Elphias Doge had been impressed with Harry Potter when he met him at the wedding on that fateful day that the ministry fell to the Death Eaters. It had been exciting for him to be able to claim that he had spent time chatting with the Boy-Who-Lived. And the boy, or young man, must have been impressed enough to remember their conversations. Elphias considered the letter he held in his hands and he reread the request for perhaps the twentieth time. He knew that many people did not believe some of the tales he wrote about, but obviously this young man, this saviour of the magical world, did believe him. He did not delude himself into believing everything he wrote about his adventures, of course he embellished his stories, even if it was only a little. However, it was nothing like that impostor Lockhart had done when he took other people's adventures, wrote up improbable stories claiming that he had actually performed ridiculous feats and then obliviated the poor sods who had told the man about their true stories. No, Elphias Doge had actually encountered a real live fire breathing chimera. He ran for his life and apparated away as quickly as he could, as opposed to his claim of having bravely faced it in a duel that lasted fifteen minutes before he admitted to himself that the beast was just too noble to actually kill, so he decided to spare the creature and then left it wounded, but only slightly. No, the tale in his book on his travels was a lie, but he had truly encountered a chimera. Elphias was no one's fool. No one wanted to read how he panicked and ran away screaming like a school girl. In retrospect, he realised that the screaming only made things worse as the chimera was able to follow the sound of his screams and easily followed him despite the darkness spell he had cast before making his hasty retreat. However, he was lucky to have escaped with his life. And he had no desire to tell anyone exactly where this had taken place, lest they find something that might reveal the truth of the encounter. But this was Harry Potter, the one who defeated Voldemort, saved the world and then seemed to try and disappear into obscurity. Harry was someone he felt he could trust. Elphias Doge started to write a reply to Mr. Potter, as he tried to remember just where the island near Greece was where he came face to face with the chimera.
Hannah and Daphne had been working hard on how to adjust the body bind spell so that the magical ropes would be impervious to fire, or at least fire resistant. So far, they had not met with any success.
Astoria had been spending the morning reading about snakes and snake venom. She wondered where Hermione Granger had found such a book on how to deal with snakes and snake venom. She was working in that magical library in Egypt, but this must have been some sort of muggle book, as the pictures within it did not move at all. The book had an introduction written by someone from Australia. But why someone who hunted crocodiles would write about dealing with poisonous snakes was beyond her. Muggles were strange people was all she could conclude. However, the book did prove to be useful. He described how muggles would capture a poisonous snake and have it bite a jar with a rubber top so that the venom would be released into the jar. She thought it was dangerous, particularly when those people had no magic to protect them, but somehow this might prove to be useful for Harry.
She left the library where she had been reading the book and found Hannah and Daphne working on the spell in the courtyard. They had managed to cause a statue to explode and one of the gardens to catch on fire. Nicho, the house elf for the villa, had been trying to repair the damage the ladies were causing as quickly as it occurred. When the two witches stopped various incantations to speak with the other witch, the elf was relieved as he knew he could get the fire put out and hopefully fully restore the gardens before they started to wreck more havoc.
"Hey 'Story!" called out Daphne. "Have you had any success yet?"
Astoria grinned in self satisfaction as she was farther along on her task than these two were with theirs. "I think we have what we need in this book."
Hannah noted the smug look that the younger Greengrass was giving them and she decided to soften the younger woman's delight. "Well, it sure helped you that Hermione Granger, the brightest witch of our age, gave you a head start by sending you that book. She wouldn't have sent it along in the first place if she wasn't absolutely sure it had something useful in its pages."
Astoria pouted, "Well, at least I have something to help Harry with the next task. Are you two done blowing up the courtyard?"
"Do you want to help with the rune sequences?" snapped Daphne.
"No thanks, sis," replied Astoria. "You were always so much better at that then I was in school." After a quick look around the courtyard, she continued, "So, where are the men? Not making themselves particularly helpful from what I can see."
Hannah and Daphne looked at each other and then back towards Astoria. Hannah then spoke up. "I haven't seen the since breakfast, I think they said something about needing to go to the village."
"Maybe they should be helping us with this," added Daphne. She then called out to Nicho and asked him if he knew where Harry and the other young men had gone. He told them he knew that they had travelled to the village late in the morning and that they should be back any time, as it was getting late for serving lunch. Daphne suggested that perhaps Nicho could find them and bring them back to the villa. The house elf gave a mischievous smile as he replied that he would do anything to keep the mistress of the villa happy. Then he vanished.
A minute later there were three stunned young men standing in the middle of the courtyard, each holding a partially eaten gyro in their hand. The three witches just stared at them in silence as they cast accusatory looks at the trio.
The three looked at their girlfriends and then at each other. Finally Draco spoke up, "It was Harry's idea."
Neville concurred, "Harry is the one who suggested we check out the stands."
"What stands?" asked Daphne sharply.
Harry was obviously squirming slightly. "I merely suggested that we give the village food stalls a try, see what they sold, see what we liked."
