A/N: Hi folks :) First of all - I´m baaack :D A bit later than I expected, but I finally was able to finish all that I needed to do before returning to this story. Plus, given all that´s happening outside my writing... in any case right now I get much less time for writing than I would like. But anyways, while I was working on the other stuff I didn´t forget about this story either. I was scribbling down my musings, ideas and other stuff. I decided to bring a few more characters from the book that didn´t get that much space here and also ended up inventing new ones. I´ve spent several times wondering about Barty Crouch jr and his role as the Dark Lord´s right hand - I wondered how powerfull and dangerous of a Death Eater would Barty be if he didn´t get soul-sucked in the cannon. Daphne Greengrass was also the target of my many musings, for obvious reasons. I also made some notes about the Junior Death Eaters, so they will also play their roles on my little story-chessboard.
Also I´ve started to draw a few sketches from the story. Though right now there is only one completed - a sketch of Angus Lennox, a part of which I´ve placed as this story´s cover. I hope you guys will like the first-year Angus on the cover. I plan on making more sketches as time goes by. Well... there is much to look forward to, so let´s get to it. :D
The second part of My Green Eyed Mystery has finally begun...
Chapter 24: High Society
It was nearly midnight, but even the lateness of the hour did little to dull the athmosphere at the Leaky Cauldron. Friday nights were always a busy time for the place, but lately the old landlord Tom and his helpers found these nights extremly hectic. Even with strange incidents occurring almost daily for more than a month, it certainly didn´t scare the customers away.
The younger witches and wizards were quite eager to forget about them and simply enjoy themselves like there was no tommorow, while the older seemed just as (if not more) eager to discuss whatever happened during the day. The pub was also known to play host to handfull of other beings from time to time as well, but nowadays Tom had even these custumers here on a daily basis.
He remembered only a few times in his long life seeing such eagerness to socialize, but it was never quite like this. One could even see goblins seated at a joint table with wizards with no animosity whatsoever, sharing the eager curiosity for what was going on. The witches and wizards have also shown the same eagerness on socializing with one another, for once without any notion of their status, wealth or profession. Indeed people of almost ANY profession were here hurled up together.
Journalists from the Daily Prophet and other smaller newspapers remained here for almost the entire day, eager to hear more interesting news at what is going on. Healers and Ministry folk were commonly interviewed more or less infront of the entire pub - not that any of them were actually holding back information. It was also not uncommon these days to see Aurors sitting in the pub - something which was up until now a pretty uncommon feat ( if one didn´t count Kingsley Shacklebolt, Sirius Black and James Potter, who visit from time to time). And today was no exception to the new rule, as Tom could easily see when he moved away from the bar, passing Auror Proudfoot with an order for a very special guest in hand.
"If nothing else, THIS is a pleasant surprise."thought Tom with a small smile, eager to deliver the drink even without magic - it certainly was a while since he last saw him.
As he passed among the tables he could see and hear a large ammount of people (and even a few goblins) eagerly gathered around one wizard Tom recodnized as a member of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. They were all hurled up to him, positively hanging on every single word he said.
"... all of them prepared to head out in the Enterance Hall. Potter and Malfoy junior were just looking over some map, agreeing on a strategy before setting out at once. The Aurors even brought their trainees thistime."finished the man and the crowd gave out an awed gasp.
"If its both the Aurors and the Task Force, then the Masked Wizard stands no chance."said one of the witches, many nodding in agreement.
"HA! As IF! They´ve been trying for the past month. He´s too smart to be chaught."said another young wizard with conviction.
"Just as well... who else is going to stand up to the escaped Death Eaters. The Ministry won´t be able to catch any of them without his help."
There was a heavy murmur following that statement - half was clearly convinced of it, the other clearly thought the opposite.
Tom sighed to himself.
"The Masked Wizard is about to be chaught... AGAIN?!"he thought irratably - here it was again.
He already lost count of how many times during the past two weeks the Auror Office or The Vigilantee Task Force set out into the night to catch him, always with the same result - failiure. Last week they even chaught someone - the pub was in an uproar for almost an hour - until a disgruntled Auror came in, angrily downed seven glasses of Firewhiskey before announcing that the person they chaught wasn´t the Masked Wizard, but some poor wizard who was apparently under the Imperius Curse. And just this week they chaught another one - a young witch who was rebelling against the Repopulation Act.
Many people nowadays saw the Masked Wizard not only as a person fighting the Death Eaters, but also the only person capable of standing up against Fudge and Athena Kellen. There was even a rumor, that several couples under the Act were post-poning their marriages and positively praying for the day that The Masked Wizard casts a Killing Curse on both the Minister and his right hand (some even hoping he remembers to use the Cruciatus Curse before THAT).
"Oh, I can´t believe how lucky we are that the Repopulation Act was made."came an overjoyed - and undoubtably lovesick - squeal of a girl at the table near to the wall.
"These two obviously do not count among them..."thought Tom, feeling the need to roll his eyes as the young girl - certainly not even seventeen yet - snuggled close to an older young man, who definitely shared that opinion.
This was another pretty common thing nowadays - the bar hosting young couples following the Repopulation Act during the week. Barely a month back a new clause was added for Hogwarts students falling under the Act, permitting them to leave the castle after the lessons are over (provided they don´t have detentions). Though leaving or entering the castle was only possible at certain hours of the day, ensuring that Hogwarts was well-protected, many sixth and seventh year students happilly embraced this new - and as Athena Kellen had called it - revolutionary possibility. This also required the Auror Office to have a special guard at all times, controlling, checking and double-checking any who left the castle and who got back. Tom wasn´t all that wild about the idea, even if it DID raise the pub´s income and he could understand Dumbledore´s reservations about it. On the other hand, the said guest wouldn´t be here tonight if not for that clause.
With a smile, he came into the quieter part of the pub, passing two well-known Aurors, who were sitting at a table near its enterance. This promted a few questions in his head.
"What are Dawlish and Savage doing here? Aren´t they supposed to be out with the rest of their lot trying to catch the Masked Wizard?"he thought, but he knew better than to ask.
The pair of them certainly looked grumpy enough. Tom sharpened his well-trained hearing - a skill he learned over all those years as landlord - as he passed.
"The kid´s been sitting here for two hours already! When will he be so kind and raise his arse from his damn chair?!"growled Savage, clearly fed-up with all the waiting.
"Keep calm. He is bound to come out soon. Its nearly midnight."said Dawlish, obviously fighting to keep calm himself.
"Wish we could at least hear what they´re talking about."Savage said, eyeing the party inside with clear mistrust not even registering the old landlord passing.
As much as he tried to direct his ears to the conversation at the table inside, Tom found that all he could hear was some odd, indistinct buzzing. He smirked as he approached the table.
"Most wise indeed. This boy is clearly much like his late father."he thought aproovingly as he halted at the table.
The conversation at the table stopped and Tom was instantly fixed with three curious looks, but none of them bore any kind of mistrust. Tom could easily guess the Auror´s reason for trying to follow. Seated at the table were two high-ranking goblins he knew from the Gringotts Bank - Bogrod and Gornuk - sharing their table with a young wizard, who was sitting leisurely, his infamous cane set next to his chair. His face broke into a smile as he saw the old landlord.
"Ah, my drink... thank you, Tom."he said as Tom set the glass onto the table, returning the smile.
"Not a problem, m´boy. One Peach Muhiya, shaken, pleasantly cooled and properly flavoured. Just the way you always like it."
Blaise Zabini smiled and bowed his head slightly before taking the glass and giving him a small toast.
"And no one can prepare it the way you can, Tom."he said pleasantly before taking a sip.
Tom saw, that Gornuk and Bogrod still had their glasses full - the three of them certainly didn´t spend as much time drinking as they must have spent talking.
"I must say, I am always pleased to see you, Blaise. Its nice to see you back home. How was your honeymoon, if I may ask."asked Tom, a part of him still having trouble to believe that Blaise is now a married man - he´d known him since he was a child, since his mother had always stopped around over all these years, taking her son along.
"I still owe you an apology for not inviting you to the wedding, but it was very quiet - for obvious reasons. To answer your question - it was very nice, just returned a few hours ago actually. Me and my beloved toured a few large cities in Europe, finally stopping in Budapest. However, like all good things, even our tour had to come to an end and we had to return home. My wife AND my mother feel differently, but I believe two weeks is more than enough."
Tom couldn´t help but chuckle and even the two goblins snickered, knowing Callidora Zabini´s passion for traveling, especially when love was involved.
"Well... be sure to give them both my best. And enjoy your drink."said Tom, taking his tray and turning to leave.
As he left, his ears once more filled up with that strange buzzing sound. Over his shoulder he saw the three continues their conversation and smiled to himself.
"It seems, that the boy is carrying on his family´s tradition."he thought happily.
It was a well-known fact among the Wizarding Society, that the Zabinis were for a few generations the Noble family closest to the goblins of Gringotts. Several of them even worked as ambassadors between the goblins and the Ministry. Blaise´s father however had left a great impression on them and they were, for years treating Blaise and his mother with utmost respect - something not exactly common in wizard-goblin relations. Tom had already heared several rumors, that Blaise was on Kellen´s top-priority list precicely because of those relations. Many people he had heared that knew about it were convinced, that Kellen wanted to marry off her middle daughter into the Zabini family to gain a ready-made Goblin-relations ambassador for her side, wanting to grant him that special position at the Ministry.
"Well... Athena Kellen greatly miscalculated on that one."thought Tom, surpressing a smirk.
