"Harry-" she started.
He shook his head. "I'm over it, Hermione," he said. "Sorry I handled it badly, but I can't always just dive in and talk about some of that stuff." Hermione nodded quickly. Harry watched Severus watching the two of them. The older wizard still had the redness around his eyes from suppressed emotion. "And I know I messed up by apparating when I left. It won't happen again."
Severus' expression was unreadable. "So where have you been since you left the manor, young man?" he asked with that fatherly tone.
"Well, I just came from apologizing to the Malfoys. But before that, Ron caught up to me and we went to the shop and had a chat with George for a while. George wants to come to the next dueling event," Harry said. He plopped down on the sofa next to Severus.
Hermione returned to her seat in the huge armchair opposite the coffee table. "With George's antics, on top of today's silliness, things would be nearly unbearable," she declared. "My abdominal muscles are still aching from all of that laughter."
"Well, I'm just glad he wants to join in. He's still awfully subdued," Harry said. "But he mentioned needing to talk to you, Severus, about the pensieve idea." Harry then brought Hermione up to speed on that plan, finishing with, "Anyway, not much progress there, but it's given him a challenge that he's determined to solve with Severus, and it would likely be something they could sell in the shop."
"I've plans to see him tomorrow to work through a few possibilities," Severus acknowledged.
They were silent for several moments until Harry's thoughts flashed back on the duel between Hermione and Lucius and he burst out laughing. At the curious looks cast his way he said in a bad attempt to speak like a professor, "Ten points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger, for the muddy gnome. And don't think I missed the innuendo behind the muddy hug for the snobby Slytherin pureblood." He grinned at Hermione, who smiled in satisfaction.
"Well played," Severus said quietly. His eyes were bright with thoughts he didn't share.
Hermione suddenly remembered something. "Lucius was really quite disturbed by its appearance, and Luna even picked up on that." She looked at Severus. "Why do you suppose that was?"
Severus held her gaze as he considered. "That's a very good question." He drew his wand and cast his patronus, with which he communicated silently for a moment before sending it off. "We must be alert for the unexpected. Lucius will be here momentarily, and we'll discuss it further. In the meantime, tea?"
The fireplace flared a few moments later, and Lucius stepped through in time to be offered tea from the service Kreacher had just placed on the coffee table. "Thank you, no," he said as he settled into the comfortable armchair opposite Hermione's. "I've partaken in far too much already for one day."
"Lucius, why were you unsettled by the gnome earlier?" Hermione asked, getting straight to the point.
"Aside from the mud-laden innuendo?" he asked her with a self-deprecating grimace. Lucius' eyebrows rose as he inhaled through his nose and contemplated his answer. "I grew up in that manor, on those grounds. I've never seen a garden gnome there before. I imagine my father must have warded them out."
"If that was possible to do, why haven't the Weasleys ever done it?" Harry asked. "I learned all about de-gnoming from Ron. The Burrow was practically infested with them during the summers that I was there."
"I don't know," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Well, let's not waste time pondering, we should go right to the source." Now she cast her patronus and sent it off with a silent message. She smiled at the men. "I told him there was tea. If Ron hasn't gone to sleep for the night, he'll be here in a-"
The fireplace roared again and both Ron and George stepped through. Lucius stood quickly and visibly tensed at the sight of the additional Weasley. "Ronald," he nodded to Ron and stepped aside, gesturing for the younger man to take his seat. He turned to George and shook his hand, "Mr. Weasley, a pleasure."
By now, Harry had summoned a straight-backed chair from the corner. George sat beside Harry on the sofa, bumping his hip into Harry's deliberately so that Harry was jolted sideways. Harry grinned at George and scooted closer to Severus to make room, but he was watching Lucius take his new seat, wondering about the potential for tensions to flare within this group. Lucius was definitely out of his element now.
"So what's this about muddy gnomes, Hermione?" George asked, giving her a wink. He smirked at the tense blond wizard across from him as he said, "I hear Ronnie had to tend your garden today, Mr. Malfoy."
Severus snorted as his own amusement got the better of him. Lucius glared at him.
That made Harry laugh in spite of his concerns. "This would be the perfect time to have that large scale pensieve handy. I'd love to show you that memory, George."
Lucius finally relented and smiled, but his discomfort was palpable. "I was just telling the others that I've never in my forty-three years seen a gnome on our property. I suppose an intruder could spell himself into one, but I would have thought that our wards would have been effective in repelling a transfigured human. It concerns me, as I'm currently purporting myself to be an expert in warding."
