Christmas had finally arrived. Harry was anxious as he was about to head over to Greengrass Manor with Daphne for her family's annual holiday feast. Since he had met with Lord Greengrass the previous week and he had received her father's blessing, Harry and Daphne were officially dating. Harry wondered if their relationship was being looked as something more serious than that by her parents, but he knew that he was not ready to be asking her to marry him. They had only been together as a couple for a matter of weeks and although they were growing closer Harry knew that he would not allow himself to become betrothed until after he felt he was truly a free man. He wondered how long it would take for him to free himself from his servitude to the goblins. As his fondness for Daphne grew, his desire to complete his tasks for the goblins grew as well.
Harry stared at himself in the mirror. He was wearing new clothes that Daphne had helped him select at a fancy clothier Italy. She had chastised him for thinking that Madame Malkin's was the best place to shop for new clothes. They had travelled by port key to the business section of Florence where Daphne had assured him the finest magical tailors were to be found. He had to admit that he did look sharp, but the mess of hair on his head was having nothing to do with Harry's attempt to comb it straight. Nothing surprising there, he thought to himself, and then he considered the idea of letting his hair grow out and holding it back in a pony tail, similar to Bill Weasley had done. While it might help in the future, it was not about to be any help for him now.
There was a slight 'pop' as his senior house elf, Mal, appeared next to him. Harry looked down at the short creature who seemed almost as crazed as he remembered Dobby to be in the past. "Master Harry, sir," exclaimed the elf as his eyes bulged out more than normal and he bounced on the front of this feet, "youse needs to be leaving sir, or youse will be late to your dinner with you Miss Daphne's family, sir."
"I know, I know," replied the exasperated Harry. He reached up with his bare hands and just tried to push his hair in general directions that might actually not make him appear to be too much of a freak. As he looked at himself one last time in the mirror, he was not sure that he had succeeded. "I believe that I am ready to go," he added.
There was another 'pop' as his house elf Hoban appeared, holding a bottle of wine. "Master Harry, sir," he spoke with a voice that was even higher pitched than Mal's, "youse need to remember to take this wine. It is from one of the Potter Estate wineries in France."
Harry sighed as he took the bottle in his hand. He thanked the elves for helping him get ready, and then he walked down stairs to the fire-place in the main hall. He tossed some floo powder in and stepped into the green flames as he spoke the words "Greengrass Manor." Harry just hoped that he would not fall when he arrived and drop the bottle of wine. Much to his surprise, he landed on both of his feet and only stumbled slightly, right into the waiting arms of a beautiful blonde woman who grabbed hold of his shoulders to steady him.
"If I didn't know better, Mr. Potter," quipped Daphne, "I would think that you might be falling for me."
Harry gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he regained his balance, then he replied with a grin, "I used to fall for anyone, anytime I used the floo."
"You are getting better at this," she smiled back, "I haven't seen you land on your arse in some time." With that she held out her arm for him to take hold of to escort her from the parlour he had just arrived in to the sitting room where the family had been waiting. As Harry walked in he noted that Astoria was seated near Draco Malfoy who had apparently arrived earlier that day. He could tell that the younger sister was about as uncomfortable as Draco looked in his fancy new robes that looked entirely too tight fitting in the neck and the chest. Harry greeted the young couple and then turned to the Lord and Lady Greengrass as he offered the bottle of wine. "I am told that 1984 was a particularly good year for this wine from the Potter Estate Wineries in France."
Jonathan took the bottle and scanned the label quickly. He then smiled at Harry as he said, "Perhaps we should be importing more of your family wines." Harry noted the twinkle in his eye and then he commented that the wines were selling quite well in America, but he agreed that it might be worthwhile looking into.
Isabella Greengrass invited everyone to rejoin in the dining room as the feast was almost ready to be served. As they entered the dining room, Isabella directed Harry and Draco to take seats on one side of the table while she had Daphne and Astoria sit across from the two young men. Then Jonathan took his place at the head of the table and she took her place opposite her husband. The Lord Greengrass asked for a blessing over their meal and their time together and they all sat down and the house elves began to bring out the meal. Soon they were enjoying a fabulously prepared meal. At one point, Daphne looked over at Harry and commented, "Why this is almost as good as some of the meals you have prepared."
All conversation around the table stopped as everyone looked between Harry and Daphne. Finally, Astoria broke the silence. "Are you saying Harry's house elves can cook better than our house elves?" she asked her sister with a pointed glare. Daphne was blushing from embarrassment, both for making her comment out loud and for bringing attention to Harry which she quickly realised he would not want to be receiving. Sheepishly she replied, "No, I was not referring to Harry's house elves."
Isabella looked first at her daughter and then she turned to face Harry. "Do you mean to say that young Harry here cooks his own meals? And that he is better at cooking than the elves?" She was surprised at this statement. Draco, too, was taken aback by this revelation, but he bit his lip to stop himself from making a snide comment about Harry's upbringing.