Kellen was preparing to try and buy Blaise off, but the young man had beat her to it, publicly announcing his marriage to Luna Lovegood and the great Head of the Repopulation Act was blocked-out by her own law, the marriage being legal and binding. Tom heared as much from a very drunken member of the Repopulation Act Office, who had drunk himself silly upon his return from the office, where his boss had been positively raging upon hearing the news.
Tom froze in his tracks as a horrifying possibility just occured to him. He instantly fixed his sights back on the two Aurors watching Blaise and the Goblins.
"Sweet Merlin... but surely... even SHE would not DARE go that far..."he thought panicly.
The Pro - pure-blood laws have for centuries been desighned to protect the Noble families, allowing quite a few of them certain leniences in many cases, but also making sure that an attempt on any of them would result in serious concequences. In the case of the Head of a Noble family - something, that Blaise as the eldest married male family member now IS - the concequences are even more severe. That, and the fact that Blaise was for the longest time enjoying great popularity n the High Society circle made him into a very dangerous target indeed. Tom shook his head as he thought about it. Athena Kellen would surely not try something of the sort, even if here plans for Blaise didn´t succeed. It would be illogical, since a failed attempt on Blaise would set her back mile-steps in her career at the Ministry, even if the Minister himself vouched for her. The Noble families, who hold most of the power and connections would certainly not let her get away with it.
"But what are the Aurors watching him for then?"he thought, trying to puzzle it out as he came back to the bar-table.
He barely took a happy-looking young wizard´s order and started to prepare the drink for him when he spotted Blaise leaving the two goblins at the table. He at once took notice, that the two Aurors were already mysteriously out of view.
"Thank you graceously for your offer, but I must be off now. It IS getting a wee bit late and I do not wish to see my wife worried."he said loudly, slightly bowing to the two goblins, who bowed back in a gesture of mutual respect.
Tom fixed an uneasy look at him as he was approaching the bar-table, not sure if he should warn him or bid him good night.
"Thank you very much for the drink, Tom. I must be off, but I shall drop by when I have the time, hopefully with my wife so you can meet her. Good night."
Tom´s eyebrows shot up as Blaise gave him a tiny, yet mischievous wink before turning around and leaving the pub trough the front door. The old landlord sighed himself, also seeing Proudfoot leaving as well, pulling out a cloak from his pocket.
"I do hope, you know what you are doing, dear boy..."
Once outside, Blaise walked calmly down the street of Diagon Alley, his cane in hand. Though his back was turned, he was fully aware that he was being followed. On the end of the street he stopped, his cane making contact with the ground, giving out all the appearance of deciding where to go next.
"Three, eh?"he thought with a smirk upon being informed by his cane´s Sensory Charm.
He turned left, heading into an alley, which he knew had a dead-end.. Reaching the very end of the alley, he turned and though he saw no one in front of him, cleared his voice.
"Good evening, gentlemen. Now that I am sure anyone else is out of harm´s way I can finally offer you my fullest attention."he said pleasantly, his left hand on the cane, his right already holding his wand.
Blaise reacted swifter than many would expect. Swinging the cane trough the air, he blocked the curse while non-verbally performing a charm that is uncommon or in some cases known in these parts of the world.
The effect was instantanious. Two of the Aurors were visible at once - their Disillusionment Charms broken trough easily and the third Auror was revealed as well, his Invisibility Cloak flying off of him and bursting into flame.
"Obviously bad material..."said Blaise mildly, thinking about the Potters´ family heirloom.
"I can already guess what this is about so I won´t ask pointless questions."he said calmly, even as the three Aurors were advancing with their wands out.
The three of them stopped for a moment as they saw his spread his arms open, while still holding the cane and the wand as if in surrender, an earnest expression on his face.
"I however have one question to ask - can we not please settle this like civilized people?"
The Aurors looked at eachother before staring back at him.
"How about we lower the wands and try to reach a consensus by simply talking it over?"he asked in a meek, innocent voice.
Savage, Proudfoot and Dawlish exchanged another look, their expressions turning to ones of hilarity. Without another word the three of them advanced and attacked.
Those living within a few hundred meters of the dead-end alley were instantly woken from their sleep as a series of loud popping, crashing and cracking noises rang into the night. Several scared people opened their windows and peeked out at what was happening, their lit-up wands in their hands, each of them looking around for the source of the noises, that sounded very much like a wizard´s duel. Anyone barely had the time to ask their neighbours in the other windows anything before the noises intensified and three loud screams were heared, followed by a thunderous explosion that made several of the people in the windows duck for cover.
People out of the Leaky Cauldron and several other places which were still open ran out onto the street, as did other people from their nearby homes. All of them ran to the place where they heared the explosion. The first thing anyone approaching was able to see was a virtually blasted up enterance into a dark alley. Bins and other objects that were unfortunate enough to come into contact with some of the spells that flew trough the air moments ago were completly in ashes. What made the people gasp however were the three bodies of the unconcious Aurors on the ground, looking as though they have been blasted away with incredible force, smoke rising from their robes as though they have been burned. Barely anyone was breathing when suddenly they heared a long, heavy sigh of the person walking out of the dead-end alley.
Blaise came out calmly, but people were shocked to see that his wand was still emitting gentle smoke as if it were an overlarge muggle cigarette. Glancing down on his three unconcious opponents he sighed deeply once again.
"My way would have been so much more pleasant..."he said, looking at the three of them and shaking his head.
The morning light was shining trough the windows of the Burrow, pleasantly warming the air inside the small bedroom trough the glass.
Ginny Potter lazily opened her chocolate-brown eyes, a content smile still lingering on her lips. She closed her eyes again and snuggled closer into the bare, warm chest, she found to be even more comfortable than her pillow, relishing the feel of the strong arm around her, holding her close. Staying as she was for a few moments, she practicly purred as she felt her husband´s fingers run gently up and down her bare back - a delightfull habit he had developed since their wedding night and now performed even absent-mindedly. It told her, that he once again woke up earlier than she did. Harry, as she discovered in a short while since they began to share a bed, was a very early riser. She herself was almost the exact opposite. She always liked to have a lie-in since childhood, but that went double, now that she didn´t sleep alone anymore. She opened her eyes and looked around without moving. What she saw didn´t surprise her. Whenever they have a free day from Hogwarts and he doesn´t have to wake her up or doesn´t need to leave, he lets her sleep, levitates some of his reading into the bed, along with that Muggle contraption... um... See-Dee player... or whatever its called, and stays with her wanting to be the first thing she sees when she wakes up.
For a while she just watched him smilingly - he was reading the handwritten book he had gotten just yesterday, a very eager look on his face. His eyes were practicly eating away the contents of the pages and he seemed to pause every few moments as though thinking about what he read before carrying on with renewed excitement. He looked positively adorable to her and she moved her head slightly, placing a series of gentle kisses on his heart. Harry turned his sights on her, his lips instantly forming a gentle smile. He placed the book down, removed the contraption from his ears and shifted slightly, a happy twinkle in his eyes - something she always found extremely inviting, especially in the morning. Not wasting a second she raised her head slightly, giving her husband a passionate kiss.
"Good morning, love."he said huskly once they spearated.
"Good morning, you..."she whispered lovingly, going for another peck on the lips before snuggling into his chest again, wanting to laze a bit more.
They, along with everyone in the now extended Weasley family were spending their weekend at the Burrow.
Following their wedding day, the remainder of her siblings didn´t wait much longer and married their significant others, not wanting to wait any longer and also in order to make sure that their engagements wouldn´t suffer any changes, if by any chance The Repopulation Act Office found out about Harry and Ginny´s marriage. On the other hand, the marriage boom wasn´t such a big surprise.
A great number of those falling under the Act used their chance and eloped - dispite the incidents, the last month must´ve set a new world record in the sheer number of marriages. Their closest friends were also among them, as were almost a quarter of sixth and seventh years and now Hogwarts hosted a great number of married couples. In fact, Ginny´s roommate and Quiddich team member, Demelza was already pregnant, as she bubbly informed her just two days ago. A few other girls at Hogwarts also shared that status and their Heads of House took to counceling the sixth and seventh years about such matters among other things.
The Ministry was of course continuously trying to butt-in, but Ginny didn´t have to worry about the Relationship Counsil anymore, thanks to Harry. Ron and Hermione´s married status instantly had the damn counsil off their back too. Unlike those two however, she and Harry for the most part do not spend much time at Hogwarts after school hours anymore. Transported around by by her husband (the family house-elves if he´s not around) they spend their afternoons at various places (taking full advantage of the new clause of the Repopulation Act) and evenings in the Potter Cottage.
Three days ago, Ginny got the invitation from her Mum and after Friday´s classes the pair of them, along with Ron and Hermione immediately left for the Burrow, where most of the family already was. They barely even crossed the front door before they were almost squeezed to death not just by Molly, but also by Fleur, who wasted not a moment to inform them that she and Billy are expecting an addition to the family.
Lily and James also arrived, a mere half an hour before dinner. Once the elder Potters arrived, she and her Mum had to go and extract Harry out of her Dad´s shed, where the two were chaught up in their tinckering with Muggle contraptions - Arthur being extremely enthusiastic about the items Harry brought in for him. The large family get-together was more fun than she expected and she was very pleased, that everyone was getting along well - especially when it concerned her husband.
James and Alice left a few hours after dinner for their Auror work (Alice was enthusiastic about doing so, since she was still a trainee) and soon enough it was time to retire. Of course, she and her husband agreed that retiring didn´t mean go to sleep... not at once at any rate.