"One can't know everything," George said in a singsong voice. He flashed a smile at Hermione. "Well, most can't."
"It's worth checking into," Severus said. "We know from experience that animagi can get through wards. Remember Wormtail and Black both made it into Hogwarts."
"Oh yeah…" Harry, Hermione and Ron said in unison. "But a gnome is a magical creature, so in theory, it can be specifically warded against," Hermione said in a way that told them all she was recalling something she'd read and putting two-and-two together. "Now I remember. They do require a repelling charm."
George snickered, sharing an ironic look with Ron as he used his wand to levitate a cluster of biscuits from the tray over to his sibling. "Funny, that. Haven't seen a garden gnome on the grounds of the Burrow in quite some time now. Probably since right about the time that Freddy and I moved out."
Ron scowled. "So mum and dad let them on the grounds just to give us chores?" He grabbed a biscuit and held it up in a salute of gratitude to George before biting it in half.
"'Course they did, little brother, taught us all about responsibility, it did,” George said.
Harry watched Lucius. He appeared to be stifling irritation at the Weasley's boisterous energy. Harry tried to catch his eye, but Lucius was looking at Severus, who was watching Ron consume a second and third biscuit in record time.
"So, the question remains as to whether your historical wards on the manor included anti-gnoming," Severus redirected them back to the topic at hand.
Lucius nodded. "I did dismantle a quantity of the old protections a while ago, before the war ended, in fact. The anti-gnoming must have been among them. I was not of a mind to pay close attention, unfortunately." It was clear to all that he referred to the span of time when he'd had to surrender the manor to Voldemort.
"I'll ask mum and dad about the spell for you," Ron told him. "I can tell it to Draco when he comes by tomorrow night."
"I'd be grateful, Ronald," Lucius said, and appeared to relax a smidgeon.
Ron snatched another biscuit out of the air, compliments of George, a dreamy look on his face. "So, this could mean that I gnome-flung a Lestrange through the air today," he said ironically. He grinned at Harry and George. "I'll be the next Chosen One yet."
"I don't suppose throwing it like that would have caused the gnome to perish, by chance?" Lucius asked edgily.
"Nah, gnomes are like blobs of bread dough," Ron said. He turned to study Lucius a moment. "But when someone transfigures themselves into a magical creature, they acquire the level of intelligence of the creature, don't they? If that was an intruder, it's not as though he was much of a threat in gnome form."
"No, I don't suppose he was." Lucius said, still with the edge.
"Ron is right," Hermione chimed in. "I imagine that the worst that could have come of it today would be that the intruder is likely still struggling to get off your land, and when he finally does, he will have a very distorted memory of what he witnessed," she advised Lucius.
He met her gaze, still tense. "I suppose there's a strong chance I'm attributing an unrealistic threat to something not capable of malice," he said. He cast his glance around the room as he stood up. "Nonetheless, I'll take my leave now and go have a walk around the grounds."
"I wouldn't recommend using a summoning charm while you're looking for it," George told him as they all stood to see him off. "They tend to land on your head, and are fascinated by long hair. Bill could tell you a couple of revolting stories on that note."
Lucius grimaced uncomfortably and nodded shortly. "I'll remember that Mr. Weasley. Good evening."
George frowned at the flames after Lucius had retreated. "Not much of a sense of humor with that one."
Ron and George said their good nights a few moments later, as did Hermione, and soon the parlor was empty of visitors. Harry turned to Severus. "Are you alright, Severus?" he asked.
"I am," Severus told him in a tone that said he was not willing to share, even if something was indeed bothering him. But he looked Harry in the eye. "Are you?"
"I am, as long as you're not upset with me for earlier?" Harry asked.
"The main reason we are traveling exclusively by floo right now is to derail any attempts at surveillance on our routines from an outsider's view," Severus replied. "I'm doubtful that you've caused too much damage. Where did you apparate to?"
"Here, to the back stoop," Harry said. They both knew that he'd set the wards so that he could apparate within them. Harry thought for a while, and then remembered the plans he'd made with Draco for Tuesday. He relayed them to Severus and waited for the older wizard's response, which still had not come after several long minutes. "Severus?"
"I think I overstepped my bounds with you the other night, Harry," Severus said. "I have no right to impose my authority over you."
Harry gulped. He wasn't sure why, but that actually made him feel like he'd been slapped in the face. "I never thought you'd overstepped, sir," he said softly. "I trust your intuition about things, especially while we have to wonder what's going on with the Lestranges. I'm not planning to find out what it's like to get in trouble with you, but -" Harry faltered and clenched his jaw.
