Failure To Thrive

Saturday Duels - Part II

The two senior wizards bowed and began firing spells as soon as etiquette allowed. Their audience watched with mouths gaping open, as every one of the earth's elements was conjured in some form or another to create obstacles, while each wizard sought to land hexes on his opponent and score points. They were at an even seven-to-seven, Severus had just successfully gotten Lucius with his ankle-biter hex that had had the blond wizard hopping and hissing at the annoying pain. Lucius had successfully shorn off the hair on Severus' crown, leaving him with a bald spot that gleamed in the bright sunlight. And though the youngsters were finding it highly entertaining, it wasn't the kind of competition that Lucius preferred. He tried to force Severus to employ broader talents by throwing up walls of flame and ice, but Severus kept retaliating with massive aguamenti's to simultaneously put out the flames and thoroughly drench Lucius, or to cast a melting charm that succeeded in wilting not only the ice barrier but Lucius' nicely starched trousers and waistcoat. He looked positively ruffled and put out at this point. And now Severus was one point shy of winning.
Severus couldn't help but respond to the lively reactions from their young audience, especially Harry and Draco, who knew exactly how tormented Lucius was by Severus' playful engagement. He gave in to impulse and employed his most despicable jinx, which he'd coined the extensive belching hex. It got past Lucius' shield and the blond wizard knew immediately what he'd been hit with. He glared at Severus as if to say, cancel that spell immediately, but Severus simply gave him an innocent look.
Lucius opened his mouth without thinking and a harsh, vibrating, and intensely amplified BELCH came out, instead of the comment he'd intended, which would have acknowledged the match had gone to Severus.
There was a potent silence.
"Merlin help us," Narcissa sputtered, and retreated to the house.
Howls of laughter erupted as the shock wore off and the comedy of the scenario sank in.
"YOU WILL PAY, SEV-ER-US!" Lucius belched out, slowly stalking towards them all.
Severus burst into laughter that had him gripping his stomach, as he made his way over to join the group and wait for Lucius. Lucius kept trying to say something, but the belches overpowered him, and that just fed into the hilarity. Harry and Draco were draping their arms around each other for support, wiping their eyes and struggling to breathe. Lucius glared at them, to no avail. He resorted to pointing at them in warning and sent a series of the infamous smacking hexes their way.
Harry shot up the open void charm and saved himself and Draco from Lucius' wrath. Everyone went silent. Severus canceled the belching hex and gave Harry a small, secret smile of approval.
"Harry, what was that charm?" Draco asked in shock.
"I'd forgotten about that, mate. Right handy that is." Ron said.
"Uh, it's s-something I d-do on impulse," Harry stuttered, knowing he simply could not explain the magic he employed. "It's a silent one, and I can do it wandlessly, too."
"What are you thinking as you cast it?" Neville wanted to know.
"Uh, well, I'm visualizing it, not really thinking anything other than, 'Uh oh!'" Harry said.
Everyone laughed again.
By now, Lucius had joined them. He'd cast a freshening charm on himself, but still looked a bit wrung out. "I am completely out of my league with you lot," he said sadly. Then he narrowed his eyes at Severus. "Did you know about that charm of Harry's?" he asked.
Severus inclined his head. "I did. I advised him to pick his moment to show it to you."
"Well, that you did, my lad. That you did."
"Dinner is served!" Narcissa called from over by the shady trees the family always picnicked beneath.
Lucius turned to Luna. "My dear, you did not get to duel. Did you want to? We can resume after dinner, of course."
"I'd rather not, thank you, sir," Luna said. Her voice was missing its light quality when she continued. "In fact, I'm feeling like I should go. You see, the idea of drawing a wand on you in your home reminded me that I haven't considered what Daddy would think of my being here today. He suffered horribly while I was missing…" She seemed to reclaim herself after that. "It's been lovely, but I think I'll head home now."
"Alright, Luna," Lucius said softly. "May I show you to the nearest floo? It's just beyond that doorway over there."
"I'll go with her, Father," Draco said. "I have to leave to meet Naomi now, anyway."
"Thank you, Draco," Luna said. She quickly turned to Narcissa who was joining them and took her hand. "I enjoyed seeing your home, Narcissa." To Lucius, she said, "Perhaps you shouldn't dismiss your disquiet about that gnome, sir."
She gave the others a wave and walked away with Draco, leaving Lucius frowning in thought.
"Think she's alright?" Neville worried.