Harry, for good measure added several charms onto her room to ensure their privacy. There WAS however something, that she feared would distract him from any romantic thought and she was both surprised and pleased, when he proved her wrong.
"I´m surprised you were actually able to wait until morning with that. The way you reacted when it arrived."she said, giggling a bit as he reached for the book again.
During yesterday´s dinner Dobby had Apparated to Harry´s side with a package. His eyes instantly lit-up and his face at once broke into a look of utter joy - he looked like a five-year-old that just recieved his birthday present.
To answer the curious looks of everyone he opened the package, showing the handwritten book, a paper scroll and several other objects, that looked like they were from some foreign country - a present from his friends from Mahoutokoro, the japanese magical school.
This lead into a LOT of questions about the Slytherin Squad´s vacation in Japan before their fifth year at Hogwarts. Since, during the time Harry presented his diary this particural chapter wasn´t shown, he had to spend over an hour or so, retelling the adventure to a very eager audience, arousing as much awe as laughter (Ginny´s most favourite part of the story was Draco´s bickering rivalry with a boy named Hiroki - the two of them refusing to admit that they are very much the same, but acting exactly like it).
But although he tried not to show it, Ginny could tell that he was positively dying to go over both the scroll and the book.
"Well... I´m always eager to find out how the Seven Stars of Mahoutokoro are doing."he replied idly, referring to the seven teenage students the Slytherin Squad befriended during their stay, sharing together a passion for adventure, a hunger for knowledge and a need to make themselves into living legends.
"So that must´ve been in the scroll. And what´s in the book...?"she asked, though already knowing the answer.
"Magical theories, spells... their Headmaster also added his share too, along with a letter and a gift for Albus, since he quite admires him. And the package contained a handfull of other usefull things besides the book."
"Like new music?"she smirked, referring to the disks that were contained in the package.
She felt him shurg.
"I´m willing to share."he said, reaching for the contraption and offering one of its ear-plugs to her.
Shifting a bit upward, she lay her head on his shoulder thistime and with great care (Harry couldn´t help but roll his eyes) inserted the piece into her ear as he opened the book again and shifted it, so that they could read together - another habit he picked up during their free mornings, sharing his reading as well. They stayed like that for a minute or so, before he felt Ginny shudder and rise up, pulling the piece from her ear.
"Sweet Merlin... Harry... that music is creepy..."she exclaimed, shuddering again.
Harry fixed her a pout.
"Hey, it is NOT creepy. It just has its spooky beauty, that´s all."
"Which is another way to say creepy."she said returning him a playfull pout of her own.
Her husband instantly retaliated with a mock-glare.
"Do I ever question your taste in music?"
The question made her snort in laughter.
"No. But you don´t even question my Mum´s and let´s face it - everyone should question that."she said with a giggle.
Molly couldn´t resist but play Celestina Warbeck during the evening, much to the great joy of the entire family. Though everyone was polite enough not to say anything, no one could deny that it was a highly unpleasant ordeal.
"I have no problem with her musical taste."said Harry evenly.
Once again, Ginny snorted in laughter.
"Only because you cheated yourself out of it."
Indeed, Harry had been the only one not suffering under Molly´s musical choice, but only because he cast a Silencing Charm on himself when he thought no one was looking (she suspected he might try something of the sort) and answered her eager chatter by using Legilimency.
"Gin, I´m a Slytherin."he said, as though that answered everything.
The pair of them shared a small laugh.
"Point taken. But please, just be sure NOT to play that music to your Godson. Otherwise poor little Teddy will be wetting the bed until HE´S seventeen."
Harry pouted again as his wife giggled.
Ginny had already seen how he was with little Teddy Lupin. Both he and Alice took their roles as his Godparents very seriously, the boy winning them over in a matter of seconds. Ginny was sure, that pretty soon it will be very hard to tell, which one of them will be spoiling the tyke more.
Harry was about to reply when there was a series of knocks on the door.
"Ginny, Harry... Mum is calling. Breakfast."came Hermione´s voice from behind the closed door.
"We´re coming."Ginny called back and they could hear footsteps moving away from the door.
"As much as I would love to stay in bed with you for the rest of the day, I guess we´d better get dressed and get down."she suggested - though they were married and all, she didn´t exactly feel comfortable about the possibility of someone coming trough the door right now, or even guessing what they did during the night for that matter.
"You´re right. Some things should remain private. Also... a nice home-made breakfast does sound very inviting right now. I´m so hungry, that I could eat a giraffe."nodded Harry, rolling on the side of the bed and swinging his legs out of it.
Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes at the reference - obviously thought up by Angus Lennox.
In a matter of minutes they came down into the kitchen, fully dressed.
Most of the family were already at the table, while Molly, Fleur and Audrey were preparing the food - the two daughters-in-law insisting on helping her. They however were also immersed in the interesting chatter even as they worked. Most of the family members were focusing on their raven-haired sister-in-law, who looked exhausted, but pleased.
"Good morning, everyone."said Ginny pleasantly, turning all attention on them as she led Harry by the hand and sat down on the two empty chairs, making sure Harry sat facing his sister.
Ron was looking brightly between Harry and Alice as though expecting to hear something amazing, even as the "Good mornings" were exchanged with everyone.
"Where´s our Head Auror?"asked Ginny, not seeing James anywhere in the kitchen.
"He had to stay longer, dear. Alice just told us, that he got called back by the Magical Law Enforcement as their duty ended. But he should arrive soon."said Lily, smiling at her daughter-in-law, recieving the same smile from the younger redhead.
Harry looked around brightly at the entire family, then set his sights back on Alice, a playfull smile on his lips.
"Well... I can already guess what all the chatter is about. So tell me, Alice... what did we miss? How goes the hunt?"he asked brightly.
Alice Weasley grinned at her younger brother.
"I was just saying, that we DID catch the Masked Wizard. About twenty of them actually."
Most at the table snorted, Arthur shook his head, chuckling.
"Of course, neither one of them is the real deal. You could tell from the way they were dueling. Pushovers, really... neither one of them would ever manage to outduel ONE Death-Eater, let alone a gang of them. Plus the way they looked was nothing like the real Masked Wizard´s costume."
"People seem to be getting creative lately... "commented Harry analyticly, as if already picking up on something.
Alice giggled and shook her head.
"Not really, bro. You should see some of those costumes. A ten-year-old would have done a better job."
"Awww... Don´t be so hard on them, love. No imagination, that´s no crime. I´m sure they´ll do better next time."added Fred with a grin.
The entire table shared a laugh. Harry´s face however took on a thoughtfull look. Ginny saw his green eyes narrow a bit and she could tell, that his brain was working like that muggle comp-hu... oh, whatever it is.
"What were they? Imperiused people or Repopulation Act rebels?"he asked a few seconds later as everyone finished laughing at George´s joke on the situation.
The serious tone of his voice brought all laughter to an end. Every face turned to look from Harry to Alice, who sighed and shot her brother the same serious look.
"Imperiused. Every single one of them."
This caused an uneasy silence to fill the kitchen. Harry could easily tell, even without his Legilimency, that everyone was thinking the same question.
"So the ones responsible for it were the Death Eaters... or Athena Kellen?"asked Hermione, finally saying it aloud.
"What´s the point of her having Imperiused people running around impersonating the Masked Wizard? Especially if they get chaught so easily?"asked Ron confusedly.
"You know that Kellen doesn´t want the public to see the Masked Wizard as a hero, son. She is fighting very hard against it. Something like this could give her some more publicity she can use, to support her claims about him being a dangerous vigilante."said Arthur.
For the past month, the Daily Prophet - clearly on Ministry orders - had discribed the Masked Wizard as just that, everytime some incident occurs and he is seen on the site. Sometimes even those incidents, where he isn´t seen at all are instantly blamed on him, courteousy of both Kellen and Fudge. Unlike the time they tried to discredit Dumbledore and Neville however, thistime people are clearly not so eager to embrace this idea - especially when they saw the Masked Wizard protecting them, most prominently during the Halloween´s Inferi Incident.
"Eventhough he is the exact opposite."said Molly staunchly, shooting a discreet wink at her son-in-law over her shoulder - she had been present during the incident, on an outing with her friends when it happened and after seeing what he could do, now shared Ginny´s admiration for it.
"Kellen might try to do somezing, now zat her plan to make him a villain iz failing."said Fleur with a small smirk.
"Using copycats would be a logical step to do so. It would also give her a nice way of dealing with any rebels of the Act."added Percy thoughtfully.
"She doesn´t need to do that. She has her own office AND the Magical Law Enforcement lot for it."said Fred, shaking his head.
"I meant those she cannot deal with legally."said Percy, his gaze shifting on Harry and Ginny.
"Come off it, Perce. Sure, that IS an option, but it has a big risk."said George.
"If anyone found out about it..."added Angelina, agreeing with her husband.
"Its not THAT hard to cover your tracks. Not with the power SHE currently holds."protested Percy.
"Such power is bound to go to one´s head."added Audrey over her shoulder worriedly.
"But there would be A LOT to lose for her, if someone were to pick up on the trail. I can´t see her risking something like that with both Dumbledore and the Masked Wizard around."said Charlie, also shaking his head.
"But maybe Percy is right. She has over half of the Ministry on her side as well as the Minister for Magic himself."reminded Tammy uneasily.
"And let´s not forget that she is the matriarch of a Noble family. With her husband Dionesus dead, she is in all effect the Head of the family."added Arthur with a sigh - he knew her husband from their Hogwarts days and a part of him still couldn´t believe that the kind Hufflepuff student he knew, was no longer here.
