New Year's Eve once again found Harry and Daphne at a small party at Neville's home, Longbottom Manor. Neville was hosting a much smaller affair this year, as he hoped to avoid the unpleasantness of unwelcome guests such as they had experienced the year before.
Harry and Daphne had arrived with Draco and Astoria. Hannah Abbott had greeted them when they stepped out of the floo. Harry looked around and noted that Susan Bones was there, again she was accompanied by Ernie McMillan, and Harry recalled that he had seen the two of them talking last year at Neville's party.
Neville came into the room to greet them as well, nearly tripping as he crossed the threshold. Draco smirked as he commented, "Now that's more like the squib I remember from first year."
Ernie and Susan glared at Draco, but before they could comment about the rudeness of Malfoy he had walked over and grasped Neville in a hug. "How are you doing my good friend?" asked Draco. "It's been a while since our time at Scarhead's place near Greece."
Neville hugged him briefly and smiled back at Draco. "Well, I got to thinking about that, and so I had the house elves prepare some of those Greek foods we all learned to like so much. It's all set out on a table in the other room."
With that, Neville turned to lead the way. Susan grabbed Hannah by the arm, "Wait, when did Draco and Neville become friends, and when did he become nice?"
Ernie sidled up next to Hannah and Susan, "I was surprised last year when Harry showed up with the ferret and vouched for him, and now he's friends with Neville. What gives?"
Hannah rolled her eyes at her two fellow Hufflepuffs. "We all spent some time together with Harry and Daphne last summer. It was a beautiful and romantic location. I think we all became closer friends while we were there." Her tone had an almost dream like quality to it.
Susan raised an eyebrow. "It sounds like more happened there than just fun in the Mediterranean sun."
Hannah smiled wistfully as she responded, "Anything more than that is not for me to tell. It is Harry's story. We were all there for Harry." Susan frowned at the thought of her friend keeping secrets from her, but she smiled politely and then she took Ernie by the hand as they followed Hannah into the other room and rejoin the small group of friends.
The others were already enjoying some of the Greek delicacies and chattering among themselves. When Hannah walked in with Susan and Ernie, Neville grinned at his friends who had joined him for the little get together. He walked over to Hannah and whispered in her ear. Hannah's immediate response was to quietly shake her head with an empathic yes, as a large smile graced her face. Neville then cleared his throat to get the attention of everyone.
"Friends, I would like to take this moment to share with you all something that is very important to me, and to Hannah." With the eyes of everyone in the room on him, Neville wandlessly summoned a small box to his hand. He turned to face Hannah, as he continued, "I know I already asked you earlier this week," and with that he got down on bended knee in front of her, as he opened the box, "but now, in front of our friends, Hannah Abbott, would you do me the honour of becoming the Lady Longbottom, and marry me?" As he said this he deftly opened the box and produced a diamond engagement ring.
Hannah, with tears in her eyes, declared, "And again, Neville, I say yes." She then leaned over and gave him a kiss.
The gathered friends cheered as the women all gave Hannah a hug and examined the ring closely. The men gathered around Neville and clapped him on the back. He then looked at the three friends who had joined him and his smile faded as he became more serious. "I would be honoured if you three would be at the wedding," he stated, and then he turned to Harry. "While I would like all of you to be there, as my groomsmen, I have a special favour to ask of Harry. Harry, would you be my best man?"
Harry's green eyes sparkled in excitement at the honour he was being asked by his good friend. "It would be my sincere pleasure," Harry assured his friend as he gave him a big hug. Then he whispered into Neville's ear, "Perhaps we can arrange for you to wear the Sword of Gryffindor on your side for the wedding."
Neville stepped back slightly and looked at Harry with concern. "We could do that?" he asked, clearly doubting the possibility.
"We can always try," replied Harry with an impish grin. "If we just can get the sorting hat to the wedding, it should work."
The group of friends then toasted Hannah and Neville. Soon the conversations drifted away from the upcoming wedding to adventures that several of them had on the island earlier that summer.
Susan spoke up when she asked Harry and Neville, "So, you two young lords, what did happen this summer when you were in Greece?"
The room became silent, and all eyes turned to face Harry. Daphne was sitting close by and quickly grasped his hand and gave it a tender squeeze. Harry then rubbed the bridge of his nose slightly as he prepared to answer the question. Daphne could tell that he was feeling a little uneasy, so she spoke up in response. "I'm sure Harry won't mind talking about some of the things too much, but it is kind of personal." She paused and looked at the other four friends who had joined them for the trip.
