Connections and Reconnecting
Chapter Four: Connections and Reconnecting
On the desk of Hermione Granger was a communication orb- one of a few she kept under strict lock and key for either herself or Senior Head Auror Robards to be able to receive regular updates with Aurors out in the field on covert assignments. At the moment she and Robards were receiving a report from one of those Aurors.
"Things are still running smoothly ma'am," reported the mole. "But I'm not sure how long that will last. The Cabal has something planned, something big."
"Any clue as to what that might be?" Hermione asked.
"Not a one," the informant replied. "But whatever it might be has Vanité in quite a fit. All I know is that it's being spearheaded by Metus."
"That's something at least," Hermione sighed.
"But not exactly reassuring," Robards stated pessimistically. "Is there any other intel you can give us, Troy?"
"Sorry, boss, it's all rather hush-hush," Troy told them. "Although there is one thing..."
"What is it?" asked Hermione.
"There seems to be some infighting going on between some of the factions of the Cabal," Troy informed them. "It looks like a rift is forming between Metus and one or two of the others."
"Any idea the cause of this rift?" Malcolm inquired.
"My guess would be The Wizard's constant disruption of their activities. The Cabal seems to have taken a huge financial blow as of late," Troy answered. "Enough that the Archons are starting to take independent actions to bring him down."
The Director and the Senior Head Auror shared a look of concern.
"What sort of actions?" Robards asked.
"I'm not sure. Metus has some sort of scheme in place to bring him down, but Vanité isn't willing to wait, hiring some assassin named Copperhead to bring him in. From what I can tell, one or two of the others might be considering bringing in Wilson or Lawton," Troy speculated.
"Damn it," Robards cursed, clenching his fists together.
"Troy, keep us posted on what's going on," Hermione replied.
"Will do, ma'am, Bradshaw out," Troy replied as the communications orb went dim.
"If we're not careful the whole country could turn into one giant warzone." Robards informed the Director. "While this vigilante has done some good, we need to double our efforts bringing him in before he becomes more trouble than he's worth."
"I agree," Hermione replied with a frown. "I'll inform Shack that we're upgrading The Wizard's status to Undesirable Number One. From there the three of us can decide how and when best to inform the general public."
"Thank you for meeting with me so quickly," Lady Vanité cordially told her visitor and, hopefully, business partner with a smile from behind her desk.
"With the amount you're offering, it would have been rude otherwise," a blonde woman with short hair told her as she sat across from her potential employer.
Her face was painted black around her copper-colored serpentine eyes and she wore black lipstick. She also wore a form fitting snakeskin outfit and though Vanité was unaware of what species of snake it was made from, it was likely that the skin for the assassin's outfit had come from a magical one. The shirt the woman wore was sleeveless, however she sore tight black gloves that went halfway up her forearm. The left handed glove, however, was slightly bulkier- more of a gauntlet than a glove, which sported small talons on her finger tips. She also wore knee high black boots with a matching belt that was outfitted like a bandolier, holding several bottles and vials of various substances.
When the woman smiled, she revealed a set elongated fangs that were very unlike those found on a vampire, being much more curved, like those found on various breeds of poisonous serpents. She was known throughout the underworld as a master contortionist, infiltration specialist, escape artist and assassin with more than a small penchant for using and developing her own poisons.
She was the woman known to many only as Copperhead.
Vanité giggled in response. "That was just to whet the appetite, dearie. I'm willing to pay half upfront for you to deal with a small problem of mine."
Copperhead smirked in response. "A few weeks ago, your problem would have been small. Word has it, your problem is anything but."
Vanité's eyes narrowed slightly.
"You want The Wizard and you want him alive," Copperhead stated. "That's going to cost you and it won't be cheap."
"I'm already offering you a significant percentage above your usual rates," Vanité pointed out in aggravation. "What more do you want."
It was Copperhead's turn to giggle while studying the talons on her gloved left hand. "Money is so mundane and so boring... And I have plenty of it, even without taking this job. I have much more... esoteric desires... Things you can acquire more easily than I. After all, this is a special job that requires a special touch."
Vanité took a moment to consider the other woman's words, before looking her directly in the eye. "What do you want?"
At this Copperhead's smirk transformed into a smile as she pulled a tightly bound scroll from a pouch on her belt. "I'll take the job at my regular fee... I won't even charge you my 'bring in alive' rate."
At this Vanité's eyes widened in surprise as she wondered at what sort of concession the assassin wanted. "What's the catch?"
Copperhead tossed Lady Yaxley the scroll. "The items on that list are rather difficult to come by. Procure them for me and I will consider that the advanced payment."
Violet broke the seal on the scroll and perused its' contents. Though there were some times of questionable legality on this list, most were difficult to obtain due to their rarity rather than their legality. All in all, despite the job still costing Violet about what she initially offered the assassin, it was actually quite the boon for the pureblood socialite as she could run experiments on her own to see what it was that the femme fatale that she'd hired was concocting.
Looking up from the scroll, Vanité smiled at Copperhead.
"You have a deal."
Draco was quite surprised to find Pansy alone in his dining hall the next morning, her face was a mask of seriousness and contemplation.
"Pans?" he asked warily, startling the woman out of her reverie.
"Hey," she replied with a smile.
"You looked intense for a moment there," Draco noted. "Knut for your thoughts?"
"Such a paltry sum you're offering..." Pansy replied disdainfully with a sniff. "My thoughts are worth so much more than that."
Draco simply rolled his friend's response, causing both to smile at their own interplay.
"Just thinking about things, you know," Pansy told him.
"Like what?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Like how things might be different if we'd made different choices," Pansy answered. "Like if I hadn't tried to turn Potter over to the Dark Lord or if we hadn't broken our betrothal..." Pansy looked as if she had a sudden thought and laughed.
"What's so funny?" asked Draco, slightly apprehensive of the answer.
Pansy's grin only widened in response. "It's just that, when we were children, I never once thought that we wouldn't be together. Even during our seventh year, I couldn't even contemplate a future where I wasn't Mrs. Malfoy."
"And now?" Draco asked curiously.
Her grin settled into a smirk. "And now... I can't imagine what I'd been thinking back then."
"Should I feel insulted?" Draco replied in an amused tone.
"I hadn't meant it like that," Pansy giggled before sighing. "What I meant is that Astoria is so much better for you than I ever was- than I ever could be..."
Draco's gaze became distant for a moment. "Do you ever wonder what things would be like if..."
"If we'd stayed together?"
"Sometimes," Pansy replied. "But I don't regret leaving or breaking our betrothal. Did you?"
"No, we did the right thing for both of us," Draco answered as he shook his head. "While it did take a while to get used to the fact that we weren't going to get married, I wouldn't trade anything for what I have now."
"I'm glad to hear it," Pansy replied.
"Honestly, I think Mother had a harder time dealing with it than we did," Draco told her. "She was always pretty fond of you."
"I know, Narcissa was like a second mother to me," Pansy said with a nostalgic smile. "She was my idol for the longest time, because she had and was everything I wanted to be."
They were silent for a moment before Draco spoke up again. "Not that I mind reminiscing about the old days, but what brought this on?"
"Was just feeling nostalgic, is all..." Pansy replied with a smile and a sigh. "I've been gone so long... I didn't realize how much I missed everything and everyone."
It was subtle, but he'd known her long enough that he noticed the very brief conflict in her expression. It was only on the account that they were such great friends than he decided not to press her on the issue.
"You're back with us now, and that's all that matters," Draco replied.
There it was again.
The meeting with Minister Shacklebolt had gone well, all things considered, and he was now committing more resources to the capture of The Wizard, whose status had been upgraded to Undesirable #1. More pressing, however, was how they were going to do it and who they were going to put in charge. Both Director Granger and Senior Head Auror Robards both knew without a doubt that they had moles in their midst, both from within and without. The Ministry command structure was compromised, both by Waller's Unspeakables and the Cabal's lackeys.
It was quite the accomplishment that Auror Bradshaw and others like him were able to keep their cover in place.