Molly also sported a sad frown, even as she took a the ready plates and started to place them on the table. Under normal circumstances everone - boys first - would automaticly start to load their plates. However, even Ron ignored the food momentarily as everyone was going over the possibilities Athena Kellen might be using.
"The other Noble families will surely stand behind her."added Bill solemnly, as though that was the end of it.
"Oh, don´t be so sure of that, Bill."said Harry unexpectantly.
At once, every single face turned to him, even that of his wife.
Ginny didn´t have to guess twice to know - judging by that infamous smirk of his - that he and the other four snakes must have already cooked-up some plan that was about to be put into action.
"Believe me... Athena Kellen is about to find out, just how much support she really has among the Nobles."
The entire kitchen was looking at him in confusion.
"What are you talking about?"asked Alice, her eyes narrowing on her brother, much like those of their mother and his wife.
Before anyone could say anything a beautifull snowy owl flew trough the kitchen window, landing in front of Harry. Ginny saw his green eyes twinkle in truimph.
"Ah, Caesar. Thank you very much. Here... help yourself, you must´ve had a long flight."he said kindly, offering him some of his juice.
The owl hooted as if in thanks and sank its beak into the glass, drinking with all its might. As soon as it finished, Harry untied the letter to the owl´s leg and placed the red envilope neatly on the table as he stroked the top of the owl´s head with his index finger.
"Go on, Caesar. I will reply a bit later."he said gently, the owl blinking in understanding.
It nibbled gently on his finger with clear affection before setting out, flying out of the window.
As soon as it left, every face once again turned to Harry, who poured himself some more juice and helped himself to some bacon. The red envilope was set by his left hand, but he made no effort to open it - no doubt he knew full-well what´s inside. But whatever it was, it was making that smug smirk broaden even more.
"What´s inside that envilope?"asked Ginny, her eyes still narrowed on her husband, who was helping himself to more bacon - being the only one at the table who was eating.
"Oh... just the invitation."he said idly.
"What invitation?!"asked Arthur in confusion.
The raven-haired young man´s smile widened even more as he placed another piece of bacon into his mouth.
"Harry!"growled both Alice and Lily warningly.
Harry however finished the piece of bacon he was eating and turned to his wife, his smile not leaving his face.
"Love... the time has come for us to finally make our marriage public."
The Burrow´s kitchen almost shook as almost everyone in it exclaimed a loud and clear "WHAT?!" from everyone except Harry and Ginny.
Ginny barely even registered the numerous comments of "Are you mad?!", "That´s not a good idea", "What about Kellen?" and other words to that effect, all at once. She on the other hand could not stop the astonished smile from forming on her face.
"You... you mean it...?"she asked, a sence of delightfull happiness filling her filling her like a drink.
Though she tried not to let it show, she was getting increasingly jealous of other girls at Hogwarts as they relished their married status.
She couldn´t help but really envy Demelza, Hermione and even Susan Bones - or as she so happily always reminds to everyone, "Susan Lennox" - along with all the other girls she knew. It had only been a month and a few days and already she had been tired of hiding their marriage. Everytime she was adressed as "Miss Weasley" she just felt it... wrong - she couldn´t even explain it properly to herself.
Though it were a much different case from hers, she couldn´t help but wonder, how on Earth could Torie be so cassual about hiding something so big as being in a union with someone you love. But it seemed, that this was finally about to end, and that fact alone made her heart warm over.
"Of course I mean it, Gin. As much as I find it amusing to play "hide-and-seek" with Athena Kellen, I really want to let the world know, that this amazing beauty here is my wife."he said nonchalantly, completly ignoring the protests at the table.
"I should snog you for that, Potter."breathed Ginny quietly, smiling radiantly.
"Later."he replied just as quietly, giving her a small wink.
Just then the enterance door opened and James Potter stepped in, looking tired.
"Dad!"exclaimed Alice, jumping from her seat and moving to her father, who fixed her a curious look.
"Dad, please... please talk some sence into him!"she pleaded, pointing at her brother.
James looked confusedly from her face to his son and daughter-in-law before sighing.
"Okay... I hate to break it to you like this, but I´m not particuraly in the mood for more surprises. I´ve just returned from St Mungo´s and..."
"St Mungo´s?! Are you hurt?!"exclaimed Lily, at once rising from her chair and joining her daughter by his side.
The Weasleys all looked at them in worry, but Ginny saw that her husband wasn´t even remotely worried, but instead helped himself to more bacon. Ginny was now completly sure, judging by his mood, that he must be completly aware of everything that´s going on, if not arranging it all in the first place. In fact, she was also sure that the red envilope he didn´t open yet also played some part in this play.
"You sneaky little snakie."she whispered to his ear, not sure if she should be angry with him or not.
"Definitely NOT!"she thought happily as he answered her with a cheeky grin.
Lily was looking her husband up and down, but James shook his head and placed a hand on her shoulder gently.
"I´m not hurt, Lils. But Dawlish, Proudfoot and Savage sure are. They´re almost in critical condition. Those three idiots deserted their posts. I was given very little information by the Magical Law Enforcement lot... something about the Death Eaters attacking them."he informed.
The kitchen rang with gasps, several women in the kitchen placed their hands on their mouths. A loud, heavily amused snort made all of them turn to look at the raven-haired young man, who was smiling with his hand set on his chin.
"Mhm-hm? So Blaise is now a Death Eater...? Good one."he said, plainly finding the idea amusing.
The Burrow´s kitchen once more rang with exclamations of shock. James, Lily and Alice shared a look and at once fixed the younger Potter male an angry glare.
"I knew it!"moaned Alice in exaspiration.
"Harry James Potter!"growled Lily.
James smacked his right palm onto his forehead. Harry pulled out his Cedar wand and summoned a chair with one wave. He conjoured a glass of Firewhiskey with the other. Sighing half-angrily, James seated himself into the chair and took the offered glass from his son, draining half of it in one gulp.
"Okay. I´m listening. WHAT happened?!"
The rest of the Burrow was barely even breathing, their gazes shifting between Harry and James.
"At about half-past midnight I was woken, when I recieved an SMS from Blaise."started Harry, pointing to his Slytherin wristband.
"He told me that those three have followed him into the Leaky Cauldron where he had a meeting with two of the Gringotts goblins. After he left the pub, they attacked him and tried to place him under the Imperius Curse."
While the explanation was once more met with gasps of shock, James goaned again and downed the rest of the Firewhiskey.
"Just great..."he muttered.
"But Blaise and Luna are on their honeymoon... how could he have been..."breathed Hermione in shock.
"They returned just yesterday, Hermione. The goblins at Gringotts were taking about it."said Bill quietly.
"And already he´s been attacked! Kellen HAS to have something to do with this!"exclaimed Ron.
Harry turned to him, a smug look on his face.
"If she did order an attack on Blaise, Ron... then for her sake, I hope no one EVER finds a shred of evidence."
Both James and Arthur gasped and looked at eachother.
"But DID she order an attack on him? Or did the Death Eaters somehow manage to place them under the Imperius Curse and make them attack him."asked Hermione, a thoughtfull expression on her face.
Harry shrugged as he re-filled his father´s glass with a wave of his wand.
"Does it even matter, Mione? What matters is, that Blaise had been attacked."he said calmly, obviously quite happy about the situation.
"He´s the Head of the Zabini family now."breathed Arthur, seeing where his only son-in-law was going with this.
His eyes darted on the red envilope, now understanding everything.
"Wow... he must be one hell of a duelist if he was able to take out three Aurors at once."breathed Charlie in awe.
"Take out is hardly the term I would use..."moaned James, seeing the results himself.
"Slaughter was more like it."he mumbled, taking a sip of the second dose of Firewhiskey.
Harry shrugged calmly.
"Just because someone doesn´t generally rush into duels certainly doesn´t count them out as a duelist. Blaise is extremly talented, even if he prefers not to show it much. If any of you are wondering - he´s even stronger than Draco and Angus."he said earnestly.
Even Ginny was amazed at hearing this. True, they all sometimes meet up in the Room of Requirement - the Slytherin Squad, their girls, Ron, Hermione and several other old members of the DA, excluding Neville and Hannah unfortunately. But she remembered now, that she never once saw Blaise duel seriously.
"Harry... you said, that Kellen is about to find out how much support of the Nobles she really has. Does that mean...?"asked Bill, eying the red envilope too.
Harry´s smile broadened and became almost snake-like.
"Yes... this invitation could NOT have come at a better time. Caractacus Slughorn and his new wife are holding a High Society party to celebrate their union. And its very needless to say, that most of the Nobles think very highly of Blaise and find him very likable indeed. Even Kellen´s strongest supporter would definitely rip her apart, if he ever found that she had anything to do with the attack on him."
Molly gave out a shaky laugh, now understanding as well.
"And since you are Blaise´s close friend and also hold some ammount of respect among them too, this is the perfect oppoturnity to make your marriage public."she said, remembering some scenes from the diary that showed the younger Harry at numerous High Society parties.
Harry gave her a sunny smile.
"Right you are, Mum Weasley. And make it public in class - High Society Class, that is."
Now the kitchen rang with chuckles. Even Alice couldn´t help but smile as well, even as she shook her head and folded her arms.
"Harry James Potter... you cunning, cheeky, sneaky little serpent."she said, but unlike so many times in the past, her tone lacked any kind of anger whatsoever and was instead replaced with affection.
The Burrow´s kitchen roared with laughter as Harry stuck out his tongue at his sister cheekily in a very snake-like fashion.
