now you've messed up your bowtie. Here, let me help you.' She stepped so close to him that the warmth of his body enveloped her, and loosened his bowtie. Her heartbeat became even louder and faster in her ears. Merlin forbid that he would hear it.

She fumbled with his bowtie, her fingers all of a sudden clumsy and stiff. The smell of his light cologne rose into her nose, and she had to suppress the sudden urge to pull him close and kiss him until his toes curled.

'There, all done.' She stepped back and looked up to him.

He gulped, his adam's apple bobbing. 'Th...thank you.'

Their eyes locked. He made a step towards her; his hands slid along her bare arms. The hairs at the back of her neck stood up, and a delicious weakness spread from her belly all over her body. She leaned towards him. His face was close, so close…

There was a knock at the door. 'Daphne, Harry, are you ready?'

Mother. Damn her timing!

'Coming, Mother.'

She picked up her wrap with burning cheeks, and she didn't dare look at Harry. Ever since the night he'd carried her to bed when she fell asleep whilst waiting for him they'd been dancing around each other; holding hands, touching each other, but never daring to take the next step. This had to come to an end, it was slowly killing her -.

Harry took the wrap out of her hands and put it over her shoulders. He stepped closer, his arms slid around her from behind. His mouth was next to her ear. 'We'll talk after the dinner.' His lips brushed her cheek, and again her hair stood up, with a shiver sliding up her spine.

She looked at him over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised. 'Talk?'

There was that devastating grin again. 'Uh… well, maybe not talk exactly.'

Her belly fluttered almost painful. Three months of marriage, and she still hadn't got used to that grin. If Circe was kind she never would -.

Another knock on the door. 'Daphne, Harry, what is taking you so long?'

Harry rolled his eyes at her and offered her his arm. 'Shall we?'

On Harry's arm she stepped out onto the hotel corridor. Mother and Father waited in front of their suite. They had booked the adjoining suite; Mother had insisted on getting ready for the event in London and staying here overnight. Not that she'd minded much, she'd used the opportunity to get pampered at a Muggle hairdresser, while Harry visited with Ron that morning.

Ron had joined the Aurors in September, and Hermione had headed back to Hogwarts, while she and Harry had started at Canterbury Magical University. Skeeter had almost had a heart attack when she found out that Harry didn't join the Aurors, it had taken a while, but after six weeks, the public furore had died down.

'It's about time,' Mother said. She could've sworn Mother had tapped her foot only seconds ago.

Father intervened on her behalf. 'Let's get going, Isabella. The first guests are going to arrive soon.' She was back in his good graces since he'd realised she wouldn't make good on her plans to divorce Harry; not that she cared about it. She still hadn't forgiven him completely for the way he had forced Harry and her into this marriage, and probably never would.

They walked down to the ballroom of the hotel. A red carpet had been rolled out from the entrance to the foyer in front of the ballroom where Mother and Father would receive the guests. The invitations had been auctioned of, and each attending couple had paid several thousand Pounds for admittance.

The Golden Apple Charity Dinner was one of the you-must-be-seen-at events in the calendars of the leading British scions of business. The men and women of these prestigious companies as well as celebrities always attended, and so it always attracted a huge amount of press coverage. A few select society reporters and photographers were allowed inside during the reception before the dinner, but the bulk had to wait outside, hoping to catch the V.I.P.s on their way over the red carpet.

She and Harry had no official role in this - yet, but Mother had insisted that she and Harry had to attend, "to learn how things are done," since as the future owners of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products it would be their turn to host the event one day. However, Father had told them he'd take the opportunity to introduce them to some of the most influential Muggles in Great Britain.

They took their places beside Mother and Father. The muscles of Harry's arm were stiff under her hand. His nervousness was almost palpable. She gave his arm a light squeeze, and at once the now familiar tingle shot up her arm and through her body. At least he relaxed under her touch and even smiled at her.

She gazed at his his mouth, and her belly fluttered again, almost hungrily. How would it be like to press her lips on his? Would they be as soft and tender as she'd imagined in her girlish dreams - and still dreamt of when she lay beside him at night?

He noticed her gaze and frowned. 'Everything alright, Daph?' he asked, his mouth close to her ear.

His breath on her skin once again made the hairs on her arms stand up. What would Mother say if she took Harry by the arm right now and dragged him back to their suite? A nervous giggle welled up inside of her, and it took all her willpower to maintain a calm face.

'I'm fine,' she said, and gave his arm another squeeze. Thank Merlin, neither Harry nor her parents were Legilimens. That would have been too embarrassing.

Thirty minutes later, the foyer was teeming with people. Mother and Father just greeted a rather sophisticated looking couple, who for their part introduced a familiar looking young couple to Mother and Father. Wasn't that-.

'Isn't that Justin Finch-Fletchley and Lisa Turpin?' Harry asked.

She nodded and opened her mouth to answer him, but at the same moment Father beckoned them towards him. 'My Lady, My Lord, let me introduce my daughter Daphne and my son-in-law, Mr Harry Potter. Daphne, Harry, these are the Countess and Viscount Lynton.'

Lord Lynton stiffened at the mentioning of Harry's name, and his gaze flickered to Harry's forehead, where the lightning-bolt shaped scar was, though it was barely visible anymore. The Lyntons exchanged the customary greetings with them, then Lord Lynton pulled Justin forward. 'I believe, you know my son and his fiancé, Miss Turpin, Mrs and Mr Potter.'

A broad smile appeared on Harry's face. 'Of course we do. We were classmates, and Justin attends university together with Daphne and I. Lisa, Justin, it's great to see you here.' He exchanged a one-armed hug and slaps on the shoulder with Justin, and gave Lisa a handshake and a kiss on the cheek.

Lisa congratulated her on her marriage and her new look. If she was surprised to see her married to Harry, she at least didn't let on.

The last guests trickled in. The corners of Daphne's mouth twitched at the sight of one of the last couples.

The man wore an evening suit that had been fitted for him in slimmer days. He had a red, round face on a rotund body, without a visible neck to separate them, the effect reminded her of a cherry tomato on top of a potato, and the mustache that hung down on both sides of his mouth gave him the appearance of a walrus.

The woman was taller than him, and as thin as he was fat. Her long neck would have done a giraffe proud, and her face… Well, she'd seen more handsome horses. She'd certainly seen more tasteful dresses than the flowered and frilly pink nightmare the woman wore.

Beside her, Harry was still talking to Justin. She gave him a small nudge, and he turned around.

'Harry, have a look over there; see the couple still waiting in the reception line. Have you ever seen something that hilarious?' She discreetly pointed her chin at the couple in question.

Harry looked into the direction she had pointed out. The smile froze on his face, and his body seemed to be rooted to the spot. 'That can't be true,' he whispered.

'Harry?'

He didn't hear her.

Father motioned them to join him; it appeared he was going to introduce them to the ridiculous couple.

Harry still didn't move; she pulled on his arm, and he set into motion, though his movements were stiff and uncoordinated, like the movements of the teacup she had to animate to walk across the table in her sixth year.

'Mrs and Mr Dursley, let me introduce you to my daughter Daphne and her husband, Mr Harry Potter. Daphne, Harry, this -'

'No need to introduce them, Cyrus,' Harry said. His voice was devoid of emotion. 'Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, I hope you are well.'

What? These were the monsters who starved and beat Harry, ridiculed him and made his life hell on earth until he could finally escape them when he came of age? A hot flame engulfed her, the blood roared in her ears, and spots appeared before her eyes. She'd give them a taste of their own medicine for what they'd done to her Harry, she'd hex them into the next millennium and not back…

She flicked her wrist to get at her wand.

With the lightening speed of a Seeker Harry grabbed her wrist and forced the wand back into its holster.

'Don't, Daph; they aren't worth the trouble.'

His touch on her arm brought her back to her senses. She looked up in his face: his eyes were dark, almost black, and his mouth was set in a taut line. He'd pulled his hand from her wrist, slipped his arm around her waist instead, and held her in an iron grip; a new level of intimacy that would've melted her into a puddle of goo any other time.

This very moment, however, the tenseness of his body against hers was a sure sign Mount Potter was seething. Power radiated from him, and the side of her body where she was pressed to him seemed to be unnatural hot. No doubt he wanted to prevent her from using magic against these horrible Muggles, but he was also using her as a shield to keep himself under control.

She slipped her arm around him and pulled him even closer. The side of her body tingled with the feeling of his magic, as if it was seeping into her. Which was nonsense, of course. Strange, it always happened when he was upset…

He relaxed under her touch, and the heat subsided, thank Merlin. They exchanged a long look.

'Harry? Daphne? What is this all about?' Father's voice cut in.

She took a deep breath, plastered a false smile on her face, and turned to Father. 'Nothing to worry about, Father. Harry had just had an unexpected family reunion.'

The walrus' face had assumed an interesting shade of brownish purple. He turned to Father, bared his teeth and jerked a fat, short thumb at Harry. 'Have you an idea who this is?'

'Of course I have. This is my son-in-law, Mr Harry Potter, as I already told you,' Father said, his eyes narrowed.

'Knocked up your daughter, didn't he?' The walrus sneered at her flat tummy.

Heat shot into her cheeks. This time he was going to pay. She flicked her wrist.

Harry was faster than her. When had he moved? He stood chest to chest with the walrus, his eyes two emerald flames that burned the obese pig alive. He had his wand in his hand - how did it get there that fast? - and pointed it at the walrus' groin, covered from the other Muggles in the room by the enormous belly of the man.

'You'd better never again insult my wife, Uncle Vernon. I'm not a helpless kid anymore, now I have the power and the means to crush you under my foot, and I won't hesitate to do just that.'

There was no doubt about that, power crackled around him, and she swore there was an unearthly glow around him for the blink of an eye and a hint of ozone that lingered in the air for a moment.

The walrus turned ashen. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and a small whimper escaped his mouth.

Harry let his wand slip back into his holster and stepped back. His magic seemed to retreat back in his body, though his eyes still drilled holes in the walrus.

'You've heard me, Uncle Vernon. Now, get going. You're holding up the line.'

The horse-faced woman stared at Harry, and Daphne shuddered at the feverish intensity in her eyes. Her skin was pale under her make-up, her posture was unnatural stiff, and her teeth were bared in a grimace even the most good willed person couldn't take for a smile. 'Come on, Vernon,' she said in a shrill voice, and tugged the walrus by the arm. They disappeared among the other guests. Only few curious looks followed them. Had Harry cast a silent Notice-Me-Not Charm before he took his uncle to task? It seemed so, otherwise their fight would have attracted more attention.

Mother looked after them over her nose. 'Shocking manners, honestly!'

Daphne suppressed a nervous giggle. Harry stepped beside her and slid his arm around her waist once again. She leaned against him; it was new and exhilarating, yet it was so right.

'Are you alright, Daph?'

'Yeah. Thanks for standing up for me.'

'I told you it comes with the job description.' He smirked at her, although his eyes remained troubled.

The reception line came to an end, and they were free to mingle. A waiter offered them champagne, and Harry picked two glasses from the tablet and handed one to her. She sipped on her champagne and cast a surreptitious look at her husband.

He had calmed down, though he was still a far cry from being relaxed: the muscles of his arm were stiff under her hand. Was it still nervousness? That was doubtful, he'd held himself so well in the reception line. It had to be the encounter with his horrible relatives, then.

Her eyes scanned the crowd. There they were, at a bar table with Lord and Lady Lynton and Lisa and Justin. In accordance with the name of the event, the tables were decorated with red tablecloths and small arrangements of flowers and golden apples. Vernon Dursley's face fitted right in with the colour of the tablecloths. Even from her place across the hall the sycophancy oozing from Dursley was visible.

Lord and Lady Lynton's demeanour didn't let on whether they were repulsed, and Justin also put on a brave front and blank face. Lisa, however, had her lips curled and her nose wrinkled, and tried to keep as much distance as possible between herself and the Dursleys; she had her face averted from them and watched the mingling guests.

As soon as she felt Daphne's gaze upon herself, her eyes lit up, and she grabbed Justin by the arm and dragged him across the room.

'Thank you for giving us an excuse to leave that table. Ugh, what a smarmy git,' she said, and took a fresh glass of champagne from the tablet a waiter offered to them.