Severus looked over at him for a long moment. He tilted his head to gesture Harry to scoot closer as he lay his arm across the back of the sofa. When Harry had moved over, Severus draped the arm around Harry's shoulders. "I'm glad you trust me to look out for you, and I will do exactly that. I do also remember you are actually an eighteen year old young man encapsulated in that fifth year's physique."
"And, you realize that I need new clothes," Harry finished for him. "What do you think about Tuesday?"
"I have the same instincts as the Malfoys on this," Severus said. "It's not a typical activity for either you or Draco, so it's not as though a trap could be set for you."
"I'll check in with you before and after," Harry offered.
They sat in comfortable silence for a long time. Harry's thoughts ranged from wondering what was bothering Severus tonight, to thinking about the benefits of buying his next set of clothes from Gladrags, so that he could get things that had expansion charms in them to grow with his next growth spurt. It was not fun to wear shoes that were too small and have a waistband that was tight enough to bite into his abdomen after a full meal. He compared the length of his legs to Severus' and wondered when Severus had reached his full height. He wondered when James had, too. But he didn't ask, thinking it didn't really matter, because his own body was operating on rules that were not dictated by nature. He guessed he had to just keep talking about stuff, and to try to steer away from stress until he overcame the syndrome. He compared his size to Severus' again. He knew Severus was close to two inches taller than Lucius. Lucius was just over six feet, with a powerful, but lean build. Severus was also lean, but where Lucius was barrel chested, Severus was broad shouldered and wiry. Harry pictured James from the night he'd summoned him with the Resurrection Stone. James had been about six feet as well with a build that was somewhere between Harry's two pseudo guardians. He had a long way to go before he was anywhere near to matching any of them.
"Dare I ask what's going through your thoughts, Mr. Potter?"
"Height," Harry said.
Severus snorted softly. "Care to elaborate?"
"I was just wondering how much I can plan on growing. I think I shot up nearly two inches this week. And I put on weight too. I was just thinking about that, is all."
"You had seemed to be favoring your father before the syndrome took you backwards," Severus said. "James was about an inch shorter than I, and he grew the most in seventh year."
"Huh. What was your growth like?" Harry asked.
"I grew fairly steadily throughout my time at Hogwarts. I was the same height as your father when we graduated, and then I added another inch within a few months after that."
"So, I could possibly take a few years to reach my full height," Harry said gloomily.
"Time will tell, Harry."
"We're agreed, then?" Severus asked Harry carefully two days later. He was sincerely trying not to impose his authority over the boy any more than necessary.
"Completely," Harry said easily. He looked at Draco. "We'll go to Gladrags - the new one, in Diagon Alley - and Quality Quiddich, and if there's time, maybe run over to Harrod's."
"But that would only happen if Gladrags proves to be lacking," Draco finished for him.
Lucius nodded. "And we will wait for your patronus to head out. Then we'll see you at two o'clock at The Magic Kettle for a late lunch."
They were gathered in the Malfoy Manor entryway. Severus and Lucius were going over to Spinner's End for the few hours before lunch. "Be careful," they all admonished each other in unison.
"Come along, Potter," Draco called over his shoulder as he made his way up the street toward Gladrags. "Wouldn't want me to find the best footwear before you've had a chance to browse." He spun on his toes to face backwards as he walked so as to get the full impact of Harry's snarky response.
But Harry had slowed and was shooting a wary glance around at the shops and cobbled street as he shook his wrist to release his wand from his sleeve.
"Harry?" Draco asked, immediately stopping and palming his wand as well.
The zip from a spell whizzed past Draco in a flash. Harry deflected it and sent it back to its caster. They both heard a yelp and a growl of anger. Draco spun around again and searched the scene for their attacker. "What was that spell, Harry?" he called.
"A stunner, I think," Harry said. He was moving toward Draco now, still wary.
Draco felt an intense stinging sensation that spread across his back. "Ahhh!" This one had come from another direction. He wondered what the attacker was playing at. The sting continued to burn and Draco recognized it as one that would take hours to wear off. He cautioned himself not to lose his temper. He didn't want to risk violating his probation.
The two young wizards stood back to back now, watching for another attack. This time a bolt of translucent yellow magic came at Draco from just to his right. He easily cast a shield to block it, but still couldn't see who was attacking them. A second later, Harry deflected another hex and then angrily yelled, "Incarcerous!" They heard someone hit the ground with a grunt and a group of people jumped away to reveal the fallen assailant.