Harry noted that all eyes were now upon him, and he turned to look at Lord Greengrass before he spoke. "I learned to cook growing up with my muggle relatives," he said simply, hoping to diffuse the situation. Daphne wanted to ease the tension in the room and she added, "Well, muggles do have to cook for themselves. It's not like they have house elves to do it for them."
Isabella kept her eye on Harry. "I would imagine that you had very little time to spend with your family while you were in school. Just how did you learn to cook as well as Daphne claims you can?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat, not enjoying being the focus of attention like this, and not really wanting to go into his own personal history. It was one thing to open to Daphne when they were getting to know each other, but now he was having to talk about his past in front of people he barely knew, including his former nemesis from school. "I learned to cook before I went to Hogwarts."
Isabella gasped slightly. "Your family made you cook at that age?" She was not sure what to make of the comment from Harry. But she was not prepared for his answer.
Harry drew a deep breath and tried to remain calm as he answered. "I did not live with family," he said stiffly. "I was made to cook for the relatives who I stayed with." His emphasis on the word 'relatives' was not lost on anyone in the room. Draco had turned to look at Harry and then quickly turned to just stare into his plate. Harry sensed that all of the Greengrass family was staring at him, although he noted the look of sympathy that Daphne had in her eyes as she silently tried to convey her apologies for causing this topic to be brought up in front of everyone.
Before Harry could say anything more, Daphne spoke up, "Harry, I am sorry for saying anything that made you uncomfortable."
Harry nodded and looked at her, "It's all right, really it is," he said to comfort her. However, it was clear that he needed to give more of an explanation. "I was raised by mother's sister and her family. They were muggles, they hated magic. They lied to me about how my parents had died. If they saw anything that indicated I might be like my parents, that I might be magical, my uncle thought he could beat it out of me."
There was an awkward silence in the room. "The day I found out the truth about my family, about my parents, about magic, was one of the best days of my life. It was then that Hagrid, the one who delivered my letter from Hogwarts to me, brought me to Diagon Alley for the first time." Harry paused, mentally chiding himself for talking too much. "But basically, I started cooking for them when I was five." Harry let the last statement linger on their minds. Daphne tried to cover her emotion at having to listen to him retell that part of his history by assuming her mask as the ice queen.
Jonathan coughed once to draw the attention away from Harry. He liked the young man, and he knew that Harry did not want anyone's pity. "It seems to me, Harry, that you have the ability to excel in almost everything you put your mind to. I have heard tales of your exploits while in school. And of course we all know the story of your defeating the Dark Lord." Draco visibly shifted in his seat at this statement. "However, I am not aware of your future plans, or is it just to oversee your family's businesses and holdings? I would imagine that would be more than a full time job."
Harry appreciated the change in topic, although he was not sure he was particularly pleased with the new direction the conversation was headed. Astoria caught on to the new direction of the conversation and decided to help. "So, Harry, weren't you going to Auror school?" Daphne kicked her sister under the table. There was a sudden shriek of pain and Astoria turned and glared at her sister. The Lord and Lady Greengrass were staring at their daughters. Draco was stifling a laugh at the two young ladies and Harry just rolled his eyes.
Harry quickly stated that he had started Auror school, but that he had left. Before anyone could ask him further questions, he explained simply, "I decided that I did not want to make a career out of chasing dark wizards. I may eventually decide to run my family's businesses, but I still have work to do before I am ready to take on all of that. I hear that Draco is studying to be an Auror," Harry added trying to shift the conversation away from him.
Draco seemed uncomfortable with the attention now being focused upon him. As a student he tried to get as much attention as possible, but that was when he thought his family had power and prestige. But ever since the end of the war, he had learned that his family's power was all bought by the gold his father had spent freely in bribes and the prestige was more due to the reputation his father had earned for being a wizard that no one wanted to cross. Draco looked down and then back across the table at Astoria, and then he explained, "I decided that if I was to make any sort of name for myself, that if I was to do something worthwhile with my life, then becoming an Auror would be the way to start. Obviously, it is not something that anyone would expect of the son of Lucius Malfoy, unless of course they believed I was doing it to protect others and not actually perform the job of an Auror."
Harry looked at Draco and he could see the worry on his face. Harry knew that look, it was the fear that others would not believe you. Finally, Harry spoke, "Well, you do have a hard road in front of you then, as I would gather that many within the ministry and the DMLE would not trust you easily." His words were spoken as simple fact, and Harry tried to keep any emotion out of his comments. Draco looked back at Harry and raised an eyebrow. Noting this response, Harry continued, "I think I have had more than my share of having people not believe me or trust me." As Harry realised that all eyes were on him now, he understood he needed to explain his statement. "During my fourth year, even my own house mates and friends didn't believe me when I told them I had not entered my name for the Tri-Wizard Tournament. After the end of that year, the ministry refused to believe me when I told people that Voldemort had returned." His using the name of the defeated Dark Lord still caused Astoria and Isabella to visibly shudder. "During my fifth year, the Undersecretary for the Minister of Magic who had managed to manoeuvre herself into a position at Hogwarts continued to persecute me for my 'lies' for stating that the Dark Lord had returned."
