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Strange Reflections

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Harry Potter was sitting at his desk in his room with a smile on his face. On the desk in front of him sat a dusty, old oil-lamp. This is going to be perfect. I just need to figure out who I'm going to hit with this. Harry had found the thing in a Knockturn Alley shop. Mum didn't know where he had snuck off to under Dad's invisibility cloak. Dad didn't either, come to think of it. All in all it had gone better than Harry thought he had any right to expect.

The Potter family had gone to Diagon Alley to shop for presents for Harry's sister, Iris. Well, Dad got lucky. He was on patrol. Her birthday was coming up soon and was always Harry's least favourite part of the Easter hols. Honestly, who would want to spend time with the little twerp? Only this year left, though. In a few more months I'll be done with Hogwarts and Mum won't be able to force me to come home to waste my time on this. The expedition had been unexpectedly worth it in the end, even if Harry had been reluctant to go at all. Harry had snuck off while Mum and Iris had been distracted by the new selection at Flourish and Blotts. He had made it all the way to Knockturn and slipped under the cloak to have a poke around. Not only was it forbidden territory, there was even the chance that he might overhear some stupid Slytherin talking about their precious Dark Lord. If he found that kind of information, the Order would have to let him join.

As he snuck around, Harry had found himself standing outside of a shop he hadn't bothered to read the name of. The important thing was that he had spotted a familiar head of albino-blond hair inside. Malfoy! Jackpot! If anyone's going to drop a hint about You Know Who, it'll be that ponce. Harry had slipped inside and crept close to where Malfoy was talking with the shopkeep. The conversation was a lot less interesting than Harry had expected. Malfoy was looking for some potions ingredients. Harry hated Potions. Probably would have hated the subject even if it wasn't taught by His Greasiness himself. While he waited for the conversation to turn to more interesting topics, like secret weapons or plots, Harry had drifted around the store. That was when he had spotted it.

Bronze Oil Lamp; 11th century; Arabic; Contains One Djinn

Uncle Moony had taught Harry about djinns years ago. They were trickster spirits that had immense powers, but were rather easily caught. It used to be thought that once caught, a wizard could force a djinn to do his bidding. It quickly turned out that the djinn didn't appreciate this treatment however. They always seemed to find a way to turn their master's wish on it's head. Harry knew that it would be foolish to try and use a djinn to make a wish as it rarely led to any kind of actual improvement in your circumstances. Harry knew this, but he didn't know if Malfoy knew it. His plan had been formed instantly and he had snatched the lamp off its plinth and hidden it under his cloak. Normally Harry wouldn't steal something so easily, but this was different. It's not stealing if it's from an evil Slytherin, after all; and who else would set up shop in Knockturn Alley?

In the end Harry hadn't gotten the information he had been hoping for, did get a way to potentially make Malfoy or some other snake look like a tit in front of the whole school and had gotten thoroughly embarrassed by his mother wailing over him when she realised he was back. She was even trying to scold me through her tears. It makes no sense. Honestly, I'm the Boy Who Lived; I'm not helpless. I even had the cloak. Harry hadn't told Mum about the cloak though. Better to not give her something to take away or prohibit than to have to break the rules to use it again; that is true Marauder thinking. Breaking the rules isn't a real problem, but it's so much more fun when someone realises that they can't get you for it.

Harry had grown up on stories from Dad, Uncle Padfoot and Uncle Moony about the Marauders. Mum had scolded them all if their pranks got out of hand around the house, but Harry had always been able to see the glimmer of amusement in her eyes and knew that she didn't really mean it. Accordingly he had started looking for fellow Marauders before he even entered Hogwarts. He had found natural allies in the Weasley boys. Ron was his best mate and, while they may have graduated last year, Fred and George were also brilliant. Their sister Ginny had grown up from the annoying tag-along she had been when they were younger. Harry was quite happy to have her as a girlfriend. Maybe I should write her a letter? It's not like I've got anything better to do.

Mum had sent him to his room to wait for Dad to get home and 'deal' with him. Harry was confident that he'd be able to wriggle his way out of any kind of serious punishment, but in the meantime it was boring to just sit here. Fantasising about the mayhem he could cause with a djinn was only going to keep him occupied for so long. Fine, a letter it is. What do I even say to her though? There's nothing that I really want to tell her about right now. Arggh! This isn't helping. Angrily getting up from his desk, Harry flopped down on his bed and blindly reached out to grab the practice Snitch he knew would be on his nightstand. The little ball flapped its wings pathetically against Harry's hands until he released it to fly around the room. Guess I'll just have to wait it out. At least I'll be able to argue that I've already been punished this way.

The rest of Harry's afternoon passed in a haze of nothing. Nothing he did alleviated the boredom for more than a few moments. Harry was almost excited when he heard a pop of apparition outside and heard the back door opening and closing. Dad's home! Brilliant. I'll finally be able to get out of here. Harry sat up and then decided to look properly repentant and sit at his desk. Not that sitting at a desk was particularly repentant, but it would probably look better than lounging on the bed. After ten minutes Harry was starting to get impatient. Do I have to go down there and fetch my own talking to or something? Come on already! His foot started tapping on the floor as his body couldn't find another outlet for his restless energy. After another ten minutes Harry was ready to scream in frustration. That's it. I'm just going to head down there and get this over with. Harry's decision never materialised into action as he was startled by the sound of a series of apparitions. Wait, did the Order have a meeting scheduled at our place tonight? That would explain why nobody's been up here yet. They could be preparing for the Order's arrival.

Several loud bangs that made the house shake put paid to that theory. We're under attack. Are they mad? Attacking the house of the Boy Who Lived and the best auror on the force? I'll- shit! Where's my wand? Harry raced through his room in a panic looking for his wand. He finally found it on the desk next to the lamp, buried beneath several pieces of parchment that he had used to try and start letters to Ginny. Grabbing his wand Harry turned to his window. I'll show you, bastards! I'll just pick you off one by one. Harry had only taken a single step when his door burst open and he saw his Dad standing in the doorway, looking singed.

"Harry! Get over here. We're getting out of here."

"What? No. Dad, we can fight these guys."

"No, we can't. He's here himself. This is not a fight we can win, now get over here." You Know Who's here? Harry stood frozen in shock. His father moved forward and grabbed him by the arm to start dragging him out the door. The almost ran into Mum who was dragging Iris in a similar way.

"Here! Everyone grab the portkey!" Dad said holding out a figurine of a phoenix in flight. Dumbledore's portkey. We'll be safe at Hogwarts in no time. Harry wasted no time touching a finger to the small statue. When Dad was sure that everyone was making contact with the portkey he yelled out: "By the Light!" Harry felt a jerk behind his navel and slammed into something a split-second later. With a grunt he was deposited onto a floor in a tangle of limbs. It didn't take him long to recognise his own room. What happened? Why didn't it work?

"Portkey wards!" Mum yelled out in frustration. "They'll have apparition wards up as well. What do we do, James?"