"No, actually," Harry said honestly, watching her walk away. He gave his friend a knowing look. "I could go after her, but if you'd rather-"
"Yeah," Neville said, his eyes never leaving Luna. "I'll just make sure she's home safely. Maybe she'll want to talk a bit." Neville said. He apologized to Narcissa, vigorously shook Lucius' hand and thanked him for the excellent day, said hasty goodbyes to his friends and Severus, and made his way after Luna, who had already gone inside with Draco.
Lucius' eyes settled immediately on Hermione. "I'm under no illusions of what you have had to set aside, in order to be here," he told her.
Hermione nodded her agreement. "I'm holding up just fine, so far, sir." She watched the open battle of regrets on his face thoughtfully. "Honestly, I don't even recognize the manor. It feels like an entirely new place to me. It did to Luna as well. She told me so."
Narcissa intervened again, taking her husband's hand. "Come, let's sit down to eat."

"Everything smells heavenly, Narcissa." Hermione said when they'd all been served a full plate of food. Narcissa smiled her thanks to Hermione, but she was openly rattled by Luna's abrupt departure. Lucius was still a bit tense as well. Hermione looked at Harry, who was clearly worrying about them. Ron was watching Harry, too. Severus was watching her, and she could not read what was behind his eyes. She decided to go ahead and pursue the subject of their recent pasts. It was time. "I never knew how much our friendship mattered to Luna until we went to visit her father during our quest. We thought he might have some information for us about a symbol we kept seeing, as we followed clues from Dumbledore. He had us in, gave us tea, told us a story that helped us quite a bit, all the while letting us believe Luna was just away having a look for one of those besotted creatures the two of them worship so fondly. He showed us her room then…"
"The mural," Harry said. "It was all of us: Me, Ron, Ginny, Hermione and Neville, from our stint at the Ministry. It was beautiful."
"Her friends," Ron added. "She'd painted us on her ceiling. It was a great painting."
"Her father thought the Ministry was holding her as punishment for what he'd printed in the Quibbler, and who was it? Selwyn and another Death Eater showed up then, and we heard Mr. Lovegood tell them I was upstairs and beg them to release Luna. He'd summoned them by saying Voldemort-," Harry added, but faltered as all of the memories rushed to the surface.
"They blew a hole in the house while we were upstairs in Luna's room," Ron continued. "Harry was trapped under the rubble," he paused for effect. Everyone had tensed at his retelling. "But Hermione had a plan. She blasted away the floor beneath us, side-along apparated the three of us as we fell to what should have been our deaths, while simultaneously revealing Harry to the Death Eaters and obliviating Lovegood so that he couldn't reveal what we'd discussed. Saved Luna's dad, she did, as much as she saved us. She's brilliant." He smiled at Hermione. "You're brilliant, you know."
"Then we got caught by the snatchers and ended up here," Harry picked up the story. He looked at the faces of their hosts, and at Severus. They were all tense, but giving their full attention. Severus' eyes were reddening around the edges, and his complexion had gone pasty. "And Luna was here." He stopped there, feeling too tense himself to go any further.
Hermione instinctively knew that they should continue, so she took it from there. "All we knew at that point was that there were horcruxes that had to be destroyed. Dumbledore had told Harry that the diary he'd stabbed with the basilisk fang in the Chamber of Secrets had been the first. We knew about the ring that had cursed Dumbledore, and knew that it had been the property of one of Riddle's ancestors. The next one was the Slytherin locket, which we'd had to take from Umbridge when we broke into the Ministry again-"
"Ahh, so that's what you'd been up to! I could not fathom-" Severus said sharply, but seemed to catch himself. He steepled his fingers and pressed his chin against them. "Apologies, Hermione, please continue."
"Not at all," she responded meaningfully. "There is so much to tell, it's hard to know what to include."
Lucius was rubbing his jaw with a shaky hand, his eyes first on Ron, then on Harry. "It was a horcrux? The diary?"
"Yeah," Harry whispered.
"They are a bloody menace to destroy," Ron added, not apologizing for his language, and no one seemed to care. "We were thinking that only the sword of Gryffindor would kill them, since we'd already used it on the locket by that point. We didn't even know what the other horcruxes were. We suspected his snake, and figured on some other Hogwarts heirlooms, but didn't know how many there were altogether. Hermione had a feeling Helga Hufflepuff's chalice could be one, what with her ever-present copy of Hogwarts, A History to reference on the matter."
"Yes, Ron," Hermione feigned annoyance. "And you've still not read it, have you?"