Draco spoke up, "But we all knew he had returned." He noted the eyes of everyone looking at him questioningly, and then he added, "Well, many of us did, but we were not foolish enough to antagonise the pink toad."
Astoria looked at Harry more sympathetically than before and then asked, "How did she persecute you? I mean, we all knew she gave you detentions at a drop of the hat, and she tried to ban you from playing quidditch for life…"
Harry sighed as he considered how best to answer her question. Honesty, he told himself, would be the best way to respond. He held out his left hand, where the scars were still visible. "She made me write lines," he said softly. "With a blood quill. Every night I was in detention. The same phrase, over and over again. The scars are quite permanent now."
Draco had the clearest view of the back of Harry's hand. "I must not tell lies," he spoke the words quietly, but everyone at the table heard them. Harry pulled his hand back and looked away from the table. He noted the expression of sympathy on Daphne's mother's face. "I do not need your pity, it is all behind me. Part of my past. I guess it helped make me stronger so I could face Voldemort in the end."
Draco looked at Harry's hand that he had balled into a fist at his side, and then up at Harry. "Potter," he said softly, then paused and began again, "erm, Harry, I had no idea that those things were true. Honestly, I had no idea. I think I started to understand the truth of what was really happening back during sixth year."
Harry looked at Draco and he could see the sincerity in his face that matched his words. Harry hesitated as he thought about how to respond. He decided that if Draco was being honest, that he would be honest back. "I was there on the tower the night that Dumbledore was killed. I saw what you did, and perhaps more importantly, what you did not do." Draco gave him a puzzled look. "You disarmed him. Someone else killed him."
Daphne muttered the name "Snape" with a sneer.
Harry turned and looked at her. "Actually, everything Snape did, he did to defeat Tom Riddle. He was working for Dumbledore ever since the night that my parents were killed."
Everyone in the room gaped at Harry's statement.
"But that is a story best left for another time," added Harry. "This is Christmas, it should be a day of joy, not a day of brooding and feeling sorry for ourselves."
Everyone looked around and quickly agreed with him. Daphne picked up her glass of wine and then lifted it in front of her as she said, "Happy Christmas everyone!" Then the others sitting at the table took their glasses and raised them together as they echoed "Happy Christmas!"
The conversation turned to a lighter tone. There were discussions on what people had been doing over the past year. Astoria and Daphne laughed about fun they had on holiday the previous summer. Isabella turned to Draco as she asked, "So, do you have any particular plans for the coming year?"
Draco grinned awkwardly and then he answered, "Well, I will still be in school. Auror training, it lasts a full two years. I thought I had enough of school when I finished at Hogwarts, but this is kind of a new beginning for me." He took a sip of water and glanced over at Astoria and then at Lord Greengrass. "I feel I have a lot to prove, to my teachers, to the ministry, to myself." He paused before adding, "And I have a lot to prove to others." With that he then looked over towards Harry then he finished by stating, "Some of us already have a reputation of which we can be proud. Some of us have our work cut out for us."
Lady Greengrass turned to Harry, as she asked, "And what are your plans? I know you mentioned you had decided not to become an Auror, so what are your immediate plans? You mentioned getting more involved with your family businesses. But do you have any more specific plans?"
Harry again shifted in his chair. He looked towards Daphne and then he looked back at her mother. "Well, I have been doing some studying with a muggle professor, at a muggle university."
Isabella raised an eyebrow. "And just what would be so interesting for you to attend a muggle university?"
Harry now took a sip from his glass of water and then he answered cautiously, "Well, I am not attending the university, I met a professor at one of the colleges there, and he has done some interesting research into magical creatures. I am curious about what the muggles may actually know about our society, so I have been trying to find out more about what this man has been teaching. So far, I haven't really found out anything useful. But I have found the discussion interesting. He is planning on introducing me to another professor who has studied older literature and may have some articles on magic from the Middle Ages. So, I was hoping to find out what the muggles used to teach about our magical world."
Astoria rolled her eyes as she commented, "Sounds boring. Who really cares what they teach about us? They really don't know anything about us at all, with the International Statutes of Wizarding Secrecy, there really isn't much they have been allowed to know."