"I don't know, love." Dad sounded more defeated than Harry had ever heard him. "The best we can do is hide the kids and try to hold these bastards off as long as possible. Someone might notice and send for help." No. there has to be something else. We can't lose Mum and Dad. Harry's eyes darted around looking for a possible escape route. When he saw a flash of bronze on his desk he didn't hesitate but leapt up and grabbed it to barely heard protests from his parents. Downstairs Harry heard a door shatter as he frantically rubbed the lamp. In a billow of smoke a small man appeared in the room with black hair and completely yellow, iris-less eyes, which seemed to shine like the sun.

"Why have you woken me?" the little man asked.

"You're a djinn, right? Get rid of You Know Who for us." The djinn cocked it's head at Harry's demand.

"I do not know who, but even if I did I cannot fulfil such a harmful request." the spirit said in a frustratingly calm tone of voice. Harry could see the first black cloaks reaching the top of the stairs at the end of the hallway.

"Then get us out of here!" The djinn gave a slightly vicious smile.

"That I can do." The djinn clapped his hands and a golden smoke, the colour of sunburnt desert sands, emanated from where his palms met and surrounded the Potters without a care for such mundane things as air currents. As it surrounded them Harry could feel himself get stretched in every direction at once. He screamed in terror as the last thing he saw before the smoke completely engulfed him was a man in a black cloak and a bone-white mask firing a green curse at him. Harry couldn't say how long he was stretched and pulled but after what seemed like an eternity he felt himself slam into the ground again. This time he could feel grass under his hands. Unfortunately he could also hear cursing around him. Harry opened his eyes just in time to see a red bolt flying his way. Curse that djinn! When the Stunner touched him, Harry couldn't fight off the blackness and he sank into unconsciousness.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry Potter stumbled into his home and collapsed on the couch. Despite having defeated Voldemort three months ago Harry felt like every day since then had been at least as strenuous as the final battle, even if he was a lot less prone to winding up injured. I was a little idiot for thinking that Riddle's end would somehow solve all our problems. Harry had been a part of the task force that had liberated the muggleborns from Azkaban and the concentration camps. The initial reason had been that they needed someone along who could instantly be identified as a reassurance that this wasn't some twisted Death Eater plot. Harry had been desperate for a vacation, but had agreed that this need was greater. Shit. I wish I could take that back. Azkaban actually turned out to be the least disturbing place we saw. Dementors are dementors and you can't expect them to be anything but vile. What they did at those camps though... that was humans doing things to humans. The most disturbing camp Harry had liberated had been the one overseen by Rookwood.

The former Unspeakable had performed countless experiments on the prisoners in his domain. Not a single one had a beneficial application that Harry could see and most of them had driven the test subjects mad to the point where they attacked anything that moved. Considering that many of them were now capable of causing damage due to enhanced strength, poisonous claws, acid breath and spontaneous combustion, the decision was made that they had to be put down. Harry had argued long and hard that they should find a way to try and heal the afflicted. I think that I made so much headway because none of us really wanted to carry out a death sentence on innocents. The debate had been decided when the experiments had broken out of their cages. Much as the liberators might want to find a way to help those tormented souls, they couldn't offer up the rest of the people who had suffered in that camp to do so.

Harry had been at the forefront of the fight, determined that if he could not save everyone, then he would at least save most and he wouldn't send others to do what had to be done. That night had been terrible and they had only had to face experiments from one barrack. After that even Harry couldn't convincingly argue that they could save those that had lost their minds. He had only been able to ensure that the butchery would be done by those who knew what they were getting into and agreed to do it anyway. A small task force had gone into one barrack after another and done the unthinkable. Each barrack they cleared saw the number of volunteers decrease until by the last two only Harry and Shacklebolt had been left. Harry had never told anyone what they had found there and, to the best of his knowledge, neither had the Minister. Harry had been thankful that Hermione and Ron had been in Australia at the time to find her parents. Nothing from the war gave him nightmares like the camps and it was one of the few light-points that his friends had been spared that.

Shuddering as the memories assaulted him, Harry got up and made his way over to the cabinet and grabbed a bottle of muggle whisky. He had, in his short time drinking the stuff, discovered that the sweetness of Ogden's Finest did nothing to soothe his demons. The harsh smokey taste of the Lagavulin he was currently pouring into a tumbler was the only thing that offered him any solace. That's not fair, Potter. You know she tries.

Harry had picked up his relationship with Ginny after the war, but it wasn't the same. He wasn't the same. Harry sighed as he felt that first sip burn down his throat. He hadn't told Ginny anything about what he'd found at the various detention centres. I would be a special kind of arsehole if I unloaded on an innocent. And Ginny was still an innocent, as much as any of them were. She was still very much caught up in the romanticism of it all. Good had defeated Evil and now they would live happily ever after. That was not to say that she had been untouched by the war. Losing her brother Fred had been hard on her. She had not, however faced open battle. Harry and the Order had shoved as many students through the floos as they could before Riddle launched his final attack. They could also be thankful that the Death Eaters in charge of Hogwarts had not been too harsh on most of the students, since alienating the next generation was no way for an immortal Dark Lord to stay in power. Only those whose families were actively opposing the regime or were proven to be more muggle than wizard suffered punishments like the Cruciatus. Voldemort's best weapon was fear, not pain, and Headmaster Snape had understood that. The Weasley parents had also understood that and had made sure that they were never openly accused of being part of any kind of opposition, sparing Ginny the worst of what could have happened.

Harry sighed again and tried to pull his thoughts to the here and now. It only partly worked. In the here and now Harry knew that he had only two options if he wanted to get any sleep at all tonight. He could either drink until he passed out or tire himself out to the point where he passed out. Either would result in a miserable morning, but no sleep at all or night terrors would be worse. There would be a third option if I thought there was any chance of Andi letting me in to see Teddy at this hour. The little tyke always manages to tire me out enough for a good rest. Harry sighed and set his drink down on the coffee table in front of him. I have a responsibility to see this through, not drink myself into oblivion. Harry took the ring he wore under a disillusionment charm and studied it as he let the concealing magic fade. He had gone into the Forbidden Forest less than a month after he had thrown away the stone at the end of the final battle and summoned it with the Elder Wand. I didn't have a choice. We needed the help.

In the first month after the battle the focus had been on funerals and trials. They needed to bury their dead and lock away their murderers. They also needed to heal, but most people were aware that this would take a lot of time and required a continual effort, rather than a focused push. Hermione had been invaluable as she helped the Ministry set up a basic set of laws to replace the codified bigotry that had been enforced under Voldemort's rule. After the last Death Eater had been sentenced, the focus had been turned to rebuilding what was broken. The floo network was being regulated so that the government couldn't track private citizens without a warrant anymore. The Ministry and Diagon Alley were being repaired (and in the case of the fountain at the Ministry: destroyed). Harry had chosen to spend his efforts repairing the one place he had ever called home before the war. Hogwarts Castle had resisted their best efforts to repair it though. Any walls that were rebuilt crumbled overnight. After three weeks of this, Harry had gone into the forest and used the stone to speak to the four founders. They had shared the techniques that they had used to build the castle, or at least tried to. Their presence in the mortal realm was dependant on the summoner's magic power so they could only talk until Harry exhausted himself. When he had realised that an exhausted sleep allowed him more rest than even the whisky had, Harry quickly strove to learn all he could from the ancient educators. Even Slytherin had agreed to help Harry which had surprised the young wizard at the time.