"Without us?" asked Hannah glaring at Neville.
Neville gulped and looked at Harry. Harry tried to salvage the situation, "I figured we should do some taste testing so we knew the best places to bring you lovely ladies."
"Keep talking," chided Daphne, not convinced that they were being above board.
Harry kicked Draco's foot, who jumped slightly. "Don't put this all on me," he whispered to his blonde friend.
"It is all on you already," replied Draco in a hushed voice. Then he spoke up to the women. "We had to check on something in the village and Harry said he was getting hungry, and then he asked if we had ever had souvlaki or gyros, and then he suggested that we try some of the local foods, and I tried to protest."
Neville scoffed, "Stop being such a snake, Draco, you did no such thing."
Daphne turned to Hannah, "So what do you think we should do with these three rude wizards?"
"Feed them to a chimera!" answered Astoria from the other side of the courtyard.
"Make them fix the stupid spell," added Hannah.
"But none of us even took runes or arithmancy at school," protested Harry.
Draco looked at him as he said, "Speak for yourself Potter."
"Fine, then you figure it out," responded Harry. Turning back to the women, he continued, "However, if you would like some really good souvlaki, we know just where to take you."
Daphne huffed, "Not helping, Harry."
"Too much like back in school," commented Hannah.
"How's that?" asked Harry.
"Hermione's still doing your work for you, even if she's not here," answered Hannah. "And we're not seeing enough work from you to help out," she added.
Harry started to protest.
Neville frowned at his friend, "She's got a point mate."
"Thanks for the support, here Nev," snapped Harry.
Daphne watched this interplay and turned and walked out of the courtyard. All of the their eyes followed her, and several of their group flinched as Daphne slammed the door shut behind her when she entered the villa. Harry started to follow after her, but Astoria grabbed his arm to hold him back. Harry turned to face the younger Greengrass.
Astoria looked up into Harry's eyes and quietly stated, "Not now, you need to give her a few minutes."
Harry pulled his arm back and was going to head after Daphne despite what her sister said. Draco spoke up, "Believe her, she knows what she is talking about. Daphne will hex you into next week if she is really angry. It would be much safer to let her calm down first."
"What got her so upset?" Harry wondered out loud.
Neville stepped up next to Harry and put his arm on his friend's shoulder. "Think about the events of this morning, or even the past few weeks. And think about how she might be feeling, with everything going on. And then add your apparent lack of help recently into the mix." Neville patted his friend on the shoulder and then walked over to Hannah, "So, can you give us an update with how you're doing with the spell?"
Harry looked around at the two couples. Draco avoided looking back at Harry as he was dealing with glares from Astoria. As Harry slowly walked over to the door that Daphne had used, he overheard Astoria chiding Draco. "Thought it was fun to go and have a day off and leave us working on the project, did you?"
Harry ended up standing in the entryway, wondering where Daphne would have gone. After a couple of minutes of thinking about his situation, he called out to Nicho and asked the house elf if he knew where Daphne had gone.
"Master Harry's lady walked down the path to the boat house," replied the elf.
Harry thought about running after her, but then he had another idea. "Nicho, could you bring me down to the boat house?"
Harry was sitting on a bench next to the boathouse, patiently waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. He figured it would take her another couple of minutes to make her way down the path to the dock, so he knew that he didn't have long to think about how he would handle this situation. He heard footsteps walking along the wooden dock, and hesitated a moment before standing up and stepping out from behind the boathouse where he had been out of her view.
Daphne stopped and glared at him.
Harry sighed and let his shoulders fall, and then he spoke up. "I'm sorry Daph, really I am."
She glared at him in silence for a moment, before responding, "And just what are you sorry for?"
"Being a jerk?" It was a question, not a statement, and he quickly saw the reaction that produced. Daphne started to turn around. He called out to her, "Please, don't leave. Really, I am sorry. We shouldn't have gone off without you, and I see how it looks as though I was leaving all of the work up to you and Hannah and Story. I should have been more helpful."
Daphne turned and looked at him. Her arms were crossed across her chest, which only accentuated her figure. Harry tried to calm his physical reaction to the sight of his girlfriend. "Thoughtless. Idiotic. Self-centred. Arrogant."
Harry listened as she rattled off more descriptions which were not particularly flattering. "You forgot egotistical, foolish, and charming."
Daphne responded, "I was getting around to those." She paused momentarily, then glared at him again. "But I never would have said charming."
"No, but you thought it," added Harry with a grin.
"Are we back at a muggle pub last fall?" she asked. "I could repeat arrogant, thoughtless and add rude and irritating."
Harry conjured a chair and sat down. "Enough of the name calling. You are right though, we shouldn't have gone off to the village with you. Or more to the point, I shouldn't have done that. And I can try and be more helpful with the runes."
Daphne walked over towards Harry and with a quick flick of her wand Harry's chair was underneath her as she was sitting down and Harry found himself sprawled on the dock. Harry grunted slightly as he smacked the back of his head on the boards. He then jumped back up on his feet, conjured a second chair and sat down again.