Harry was hopeful that this would be a way out of this conversation. Then the Lord Greengrass joined in. "No Astoria, the International Statues weren't signed until 1690. Before then there were many muggles who knew about wizards and witches and the magical world. Harry did mention that he was studying things written in the Middle Ages, a period that occurred quite a long time before that. I for one am curious to what Harry will learn through these studies." He then turned to Harry as he continued, "I would personally find it interesting for you to share with us what you discover through your meetings with this muggle professor. Please take the time to share it with us all as soon as you can. I imagine that it may be most enlightening."
The conversation returned to more mundane topics. Lord Greengrass turned to Harry as he asked, "Now, my young man, do you have plans for New Years? Are you planning on attending the Ministry's New Year's Eve Ball?"
Harry blushed slightly, then he answered, "No, sir, I was planning on going to a small party that one of my friends was having that night. I was hoping that Daphne would join me for an evening with Lord Longbottom at his family home. Apparently Neville is not planning on attending the Ministry Ball either," he added.
Isabella smiled as she looked from Harry to Daphne. "I haven't heard much about young Neville for so long. I presume he must have been in Gryffindor, just like yourself Harry." She then turned to Daphne, "You never mentioned Neville any time we spoke of your time at Hogwarts. Don't you remember playing with him when you were a little girl?"
Daphne blushed. Harry grinned at the sight of her reaction. "You never mentioned to me that you knew Neville before school," he said.
Daphne was startled by Harry's comment and then she thought about how he had not grown up amongst wizards and witches. "We got to know most of the pure-blood families when I was growing up. Most magical families attend all of the same parties and get togethers."
Astoria then added, "You would have been going to all the same parties as us when you were little if your parents hadn't been killed." The Lord and Lady Greengrass were shocked at the boldness of their daughter's comments. Astoria tried to muffle a cry of pain as her sister kicked her shin under the table again. She turned and glared at Daphne as she whispered "What was that for?"
Harry noted the tension developing around the table. Even Draco seemed to blush a little at the comment that was made. Harry tried to lighten the mood as he said, "Really, it's quite all right. I am sure that you must be right Astoria. The Potter family was very involved in politics and such, or so I have been learning as I learn more about my family's heritage."
"Most of the parties were absolutely dreadful," contributed Draco, "or at least the ones that I attended as a young boy. So, you may be glad you missed some of them."
Harry turned and grinned in response to Draco.
Eventually they retired to the sitting room as the Christmas dinner feast was over. Later, as Harry was preparing to floo back to the Potter Manor, Lady Greengrass asked him a question. "So, I presume that Daphne will be joining you for Neville's New Year's Eve party. Will Draco and Astoria be joining you as well?" Then she turned to her younger daughter and the young man standing by her side, "Or will you two be joining us for the ball at the ministry?"
Astoria turned to Daphne and then to Harry with a hopeful look in her eye. Harry noticed her pleading expression and then he quickly replied, "I am sure they would be more than welcome, but I will confirm this with Neville tomorrow." Daphne gave Harry a slight wink of thanks before giving him a kiss on his cheek and then he stepped into the green flames of the fire-place.
Harry stumbled but did not fall as he appeared in his own sitting room. "How are you going to explain this one to Neville?" he asked himself as he realised he had to get an invitation for Astoria and Draco.
Harry felt that he might have been imposing on Neville when he had asked him about having some of his friends join him at the New Year's Eve Party. Neville had raised an eyebrow at Harry's request, for he thought he knew all of Harry's friends. He was well aware that he and Ron were on the outs, as it were, but he had hoped that the two would be good enough to behave well when they were at Neville's home. So Neville had asked who Harry was planning to bring with him, and Harry had blushed slightly when he mentioned that he wanted his girlfriend to join him. When Neville had learned that Harry was referring to the Ice Queen of Slytherin, he could hardly believe him, and then he had clapped him on the back in congratulations. But then when Neville had asked who else he wanted to bring, Harry became obviously uncomfortable. After a moment's hesitation, he informed Neville that he was hoping that Daphne's sister and her betrothed could come to the party as well. Neville immediately answered that of course they could come. But upon noting Harry's continued unease, Neville had asked Harry who Astoria's betrothed was, and did he know this young man. Harry was sure that Neville would either curse him or worse when he mentioned it was Draco Malfoy. Neville's shock at that revelation was expected. But what shocked Neville the most was that Harry was speaking of the blonde snake as a friend. Harry apologised to Neville for even bringing it up, but he said he would personally vouch for Draco's behaviour at the party. That promise had intrigued Neville. Neville had learned to trust Harry during their years together at school and Harry was the first person to truly trust Neville, so he assumed that there was more behind this whole situation than Harry was letting on, but he was okay with that.
Harry was grateful for Neville's trust. He was also impressed that Neville had been named Lord Longbottom so soon after the war had ended. Once his grandmother had learned of all that Neville had done during his seventh year at school, and of his part in the defeating of Voldemort, she realised that he would easily be the man who would lead the noble and most ancient House of Longbottom with poise and dignity. Harry stopped his thoughts from continuing to dwell on his close friend as he finished getting ready for the party. He knew that Draco and Astoria would be waiting with Daphne for him at the Greengrass Manor, and then together the four of them would floo to Longbottom Manor.