It had taken Harry a week of nonstop tuition to learn the way the founders had woven the magic from the ley-lines that ran under the school into its structure. He had been trying to show the other volunteers working on the castle how to do it, but most of them lacked the magical power to pull magic from a ley-line to a point where they could tie it into the rest of the network that made Hogwarts more than a building. The result was that Harry was doing most of the work by himself. Hermione had proven that she could do it too, even if she couldn't keep it up for as long as Harry could. She should really be taking over the teaching. I'll bet she's doing it the way it was meant to be done and making me look like some kind of ham-fisted oaf; or she would be if anyone else could see what we're doing. Unfortunately she was usually dealing with the more administrative tasks involved in getting a country set back to rights where her brilliance could truly shine. Harry wouldn't be surprised if the next statue in the fountain was one of his friend. He could see her being called something like 'the Mother of a Nation'. Heh, she'd hate a title like that just as much as you would, Potter. Still, it's too bad that she and Ron don't have more time available to help out with the rebuilding of the school. Harry couldn't really blame them as they were each involved in the rebuilding of their world in their own way. Enough with the pointless daydreaming. I still need to learn about the wards that we'll need to put up once the castle is finished. Wish it was as easy as just copying out a set of runes, but nooooo, magic is about intent, so I have to know what I'm doing. At least I have a good teacher. Steeling himself for the draw on his magic, Harry turned the ring over three times and thought of the spirit he wanted to call.

"Hello again, youngling." Rowena Ravenclaw's voice echoed through the room. "I am beginning to truly wonder which of our houses you would have best fit in. I admire your drive to learn, but it is easy to see the determination that you need to continue our lessons."

"Hello, teacher." Harry said, ignoring her attempt at small talk.

"Very well. We will continue where we left off. Before we do I was asked to pass on a message from Godric. He wishes to talk to you soon about recreating that mad hat of his." Harry closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache he could feel building. I need another worry like I need a hole in the head. Actually, I'm not sure I'd mind the hole in the head.

"I will remember, teacher." Rowena looked Harry over at his answer, but refrained from commenting.

"Good. I believe that we had covered the warning wards, which means we will now move on to the preventative wards. First are the natural disasters like fire. To build a reliable Fire Prevention Ward you will need the following:..." Harry summoned the notebook and pen he used for these sessions and started taking notes. Harry summoned the spirit of one of the founders nearly every night in an attempt to learn everything they could teach him about how they had built Hogwarts. Hermione had been devastated when it turned out that the spirits the ring summoned could only be heard by the summoner. The result was that Harry was now being forced to take meticulous notes during these lessons. At least I'll get some rest at the end of this.

:-:-:-:-:

My head. Where am I? Harry Potter could slowly feel consciousness returning. He kept his eyes closed like he had read about in those muggle spy books Mum had gotten him for his birthday a few years ago and tried to gather information by listening. He could hear regular breathing to either side of him and feel that he was bound in tight cords. Let's see, what's the most logical explanation? That damned djinn must have dumped us on the lawn in front of the Death Eaters. So why have they kept us alive? It must be either to have us as hostages or for some truly Dark purpose that I can't figure out yet. Hearing nothing except for the breathing to either side of him, Harry took a chance and opened his eyes to take a look. He quickly identified that he was tied up between Dad and Iris. On Iris' other side he could see Mum as well. It didn't look like any of them were awake yet, but it didn't look like they were injured either. Count our blessings, I suppose. Looking around at the canvas walls around him Harry concluded that they must be in a magical tent of some sort.

"Oi! One of 'em's awake." Shit! Harry's eyes flew to the front of the tent where a man he didn't recognise was looking in through the flaps. "Get the Headmistress!" Headmistress? Did we end up at some kind of secret Death Eater academy? The man who had called out walked into the tent and was soon followed by another. Both held their wands firmly in their hands and pointed at Harry with stony faces. They aren't wearing masks. Do they wear masks outside of raids? Should I try to provoke them? See if I can get them to let something slip? No, I'll wait for now. If they ask questions that should tell us something; I hope. Come on, Dad, wake up! We need you for this. Harry was drawn from his thoughts by the tent flap opening and three more people walking in. He barely registered the two men who walked in as he turned his flabbergasted attention on the third person.

"Professor McGonagall?" No, this can't be happening. Is McGonagall in league with the Death Eaters? How-... why-...? Harry felt his composure deserting him as he tried to work out any reason why his teacher would be looking at him with that much hostility. She'd get angry or stern, sure, but she's never looked at me like that before. And since when does she need a walking stick? This has to be a trick! That's not the professor. Having found what he was sure was the right conclusion, Harry settled in to glare at whoever it was that was impersonating his Transfiguration teacher.

"Wake the others as well and keep them covered with your wands." Not-McGonagall ordered.

"Yes, ma'am. Rennervate." Harry could feel Dad and Iris stirring next to him. He could see the exact moment Dad saw Not-McGonagall.

"Minerva? What's going on? Why are we tied up?" Dad asked sounding politely confused. Not-McGonagall's mouth thinned more than Harry had ever seen on the real McGonagall.

"You are tied up because we are going to find out if this is some manner of disgusting prank or whether you have something more sinister planned. I advise you to be honest as it will make things easier for you." Harry could see just how much this cold tone of voice shocked Dad. He'll figure it out. If he doesn't I can tell him if they try anything. "Now who are you and why are you wearing those forms?"

"I'm not sure what you're talking about, Minerva. It's me; James. Did someone transfigure my face or something?" At Dad's answer all four of the guards and Not-McGonagall bristled.

"James what?" Not-McGonagall hissed out.

"Potter. Now I've-" Dad never got any further than that as all the guards seemed to lunge forward as one with snarls of rage.

"Stop!" Not-McGonagall's voice snapped through the room as sharply as the real thing. The four men pulled up and looked back at the old woman. "We have just restored order to this country. We will not dishonour that by acting like the monsters we defeated."

"But he-... he dares-"

"I know." Not-McGonagall turned her hard eyes back on the Potters with a look of loathing in them. "I will talk to Horace and the Minister about requisitioning some Veritaserum. We will know what these people were thinking soon enough." The four men shared a look between them before one of them spoke up.

"What do we tell the real one if he shows up?" The real one? What 'real one'? Not-McGonagall seemed to deflate before their eyes.

"I will tell him myself. He will probably have questions of his own and he deserves to decide if he wants to hear the answers from their mouths." That seemed to get a general agreement from their guards who filed out of the tent. Not-McGonagall shot one last venomous look at Harry and his family. "I do not know the reason for this disgusting display, but I assure you that you will face justice for it." With that she limped out of the tent. The Potters waited until her steps faded away to make a sound.