The saturday sun was slowly setting, taking with it the last of the warmth it provided for the final days of the autumn.
The large metal gate was opening, admitting the first of the cars inside. The cars started to ride trough the magnificent, perfectly-kept garden which was looking stunning even in the autumn with all the fallen leaves. They came to a halt at a parking lot, which was able to hold a great number of cars, but still looked small compared to the garden. Next to the parking lot was a beautifull mansion. There was a large staircase leading up to the front door of the it. The large oak door was closed and flanked by two muscular men in black suits. They watched calmly as the cars were parking and people exiting them, moving trough the parking-lot to the stair case - their guests have arrived.
"Hurry up, Petunia. We don´t want to be late."came a gruff voice of a large, neckless man - his enormous black mustache quivering as he hurried, clearly wanting to be the first to be admitted.
"Right you are, Vernon."said his bony wife, as she was fighting to keep up, the high-heels slowing her down on the stairs.
Both of them, like the other people exiting their cars were dressed very formally - the men wore expensive suits and tuxes, the women various styles of party-dresses, along with fur-coats to protect them from the decreasing November temperatures.
The two bodyguards shared a look as Vernon and Petunia Dursley hurried to them as though they were in a some kind of a race. Taking the invitation from Vernon, the guard checked everything before opening the door, showing the inside politedly.
The other guests were also coming, showing their invitations, being admitted mostly in pairs. Among the great number of people arriving and assembling at the frint door, no one was paying any attention to the parking-lot, where the lights, already shining in the fading sunlight began to flicker as though something was wrong with their source. Almost at the same moment the sun set, bathing the garden in darkness, the lights momentarily shut off. A moment later they flickered back into life, blinking numerous times before doing so.
Had the bodyguards paid any attention to the parking-lot, they would have been under the impression that the two people standing there - a man and a woman - seemed to have appeared out of thin air.
The man in his thirties, dressed in a black suit looked himself up and down before running a hand trough his mop of straw-colored hair.
"I look like an idiot. I still can´t believe you actually talked me into this, Daph."he said to his companion.
The woman, also appearing to be in her thirties, dressed in a brilliant green party-dress, looked at him from beneath her pair of glasses and smiled.
"The only other choice besides you was Wormtail and let´s face it, Bart... I would rather NOT see him try to eat like a gentleman should the situation call for it."
The pair exchanged a chuckle as they made to the staircase leading to the front door.
"You are actually determined to do this, aren´t you...?"asked Barty Crouch, his eyebrow raised.
Daphne Greengrass snorted.
"Of course. After all the trouble I went trough in order to track down a decent trail? Pity, that Rita Skeeter wasn´t able to finish that book of hers three years back - it would have saved us this ordeal. On the other hand..."
She cast Barty a teasing smile.
"At least we´ll be able to freshen-up our acting abilities. Isn´t that right, Professor Moody?"she stressed the word teasingly.
Barty rolled his eyes, but his smirk was in place.
"Point taken. Though this is taking things a bit too far in my opinion."
Daphne shook her head, her redish hair which was tied in a loose ponytail dancing behind her.
"Nothing is "too far" when our Master is concerned."she said sternly, ignoring the two bodyguards who already asked her for an invitation.
Barty also ignored them, looking at her curiously as the guards asked again.
"Agreed on that. But how will this little project of yours be able to help the plan?"
Daphne smiled quite deviously.
"Oh, believe me... the chessboard is about to be shaken quite nicely. And, with this particural piece added to it, the plan will be..."
"Excuse me!"came the bodyguard´s now-annoyed voice.
Daphne and Barty turned to look at him.
"If you have no invitation, you cannot be allowed inside. Now... DO you have your invitations?"
Barty raised an eyebrow at this... this... Muggle, but Daphne reacted before he could do anything, her wand already in hand. With a flick of her wand the bodyguards´ eyes slid out of focus, a look of dreamy unconcern falling over both of them. Barty grinned at her craftiness - the Ministry won´t register something as small as a Memory Charm in this area.
"Go right in."said one of them dreamily, opening the door for them.
"Happy New Year to both of you."said the other one in dreamy cheeriness.
Both Daphne and Barty snickered as the door closed.
"Simple-minded primate."sneered Daphne in cold humor.
"Heh... for a simple Memory Charm to disorient someone like that so easily... you can´t have a lot in your head to begin with."said Barty shaking his head.
Entering trough the antechamber, they were both mildly surprised as they passed trough another set of open oak doors. They were greeted by a sight, they were very accustumized to during their childhood.
A large, long, almost hall-like room was filled with politely dressed people. It showed every single sighn of heavy luxury and riches. At the very end of it was a set of stairs made of brilliant white marble, that were leading up to a balcony, which showed only a slight bit of the upper floor. There, two people were standing. The middle-aged man was adressing the crowd in welcome, his companion - no doubt his wife - was standing there politely and smiling upon their guests.
"That´s her."whispered Daphne, staring at the middle-aged, blonde-haired woman on the balcony.
Dressed in a bubble-blue party dress, she was smiling kindly as she placed her hands around her husband´s arm. Barty sighed deeply.
"I wish we could simply do this the old-fashioned way."he said, though knowing perfectly, that such an act was out of the question right now.
Daphne smiled at him, but shook her head and replied in a hushed voice.
"I wouldn´t be opposed to it myself. But you remember the Dark Lord´s plan - we have to attract as little attention as possible. Unless that masked bastard is involved."
"You are confident that you can do this?"asked Barty.
"Positive. But I need as much information as possible. There cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt."
"I have to say... I feel touched, that you chose to tell me about this project. Before you told anyone... before you even told the Dark Lord himself... It is a bold experiment indeed - uniuqe, unpredictable, but bold."said Barty, the idea only adding to the respect he already felt for her, even before the Battle of Hogwarts.
Daphne smiled as the man´s welcoming speech came to an end and was awarded by a round of applause from his guests. Once it died down, the man clapped his hands.
"Music, please."he called joyfully.
At once the musicians, who were set-up in the far right corner of the room started to play - classical music resonating all around as the people started to congregate at the various tables scattered here and there in the room, greeting one another, talking excitedly while reaching for food, placed neatly on the ebony wood tables. Various other... servants was the only word Barty could think of, were walking around with trays, asking the people for their drink order.
"Well I´ll be... these monkeys actually have taste?"he asked Daphne under his breath as he examined the situation.
"It reminds me of the High Society parties back home."
Her eyes fell on a group of women in their late twenties, who were talking about something, giggling madly a moment later.
"Vividly..."she growled coldly.
This was one of the things she detested even on the Wizarding High Society parties - women and girls, who by society tradition only functioned as simply decorations for their men, or - even worse - wishing to be just that... no ambition, no sence of independance...
She was at once bombarded by memories of the parties as the years went by. How her mother always said to her, that a noble lady should look and act for the best interest of her husband and the family... obeying some pointless rules... all of it just to live some leisure-kind of a life. The very idea made her want to throw up.
Since childhood she knew, that she was a thinker and a fighter... positively hating to be pampered like an overgrown child and hoping to be different from her foolish, idiot parents. For a while she thought that she did find something like that with Harry Potter and his friends. Except, that he proved to be a traitor... pretending to join the Dark Lord and then double-cross him. And even worse...
The last time she spoke to her beloved master, almost a month ago, he revealed his secrets to her... secrets, which he shared only with her.
He told her his life´s amazing story, his inventions, his dreams, his first fall at the hands of Neville Longbottom ( the very reason why she initiated the Inferi attack with Bellatrix, Pansy and Milicent - precicely on Halloween in order to send a message), his miracleous return and then...
"That Masked bastard!"she positively screamed in her mind at the very thought of him.
Lord Voldemort, in his great genius was finally able to discover the identity of that miserable eyesore. But even HE was surprised at her murderous rage when he had told her, that the Masked Wizard is none other that Harry Potter. It made her want to murder anything in sight...
She belived him, trusted him, dated him, loved him even... and all this bloody time he had been only toying with her... and the others too... playing a bloody muggle superhero?!
"He will PAY! In his own BLOOD! I swear it!"she thought, so furiously that she was almost shaking even now.
This was the very reason why she thought up this project to begin with.
However angry she was, she wasn´t stupid.
She knew perfectly well, that she wasn´t able to match him in sheer power. She knew full-well, that only her beloved master is strong enough to kill a wizard like him. But right now her Lord is still weak, sharing the body of the Chosen One, his poor soul maimed and while he doesn´t have a body of his own, he cannot use his amazing abilities fully.
His plan for ressurection is amazing, but it requires time.
And with both Potter AND Dumbledore out on the watch, it may take even longer. Both she and Voldemort had understood, that if given enough time, Potter and his idiot friends may actually figure out, how to extract him from Longbottom... all would be lost.
She was determined NOT to let that happen.
"I lost him once. I never want to lose him ever again."she thought furiously.
She was almost in tears when he had told her, how he was struck with that golden curse and if not for his mother´s help, he would have never been able to get out of that wretched place...
She was brought back to reality as she and Barty were approached by a group of these... muggles, all having eager looks on their faces, save for one pair - a fat mustached man and a bony looking woman, who eyed them with obvious contempt.
She quickly glanced into Barty´s eyes, using Legilimency to communicate without words.
"Here we go... your move first, Bart."
Barty raised his eyebrow and though he did not let it show, Daphne could feel in his thoughts that he was not all that eager to do this.
"Whatever happened to "ladies first"?!"he sent to her and Daphne felt the need to snicker.