When he arrived at Daphne's parent's home, he managed to step out of the fire-place with only a slight stumble. He silently thanked his girlfriend for all of the help she had been giving him with dealing with the floo network. Harry looked up to see an elegantly dressed blonde haired beauty in a stunning red gown, her hair pulled back in a slight braid and her deep blue eyes capturing his attention. He just stared at her as he took in her beauty.
A female voice interrupted his thoughts as he heard Astoria exclaim, "Come on Potter, stop drooling, you're worse than a lovesick puppy dog."
Draco laughed at this comment until he noted the glare from Daphne. Harry gave Astoria a quick glare and then turned back to his girlfriend. "You look lovelier than ever," he said sincerely.
Daphne turned to Draco, "Pay attention, take some pointers from Potter here, it just might help soften the junior ice princess a little."
Harry smirked at the other couple as he teased in a friendly tone, "Draco would never admit to anyone that he needed to learn anything from me."
Draco stiffened at the comment and then when he noted Harry's smirk, he relaxed and joined in with the fun, "That is probably more true than any of us would care to admit." Then he turned to Harry as he questioned him once more about the evening ahead, "And you're sure that Longbottom is fine with my coming over to this party? It's not like he has any reason to extend pleasantries to me." Malfoy left the logic behind that statement unspoken, but it was all to well understood by everyone standing around the fireplace.
"Draco," answered Harry trying to sound reassuring and not condescending, "I already told you, I spoke to Neville earlier this week. He is fine with you coming over. Besides, if there is a problem tonight, I'm the one he is going to hex, not you."
Harry then turned to the entire group, as he stated, "Well, we should be off to Longbottom Manor, we don't want everyone dying of boredom waiting for us to arrive."
Draco muttered quietly, "Still needing to be the centre of attention, eh Potter?"
Harry cast a sideways glance at Draco, "I heard that." Then he gave him a pointed look as he stated, "And you promised to behave."
With that, the foursome took turns stepping into the fireplace and out into Longbottom Manor.
As they arrived they were pleased to see that several people had already arrived. Hannah Abbott was standing at Neville's side, as they were talking with Susan Bones and Ernie MacMillan. Harry also noted Luna Lovegood talking with the Patil twins and over to the other side of the room, was Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas. Harry felt like he had shown up at some sort of reunion. But then a silence fell over the crowd as they all stared, and several jaws dropped. Harry initially assumed that the reaction was due to people not expecting to see the boy-who-lived, as he had been staying out of the magical public eye for a while. Then he felt like someone had hit him in the face with a bludger as it dawned on him who he had just arrived with.
Neville looked around the room, surprised by the intense reaction of all of his guests. Harry stopped Neville from saying anything with a quick shake of his head. Then he proceeded to wrap his arm around Daphne's waist as he proclaimed, "I know, I know, you are all so shocked to see me with the most beautiful witch you have ever seen. For those of you who have not made her acquaintance let me introduce to you my girlfriend, Daphne Greengrass."
Daphne looked at Harry as though he had two heads. Before anyone else could speak, Harry quickly placed a hand on Draco's shoulder. "And for those of you who have not had the pleasure, may I introduce to you the charming, if not quite so arrogant, Draco Malfoy." Draco turned to glare at Harry, who whispered under his breath, "Trust me Draco, just go with this." Turning back to the still shocked partygoers, Harry continued, "The former ferret is a friend of mine, and I trust that you will welcome him as you would me." Then he turned to face his Irish friend and former house mate, "Well, except for you Seamus, you weren't always so keen on welcoming me," Harry added with a grin and a laugh.
Several people chuckled at Seamus' expense, including Dean Thomas. Then Neville walked up to Draco and offered his hand in greeting. "Thanks for coming, I am glad that you and Astoria were able to join us."
The atmosphere in the room notably lightened when everyone noticed their host and the boy-who-lived both being friendly with the former Death Eater. Conversations soon began among the small groups of friends, and every once in while there were glances cast towards the trio of Slytherins. As people settled down to enjoy themselves, Harry's friends from school took their turns coming up and congratulating him on his relationship with Daphne. Draco, for his part, was still quite uncomfortable being in such a crowd of Lions, Badgers and Eagles, so he kept close to Harry and Daphne throughout the evening.
Eventually Harry found himself sitting around a small table with a number of new and old friends. Neville and Hannah had pulled up a chair facing where Harry and Daphne sat together. Beside Daphne was her sister Astoria, and Draco was sitting on the arm of the chair on her right. Seamus and Dean were straddling chairs while sipping on their butter beers. Susan Bones turned to Harry as she asked him what he had been up to.