"And you can't help with the runes and the arithmancy," commented Daphne, "you never studied those topics. You really wouldn't be able to help." She looked at him and bit her lip.
"So, I am in trouble for not helping with something I couldn't help with," he said as he scratched his head.
"No, you are in trouble for leaving us to do your work for you. This is all to help you, Potter. Your friends are all here to help you. We're all willing to put ourselves at risk facing one of the scariest creatures we will ever face, because none of us are stupid enough to go face to face with a dragon or a basilisk one on one." She smiled at him. "You're the fool who does those things. But you need to not take your friends for granted. You need to stop behaving like you're back in school, like when you let Hermione do all your work and you and Ron did nothing."
Harry looked at her quizzically.
"Don't look at me like that," she admonished him. "Everyone in our year knew that you two hardly studied and relied on Granger to help you get through almost every class. You're doing it again, sending her off to the library to do your research for you."
"Well, I suppose you're right about school," agreed Harry as he rubbed the tender spot on the back of his head, "but she wanted to go to Alexandria. For Hermione, that's a dream come true."
"But once again, Potter," she snapped back, "you're relying on her to do your work for you."
Harry felt confused. "But you just told me that I can't even help with some of the work."
Daphne rolled her eyes.
Harry thought for a moment, realising that he must be missing something here. The two sat in silence for another minute. Daphne moved like she was about to stand up and leave, then Harry reached out and took her hand with a pleading look on his face. Something started to click for him.
He had a questioning look as he spoke to her, holding her hand in his. "But, Hermione is not even here in Greece with us," he said simply.
Harry noted a raid eyebrow. He felt like he was getting warm. "I told you, there is nothing between Hermione and me, really. There never was, she's like a sister."
"A sister you still rely on for everything, it seems," she said as she sank back into the chair.
"Not everything," he countered.
Harry wrinkled his forehead as he tried to figure this whole situation out. "So, I'm in trouble for not doing enough to help with things I can't help with, and I am also in trouble for relying on Hermione, who isn't even here, to get us information that no one else has access to, and somehow I am relying on her more than my own girlfriend."
"That about sums it up," said Daphne. Then with a smirk she added, "But mostly for getting souvlaki and gyros without us."
Daphne stood up and walked to end of the dock and looked out over the Aegean Sea. Harry walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. He leaned into her from behind and spoke softly. "Okay, you have a point. I was a jerk. And I need to make it up to you."
Daphne continued to stare out over the sea. She leaned back into Harry's embrace. "You're right, you do. Today was the first time I really saw you acting the way Draco claimed you did back in school. I didn't like it. I hope that I don't have to see that ever again."
Harry took in a deep breath. "So, what do you need me to do? To help with the binding spell that is," he clarified.
Daphne thought for a moment, and then she answered, "Maybe just be there while we work on it, give us some feedback, help us figure out if there is something we should be doing different, or just be supportive. Running off to grab lunch while we're busy, that's not helpful."
"You do have a point there," Harry conceded. "How about we work with you for a little and then take you all out for a night on the town."
Daphne spun around to face Harry. "Don't think for one minute you can buy your forgiveness and get back into my good graces with bribery. Try being more helpful and we'll see about the rest."
Harry nodded in agreement with her. "Hey whatever you say," he answered.
"But don't think that means you're not going to have to take us out tonight. You're still on the hook for that," she said with a smile as she gave Harry a kiss. "In the mean time, I do think that Hannah and Story and I need to get some lunch." She pushed Harry away gently and started to walk back up to the villa.
Two days later the group was sitting together on the veranda enjoying a simple lunch.
Neville spoke up as he wiped his face with a napkin, "You know, Yaya does make better souvlaki than what we had in the village the other day."
Harry was about to add something to his comment but a glare from Daphne kept him silent.
Hannah then spoke up, "So, we seem to have the spell down and the four of us who will need to use it to help subdue the chimera have all been practicing it. Have you found the island we need to go to yet, Harry?"
Harry pulled out the map he had of the various islands nearby. "Actually, based on the information we have received from Elphias Doge we have narrowed it down to a couple of choices. As he mentioned that there was an extinct volcano near where he saw the beast, we are pretty sure it is this one here," and he pointed to one of the islands on the map.
"How will we be getting there?" asked Astoria.
"We will arrange for side along apparition after Draco and I check it out by heading there on our brooms. We plan on establishing a safe camp on the western shore, as the island is apparently not inhabited."
"That seems odd for a small island in this area," commented Astoria.
"The information we have about the island which came from Elphias Doge is that it must be hidden from muggles through some sort of magical wards. However, this map we have was sent to us from Hermione, and the map seems to be enchanted which is probably why we can find the island. So, we will begin the exploration tomorrow morning."
Draco then added, "Don't forget that we'll all have to have emergency port keys made in case of trouble. And what ever you do, don't panic and leave someone behind if everything ends up going pear shaped."