"Who is that?" Harry asked, unable to clearly see from this distance the wizard he'd just tied up.
"I don't want to take this any further, Harry. I can't risk it!" Draco declared emphatically.
"I know," Harry said quickly, but he was not about to let the other attacker get away. "Oh, and what's this now?"
They recognized Blaise Zabini racing around the gathering crowd. Blaise cast a finite on his accomplice and they both disapparated away.
"What the bloody hell was that about?" Harry yelled angrily to no one in particular. He shook his head and glanced at Draco and saw that the blond wizard was watching something else that had made him grow pale. Harry turned to see two pairs of red-robed aurors moving purposefully toward them. He waved them over. "Blaise Zabini and some other bloke just attacked us without provocation. I want to press charges."
"Hand over your wand, Mr. Potter. You are under arrest for assault and public disturbance," a young auror of about twenty-five barked at him coldly.
Harry could hear the same directive being given to Draco behind him. "Are you mad? We were the ones who were attacked!"
"I'd advise you to keep your tone civil, Mr. Potter," the second auror told him. "We can keep you in custody indefinitely while we investigate. Wouldn't want us to lose track of your case while we hold you in a cold, lonely cell, now would you?"
Harry shut his mouth. He hadn't heard a peep of protest from Draco, and knew immediately that the blond wizard was terrified. Bugger all!
They were paraded as captives in plain sight to The Leaky Cauldron, where they were then taken via floo directly through to the Ministry of Magic. All eyes watched as they were next escorted down to a level Harry had never visited. The sign over the enormous door read Processing and Holding. Harry waited until both he and Draco had been seated in the waiting area in front of a reception desk that was currently unstaffed. They were both magically restrained to their chairs and left alone.
"What do you suppose is going on?" Harry asked Draco.
"That was Blaise and his cousin Raj. They were trying to make me cast back at them so I'd violate my probation," Draco told him quietly. "These aurors are all former Slytherins. I never really knew any of them, but I'm betting they didn't think much of my family getting off without prison time."
"So this is a set up?" Harry asked in astonishment. "What utter bollocks!"
Draco's eyes were reddening quickly. "Who's going to believe I wasn't looking for trouble?"
"Anyone who takes a look at our memories, or tests our wands," Harry said emphatically.
"That's not the typical practice, Harry." Draco told him miserably. "I was told when I was sentenced to probation that any situation where I brushed with the law would likely revoke it. I'm going to get a year in Azkaban now."
"No way," Harry said firmly. "No bloody way." But Draco didn't look appeased. "Did you tell anyone about our plans?" he thought to ask.
"Only Naomi," Draco said. "She doesn't know anyone from our lot that she could tell, or who could have overheard her talking. She spends her days at the muggle University that Granger goes to. And she wouldn't go and broadcast my business anyway." They heard approaching footsteps. Draco was beginning to panic as he whispered, "When they let you summon someone, please get Father first, alright?"
"Yeah, of course," Harry said. "Try not to worry, okay?"
Severus cast a tempus and saw that it was well past two o'clock. He turned to Lucius, who sat at his conjured drafting table using his wand to animate his drawing and play with the relocation of the staircase to the second floor of Spinner's End. The strange anomaly that he'd found was still interfering with his efforts to change the layout.
"Yes, Severus, they are late. And yes, I am beginning to worry," Lucius acknowledged. "I thought their earlier bickering was in good sport, but perhaps they've had a row."
"It's not like Harry to openly miss a meal. He knows he'll be taken to task if he does. Something must be wrong," Severus said. "They're nearly an hour late to check in with us."
"Perhaps they misunderstood, have gone straight to The Magic Kettle, and are thinking we're the late ones," Lucius suggested without conviction.
"Perhaps we'd better make some inquiries," Severus said.
They both headed to the fireplace and in seconds were stepping into the lobby of The Leaky Cauldron. They immediately noticed the curious glances cast their way and knew something had happened. Severus sought out Tom the innkeeper and found out that the boys had been brought through there in custody of aurors several hours ago. Neither appeared injured, but Harry had been fuming and Draco had been uncharacteristically subdued.
Lucius turned to Severus and was unable to hide his concern. "Draco's probation," he whispered urgently.
Severus frowned. "We have friends in high places Lucius. This will not go further." He jerked his head toward the fireplace. "Come, let's head over there. Who do you think we should contact for help?"
"I'm not confident that Kingsley would appreciate my asking directly for his intervention. Perhaps we should hear the Ministry's version of the complaints before we summon our resources."
"Agreed," Severus said, and they each took a pinch of floo powder.