"Popkin, Iris, are you both okay?" Mum asked, sounding like she was just barely holding it together.

"I-I think so." Iris hiccupped. She always did like McGonagall a creepy amount. Almost as bad as Beaverface.

"I'm not injured, Mum."

"Good. I'm not sure what's gotten into the professor, but the Minister's a friend. He should be able to help us sort things out." Harry could tell that Mum was trying to make them feel better.

"I don't know, Mum. If it's Minister Fudge, then yeah, maybe. I don't think that was actually Professor McGonagall though. She didn't even recognise us and she's been over to the house how many times now?" Harry could see that his reasoning had taken his mother off guard. "I think that we may be caught in a Death Eater trap of some kind. Maybe they're just entertaining themselves."

"That's a good point, son." Harry sat up straighter as Dad complimented him. "I'm a little curious how we got here though. I thought that maybe you could start by telling me what a djinn was doing in our house?" The pride Harry had felt only a moment beforehand shrivelled up inside of him at that piercing question.

"I-I got that lamp in Knockturn Alley. I wanted to use it to prank some Slytherins. You know, get them to make a wish and watch it backfire hilariously." Harry's voice sounded small even to his own ears.

"And what were you doing in Knockturn Alley?"

"I was hoping to find some information on what the Death Eaters were planning. I thought that if I could prove to you that I could be useful you might let me help out with the Order."

"Taking an unnecessary and foolish risk is not the way to do that, popkin." Mum interrupted in a sharp voice.

"I'm sorry."

"We'll deal with it later. Right now we have bigger problems." Dad said in a heavy voice. "I heard you tell that djinn to 'get us out of here'. Is that right?"

"Yes, Dad. I think he may have just tossed us out onto the lawn, though."

"Hmph. That would tie in with your 'captured by Death Eaters' theory." Dad seemed to be thinking something through. "Can anyone feel anything our captors may have forgotten to take off of us? Anything may prove to be our ticket out of here." Harry immediately started wriggling against his bonds to see if he could feel anything.

"Nothing, Dad. I think they took my wand too." Mum and Iris responded negatively too.

"In that case we're going to have to wait for our captors to let their guard down. If they do, I want you to make a break for it. Don't worry about your Mum and me. We'll do everything we can to make sure you get away." Harry could feel Iris trembling next to him and almost wished that his pride would allow him to do the same. Damn it, I'm the Boy Who Lived. Fate will make things go my way. I have a prophecy to back me up. We will get out of this. Harry spent the next half an hour trying to think of anything but possible ways in which his family could be killed. None of the Potters spoke to each other. I don't think any of us can figure out anything to say that won't be monstrously depressing. Eventually their boredom was relieved by the sound of approaching footsteps. Those are a lot of footsteps.

The tent flap opened and in came several men dressed in auror uniforms followed by a large, black man. Harry heard Dad suck in a breath. Yeah, that sucks. I think I can recognise most of those faces. The guy not in uniform might even be Kingsley, if Kingsley had a massive scar on his face and was blind in one eye.

"So these are the impostors." Not-Kingsley spoke up. "Do we have any word on whether Potter is coming to this thing?" Potter?! That's impossible... we're the last of the Potters. That has to be what they meant when they were talking about the 'real one'. This is too surreal. I can't even keep track of how wrong this thing is.

"The Headmistress will be bringing him along with Slughorn and the Veritaserum." The name Slughorn sounded somewhat familiar to Harry and from the way Dad stiffened he was sure that his parents knew exactly who it was; or who it was supposed to be at any rate.

"We'll wait then. I wouldn't want to get started early." Not-Kingsley and his band of fake aurors just made themselves comfortable glaring at their prisoners. I wish I could talk to Dad. He might know what they're trying here. Hell, I'd settle for just hearing his voice right now. Harry started when the tentflap opened and a fat, balding man with a mustache that made him look like a walrus walked in followed by Not-McGonagall. Everyone in the tent seemed to stand at attention somehow as a third figure walked in. This one moved with far more grace than either of the others. Harry couldn't breathe as he looked into a face that was his own... but not.

It was far thinner than his own face had ever been; the accompanying body also looked far more wiry than Harry was used to seeing. There was a scar that started halfway up the man's neck and crossed his throat until it disappeared under his collar. What had really thrown Harry were the eyes. They were the same shade of emerald as his own, but they looked impossibly old and had bags under them. The man that Harry couldn't bring himself to name in any way opened his mouth and the voice that came out was far rougher than Harry's own.

"So who are you?"

Chapter Text

"So who are you?"

Harry could only stare in horror at the man who had asked the question. You can't be me. How are you doing this? Why are you doing this?

"You're asking who we are, you bastard?! How about you tell us where you get off imitating my son and calling yourself a Potter?!"

"Asked the man who looks like my dead father." When that terrifying gaze shifted over to Dad, Harry couldn't help but be grateful that he was no longer the one being examined.

"I told you, Mr. Potter: they seem to insist on claiming to be Potters." Not-McGonagall said with disapproval in her voice.

"So you did, Professor. It is a fairly common name though and I had thought that it might just be a coincidence." Not-Harry looked over them again. "This seems to stretch the bounds of coincidence a little further than I am comfortable with. You plan to interrogate them, Shack?" Not-Kingsley nodded. "You mind if I watch?"

"Of course not, Harry. Horace, if you would? We'll start with the one that wants to think he's James." The fat man gave nod and waddled forward. As he did Not-Kingsley spoke in a hard voice. "You will be given Veritaserum and interrogated to determine what you are doing here. If you prove to be a threat to Magical Britain and her people you will be taken into custody until a trial can be held. If you are innocent of any wrongdoing then we will attempt to cure you of your delusions. I'm afraid that I cannot in good conscience allow you to impersonate war heroes, not to mention close personal friends, for your sake or theirs." The fat man waited for Not-Kingsley to finish speaking before he withdrew a vial from his robes and attempted to feed it to Dad who kept his jaw firmly shut.

"Gawain, Allard, help the good professor out." Two of the men in auror robes stepped forward. One of them shot a stunner at Dad and the other grabbed his unconscious body and tilted his head back.

"No! Let him go, you scum-sucking Death Munchers!" Harry lost his self control when he saw what they were doing.

"Really? Death Eaters?" There was something mocking in Not-Harry's voice. Harry flinched away from that carnival mirror version of himself. When he looked over at Dad the men were already stepping away. One of the ones dressed like an auror shot a Reviving Charm at Dad.

"What is your name?" Not-Kingsley asked.

"James Charlus Potter."

"When were you born?"

"The 27th of March, 1960."

"Where do you live?"

"Godric's Hollow." With each answer Not-Kingsley's scowl got more pronounced.

"Professor Slughorn, is there any way to circumvent Veritaserum? We know that last answer at least is not true."