Still, that left the senior most personnel of the DMLE looking for someone both decorated enough with the skills they needed and was someone whom they were both absolutely sure they could trust. In this matter, that only left one person, the man who had just entered the Director's Office having been let in by Ms. Chambers.
The man looked rather unremarkable- with his slightly overweight build and lackluster appearance. While the man was not slovenly, he was rather unkempt. He wore the dark brown cloak of a head auror (Malcolm, as Senior Head Auror wore a purple one, while regular Aurors wore red, Auror Recruits wore gray and trainees wore blue) over a muggle casual suit that was, while clean, wrinkly. His scruffy dark brown hair looked as if it hadn't ever seen a comb and his seemingly perpetual five o'clock shadow looked as if he hadn't shaved in days. In his mouth was a toothpick- one of many that he could be seen gnawing on since he 'quit smoking' (he was known to still 'light up' from time to time).
"Director, Mal, you wanted to see me?" he asked them as he walked in, seemingly bored with the meeting already.
The two addressees looked at each other a moment and with a non-verbal cue, it was the Senior Head Auror who addressed their subordinate. "Have a seat Harv."
The head auror eyed them suspiciously, but acquiesced to the not quite request. "What's goin' on?"
"Something big is headed our way. Since The Wizard arrived, we've seen a significant drop in illicit dealings, but we fear it's only the calm before the storm," Robards explained. "As a result, we're establishing a task-force that will have the dual responsibility of keeping the danger contained and bringing down an unknown number of high level undesirables."
"Which is where you come in, Head Auror Bullock," the Director cut in. "While the aid The Wizard has provided us has been beneficial to us in the short term, we fear that the Cabal and those they do business with may begin to grow desperate and start escalating the situation in retaliation. Without meaning to, through his vigilantism, The Wizard has indirectly become a threat to the people of the muggle and magical United Kingdom. As such, his status has been upgraded to Undesirable #1 and bringing him in will be one of your top priorities."
Bullock's eyes widened in surprise. "Not that I'm not flattered by all this, but why me? I'm not exactly a Ministry poster boy."
"True," Director Granger agreed with a nod. "There are many who are both more decorated and commendable out there with skills equal to your own. And while you have been known to... Bend a few rules, you are the only one that both Malcolm and I are absolutely sure we can trust to follow the spirit and letter of the law bringing down The Wizard and any other Undesirables that may be cropping up in the near future."
"What do ya mean?" Bullock asked with a frown. SHA Robards passed him several files. Flipping through the top one, the head auror whistled. "Bringing down Specialists of their caliber down won't be easy. Especially if the others are like her." As he said this, he held up a picture included in the file he'd been perusing so that they could see who he was referring to.
"That's Copperhead, so far the only confirmed 'specialist', as you put it, to have been hired for the specific purpose of bringing The Wizard down," Robards told him. "The other dossiers in your possession are ones that we might possibly see in the future and what we know about them, including everything we know about The Wizard."
Bullock raised an eyebrow as he glanced at the others. "I can see why you don't want to just let the crazies take each other out. Lawton, Jones, Lynns... Deathstroke the Terminator... You're expecting a warzone and want me to run damage control."
"That about sums it up," Robards replied.
Bullock looked at the files contemplatively before replying with a demand. "Fine, I'll do it, but I want to put together my own team and run it like I see fit."
"Within reason, Bullock," Director Granger stated with a hint of warning in her tone.
"Don't get your knickers in a bunch, Director," Bullock carelessly replied in a half-assed attempt at placating the Director. "I'll get the job done."
And with that said, he immediately left the Director's office without being dismissed.
"I really hate that man..." Granger said without any real venom.
"He is one of the best we have," Robards pointed out.
"I know. If he wasn't..." the Director trailed off not needing to elaborate.
Robards nodded in agreement before he too headed out of the office to resume his duties.
For Ms. Kelly Chambers it was a regular day.
Being the personal assistant to the Director of Magical Law Enforcement was a fairly easy job, especially if you were a PA to someone as organized as Director Granger, who generally kept track of her day to day affairs well enough on her own.
That is, until Harry Potter threw the proverbial wrench in the gears.
"Hello, Miss," said a charming voice. She instantly looked up from the memo she was drafting for the Director and was startled to see the most wonderful green eyes she'd ever seen.
"Ah... Y-yes?" Kelly stuttered. The man in question simply gave her a damnable smirk that should be classified as a deadly weapon in most countries.
"Is your boss in?" he asked her.
"I'm sorry, but the Director is busy, so you'll have to make an appointment," Kelly replied uneasily.
"She'll make time for me," he confidently told her looking directly into her eyes. Kelly felt herself get lost in them briefly before realizing that he was no longer standing directly in front of her desk, but heading for the door.
"I-I'm sorry, Mr..." she struggled, as she did not remember his name or whether or not he'd even given it.
"Potter. Harry Potter," he replied with a smile that left her flustered. Her face then promptly formed an 'oh' expression as she did the telltale check for his scar that was barely visible underneath his hair. "And I have business with the Director."
"B-but..." Kelly stuttered, trying and mostly failing to refuse Harry entry to the office of her boss and his best friend. "J-just let me see if she'll have you..." Kelly stepped in front of Harry and knocked on the director's door twice before poking her head inside the door. "Madame Director..."
"We need to talk, 'Mione," Harry interrupted, making himself visible to the Director's line of sight.
Hermione looked up from her paperwork and promptly put it down once Harry spoke. She then proceeded to take off her glasses and rub her temples and sighed. "No pleasant conversation was ever preceded by those words... Let him in Kelly..."
"Yes, Director," Kelly replied, making way for Harry to properly enter the office. She blushed when Harry smiled at her as he passed by.
After Kelly shut the door and Harry had taken one of the guest chairs, Hermione simply shook her head and asked exasperatedly. "What did you do to my PA, Harry?"
"What do you mean?" asked Harry in confusion.
"No one, not even Shack, gets in here that easily without an appointment," Hermione said resignedly.
"And what makes you think I did anything?" Harry asked with a smile. "Some people are just awed by my celebrity."
Hermione rolled her eyes in response and then said. "Says the man who won a prank war against myself and two Weasleys."
"Fine," Harry gave in with a sigh. "A very mild confundus charm with an added flustering hex that activated when she looked me in the eye."
"I should fine you, you know," Hermione said to him with a stern expression on her face.
Harry shrugged. "But you won't, since we're friends."
"No... That's the reason why you're not sitting in a holding cell right now," Hermione countered.
"Harry..." Hermione said with a small amount of legitimate ire in her voice. Harry decided it was time to get down to business.
"Alright... Charming personal aides aside..." Harry smiled at the pun. Hermione once again rolled her eyes. "I actually did want to talk to you about a serious matter."
"What is it?" she asked with a small amount of concern written into her features.
"The international task force," Harry promptly responded.
"Harry..." Hermione began in warning.
"Do you really think it's a good idea?" Harry asked, interrupting his friend.
"Yes and no..." Hermione replied cautiously. "I see it as a potential way to increase international relations. On the other hand, it's potentially a jurisdictional and bureaucratic nightmare. I take it you have thoughts on this?"
"I feel I wouldn't be a good friend if I didn't warn you of the potential dangers," Harry responded.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that you should watch your back," Harry warned. "As you've no doubt noticed, the world is rarely a nice place."
"What are you getting at, Harry?" Hermione inquired.
Harry hesitated a moment, before he explained. "Most people, magical and not, live their lives just to get by day to day. They go to work, get married, have kids, etc..."
Hermione nodded in acknowledgment.
"Now, the magical world can be, for those of us with non-magical upbringing, a rather bizarre place- as it is both behind and ahead of the muggle world in many ways." Harry continued, "For example, slavery is still legal in one form or another in many premier countries around the world- the exception being the United States- and not all of those countries limit themselves to the use of house elves. On the other hand, while it is still very patriarchal in many ways, the magical world gained sexual equality centuries before muggles even toyed with the idea."