Harry let out a mirthless laugh. 'You don't have to tell me, he's my uncle.'

Lisa's face turned a deep shade of red.

'And this, ladies and gentlemen, was a prime example of the Lisa-Turpin-foot-in-mouth disease, another rare disease that needs scientific research to help us find a cure,' Justin said with a chuckle, put his arm around his fiancé and gave her a kiss on the cheek to take the sting out of his words.

'Sorry, Harry, I didn't mean to offend you,' Lisa said, still pink in the face.

Harry gave a dismissive wave of his hand. 'Don't worry about that. I can't stand him, either.' He grinned at her. 'So, you and Justin? I never saw that coming.'

Lisa grabbed for Justin's hand and leaned against him. 'Well, we only got engaged last week, but we've been together since last October.'

'How did you get together? Neither of you returned to school,' Daphne said. 'In Justin's case, I can understand. But -.' She interrupted herself and looked at Harry. 'Could you give us some privacy, Harry? I don't think everyone in this room should listen into our conversation.'

He nodded, and made a small movement with his right arm behind the cover of her back. 'Alright, we can talk openly.'

'Good; you're the best.' She gave him a small peck on the cheek and turned back to Lisa. 'You're a Halfblood, aren't you? Weren't you required by law to return to Hogwarts?'

Lisa nodded to that. 'Yes, my father is a Muggleborn, while my mother is a Vaisey by birth. She was warned by my uncle, who is rather high up in the Ministry, that something was afoot, though he couldn't put his finger on it. As Slytherin alumni, he and mum decided it was better to be safe than sorry. So, we left Britain right after the end of sixth year and stayed in a house mum's family owns in France. My younger brother and I enrolled at Beauxbatons in September.' She gave a small shrug. 'I'm almost ashamed to say it, but we had an easy war.'

'Same for me,' Justin said. 'Ernie sent me a warning while I was still in Monaco for the summer with my family. We have a flat there, and mother and father spend a lot of time there when my sister and I are at school. We simply stayed in Monaco; my sister isn't magical; she finished school last summer and was planning on beginning her studies at Harvard, anyway. I enrolled at Beauxbatons, too, where I met Lisa.' He put his arm around the girl and pulled her towards him. 'The rest is history, as they say.'

His face sobered. 'Like Lisa said, we had an easy war. We didn't return to magical Britain until my D.A. galleon heated up, the Weasley twins alerted me you had turned up at Hogwarts and everyone was getting ready to battle the monster. Lisa insisted on coming with me.'

'As if I ever would've let you go alone,' Lisa said.

Justin gave her a soft kiss. 'I know,' he said, and Daphne's throat tightened at the tenderness of his expression and his voice. She'd give anything to experience something like that with Harry.

She cast a side glance at her husband. His eyes darted to the young couple so obviously in love for a brief moment, but now he averted his face, and there was that taut line around his chin again. Was he thinking of her? Possibly.

Despite them getting closer and his undeniable physical attraction towards her, every now and then something happened that reminded him of the Weaselette, and he'd withdraw into himself.

A few days ago, there had been a report about the Weaselette and her new agent in The Daily Prophet, her alleged Slytherin lover, of all people. Harry's eyes had become hard when he read it, and he had hardly talked to her that day. Had he known about the relationship of the Weaselette and their former Slytherin classmate during the war? His reaction indicated that he did, however, he seemed to be surprised that there still were relations, and he didn't take it kindly. Who had told him? Ron and Hermione? The Weaselette? Would it change his feelings for the redhead? No, it was better not to think about that, better not to give in to false hopes.

A dull ache spread in her chest, and she bit on the inside of her cheeks until it subsided. She had no right to take offense at his feelings for the girl, she had to be patient with him, he was trying so hard to make things between them work, she repeated her mantra.

'Somehow, you three make me feel pretty worthless. I was back at home and safe before the Battle even started,' she said.

Harry took her hand and gave it a squeeze. 'Don't worry about that, Daph. I was there, I saw how McGonagall forced the whole of Slytherin out of the school before the Battle began. Besides that, you had to take care of Tori. I doubt anyone of her classmates would've given a damn about her, not after what you told me how bigoted the greater magical society is in regards to her illness.'

Warmth welled up in her at his touch and his comforting words, and she returned the pressure of his hand.

Lisa puckered her lips, her brows knitted in a deep frown. 'Come to think of it, that was pretty high-handed of McGonagall, wasn't it? She made a judgement about a whole house because of the attitude of a few, and never asked once if there were students in Slytherin who wanted to fight for our freedom, too.'

Daphne shrugged. 'You get used to that. Occupational hazard of being a Slytherin, I guess. We were all painted with the same brush as Malfoy and his friends, though the other four students of our year and most students of the years below us gave them a wide berth.'

'I suppose the Gryffindor in McGonagall took over,' Harry said. 'The prejudices against Slytherin are strong in my former house; I don't think any of my housemates ever considered the possibility of a decent Slytherin. For us, they all were Death Eaters in the making. I'm ashamed to say I thought like that until this summer.' He linked his fingers with hers and gave her a rueful smile.

Daphne nudged his shoulder with hers. 'Good for you. Until this summer I would have doubted the possibility of a Gryffindor capable of learning.'

They laughed, but Lisa's eyes darted between her and Harry. 'You two are cute together. I never would've thought that, given that The Daily Prophet reported you married because of a family agreement.' She blushed once again. 'Oops, I guess I shouldn't have said that.'

Harry gave her a wry grin. 'Foot-in-mouth-disease again?'

Lisa nodded, and they all laughed.

'Well, for a couple who not once talked to each other before they were told they had to marry four weeks prior to the actual event, Daphne and I are doing pretty well.'

Lisa gaped at him. Thank Merlin that moment the doors of the dining room opened, and they followed the crowd. About twelve round tables for eight had been put up in the room, facing a small pulpit and a projection screen. The whole room was decorated in white and gold, and the silver and porcelain on the tables with centerpieces of white roses and golden apples in their middle sparkled in the light of the six huge crystal chandeliers that suspended from the high ceiling.

To their delight, the four young people found out they shared a table, together with Lord and Lady Lynton. Daphne looked around, trying to determine who the fourth couple at their table might be. Her eyes fell on the Dursleys, approaching their table. Oh no!

A small groan must have escaped her, because Harry looked at her, one eyebrow raised. The next moment, his face became hard as his aunt and uncle settled down in the two remaining free seats opposite of them.

Vernon Dursley lost no time. He glared at Harry. 'I wonder who let you join such a party, boy. You don't belong here.'

That was tame, compared to what she had learned about that man from Harry's hallucinations, but an offense nevertheless. Her whole body tensed up, and she gritted her teeth. To hell with the restriction of use of magic against Muggles, if she'd ever met a Muggle who deserved everything that was coming at him, it was this disgusting pig.

Lisa and Justin exchanged a horrified glance, and Lord and Lady Lynton curled their lips and looked at each other with a pained expression.

Harry, however, kept his calm, though his eyes looked like green storm clouds. Of course, he was used to the man, he wouldn't jump at every bait.

'You know, Uncle Vernon, I could say the same about you. Last time I checked you were one of about a dozen of directors at Grunning's, but you didn't belong to the leading businessmen of Great Britain, or had the means to pay for the cards for this event.' He made a gesture with his hand that included the whole room.

Once again, Vernon Dursley turned that interesting shade of brownish purple. He'd get a stroke if he carried on like this, which wouldn't be a surprise. That man was even fatter than a walrus.

This time, his horse of a wife stepped in. She straightened in her chair and looked at Harry down her nose, as if he was a cockroach. 'I have you to know that your uncle got promoted to C.E.O. of Grunnings when we returned from… the place you forced us to go.'

The corners of Harry's mouth lifted up in a grin. 'Is that so? I wonder if Daedalus had a hand in that. I'll have to ask him the next time I see him. There's nothing a competent wizard can't do with a well-executed Confundus Charm.'

At the word "wizard", both Dursleys squeaked and turned ashen.

Vernon Dursley raised his glass and took a sip. His hand trembled, and his eyes darted around the table. 'I thought you aren't allowed to talk about your kind in front of normal people, boy.'

Harry purred like a Manticore about to devour its prey. 'Don't worry about that, Uncle Vernon. Daphne, Lisa and Justin were my classmates at Hogwarts. Lord and Lady Lynton, while Muggles, are Justin's parents and well aware of magic. You don't have to worry about the staff, either. I put up a strong Privacy Charm as soon as we sat down.'

Daphne raised her eyebrows. Who would've thought her gentle husband had it in him to taunt his hated relatives like a cat the mouse? That was almost Slytherin of him. The expression on the faces of the Dursleys at these revelations made up for a lot of what they'd done to Harry. Who was she to deny him some payback?

There were small whimpers from the Dursleys, and Lisa suppressed a snort, while Justin had a broad grin on his face.

Lady Lynton addressed Harry. 'I take it your relatives are not delighted that you are a wizard, Mr Potter?' The corners of her mouth twitched.

'Not at all, madam. They tried their best to get it out of me, however, to no avail.'

She blanched and her hand flew to her mouth. 'Of course not. It's impossible to change something that essential as your magic.' She and her husband ignored the Dursleys from that moment on, and so did Justin and Lisa.

The waiters served the first course, and the talk around the table turned to other topics, their honeymoon in Paris and Lisa and Justin's upcoming nuptials being the center of the conversation. While the Dursleys, aware of the disapproval of the Lyntons and their heir and his fiancé, did nothing to join the conversation, it didn't keep them from listening into every word and throwing dark looks at Harry.

Their hate seemed to roll off Harry like water from the back of a duck. He ate his dinner without any signs of being aware of the death glares they sent their way, and participated in the conversation around the table.

His eyes, dark and clouded, told another story.

The plates of the first course were removed, and Mother addressed the dinner guests. Nobody looked at them, all attention was turned on Mother. She slipped her hand under the table and put it on Harry's thigh. He was tensed up to a point where his muscles quivered from the effort to keep his calm. Merlin, how had he managed to keep this tension under a lid?

As soon as her hand touched him, tingles shot up her arm, almost painful.

His head whipped around. He stared at her for a long moment, then slumped in his seat and covered her hand with his.

She entwined her fingers with his; the almost painful tingles gave way to a warmth that seemed to spread to and fro between them and eventually permeated her whole body.

Mother's speech came to an end, the second course was served, and the Dursleys returned to giving Harry death glares across the table. The dinner dragged on. During the next break between courses one of the researchers reported about the progress on his project.

This time, Harry's hand stole into hers, as if he was looking for reassurance from her, the moment the researcher stepped on the pulpit.

'What are your plans for the future, Mr Potter?' Lord Lynton asked during the main course.

Harry dabbed his mouth with his napkin and took a sip of wine. 'Well, I suppose Justin already told you that Daphne and I study Magical Economics together with him. We'll be working in the management of Crystal Fairy's after that. One day, hopefully not for a long time, Daphne and I are going to take charge of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products.'

'Had to marry into money to make it anywhere, hadn't you, boy?' Vernon Dursley sneered.

Harry didn't answer, though he shot a murderous glare at his uncle.

She started. The blood rushed in her ears. How did that abomination dare? She took a deep breath. Harry wouldn't thank her if she'd lose her composure - not to mention what Mother would have to say on that matter.

'I'll have you to know, Mr Dursley, that Harry didn't need to "marry into money", as you put it oh so tactfully. He's got more than enough of his own.'

Dursley snorted at that. 'I wonder where that money should come from. Surely not from his lazy layabout of a father.'

That insult had the Finch-Fletchleys and Lisa gasp. Harry ignored his uncle and ate his dinner as if he had no concerns in the world. However, he grabbed his cutlery so tight the knuckles of his hands stood out white.

She gave Dursley her sweetest smile. 'That lazy layabout, how you have the audacity to call my late father-in-law, was the only son and heir of Fleamont Potter, co-founder and co-owner of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products. Alas, my father-in-law and his wife were killed before they had a chance to finished their studies and take up their roles within the management of the company, so it was up to my father to lead the company during Harry's minority. Harry and I will be the third generation of Greengrasses and Potters to lead Crystal Fairy, and I for my part know that Harry will be as good as my father at that, if not better.'

Harry put down his cutlery, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. 'Thank you for your vote of confidence, Daph.'