"I do not know of any." the fat man said looking disturbed as well. "This man truly believes that he is James Potter."

"Could some Death Eater have done something to his mind?" one of the aurors asked. But you are the... no, they are just trying to throw you off.

"Perhaps. We'll have to ask him some questions that aren't common knowledge. I'm sorry to ask this of you, Harry..." Huh? Why are you-

"I understand." Oh. Right. Not-Harry took a careful look at Dad. "What is the activation phrase for the Marauder's Map?" What?! How can you possibly know about the map? Dad said it was lost when the rat got caught one night.

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

"What is your animagus form?" Hah! Got you. Dad doesn't have an animagus form.

"A stag." For the first time Harry saw Not-Harry grimace.

"Judging by your expression he's right." Not-Kingsley said. Not-Harry just nodded. "I always wondered what it might be. Sirius refused to tell me what exactly your father turned into. It explains your patronus though." Harry felt Iris twitch almost imperceptibly next to him. Not-Harry seemed to be ignoring everyone in favour of studying Dad.

"How did you survive Voldemort's attack on your family on Halloween, 1981?"

"I was not in the house."

"Where were you?"

"A meeting of the Order of the Phoenix." No, nobody's supposed to know about the Order. Except... they don't look surprised at all that there is an Order.

"Where have you been since?" Dad stayed silent.

"That was too general, Harry." Not-Kingsley said. "Besides he already told us that he lived in Godric's Hollow which we know is not true. It's only a small village and quite a few of us live there. He would have been noticed." Not-Harry gave a small nod and his expression was once again unreadable. Not-Kingsley continued the interrogation.

"Who are the people with you?"

"Lily Potter. Harry James Potter. Iris Lily Potter." Not-Harry's gaze rested on Iris as if she had suddenly become the most interesting person in the tent.

"How did you get here?"

"I am unsure."

"Do you have any guesses?"

"My son asked a djinn to 'get us out of here' when our house was attacked by Death Eaters." Several of the people in the tent looked interested at that statement, though none of the aurors even twitched.

"Do you mean anyone here harm?"

"I want to thrash the one that looks like my son."

"Why?"

"Because he is impersonating a member of my family."

"Would you change your mind if we could prove that he is not impersonating anyone?"

"I don't know." Not-Kingsley sighed at Dad's answer.

"Professor Slughorn, would you please provide the antidote?" The fat man moved forward again and poured something from a different vial down Dad's throat. Harry saw his father's face take on a thunderous cast. Before he could say anything further Not-Kingsley was talking again.

"It's very interesting that you appear to at least believe that you are James Potter. To the best of our knowledge you died sixteen and a half years ago." Say what?

"I feel rather alive for a dead man." Dad growled out.

"True. That's what's causing our confusion." Not-Kingsley admitted. "You suggested that a djinn might be involved. I know that their powers are not fully understood so perhaps that offers an explanation. I am afraid that for now we will have to keep you detained at the ministry. You have indicated that you wish to harm one of our citizens; a rather prominent one at that." Harry saw annoyance flash in Not-Harry's eyes but decided to keep quiet. "I will ask the Department of Mysteries to come up with a plausible explanation. Anyone else got an idea?"

"Headmistress, perhaps you could ask Dumbledore's portrait if it's got anything stored in there that might help us." Not-Harry suggested. Dumbledore's portrait? He's dead?

"I'll do that, Mr. Potter."

"Don't call him Potter!" Dad snarled out. "I don't know who that is but he's not a Potter." Not-Harry's eyes glinted with amusement for a brief moment.

"Annoying isn't it?" he asked. "Not being able to figure out why the impossible is staring you in the face."

"What would you know about it?"

"We just interrogated you with Veritaserum and I still can't figure out how you can possibly be my father." Not-Harry turned away from a seething Dad to address Not-Kingsley. "Depending on which one of us finds her first, I'd also suggest asking Hermione if she's got any ideas. She may know something the rest of us can only guess at." Not-Kingsley nodded. "Since I'm here I'll get started on the next section. You can find me here or at home if you need me."

"And where is here?" Harry called out desperate to get at least some information from this fiasco. Not-Harry stopped, turned and gave a half-smirk.

"You are on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Or it will be once we get the repairs done." With that the walking contradiction left the tent followed by Not-McGonagall and Slughorn. Harry and his family were levitated by the aurors. As they floated out of the tent Harry caught a glimpse of what should have been a familiar castle but looked like a broken ruin.

"What happened?" he gasped.

"The war happened, kid. What kind of rock have you been living under?" the auror who was floating him retorted while looking at him with a strange expression. Harry felt like nothing could have convinced him the entire world was wrong like the sight of Hogwarts not being there.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry decided that there was nothing like some exhausting repair work to get past the strange encounter with the people who thought they were him, his parents and what would appear to be a younger sister. He shook himself as he went to look for one of the work crews that would put a section of wall together for him to secure with magic.

The group he found was ready to get started on the Astronomy Tower. Perfect. Pulling magic up a tower from a ley-line should do the trick. Harry waited for the crew to have a section of the tower set in place and then started pulling on the magic in the earth itself. It required a ridiculous amount of focus and control to pull a sliver of a ley-line up to support a building. Harry had on occasion wondered which of the founders had come up with the idea. It was ballsy, ambitious, hard work and absolutely genius. He felt like he was picking at a thick hawser and pulling out a fiber at a time to build a spiderweb. It was difficult, finicky work for all that it was also among the most draining, power-intensive magic he had ever done; and distance only made it more difficult.

Since the task was so terribly absorbing Harry didn't notice that he had company until he flopped down, sweat streaming from his body after completing his fifth section of the day. A house elf immediately ran up to him with a cold glass of water and as he was thanking the little creature he heard a loud tut from behind him. The sound was so familiar that he didn't even need to turn around.

"Hey, Hermione. Come to help out?"

"I heard what happened this morning."

"Then I guess Shack ran into you first."

"Don't be a smartarse about this, Harry. How are you feeling?" Hermione came and sat down beside Harry as she spoke. He could see the concern on her features and plastered a smile on his face to reassure her.

"I don't know yet. I think I'll understand my feelings on the matter more when I actually get an idea of what's going on." Hermione was studying his expression with pursed lips. Somehow, I don't think that she's buying the smile. Harry let it slide off his face since there was apparently no need for it. "If Shack told you everything then you know that we interrogated… the father using Veritaserum. Somehow he really thinks that he's my dad and the rest of his family are my mum, my sister and myself. He even knew about Prongs and the Marauders. It just isn't adding up any way I look at it."

"I may actually have an idea about that and from what Professor McGonagall said, Professor Dumbledore's portrait theorised something similar."

"Your theory is good enough for me, Hermione." She gave him a wry smile.

"Nice try. We're still going to the Headmas-... Headmistress's office to have a meeting with Kingsley regardless." Harry groaned theatrically, but got up before offering Hermione a hand. She took it and rose gracefully to her feet. Standing next to him Hermione suddenly frowned and wrinkled her nose. She took out her wand and with a few quick flicks his shirt was dry and he could smell a distinct scent in the air.