Hermione frowned. "This is all stuff I already know."
Harry nodded. "I'm sure you do. However, in the magical world, there exists those of exceptional talent that want to do more than just 'get by'."
"Those people exist in the Muggle world too, Harry," Hermione replied disapprovingly.
"But not in the way I mean," Harry replied with a hint of annoyance, "What I am talking about are those who become take it upon themselves to become Specialists."
"Specialists?" Hermione inquired, not familiar with the use of the term- at least not as Harry was. Or Harvey Bullock, apparently, as he had also used that term to describe Copperhead and the others. She held in a sigh as she mentally resigned herself to another conversation with Bullock should Harry not give her satisfactory answers.
Harry nodded once more. "It's a polite name for what they truly are- mercenaries, hired wands, sell-mages... Specialists come in a wide variety of forms and are everything from warders and cursebreakers to enchanters and artificers. Some are even 'acquisition specialists' or assassins."
"The muggle world has those as well," Hermione noted.
"True," Harry acknowledged, "But while a muggle assassin can be a mercenary, a mercenary is rarely an assassin and even more rarely are mercs and assassins thieves- plunderers, maybe, but burglars almost never. Being labeled a 'Specialist' in the Wizarding World is like being described as one of its' elite magic users."
"So Dumbledore, Voldemort, Flamel and Grindlewald..."
"Were no mere Specialists," Harry interrupted. "Technically, yes, they would be considered Specialists, but wizards like them are a class of their own- the elite of the elite."
"So what does any of this have to do with the as of yet unnamed international task-force?" Hermione questioned her friend.
Harry hesitated for a moment, as if thinking about what or how he was going to tell her. "What do you think this task-force is going to be made up from? The majority of Specialists out there are a rather unscrupulous bunch that in some ways, while being the best in the Wizarding World at what they do, they embody the worst of what the Wizarding World has to offer. Either someone in the ICW is making a play for power or someone affiliated with them is. We could be looking at a threat much greater than Voldemort and Grindlewald combined, with international sanction to do as they please."
"Surely not all are like that!" Hermione protested.
Harry shrugged. "No they aren't. Either way, even if this task-force is on the straight and narrow, the Specialists recruited for this task-force will always put the goals and ambitions of the task-force first above everything else- slaves to whatever Greater Good they serve."
Hermione raised an eyebrow at his choice of phrasing and scolded him. "Not everyone in power or in positions of influence are like Dumbledore, Harry."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "You saw the memory, Hermione, even Snape, who hated me beyond all reason, was shocked at how willing Dumbledore was to sacrifice me like a pawn who didn't matter."
"I-I know, Harry... I-I'm sorry... It's just..." Hermione tried to respond as she tiredly slumped into her chair.
"I get it, Hermione, believe me I do," Harry replied reassuringly with a sigh. "I've just seen more of the grittier side of the Wizarding World that most never do."
"You're one of them, aren't you?" Hermione asked a bit hesitantly. "A Specialist?"
"Yeah, 'Mione," Harry replied, "I am. I know what they're capable of better than most, which is why I want you to be careful."
Hermione looked conflicted a moment, before deciding to confide in Harry- at least a little bit. "Can you tell me anything about other Specialists?"
"Some," Harry replied. "Those of us with the same or similar skill sets would often run into each other on a job- either working with or against each other. Do keep in mind that a lot of Specialists are somewhat regional- very few have world-class reputations, though one would still hear the occasional rumor. Most of my work took place in North America, Eastern Asia and Northern South America."
"Have you ever heard of someone called Copperhead?" Hermione inquired.
"Rumors, mostly," Harry replied with a grimace. "Nasty bloke from Spain, I think. Escape artist and infiltration expert who makes his own poisons. Likes to make his victims suffer slow agonizing deaths. Never met him though."
"Oh," Hermione replied with a strange look on her face. "What about Slade Wilson?"
Harry's eyes widened in surprise "The Terminator?"
"Met him before?" Hermione asked in interest.
"Twice actually. Deathstroke's one of those world-class Specialists, so you'd be hard pressed to find a major player in the Wizarding Underworld who hasn't heard of him. Getting them to talk however..." Harry shrugged as he told her. "He's not someone you want as an enemy, but he's a professional- doesn't carry many grudges and doesn't let them interfere in his work. Will do practically any job for the right pay, but mostly carries out assassinations. He was the first of the New Age Specialists."
"New Age Specialists?" Hermione inquired with a puzzled expression on her face.
"The world at large, not just the UK, is a much different place than it was a decade ago," Harry replied. "Surely you've noticed. The Wizarding World has seen more advancement in the last ten years than it has in the rest of the century combined. We're currently in the middle of a modern day renaissance."
"Are you saying that the fall of Voldemort was the catalyst needed for the Wizarding World to move forward," Hermione asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Partly, but Voldemort wasn't the only prominent wizard who fell ten years ago," Harry stated. "Not only was the purist power block virtually decimated, but two icons of Wizarding Culture also died... Gellert Grindlewald and Albus Dumbledore."
"How do you figure?" Hermione asked. "Dumbledore was one of the most outspoken advocates for progress."
"He was also an old man who was very set in his ways," Harry rebutted. "While he always spoke of change, he did very little to enact it, believing, much like the Ministry, that progress should be handled in a controlled manner. It didn't help that Dumbledore, Voldemort and even Grindlewald, were widely considered the pinnacles of what a wizard should be. Because of these factors, very few were willing to think outside the box and those who did where often ostracized for it- amongst those were Specialists like Wilson, who used more than magic to accomplish their goals."
Harry paused for a moment, looking Hermione directly in the eye and continuing.
"The deaths of Dumbledore, Grindlewald and Voldemort and the fall of the purist power block here in the Magical UK sparked a revolution of sorts that others were quick to imitate as more and more people were beginning to notice how the Wizarding World as a whole was beginning to stagnate," he explained. "And this is reflected in the ways the Specialists have evolved. Most Specialists now excel in both magical and non-magical combat, often mixing them to form their own styles- something that was frowned upon a decade ago. It's no longer beneath a witch or a wizard to throw a punch rather than cast a spell, if the situation warrants it. Where a fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore simply involved flinging massive amounts of magic at each other from a distance, a fight between Copperhead and Deathstroke would also involve intense hand to hand combat, poison tipped weapons and specialized MagiTech on top of flinging large amounts of magic at each other."
"How dangerous are they?" Hermione asked with a frown.
"Extremely," Harry answered without hesitation. "The average auror, one-on-one, wouldn't stand a chance. An experienced group of elite aurors could subdue Copperhead if you keep him at a distance and block his escape routes. Deathstroke on the other hand is a class of his own, but won't kill unless he has to or is being paid to. It would take a good amount of luck to bring him down."
"I see..." Hermione replied distractedly.
"Hermione, those are dangerous people. What's going on?" Harry asked.
"I'm sorry, Harry, it's classified," Hermione replied conflictedly.
Harry simply gave his friend a concerned look, but didn't press. "Just be careful."
"I will," Hermione told him before slightly changing the subject. "You said cursebreakers are Specialists, so Bill...?"
Harry got an amused look on his face as he shook his head. "As capable as Bill is, only in the barest sense. Almost all cursebreakers who are true Specialists are freelance or Nightingales."
"Nightingales?" Hermione asked.
"Human Specialists under the employ of the Gnomish Union who work with and independently of the GU Special Tasks Group," Harry explained. "Most of what they do for the GU is illegal, so they don't officially exist."
"I see..." Hermione responded with a frown. "How is it that the Ministry isn't more aware of these people?"
"That's something you could have thanked Croaker and Voldemort for," Harry replied. "The team Croaker put together kept most of the low and middle tier Specialists out of the Magical UK and Waller's group is even more formidable than his was. In most countries, the only people aware of the existence of Specialists are the elder, more influential members of the Old Families and upper echelons of their respective Ministries. Most anyone of significant rank in the UK's ministry who would know about such things were either killed by Voldemort and his followers or put into prison by you and Shacklebolt ten years ago."