Dursley stammered something unintelligible. Thank Merlin, the next speaker stepped onto the pulpit, thus putting an end to the undignified squabble.

Once again, Harry grabbed for her hand under the cover of the tablecloth.

At last, the seemingly endless agony of the dinner came to an end. The Dursleys were the first to leave. They gave stiff nods to the Finch-Fletchleys and Lisa, and ignored Harry and Daphne altogether. All the more cordial were the goodbyes of Lord and Lady Lynton, not to mention Lisa and Justin's. Over coffee, they made plans with Justin and Lisa for a Saturday night out together.

Father and Mother went to the hotel bar for a night cap with some of their friends, and she and Harry were allowed to return to their suite. Harry walked in long strides, as if he couldn't wait to be out of the public eye. She had problems keeping up with him, but after one look at his tense face she knew better than to complain.

Back in their suite, he slumped down on the sofa, loosened his bowtie, and buried his face in the palms of his hands.

'Merlin, what a nightmare of an evening.'

Daphne sat down beside him. She put her hand on his back and rubbed it in soothing circles. 'I knew they were horrible from our time in Paris, but I had no idea how horrible they are.'

'Oh, that was nothing tonight. You should've seen them - and heard them! - while I still lived with them.' He lowered his hands and looked at her with bloodshot eyes. 'Thank you, Daph. I wouldn't have known how to go through this evening without you. More than once you kept me from losing it.'

There was it again, that devastating lopsided grin, but his lips quivered and his eyes were two shiny black pools. The next moment she had gathered him in her arms and cradled his head to her chest.

He didn't cry. He was quiet, but his whole body trembled under an unbearable strain.

She carded her fingers through his hair, rocked him in her arms, and waited until the trembling subsided.

It was a long wait.

'All I ever wanted was to be loved by them.'

His voice was the voice of a small child, and Daphne bit her lips to prevent herself from bursting out into tears. Merlin damn these monsters!

'I know, Harry.'

He raised his head and looked at her. The spark of life had returned into his eyes, however, deep down she could still see the little boy who begged to be loved and couldn't understand why he was always rejected.

Their faces were close. Her breath caught. She couldn't tell him how much she loved him, it would make things even more awkward between them as long as he hadn't overcome his feelings for the Weaselette. But she could show him - actions spoke louder than words, didn't they? And maybe one day he'd realise what had been right in front of him all along and love her back. Hope dies last, or so they said.

Without another thought she closed the gap between them and kissed him.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

42

Daphne shot out of the Floo, at least three yards into the taproom, and just so managed to grab the edge of a table to prevent herself from falling on her arse. She looked around. Had anyone noticed?

The whole pub had, going by the sudden quiet and the stares she got, some of them compassionate, but most of them barely hiding amusement.

The heat shot into her face; straightening, she put on the most indifferent expression Miss Ogden had taught her for emergencies like this.

A hand waved at her from a corner of the room. 'Daphne, here!'

She let out a breath. There was the hole to vanish into she had looked for. She rushed over to the table with her three friends.

'My, my, Mrs Potter, you know how to make an entrance,' Hermione said and gave her a hug.

'I know I told you you were going to turn heads when we went shopping in Paris, but this was not what I had in mind,' Fleur said and greeted her with kisses on both cheeks, her eyes dancing with laughter.

Lisa was the last to hug her. 'You know, it's good for a change not to be the one to draw the unwanted attention on herself.'

'I'm happy I could provide entertainment for you all.' She put a frown on her face and looked daggers at her friends while she slipped into the seat next to Lisa.

The three were unrepentant, no surprise there. A reluctant grin formed on her face, and she shook her head. 'You're impossible. Tell me again, why do I hang out with you?'

'Because you still need our advice in how to seduce your husband,' Fleur replied, and pushed a mug with warmed butterbeer her way.

Daphne's eyes became huge, and she sent a frantic look around at the other customers of The Three Broomsticks.It was a Hogsmeade weekend, and the pub was packed with students. The last thing she and Harry needed was details of their private life becoming fodder for the insatiable Hogwarts rumour mill, let alone the rest of the magical world.

'Don't worry, I've set up Privacy Wards as soon as we sat down at this table,' Hermione said, and winked at her across the table. 'They won't understand a word. So, spill it, how are things between our still newlyweds?'

She put her cold hands around the mug, the sweet aroma reached her nostrils, and she looked at the three young women who had become close friends to her during the last six months.

Fleur had offered her a hand in friendship during the weeks full of anxiety and dread that led to her wedding, and had been invaluable in helping her through the first awkward weeks of her marriage.

She'd won Hermione's friendship - and by extension Ron's - without even trying, just because she had agreed to marry Harry and saved him from a premature death. They had followed Harry's suggestion, spent a girl's night out, and had bonded over their mutual love for one certain raven-haired wizard. Funny enough, she had been the catalyst in the friendship between Fleur and Hermione.

Hermione had already lost most of her reservations regarding the Veela during the time she had found shelter at Shell Cottage. It also helped that she was finally secure about Ron's feelings for her, not to mention Ron had developed an immunity to Fleur's allure that almost matched Harry's. However, there was no denying that she had brought the two witches together.

Lisa was the last addition to their little group. They had become closer because of Justin, but also because Lisa was now working as a trainee on the job in the management of the magical part of Crystal Fairy Beauty Products. Father had insisted that she and Harry had to do internships at the company as soon as they had begun their studies, and whenever they were at the company's headquarters in London, they sought out their former classmate for their lunch breaks.

She never would've got to know them that well, weren't it for her marriage to Harry. A soft glow surfaced in her heart. Her life had changed so much, all because of Harry. Because of him she'd found the guts to stand up against Father, because of him she'd made the effort to step out of her shroud of invisibility, and because of him she'd found friends for the first time in her life. Due to the neutrality of her family, and due to the house she'd been sorted in at Hogwarts, friendships had been impossible. Until now, Astoria had been her only confidante.

A smile spread across her face, and she inwardly shook her head about herself. Astoria was right, she was so pathetic when it came to Harry.

Her friends scooted nearer on their chairs.

'Oh, look at that smile! You've finally done the deed, haven't 't you?' Lisa asked.

'Oh, I do hope Harry has been keeping his end of the bargain up?' Hermione bounced her eyebrows in a suggestive way.

Uh… what? The heat shot in Daphne's cheeks. 'Hermione, I thought he was like a brother to you.'

'I know, I know … ' Hermione's face took on some colour of its own. 'But I've never really had close girlfriends before, and suddenly I understood the urge to share, tease and, god forbid, giggle, besides he isn't really my brother, is he? Added to that I'm getting lots of good loving, so why shouldn't you?' She gave a shrug that rivaled Fleur's best very French shrug.

The heat in Daphne's cheeks intensified. Hermione was getting lots of good loving? Did she want to know more? Uh - probably not, it would only make her jealous. She suppressed a sigh and shook her head. 'Uh… not yet. We're not yet ready for that.'

Lisa raised her eyebrows. 'You've been married for five months. One should think you're more than ready by now. What by Merlin's unmentionables is keeping you from hopping on and going for a ride? You know ride em cowgirl!'

'Did you really have to be that crude?' Hermione said.

Lisa snorted. 'You're one to talk.'

Daphne tuned their banter out. Her stomach squirmed into uncomfortable knots, and she bit her bottom lip. What was holding them… her… back? That was a difficult question to answer. She lowered her gaze to the mug in front of her and circled its rim with one finger in thought.

Ever since their first kiss after that horrible charity dinner - their first real kiss, anyway, that travesty during their Binding Ceremony didn't count - Harry had become more and more pronounced in demonstrating physical affection towards her. However, "physical" was the keyword in that sentence.

If only she could be sure that affection was aimed solely at her. He treated her just like she wanted to be treated; his kisses were as intoxicating and addictive as she had imagined in all her girlish fantasies. He was tender, passionate, and the mere thought of what he could do to her with his lips and his hands made delicious shivers run down her body and her belly flip-flop in anticipation of more. There was no doubt he was falling for her body. But was he falling for her? He never said.

Whenever he touches you, whenever he kisses you, or whenever he sleeps with you, he'll be thinking of me.

Why, oh, Merlin, why, did she have to think of these words each time he kissed her, each time he caressed her in a way that turned her into a breathless, quivering mess?

A warm hand covered hers; she looked up into Hermione's eyes. There was a lot of understanding in them.

'Do you remember our talk in the bower, Daphne?'

How could she ever forget that talk? She nodded.

'I told you that Harry wasn't in love with Ginny. I tell you now he's over her, or he wouldn't have made an effort with you at all. However, has he given up on her? I don't know, it's a completely different question and it's not one that I dare to answer just yet. I wouldn't bet that he won't run straight to her if you were to let him go right now.'

Damn, that confirmed all her doubts.

Hermione gave her hand a soft squeeze. 'Daphne, Harry has never consciously experienced love. What he thought was love were his teenage hormones acting up. He wouldn't recognise love if it bit him in the nose, the arse or anywhere else that you might like to bite him.'

She gave her a saucy wink, and again the heat rushed into Daphne's cheeks. Fleur chuckled, whilst Lisa just gave Hermione a look that said: really? And you call me crude!

'Don't wait for him to tell you that he loves you; he most likely never will, he'll second guess himself until the cows come home. But don't give up on him, just keep doing what you're doing, and I'm sure you'll win his heart in the end.'

Hermione's words were the reassurance she needed. She raised her head to give her friend a thankful smile, but her mouth refused to obey the command of her brain: her lips trembled and her eyes stung. 'Why does he have to be so damned complicated?'

Hermione patted her hand. 'Because he's Harry Potter and he wouldn't be worth it if he wasn't complicated.' She let her hand go and addressed the whole group. 'How about it, ladies, are you ready to tackle our Christmas shopping?'


Daphne walked out of the bathroom, a thick terry cloth bathrobe over her underwear and petticoat, and was greeted by the sight of her profusely swearing husband. Harry stood next to the window, already clad in trousers and a starched, white dress shirt, and tried in vain to fasten his cuff links to the cuffs of his shirt.

She raised an eyebrow. 'My, are you that happy to see me?'

His head jerked around, and a rueful smile appeared on his face. 'These damned things are driving me up the wall.' He showed her his cuff with the cufflink dangling from one of the buttonholes.

The corners of her mouth twitched. 'That's obvious.' She walked around their bed until she stood next to him. 'Let me help you.'

With a few moves she fastened the cufflinks on both cuffs.

'Thank you.' He slid his arms around her waist, pulled her close and gave her a small kiss.

The smell of his light cologne enveloped her, and she raised her hand to caress his smooth, freshly shaven cheek. 'Mmmh, as soft as a baby botty.'

He laughed, rubbed his cheek against hers, and let go of her. 'You'd better get ready, or Isabella will have kittens if we're not on time for her Christmas Eve dinner.'

She pouted, but shrugged out of her bathrobe to get dressed, and opened the wardrobe.

Harry's arms slid around her waist from behind. 'Nice petticoat.' She couldn't see his face, but the smile in his voice was unmistakable. 'On a second thought, how much time do we have left until we have to go over?' He nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck.

The effect was devastating, as always. She craned her neck to give him better access, and her hand rose on its own accord to tangle her fingers in his hair. Her thoughts became fuzzy, her breath came in short gasps, and a sluggish warmth spread from her belly all over her body and turned her knees weak.

It took all her willpower to turn around in his arms and push him away. 'Not enough for what you obviously have in mind. If you're a good boy, I might finally allow you to unwrap a Christmas gift under the tree when we return tonight.'

He leaned forward and gave her a light kiss. 'Is that a promise?' He wriggled his brows at her suggestively.

She mock-scowled at him. 'If you're a very good boy! Now let go of me, I need to get dressed.'

He laughed, let her go, pulled the dinner robes that hung at the outside of their wardrobe from the hanger, slipped into the robes, and straightened his bowtie. Daphne grabbed behind him and pulled her own evening robes out of the wardrobe. 'Not bad, Mr Potter.' She smirked at him and slipped into the very conservative dark green evening robes Mother would approve of, and fastened the long row of tiny buttons on the back with a flick of her wand.