"So, we all have our roles memorised for the encounter with the chimera," said Neville.
"Did you tell Hermione about our plans yet?" asked Hannah.
"I sent her an owl this morning letting her know we should be ready to go in the morning," answered Harry. "And yes, I did mention that we have everything covered and thanked her again for all of the information she has been sending our way."
Harry looked at Draco, as he asked him, "So, are you ready for a little excursion across the sea?"
"Anytime," smiled Draco. "But I'll try to go slow so I don't lose you along the way," he added with a smirk.
The next morning, the six friends had gathered on the western shore of the island. There was a tall mountain in the centre of the island. The three witches looked around at the surroundings and the hill that rose up from the coast towards the volcano.
Hannah gasped, "And you are sure that volcano is not active."
"Doge stated that it was an extinct volcano. His letter described a cave on the western side that led him into the middle of the volcano where the chimera was when he encountered it," answered Harry.
Neville nodded his head, "And this is supposed to not be intimidating to us at all. Just find a cave, enter a volcano, capture a chimera, and leave."
"You make it sound so easy, Nev," laughed Harry.
"I think I'd rather go face twelve Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries," added Neville. "No offence, Draco, but I think that would be less dangerous than this."
The group then started walking along an old trail that headed up the hill. After walking for about thirty minutes, the hill started rising at a steeper incline. Harry indicated that they should all take a rest and he suggested that he and Draco scout ahead on their brooms for the cave. The other four thought that sounded like a great idea as they pulled out water bottles and took a drink.
"We'll be right here waiting for you," said Astoria with a smile as Harry and Draco restored their brooms which they had previously shrunken and placed in the small backpacks they brought with them. The two then jumped on their brooms and started to explore the island from the air. They had already discussed flying far enough away to cover more ground but close enough to stay within eyesight. After about ten minutes of searching, Draco sent up a spray of sparks from his wand to let Harry know that he discovered a cave. Harry flew over and joined him at the entrance to the cave. They pulled back some branches from some shrubs and bushed that were growing near the opening, and they could see that it seemed to go fairly deep into the side of the volcano. Harry and Draco nodded to each other as they both assumed that this was where they would need to begin the net part of their journey. They flew back to meet up with the rest of their group.
As they discussed with the others about the best way to get to the cave, they decided that Draco would take Astoria with him on his broom and Neville would ride Harry's broom with Hannah. Harry would then take Daphne and side along apparate to the cave. After arriving at the mouth of the large cavern, Harry cast more flares into the air with his wand to help them all find where to go. Several minutes later the four others arrived at the cave, with Neville holding onto Hannah tightly. Draco explained that Neville nearly fell off the broom three times and that was when they decided to have Hannah fly the broom with Neville holding on.
Neville was red in the face as he jumped onto the ground and his knees buckled. "Give me a thestral to ride anytime instead of a broom," he panted.
Hannah gave me a light kiss on the cheek as she comforted him, "That's all right Nev, honey, you did just fine."
Draco turned away so as not to openly laugh at the young Lord Longbottom. Astoria slapped his arm and quietly admonished him to behave, hoping that the others did not hear her.
"Right," said Harry, "everybody get your wands and cast a lumos spell, we don't know how far we will have to go through the cave to get to the middle of the volcano."
Everyone did as Harry had commanded and soon they were all filing through the cavern, which sloped downwards at a slight angle. After walking for about twenty minutes the narrow path through the cavern started to slope up again. As they started to head up, after about ten minutes Harry could see a small sliver of light ahead of them. Quietly he told them all to put out the lights on their wands and they walked slowly up the rest of the passageway, using their hands along the walls to help feel their way along. After another fifteen minutes of slow progress they could see a large opening about fifty meters ahead. Harry cast silencing charms over their feet as they approached the opening. They moved slowly to allow their eyes to adapt to the light again.
As they reached the opening, they stood behind a large rock so that they could assess the area within the volcano. It was clear that the volcano had been inactive for quite some time as there were many plants and trees growing throughout the area. Harry estimated that it was at nearly one kilometre to the far side of the valley that had been left from the ancient volcanic activity. There was evidence of several rock slides that had occurred on some of the slopes leading into the centre. The terrain was rocky and uneven. Harry noted a clearing towards the centre of the area that must have been about fifty meters diameter. However, from this vantage point at the opening to the cave, or tunnel, he could not see any evidence of the famed creature which they were searching for. Harry pulled out his invisibility cloak, slipped it on and then took off on his broom. He circled around the inside of the volcano and he noted that there was something lying near the edge of the clearing, however, due to the shadows cast on it from the surrounding rocks and bushes, he could not tell for sure what it was, and he did not want to get any closer on his own. Assuming that he had found his quarry, Harry returned to his companions.
The group of friends was startled slightly by the sound of Harry's feet landing on the rocks in front of them, followed by the sudden appearance of Harry as he pulled off his invisibility cloak.