Hermione sighed. "This is all one big mess..."
"If it makes you feel any better, the mess has always been there- you're just more aware of it," Harry offered in consolation. "Just remember that if you need me, I'm there for you."
"Thanks, Harry," Hermione said gratefully. "So where and what time are we meeting tonight?"
"When does the ball start?" Harry inquired.
"Eight o'clock," Hermione replied.
"Then we'll meet at eight thirty at the manor," Harry replied. Hermione raised an eyebrow at this. "I learned more than just magic while I was gone, Hermione. I'm rich, a war hero and somebody of interest who has not been seen in public in Wizarding Britain in almost a decade."
"So we're making an entrance," Hermione stated.
"And a statement," Harry added.
"Yet another sign of how much things have changed. Ten years ago, you'd have avoided something like this like the plague and would have done your best to keep yourself out of the spotlight."
"I'm still the same Harry I was before, only now I'm more comfortable with who and what I am," Harry replied. "My time away from both the Dursleys and the Wizarding Public allowed me to see myself beyond the illusions of worthlessness and celebrity I had been forced to deal with both at Privet Drive and at Hogwarts."
"I had no idea you felt that way," Hermione said sadly.
"That was the point. I didn't want you guys to know." Harry told her. "You and Ron had been at my side through everything... You guys did more for me than I could have asked for- than I ever dreamed. I figured it was about time I started standing on my own- that's part of why I left."
"Then why did you leave without telling anyone... Without at least saying good bye!?" Hermione demanded. "We'd have understood."
"No you wouldn't have," Harry rebuked. "I didn't want to be everyone's hero. I didn't want to deal with the awkwardness of mine and Ginny's relationship or the fact that I, for all intents and purposes, tried to commit suicide by throwing myself on Voldemort's wand, or the fact that I suddenly found myself as a potential guardian for a recently orphaned baby- one whose parents' and grandfather's deaths I blamed myself for. Everyone was starting to look to me for all the answers and leadership when I was just a scared kid with too much luck and not enough sense."
Harry sighed as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "When I made the decision to leave, I knew I couldn't tell anyone, especially not you and Ron. Not only would you try to stop me- you'd have succeeded. That's why I declined going to Australia with you guys and why I didn't come back to the Burrow the night after you guys left after visiting with Andromeda and Teddy."
"Did you think it was any easier for us?" Hermione asked in a heated tone.
Harry snorted. "Not for a moment, but unlike you, I wanted out. I was tired of fighting, 'Mione, and I was left without a clue as to who I was without Voldemort. I'll admit to not making some of the best decisions while trying to find myself, but at least it was my mistakes screwing up my life. Besides, everything turned out all right in the end."
It was Hermione turn to sigh. "I understand, Harry, I really do. But as much as you say Voldemort was a part of your life, you were just a big a part of mine and Ron's. Your presence in our lives was so great that the two of usdidn't know who we were without you. Even if you weren't physically with us, we knew you were always there in your own way supporting us and looking out for us, protecting us from ourselves and each other and everything else in between. You were what held us together. As much as Ron and I cared and loved each other... Without you, there was no 'us'. No 'Golden Trio' and certainly no 'Ron and Hermione'."
"I know, and I am sorry about that," Harry replied with a sad smile.
"And you shouldn't be," Hermione said comfortingly, her eyes misting slightly. "We didn't realize it, but we took you for granted. We, Ron and I that is, always knew how much you valued having us in your life. You always let us know how much you appreciated us... Maybe if we..."
Harry reached across the desk, taking her hand in a comfortable grip. "You have nothing to apologize for as far as I'm concerned. I think all around, we all made mistakes- both real and imagined. I say we move on and become stronger, better people for it."
Hermione gave Harry a watery smile. "How did you become so wise?"
"I adapted to a life where I didn't have you to think for me," Harry replied.
Hermione simply rolled her eyes in response.
Hermione Granger checked her watch for what seemed to be the one hundredth time in the last fifteen minutes. Though they'd arranged to meet at Malfoy Manor at eight-thirty, she'd arrived ten minutes early and it was nearly nine o'clock and still no Harry. Currently, she was waiting in the main hall waiting for her date so that they could be announced to the rest of the guests of the ball.
Such honors were reserved to those of great stature, both monetarily and professionally. Hermione's position as the Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement would normally be enough to afford her the honor of being announced as she was the second most senior official within the Ministry of Magic. However, under normal circumstances, Hermione would usually forgo the announcement and just enter the ball as a regular, nondescript guest, but as the ball's main purpose was for raising funds for the Auror force, Hermione could not do so in this instance.
Besides, Harry was also using this as an opportunity to announce himself to the Wizarding Public- or at least he would be if he was there.
At that particular thought, Hermione glanced at her watch once more.
"I never thought I'd see the day Hermione Granger would actually show up to one of these things with a date," said a familiar voice- one that Hermione had been dreading, as it belonged to her date's ex-girlfriend, Ginevra Weasley, who was with her fiancee, Nikola Krum, younger brother to Bulgarian Seeker, Viktor Krum- who narrowly defeated Ginny during the previous World Cup Series, which is how the two met. It was a strange relationship that many speculated would be filled with conflicted interests given that Nikola was both the manager for the Bulgarian National Team Seeker and the fiancee of the English National Team Seeker.
"Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed in surprise, which she recovered from quickly. "How have you been?"
"Spectacular, just got back a few hours ago," Ginny replied. "So who is the unlucky bloke that is not only keeping you waiting, but has to get the official Weasley stamp of approval?"
"You mean, I don't already have it?" asked another voice, which startled Hermione, Ginny and Nikola.
Ginny turned quickly towards the speaker and paled. "H-Harry...?"
"Hello, Ginny," Harry replied with a half grin.
The silence that followed was intense. Nikola seemed to quickly pick up on the tension between his fiancee, the new arrival and their friend and chose to remain silent. Harry, however, had no such thoughts of fading into the background.
"Well, no one greet me all at once," Harry commented with a grin. "Who's your friend, Ginny?"
"Th-this is m-my fiancee, Nikola Krum," Ginny stammered. "Nik, this is... Harry, Harry Potter."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise at the identity of Ginny's date, though no less than the others when he responded directly to Nikola in perfect Bulgarian.
"Krum? As in Viktor Krum?" Harry inquired.
Nikola looked startled for a moment before replying to Harry in kind as they shook hands. "Yes... He is my brother."
Harry simply nodded in response. "Ginny is a special woman with five older brothers who aren't as imaginative as I am."
Though this wasn't said in a threatening way, by the expression on Nikola's face, the threat was made loud and clear. Though she wasn't nearly as fluent in Bulgarian as Harry obviously was, she understood enough that her eyes narrowed as her face took on a thunderous expression, her face reddening slightly in anger.
For a brief moment, Harry felt the old stirrings of feelings long faded. Her passions truly did bring out the best and worst of his ex-girlfriend. Seeing her like this, he could honestly say he was truly over her.
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Ginny demanded.
"Just informing him of the possible consequences should he survive whatever you do to him if he hurts you," Harry replied evenly, with a slight smirk on his face.
"And what makes you think you have the right to make those types of insinuations," Ginny replied icily.
"Because, despite how I left, I do still care for you," Harry replied. Ginny huffed derisively at that, but before she could reply, Harry interrupted her. "Now is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. If you'd like, you can meet up with me later in the week and yell, scream, hit or curse me. Until then, this is a party which I am intent on enjoying."
"This isn't over, Harry," Ginny hissed as she stormed away from him and Hermione.
"It was good to meet you," Harry said to Nikola. The Bulgarian simply nodded warily at Harry and followed after his irate fiancee. He then turned towards Hermione with a smile. "Well... That was fun."
"It definitely could have went better..." Hermione replied. "Did you really have to antagonize her like that."
"No, but as much as I loved her, she was part, a very small part, mind- but still a part, of the reason I left," Harry told her. "Still, it was good to see her again, even if she want's to hex me into oblivion."
Hermione sighed in exasperation. "Oh, Harry..."