Harry looked at her from top to toe, a frown on his face. His gaze lingered on the high, stiff collar of her robes that ended in a small ruffle. Matching ruffles adorned the sleeves of the robes around her wrists, and three rows of ruffles were sewn around the hem of the floor length skirt. 'I wish I could say the same about you. These robes are… ugh! You look like old Queen Victoria.'

'I'll have you to know, dear husband, that these robes are the latest in Pureblood evening fashion.'

'Yuck.'

She smirked at him. 'I didn't say that I disagree. However, Mother and Great Aunty Augusta would have my hide if I turned up in anything less than formal evening robes tonight.' She walked to her dresser to put on some perfume.

'Great Aunty Augusta?'

'Oh, didn't I tell you that Christmas Eve dinner is a celebration of the extended family?' she asked him over her shoulder. 'Though, we're not that many anymore. Only Mother, Father, Tori, and Great Aunty Augusta, grandfather's last surviving sister, and her grandson, Neville Longbottom.'

She'd saved that surprise until the last possible moment, and was now rewarded by Harry's face brightening.

'Neville? That's brilliant, I haven't seen him in ages.'

'I knew you'd be delighted.' She grabbed for her evening purse and linked arms with him. 'Let's get going. I have our presents to everyone shrunken and in my purse. I hope you've thought of getting a present for your lovely wife.' She mock-glared at him.

He laughed. 'Shrunken and in my pocket. You know, my dear wife, I don't have a death wish. Though I don't understand why we exchange gifts tonight. Christmas Day is tomorrow.'

'That's because the Greengrasses are originally from Austria,' she said as they walked down the stairs. 'It's custom over there to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and we still adhere to that old tradition. It also comes in handy, since we're going to spend Christmas Day at the Weasley's.'

Had he sensed the strain in her voice? No, he nodded in understanding to her explanation and didn't seem to notice anything unusual.

She suppressed a sigh; she wasn't looking forward to the day at The Burrow. While all Weasley men, along with Fleur and Hermione, treated her as a friend, or even their honorary sister-in-law, Molly Weasley probably never would go so far to include her in the family the way she did with Fleur and Hermione. The way she looked at her whenever she thought she wouldn't notice made all the bad jokes she'd ever heard about vicious mother-in-laws sound tame.

At least the Weaselette wouldn't be there, Hermione had told her she'd written home she didn't get long enough off for a trip back home. Thank Merlin for little blessings.

Matty already held the door open for them when they reached the main house.

'Good evening, Matty.' Daphne bent down and gave the elf a small hug.

Matty beamed at her. 'Good evening, Missy Daffy. Mistress and master and their guests are waiting in the drawing room for Missy Daffy and her great Harry Potter master.'

She led them through the broad hallway to the drawing room at the back of the house. The family portraits, all decorated with evergreens and red bows, called out greetings to them. Matty opened the door to the drawing room for them. 'The great Harry Potter master and his Missy Daffy.'

The announcement made Harry blush to the roots of his hair. It didn't help much, either, that the occupants of the room all bit back a laugh at the funny announcement.

She almost had to drag her embarrassed husband into the room. The drawing room was the biggest room in the house and designed for formal entertainment. A huge Christmas tree, reaching from the floor to the eighteen foot ceiling, and decorated with an abundance of silver Christmas ornaments and white bows, stood in one corner of the room. A merry fire crackled in the fireplace, and the whole room smelled of fresh pine.

Mother rose from the sofa, stepped over to them and hugged them. 'Harry, Daphne, it's good to see you. You don't come over nearly enough.'

'You know how packed our schedules are, Mother,' Daphne said, and returned the hug. Her chest tightened uncomfortably, and she averted her eyes. Mother was right, she visited with her and Tori not often enough. Her workload was only part of the problem; if she was honest with herself, she avoided the main house because she didn't want to see Father more than she had to.

Mother sighed. 'I've told your father repeatedly that he's demanding too much from both of you, but he won't listen to me.' She held Daphne at arm's length. 'You look lovely, my dear; you're downright glowing. Is there something you want to share with your family tonight?'

Heat rushed into her face, and she exchanged a look with Harry. His expression was as embarrassed as she felt. While they'd done a lot of interesting and titillating experimenting during the last couple of weeks, they still had to go all the way - though it became harder and harder by the day to explain to herself what still held her back. She took a deep, calming breath.

'Sorry, Mother, but that's not planned for a long time.'

Mother squeezed her arm. 'Don't wait too long. I can't wait to see my grandchildren playing in the park.' She turned to Harry and took his arm. 'I don't think you have met Aunt Augusta yet. Come, let me introduce you.'

Harry cast Daphne an helpless look and gulped. She couldn't blame him; Great Aunty Augusta hadn't changed one bit since she last saw her and surely made an awe-inspiring impression as she sat on the sofa as rigid as a stick, clad in her finest evening robes that were out of fashion for at least thirty years, and her trademark witch's hat with the stuffed vulture on her grey locks. She'd been terrified of her as a child, but when she grew up she'd found out that her bark was a lot worse than her bite.

She grinned, and told her reluctant husband with a shooing motion of her hand to go with Mother. The look she got from him in return promised retaliation before the day was much older.

She exchanged a stiff hug with Father, and then went over to pry her husband out of the clutches of Great Aunty Augusta.

'Congratulations on your marriage, my dear child,' Great Aunty Augusta said as she kissed her on the cheek. 'I already told young Harry here that I'm delighted about his addition to our family. It is what Albion and Fleamont always dreamt about. They were business partners, yes, but also best friends and like brothers. I bet they'll be dancing a happy jig if they could see us.'

'Maybe they can,' Harry said, and slipped his arm around Daphne's waist. 'I'd love to hear more about my grandfather, Great Aunt Augusta, and I'll certainly make use of your invitation to tea and talk about him soon.'

Great Aunty Augusta patted his cheek. 'You're a good boy, Harry. Fleamont would be proud of you. You look like him when he finished Hogwarts. My, I had such a crush on him when I was in my fourth year.'

Harry flinched and wrinkled his nose ever so slightly. Not that she blamed him, the thought of Great Aunty Augusta in the throes of a teenage crush was disturbing.

'Ew,' he said, though in a low voice, as soon as they were able to leave Great Aunty Augusta and walk over to where Tori and Neville sat.

She bit on the insides of her cheek to prevent herself from bursting out into laughter.

They exchanged greetings with Neville and Tori. The two young men hadn't seen each other since the funeral of Fred Weasley, and had a lot of catching up to do. Soon after that, Mother led them into the dining room.

Usually, family dinners would take place in the cozy breakfast room, however, on Christmas Eve they'd have a festive dinner in the formal dining room, though Mother had asked the house elves to transform the long table into a round one.

Mother had placed Harry and her next to each other, but Great Aunty Augusta to his right, and during the four course meal she made the best of it and hogged most of Harry's attention to herself.

Next to Daphne, Neville shook with barely suppressed laughter. 'I guess if Granny were thirty years younger, you'd have to worry about your husband right now, Daphne,' he said in a low voice.

Daphne almost choked on her wine. 'Merlin, Neville, that was a low blow.' She put down her glass of wine and dabbed away the tears of laughter that rolled down her cheeks with a napkin. For the rest of the meal she and Neville had to avoid looking at each other, or they would burst out into laughter again at the most inappropriate times.

They returned into the drawing room for coffee. Harry flopped down on the loveseat beside her. 'Thank you for your support during dinner, dearest wife,' he said under his breath and gave her a mock-glare.

She batted her eyelashes at him. 'Didn't you enjoy yourself?'

Neville, who had sat down in a chair opposite of them, sniggered, and so did Tori, who had rolled her wheelchair beside her. Tori opened her mouth, no doubt to tease poor Harry some more, but was interrupted by Father, who distributed the Christmas presents.

Harry's present to her was the smallest one, while his present from her was the biggest one, an oblong parcel, about six feet long, and about one foot each in width and breadth. He gasped when Father Levitated it over to him. Oh well, the measurements of the present were a dead give away of the content.

His eyes turned towards her, bright and beaming. 'Is that…?'

'Why don't you open your present and look for yourself?'

He didn't need more encouragement. With the excitement of a small boy he tore open the wrapping paper and revealed a dark brown leather broom case.

Harry lifted the lid and peered inside.

Daphne held her breath. Would he like her present?

He gasped, his eyes almost bulged out of his head, and he flipped the lid open. His eyes were glued to the broom that laid on a bed of tan suede. Nimbus 3000 was embossed into the sleek handle in golden letters, next to that were Harry's initials.

Harry's hand caressed the handle almost reverently. He looked up, and their eyes met. His eyes beamed with the genuine excitement of a small boy about an unexpected present. He leaned towards her and gave her one of the sweetest kisses she ever got from him. 'Thank you, Daph. This is one of the best Christmas presents I've ever got.'

Warmth spread in her chest. He liked it!

He straightened and pointed towards the small parcel she held in her hand. 'Please, won't you open your present?'

She had left his present till last, now tugged at the delicate bow, and removed the wrapping paper to reveal a small velvet box. She cast a smile at Harry. 'Jewellery is always good in my book.'

'Especially if it's from Cartier's,' Tori said, who had craned her neck to have a better look.

Neville chuckled. 'With that as a first Christmas present you set the bar high for future presents, mate.'

She ignored their remarks and flipped the lid of the jewelry box open. On a bed of blue velvet lay a pair of sparkling diamond earrings in a platinum setting. It was exactly the pair she had admired window shopping on one of their after-dinner-strolls in Paris. She'd had no idea he had noticed it. Or was it just coincidence? It didn't matter, it was the first present ever she had received from Harry, and that made the earrings special, not that they were diamonds or from Cartier.

She leaned towards him and gave him a lingering kiss. 'Thank you, Harry; you shouldn't have, but I love them.'

Father watched them, leaned back in his chair, his mouth curled up and his eyes squinted in a smile. Without any doubt he was very satisfied with the outcome of his blackmail. She froze, and her jaw tightened. It was by no means thanks to him that she and Harry got to where they were today. And even though they'd come a long way, their marriage still wasn't a bed of roses. Harry liked her, but he didn't love her, and Merlin only knew if he ever would.

Harry sensed her sudden mood change and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She motioned with her chin towards Father. Harry turned around, saw the expression on Father's face, and scowled. He turned back to her. 'There's someone feeling rather pleased with himself.'

'He's got no reason for that. It's not thanks to him that we get along. If things had gone south, we as well could be hating each other right now.'

'But we don't,' Harry said, put his arm around her shoulders and dropped a small kiss on her head. 'So, quit thinking "what ifs" and simply take every day as it comes.'

She snuggled into his arm. His advice was sound. She'd better concentrate on the here and now and make the best of it.

Not long after that Great Aunty Augusta once again demanded Harry's attention. Neville took the opportunity and claimed his vacated seat next to Daphne.

'You know, I still can't fathom that you and Harry are married,' he said in a low voice.

A pang jolted through her. Of course he couldn't; Neville was Harry's dormmate, and he'd led the resistance together with the Weaselette, she couldn't blame him that he'd expected to see the Gryffindor Golden Couple being together happily ever after after the war. She gave him the explanation Father had used to placate the press.

'Grandfather and Fleamont Potter made an agreement to join the families in marriage as soon as there were a boy and a girl of the same generation. It was just Harry's and my hard luck that we fulfilled the requirements.' She took a deep breath. 'I know I'm not who his friends hoped he would marry, and I'm well aware he'd never have considered me as his wife, hadn't it been for that agreement. However, that's how things are, and Harry and I are trying to make the best out of it.'

Neville crossed his legs, put his index finger on his lips and gave her a long look. 'No, you're not the one I expected him to end up with, but I'm glad he didn't end up with Ginny,' he said at last.

She startled. He was joking, wasn't he? 'Now, that's unexpected, coming from you. After all, you and Weasley led the resistance at Hogwarts together. Wasn't she the one who made the plan to break into the headmaster's office and steal the Sword of Gryffindor?'

His eyebrows shot up at that. 'How do you know that?'

She gave him a fleeting smile. 'There's only little that escapes the Hogwarts rumour mill, even or maybe especially in times of war. And the W… Ginny said so in an interview she gave after the war.'

'Did she now? I never read that one. Well, if she said so, she was lying.'

The breath hitched in her throat, and she gaped at him. Now he was joking.