"No, it's okay," interjected Harry. "Susan and Ernie can hear about it." He looked at the two classmates from Hogwarts and smiled, "It was just a simple adventure. But like all of the adventures I have had before, even back when we were in school, I could never do it alone. I have always had help."
Ernie smiled at this, "That's what you told us when you started the DA back in fifth year. I still remember what you said to Zacharias that day."
Harry gave Ernie a slight nod to thank him for his comments.
Hannah still felt that there was some tension in the room. "How about we take the focus off of Harry, and make a game out of it? Harry can answer Susan's question, and then we can all take turns asking someone something, even if it is rather personal."
There was an awkward silence, and then Hannah continued. "Muggles have a game that they play — called truth or dare. When you have your turn you can ask someone to answer a question truthfully or you can make them take dare, dare them to do something embarrassing or something."
Astoria spoke up first, "I don't think I like the dare part at all."
Ernie joined in, "I don't know if any one else here has as many secrets to tell as Harry would."
Draco snorted slightly at that. The other people in the room all stared at Draco.
Starting to turn slightly red at the sudden attention, "Hey, you have three Slytherins here with you, and you think Harry is the only one with secrets?"
Susan sat slightly closer to Ernie as she snapped a reply to Draco, "I wouldn't think that former Slytherins would divulge any of their secrets."
Daphne tried to calm the tension down as she added, "I am sure that there are plenty of 'juicy' stories out there for people to tell, regardless of what house we were in at school."
Draco turned to face Susan as he tried to soften his response with a smile, "I would think that anyone from Hufflepuff would agree that the two students in our year who probably had the most stories to tell would be me and Harry. However, no offence to any of you, but there are just some things I will not discuss with anyone." Then he turned to look at Harry, "Not even you," he added with a wry grin.
Harry smiled back at Draco and then he turned to Susan. "It's all right Sue. About this past summer, I needed some help with a little project I had to complete. I needed to deal with a chimera."
Susan put her hand to her mouth and gasped. "You mean the group of you went and hunted down a chimera? But that's crazy."
"And foolhardy and dangerous," added Ernie. "You are lucky no one got killed doing that."
Draco laughed at the comment.
"What's so funny about that?" asked Susan.
"We didn't kill the chimera," answered Draco. "We only had to get some of its venom." His answer was simple and he made his comment with a finality as though he had explained it all.
Neville chuckled at the comments and then he leaned closer to Susan and Ernie, "Heck, if Harry only had to kill the thing, I am sure he wouldn't have needed any of our help."
Daphne added to Neville's comments, "He saved the nearly dying thing for when he confronted the dragon all by himself the next month."
Then Draco added, "He also tried to do that back in the states in the spring, you can't leave that story out."
Astoria hit Draco on his arm. "Which part? The part about how he nearly died or the part about how you had to be the hero and go help heal him?"
Susan's jaw dropped at this comment, and then Draco quipped, "Hey, I didn't ask to go help old green eyes, I was dragged there by the bookworm and your sister," he said glaring at Astoria.
Astoria gave him s wry smile, "But you were oh so helpful," she added with a chuckle.
Draco frowned, "Stop it, you've already damaged my reputation enough this evening."
The group of friends laughed together at this.
Ernie then spoke up, "Hey, it is kind of amazing after all, Malfoy and Potter, friends after all of these years. What with the Malfoy fame and money and Harry and his raggedy clothes, it just seems kind of funny."
A silence fell over the group. Susan was embarrassed to be sitting next to Ernie and hid her face in her hands. Hannah covered her mouth in shock. The others were just silent. Draco's eyes were cast down for a moment as he stiffened at the comment. Harry squeezed Daphne's hand as he tried to figure what to say.
After a several awkward moments, Neville spoke up. "I think that was a little out of line, Ernie," he said softly, trying to not come across harsh with his words.
Susan looked over to Hannah as she wished that she had not decided to come over for the party.
Harry, feeling there was still tension in the room, spoke up next. "Hey, it's all right, at least from my point of view. I didn't have much when I started at Hogwarts, just the poor excuse for clothes that my aunt and uncle allowed me to have. I had no idea that I actually had more than enough money to buy new clothes back then."
Harry's admission and light-hearted tone caused met everyone to relax. Everyone except Draco who was still staring into the glass he held in his hand. He soon realised that everyone was staring at him. He laughed at himself as he realised that when he was a student at Hogwarts, he always tried to make himself the centre of attention, usually at someone else's expense. And he preferred that it would be Harry Potter back then. Draco glanced over at Astoria and noted the look of concern in her eyes. He tried to smile back at her, but it came off as more of a smirk.