"I knew you had a way to break the rules, Potter," sneered Draco. "You must have used that quite often back in school."
Harry grinned back at Draco, "Of course, it was quite handy for many things. However, this is not the time to reminisce, but to get our plan ready. It looks like the chimera is resting in the shade on the south side of this little valley. Everyone needs to work on getting into position. So, cast the disillusionment charms on yourselves and the silencing charms. Hannah and Neville, you two head to the west and the south side of the clearing. Draco can carry Astoria to the north side of the clearing and I'll bring Daphne to the eastern side. Once everyone is in place, Draco and I will fly in and get the attention of the creature. Don't move into the clearing until it is clear that the beast is in the centre, or close to it."
Everyone nodded to indicate that they understood Harry's directions.
"Make sure you have easy access to your emergency port keys," continued Harry. "I have planned a special dinner tonight for everyone, and you all better be there to enjoy it with me, so remember everything we practiced and let's get this done as quickly as possible."
In a few minutes, everyone was in position, which Harry confirmed by flying around under his invisibility cloak. Harry was a little worried about everyone's safety, but he knew that there was nothing more he could do to prepare. He then flew over to join Draco on the northern side of the valley. Harry removed his invisibility cloak and draped the griffon hide cloak over his back and placed the thin rope holding the thunderbird feather around his neck. He reached over and punched Draco in the shoulder.
"What was that for?" asked the blonde on the broom as he rubbed his arm slightly.
"That's for luck," Harry said with a smile. "Okay everyone, let's do this," he then shouted.
Draco cursed under his breath at Harry's method for starting this all off. "Bloody attention seeker," he said to no one in particular.
Harry and Draco sped out on their brooms into the clearing, and the chimera was stretching as it was getting up to investigate the noise that was Harry shouting to his friends. The chimera walked confidently to the middle of the clearing, knowing that it had nothing to be afraid of within its own domain. The lion let out a loud roar in anger as it noted two strange creatures flying around on the edge of the clearing. The lion's head kept watch over the flying creature that was heading towards the east and the goat's head kept its eyes on the other flyer. Meanwhile the snake just writhed about in the air, hoping that one would come close enough for it to help with the kill.
Harry then cast a flare of green sparks to signal for the others to start their approach. The chimera was roaring its displeasure at the two and the goat was breathing out short bursts of flame as a warning to the two who were disturbing its rest.
Draco tried to gauge how far the flames would travel and he tried to keep at least that far away. Both he and Harry were casting harmless flare charms at the chimera to annoy it but not to cause any physical harm. They knew that the chimera would be unhappy with the 'attack' but they did not want to make matters worse by enraging it through injury.
So far, their plan was working great, as the chimera heads were all looking up at the two on the brooms and it had not noticed any of the four people approaching it on the ground as they all entered the clearing at the same time. Neville held his left hand up to count down so they all could time their spell casting appropriately. Harry zoomed in a little closer to the front of the chimera to distract it further. He felt the slight heat of the flames from the goat but he was otherwise unscathed thanks to the protections of the cloak and the feather. Daphne gasped which caused her to delay in casting her spell. Meanwhile, the other three all were able to latch onto a leg with the modified body bind curse. The chimera roared in anger as it realised that it had been trapped. It tried to pull its legs free, but a moment later the one free leg was now bound as Daphne accomplished her spell.
Harry landed behind the chimera which was now facing in between Daphne and Astoria, towards the northeast. Daphne had the front right leg and Astoria had the front left leg while Neville and Hannah had the rear legs on the right and left sides of the beast respectively. Slowly Harry made his way closer to the chimera. The two front most heads were twisting trying to keep an eye on Draco who was still flying around, staying out of reach of the flames. The snake head caught a glimpse of Harry approaching it from behind, and the animal tried again to break free. In a desperate attempt to turn around towards the person who was approaching it from behind, the large creature pulled hard with its left front paw, which caused Astoria to be thrown to the ground and be pulled towards the chimera. Draco yelled a curse at the chimera, and he noted that Astoria was still holding onto the magical rope. Daphne was watching this occur and in a panic for her sister she wandlessly cast a stunner spell at the chimera, hitting the lion head in the midst of a terrifying roar.
The front half of the beast started to collapse, and the goat turned towards Daphne, to where it felt the stunner come from, and shot a breath of flame towards her. Daphne ducked, but the flames never reached her, as she was protected by a pair of shields which Harry and Draco had cast when they saw what was happening. Neville held onto the magical ropes with one hand as he cast a stunner at the goat head in response to the attack against Daphne. Soon the chimera had collapsed as two of the three heads were unconscious and it had lost control of at least two of its legs.
The snake head started to hiss angrily as it was not able to control the movement of its body as it was partially stunned. Harry started to approach cautiously as he could tell how angry it was. Harry tried to speak to the snake in Parseltongue, hoping to explain that he meant it no harm, but that he only needed the venom. The snake stopped hissing but watched him warily as Harry approached. The head of the asp seemed to calm and slowed down its movements. Harry continued to walk slowly towards the chimera, explaining calmly in Parseltongue that he only needed to collect the venom in a jar.