He flashed her an ironic smile. 'I suppose it's about time to clarify a few misconceptions about Ginny. Merlin, Daphne, you're a Slytherin and you know where she spent most of her time last year. Do you think she had much spare time left to make plans for the resistance with us?' He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, as if to calm himself down.

'It was Ginny who told us that Dumbledore bequeathed the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry in his will. However, it was Luna who figured out that the sword had to be of importance for the mission Dumbledore gave to Harry. Between us, Luna and I made the plan to break into Snape's office, and we forced Ginny to come along with us because we needed a third pair of hands.'

He let out a derisive snort. 'Too bad we were caught when we went to get it. I had no idea she took the credit for that afterwards, but it fits. I've always suspected she was more interested in the fame that came with being associated with the Boy-Who-Lived than in Harry himself.'

Neville chuckled, bent forward, and pushed her mouth shut with his index finger. 'You know, I never would've thought it possible for you to lose your composure like this. Didn't Miss Ogden teach you that a real lady never lets her mouth hang open when she's surprised?'

She smiled, but slapped his hand away. 'Prat!'

'At your service, Mrs Potter.' He still chuckled and leaned back in the sofa. 'Anyway; you never were on the Harry-Potter-fan-bandwagon, Daphne, and given the way you and he ended hitched up together, I'd say you have a much better chance at seeing Harry for who he really is. And that's just what he needs.'

A burden she hadn't known she'd been carrying lifted from her chest. Another of Harry's friends told her she was good for him. Could she dare hoping they'd find genuine happiness in the end? She took a deep breath and beamed at Neville. 'You mean, I get to see Harry, the slob, and have the privilege to clean up behind him?'

Neville laughed out loud at that. 'He's still that bad? Though, I have to say that Ron, Seamus and Dean were far worse. Harry at least kept his messiness to his own bed and trunk, while they spread their things across the whole dorm, my bed included.'

An arm wrapped around her shoulder, and Harry sat down on the armrest beside her. 'I'm not that bad anymore.'

Daphne turned around to him and gave him a broad smile. 'That's true; not after I've started house-training you.'

Neville's eyebrows rose up at least an inch. 'House-training? Do I want to know more?'

Harry laughed. 'Certainly not. Let's just say my wife knows a mean Pinching Hex and leave it at that.' He hugged her towards him.

'Ouch!' Neville grimaced, and they all three broke out into laughter.

Not long after that the party came to an end, and Daphne and Harry returned back to their home.

'Are you tired?' Harry asked.

She shook her head. 'Not at all.'

He gave her his lopsided grin and opened the door to the living room for her. The room was only lit by the Fairy lights of the Christmas tree in the corner they had put up and decorated together yesterday, and a fire in the fireplace.

Harry sat down on the sofa and pulled her with him. She kicked off her shoes, pulled up her legs, and leaned against him. He put his arm around her and caressed her back. Daphne almost purred. Who would've thought that magical Britain's biggest hero loved to cuddle? Though, after everything that she'd learned about him in the short time of their marriage she shouldn't be surprised: Harry grew up without physical affection; he had a lot to catch up on.

She put her arms around him, and he leaned his head on top of hers, while they talked about the events of the day in soft voices.

During a lull in their conversation the wind carried the sound of the church bell from the nearby village chiming twelve towards them.

Harry raised her chin with his hand and kissed her. 'Merry Christmas, darling.' His emerald eyes smiled at her.

Daphne's breath caught, butterflies danced in her belly, and a broad smile appeared on her face. This was the first time he'd called her by a term of endearment. Was Hermione right after all? Was he beginning to fall for her?

Her body tingled where she was snuggled against him, and once more she had the strange feeling their magic mingled. Calm overcame her, and with the calm came the absolute certainty she was going to win his love in the end, no matter how long it took.

She returned his smile with a bright one of her own. 'Merry Christmas, honey.'

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

43

They Apparated to the front gate of The Burrow the next morningThe untidy garden lay quiet and dull behind the grey hedges, and the apple trees in the orchard stuck their bare, lifeless branches into the clouded sky, biding their time until the next spring.

The house, however, hadn't changed with the seasons. Crooked and eccentric, it felt as warm and welcoming as always, even from this distance, a warm oasis in the cold wintery landscape.

Daphne bit her lips and looked at the house and the garden with big, uncertain eyes. 'Are you sure they want to have me here today?'

Harry put his arm around her shoulders and opened the gate. 'Of course they want to see you, or they'd have said otherwise.'

Well, at least that was true for the majority of the Weasleys and Hermione. About Molly, he was not so sure. Even though she'd gone out of her way to make Daphne and him feel comfortable before their wedding, she also had been concerned for him and full of distrust about Daphne's attitude towards him.

Maybe today he and Daphne would be able to show her that her concerns were unnecessary. They had become best friends during the last couple of months. Nobody, not even Ron and Hermione, knew as much about him as Daphne did, and yet not once had she condemned him or made him feel worthless.

He had opened to her in a way he never had thought possible. She helped him deal with the nightmares he still had, though they had lessened considerably, and she encouraged him to talk about the demons of his past. They had bonded over long talks about their goals for their lives and the wizarding world, and he had learned to value her opinion and the sound advice she gave. It didn't hurt, either, that he felt drawn to her like a moth to a flame ever since their first kiss in October.

Daphne was all warmth and contentment … with benefits. His cheeks grew warm at the memory of the biological exploration they had partaken in before they got up this morning. There was no denying his wife was one hot babe. He suppressed a grin; not that he ever would call her a babe out loud, he wasn't that dumb, but there was no denying of their mutual physical attraction. And yet, his feelings for her were a far cry from the chest monster he had experienced each time he looked at Ginny or kissed her, either the roaring beast, or the contentedly purring creature.

The gate made a screeching sound, and only seconds later the back door to the kitchen flung open and Ron and Hermione came out.

They exchanged greetings and hugs and Christmas wishes. However, when they were about to go in, Ron held them back.

'Err … There's one thing you need to know.' He bit his lips, shifted from one foot to the other, and exchanged a side glance with Hermione.

Whatever he was going to tell them, it wasn't good. Harry braced himself.

Daphne's body tensed up against his. So, she also sensed trouble. No real surprise there, over the last months he had learned to appreciate her perceptiveness. 'What is it, Ron?' she asked. Her voice sounded apprehensive.

Ron took a deep breath. 'Ginny came home for Christmas yesterday - with her new husband.'

The air seemed to leave his lungs, he stiffened, and his hand clawed into Daphne's shoulder. 'Her husband?' he asked. His voice sounded unnatural high, the garden seemed to spin around him as if he was on a carousel, and he clung to Daphne not to fall headlong into the soggy grass of the backyard.

'That's a surprise.'

The carousel stopped. Daphne's voice, calm and collected, brought him out of his stupor, and he heaved a deep breath. His arm around Daphne's shoulders tingled, and then that somewhat familiar wave of warmth surged through him and restored his world to order.

He was an idiot. Why in the world would he let the news of Ginny's marriage get to him like that? What had become of his resolve to get over Ginny and give his relationship with Daphne a proper try? That resolve had only become stronger after he'd found out that Ginny had made the man he'd thought to have been her tormentor her new agent. It seemed he'd been dead wrong about their relationship. Yes, she'd been free, but she'd also all but told him that she'd wait for him. And yet she'd never thought it necessary to tell him that the bloke apparently had meant something to her while he was away …

No, he'd smile and kiss the bride on the cheek, even though in the farthest corner of his heart where he had locked it away, his old friend, the chest monster, yanked at its chains and let out an enraged roar. Enough! He pushed the monster back with all his might.

'You can say that again,' Hermione said, and slipped her arm around Ron's waist. 'We had no idea she was seeing him, let alone she was going to marry him.' She snorted. 'You should see Mrs Weasley. She's torn between being angry at Ginny that she eloped and being delighted about her handsome new son-in-law.'

They laughed, and Harry joined into the laughter. Did any of them hear how strained his laughter sounded? He looked at his best friends and his wife. No, nobody had seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Ron and Hermione were making eyes at each other, as always, and Daphne gave him a small hug that was accompanied by an artless smile.

'Let's go inside and greet the Weasleys and congratulate the newly weds.'

'Good idea.' He took a deep breath and entered the house, his arm still around his wife's shoulders.

The kitchen was crammed. Bill and Mr Weasley sat at the head of the table and talked. Percy and his girlfriend Audrey were setting the table, and Mrs Weasley stood at the stove and directed the last preparations for the sumptuous Christmas feast, ably supported by Fleur. The smells that wafted through the warm room indicated she'd outdone herself one more time.

A low grumble, coming from Daphne, told him his young wife appreciated Mrs Weasley's cooking skills as much as he did. He chuckled and hugged Daphne towards himself. 'Hungry?'

She blushed, laughed, and nodded. 'Very. You didn't leave me time for breakfast this morning.'

He put his mouth next to her ear. 'That wasn't exactly all my fault. Who was it that …'

She blushed even deeper and poked him into the ribs with her elbow.

Harry grinned down at her. She'd dressed simply for today, a white blouse, tight stone-washed black jeans, slip on black pumps, and basically no makeup. Despite the plain clothes, she looked gorgeous, though that was nothing compared to the way she looked in these tiny nothings she wore to bed. Nobody could expect him to keep his hands to himself when he woke up to a scantily clad Daphne snuggled up to him, he was only human, after all, and she always enjoyed the snogging and touching as much as he did.

He dropped a small kiss on her head and said, 'We'll discuss this at another time.'

'Discuss what?' George's booming voice interrupted their banter.

Daphne turned around. 'Discuss what a prat my husband is. Merry Christmas, George.' She held her hand out to him.

George bowed over her hand with a flourish, and then kissed her cheek. 'Merry Christmas, Mrs Potter. Alas, you're still not ready to divorce that git and marry me instead?'

Harry listened only with half an ear to the exchange between his wife and George. His eyes scanned the crowded room, and he exhaled a slow breath when he was sure neither Ginny nor her new husband were in the kitchen.

He and Daphne greeted the other Weasleys. Mrs Weasley pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. 'Merry Christmas, Harry! I haven't seen you in ages. How are you?' She held him at arm's length and scrutinised him from top to toe, a small frown on her face. She lowered her voice. 'Is Daphne treating you right?'

Harry squeezed her in return. 'Daphne's brilliant, she's treating me better than I deserve.'

The frown on her face gave way to a smile. 'I'm relieved to hear that.' She turned around to greet Daphne, and even though she smiled and hugged his wife, the hug wasn't as heartfelt as if she would've hugged Hermione.

His stomach hardened. Would Mrs Weasley's attitude towards Daphne ever change? That was doubtful, her stubbornness made it hard for her to change her views. She'd needed almost a year and a Death Eater attack to warm up to Fleur.

He watched the Veela exchanging a hug with his wife. A whispered conversation followed. He was happy for Daphne that she and Fleur had become close friends ever since their shopping trip in Paris. Fleur and Bill had become frequent visitors at The Coach House, together with Ron and Hermione and Justin and Lisa.

Mrs Weasley made a shooing motion with her hand. 'Ron, Hermione, Daphne and Harry, go into the living room until lunch is ready. It's much too crowded here for Fleur and me to work.'

They laughed, but obeyed. Harry took Daphne's hand and together they followed Ron and Hermione to the living room. His friends were held up by Mr Weasley, who waved at Harry and said, 'Go ahead, Ron and Hermione will be with you in a minute.'

Hermione's head jerked around, and she opened her mouth, but then seemed to change her mind. Instead, she gave Daphne a strange look. Now, that was weird. It almost seemed as if Hermione had warned his wife about something.

Daphne's hand in his, he continued to the living room. The door was closed; he opened it without a thought of announcing their entrance and stepped into the room.

Harry froze in his tracks at the sight that presented itself to his eyes.

A young couple sat on the sofa. The man had the girl in his lap. Her long, red mane flowed down her back in untamed waves and did nothing to hide the fact that his hand was under her shirt, cupping one of her breasts, while they snogged as if there was no tomorrow. Her hands roamed his face and his hair, and their moans filled the room.

A red-hot burning flame shot through his body. The scaly monster in the furthermost corner of his chest raised its head and roared. His hands clenched, until Daphne's hand, still in his, was in a vice grip.