Harry laughed lightly, "Well, other than befriending Snakes, and getting myself a new girlfriend, not too much."
Seamus spoke up, "But Harry, I thought you went to Auror school, with Ron."
Dean Thomas glared at Seamus and punched him in the shoulder. Harry noted the interchange between the two good friends, then he began his answer. "It's okay Dean. Yes, I did start Auror training last year, but I quit towards the end of the year."
Neville had not really talked to his good friend Harry that much over the past year, so he gathered his courage and he asked, "But why? You would have been great at it. Why would you quit it?"
Draco raised an eyebrow at the question and he turned to face Harry as he added his own comments, "Come on Scarhead, we all know you have what it takes to do the job. You proved that to our whole world when you defeated Volde…" The name of the Dark Lord died on his lips. Draco then continued, "I'm doing fine in Auror training." Several eyes opened wide at the statement, as no one in the room had ever expected that Draco Malfoy would ever try to become an Auror. "There has to be more to this than what you're letting on."
Daphne squeezed Harry's hand slightly and gave him an encouraging look.
Harry sighed as he looked around at the faces of his friends, both new and old, and then he began to explain. "Well, at first I went to Auror training because that was what everyone expected of the 'vanquisher of Voldemort' but I soon realised that my heart wasn't really in it." The simple explanation was too short and clearly was not cutting it with his friends who continued to eye him closely, silently communicating to Harry that they knew there was still more to the story.
Harry turned and looked at Draco. "So, is Auror Branninn still teaching?"
Draco visibly winced. "That pathetic excuse for a wizard?" he replied and then he noted that all eyes were now focused on him. He understood that the group was waiting for an explanation. "Well, he is arrogant, probably knows less than half of the spells that Harry does, and probably has never had to do anything more serious than fine someone for flying a broom to close to a muggle neighbourhood. He bullies all of the students and he thinks he is the smartest wizard around. He derides the minister every chance he can get. I'm not sure why he is actually a teacher there."
Neville spoke his thoughts aloud, "Reminds me of someone we used to know."
Harry turned to Neville, "Don't be fooled, Nev, Snape was down right kind and considerate compared to this clown."
Neville cocked his head to one side, and then he spoke to Harry. "But you put up with Snape for six years, how could you not put up with this guy for less than one year?"
Everyone seemed to nod in agreement with Neville. They all wondered what could have made Harry quit Auror training. Even Draco was puzzled about this, for he knew that Branninn was difficult at best, but he was not sure how he could have caused Harry to leave the training program.
"Every lesson was the same. Every lesson included a jab at me. He would make comments about my supposed skill, implied that I thought I was better than everyone else. He made Snape's targeting of me in potions classes seem like friendly banter. He would sarcastically call out how would the local hero handle a particular situation. He made comments to the effect that I would probably get half of my fellow Aurors killed because of my recklessness." Harry grimaced as he thought about the painful classes he sat through with that port excuse of a wizard.
Daphne was surprised to hear Harry's words. "But we all saw you deal with worse treatment from many teachers at Hogwarts. You defeated a Dark Lord. How could you not put up with that? You're bigger than that. You can take a few insults. By Merlin's beard, you put up with Draco for all those years."
Several of Harry's friends loudly agreed with Daphne. Seamus spoke up, "You have the right to be an Auror, well, if you want to be one."
"I know, I could have put up with it if I had really wanted to," Harry answered as he looked around the group. "But I eventually realised, that I did not want to spend my life chasing dark wizards, fighting the next dark lord. I spent the first seven years of my life in the magical world constantly fighting, constantly battling someone. I decided I had enough. I wanted to live my life for me. I wanted to make my own decisions. I didn't want to be told what I can or cannot do by anyone."
Dean nodded his head slowly and then spoke up. "So then, Harry, what have you decided to do with yourself now that you're growing up?"
Harry looked at Daphne, and then he turned back to Dean. "I'm not there yet. I still have some obligations I need to take care of first."
Seamus took another long drink from his butter beer and then asked, "What kind of obligations?"
Dean elbowed him in the side. Harry looked away as he answered softly, "Obligations. There are some things I need to set right, personal things. It's no big deal, it's just taking some time."
Daphne put her hand on Harry's thigh and squeezed it gently to let him know that she was there, supporting him. He leaned into her slightly accepting the comforting gesture.
Suddenly there was a loud commotion in the other room where the fireplace was. Everyone in their small group turned to look as they saw a red-headed young man walk in with a woman held close in his right arm, a bottle of fire whiskey in his left hand as he loudly proclaimed, "Hey, the party can finally get started!"
Draco muttered under his breath, "Stupid Weasel."
Astoria elbowed him in the side as she whispered, "You said you would be nice." Draco gave her a look that implied he was trying to do just that.