"Ah, new blood. So nice to see someone new here at last."said the nicely dressed, muggle man in his fourties, smiling kindly at them along with his wife.
In a matter of minutes they were surrounded by many of the guests at one of the snack-tables, all of them eager to find out more about this new pair.
Daphne knew, why she chose Barty to come along with her - his acting skills surpassed even that of hers, no wonder the Dark Lord praises them so much. She had been surprised - dispite the fact that they only had a few hours of preparation for this, Barty was handling this muggle role with such skill, that even the mistrustfull-looking fat muggle was now looking less suspitious. He was so good, that he even attracted the attention of the host and his wife - something, that would save her a bit of trouble.
"Do tell us, Mr Rowley... what business do you operate in?"asked one of the women, now holding her sixth glass of champagne and eyeing Barty ver flirteously.
He fixed her a charming, automatic smile that made most of the single women almost purr, even as he racked his brains for any kind of muggle occupation that would be decent enough for these upper-class muggles...
"What in the world do these miserable monkeys DO for a living anyway?!"he thought furiously.
"Er... the problem-solving business."he said pleasantly, making most the crowd chuckle in appretiation.
"So you´re a lawyer? Or at least have some law-firm?!"asked Vernon Dursley, looking him up and down and plainly not beliveing it.
Barty smiled again.
"No... not a lawyer. I´m more of an... action - person. I like to be... direct, when solving people´s problems for them."
The crowd chuckled again. Vernon however scoffed.
"It certainly doesn´t sound like a big, or importaint business."
Barty once again felt the heavy need to pull out his wand and start casting Killing Curses left and right, starting with THIS fat muggle first. Thanks to his long years in the High Society and with his fool of a father, he had incredible control and also a talent to talk yourself out of such situations.
"Oh, it is a very importaint business, Mr Dursley. You wouldn´t believe how many problems people have... or cause."he said brightly.
"Humph... Does that mean, that your business is ...er, prospering?"asked Vernon, his black mustache quivering.
"Definitely. Soon it will prosper even more."
Vernon acknowledged it begrudgingly, folding his arms.
"That means, that you probably have a great ammount of people working under you."
Barty grinned, thinking of the people in their secret dungeon, currently under the Imperius Curse.
"A great ammount indeed."he answered - this role-playing was finally starting to feel amusing.
Just then, the host called for the traditional part of the party - the dancing part.
Pairs at once started to approach the dance floor, but there were those, who rather remained at the snack-tables and talked about business, hatching new deals. Vernon shot Barty one last mistrustfull look before grabbing his wife, leading her to the dance-floor.
"Good riddance."thought Barty with a sigh.
Suddenly he felt his arm being grabbed by a pair of smaller hands. Turning around, he saw that one of the young, blonde women... miss... er... miss Steward... or whatever her name is, grabbed him and fixed him a radiant smile.
"This is my favourite tune, Mr Rowley. Please, do join me for this dance."she asked.
Barty was taken aback. Quickly he fixed Daphne an almost desperate "Help me" look as she moved closer, still keeping one eye out for her target. Miss Steward looked at her and grinned.
"Miss Rowley, do you mind if I borrow your brother for a dance?"she asked.
Daphne couldn´t help but grin. Barty didn´t want to play the role of her husband, choosing that of being her brother instead and here was the result. Once more glancing on the muggle woman she was after, pleased to see that she chose not to dance either - NOW was the moment.
"As long as he promises to behave himself."she said brightly with a grin, positively relishing the annoyed glare Barty shot her, even if he DID understand her intentions.
Having no other choice, he allowed the young blonde to lead him onto the dance floor and Daphne quickly made her way to the next snack table, where the woman was standing. As she came to her, she fixed her a kind smile.
"Ah, miss Rowley. I trust you are enjoying the party."
Daphne smiled automaticly.
"Very much, thank you. But Mrs Credwell... I wished to speak to you. May we talk somewhere privately?"
Mrs Credwell fixed her a curious look, but nodded. She lead Daphne into a door on the side, unnoticed by anyone. They entered a cozy-looking sitting room. She gestured gently to the chairs and Daphne at once took her seat.
"Well Miss Rowley... what can I help you with?"she asked brightly.
"I wanted to ask you about something... rather... someone - your younger brother."said Daphne plainly.
Mrs Credwell´s smile dissapeared from her face, replaced by a small look of shock.
"Y...you´re from his... his kind?"she asked quietly.
"Yes. Quite like him, I also take after my mother´s side."lied Daphne quickly, thinking that it would be best to appear as similar to him as possible.
Mrs Credwell sighed sadly.
"So you want to know more about him... I´m afraid I will have to dissapoint you, Miss Rowley. Though I am surprised you chose to come after me, there is very little I can help you with, if you´re searching for a story."
"You misunderstand. I am not a journalist. I am a healer."said Daphne gently.
Mrs Credwell was greatly surprised, but it did little to change the sad look in her eyes.
"I see. But what can be done? I haven´t been allowed to see him eversince it happened. Only our mother had been allowed to visit. After she died, none of us in the family have that right anymore. But when she visited him for the final time, she... she was told that there was no help possible..."
"There is."said Daphne, surprising her even more.
"A new method has been researched into and there IS a way to help him now. But for that, I will need to know absolutely everything about him. Everything. Any little detail is crucial."
Mrs Credwell was looking at her in wonder, a small smile spreading across her lips.
"Y...you... you´re sure about this? He could be all right again?"
Daphne shot her a kind smile.
"Absolutely. I, along with a my team will perform the procedure myself. I give you my word, that he will be all right again."
Mrs Credwell sighed in relief.
"To make myself clear... even during his golden era he didn´t visit much, but its not like we dislike eachother. Of crouse I would do anything for my baby brother´s well-being. I want to have him back again."
"You will help then?"
Mrs Credwell smiled radiantly.
"Certainly, Miss Rowley. I shall tell you everything I know."
Daphne smiled, knowing that she will now have every single piece of information she will need now. She can already picture her beloved master´s astounded reaction when she will tell him of her great plan.
"I can´t believe how lucky the three of you are."said Rebecca Davis, sighing in awe as her three roommates were busily preparing themselfs.
The sun was already falling, when she and her roommates quickly left the Common Room and prepared for the High Society party they were to attend. Though Rebecca ( being a half-blood and having no prominent family in the High Society ranks ) wasn´t invited to the party, she wanted to see the girls off, hungry for a bit of chat and gossip.
"Please do NOT forget - I want full details once you return."she said for about the fifteenth time.
Dressed into their best possible dress-robes - all of which must have been expensive - Astoria Greengrass, Flora and Hestia Carrow who were all but ready for the big occasion, nodded at her, each letting out a small sigh.
"I can´t believe that Professor Dumbledore is actually allowing us to go."said Flora in her monotone voice.
"Come off it, girl. This is Dumbledore we´re talking about."
"I asked him about it after lunch. He felt, that since the sixth and seventh years are allowed to leave the school, it would be unfair not to extend the same option in this case. Especially since our parents have asked permission. He also said, that even having fun on similar occasions can work as a learning method."said Hestia, clearly being skeptical about the statement.
Torie grinned dispite herself as she placed a shiny, mineral-stone necklace she got from Angus on her thirteenth birthday around her neck.
"He´s right you know. Works even better than the History of Magic class."
Rebecca roared in laughter - it was a well-known fact, that only a handfull of students at Hogwarts are actually up to the task of paying attention to Binns´ class.
"At least the others will be there as well. I haven´t seen Caractacus in a while either."added Torie smilingly, already looking forward to see him.
"Our cousins as well."noted Hestia in the monotoneous voice, though a slight smile was playing on her lips.
"Harry will come as well, right?"asked Rebecca brightly.
"Quite certainly. He never misses out on the High Society parties. Unless he´s abroad, which he isn´t right now."answered Torie with a smile.
Flora rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Marvolo will be delighted. He asked about very little else since morning."she said in a bored voice.
Torie and Rebecca giggled, and even Hestia wasn´t able to mask the humorous smile.
Marcus Flint´s little cousin - Marvolo Flint is a Slytherin student in their year who, like most of the Slytherin boys nowadays, find Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini and even Angus Lennox to be nothing short of heroes.
As it is common at Hogwarts, House students in a common year ussually stick together, and it were no exception for their year as well. The girls were quick to learn since their first-year, that Marvolo was as different from Marcus as daytime was different from the night. Unlike his elder cousin, Marvolo was an enhusiastic, cheerful and sometimes even charming.
Torie knew, as almost the entire Slytherin house did, that Marvolo Flint fell head over heels for Flora Carrow and is about the only person at Hogwarts capable of instantly telling the identical twins apart, without the use of Legilimency as Harry sometimes does it.
Being quite open with his intentions, he tries and tries to use some of his boyish charms on Flora. Torie knows for a fact (using her Legilimency powers for good measure), that she does return his feelings, but like her twin sister... she´s a sort of a quiet flower as Marvolo fondly calls her. The pair of them do spend time together, but Flora is still not ready to admit her feelings openly.
"Well... maybe you can do something to divert his attention from Harry, Flora."said Torie slyly.
Rebecca snickered as Flora gave Torie a blank look.
"I have no idea, what you´re talking about."she said emotionlessly.
"Oh, I think you do. And I think you should finally do something about it."said Torie pleasantly, knowing that this had been going on since their Third-year.
"I agree with Torie, sis."said Hestia earnestly.
Flora´s blank look remained as it was.
"What do you propose I should do?"she asked quietly.