"Lavender? Seriously?"

"Hush, you. I don't know how long you've been working but I'm not sitting in a confined space with you smelling like you just did."

"We could just avoid that particular confined space altogether."

"That was just pathetic as efforts to avoid the place go." Hermione said as she started walking back down the tower. The two friends filled the time catching up on their recent accomplishments. When they reached the Gargoyle, Hermione gave the password:"Porskoff Ploy."

"Well, at least I'll still be able to guess the password to this thing while Minerva's Headmistress." Harry said with a slight grin. Hermione looked like she didn't know whether to grin back or throw her hands up in exasperation. She settled for ignoring Harry and knocking on the door.

"Come in." Hermione opened the door and stepped inside. Come on. Get in there, Potter. It's just a sodding portrait; of a man who engineered your death; which can talk… enough! I will not be scared off by a piece of sodding canvas. I will even try not to burn it. He stepped in after Hermione and found that his worries had been needless as the portrait of Albus Dumbledore had been covered with a heavy black cloth. Oh. That works. Harry sat himself in the open chair between Hermione and Shack facing Minerva's desk.

"I see the golden boy is still getting special treatment." came a sneer from one of the walls. Harry looked at the sallow, hook-nosed portrait that had spoken and with a flick of his wand covered it with the same kind of black cloth that was covering Dumbledore's portrait.

"Was that really necessary, Harry?" Minerva asked in a reproachful tone.

"I understand we are about to discuss the miraculous reappearance of James Potter. You tell me." Minerva actually blanched a little at that.

"Never mind. I see your point. Minister, I believe that you were the one to ask for this meeting so I'll turn it over to you."

"Thank you, Minerva. I will get the bad news out of the way first: Croaker is being a useless sod. He says he has several possible theories, but that he won't share them unless he gets to experiment on the people in our holding cells to test them." Harry let out a sigh of frustration. Sometimes I wonder if the bloody Unspeakables aren't as much a part of the problem as Voldemort was.

"So in other words: we should be grateful we have Hermione who is worth a department and a half on her own?" Harry asked.

"You could say that." Shack responded with a smile. "Hermione, would you care to share your theory?" All attention shifted to Hermione who cleared her throat while trying to pretend that she wasn't blushing like an English rose.

"Ahem, yes. That is, I have a rather outlandish theory of what may have happened. Are any of you at all familiar with the term 'parallel universe'?"

"Hermione, that's fiction. It only shows up in comic books." Harry said, remembering Dudley's fascination with the concept when he was eight.

"Actually the idea was first proposed in 1952 by Erwin Schroedinger who said that when his wavefunction equation seemed to describe several different histories that these weren't alternatives, but that they all happened simultaneously. The idea has since been expanded on and reached popular culture." I think I can actually feel my mind boggling right now.

"So you think that these people may be my counterpart from another universe and his family?"

"I did say it was outlandish." Hermione admitted.

"And yet when I discussed the matter with Albus' portrait he mentioned a very similar possibility suggested by some arithmantic equations known as the Phoenix Gate Equations." Harry tried to let himself absorb the idea.

"Okay. Let's assume we haven't collectively gone around the bend and have hit upon the right answer. What does that mean for our guests? Can we use those equations to send them back? Either of them?" he asked as he looked at Hermione who was biting her lip.

"Honestly? I think that we might be able to offer them an explanation of what's happened at most. I've never seen the Phoenix Gate Equations, but I don't think that I could work through the Schroedinger Equation to that extent. Anyone who could would instantly win a Nobel prize for the feat. Even if we could work out dimensional travel from the equations, there are literally infinite universes theorised. I don't think we could just chuck them through the multiverse and expect them to land back home." Harry nodded his understanding, or rather his understanding of her understanding. "I think that the best option if they want to go home might be to locate a djinn. That was what the man you talked to thought brought them here, right? Logically another djinn should be able to accomplish the same feat."

"If we can get one's cooperation." Shack sighed. "They don't usually do things the way you want. I think that these four… Potters showing up here illustrates that rather neatly."

"So, in summary: we have maybe the barest of ideas of what may have happened and no idea of how to reverse it." Harry clarified. When the other three nodded he sagged back into his chair. "I don't suppose anyone's going to volunteer to tell our guests this?" Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand but shook her head with a sad smile.

"This should probably come from you, Harry." Harry was about to dispute the point when she barrelled on. "I'm not saying that they want to hear it from you anymore than the rest of us. I am making the point that even if none of you might want it, you are going to be involved in each other's affairs for as long as they're here. If only because of the confusion that having two indistinguishable Harry Potters is going to cause."

"We're not exactly indistinguishable." Harry muttered. That may be the weakest argument that you could have given. "I suppose I do see your point about the need for a working relationship; or I at least need to get that James Potter to not want to 'thrash' me if we're going to let him out of his cell."

"He said that?" Hermione sounded shocked. Harry just nodded to which Hermione huffed and scowled.

"So, Shack, do you have a timetable with regards to these guys?"

"Not really. I think it would be best to get it out of the way quickly though. Looks better to them and if we can get them adjusted to the idea sooner we can let them out sooner."

"Somehow I knew you were going to say that." Harry heaved a sigh. "No use in putting it off. I don't suppose that they've any other appointments?" Shack's grin gave Harry the answer he needed. He stood up and gave the Headmistress a nod. "Thank you for your help, Minerva. I'll let you know how it goes."

"It was no problem, Harry. Feel free to use my floo for your journey." Joy. It will be the quickest way to get this over with though.

"Thank you." Harry let Shack lead the way into the floo. Just before he could throw in his own powder Harry felt a pair of arms grab him in a hug.

"Good luck, Harry. I have to take care of some legal negotiations to set up a democratically elected Wizengamot. Will I see you tonight?"

"Sure. Where?"

"I promised Mrs. Weasley I would be at the Burrow tonight. You know she'd be happy to see you too."

"Yeah. Might be nice to see everyone. I'll be there around six." Harry's answer got him an extra squeeze.

"Good. I'll tell everyone. Now go talk with your… guests." Harry just gave his friend a quick smile and threw the floo powder into the fire and called out his destination.

"Ministry Detention Centre!" After the usual dizzying ride past everyone's fireplace Harry emerged with a stumble in the guard room attached to the detention centre. He looked around and managed to ignore most of the stares the on-duty aurors were giving him. "Shack, where do I go?"

"We put them in cells two and four."

"You put them together?" I could swear it was Shack who said that putting suspects together just gives them a chance to get into mischief.

"Yeah. With a set of listening and monitoring charms in each cell." That makes more sense.

"Anything interesting?"

"Not really. They're pretty convinced that this place is all an illusion." I wonder if they've considered the power requirements of that particular theory?

"I'll see if I can liven it up a little for you then." Harry moved down the hallway that held the cells that he was interested in. I should remember to thank someone for putting them in adjacent cells. It makes the conversation easier if I don't have to keep an eye on both sides of the hallway.