Ron staggered slightly as he entered the room where Harry was sitting with his friends. He looked around and his eyes fixed on Harry. "Oh, the boy-who-lived decided to grace us all with his presence. Hiya Harry!"
Harry gripped Daphne's leg with his hand as he answered tersely, "Hi Ron. How have you been?"
Ron just glared at Harry and then he turned and focused on Draco. "What the bloody hell is a bloody Snake doing here?" He looked around the room again and then he looked at Neville. "Nev, mate, you've got a whole infestation of snakes here? What the bloody hell were you thinking?"
Neville blushed as he stood up and calmly stated, "They are here as my guests. And as my friends," he added.
Ron took half a step back and then he turned to look at Harry and he then noticed he had his hand on Daphne. His eyes grew large, he took a sip from his bottle of fire whiskey and then he glared at Daphne. "So, are you the bitch who cast a love potion on my friend here and made him break up with my sister?" Ron's voice was beginning to drawl due to the effects of the fire whiskey.
Before Daphne could say anything, Harry stood up and spoke calmly but tersely to his former best mate. "I would ask you to keep your stupid opinions to yourself, Ronald, and do not speak about things you do not know. Daphne has never cast any spell on me, and she is a kinder and lovelier person than your sister could hope to be." Ron's eyes shot daggers at Harry. "And that is not meant as any disrespect to your family, but merely to point out that Miss Greengrass is a lovely and talented young witch."
The discomfort in the room was rising quickly, especially as most of the people here had never witnessed the two former friends facing off like this before.
Ron looked with disgust at his former mate and the young witch sitting next to where Harry was standing. "Well, when you're down on your luck and running out of money, I guess any port in the storm would do, even if it is a snake." Ron nearly spat the words in Daphne's face as he had slowly been stepping closer to Harry.
Harry stepped in between where Ron was standing and Daphne was sitting. "Ronald, you're crossing a line you don't want to cross."
Ron sneered at Harry. "Oh, am I supposed to be scared of the boy-who-couldn't cut it in Auror training? Couldn't handle that without Hermione's help, huh? Well, mate, who is the one who is still in training? Who is the one with a future now?"
Neville stood between Harry and Ron and tried to settle things. "Ron, that's uncalled for and you know it. If you can't be civil, I am going to have to ask you to leave."
Ron spun around in a circle and noted that everyone was staring at him most unpleasantly. After catching himself from falling, he turned and faced Neville again. "You know, after you cut the head off of that bloody snake, I never expected you would welcome any of them into your house. How do you get rid of the smell after they're gone?" Ron started laughing at what he thought was a joke.
Harry was about to respond and he moved to take a step closer, but Daphne grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
Neville stepped closer to Ron as he spoke clearly and slowly, "I do believe it is time for you to leave Ron."
Ron dropped his bottle which shattered on the floor in front of Neville. "Oops. Sorry about that. Fine, I guess I must be leaving now. I thought you guys used to be more fun back in school, but I guess I was wrong." With that he turned and grabbed the young woman who he had been clinging to earlier and he headed back to the room with the fireplace. A few moments later and they had disappeared.
Neville looked at Harry. "I am sorry you had to put up with that."
Harry reassured his friend. "Hey, it wasn't your fault, really."
Draco looked out towards the fire-place and then back at his new friends. "Scarhead, can you please explain to me how you put up with that for all those years at school?"
Seamus and Dean now glared at Draco.
Harry noted their reaction and waved his hand to dismiss them. "Draco, Ron was never that bad in school, he did have his moments where he proved himself to be a good friend."
Draco shook his head, "I think the operative word there must be 'did'. The weasel is such a prat."
Harry looked at Draco and replied, "I could have easily said the same thing about you not too long ago."
Seamus relaxed into his chair, and muttered, "Well that looks like the end of the Golden Trio for good."
Hannah looked at Seamus and then she turned to Harry. "Harry, what ever happened to Hermione, the rest of the Golden Trio?"
Harry sat down next to Daphne who cuddled close to him to comfort him. Harry started to explain what he knew. Shortly after the war had ended she was determined to go to Australia, to find her parents who she had sent there after obliviating them. Harry explained that she had done this to protect them from the Death Eaters. Draco acknowledged that it was probably the best thing she could have done for them at the time.
"Did she find them?" asked Hannah.
"What happened between her and Ron?" asked Susan.
"She and Ron split up before she left," he answered. "Ron didn't want her to go, he reasoned that if she had obliviated her parents then there would be no way they could regain those memories, so what would be the point. He told her he wanted her to stay with him, to raise his family and stay at home just like his mum had done."
Susan scoffed at that statement, "I bet that went over real well with Hermione."
"She slapped him, and then she walked out. She then left for Australia the next week," Harry sighed. "I haven't heard from her since."
In the next room they heard small explosions and noticed flashing lights as their friends were casting sparking spells and shouting "Happy New Year!" to each other.