With his left hand, Harry removed the jar from inside of his cloak. He was grateful for the protections that the griffon hide and the thunderbird feather had provided, but he was still anxious as he walked closer to the deadly snake. Harry continued to speak to the snake, "I mean you no harm, I only need to obtain some of your venom in this jar. The rest of your body should recover in a few minutes." Harry waited for some sort of response from the chimera but there was none. Harry wondered if the snake could even speak Parseltongue as it was part of a very different creature, with the body parts of a goat and a lion. The group who were with Harry were all watching closely, but they found the hissing that Harry was doing to be very irritating to their ears. The bindings to the chimera's legs went slack as they all kept their eyes on Harry, even Draco had landed his broom by this time.
The asp was slowly bobbing its head up and down, almost as if it was entranced. Harry was less than three feet away from the head of the asp when it hissed at him. "Liar!" it called out in Parseltongue, "I will give you some venom, of that you can be sure." Then with a blur the head pulled back and then launched itself at Harry attempting to strike into his right arm. Those who were watching could not tell what happened next as everything seemed to blur. Harry had noticed the movement of the snake as it spoke and he felt that it was readying to strike. As the asp's head moved backwards to prepare for the attack, Harry began to move his left arm and hand. As the snake went to sink its fangs into his arm, Harry had the glass jar in the way and the snake sunk its teeth into the rubber lid. Harry watched with an idle curiosity as the venom leaked from the snake's fangs and into the jar.
Harry called out to his friends as he watched the thick fluid accumulate. "Everyone get ready to use your port keys and get out of here." He waited for a couple of seconds while they all grabbed their port keys. As the snake finally was able to get off of the jar with the rubber lid, Harry gave a nod to indicate they were ready to go. Harry and the others all spoke their activation words and they disappeared. The chimera's snake was lunging for another attack when it discovered that its target was no longer there.
The six friends arrived in the courtyard of the villa, and Nicho was awaiting them prepared to evaluate any injuries they may have sustained. As the group arrived almost simultaneously he was not sure who to check first. Harry directed his elf to check on Astoria, as it turned out she had twisted her ankle when she was pulled over by the chimera. Within a matter of minutes it was clear that she was the only one who had sustained any real injury, and her sprained ankle was quickly healed.
The attack on the chimera happened so fast, that Astoria and Daphne barely saw anything at all from the far side of the beast. "You did get the venom, didn't you?" questioned Daphne.
Harry grinned from ear to ear, "Of course I did, thanks to the careful planning of the rest of you. And your binding spells worked great. Well, other than Story getting hurt."
Hannah commented that she was impressed with how well their research worked with altering the spell, for she was sure she saw at least one of the magical ropes withstand a blast of flames from the goat head. Turning to Harry she added, "You must have moved really fast, I was sure that the asp was going to bite your arm."
Neville concurred, "It must have been your reflexes from playing quidditch that allowed you to move so fast. I guess all of those years playing seeker really made a difference today."
Harry was about to reply when Draco scoffed and caught everyone's attention.
"What was that for?" asked Daphne.
"That was not quidditch," said Draco. "I've seen the reflexes of someone who plays quidditch. I've played seeker against Harry and I've seen how quick he can move. No, what he just did was much faster than anything I've ever seen him do before." Turning to Harry he continued, "How did you do that? That was amazing. I've never seen anything like that before."
Harry looked at Draco with surprise. "It was a reflex, I'm not sure how that happened." He thought about it a little and then he looked down at the thunderbird feather hanging from around his neck. "Maybe it is a benefit of having the feather to help protect me."
Draco looked at the feather and then back up at Harry. "Whatever it was, I was impressed."
The group of friends spent a few days relaxing and enjoying the comforts of the villa. Harry had sent an owl to let Hermione know that their efforts had been successful. He received an excited reply a couple of days later, and she went on to explain that she had obtained a research position at the library and she would be staying longer. One of the things she was hoping to do was research more about ways she might be able to restore her parents' memories. Harry sent another letter to her wishing her well on her studies and letting her know that their group would be returning to England shortly.
It was mid August and Harry was settling back into his manor. Daphne and Astoria had returned to their parents' home, although Daphne did spend the majority of her time with Harry. Neville had thanked Harry for allowing him to be a part of another adventure but he had to return to finish preparing for the upcoming school year with Professor Sprout. Draco was about to begin his final year of Auror training, and they all knew that he would be too busy to help out with the remaining adventure. Hannah also needed to return to her work. She had been helping out with running the Leaky Cauldron from time to time, and the owner, Tom, was hoping to have some time off before the end of the month rush as more and more families showed up to Diagon Alley for last minute shopping before the school year was to begin.
Harry and Daphne had some down time together to relax, but that only lasted a couple of days. Harry then brought up the need to complete the next task, which should prove to be decidedly less stressful than the previous three.