"You! What are you doing here?" James Potter yelled out once he caught sight of Harry. Harry ignored the man for a moment and conjured a simple wooden chair. He took a seat and calmly inspected the people in front of him. The parents did look like the photos he had in his album, if a bit older. The girl had her mother's face, and her father's colouring. Finally Harry looked over his counterpart. He looks like a little kid. Well, not a firstie or anything, but… did I ever look that innocent? Harry was having trouble imagining that he had. Finally he raised his eyes to a furious James Potter.

"I am here, Mr. Potter, because some of our best and brightest have come up with a theory of how you came to be here. It seemed polite to share it."

"Bullshit. This is just some elaborate illusion."

"That's quite flattering, Mr. Potter."

"Huh?" I was right. He hasn't stopped to consider the power requirements. Looks like his wife might be catching on though. Hell, she might even be able to calculate how much power would be needed rather than simply classifying it as 'a shit-ton'.

"If this is all an illusion, Mr. Potter, then the person casting it makes Merlin look like a snot-nosed school boy. Or perhaps you have some other explanation for the presence of touch, taste and smell?"

"What's your theory then?" James ground out.

"As I understand it: there is something called the multiverse. It comes down to an infinite amount of universes existing next to each other, each slightly different, or potentially very different. The going theory is that you crossed from your universe into this one."

"That's ridiculous!"

"A little, yes. Got a better one?" James remained stubbornly silent. "I'm told that this multiple worlds theory is implied by something called the Phoenix Gate Equations." Harry heard Lily gasp. "If you understand it, ma'am, feel free to explain. I'm just the messenger and I never took Arithmancy."

"The Phoenix Gate Equations are the foundation of the absolute cutting edge of Arithmancy. They are an attempt at a Universal Thaumic Theory and lay the basis for Reson Field Theory." Harry blinked at that description.

"If you say so. If I understand it correctly, working the equations through to the point where we'd be able to send you back is beyond us at the moment." Lily was nodding along seriously. Which might be the only reason her husband hasn't snapped yet. "Even if we could figure out a way to send you anywhere, it is apparently near impossible to guarantee that you'd land in the proper place due to the sheer number of universes that exist. The best idea we could come up with to get you home was to find a djinn like the one that you believe sent you here and get it to send you back. I don't think I need to explain the risks involved with that."

"So you think we are stuck here." Lily stated quietly.

"I believe the people who think so."

"And are we to be kept in these cells much longer?" she inquired.

"Depends. You going to behave or act like belligerent berks to everyone?"

"Everyone or you in particular?" James snarked.

"Everyone. Let's assume for a moment that the whole 'different universe' theory is correct, shall we?" Lily and… damn, I can't remember the girl's name… Lily and the girl seemed ready to listen. James looked mulish. The kid doesn't look like he knows which way to jump on this. "I don't know what things were like in your universe, but it is clear that this one is different. For starters: James and Lily Potter died when I was a year old. I'm sorry, miss, but I've forgotten your name?"

"Iris."

"Right. Well, Iris Potter was never born." Harry gave the family some time to process that. "Under normal circumstances two people who are supposed to be dead, one who's not supposed exist and one who already exists as someone else, all walking around would cause problems. We are however just coming out of a war and doing our best to rebuild our world. The four of you walking around would lead most people to the assumption that you are a Death Eater trick of some sort." He could see James getting ready to take offence at everything he had laid out for them. "If you cannot act civilly towards the people in this world then we will likely have a riot on our hands before long and I, for one, have had enough of fighting for the foreseeable future." Just think, you idiot. If you start acting on the things you knew before rather than the world around you, you're in for a rough time.

"How are you so calm about all of this?" the kid demanded, drawing Harry from his contemplation of James.

"Like I said, kid: I don't know how alike our lives were. I do know that mine has been one idiotic impossibility after another. I doubt that this will be the one that proves insurmountable." The kid just blinked at him in confusion.

"Excuse me? Could we get back to what we have to do to get out of these cells?" Lily asked carefully. Looks like someone's decided to give their manners a try.

"I'd love to tell you what the exact conditions are for your release, but I don't know. I don't work for the Ministry and it's rather up to them. I'll pass the message on though."

"I-... well, thank you I suppose."

"You're welcome, Mrs. Potter." Harry said standing up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the repair work at Hogwarts if we're going to have a school come September." Harry gave a cordial nod towards the women's cell and Vanished his chair before walking out of the hallway. "You get all that?" he asked Shack once he entered the guard room.

"Yeah. Thanks for dropping their parole conditions on my head like that."

"Hey, you get paid for it." Shack just grunted in reply. "I'm going to head back to Hogwarts unless there's something else?" Getting nothing more than a shake of the head, Harry moved over to the floo and steeled himself. "Hogwarts Headmistress's Office."

:-:-:-:-:

Could he be right? Could we be in another world? I wonder what the actual power requirements are for this to be an illusion? Dad didn't tell him he was wrong so he was probably right about that at least. Harry was still trying to get his head around what his counterpart had told them. It was just so… weird. And he really didn't look at all freaked out about all of this. I don't know what he meant by 'one idiotic impossibility after another' and our lives being different. We're the Boy Who Lived, of course we did the impossible: we Lived! Besides I'm the one who's apparently caught in another world. And where does he get off calling me a kid? Is he older than me? Did we travel through time?

Dad looked like he was sunk in thought and Harry couldn't hear anything coming from the cell next to him. Nobody said a word as they each worked through what they had heard from this world's Harry. The silence made it all the more noticeable when they heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Harry saw Dad sit up, before assuming a more relaxed pose. Soon he could see who their new visitor was. Merlin's sweaty sack, Kingsley is creepy with that one white eye, no matter what way you look at it.

"Minister… Shacklebolt?" Harry could hear the slight note of disbelief in Mum's voice as she addressed the man in front of them.

"Yes, Mrs. Potter?"

"I asked… Harry when he was here, but what do you people want from us? What do we have to do to get out of these cells?" Shacklebolt nodded.

"Yes, that's what I'm here to discuss with you. Our main concern, as a government, is that you abide by our laws for the time that you are here. In an effort to secure that from you, we have set the following conditions to your release: you will register with the government under Veritaserum so that we know we have accurate records for you, we will give a press conference to explain who you are and how we suspect you came to be here and you will all read our law-book and agree to abide by it to ensure that there are no misunderstandings."

"That's it?" Mum's voice was tinged with hope.

"As far as we can tell you haven't actually done anything wrong and we don't lock people up for accidents; at least not once we're sure that they aren't a threat." Dad couldn't contain a snort at that. "You do understand that assaulting a war-hero who is revered by the people, with no other reason for your behaviour than that he is who he is, is a bad idea right? I'm not sure if we'd get you away from the mob in time if you do that."

"Yeah, yeah. I won't attack him."

"Good. I do have a suggestion, if you'll hear it: when you're registering with us you will be given the opportunity to change your names after we have taken your information down. Take it in regards to your son at least."