The senior wizards watched the Golden Trio exchange amused smirks with each other, marveling to some degree at the easy banter among them. "That's why you went to Gringotts?" Narcissa asked.
"Yes," Hermione confirmed. She blinked a couple of times as she cast her eyes down on her inner forearm, where the scar still discolored her smooth skin. Mudblood. "I am vindictive," she said, eyes on Lucius. "But only in the most constructive ways. We could only assume that Voldemort had trusted Bellatrix with one of the horcruxes. The most logical place to keep it safe was her vault."
"And you had the aid of a goblin," Severus added in amazement. "Only the three of you could befriend one of them."
"Oh, there was a price to pay," Harry said. "We had to promise him the sword."
"But Dumbledore had always told us it came to a Gryffindor in need, so we took the chance of releasing it to him with the hopes that when we needed it next, it would be there." Ron inserted.
"And then you flew away on a dragon," Severus concluded ironically. He was probably envious of that particular adventure, since he simply could not let it go.
"We're pretty sure she didn't even know we were along for the ride," Harry told him. "We had to drop off into a lake and swim for shore to get off of her."
The Malfoys and Severus simply stared at them, utterly speechless. "But you found the cup," Lucius said. He'd heard pieces of this story from Harry over the past year, but never fully told in this way.
"Yes," Hermione continued. "We brought it to Hogwarts with us. We thought it likely that there was a Ravenclaw heirloom to find there as well. Luna suggested the Ravenclaw diadem, and we all separated to find it. That was when Ron remembered that Harry had destroyed the diary with a basilisk fang and we realized that the poison contained in them was strong enough to use on the cup. We took the cup down there with us." She grinned proudly at Ron. "Ron spoke parseltongue by impersonating his memory of Harry opening the Chamber with Lockheart in second year. We found the carcass still there, fairly intact, and pulled several teeth to take with us after we successfully destroyed the cup."
"In the meantime," Harry picked up the story again. "I'd remembered seeing a tiara in the Room of Requirement, so I went to see if I could find it again. That was when Draco showed up with Crabbe and Goyle. Never a dull moment," he snarked. He seemed to remember who he was recapping the story to, and found Draco's parents looking quite pained at this part of the tale. "He needed his wand back. I can't blame him, but since mine had gotten broken when Bathilda Bagshot turned out to be Nagini in Godrick's Hollow-"
"What?" Severus demanded, unable to hold in his own agitation, and the redness deepened on the rims of his eyes.
"That had been back at Christmas when we'd found the Potters' grave," Hermione told him. She looked over at Harry, who gulped and shut his mouth as if continuing was impossible. "Draco needed his wand," she continued again, "and he'd followed Harry into the Room of Requirement. Unfortunately, he had no idea what his interference was costing us all, as the minutes ticked away. We dueled and Crabbe sent a Fiendfyre curse at Ron, setting the entire place aflame. We were lucky to have grabbed the diadem at the last minute-"
"And our son is lucky that you were willing to grab him as well," Narcissa added. She was looking at each of them with concern and gratitude.
"Draco watched his best friend die in that mess," Harry said. "There was nothing good about any of it, other than the fact that the fire destroyed the diadem."
"Did you feel anything when the horcruxes were destroyed, Harry?" Severus asked in a rough voice.
Harry held his gaze as he recalled the eerie feeling of loss that had shot through him. "Yeah. I felt a weird sensation first, then Voldemort's shock, as he realized what was going on. He knew each time we killed one. He became more and more manic with each loss. I think it was right about then that he decided you had to die, sir."
"You felt that, too?"
Harry nodded. He looked at all of the faces in this unlikely social circle and realized he was finally releasing some of the terror by telling this story. "At that point, we thought the snake was the last one. Then you gave me your memories."
Lucius waved his wand and a tray with a large decanter of Old Ogden's Finest, a bucket of ice, and six glasses appeared. "The ice is for the modest drinkers," he announced as he poured generous quantities into each glass.
Hermione and Narcissa added several cubes to theirs, and after a moment, so did Harry. He looked around at them all again, but no one was looking back. They had all retreated into their own thoughts. He raised his glass and said quietly, "To new beginnings."
The others responded readily by clinking their classes and sipping the brown liquid slowly. But the silence continued for a while.
"The one year anniversary is next week. Are you going to speak at the memorial this year, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Uh, well, I know you think I should. But there's a problem with my speaking, Hermione," Harry started. "You see, all I can think about is how pointless it all was. I mean, look at this group, right here, right now. Look what it took for us to overcome all of that nonsense! What a bloody waste of time!"