Draco looked at Ernie McMillian who was more than a little uncomfortable at this time. Then he looked to Harry and then to Neville. Letting out a slow breath he turned back to Ernie as he spoke, "Well, there was a time when my money and my family meant something to me. Or at least I thought it did. But there was only so many bribes my father could pay off from the time of the first war through our time at school and the end of Tom Riddle." Draco took a deep breath and then he continued, now looking more over at Harry, with an almost apologetic look on his face. "Since the end of the war, the Malfoy family and name has been ruined. What money or possessions we had left have been nearly completely confiscated by the ministry for reparations. The once proud Malfoy Manor is now a dreary mausoleum. After Riddle used it as the base of his operations for the last couple of years of his war, it is not a place that either my mother or I choose to ever return to. That is something which I am sure Scarface here would readily understand."
Another awkward silence fell upon the small group of friends. Harry was about to say something, but Draco waved his hand to silence Harry as he continued. "So, there is no Malfoy fortune, my father completely destroyed any honour that the Malfoy name once had. All that I have left is what I can do for myself through honest work," and then he glanced over at Astoria, "and a marriage contract that needs to be fulfilled so that neither myself nor Astoria will lose our magic." Quickly he added, "And that marriage contract has allowed me to get to know the most wonderful and caring woman I have ever met."
Draco looked at Astoria as he hoped that he had not upset her with what he had said. Then he turned to face Harry. "And as a result, I have gained a friend whom I once considered a rival. Or at least I considered him an arrogant prat."
The group laughed at Draco's comment, until Neville interrupted, "No Draco, that was you when we started school, you were the arrogant prat!"
Draco gave a false sneer at Neville as he quipped in reply, "And you started Hogwarts as a chubby squib who was scared of his own shadow, which is just more proof how all of us can and did change over the years." He then turned and looked over at Susan Bones. "The war affected all of us, and some of us came out the better for it, we all lost people who were important to us." Susan gave a weak smile in return, and then Draco continued, "And all of us have scars of one sort or another from the war," and with a glance at Harry he added, "it is just that some of us choose to display our scars more prominently than others."
Harry conjured a small pillow and threw it at Draco.
Susan Bones shook her head slightly, "I never thought that I would hear Draco Malfoy wax philosophical, and show that he actually has emotions. From what I have heard from Hannah, it sounds as if you would have made a pretty good Hufflepuff if you had been sorted in to our house at Hogwarts."
Draco winced as he recalled his words to Harry all of those years ago when they had first met in Madam Malkins' shop. He looked over at Harry who seemed about to say something, but Draco cut him off. "Don't you say anything, Potter," he snapped. Then he turned to Susan, "Well, Lady Bones, I will take that as the complement that you meant, and just ignore the muttering Gryffindor over there."
Astoria leaned in close to Draco and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "I must say, I have grown to love this Draco, the one who can actually show he cares about others, as opposed to the pompous fool you were back in school."
Draco actually blushed slightly at this.
The group of friends continued there friendly chat, and soon they found that it was midnight, time for the New Year. By this time, Susan and Ernie had become more comfortable with Hannah and Neville's friends, and they had relaxed after the initial awkwardness of the earlier conversations. As they celebrated with champagne they soon began to talk about plans for the New Year.
Susan turned to Harry and Daphne, "So, do you two have any big plans for this New Year? Can we expect some exciting news from the two of you, along the lines of Hannah and Neville?"
Daphne;s face returned to her icy mask from her days as a student at Hogwarts, as she knew that her future with Harry was still dependent on his getting his freedom from the goblins. Harry downed the rest of his champagne and then he pulled Daphne into his side. "We will be travelling to Russia for a brief visit soon, and then probably off to Romania. If everything goes as planned, we will be announcing a date shortly after we return from those travels."
Susan was about to offer congratulations when she noted Hannah's frown on her face. Hannah was wordlessly trying to communicate to Susan to not ask anything further. Neville noted his fiancé's attempts to silence Susan and he decided to speak up.
"Susan," said Neville softly, "everything that we spoke about earlier, about Harry's adventures over the past year, many of which he has had help with from his friends, from us, it all has to do with the goblins, and a debt he owes them. It is not a simple thing, and it has taken him over a year to even get close to finishing his task for them, but that does not mean that it will be easy."