In a flash, a soothing warmth flooded his whole body and raced towards the monster. It started, retreated a step and bared its fangs. However, the warmth was everywhere. The monster reared its ugly head and roared one last time, then the warmth crashed over it in a huge wave, and he felt it drowning, washing away without a struggle, until it was no more.

'Wouldn't it be more comfortable to get a room with a nice, soft bed?'

Daphne's voice brought him back to reality. The tension left his body, and he looked down at her, thankful for the distraction she provided.

She looked at the young couple in front of them, the corners of her mouth curled up. How did she manage not only to convey amusement with that smile, but also disdain about a rather undignified spectacle?

The young couple froze. Ever so slowly the young man pulled his hand away from under Ginny's shirt and looked at them over her shoulder, a dazed expression in his electric blue eyes.

The unintentional hilarity of the situation dawned on Harry, and he snorted, only to mask his snort as a cough at the jab in his ribs from Daphne. Well, who was he to blame that poor bloke? He knew from first hand experience what Ginny's kisses could do to a male, and he should be happy that Ginny had found it in herself to make a new start.

Ginny's head whipped around, a strand of her hair got caught between her lips, and her eyes shot daggers at Daphne. The next moment they flicked towards him, an almost calculating expression in them, but it was gone a split second after it had appeared. Her eyes seemed to bulge out of her head as she gaped at him, and pulled the strand of hair from between her lips with the pinky finger of one hand. She closed her mouth, licked her lips and jumped off the young man's lap.

'Harry!' She squealed and rushed towards him with outstretched arms.

'Ginny,' he said, and took her hand in his, preventing her hug. The muscles in his neck stiffened, and he narrowed his eyes. There was no way he was going to hug her in front of his wife and her husband; surely he had better taste than that. 'I've been told congratulations are in order?' He kissed her knuckles and then her cheek. The familiar, flowery scent reached his nostrils, however, the floating feeling that had always followed this sensation never materialised. 'We wish you all the happiness in the world, Ginny.'

She looked up at him, the smile vanished from her face and gave way to a frown.

'Th… thank you, Harry.' She took his hand and pulled him towards the young man on the sofa. 'Harry, I want you to meet my husband. Elias, this is Harry Potter.'

The young man had got to his feet and now held his hand out to Harry. His smile seemed genuine, there was no trace of suspicion in those blue eyes. Hadn't Ginny told him about their mutual past?

'Elias Frudge. It's an honour to meet you, Mr Potter.'

'Pleased to meet you, too. But please, call me Harry.' He turned towards Daphne, who was pointedly ignored by Ginny, and performed the necessary introductions, and another round of congratulations was exchanged. The muscles in his neck stiffened some more, and he pressed his lips into a thin line. What was Ginny thinking to snub his wife like this? No matter how abominable Cyrus had treated him and forced him to let go of the girl he intended to marry, it wasn't Daphne's fault, and was no excuse for bad manners on Ginny's part.

An uncomfortable silence ensued between the two young couples as soon as the introductions and congratulations were out of the way.

Ginny sat back on the sofa and pulled Elias with her. The moment he sat down, she melted into his side and looked up at him, a soft smile on her face.

There had been a time Ginny used to look at him like that. However, that was the past, and he wouldn't look back. His new live was good, and he and Daphne got along brilliantly -.

'Why don't we sit down there?'

Once again, Daphne's voice brought him back to reality. She didn't wait for his answer, but took his hand, sat down in one of the shabby, yet so comfortable armchairs, and pulled him with her to sit down beside her on the armrest. He put his arm around her shoulders and took a deep breath; he needed to keep his wits about himself, the situation was trying, to say the least. Holding on to Daphne somehow helped to keep calm.

She reached up with her hand, linked her fingers with his, and blew him a small kiss. He relaxed against her, dropped a kiss on her head, and inhaled the spicy scent of her perfume. Warmth and comfort washed over him.

The door to the living room opened, and Ron, Hermione, Bill and Fleur came into the room, their arms full of Christmas presents.

'It's time for presents,' Ron said, a huge grin on his face.

Daphne pulled their presents for the Weasleys out of her purse and enlarged them. Thirty minutes later, the room looked like a Christmas tornado had roared through it, with torn wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere. Mr and Mrs Weasley had also joined them, together with Percy and Audrey. Everywhere Harry looked, there were beaming faces. Daphne now wore an emerald green Weasley jumper with a big, silver "D" over her white blouse, and Harry shot Mrs Weasley a thankful smile. That she had included his wife into the Weasley tradition despite her reservations toward her meant a lot to him.

'Tell me, Daphne, what was your Christmas present from Harry?' Fleur asked into a lull of the conversation.

Harry startled. Fleur and Bill had provided his alibi when he needed to get away for one afternoon, took a Portkey to Paris and shopped for Daphne's present. Fleur had even come with him and helped him to pick out the earrings. She knew what he got Daphne, so why did she ask?

'Harry got me these.' Daphne pushed back her hair and showed off her new earrings. Her face beamed like the sun, and she blew him a kiss. His stomach gave a warm flutter. He should give her presents more often if it made her glow like this.

Fleur and Hermione had come closer and now ah-ed and oh-ed about the earrings, and even Mrs Weasley and Audrey admired the pretty jewelry. Ginny remained on her seat, the only woman in the room to do so, and said something to her husband.

'Are that real diamonds?' Every eye in the room turned to Elias, who had asked the question, and then to Harry.

He nodded in response.

Elias let out a low whistle. 'You must have put down quite a few bucks for them. They are pretty big, two carat at least, I'd say.'

Harry winced and just nodded again. To be honest, he hadn't cared about these details when he bought the earrings, he had just looked for a Christmas present Daphne might like, though the price he had to pay for something that small had almost floored him. However, he could afford it, but that couldn't be said about the Weasleys… He cast a surreptitious look around. How did they take this, especially Ron, who had always been sensitive about his wealth?

He let out a breath, nobody seemed to care; Ron was talking to George and didn't listen to the ongoing conversation, and the other Weasleys had never cared about his money.

Ginny's husband, however, pursed his lips in a silent whistle and gave him a slow nod with raised eyebrows, while Ginny's attention was trained on Daphne and Fleur, who were talking in low voices. He couldn't see her eyes, but her jaw was set in a taut line. Well, that wasn't a surprise. She and Fleur never had got along, so Fleur so obviously being best friends with Daphne must be like a slap in her face.

Mrs Weasley called everybody to lunch, and Ginny grabbed for the hand of her new husband.

'Come on, love, you're in for a real treat.'

Harry stiffened. Ginny had never called him by any term of endearment. Well, that proved his suspicion that their relationship after the war had not been what he'd thought.

A small hand pressed his. 'Hungry, honey?'

He looked at his wife. There was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. A grin spread over his face and he bent down till his mouth was next to her ear. 'Minx; you know that I am.'

She grinned up at him. 'So am I, dearest husband, shall we do something about that?'

Harry looked into her face, and the last vestiges of tension about the unexpected encounter with Ginny and her husband faded away. He let out a fake gasp and pulled her to the kitchen. 'Woman, couldn't you have warned me sooner? Let's get you fed before I miss an arm. Move everybody, move, fear for your limbs!' Of course, that earned him a slap from Daphne, and they were still laughing and bantering when they took their seats next to Bill and Fleur.

As with every meal, Christmas lunch at the Weasley's was a boisterous affair. The table almost bowed under the weight of the food Mrs Weasley and Fleur had prepared. Harry was hungry, after all he'd missed breakfast, just as Daphne had, not that he was complaining of course, and for the first part of the meal he was too busy to satiate his hunger than to pay much attention to the conversations around him.

Ron, Hermione and Daphne were comparing Auror training against the studies he and Daphne did at Canterbury Magical University, and he added his two Knuts every now and then. Did he regret that he hadn't made it into Auror training? The jury was still out about that, though going by what Ron told about all the law stuff he had to learn and that seemed to take up the majority of his studies, it sounded as if Auror training was not what he had thought it would be.

'By the way, mate, I'm sorry to tell you Robards closed the investigations into your and Daphne's little adventure in Paris,' Ron said when Hermione and Daphne had turned to Fleur and discussed with her Merlin knew what. Those three never ran out of topics to talk about; the occasional furtive glances in his direction when they were in their little discussion group sometimes made the hairs on his neck stand on end, but that was to be expected, wasn't it.

He shrugged his shoulders. 'I'm not surprised about that. The Aurors had pitiful little to start their investigation with. I take it you found no hint to the connection to Malfoy that Kingsley suspected?'

'Not at all,' Ron said, and served himself a third helping of Christmas turkey. 'We also investigated links to other prominent dark families, but came up empty. None of them was in France during the time you were there. It must've been an attack from a hitherto unknown Death Eater, though Kingsley still is sure that Malfoy was behind it. Oh well, he'll most likely try again, and then we'll know more.'

'What a delightful thought,' Harry said, and pushed his plate to the side: his appetite had all of a sudden left him. Ron didn't notice his sarcasm, immersed in his food as he was. Harry shook his head, but chuckled wryly to himself. Some things never changed.

Eventually, the meal came to an end. Stuffed and tired, they gathered in the living room. This time, Hermione, Daphne and Fleur sat on the sofa and stuck their heads together. Ron and Bill sat down on the armrests beside their girlfriend, respectively wife, and listened into the conversation. Not to be outdone, Harry walked around the sofa, leaned against the backrest behind Daphne, and put his hand on her shoulder. Like always, she raised her hand and linked her fingers with his. A pleasant warmth at Daphne's touch surged through him once more.

From his place behind the sofa he had a view over the whole room. Mr and Mrs Weasley had sat down in their favourite chairs. Percy and Audrey sat at the chess table at the side of the room, already engrossed in what seemed to be an even game. George was nowhere to be seen.

Ginny and her husband had claimed the last chair for themselves. Ginny again sat on Elias' lap, and his hand was roaming, although more discretely than this morning. She seemed to enjoy his ministrations, going by the inviting looks she gave him, her constant giggles, and the frequent small kisses they shared.

Harry waited for the monster in his chest to raise its head, but nothing happened. A weight fell from his shoulders, and he closed his eyes for a brief moment. Did this mean he was finally over Ginny? It was about time. It was next to impossible to hide his feelings from Daphne whenever a strong emotion, caused by memories of his time with Ginny, overtook him, and he hated that he hurt her when they did. She didn't deserve it, after everything she'd done for him. Apart from that, she'd become his closest friend, closer even than Ron and Hermione, and you just didn't hurt a friend.

He listened into the conversation between his wife and her two best friends, and threw in his two Knuts every now and then. After a while, however, he felt uncomfortable hot. The many people in the room and the crackling fire in the fireplace seemed to drain all oxygen out of the air. His temples began to throb with a dull pain that was increased by the many voices in the room.

He bent down and gave Daphne a kiss on the top of her head before he turned around and left the room. Acting as if he had to visit the bathroom, he moved through the house and eventually slipped out the backdoor. The cold, damp winter air cooled his hot cheeks, and he inhaled in deep breaths. He hadn't bothered to look for his cloak, so he just put a strong Warming Charm on himself and walked down the familiar path to the orchard. The pressure lifted from his head with each step.

'Harry, wait.'

Ginny. His stomach gave a hard lurch, and he clenched his teeth. Why had she followed him? He had found peace and contentment in his marriage, and so had she, at least it seemed so to him. There was nothing to gain for any of them by reminiscing the past and tearing open old wounds.

He turned around. 'What do you want, Ginny?'

She had reached him, grabbed his hand and looked up to him. Her small hand in his was so familiar, yet now it felt … weird. It didn't belong there anymore.

He retreated a step and slipped his hand out of hers.

A shadow flickered across her face. Her chocolate brown eyes searched his, and once again he found himself engulfed in their blazing flames.

'Harry, please let me explain.' She stepped closer. Her flowery scent wafted towards him, sweet and tempting.

Memories of the innocent time when their romance was new came back to him. Merlin, he'd been rather young and wet behind the ears then, hadn't he? However, there was no way he could turn back time, and he didn't want to, either. The past was called the past for a reason.

'There's no need to explain. You've moved on, Ginny, and that's how it should be. You know I never wanted to hurt you. I'm happy you found someone you love and who makes you happy.'