"Unicorn tears?" asked Daphne. "And just how do you expect to obtain those?"
Harry grinned at her. "There is only one way to obtain unicorn tears," he answered, "and I was hoping that you would be able to do that for me."
Daphne narrowed her eyes at him, "Do tell, Mr. Potter."
"Only a virgin can get the unicorn to shed its tears so that they can be collected." There was an awkward pause before he continued, "So, if you are not too busy tomorrow, would you care to give me a hand?"
Daphne blushed. "Apparently I am more useful to you on this stage than on any of your previous tasks."
Harry smiled broadly, "And for that I am most definitely in your debt, my dear."
A few weeks previously…
Ron Weasley was in a particularly miserable mood. He had spent two weeks trying to get information about Harry Potter or some other mystery patient at the magical hospital in New Orleans. All he ended up with was food poisoning from eating bad crawfish and several threats from the magical and muggle police for creating a disturbance. Eventually he was able to determine that if Harry had been a patient there he had been discharged sometime in July or the end of the June, and no one would give him any information about where he might have gone. Ron was not even able to find any information about his fellow classmates from Hogwarts who had been seen in the vicinity of the hospital. Finally he gave up trying to find out anything further and he returned home to England.
Ron noted that there were two primary results of his unfruitful foray to New Orleans. One was that his sister would be really angry with him for not getting her any useful information. The second was that as he had been away from England, his brother George had calmed down a bit and was willing to allow Ron to work at the store in Hogsmeade, provided he actually did some work there and avoided any trouble, particularly if Harry Potter or any of his friends showed back up in the area.
Ron was running short on cash and he was tired of the problems. He just hoped that he didn't run into Ginny for a while, as he would personally prefer to avoid any further hexes. He wondered why she was so bitter after this time, however he didn't have time to waste on wondering about that too much, for he couldn't afford to mess up his job any more. He needed to do right by George, he needed the money, and he knew he needed to stay away from any more problems with the Aurors.
It was now getting to be late in August, and Harry was hoping that Hagrid would be back from his travels over the summer. He and Daphne used the floo to arrive at the Three Broomsticks. Harry had suggested that they have breakfast there before heading up to Hogwarts and looking for the gamekeeper and professor for care of magical creatures. As they finished their meal, Harry had a request for Daphne. He had hoped that she would stay behind at the tavern while he went to see if Ron Weasley was at his brother's joke shop. Harry was hoping to avoid any further confrontations with his former friend. Daphne indicated that she understood, even if she was worried that any encounter that her boyfriend would have with the red-headed idiot would not end up well. Harry even suggested that Daphne should make her way up to the gate at Hogwarts without going near Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, and wait for him there. She had only agreed to this with the understanding that if he was not there within twenty minutes then she would come looking for him.
Harry walked up the street and saw the entrance to the joke shop. There were several people walking up and down the streets and he assumed that there would already be a customer or two in George's store, and he hoped that the presence of anyone would prevent any encounter with Ron from escalating as his last meeting had done, or as the more recent encounter that Hermione, Daphne and Draco had with him. As Harry stepped into the store, he heard the sound of a foghorn go off, alerting the store that another customer had arrived. Harry cursed under his breath, frustrated that there would be no easy way in or out of the building. He quickly noted that there were a few customers already examining various pieces of merchandise and they all seemed to ignore the loud sound. Harry relaxed a little and proceeded to walk towards the back of the store, having a look around at the newest items that George had developed. As Harry rounded a tall shelf that was covered with various odd packages with ominous looking warning labels, he came face to face with his former roommate.
In silence the two young men just stared at each other. Finally, Ron broke the silence, "You? What are you doing here?"
"Actually," answered Harry as he let out a slow breath, "I came here to talk with you. It's not right, the way we have been at each other for the past year or so. I just hoped that we could clear the air, at least enough so we don't have to worry about hexing each other."
Ron stood silent for a moment, and then he finally asked, "Is the snake with you? Or any of the snakes?"
"Daphne is waiting for me," replied Harry, "at the end of the street."
"Oh," was the simple comment from Ron. "Where's Hermione then?"
"I believe that she is still in Egypt," said Harry flatly. "She got a job working at a rather unique library."
Ron actually allowed himself to smile slightly. "That figures. Sounds like it would be just her thing."
"Right. It is," added Harry. "It's actually bloody brilliant for her, she is doing research and she has access to rare texts and magic. I'm sure she's absolutely loving it there."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "So, why are you back here? At Hogwarts? I heard you were hurt."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "To answer your questions, in order. One, I have some more work to do; two, I need to get something that hopefully Hagrid can help me with; and three, yes, I was back in June, but I'm doing quite well now, thank you very much."
"Right," said Ron simply. "So, is that it then?"
"Yeah, I guess that would be it, then," answered Harry. He started to turn to leave, and then he hesitated and turned back to face Ron. "Actually, no it's not it. There is more."
Now Ron raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, more?"