"And why can you not speak of that, Harry?" Lucius said quietly.
"Because… I don't think I can without all of the anger coming through," Harry answered honestly.
"Surely you don't think you're the only one with anger?" Severus asked.
Harry bit his lip. "I don't think I'd do well."
"You're eighteen years old, son. You're not supposed to be an accomplished public speaker," Lucius told him. "It's not as if you've had time to practice."
Harry sighed and looked over at Ron, who sat across from him, next to Severus.
"I've never pretended to be articulate," Ron said, in his best Severus impersonation.
Severus shot him a frown, but the others laughed and the tension broke.
"I think you should speak, Harry," Hermione told him. "Just be yourself. You will be well received. You always are."
Harry snorted. "You say that as if I've given so many speeches."
"I remember the way you spoke to the DA members, especially that first time when you told us all quite frankly what was really happening in the world around us. You're devastatingly humble, Harry. People trust you implicitly when they have the chance to see you in the flesh." Harry opened his mouth to contradict her. "No, that was the Prophet's lies that they were believing." She correctly guessed his rebuttal. She took his left hand and turned it over so that they could all see the I must not tell lies scar that still resided on his skin. "Once you started openly challenging Umbridge, they all knew they could trust you."
Severus frowned and reached over to grasp Harry's hand to have a long look at it. "I never asked you why you walked around with that rag tied around your hand," he said regretfully. He looked at Hermione. "You looked after him, I assume."
Harry smiled. "She always did. Essence of Murtlap, and Dittany. Helped a lot."
"It hurt him constantly," Hermione corrected. She frowned at Harry when he again tried to deny her claim. "There's no point in down-playing it now, Harry. Nor should you deny those painful headaches that plagued you after Occlumency with Severus. Fifth year was horrible."
Harry was angry now. He'd not intended to discuss either of these traumas any time soon, not with Lucius or Severus. A voice in his head told him he'd later thank Hermione, but for the moment he wanted to strangle her. He settled for a hostile glare instead.
She withered slightly, but held her ground. "If you think about it, Harry, you've been stuck in your physical embodiment of that time the longest. There's a lot of hardship to just let out. You've had a significant growth spurt haven't you? Can't you see why that is?"
Harry jumped to his feet and left the table.
"I'm sorry," Hermione told the others. "I did that on purpose. I hope it hasn't backfired on me."
Ron stood. "I'll go after him." They all heard the angry crack as Harry disapparated away. "Thank you, Narcissa and Lucius. This has been… good." He nodded to Severus and turned to run after Harry.
Hermione and Severus helped to levitate the dishes and tableware inside while Lucius and Narcissa cast cleaning charms on the mess in the kitchen. They were through with the task in short order.
"Overall, the day turned out better than I'd hoped. But I am worried about Miss Lovegood, and Harry," Lucius said as they stood facing each other. "Harry will come around, but I do not know about Luna."
"I'm the one who will have to face off with Harry," Hermione said. "I've been biting my tongue for a while, and knew I'd likely set off his temper when I finally said my piece. I apologize to you all for the timing."
"Don't be silly," Lucius said, smirking slightly. "I am grateful to you for interjecting what you did. It could have taken months for Harry to come forth with these facts. I think he's more ready to deal with it than he's giving himself credit for."
"I do too," Severus said, he held her gaze for a long moment.
"Will you come back soon, Hermione?" Narcissa asked. "We'd love to have you again."
"Certainly. I'd like that." She glanced at Lucius to include him as she added, "And, as I'm on the library committee for Hogwarts, I believe you've offered books from your collection to restock the school. Perhaps sometime soon I can begin reviewing the volumes in your library?"
"Absolutely," Lucius confirmed with a smile.
"I believe I will take my leave," Severus announced. He turned to Hermione. "Will you return home via Grimmauld Place?" Hermione had limited her floo network access at her flat for safety to Grimmauld Place and Hogwarts.
"Yes, and if Harry is there, I'll try to patch things up." She turned to the Malfoys. "I think we should plan another event as soon as possible, and I'll have a go at convincing Luna to return. Neville definitely will. It really was a lot of fun."
"Wonderful," Lucius and Narcissa said together.

Harry emerged from the floo in the manor's entryway and was startled to see that Draco had literally just emerged in front of him. "Whoa!" he yelled. "That was close!"
Draco shot an amused look at him over his shoulder. "Calm down, Mini-Harry, all is well."