His answer was accurate, but still vague enough that Susan and Ernie were confused. They had heard many of the tails of what Harry and his friends had been doing over the previous year, but they had not gotten around to understanding just why Harry was doing those things.
Daphne spoke up next, "Well, everyone else here at the party knows, so we might as well tell you two. Harry has to catch a dragon, and bring it back to the goblins at Gringotts. Once he has done that, he can take up his Lordship and he can move on with his life and finally put the war behind him." With that she enveloped Harry in a tight hug.
As the party was finally breaking up, Neville pulled Harry aside to have a quiet talk. "Now mate, just be careful as you head out to finish this. And do not hesitate to contact any of us if you need anything." Neville's tone clearly was not allowing for any argument from Harry.
Harry gave Neville a quick hug and then stepped back. "I know you all have my back, and the very pretty blonde who I have taken to hanging out with quite a bit will be with me. If I mess up the next part of this, I think she'll be more fearsome than that dragon I already faced."
Daphne had quietly walked up behind Harry and smoothly slipped her hands around his waist, and then whispered in Harry's ear, "You've got that right," and then she gave a tender kiss to the back of his head.
Harry was staring out the window as the trees and hills passed by. Some of the places they were riding through were covered with snow, others were dull and grey with the drabness of a winter coldness that was devoid of the enchantments that the snow cover would bring. However, as they traveled further east on the train, the snow on the ground was steadily increasing. Harry was thinking about what they would do once he procured the lance. His silent meditation was interrupted as Daphne put down the book she had been reading and slipped her hand into his and then leaned over his shoulder and looked out the window at the passing scenes with him.
"So, what have you been thinking about for the past hundred miles as you have silently been staring out the window?" she asked.
Harry leaned back into her warmness and then turned to look her in the eyes. "Just some passing thoughts about what happened next, or after we finish our brief visit to the St. Yuriev Monastery. That, and just enjoying this more leisurely means of travel."
Daphne smiled back at him, "Well, with all of your complaining about how much you hate basically any form of magical travel that does not require a broom, I figured this would be a little easier on your backside."
Harry proceeded to give her a gentle hug as he placed a chaste kiss on Daphne's lips. "You know me so well, young lady, and you have learned this all in less than a year."
"I have a keen mind for observation," she quipped, "and observing you has become not only entertaining but quite enjoyable."
"So, what time does the train arrive in Moscow?" asked Harry.
"We should arrive late in the afternoon," replied Daphne, "but it will already be dark by then. Then we change to the night train to Novgorod and that will have us there in the morning."
Harry sighed as he leaned into Daphne's arms. After reclining onto her for several minutes in silence he finally spoke, "I feel like we are reaching a turning point here. With this lance, and the advice from Merlin himself, I finally see that this quest may well be coming to an end." Harry sat silently as Daphne gently caressed his forehead. Then he began to speak again, "I know I, or should I say we, still need to get the dragon. But it seems like it is actually within reach. Most of the events in my life have revolved around the actions of one wizard and the repercussions of those actions. From when I was a baby, until I found out about magic, all of my years at Hogwarts, all of that has been due to Tom Riddle. And even now, this business with the goblins is just to tie up the last few loose ends from the war, from doing everything I had to do just to defeat the murderer of my parents who marked me when I was barely even one year old."
Daphne continued to caress him gently and then kissed him on the side of his head. She said nothing to him at this time, she just continued to hold him and show him that she cared.
Harry turned slightly so as to look her in her eyes. "Once we have the lance, Ascalon, and by using it, we should be able to put this all to rest. Then what? What do I do? What do we do?"
Daphne smirked at him. "I thought that we had already talked about that, you know, actually get married."
Harry kissed her briefly on the lips. "Well, of course that, but then what?"
Daphne gently took Harry's chin in her fingers and tilted his head up to look her in the eyes, as he was still laying back against her. "Mr. Potter, you can do what ever you want. You can move on from all of this, we can go away and hide. Be it on the island near Greece, or just travel the world, or find some place that we have never been, miles away from anyone else, and just be together."
"Well, my future Mrs. Potter," said Harry with a smile and a twinkle in his emerald eyes, "from what you are saying, I can look forward to everything and nothing, but all that matters is that it will be with you."
The afternoon sun quickly set and the early evening dusk was soon lit with the distant lights from various villages as the train continued to carry them through the countryside.
Harry and Daphne had arrived in Novgorod and had arranged for a taxi to take them to the monastery. It was now January 6, Theophany or Epiphany to the western Church, but the day of the Nativity Feast for those in the Eastern Church that followed the 'old calendar'. As they entered the grounds of the monastery, they were quickly greeted by one of the monks. It was late morning and the bells in the church tower had begun to chime as the liturgy had ended and the inhabitants of the monastery were beginning to celebrate the feast.