"If it helps, I promise not to antagonize anyone else," Harry replied with a sly smile. "Unless it's Malfoy, then all bets are off."
"It's good to know that some things haven't changed," Ron said with a smirk. "Figured I'd find you here when I saw Ginny storming off in a snit."
"I'm surprised to see you here," Harry told him.
Ron shrugged. "Malfoy can't afford to not invite me- I'm a man of money and influence. Of course, I can't afford not to come either- the PR alone is good for business. Besides, since this event is for the Aurors, I can help Hermione out without picking up a wand."
"I'm surprised you didn't host this then," Harry replied.
"I have when my schedule is free," Ron responded. "Parvati is just as good as Astoria at arranging this sort of thing."
"First name basis with our school yard rival's wife?" Harry asked incredulously. "Will wonders ever cease?"
"I know, right? And she was a Slytherin too," Ron replied. "It's this maturity thing that's all the rage these days. All the respectable adults are doing it."
"That still doesn't explain you," Harry pointed out.
"I thought I'd try it out for a bit," Ron easily rebutted. "See what it was like to be like everyone else."
"How's that working out for you?"
"It's not. Responsibility is over rated. I think I can actually feel myself becoming more and more like Percy everyday."
Hermione sighed in exasperation. "I swear, it's like we're eleven all over again."
"At least we're housebroken now," Harry responded.
"Speak for yourself, Harry-kins, but no woman could contain the awesome manliness that is Ronald Weasley!" Ron declared.
"Is that so?" asked a familiar voice, the one belonging to Parvati, the non-pregnant Patil twin and sister to Ron's wife, Padma.
"Damn it... You could have warned me..." Ron complained.
Hermione replied with a smirk. "And spoil that surprise? Not on your life."
"Face it 'Won-Won', you're just as whipped as any other man," Parvati stated with a smirk of her own. Harry then got the biggest shock of the evening when she wrapped herself around Ron's arm and proceeded to kiss him passionately.
"Ron, what are you doing?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Kissing my wife," Ron told him breathlessly.
"There you two are!" exclaimed the pregnant Padma who, much to Harry's bewilderment, treated Parvati and Ron's intimate embrace as an everyday occurrence.
"Wha-" Harry said uselessly. "What's going on?"
As he asked this, Parvati and Ron untangled from each other, though Parvati was still wrapped around one arm. Padma wrapped herself around the other, however due to her distended stomach, couldn't exactly mold herself to his side like Parvati had done.
Hermione finally giggled, holding back laughter. Ron, Parvati and Padma were doing much the same.
"I was just pranked, wasn't I?" Harry asked rhetorically.
"Yes and no," Hermione replied. "Meet Parvati and Padma Weasley, Twin-Sister-Wives of Ronald Weasley."
"Uh... Wow..." Harry replied dumbly before regaining his composure. Raising on eyebrow, he turned his attention solely on Ron. "And you used to be jealous of me!"
"Yeah, who knew being the side-kick came with such perks," Ron replied with a grin. "I love being me!"
"Certainly beats the hero package," Harry quipped back. "So tell me, do..." As he began to ask his question, he noticed the interested and predatory looks the women were giving him and Ron. "We need to go in soon?"
Ron smirked. "Nice save."
"I've learned most of what not to say from your own shining example," Harry replied easily.
"It's a gift!" Ron said pompously. The women all rolled their eyes in response.
"We'll head in first so you can make your entrance," Parvati cut in heading towards the greeter.
"See you guys in there," Padma said as she steered Ron towards the entrance.
As they walked away, Harry turned to Hermione, who promptly took his arm, gesturing towards their friends. "I'm surprised you're okay with that."
"Ten years ago, I wouldn't have been. A lot has changed since then. They're happy and he's happy," Hermione replied. "Isn't that the type of thing we fought for?"
"It's what you still fight for," Harry pointed out.
"True, but with only a fraction of the self-righteousness," Hermione replied.
Harry winced. "That's not the term I'd've used."
"Doesn't make it any less true." Hermione pointed out.
"You were just driven to do the right thing," Harry countered. "I wasn't the only one with a 'people-saving thing'."
"I was obsessive and convinced myself that my actions were justified because I thought I was right," Hermione stated. "I came to terms a long time ago with who I was and who I am, Harry. You don't have to protect me anymore."
"What can I say, it's hardwired in," Harry replied.
"Don't I know it," Hermione replied back. "So, shall we make your statement?"
"How are you enjoying the party?" Draco asked Pansy handing her a drink. He was wearing a set of black on black dress robes whereas Pansy was wearing a jet black dress with an open back and a translucent black shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
"Feeling nostalgic surrounded by so much of the old crowd," Pansy replied. "Though Weasley and his sister are surprising additions."
"He's likely the richest person in the room who isn't me and she's the English National Team Seeker, not to mention both are old friends of the Director of the DMLE," Draco pointed out. "It'd be stranger on our part for neither of them to at least be invited."
"And even if they wanted to snub your invitation, their connections pretty much require them to be here," Pansy stated. "Morgana's tits, I hated the politics of these things..."
Draco gave her an astonished look.
"What?" Pansy asked incredulously.
"I just never heard you talk like that," Draco replied before getting the subject back on track. "Besides, the former Patils and Weasley are friends with Astoria. They'd likely be invited regardless."
"Really?" asked Pansy astonishedly.
"Trust me, I'm as shocked as you are," Draco told her. "I'm sure generations of Malfoys are turning in their graves because a Malfoy, by blood or not, has a Weasley as friends."
"You always were such a drama queen," Pansy replied.
"Pot calling the kettle, Pans?" Draco shot back. "Doesn't make it any less true."
"No, it really doesn't," Pansy agreed.
"Honestly, it's something I never truly understood. Malfoys and Weasleys are among the oldest families throughout the entire Wizarding World, not just Wizarding Britain, and yet our families have been at odds longer than either family has recorded history," Draco admitted. "I mean, I can at least understand why my father and Weasley's dad hated each other- and if I'm being honest, the mutual dislike between me and Weasley is more about me being stuck-up prat than anything else, but the generations preceding us, not so much."
"Presenting, Madame Hermione Granger, Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Order of Merlin- First Class and her guest, Harry Potter, Honorary Member of the Dark Arts Defense League, Founder-Chairman of Potter Incorporated, Order of Merlin- First Class," the herald announced.
"Well, I'll be damned..." Pansy commented.
"Merlin's balls..." Draco said at the same time.
"That's one thousand galleons you owe me," Pansy replied with a smirk. "You'd think by now you'd learn not to bet against me."
"More like against Potter," Draco muttered. "If I'd've bet he'd come, he wouldn't have showed just to spite me. Time for me to find Astoria so I can play host."
"I thought you two worked everything out before he left?" Pansy inquired.
"As much as we could with how awkward everything was," Draco replied. "Besides, it's been ten years, who knows how much he's changed? In the past he'd have either avoided this party like the plague or have sneaked in."
"And you said he wouldn't show," Astoria said smugly as she approached her husband and his best friend.
"It's not like we had a way of contacting him," Draco defended.
"Of course not, I mean it's not like he didn't arrive with the Madame Director," Astoria sarcastically responded. "It's not like she hasn't known him every bit as long as you have and was his life long best friend or anything."
"Yes, because things between the Director and I are just so cordial," Draco replied in kind.
"You were a bit of a ponce towards her back in the day, Drakey-poo," Pansy lightly commented.
"And you were any better," Draco asked rhetorically.
"No, but then this isn't about me," Pansy shot back.
"And I could have talked to her. It's not like the two of us aren't friends," Astoria cut in.
"He just doesn't get it, does he?" Pansy asked her best friend's wife.
Astoria dramatically sighed. "Completely clueless..."
"Let's just greet our guests," Draco replied.
It didn't take them long to reach their destination, which, despite himself, Draco grew more and more nervous as he approached his longtime rival. It seemed like the entire room was holding its' breath in anticipation of what exactly may happen.