"But, what do you suppose would happen if we were to actually arrive simultaneously?" Harry asked, jogging a few steps to catch up and walk beside Draco.
"Obliteration, of course," Draco said in his lofty tone. "Being a wizard is a high risk affair, Potter."
Harry snorted in frustration. He actually wanted to know the answer to his question. I'll just have Hermione find out for me. She owes me. "So, Romeo, I would like to believe that this Naomi of yours actually exists, but since I've yet to lay eyes on her…"
"Oh, she exists, little man," Draco said condescendingly. "I would normally have spent the night with her, but as her parents are staying in her flat, we decided not to force a discussion about propriety, you see."
"Ah," Harry said, thinking that he'd definitely have the same issues with Ginny if any Weasley was in the vicinity. One day… "Well, where do your parents stand on that then?"
"You're kidding, aren't you?" Draco snickered. "My parents have the love affair of the century. They'd want exactly the same for me. I couldn't bring Naomi here until we are ready to be open with our commitment."
"So, you don't think you can compete then?" Harry asked innocently.
Draco scowled at him, ignoring his teasing smile. "I think she could be the one, Harry. I just want to be sure she sees me in the same light. She knows about my past. Where I've been and what I've done. A year of better behavior is a good start, but it's not enough to prove I've changed, is all."
Harry clapped a hand on Draco's shoulder. They walked in silence for a few more steps until they were within earshot of Lucius and Narcissa, who were in the conservatory sharing a brandy. "So, Draco, about your choice of footwear," Harry started.
"I'm not taking fashion advice from you, Scarhead, so just give it a rest."
Harry chuckled as they entered the conservatory. He addressed all of the Malfoys with his next question, "Well, since I've clearly grown, I'm in the need of some new clothes. Do you think Draco and I could safely go pick up some things sometime during the week? Or would that be a safety risk?"
"Hello to you as well, Mr. Potter," Lucius scolded.
"Oh, sorry," Harry said quickly. "And I'm sorry for bugging out of here in a right snit earlier. I was going to lose it, and-"
"It's alright, Harry," Narcissa told him. "We understand. Thank you for coming back to let us see for ourselves that you are recovered."
Harry assessed her, not completely convinced he was in the clear, but she was smiling at him. Lucius was looking a tad stern, but that could have been as much for Draco as for him. "Sir? Are you upset with me?"
"Did you actually speak with Severus about any of the things Miss Granger brought up?" he asked.
"Not so much, but I guess he didn't tell you we'd had a, well, a conversation the other night that covered a lot of stuff," Harry told him, feeling a flush of heat rise rapidly up his neck and face.
Lucius contemplated him. "No, he hasn't betrayed your trust, Harry. And he wouldn't. And I only ask out of concern. I don't mean to violate your privacy."
"You're not," Harry said. He looked around at them. "I feel like I can talk to each of you now, so it's not like that. And I am talking about things with Severus. Bit by bit."
"Excellent," Lucius said, finally relenting with a smile. "As for your wardrobe replenishment, what exactly would doing so entail? Where are the shops you'd like to visit?"
"Well, that one over there-" Harry jerked his head sideways to indicate Draco, "-needs to get himself a pair of trainers that don't say, 'all of my taste is in my mouth,' and- ouch!" Harry chuckled at the punch in the arm he'd just received from Draco. The senior Malfoys sighed with expressions that said they were nearly done with the immature banter. "Uh, well, I like going to Harrod's in London, but there's also Gladrags and I wouldn't mind a quick jaunt over to Quality Quidditch Supplies if you don't think it's a bad idea to go to Diagon Alley?"
"On first instinct, I really don't," Lucius said. He looked at Narcissa. "What do you think, love?"
"Rodolphus and Rabistan won't be in public in broad daylight. Even Bella used to complain they lived like vampires. But I'd confirm with Severus, Harry."
"Alright," Harry agreed. "You'll go too, though, right Draco?"
"I will, Potter, but you can't choose the same shoes as I. I will not be considered by Wizarding Society as wanting to go twinsies with you. The Prophet would eat that right up."
"Good thing, that." Harry snarked. Lucius and Narcissa had risen to their feet, so he went to them to say goodnight.
"You still owe me an explanation about your charm, Harry," Lucius said as he hugged the boy.
"I'm working on that," Harry said. "It's a sort of a heat-of-the-moment response. Hard to describe what I do."
"Well, figure it out for Merlin's sake, sweetheart, otherwise Lucius will lose his sanity," Narcissa said with a kiss to his cheek.
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