"Well, don't take this the wrong way, Ron," said Harry slowly, "but you've been a right nasty git for going on two years. Actually, almost since the war has been over. What the bloody hell has been wrong with you?"
Ron's jaw dropped, and then he tried to gather his thoughts after the verbal sting he felt from Harry's words.
"With me?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, with you," said Harry. "When did everything become a competition between us?"
Ron looked away from Harry for a minute as he thought about the words of his former best friend. "I suppose, it's always been there. For me at any rate. You're the one who always had the fame, and the attention, and then the money."
Harry shook his head. "Ron, you were with me for most of the seven years we were in school, or the years we were supposed to be at school. I never had much as far as money back then, and you knew how much I hated the fame I had when I came to school. I was famous for things I did when I could barely walk. That would be like being famous for messing in your nappy, no kids that age can help it, and some make more of a mess with it than others. I sure as bloody hell didn't ask for Riddle to come and try and kill me. And you know as well as anyone what I had to do to get past all of that."
Harry avoided Ron's eyes as he was disgusted to have to talk about any of this again, especially with Ron. He looked back up at Ron, and then he continued, "So what was it of mine that you wanted so much? A psychotic powerful dark wizard sending everyone and everything he could think of after you?"
Ron shifted uneasily on his feet. Harry quietly waited for some sort of answer. Finally Ron spoke up. He admitted to Harry that he was jealous over Harry's fame, and that he was jealous over Harry's friendship with Hermione. Ron admitted that he understood that he had completely bolluxed up that relationship.
Harry interrupted Ron, "You know, you do have your own fame. People know that you were there with Hermione and I over the years at school, and that you helped me in defeating Riddle once and for all. You didn't need to prove yourself to anyone."
"Well, I did a pretty good job of messing up everything else, such as my training, and my work here even."
Harry looked around, "You seem to be doing pretty okay at this time. You've got a job, that's a place to start."
Ron smiled slightly. "So, do you think I would ever have another chance with Hermione."
Harry was completely shocked by Ron's question and he coughed so hard trying not to overreact that he had a hard time not laughing at him. "Sorry, Ron, but that would be a most definite no." Harry waited a minute to judge Ron's reaction, but he did not see any. "So, what are you really up to with George, you can't be just selling the merchandise here."
"Actually," answered Ron, "I have been helping George with research and development on various products. Apparently I have been at least as helpful as Fred was on this development stuff. George says I must have the knack for it, just like Fred, so he wants me to help with some of his bigger projects."
"What are those?" asked Harry.
"Can't say," Ron said with a conspiratorial wink, "secret company business, you know." Harry actually thought he saw a twinkle in Ron's eye. "But enough about that," he continued, "what is up with all of these missions or tasks you have been up to recently?"
Harry let out a slow deep breath. "Just something I need to get done, and the sooner the better."
Ron eyed Harry suspiciously. Deciding to let the go for now, he then changed the subject. "So what ever did happen between you and my sister, Ginny?"
Harry initially flinched at the mention of her name. Then he calmed down as he could tell Ron was being sincere in his question. "Well, basically, she was mostly just a fangirl when we were younger, and then she let her fame as a quidditch player get to her," Harry said, with little emotion in his voice. "But mostly, she was always your little sister, and that just didn't seem right. Add to that her revolving door dating policy back at school, which apparently continued after school and while she was playing quidditch."
Ron raised an eyebrow, "But she was dating you then."
Harry frowned, "Yeah, but not just me, apparently."
Ron was about to defend his sister but as he was going to say something to Harry he thought better of it and merely said, "Oh." After a minute of silence between them, Ron did add, "Well if what you're saying is right, I guess I could understand your wanting nothing to do with her." Ron then gave a crooked smile, "I guess it was easier to blame her issues on you than my own little sister."
Harry nodded in understanding, and then turned to leave.
Ron stopped him with a question, "So, Harry, just what are all of these tasks or missions that you are doing that seem to be taking you all over the world?"
Harry stopped, "Nothing much, just going toe to toe with a griffon and then a chimera. Pretty routine stuff for me, it seems."
Ron thought back to the times they shared fighting a troll, Harry facing a basilisk and everything else they had done together. He let out a sigh, both for his fond memories of what they had done together, and for being thankful that he was not facing those things with Harry anymore. Ron looked at Harry and his expression made it clear that he was not longing to join Harry on such dangerous quests.
Harry added, "And soon I will have to go face to face with a dragon, again. Capture one actually."
Ron paled, "Why a dragon?"
Harry simply answered, "To settle a debt."
Ron wrinkled his brow as he thought about this statement. "Who would you owe a debt to like that?" He then stopped himself as he finally realised who would require a debt like that. His face changed to one of shock, and he was about to say something more, but Harry cut him off.
"Ron, no, I have arranged everything. This will settle the debts for me and for my friends, you owe them nothing."
Ron's jaw dropped. Harry turned and started to leave the shop. As the door was about to close behind him, Harry was sure he heard Ron say some words which were quite rare for him…"Thank you."