"Potter," Draco greeted with a nod, Astoria on his arm.
"Malfoy," Potter responded in kind though offering his hand. The two stiffly shook hands.
It was Granger that broke the tense mood.
"Boys..." She said in a long suffering tone as she rolled her eyes. For a brief moment Draco, and he was sure Potter was as well, felt like he was 14 years old and back at Hogwarts. "Hello, Astoria."
"Hermione," Astoria greeted in return with a warm smile. "I'm glad to see you've brought a guest." She then turned to Harry. "I had wanted to extend an invitation to you as well, Lord Potter, but we weren't sure how to approach you."
When it looked as if nothing earth-shatteringly exciting was going to happen the foursome were promptly left alone to their conversation.
"It's fine," Potter waved off. "With me gallivanting all over the world, not to mention being one of your husband's principle competitors, I wouldn't have been sure how to approach me either. Lord Potter?"
"A hereditary and mostly honorary title. You can trace your magical lineage back more than fifteen generations and are eligible to sit on the Wizengamot," Granger informed him. "In fact, you could actually trace your line back to before they were Potters."
"Anyone of note?" Potter asked interestedly.
Draco, though also interested, as Wizarding Genealogy had always been something of interest for him, couldn't help but think, 'Some things never change.'
"Other than Ignotus Peverell, no," The Director said. "There are rumors that the Potters are indirectly related to Godric Gryffindor but nothing definitive. I think it's mostly due to the fact that Potters have been in sorted into Gryffindor since Potters have attended Hogwarts."
"The Boneses, despite being generational Hufflepuffs, are more closely related to Gryffindor than any other family and even they don't have any concrete direct ties," Draco cut in. "The family with the most direct ties to any of the Hogwarts Founders was the Blacks, who are all but extinct now. Their last descendants are myself, Potter, his godson and the Weasleys."
"Coincidentally, giving you the most direct ties to the Hogwarts Founders through your mother," Potter replied with no sarcasm, agreeing with Draco. Draco couldn't help but look shocked at Potter's admission. "The Black Family Tapestry still hangs at Grimmauld Place. I've been working to restore the damage done by time and vindictive old crones. Then I was going to make a copy for your Mother and Aunt Andromeda."
Draco was once more caught off guard. "I... Thank you."
"I apologize, milady, but we haven't been formally introduced, Harry Potter," Harry greeted Astoria, holding out his hand.
"You have a long history, I understand. Lady Astoria Malfoy, nee Greengrass," Astoria greeted in kind, placing her hand in Potter's, who then kissed it, much to Draco's own surprise and chagrin.
"Greengrass?" Potter inquired. "I vaguely remember a Greengrass at Hogwarts."
"My elder sister, Daphne, most likely," Astoria replied. "A Slytherin in your year."
"Ah, that explains it," Potter replied. "Outside Draco's little group and the Quidditch Team, Professors Snape and Slughorn I didn't have many interactions with all that many Slytherins while I was at Hogwarts. I was only vaguely more aware of Zabini than the others simply due to the fact that he had a passing interest in the same girl I did."
"One you actually dated later that same year," Draco pointed.
"I never noticed that," Granger cut in with a bewildered look at Potter.
"I also paid a lot more attention to Ginny that year than you did," Potter replied with a slight blush.
"Doesn't hurt that you were there when Pans actually slapped Blaise in the face with his attraction to her," Draco commented.
"When was this?" Granger asked Draco with an alarmed look on her face. There was very few interactions that Harry had with the Slytherins that didn't involve her and Ron and Ron often avoided them like the plague on sheer principle. She'd had the most interactions with Slytherins, both the pureblood bigots and the traditional neutrals- some of whom were even a part of one of her many study groups until the end of fourth year.
At this, both Potter and Draco shared a look.
"Oh, this should be good..." Astoria commented on it.
"Beginning of sixth year, on the train, after the Slug Club meeting," Harry told her. "When I was trying to get proof of... After you and Ron both told me I was being crazy and overly paranoid- speaking of which, even if it is over ten years too late, I told you so."
"So that's why you were spying on us!" Draco exclaimed realizing something while subconsciously rubbing his left forearm.
"To be fair, you did petrify me, break my nose and leave me for dead on the train underneath my invisibility cloak," Potter commented lightly.
"And you wouldn't have done the same?" Draco asked accusingly.
"I wouldn't have broken your nose," Potter rebutted. "Not all of us are as violent as 'Right Cross' Granger."
"Ugh... Am I never going to live that down... " Granger commented in exasperation.
"You! I am never going to live it down!" Draco complained.
"I also probably wouldn't have just left you underneath an invisibility cloak," Potter added.
"Considering the only person in Hogwarts who even had an invisibility cloak was you," Draco refuted. "Even I didn't have one."
"And mine wasn't a run of the mill invisibility cloak either, but a family heirloom," Potter argued.
"Trust me, if I'd have known then, just what exactly I had in my hands, I wouldn't have left you underneath an 'invisibility cloak' either," Draco stated.
"Trust me, if I'd have known just exactly what I had, I wouldn't have risked myself with the cloak nearly as much as I did," Potter said.
Both Draco and Director Granger both scoffed at this.
"With your people-saving thing," Granger accused jokingly.
"You had such a Hero-Complex I bet you even rescued kittens from trees," Draco added.
"Considering one of those kittens was my poor little Shadow, I, for one, am happy for his Hero-Complex," Astoria defended, not catching either Draco or Granger's light sarcasm.
At this, both Granger and Draco gave incredulous looks both to Astoria and then to a thoroughly embarrassed Harry Potter.
Draco gave Potter a predatory smile. "That is just priceless."
"Draco... Unless you wish to spend the next several nights on the couch, you will not finish that thought," Astoria glowered at her husband.
Draco sighed. "Yes, Dear..."
Potter couldn't help but smirk at Draco's response.
"I must say, I wasn't aware you shared so much history with each other," Astoria commented. "It's slightly intimidating."
"Trust me, if Draco was more like he is now than how he was like then, we might have actually have been friends," Potter told Astoria. "Your influence, no doubt."
Astoria lightly blushed. "You flatter me."
"I've heard a lot of good things, from Ron even," Potter told her. "Considering you were a Slytherin AND married to Malfoy, that's high praise indeed coming from him."
"His wives' influence, no doubt," Draco commented.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Potter agreed.
"Take solace in the fact that it took two women to fix him rather than just one," Granger joked.
"He isn't fixed yet, Astoria might be a miracle worker, but even she has limitations," added the voice of Pansy Parkinson with a tone of amusement. "It's good to see you two again, Potter, Granger."
She then extended her hand to Potter, who promptly took it and kissed her hand as he had Astoria. "It's good to be seen, Parkinson. I see the years have been treating you well."
"I got out of Britain immediately after the trials," Pansy informed him. "I apologize for not sticking around and thanking you for speaking up for me at my own tribunal."
"You were a scared teenage girl who feared for her life and those around her and you didn't deserve what they were doing to you," Potter told her. "Honestly, if it wasn't for what Voldemort's lackeys, Amacus and Alecto, had been doing to pretty much all of the non-Slytherin students the whole school year, I'm pretty sure there'd have been more people in favor of handing me over to Voldemort. And most of you did come back to help fight against him, which is more than could have been expected of you."
"Because we're not brave little lions?" Pansy asked with a slight accusation in her voice.
"Because most of whom we fought were family members of Slytherins," Potter argued. "You shouldn't have been expected to fight against the Dark Lord when so many of you had parents or elder siblings who had joined him, willingly or not. Draco, for all his blustering when we were kids, didn't even want to be a Death Eater when his time came, but he didn't have much of a choice. I simply made sure the courts didn't lose sight of that fact."
"Always the hero, eh, Potter," Pansy commented.
"You know, speaking of which, this has to be asked," Draco cut in. "Tell me, are you this vigilante that's been running around?"
Potter snorted in amusement. "Do you honestly think I would tell you?"
"That's not exactly a 'no', and it is your thing," Draco replied.