They quickly explained the reason for their visit to St. Yuriev and the monk indicated that he was aware of their planned arrival. Quickly he escorted them to the chapel, and the abbot met them there. He politely asked Harry and Daphne to wait in the Narthex as he walked to the front of the church and entered the area of the altar by going through a door on the left that had a painting of an angel holding a sword. Harry looked at the wall, which he later would learn was called the iconostasis, and noted that there were a series of paintings. Going from left to right was the door with the angel, then there was one of a man astride a horse, and they were standing over what appeared to be a small dragon. Then there was a painting of a woman holding a baby or young child in her lap, and then there was a dark curtain covering an opening to the back part of the church. To the right of this was another painting, and Harry quickly discerned that it was one of Jesus Christ, and to the right of this was a painting of a man standing in a river. Then there was another door, this one also had an angel painted on it, but it appeared different from the one on the door the abbot had entered.
Harry had been studying the iconostasis for some time and he had failed to notice the abbot approaching from the left, this time holding an object wrapped in a cloth. When Harry turned and faced the abbot, he noted that the abbot appeared very solemn and he also had two other men in simple black robes behind him.
The abbot offered Harry the object, and then he spoke softly. "I present to you, Ascalon, the lance of Saint Yuriev, or Saint George as you may know him. May your mission, of which I know nothing more than your need for this relic, be successful. I only ask, that if there is any way, that at sometime in the future, that Ascalon be returned here, to this monastery."
Harry had learned a little of the traditions of the Eastern Church, and as he took the relic wrapped in the green velvety cloth, he kissed the abbot's right hand.
"I am honoured that you have seen fit to allow me to have this lance," said Harry, with all the sincerity he could put into his words. "I cannot tell at this time if I will be able to return the lance here, but if there is a way for me to bring it back, I assure you that it will be done."
As Harry was about to turn and leave, the abbot added, "Before you do any conjuration, it would be best to keep it wrapped within the cloth until the time that you will need to use it, including keeping it wrapped before you hide it in your special way." The abbot gave a wink to Harry and Daphne as his eyes twinkled. The abbot then turned and headed back to the altar area of the church, immediately followed by the two deacons who had accompanied him.
Harry looked at the object in his hands, and then he looked up at Daphne. "I guess now we need to head back to Romania."
Harry had chosen to use his broom to fly around the area where he had previously had his encounter with the dragon that had not ended well for him at all. Daphne was holding on tight behind him, and she felt a slight shiver. Not from the cold of the January air, but from the nervousness of actually encountering a dragon, or possibly even more than one. She recalled how Harry had appeared near death when he arrived back in England after his less than successful battle the last time he was here. Harry then spun the broom around and began a steep dive to a rocky ledge on the side of a mountain. From where they alit, there was a good view over most of the valley.
Harry shrunk his broom and put it into his bag. As he did this the two of them noted a shadow pass over them, and looking up they noted a pale grey dragon soaring overhead.
"Where the bloody hell did that come from?" muttered Harry.
The dragon was still fairly high in the air above them, lazily circling over the valley. Daphne wondered aloud, "Do you think it even knows we are here?"
"It probably does," answered Harry quietly, "I would expect that it could smell us before it could hear or see us."
The dragon's glide pattern slowly brought it closer to the ground in addition to slowly bringing it closer to where Harry and Daphne were standing. Daphne stepped a little closer to Harry, as she had never faced down a dragon, and the closest she had ever been to one was watching the events of the first event at the Tri-Wizard tournament that year.
Soon, the dragon was approaching within a few hundred meters of where Harry and Daphne stood. Harry reached into the bag to retrieve the lance, and as he grasped the relic, he noted that the dragon had immediately turned and began to dive directly at their location.
Harry withdrew the lance, but it was still covered in the green cloth. Harry was not sure what to do, so he raised the lance above his head.
As he did this the dragon immediately pulled up from its dive and began to beat its wings. This gave the appearance of the dragon hovering a mere 70 meters away, and the force of the wind generated from the giant thrusts of its wings nearly knocked Harry and Daphne over. The dragon the abruptly turned around in mid-air and quickly flew off in the opposite direction, faster than Harry had seen any other dragon fly before.
Harry looked at Daphne and raised an eyebrow. Daphne stared back into Harry's eyes, as she said, "That can't be good."