'It's not like that.' Again, she took his hand, and entwined her fingers with his. 'I was so alone in Taos… I had lost you, and mum and dad and my brothers were so far away…' Tears pooled in her eyes, and she bit her lips, forcing them down.

His eyes widened. She couldn't be serious, could she? After all, he had gone with her to the USA, so she hadn't been as alone as she wanted to make him believe. Was she playing games with him? Impossible, the sweet Ginny he'd fallen for in his sixth year was as straightforward as a Bludger to the head.

However, they'd been through a war, they all had changed, he was the prime example of that. Maybe whatever she had to do to survive had changed her, too?

He shook her hand off, stepped back and crossed his arms in front of his chest. 'You know, Ginny, there was a time I would've believed that. However, during the last months since you moved to the States I came across a few things that make me doubt exactly how honest you were with me.'

A frown appeared on her face. 'What do you mean, Harry? I don't understand you.'

'Well, I own this amazing map my dad and his friends created. It shows almost all of Hogwarts, the inhabitants of the castle included. It also shows the dorms of all the houses, Ginny.'

The frown on her face deepened, then comprehension dawned on her, and her face turned pale. 'It was not what you think, Harry.'

'Wasn't it?' He stiffened, and all of a sudden the cold winter air became uncomfortable hot. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath, as he'd so often seen Daphne doing it. It wasn't worth to become angry now about what Ginny might have done or not while he was on the run - not anymore. Too much had changed between them since then.

The heat receded.

'You know, in the beginning I was inclined to believe just that. It was obvious the Carrows had tortured you, and a few days later that Slytherin took you into his dorm room. Merlin, Ginny, I thought he forced you with him and raped you!' He took a deep breath when the heat threatened to return.

'That was the reason I never mentioned that I knew… I thought you still hurt so much you couldn't bear talking about it. However, you might understand my amazement and disappointment when I read in The Daily Prophet a few weeks after you moved to the States that he's now your agent. Somehow, I can't believe that you'd give such a trusted job to a bloke who mistreated you. So, there was obviously something else between you. Mind you, I'd broken up with you, and you were free to do as you pleased during that time, but somehow I don't understand why you never told me, Ginny.'

'It was not what you think, Harry,' she repeated. Her voice sounded choked. She had wrapped her arms around herself, her hands hidden in her armpits as if to warm them, and shifted her feet, her head lowered. 'Yes, he saved me from the Carrows, but he demanded nothing from me in return. During the whole time he behaved like a perfect gentleman and not once hurt me.'

He let out a mirthless laugh. 'Do you expect me to believe that? Even I have heard about his less than stellar reputation at Hogwarts.'

Her head jerked up. 'Exactly. Have you ever heard he had to force himself on a girl? He never needed that; they threw themselves at him.'

'You know, that somehow supports my argument, Ginny. Have you also thrown yourself at him? You don't have to answer this, it's in the past, anyway.'

She stepped closer, until she invaded his personal space, and her eyes bored into his. 'Well, I won't answer your insulting question then. However, you're quite the hypocrite. Maybe I should question what you did during all that time alone with Hermione.'

He jumped. How could she think that of him? He scowled at her. 'Nothing happened between us during that time.'

'And yet it's so hard to believe that nothing happened between him and me, either?'

He deflated. His shoulders slumped, and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. 'I'm sorry, Ginny, I was out of line. I shouldn't have accused you like I did.'

She still stood very close to him. Her hand sneaked up and clenched in his new Weasley sweater. 'If anything, my marriage to Elias drove home the point that the only man I want is you, Harry.'

She stepped closer until she was pressed against him. 'I told you once before you only have to say the word and I'm yours. That hasn't changed, Harry. I'm now married, that gives me a better standing, so you don't have to worry about my reputation.' She raised her upturned face to him, the invitation unmistakeable.

Oh Merlin, what had he done to her? He had hoped she had found happiness, but instead she had fled into a hasty marriage and now seemed to be more miserable than ever before.

However, he was not the answer to her misery. There was no way he'd go down a path that only promised pain and heartbreak for her, for Daphne and for him, even if he still felt as strong for her as he did in June, when Cyrus began to meddle with their lives. But now was probably not the right moment to tell her that his feelings for her had changed, not as agitated and miserable as she seemed to be.

He retreated a step and gently loosened his her grip on his sweater. 'Ginny, I told you on my wedding day that I won't do this, neither to you, nor to Daphne. My decision hasn't changed. An adulterous affair between us will only bring heartache and pain to you and Daphne. I don't want that. And you also have to think of Elias' feelings.'

She snorted at that. 'I'm only a trophy wife for him. He doesn't really love me. Just as you don't love Daphne or she loves you.'

'I surely don't feel for Daphne what I felt for you, Ginny.'

A broad smile appeared on her face, and he sighed. He held up his hand to prevent her from a reply. 'However, that doesn't mean I don't have feelings for her, or that she doesn't have feelings for me. Daphne and I have become very close friends. I can't betray a friend, Ginny.'

'No, you're too damned noble for that.' Was there a sob in her voice? 'But tell me, Harry, does she make you as happy as I made you?'

His head jerked back. How was he supposed to answer that? His feelings for Daphne couldn't be compared with what he had felt for Ginny. Mr Weasley had been right all along; he'd been a school boy when he fell for Ginny, she'd been his first steady girlfriend, and he had been another person back then. Ginny had been who he'd needed at Hogwarts, but Daphne was who he needed now, when he felt so much older, with other aims and obligations than he ever thought would befall him.

Even more important, ever since he'd heard her talking to Cyrus in the bower, he knew for sure she had strong feelings for him. She'd said she'd agreed to marry him because she saw no other way to help him - she wouldn't have said that if he didn't mean something to her. She'd saved his life, and he was indebted to her for that. He'd pay her back by making her as happy as he could, but not by cheating on her.

Ginny threw her arms around him. 'I knew you wouldn't forget what was between us.' Again, she raised her lips towards him.

Damned, he'd thought too long about his answer. Now she had the wrong impression. He raised his hands and pulled her arms off himself.

'No, Ginny, I will never forget. But it doesn't change my decision.'

All happiness vanished from her face. 'Is this your last word on the subject, Harry?'

'Yes, it is.' He turned around and walked away.

t.b.c.

Chapter Text

44

Why did that damn woman have to turn up each time she and Harry made some progress in their relationship? Merlin bless Miss Ogden and her stern lectures on the proper conduct for a lady, or she'd have thrown herself at the Weaselette and yanked her hair out - strand by strand, to make it extra painful; Christmas and love thy neighbour be damned. Right now she was not in the mood to be charitable with anyone, let alone that harpy.

From her place on the sofa between Fleur and Hermione Daphne cast a surreptitious glance at the Weaselette and her new husband. She had become more skilled from the time when she'd used Corner and Thomas to make Harry jealous. There was no way Harry would notice the covert looks the Weaselette gave him to make sure he saw what she was doing; despite of his emotional growth spurt due to the war and the potion, and maybe also because of their marriage, her brave Gryffindor husband was not yet equipped to spot this kind of female deviousness.

Of course Harry had noticed the rest of the Weaselette's performance. It was hard to overlook, and the exaggerated giggles of the obnoxious redhead were even harder to overhear. Did it bother him? That was hard to tell.

He had put his hand on her shoulder, and as always Daphne had grabbed for his hand and linked her fingers with his. However, the tingling she by now had learned to associate with distress on his part never came when the Weaselette and her husband started groping each other.

Could it be he didn't care about the girl anymore? That would be too good to be true. No, it was more likely he got his feelings under control after the initial shock of hearing of her marriage and then stumbling in on her making out with her husband. He hadn't been able to hide his reaction to both of that from her, but each time had managed to get himself under control much quicker than she'd thought possible.

And yet his reaction had hurt. Of course, the girl had planned it, she'd known that the moment she saw the calculating look the redhead cast at Harry. Had he noticed, too? That was likely, she'd learned from listening to him during his hallucinations that he was very observant, but did not always draw the right conclusions. He was most likely still too blinded by his perception of the Weaselette to look through her act.

Daphne suppressed a sigh. She shouldn't allow the woman to get to her like this. After all, she'd also managed to vex her. Hah, the look on the Weaselette's face when she showed off Harry's Christmas present had been a soothing balm on her hurt ego. Even better were the murderous looks she sent her way when she realised how considerate and even affectionate Harry treated her, not to mention that she'd been floored by the way Harry looked after the treatment. She didn't seem to like it, either, that she'd become friends with Fleur and Hermione.

Harry pulled his hand away and slipped out of the living room. Her eyes followed him, and she frowned. Had she misinterpreted his feelings? Wasn't he as calm about the marriage of his former girlfriend as he pretended to be? Most likely. Should she go after him?

She was still debating with herself when the Weaselette also slipped out of the room.

Damned! She'd bet her new earrings the obnoxious redhead was going after Harry.

Her new American husband didn't seem to suspect anything. He pulled his chair around and joined into a conversation with Mr and Mrs Weasley. No doubt they wanted to get to know their surprise son-in-law.

What was she supposed to do now? Go after Harry and the Weaselette and make a scene? Smile and bear it?

The unwritten rules of Pureblood conduct were clear in this case: she had to look the other way and ignore whatever Harry and the Weaselette were up to.

Hermione gave her a small nudge. 'Won't you go after them?' she asked in a low voice.

She shook her head. 'I doubt it would do any good.'

Hermione looked as if she disagreed, and opened her mouth, no doubt to utter her opinion and to give her some well-meaning advice. She bit her lips; she wasn't in the mood to listen to that right now.

She got up from the sofa. 'Excuse me, I need to visit the bathroom.'

Like Harry and the Weaselette before her, she slipped out of the living room, well aware of the concerned looks of her friends. She went into the bathroom and splashed her hot cheeks with water. It didn't help much to calm her down. Still too restless to return into the living room, she slipped into the quiet kitchen and looked out of the window.

She startled, and her heart jumped in her throat. Harry and the Weaselette stood at the edge of the orchard. It was too far away to see the expressions on their faces, and they almost melted into the background of the grey trees, but the posture of their bodies was unmistakable.

They were close to each other - too close. The Weaselette had pressed herself against Harry, a hand on his sweater, and her face turned up to him. The next moment she threw her arms around Harry's neck, raised herself on her tiptoes, and offered her lips in an unmistakable gesture.

A sharp pain jolted through Daphne and cut her heart into small pieces. Her hand flew up to her mouth, and she bit into it to stifle the sobs that welled up in her. Her sight became blurry; she whirled around and slumped down at the table. She didn't need to see what would follow.

She propped her elbows on the table and pressed the balls of her hands against her eyes. She wasn't going to break down and cry - at least not now and not here. But, Merlin, why did it have to hurt so much? It was one thing to prepare herself for Harry to continue his relationship with the Weaselette, but it was an entirely different thing to have to watch it with her own eyes.

She had no idea how long she sat like that. The sound of the backdoor opening jolted her out of her misery. She lowered her hands. If it was Harry, she wasn't supposed to let him know that she knew. If it was the Weaselette, she'd be damned to let the tart see how hurt she was.

'How much did you see?'

The tart. Merlin damn her bad luck.

'Enough, I think.' She turned around to look at the girl.

The Weaselette ambled towards her, a sneer on her face.

Daphne hid her hands under the table and clenched them around the hem of her Weasley jumper. Oh, how she'd love to put her hands around the girl's throat right now and squeeze until that sneer vanished from her face… She took a deep breath, mustered everything her parents and Miss Ogden had ever taught her about self-control, and forced herself to show a calm expression. She would not give the Weaselette the satisfaction to see how hurt she was.

The girl stopped right in front of her and jerked her index finger at Daphne.

It took all the self-control she had not to flinch back.

The Weaselette poked her in the chest with her finger. 'I told you he'll always be mine, Greengrass, and today proved my point. If you know what's good for you, you'll get back in your box and won't try to become what you never can be.'

With that, she turned around and left the room.

Daphne's body became numb and cold, it was impossible to move, and the pain in her chest was unbearable. She'd always known that she couldn't compete with the Weaselette … She sat like that for a long time, frozen by a pain that seemed to consume her whole being. It took a while until rational thought set in. She had to get out of here, Mrs Weasley or Fleur would soon come into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea, she couldn't be found by them like this, it would raise too many questions…

She put both hands on the flat of the table and pushed herself up. Her movements were that of an old woman as she walked to the back door and slipped out into the garden.