"My 'thing'?" Potter asked.
"Your hero-thing," Draco clarified.
"He's not wrong," Granger said in support.
"Well if I was, and I'm not saying I am, mind, but if I was, I would tell Hermione long before I told you and she's the Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Potter pointed out. "Besides, would you even believe me if I outright said no?"
"Coming from you, given your true-blue heroic tendencies, yes," Draco answered. "You're not exactly known for lying, you know."
"Can I get that in writing," Potter inquired. "You know, before the next time the press lambasts me as a delusional, sociopathic, glory-hogging, liar."
"No comment," Draco replied.
"Didn't think so, but I had to try anyway," Potter responded with a slight sigh.
"Don't look at me, I tried to sell you out," Pansy denied before Potter could even think to ask her to speak up in his defense.
"You had good reason," Potter rebutted.
"You're seriously not defending her from her own recriminations," Granger inquired incredulously.
"My 'hero-thing', remember?" Potter shot back.
"Which reminds me," Astoria spoke up. "While part of the money we're raising tonight comes in the form of traditional donations, we are holding an auction, of sorts, to raise funds. I don't want to intrude on anything or make you think you are obligated to participate, but..."
"Damn it...!" Granger cursed with a sour look on her face. Draco smirked and Pansy got a speculative smile on her face. Astoria, on the other hand, looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"This is priceless," Draco said gleefully.
"Hermione, what's going on?" Potter asked.
Director Granger sighed. "Part of the evenings festivities... Is a bachelor auction."
"We'd... We'd appreciate it if..." Astoria said hesitantly. Potter's temper, reclusiveness and sense of morality were somewhat legendary after all.
"I'd participate?" Potter asked with a slight smirk of his own. "It's for a worthy cause, why not?"
"Really!?" Both Draco and Granger exclaimed in shock simultaneously.
"Jinx," Potter replied smilingly. When his conversation companions all looked at him incredulously. He simply shrugged. "Muggle child thing."
"Thank you, Lord Potter," Astoria responded gratefully.
"Call me Harry, Lady Malfoy," Potter told her. "So who else will be participating? It'll be nice to know who my competition is."
"The usual dregs," Pansy commented. "Finnegan and Thomas, who proclaim themselves to be 'professional bachelors'."
"To be fair, they do have a steady demand for repeat dates," Astoria defended her auctionees.
"Longbottom," Draco threw out.
"Didn't you tell me that Neville was married to Hannah?" Potter asked Granger.
"Rumor has it they're on the outs," Draco commented only to be elbowed in the side by Astoria. "What?"
"That's not something to joke about," Astoria hissed.
"I did say it was only rumor, didn't I?" Draco looked to Potter for aid only to be left wanting.
"So, I take it you two are not an item then?" Pansy asked, fishing for gossip.
"Parkinson, I've been back less than a week," Potter told her. "I haven't exactly had time for a torrid, bodice-ripping romance of the ages."
"Bodice-ripping?" Pansy asked, taking note of Granger's flushed face.
"Let's just say that a certain loveable bookworm didn't only read textbooks at Hogwarts," Potter commented, only to receive an elbow to the gut himself.
"Do tell," Pansy demanded gleefully.
"Harry..." Hermione warned menacingly in a low voice.
Ignoring Director Granger, Potter smirked at Pansy. "Make you a deal. Win me, and we'll see what embarrassing details of my teenage years I might reveal."
"Sure you want to make such a deal?" Pansy bantered.
"I never said I'd be the embarrassed one," Potter verbally riposted.
"Don't forget, Harry Potter, that I have just as many embarrassing stories about you as you do about me," the Director threatened.
"You should note that I said I might regale her with embarrassing stories," Potter replied with another shrug. "Not that I would. I also didn't specify you. Do you truly have such little faith in me after everything we've been through?"
Granger looked horrified. "I... Harry, I... I'm..."
The total effect he was having on her was banished when she realized that he was trying to hold back from laughing at her.
"Not funny, Harry," Granger stated.
"I don't know about that," Pansy argued. "I found it humorous."
"You would," Hermione responded somewhat petulantly.
"As much as it galls me, I have to side with them," Draco commented.
"Of course you do," Granger replied sarcastically.
"And I can't very well side against my husband," Astoria said with a smile, revealing what she truly thought.
"Of course you couldn't," Granger replied in a monotone.
"Buck up, Hermione, it's all in good fun," Potter said with a smirk.
Granger simply rolled her eyes. "I will get you back, Harry. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow... But someday."
"Yes, yes, death is but a door, time is but a window... You'll be back," Potter stated dramatically.
"That's... Actually somewhat poetic... What are you quoting?" Granger inquired.
"Ghostbusters 2, a muggle movie," Potter explained. "You know, looking back- the bad guys have all the good lines. Voldemort could really monologue if you let him get going."
The women looked at Potter strangely.
"He's not wrong," Draco replied. "I was constantly coming up with witty banter."
"When my father!" Pansy, Potter and Granger all said in unison. Astoria giggled.
"Et tu, Astoria?" Draco grumbled.
"It was funny," Astoria defended.
"And all that talk about supporting your husband...?"
"It was funny," Astoria reiterated.
"If you are even half the 'Big Bad', as Teddy would put it, that you imply you are, you should know by now that you'll never win," Harry told him.
"Meanwhile you ride off into the sunset and get the girl?" Draco asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Nah, that's apparently part of the sidekick package now," said an approaching Ronald Weasley with both of his wives on each arm.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," Draco responded.
"Couldn't let my two best-est friends in the whole world stay outnumbered, could I?" Weasley stated. "Besides, who knows what nefarious schemes you could be coming up for them, not to mention the fact that someone has to make sure Harry defeats you with style- Hermione's just not reliable for that sort of thing."
"Says the person whose favorite color is Chudley Orange," Granger pointed out.
"I have assistants for that now," Weasley countered easily.
"Assistants?" Parvati said in a dangerous tone. Both Potter and Draco winced when both of his wives elbowed him in the gut.
"We had both better be more than 'assistants," Padma added glaringly.
"Partners? Lights of my life? My dual reasons for living?" Weasley said piteously.
"And don't you forget it," Parvati replied.
Potter replied by making the sound of a whip cracking that was accompanied with a whipping motion with his hand. Draco was inclined to agree, but not visually or verbally with his own wife standing next to him. The women as a whole glared at him. Potter merely shrugged them off. "I'm not wrong- Draco would agree if he wasn't whipped himself."
Seeing an opening Draco responded. "You've seen my wife, I'm proud to be whipped." Astoria responded by holding Draco a bit closer and making an awe sound.
"Besides, you never know the sort of fun you can have with whips," Weasley added with a grin, breaking the moment.
Draco snorted, trying not to grin as Astoria and Granger looked at Weasley in astonishment and the Patil-Weasley Twins face palmed themselves. It was Potter who spoke first. "Just when you think you know someone..."
Weasley turned bright red when he realized what he said. "We've... Gotta see a guy... About a thing..."
"Good idea," Granger replied as the Weasley Trio left in embarrassment. As they walked away, the twins both smacked their husband on the back of the head.
"Well, if he wasn't whipped before he will be tonight," Potter commented.
"That's a lot more about his sex life than I ever wanted to know," Draco replied with a grimace.
"It does explain why he and Granger got together," Pansy commented.
"What!?" Granger exclaimed.
"And why they didn't work out," Potter added. "Bossy as she is, she would want to be the one being told what to do, not the one doing the telling."
"Harry!" she nearly shouted scandalously while blushing up a storm.
"Can we get off the subject of people's sex lives?" Draco asked, both he and his wife we blushing in embarrassment as well.
"It's a perfectly normal reaction, Drakey-poo," Pansy commented salaciously. "We won't tell if you need a moment to... Compose yourself..."
"You two are incorrigible," Astoria accused Potter and Pansy.
"Thank you!" Both replied.
Granger rolled her eyes. "I've got some other people I need to talk to Harry."
"I'll be fine, Hermione," Potter assured her.