Neville looked around the room and pulled out his wand as he sent out several streamers with loud snaps and pops as he joined in with the cheers of Happy New Year.
Harry leaned over and kissed Daphne. As he did so, he noted Draco lean over and place a kiss on Astoria's head. She reached up and squeezed his hand briefly and then dropped it.
It was several days later, and Harry was meeting with Professor Rawling Smith. They were walking across the campus at Pembroke College to meet with Professor Shaw. Harry could feel his palms become sweaty in anticipation of the meeting and the possibility of finally getting some answers. Answers which he had not been able to find anywhere within the magical world.
Upon arriving in the office of the professor for Old English, Harry marvelled at the works of art along the walls. Some of the paintings depicted scenes of ancient armies in battle, others included scenes that seemed to come straight from fantasy novels such as The Lord of the Rings, and others were simple portraits of various men. Harry presumed that these were past professors who held this position within the college.
The professor stood up to greet the two who had just entered his office as he removed his own glasses.
"I'm Harry Potter and I am very glad to have this opportunity to meet with you sir," smiled Harry as he reached to shake his hand.
"Gregory Bradford Shaw," stated the professor without any hint of emotion. "And I do not write poetry."
Rawling chuckled at the comment, but Harry seemed confused by the simple statement. Professor Shaw rolled his eyes when he realised that Harry had no idea what was meant by his little joke. He then eyed Professor Smith as he said dismissively, "This is the young man you have raved so much about? Well, we shall see what can be done."
Smith turned to Harry, "Mr. Potter, could you explain to Professor Shaw just what it is that you are hoping to find. I believe that would be the best place to start."
Shaw nodded and indicated with a wave of his hand that the two visitors to his office should take a seat. Upon arranging their chairs across from their host, Harry began to speak.
"I am in need of information about dragons, sir."
Shaw looked from Harry to Rawling Smith and then back again. "And just why do you think I could possibly be of any help to you then? I lecture on Old English, not mythical beasts." His tone was unpleasant and Harry could tell that he felt that his time was being wasted.
Harry scratched the side of his face briefly as he selected his words carefully. "I have become aware that you, as the Professor of Old English here at Pembroke College, have the unique access to many texts that are written in Old English, texts which may provide me with the answers which I seek."
"How wonderfully adventurous and cryptic of you, young man," commented the professor. "What texts do you think I have available to me, and why would I offer this to you for your use?"
Harry looked to Professor Shaw's right and studied the portrait of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Then he looked back at Professor Shaw. "I do believe that your predecessor, the esteemed JRR Tolkien, had access to such books. I am curious if you have found these resources, and if you have not, I would imagine that being able to peruse hundreds if not thousands of Old English texts would be of significant academic value to yourself."
Professor Shaw turned and looked over his shoulder at the portrait that Harry had been looking at and then he turned back to face Harry. "Mr. Potter, I am not sure who you can help me in this matter."
Harry smiled, and then he snapped his right arm forward and his wand shot out from his wand holder on is forearm and into his hand. Harry quietly spoke words that Gregory Shaw would never have recognised and then the portrait of Tolkien silently moved off of the wall and floated down to lean against the wall by the door to the office.
Shaw watched this happen and he tried to keep a straight face, avoiding any eye contact with either of his guests. He knew there was some sort of hidden vault behind the portrait but so far he had never been able to find a way to access that vault. Harry made a few rapid movements with his wand and then the outline of a door appeared around the vault.
Harry stood up and gestured with his hand towards the now slowly opening door. "Shall we have ourselves a little look?" he asked with a wide grin.
Shaw was about to ask Harry how he had done all of that, but as he looked towards Smith he made a simple shake of his head to indicate to not ask any questions just yet. The three men stepped through the narrow entrance and into what appeared to be a large dusty library type room. Professor Shaw marvelled as he looked around for he knew that the wall they had just walked through was on the exterior wall of the building. He just walked slowly as he stared at dozens of book shelves, all covered with either thick tomes or various size scrolls. In the centre of the room was a simple table which had not been used in some time. Shaw wondered if this was where Tolkien himself did some of his research.
"What are these books?" he asked in amazement.
"That is what we are here to find out," answered Smith. The threesome started to look at the various books on the shelves and they were soon working on reading the names of various authors who had written the various texts. A book bound in red leather caught Harry's attention. He pulled it gently off of the shelf, and walked back to the table in the centre of the room. "Just what did you find there?" queried Shaw.
"Just a simple book," answered Harry as he gently handed it words the professor.
GBS looked at the book and held it tenderly as skimmed the pages silently. He turned back to the cover and then held the book aloft for Harry and Professor Smith.
"It says here that the title of this particular book is "Dragons, and how to speak with them," by Myrddin Emrys. "I suppose this is what you are looking for?"