"Oh that´s easy..."said Rebecca airly as though trying to explain one-plus-one.
"Be a Slytherin. Take what you want without any fear. Grab your dear boy, hurl him into the first broom cupboard you can find and snog him until his lips fall off."
Torie giggled as Flora turned her head away slightly in order to hide the deep-red blush on her cheeks.
"That... that shounds a bit too much..."she mumbled in embaressment.
"Nonsence. Tried it myself. Believe me, its soooo much more than worth it."said Torie with a wink, as she placed a hand on Flora´s shoulder.
Still blushing furiously, Flora looked at Torie, fixing her with the tiniest of smiles.
"I shall take it under advisement."
Torie grinned as Rebecca looked at her strangely.
"You tried it yourself, Torie? With who? You´re not dating. Nor have you ever dated anyone before."
Torie gave her a cheeky grin.
"Wouldn´t you like to know... sorry, Ultimate-Level Secret."she said pleasantly, sticking out her tongue for good measure.
While this made Rebecca glare her slightly, Flora and Hestia both let out a tiny giggle.
"We should go now. Otherwise, we shall miss the Portkey."said Hestia quickly.
Quickly saying their goodbyes, the three girls exited their room, meeting up in the Common Room with Marvolo Flint and Bertram Shafiq. Both boys were dressed in their finest black dress-robes, their hair long ( modeled after Angus´ style ), charmingly styled and shiny due to a generous ammount of Sleekeazy´s Hair Potion. Marvolo seemed to have used much more on his black hair, than Bertram did - something that was very obvious to the girls, even on first sight.
"Don´t be surprised, Flora. Someone just wanted to look his best for his dream-girl."whispered Torie to Flora, who immediately turned red-cheeked again.
The boys stopped their eager chat and fixed the girls sunny smiles.
"About time. I swear you girls take too long when preparing yourselves."Bertram noted, though it was clear that he was teasing.
"Well worth it though. You really look amazing."said Marvolo, smiling radiantly at Flora, who was adverting his gaze.
"Thanks. But you seem to have filled out the time well enough. What ground-breaking news were you discussing, while you were waiting for us, oh so painfully long?"asked Torie with a smirk as they left the Slytherin Common Room.
"The Masked Wizard of course."replied Marvolo eagerly, as though no topic in the world was more interesting.
"Caractacus is a member of the Vigilante Task Force. All of them, including Draco will be there too, so I suspect that we will be in a good position to overhear something interesting."
Marvolo nodded fervently.
"You bet. I´m sick of only getting stupid information from the Daily Prophet. He´s no criminal, but a hero."
"And you think the Vigilante Task Force will just tell the two of you all the information?"asked Hestia skepticly.
Both boys shared a look and grinned at her happily.
"C´mon, Hes... Its worth a try to ask. Its not like you aren´t interested in the Masked Wizard yourself."said Bertram teasingly, and thistime it was Hestia who blushed.
"It is just an passive fascination, that´s all."she said defencively, though knowing it was pointless.
"Not very passive from what I saw. What was that piece you were writing about him instead of our Herbology Essay...The Masked Wizard - Villain or Vigilante."teased Marvolo.
"It was pretty good, you know Hes... Objective, while still giving out your opinion. Much better than the trash in the Daily Prophet. I think other people would rather read that as well."
Hestia was now blushing beet-red at the boys´ praise.
"Don´t be ridiculous. It was just a small analysis based on everything that is publicly known. I´m no journalist or critic. Besides, there is no way, such an article could appear in a newspaper. Especially if the Ministry is restricting them all."she said calmly, though in fact wishing there WAS some way of making it public - if for nothing else, than to try and help the Masked one and let him know, that not everyone sees him as a threat.
Bertram gave out a long sigh.
"I would love to know, who he IS. He has to be one amazing wizard."
Marvolo gasped, looking at all of them brightly.
"You know I DO have a theory."
Flora, Hestia and Bertram goaned, while Torie chuckled.
"Marvolo, we´ve been trough this a hundred times already - Harry Potter is NOT the Masked Wizard."said Flora, slightly irritated that he wouldn´t drop it.
"Oh, come on... why not? How many cool wizards do you think we have around here?"
Hestia goaned again and fixed him a serious look.
"As I have already explained to you, almost every day since you came up with this theory, there is now confirmed information, that The Masked Wizard had been active since You-know-who returned, almost three years ago. You remember how Hogwarts was under Umbridge. How would you expect Harry to have gotten out of the castle and back without anyone noticing it? Without Professor Dumbledore noticing it? And,several times the Masked Wizard had been sighted, Harry had been here. Even the Bloody Baron said so in some cases. How can someone be in two places at once? It is simply impossible."
" I still say, that Harry is one of the smartest wizards I know. He would´ve found a way."he said stubornly.
"Sorry, Marvolo. I just cannot believe it. Whoever the Masked Wizard is, its not Harry."said Hestia firmly.
"And who do you think he is then?"
"What makes you so sure, its a HE?"asked Hestia thoughtfully.
Both Bertram and Marvolo roared in laughter.
"Come off it, Hes... the Masked Wizard!"said Bertram, shaking his head.
"Yeah... a girl?! Who could this girl be then? You? Or Torie?"asked Marvolo in humor.
Though the twin sisters fixed eachother an exasperated look, Torie had to do all she could, not to laugh.
"If these two knew the truth..."she thought humorously.
She could only imagine the looks on their faces if they found out, that she too wears that mask sometimes.
"Knowing these two, they would faint if they knew HALF of the stuff the Slytherin Squad went trough."she thought happily, just as they reached Great Hall, where Sullivan Fawley was waving at them, waiting with a few other pure-blood students, who were lined up with Professor Dumbledore as the Portkey was due to appear at any moment. Torie was sure, that this party will be one to remember, especially since she read the SMS Blaise had sent her. She allowed her thoughts to wander freely as the handfull of students in their dress-robes were chatting along with the Headmaster. She was already looking forward to all the hubbub the new plan will cause. But more than that, she was looking forward to seeing a certain someone. Someone, she knew must be about ready to depart his family´s manor about now. She couldn´t help but wonder, how was Draco dealing with this situation... especially when a certain woman was involved.
Deianira Kellen was in a towering temper right now. Her blonde-haired BRAT of a fiance had been constantly getting on her nerves since yesterday.
These days it was very hard to say, what irritated her about him more. His disgusting habits ( most prominently his bloody SLEEPING habits ), his smug, cheeky attitude, or simply the fact that he gets along SO well with their enemies.
After yesterday´s Auror fiasco a more serious issue has risen and Deianira was presently happy for two things - that Lucius and Narcissa have already left the Malfoy Manor (leaving her free to shout at the top of her lungs), and that she didn´t currently have a wand in her hand. Though even the latter issue hardly mattered. She was so angry, that it were only a matter of time, before she leaped across the balcony they were standing on and strangle him with her bare hands.
"I am TELLING you for the FINAL TIME! My mother DIDN´T order that attack."she roared.
This issue had started before noon, when the word was out and the Heads of the Noble families were forced to have an emergency meeting, called up by none other than Kingsley Shacklebolt, who took the attack on his nephew VERY seriously. It persisted troughout the entire afternoon and now, that they were ready to leave for the High Society Party, it seemed to have picked up on several degrees.
"And I am telling YOU for the final time - I am NOT accusing your mother."said Draco in a calm voice, his eyes watching the white peacock that was jumping around the garden.
"I am saying, that one of my best friends - and I don´t give a shite about the Repopulation Act - has been attacked and tried to have been placed under the Imperius Curse by three Aurors. Aurors who are on YOUR side."
"OUR side!"she bellowed angrily.
Draco shook his head stubbornly and fixed her with a glare.
"Whatever. But if my friend - a Head of a Noble family - is attacked, I want the Malfoy family to have nothing to do with it! It is time to take a stand!"he said firmly.
"A STAND AGAINST US!"she roared so loudly, Draco thought that the screaming would carry down trough the forest even trough the wards placed around the mansion.
"ALL BECAUSE POTTER HADN´T BEEN ABLE TO KEEP TRACK OF HIS OWN MEN!"she growled, but once again Draco fixed her a glare.
"I have explained to you already - James Potter had responded to the situation at once. Dispite not having any REAL share of the blame - an Auror is supposed to protect himself at ALL times, and not get placed under the Imperius Curse at random, if that were truly the case. He had accepted the moral blame of the Auror Office and resighned his position immediately. Along with Sirius Black."
It was true.
At noon, another emergency meeting had been called on at the Ministry, where James Potter ( Dray suspected acting on his best friend´s advice ) had resighned his post, much to the general shock of everyone, including Amelia Bones, the entire Wizengamot, even Albus Dumbledore himself were shocked beyond words. Draco was sorry not to have seen Fudge´s face, he had been told by Blaise´s SMS, that the man looked positively faint. This move would certainly cause one hell of an uproar.
"NO ONE WANTED HIM TO RESIGHN HIS POST!"roared Deianira, knowing that the reisgnation will only add to the pressure on the Minister and her mother.
"He had made his reasons very clear. And I agree. It is impossible to lead the Aurors, if Thicknesse and his lot are only making their work more difficult - regardless of their Head of Department´s orders - and even when his own Aurors are acting on their own. THIS is the result!"
Deianira stomped the ground in anger.
"What about US? The Task Force? Thicknesse doesn´t dare mess into our work."
"Only because he has been ordered not to by your mother, AND because he knows, that I would hex him out the window if he tried. And since I´m under your mother´s protection, he doesn´t dare take that chance."