The winter day was short, dusk was already falling. Daphne looked around. Where to now? Harry hadn't come back yet; he was probably still somewhere near the orchard, so going there was out of the question, or she'd stumble upon him. There was no way she would let him see her like this.

Her mind made up, she turned towards the gate and went out on to the unpaved agricultural road the Muggles thought led to an abandoned, ruined building, and meandered from there into the fields that surrounded Ottery St Catchpole.

She turned into the direction away from the village and The Burrow. The road circled alongside the border of The Burrow, but then took a turn to the left, and lead uphill to a small grove half way up to Stoadshead Hill. The fields to the left and right of the road were bare and soggy in the grey light of the winter's day. The blades of the yellow brown grass next to the road were still covered in drops from the rain that had fallen earlier that day.

Daphne employed the breathing exercises her governess had shown her when she was a small girl to calm herself down. Her breath was a ghost, translucent white, hanging in the chilly air. She needed to find her composure before she returned to the house, there was no way she'd let anyone know how miserable she felt, least of them Harry.

When she had reached the leafless grove, she had calmed down enough for her rational side to take over. A crow croaked in one of the high trees, and she startled. It was time to return, or her prolonged absence would also raise questions. The last thing she wanted was Harry finding out she knew about him and the Weaselette. The game was not played like that; she'd been taught the rules from the cradle: she had to keep up appearances to keep her dignity.

She turned around to walk back to the house.

'Daphne? Are you looking for me?'

Harry!

She whirled around. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed him sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the small grove.

'Oh, hello Harry. I didn't see you.'

'That was kinda obvious.' He chuckled, got up and walked towards her, a smile on his face, though his eyes were clouded.

Well, that wasn't surprising. After all, he just came from a clandestine meeting with his ex-girlfriend and probably future mistress, and he was a decent guy at heart; no doubt he had a bad conscious.

He put his arm around her to lead her down the unpaved road, towards The Burrow. Tingles went through her body where he touched her, as if his magic was reaching out for her: a sure sign he was upset about something.

She stiffened, and he gave her a side glance, his brows knitted. 'Something wrong?'

She shook her head. 'Just a small headache. Too many people and voices in a small room, you know.'

He chuckled, nodded, and pulled her closer as they walked down the road. 'Yeah, the Weasley clan in full force can be a tad overwhelming.'

Her arm slid around his waist on its own accord, and she melted against him, wrapped in the warmth of his body like in a comfortable blanket. Damn it, where was her pride? She should take him to task, tell him what she thought about two-timing husbands, and make him choose between her and the tart.

She opened her mouth to do just that - and closed it again. What was to be gained by that? She knew already he wanted to continue their marriage, not only because of the agreement they'd signed, but also because he had his own agenda for his future and needed her help for that. All she could achieve by accusing him was jeopardising the trust, friendship and genuine affection they had built between them. The Weaselette would soon be off to the States, and Harry once again would be hers - until her next visit. What would happen between that? Would they continue meeting each other in secret? Her heart became a heavy stone in her breast at the mere thought.

Harry gave her another affectionate one-armed hug. 'You're as cold as an icicle. Why didn't you put a Warming Charm on yourself? Are you a witch or what?' He gave her a small kiss on the temple, slipped his wand out of its holster and cast a silent Warming Charm on her.

Toasty warmth enveloped her, and a content sigh escaped her lips. This was so typical Harry: he had the power to hurt her to the core, and yet he was so sweet and caring. 'Thank you, Harry. I didn't notice how cold I was.' She snuggled closer against him; in spite of everything, the warmth of his body next to hers and the tender way he cared for her helped more to overcome the encounter with the Weaselette than her lonesome walk and all the calming exercises Miss Ogden had ever taught her.

The fog of panic and despair lifted, she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. So, the Weaselette wanted her to keep her place and not to try to become important to Harry? Well, she had news for the shrew: she was already important to him, she'd earned her place in his life when she acted as his anchor during the treatment and kept him alive, and she'd cemented her position in the five months since then whenever she helped him deal with the demons of his past.

Harry trusted her; she was his closest confidante: nobody knew so many of his secrets as she did, and nobody was as privy to his plans for the future as she was, or as well-equipped to help him to reach his goals, the Weaselette least of all. The witch with a capital B had better shove her threat somewhere where the sun never shone. Daphne shook her head. A fine Slytherin she was that she'd allowed the girl to manipulate her like this!

Harry gave her a scrutinizing side glance, his brows furrowed. 'Is something bothering you, darling?'

Of course he had noticed her mood swing; she'd underestimated how perceptive he was. By now she should know better.

Her breath caught, and her heart beat a drumroll. What if she underestimated him in other ways, too? What if he hadn't accepted what the Weaselette had offered him? Wasn't it about time to show him the same trust he'd shown to her when they talked about what she'd learned during his treatment?

After all, she hadn't waited to see his reaction to the shameless invitation of the girl to kiss her, she only had her encounter with the Weaselette as proof, and without a doubt she had been manipulated by the girl. It was to be expected that he would be shaken up, as chivalrous as he was, had the girl tried to throw herself at him, so what she thought was his bad conscious might well have been embarrassment.

She stopped in her tracks, and her jaw tightened. Harry was her husband, and she wouldn't allow the Weaselette to come between them. She'd use every advantage she had to bond with him and make him love her.

'Merlin, I'm such a goose!'

'Huh?'

She whirled around, grabbed the collar of his sweater and pulled him down to her until their lips met. He followed without hesitation, circled her waist with one arm, buried his other hand in the hair at the back of her head, and pulled her even closer. She threw her arms around his neck and deepened their kiss. Time stood still, the world around them ceased to exist, and they became their own universe as she kissed him in a way she'd never kissed him before. She'd make sure that every thought of that redhead flew right out of his head!

He kissed her back as fierce as she kissed him, almost devoured her, and she lost herself in the feeling of his lips on hers and the strength of his body against hers until she trembled in his arms. She didn't care that they stood in the middle of an unpaved road between soggy fields, on display to anyone who ventured out on this bleak day. She was in heaven, at a place where the sun always shone and birds sang a joyous song of everlasting spring.

When he finally pulled his head back, she kept her arms around his neck, not sure if her legs would carry her. Harry still held her pressed against him. His arousal against her lower stomach was undeniable, and his eyes were glazed over and as dark as ink. His lips slightly parted, he looked down at her as if he saw her for the first time.

'Wow, what was that?'

'I have no idea, but I wouldn't mind a repeat performance.'

He chuckled. 'Neither would I.'

The next second his lips were on hers again, familiar and yet so excitingly new. The pulse at the apex of her legs throbbed, and she grinded herself against him in search of relief of the excitement that was building up in her.

Once again Harry was the first one to pull back.

'Daph, darling, we have to stop here, or we won't be able to do so in another minute.' His voice was thick and raspy, and he panted as if he'd just run a mile.

She let out a small whimper of protest. Merlin, was that really her, sounding so - needy? She didn't care, she wanted more of him, she needed all of him … She raised herself on her tiptoes and lined his jaw with small kisses.

Harry moaned, and as if drawn by an invisible magnet his lips searched for hers, and each coherent thought went out of her mind as yet again he led her into a paradise only he had the key to. His hand, fisted in her hair, pulled her head back ever so slightly, and his mouth found its way down her throat, nibbled on her pulse point, and then made its way back to her lips with tantalising slowness.

The heat pooled in her belly, she moaned and pressed herself against him as tight as she could. She wanted to melt into him, be one with him, and he seemed to understand and pressed her against him in a hard grip.

Again, he tore his lips away. 'Hold tight,' he whispered into her ear. His breath, hot and panting, sent shivers of delight all over her body.

The next moment she found herself as if pressed through a tube, but before her brain registered that he was Apparating them away, they already landed. The room where they arrived was familiar, in the grey light of the December day she recognised the shapes of their bedroom.

Harry waved his wand, and the thick velvet curtains closed themselves in front of the window, and blocked out the waning light of the December afternoon. Another wave of his wand ignited an Everlasting Candle on the nightstand.

She gasped. 'Harry! We can't just disappear on the Weasleys like this. What will Mrs Weasley think, what -'

As if she really cared about that right now, when every fiber in her body screamed to be kissed by him again, to be held by him… However, years of training in polite manners were impossible to overcome.

Harry gave her a roguish grin. 'I'll take care of it. If anything, Mrs Weasley will think that you have a very considerate husband. Kreacher!'

The ancient house elf appeared with a soft Plop.

'Please, go to The Burrow and tell Mrs Weasley that we're awfully sorry, but your mistress isn't feeling well, and I had to take her back home.'

Kreacher nodded and disappeared.

Harry turned towards her, the roguish grin still on his face. 'Now, where were we?'

His mouth crushed down on hers, their lips melded, the heat in her belly mounted, and her hands found their way under his new sweater, pushing it up.

With an impatient gesture he pulled the sweater over his head, his eyes never leaving her face, and then grabbed the hem of her sweater. Before she knew how it had happened, her sweater flew over her head into a corner of the room, and his hands fumbled with the tiny buttons on the front of her blouse, while his lips searched for hers.

She reciprocated and opened the buttons of his shirt, pulled it down over his shoulders, and let her hands glide across the smooth skin of his supple back and chest.

He groaned. 'Oh Merlin, Daph.' His hands trembled, and she helped him with the last buttons of her blouse. The expendable piece of clothing fell to the ground, and he trailed a line of kisses down her throat to her breasts, while his hands fumbled for the clasp of her bra at her back.

She arched her back and moaned. Her hands fisted in his silky hair, and guided his head back up, until his lips were on hers again. The world turned around her, faster and faster. There was nothing else that mattered than the feeling of his lips on hers, and on her skin; his hands roamed her body and elicited sensations she'd never thought possible. His passion engulfed her, and her body screamed to go down that dark, warm path with him.

They undressed each other with trembling hands, until there was nothing more that separated them. Sweet heat consumed her, and her knees buckled. Harry scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.

When he lowered her down into the soft cushions, his eyes looked down at her in a wordless question. She reached up with her arms and pulled him towards her in silent consent. She'd devoted herself to him years ago, mind, soul and magic. Now the time had come to take the last step, to give her body to him and to take his in return.

Their eyes locked, they finally became one. His eyes burned into hers with a glowing intensity. The breath caught in her throat. Could it be …?

He moved inside her, her body responded to his on its own accord, and any coherent thought was impossible. Her whole body tingled; once again his magic seemed to seep into her, and a faint glow surrounded them. The heat in her belly intensified, she moaned and tightened her embrace around him, gathered as much of him in her arms as she could hold. This was frightening and exciting and so absolutely right. She was where she belonged, she never wanted this to end … The heat in her body concentrated, became unbearable, and she cried out in sweet agony, his magic flooding her system as the world ground to a halt.

The next moment Harry collapsed over her. Their gasping breath sounded unnatural loud in the quiet room.

Harry raised his head and looked at her. 'Daphne, darling, I …ummm,' His voice trailed off. What was it he intended to say? Her heart hammered in her chest.

'Yes, Harry?'

'I …' He shook his head. His arms tightened around her, and he lowered his lips onto hers. The kiss he gave her was slow and sweet, and she trembled in his arms.

He raised his head, gave her a smile that melted her heart on the spot, and rolled on his back, pulling her with him.

She adjusted herself on his chest, her head tucked under his chin. A broad smile crept over her face. Maybe some things didn't need to be spelled out in capital letters, it was enough to live through them, feel them. She still had no idea about his feelings for her, but by the way he treated her today there was no doubt it had meant more to him than just quenching his desire, just as there was no doubt that he'd not once thought of the Weaselette when he made love to her. Did he love her? She had no idea, and most likely he didn't, either, but she'd give him all the time he needed to learn to know his feelings.

She'd take any bet that the Weaselette would try to continue manipulating him - them - and to be a pain in their behinds. However, at the end of the day Harry would fall asleep and wake in her arms, and not in the bed of the Weaselette, and in the end that was all that mattered.

The smile stayed on her face when she drifted off to sleep in the arms of her husband.

The End