"As much fun as this is, Astoria and I have our rounds to make as well," Draco added.
"Don't worry, I'll keep Potter company," Pansy told him.
"And suddenly I am very afraid," Draco replied and Granger nodded in agreement. That, however, didn't stop the three of them from leaving Harry and Pansy alone.
"That was fun," Pansy commented as she threaded her arm through Harry's.
"It was," Harry agreed. "So what have you been up to, Parkinson?"
"Pansy," she corrected him,
"Only if you call me Harry," Harry replied. "So, what have you been up to, Pansy?"
"Traveling, mostly through central Europe and the Mediterranean," Pansy told him. "What about you? There's all sorts of rumors as to what the infamous Harry Potter was up to."
"Not much different from you, initially," Harry commented. "Though I ended up in a secluded part of Mongolia apprenticing under a local for a while and ended up getting into enchanting and artificing."
"I never got what the difference was," Pansy said, intrigued.
"Superficially, there isn't much difference," Harry explained. "Basically, all you're doing is imbuing magic into an object. Where the difference lies, however, is what purpose they serve."
"How do you mean?" she asked.
"Remember the flying car Ron and I drove to school second year?" Harry asked.
"I don't think anyone would forget," Pansy commented.
"Yes, well... That was an enchanted object- over enchanted really... Enough that it gained sentience," Harry said. "Which was the primary reason magic carpets were banned in most countries in the ICW. My point is, enchanted objects are imbued with passive magic. Artifacts that have been artificed, on the other hand, have been imbued with active magic. These primarily take the form of weapons, however, they also serve defensive purposes. The shield hats the Weasley Twins invented back in sixth year, are examples of artificed objects. Another difference between enchanted and artificed objects is the fact that the magic in an enchanted object is always active, whereas an artificed item needs to be activated, either by physically manipulating the object or a pass phrase."
"Like portkeys?" Pansy asked.
"Yes, precisely," Harry replied. "Of course, some items aren't so easily classed, like genie lamps."
"Those exist?" Pansy inquired incredulously. "I thought they were legends made up by muggles."
"Every old tale holds a grain of truth," Harry told her. "Though to be honest, if I hadn't encountered one a couple years after I left Britain, I'd still think the same as you. Be careful if you do find one, they are incredibly dangerous."
"If they exist, why aren't they more well known?" Pansy asked, still not quite believing Harry.
"Because they don't work quite as advertised," Harry informed her. "While they do grant wishes, it's always more of a monkey's paw variety, unless you can somehow gain the genie's loyalty. Also, the limit on how many wishes you can make, depends on the power of the genie... Which, though many don't realize, was included in the muggle tale 1001 Arabian Knights. Much like Aladdin in the story, most people only remember the genie of the lamp, completely forgetting about the other genie he had in his possession inside a ring. The ring genie was less powerful so not only could he not counteract the other genies' magic, he could only grant two wishes, while the one in the lamp could grant three."
"How is it that muggles know more about genies than wizards do?" Pansy asked.
Harry shrugged. "Aladdin was a muggle, if you recall. In fact, the only sorcerer in the story was the king's adviser. Also, genies, and their unbound counterparts, the djinn, are exceptionally rare- they are one of the few species that were actually hunted down to extinction. Because of their rarity, very few schools still have them on their curriculum. Hogwarts only taught about them as long as they did due to the fact that most of the places genies and djinn could be found were part of the old British Empire. I only encountered the one, rather weak genie and it was insanely powerful. Had I been alone, or had it been a djinn, I doubt I'd be here alive to tell the tale. Most of the people there that day didn't."
"You're just a walking adventure novel. I don't have any tales nearly as exciting," Pansy commented.
"Maybe, but one thing adventure novels forget to mention is the month of healing I had to go through- even with magic," Harry said with a shrug. "It's probably the closest I came to dying since the Second Battle of Hogwarts. People underestimate the value of being normal."
"Normal is boring," Pansy said, then snorted. "Would you even know what to do with 'normal'?"
"I'll have you know I have experienced normal before," Harry said. At her look of disbelief he reiterated. "I have. Truly."
"Uh-huh..." Pansy replied clearly not believing her former classmate.
"Tell you what, we go on a date, and I'll tell you about some of my experiences with 'normal'," Harry told her.
"Are you chatting me up, Mr. Potter?" Pansy asked coyly.
"Are you accepting?" Harry flirted back.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time for the Bachelor Auction, if all the eligible bachelors would step into the other room we can get this event underway," Draco announced.
"To be continued..."
"Maybe if you're a good boy," Pansy replied.
"And if I'm not?"
Azkaban Asylum Codex Entries:
Name: Ronald Weasley
Occupation: Founder-Owner-Chairman Weasley Entertainment Ltd/Producer/Director
Hair/Eye Color: Red/Blue
Aliases: Won-Won, Ron, Ronald Bilius, Mr. Weasley
Facts: Best friend to the Chairman of Potter Inc. and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement, Ronald Weasley was easily overshadowed while at Hogwarts, which led to frequent bouts of juvenile jealousy. In the present day, his reputation rivals that of his friends- between having come from one of the poorest families in the Wizarding World to becoming one of the wealthiest men on the planet- not to mention the fact that both of is wives are twin sisters had placed Ron Weasley at the top of many favorite celebrity lists.
In his off time, he often trains auror recruits in hand to hand and melee weapon fighting as a guest instructor. He is widely known to throughout the Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement as being one of the most formidable wizards known in Britain. Given his reputation, he was the first person many people looked to when the Wizard made his first appearance.
Name: Theodore Nott Jr.
Occupation: Businessman/Criminal Mastermind
Hair/Eye Color: Black/Blue
Aliases: Theo, Nott, Lord Nott, Nott Family Patriarch, Lord Magister, Nicomedes
Facts: With the fall of Voldemort and the Blood Purist power block, many families were left scrambling to consolidate their flailing influence. This is no less true of the Nott family, who now heads the mysterious Cabal in the aftermath of Lucius Malfoy's fall from grace and the expelling of the Malfoy family from the Cabal. Part of this rise to power for Theodore Jr in light of his father's incarceration after the Second Battle of Hogwarts was his marriage to Anastasia Van Ryn, his longtime betrothed and a student of the Durmstrange Institute not long after she graduated. Though they have a marriage of political convenience they do have a modicum of caring for one another and are united in most things.
His position within the Cabal is tenuous at best. Though he leads them, others vie for positions of influence and control, the most deadly of which is that of his former classmate, Daphne, also known as Lady Metus. His illicit dealings primarily deal in drugs and sex and he runs several drug dens and whorehouses throughout Magical Europe. He is also loosely involved in the slave trade- particularly in the training and sale of sex slaves on the black market.
Name: Harvey Bullock
Occupation: Head Auror, Special Taskforce, Auror Department, Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Hair/Eye Color: Brown/Black
Aliases: Harv, Bullock, the Bull, Boss, I.A. Nightmare
Facts: While not a slob, Bullock puts little care into his appearance. His many years on the auror force have left him cynical and he is not the best at obeying the rules. He is an internal affairs nightmare. That said, he is one of the best aurors in their long history and has an even higher arrest record than even Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody. His years of dedication and his skill at his job are the only reasons he is still an auror and managed to be promoted to Head Auror. It is also the reason why he was placed on a Special Task Force set-up specifically to deal with the "Specialists" who threaten the very peace and order the Wizarding U.K. has found in the last decade- his top priority being the capture and detaining of Undesirable #1, The Wizard. Alongside Director Granger, he has the most exposure to the Wizard, though their relationship is far less cordial than the one the vigilante and the Director share.
Despite being a borderline criminal himself, he is one of the few Aurors that Senior Head Auror Robards and Director Granger trust implicitly. Whether or not this trust is justified remains to be seen as his often reckless and unpredictable behavior will get him into almost as much trouble as those he arrests. Though he excels in many fields within the Auror Dept, including forensics, his primary specialty is dueling and boxing and has been one of the few to have sparred with and regularly defeat Ronald Weasley.