Deianira drew her breath in order to retort, but Draco raised his hand in a silencing gesture.
"Plus you know perfectly well of the Daily Prophet campaign. They always sing praises for us, but besmirch the Aurors at the same time. No wonder James Potter simply had enough. Who would work under such conditions? In any case, what´s your problem? Haven´t you been saying all along, what an incompetent wizard is running the Auror Office? Wasn´t Fudge more than eager to get rid of him for years? Wasn´t THIS what you lot WANTED in the first place?!"
Deianira was shaking all over in rage, but knew she had no argument for this. True they wanted Potter out of the Auror Office, but not on such circumstances - unlike their original plan for him, they were worse-off in THIS situation.
"I will be very plain with you, Deianira... Blaise had been attacked by three Aurors..."
"HE SENT THEM INTO ST MUNGO´S IN CRITICAL CONDITION!"she roared again.
"... by MEMBERS of the Ministry ITSELF. Even if they WERE under the Imperius Curse, Blaise as the Head of the Zabini family has the right to ask for a compensation. Under the Pure-blood Noble Family Law of 1796."
"I AM WELL AWARE OF THE LAW, MALFOY! IT WAS HIS FAULT TO BEGIN WITH! HE HAD NO BUSINESS MEETING SOME GOBLINS OR MARRYING THAT HALF-BLOOD ODDITY!"
"On the contrary. He had every right to do both those things. He hadn´t brocken a SINGLE law and by marrying Luna Lovegood, he even abided the Repopulation Act. In other words, the law is completly on his side."said Draco, as though that settled the entire matter.
"Also, I would advise you to be more than polite to her, unless you wish to attract more of Blaise´s wrath. You see... he is very touchy about those, he loves."
Deianira stomped the ground again.
"I will take this up with my mother, Malfoy... mark my words. Your attitude is completly unacceptable!"she growled, once again refraining from physically attacking him.
Draco turned on his heel, a smirk on his lips.
"Go ahead. Because there are things I wish to talk about with her myself."
Deianira was almost shocked as his expression changed to one of absolute resolve.
"I am tolerant enough to be engaged to you AND follow a few of your mother´s desighns. But I will not act against my closest friends, especially if they abide the law - this wasn´t part of the deal."
She was stunned momentarily as he turned his back on her.
"And one more thing..."he added, without turning.
"I am fully aware, that you could not possibly care less about me or my feelings. BUT, if you´re thinking of trying something - anything funny, I am giving you a fair warning, Deianira. NO ONE double-crosses a Malfoy."he said before leaving the balcony into the living room, leaving her standing there, unable to reply in any possible way.
"Aaaand there we go. All finished."said Hermione gently as she finished her sister-in-law to prepare for the grandiose occasion.
"Stand up. Let´s take a look at you."she encouraged, both girls standing up.
Hermione took a few gentle steps back and examined the sight before her, even as Naja raised her head as if to take a better look and Hazumi started to bounce up and down joyfully.
"You look gorgeous, Ginny."exclaimed Hermione with joy, that could rival that of the tiny bouncehop.
Ginny couldn´t help but grin as she saw the pair of them and even Naja´s golden scales glowed slightly. She stood in front of the large mirror, Hermione had counjured before they have started. She looked herself up and down, left and right and smiled. The brand new dress robes, that her husband had insisted on buying for her at Madam Malkin´s - the very reason, they have left for Diagon Alley right after breakfast.
And Madam Malkin had indeed outdone herself thistime.
The silky, firery-red dress robes were stylishly formed and cut, with golden flame patterns sewn into it, placed here and there to amazing effect. Her mother-in-law, as well as her two sisters-in-law have also decided to add their touch and so, she had a brilliant black and gold necklace from Lily, a set of pearl earrings from Fleur and a colorful crystal hairclip from Alice - one that seemed to change color magicly. She had been most surprised by both Fleur and Alice, but as she looked at herself, she was glad that accepted their offer - they all added to her image immensly.
"Thanks. Thanks for your help, Mione. Though I think we took a bit longer, than we intended..."
Just then there was a series of polite knocks on the door. A moment later the door opened and in came none other than Harry.
Ginny had to fight down a blush when she saw him. He also looked quite charming - his brilliant green-dress robes looked to her just as stunning as hers. They also had patterns sewn in- tiny silver snakes. What surprised both girls was the fact, that his normally uncontrollably untidy hair was actually made to behave, looking shiny, no doubt due to some Hair Potion.
For a small moment both Harry and Ginny were stunned as they looked at eachother.
Hermione couldn´t help but grin. Ginny had told her, that her snake of a husband had business to attend to at the Leaky Cauldron, while she had been waiting at Madam Malkin´s - Harry had not seen the dress robes on her.
"Wow..."he breathed in awe and thistime Ginny wasn´t able to fight down the blush.
"Like?"asked Hermione slyly.
Both girls couldn´t help but giggle as Harry slowly nodded his head several times, as though in a trance. Hazumi bounced towards Harry, hissing at him happily. It seemed to have brought him back to reality and he quickly replied to him in Parseltongue. Ginny thought, that she heared Naja give out a low hiss, she associated with humor.
"Ooookay... I was about to ask, what was taking so long, that I even had the time to both prepare myself AND brew Granny Dorea´s special Hair Potion to make my hair look presentable. But I can easily see, that you´ve had a very good reason to do so."he said with a small smirk.
Ginny grinned at him.
"Oh... is that right?"she asked in a mock-offended voice.
"Well now, Potter... If you are so ready and prepared - having so much time on your hands, how about we check if you have everything needed for the occasion. And I´d better NOT find, that you had forgotten something!"she said mock-sternly, moving closer and playfully acting as though she were a general inspecting her troops.
Hermione laughed in amusement as Ginny looked her husband up and down as though determined to find something wrong, Harry grinning at her with equal playfullness.
"Check."he said, pulling out his wand to show her.
"Check."he said, showing her the card, that was in the red envilope.
Her grin grew more, determined to get him.
Hermione snorted in laughter, while Harry kept his face neutral.
"Double check. Though I will only show in private."
"Check."he said, pulling out his coin pouch from his pocket.
"Polyjuice Potion?"she asked, now sure she had him now.
To her great astonishment however, Harry had pulled out a small bottle out of his other pocket, grinning deviously.
Both Ginny and Hermione looked at him confusedly.
"I was joking."said Ginny quietly, but her husband´s grin grew even more.
"Well I wasn´t."
"I don´t understand, Harry. Are you expecting something to happen on the Party? Something that might require the Masked Wizard?"asked Hermione, lowering her voice, since not everyone in the family knew the truth about him.
Harry smiled pleasantly and shook his head.
"Not really. But better safe than sorry."he said happily, pocketing the Polyjuice Potion.
Ginny rolled her eyes, even as Hazumi bounced up to her shoulder, gently wrapping himself on it. Naja slithered towards Harry, a hopefull look in her beetle-black eyes. Harry smiled as he knelt to her.
"Sorry Naja. I´m afraid you´ll have to sit this one out."he hissed to her in Parseltongue as he stroked her head.
Naja bowed her head sadly, as he removed his hand. Ginny and Hermione shared a small look. Ginny could not help but pity her a bit. She knelt down towards her as well, gently laying her palm on Naja´s head, also stroking her scales.
"Don´t worry, Naja. We will be back before you know it."she said, knowing Naja would read her emotions.
Hazumi at once bounced down from her shoulder and tilted his head towards hers, hissing something quietly, the girls didn´t need Parseltongue to know what was going on.
"Awww... sweet little one."cooed Hermione happily, as she watched the two snakes - the gesture seemed to have worked on easing Naja a bit.
"We´d better get going. Or we´ll be late."said Harry gently, reaching for Ginny´s hand.
With a last small wave at the two snakes, the three exited Ginny´s room, walking down the stares.
They were greeted by another sweet sight. The entire family was there waiting for them, wanting to see them off. The sight of the two of them at once made everyone explode in many exclamations of awe, excitement and joy.
"Wow... you look fantastic, sis."boomed the twins.
"This will sure make a few Noble jaws fall down."said Ron, grinning broadly.
"To be sure."grinned Charlie.
"Its not funny, you two. There will be many importaint families there. Please represent our families in the best of light."reminded Percy, a bit worriedly.
"Come off it, Perce..."exclaimed Tammy in sheer happiness.
"She´s right. Just go on and have a good time, you two."nodded Angelina with a grin.
"Be sure to give our best to the other snakies... and the others as well."asked Lily smilingly.
"And our worst to Kellen and her lot."grinned James wickedly.
Harry fixed his father the same grin as he gave him a thumbs-up.
"Will do."he said happily.
"Just be careful, you two."said Molly in a mothering voice, gently patting both Ginny and Harry on their cheeks.
"And Ginny... make sure he doesn´t go overboard."sing-songed Alice with a grin, attracting her brother´s glare.
"Will do."said Ginny with a cheeky grin at Harry, giving Alice a thumbs-up and making everyone laugh.
"We will be waiting for you here..."said Fleur pleasantly.
"And very eager to hear everything that happened."added Bill, grinning at them.
Harry fixed his eldest brother-in-law a cheeky grin of his own.
"If we oversleep by any chance, I´m sure you´ll find out all you need from the Sunday´s Prophet."
Bill chuckled in appretiation.
"That bad, eh?"
Harry looked quickly at the watch on his wrist. Nodding at Ginny, he gently started to lead her to the front door, excitement rich in his eyes.
"Come on, love. Let the fun begin."