"What?! Why should my son be the one that changes his name? Why not that other one?" Dad was on his feet looking outraged.

"You mean aside from the fact that Harry is already world famous and we have records stretching back to his birth that we would need to work through to effect such a change, all of which makes it rather impossible? You are the visitors here and, as harsh as it may sound, you will have to adjust to us while you live among us." Dad just huffed and sat back down.

"Dad, it's fine." Harry said, causing his father to pin him with a questioning look. "'Harry' is a bit juvenile anyway. This way we get to do a rebranding at the moment I'm becoming an adult without all the hassle; well, without additional hassle. We can present the new me at this press-conference that the Minister is calling and position me as a more mature Boy Who Lived." He turned to Shacklebolt. "Minister, I assume that Harry is the Boy Who Lived in this world?" Shacklebolt was giving him a very odd look. It was almost like he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"He is. I haven't heard if the people have started calling him something else yet."

"See, Dad? We'd need to change something anyway." Harry could see that Dad was starting to consider the possibilities.

"Minister, what will we do about the more practical aspects of staying here? Where will we live? How will we pay for things?" Dad asked. Good. If Dad's planning then we're going to come out on top, no matter what world we're in.

"The ministry will provide you with two rooms in the Leaky Cauldron for the coming month. If you want to send your children to Hogwarts the Ministry is prepared to loan you this year's tuition for the pair of them. As for how you will pay your way? You get a job like anyone else. Were you an auror like the James Potter of this world was?"

"I am."

"In that case I am prepared to offer you a position on our auror force. We could use the extra personnel anyway." Dad nodded carefully.

"Excuse me? Minister?"

Yes, Mrs. Potter?"

"If we aren't being detained and will be released soon, can we all be together in one cell?" Harry could see Shacklebolt considering this quickly.

"Certainly, Mrs. Potter. I understand that this must be stressful for you."

"Thank you!" The Minister opened the girls' cell and led them over to the cell Harry was sitting in with his father. He let them in and closed the cell-door behind them. Mum immediately rushed forward and pressed her lips to Dad's. After the kiss she grabbed Harry in a ferocious hug. "Oh, Popkin are you alright?" Harry could feel his face burning with embarrassment.

"Muuum. Not in public. Weren't you listening when we were talking about rebranding me as a more adult Harry Potter?"

"I think I'll leave you for now. I'll be back soon with some staff to get you registered in our world." the Minister said. He was once again shooting them that odd look from before. Once the Minister had left and Mum and Dad were standing with their arms around each other, a serious planning session began.

"Okay, son. You were the one who agreed to this name change thing: what did you have in mind?" Dad asked. Harry gave them a sly smirk.

"I was thinking of something with a little gravitas and dignity. How about 'Hadrian'?"

"Hmmm. 'Hadrian Potter'... that could work. You could always claim that 'Harry' is a nickname."

"That's the plan. Now, aside from that we need to find a new selling point since the Boy Who Lived is apparently taken. I was thinking we should go with something like: Traveler. It's short, simple and gets the point across." Dad was nodding along to Har-Hadrian's ideas while Mum just looked proud.

"All of us will be caught up in that Traveler concept though. I think that it's important that we mention that you are the Boy Who Lived. We won't trade on it, but the suggestion alone should create some media attention that we can exploit. We'll be able to take it from there."

"Should we change our last name too?" Mum asked.

"Absolutely not!" Dad looked furious at the idea for a moment before he calmed down. "For one thing, I'm not going to abdicate the Potter family and all its pride and history to that cheap imitation of our son. For another, there are things that we will be able to accomplish as Potters that will make our lives a lot easier." Mum nodded in understanding while Har-Hadrian wondered what Dad might be referring to. Iris didn't contribute one way or the other. After Dad's outburst the family started planning for the upcoming press-conference. Dad kept them all quiet on the matter of what they'd do once they were out in the real world. It's better that way. We don't know who could show up here and overhear our plans.

Chapter Text

With a soft pop Harry appeared in the Burrow's orchard. He was actually looking forward to spending some time with his friends. In an effort to avoid the media frenzy that still raged every time he set foot in a public place, Harry had only really been at either Grimmauld Place or Hogwarts for the past two months. It'll be good to see some people I can actually stand. At least until someone asks about the war. Hopefully the arrival of these Potters from a different world will distract everyone into just being together without trying to dig for emotions that I don't feel like sharing.

Harry walked up to the door of the Burrow and knocked. A few moments later the door opened, only to be filled with Mrs. Weasley's figure instead.

"Harry! Oh, Hermione mentioned that you might come, but I was nearly afraid to hope. Come in, dear, come in."

"Hello, Molly." It's still weird to call them by their first names. Almost as weird as calling Professor McGonagall 'Minerva' when it's not official. She wouldn't take no for an answer either.

"Harry!" Harry had just enough time to register a stream of red hair before he was grabbed and kissed. He was surprised for a moment but returned the kiss.

"It's good to see you too, Gin."

"I haven't seen you in ages. You'll have to make it up to me." Ginny grinned at Harry who just raised an eyebrow. "I guess you'll just have to take me shopping in Diagon." Spend a day being gawked at while we look aimlessly at things we don't need? No thanks, Gin.

"How about muggle London instead?" Harry countered. Ginny's nose wrinkled.

"Muggle London? Why would we go there?" Harry wasn't given a chance to answer as the couple was interrupted by the rest of the Weasley family.

"Harry! Mum, said you finally showed up." Ron shouldered Ginny out of the way to pound Harry on the back. Harry could see Ginny scowling at the interruption but the rest of the family joined in. Harry shook Mr. Weasley's hand, got clapped on the back by Bill and three kisses on his cheeks from Fleur. George waited until the rest had gotten a chance to jostle around Harry before giving him a hug and a nod. I don't think I've seen George so much as crack a smile since Fred died. To be fair though we're all a little more dour than we were. Behind all the Weasleys stood Hermione. Harry moved over to her and gave her a hug as well.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself. Thank you for not making a liar out of me." Hermione responded. Harry gave a snort.

"You didn't have to tell anyone if you didn't think I was coming."

"What can I say? I believe in you."

"Harry, come on, we were about to sit down to dinner." Ginny broke in grabbing Harry's arm and pulling him into the kitchen. Harry was greeted by the smells of Mrs. Weasley's cooking and saw the dishes on sitting on a table that he half expected to groan under the strain. "Mum wouldn't let us get started without you."

"Everyone's enthusiasm suddenly makes sense." Harry heard a snort behind him which was soon drowned out by Ginny's laughter. The family sat down to dinner. Even after having lost Fred they're still this rambunctious. Guess they wouldn't be the Weasleys if they weren't. Dinner passed in whirlwind of chatter and good food.

"You've been awfully quiet, Harry. Is something the matter?" Molly asked. Ginny immediately looked worried.

"You aren't coming down with something are you?" she asked.

"No. Nothing's wrong."

"Be honest, Harry." Hermione said in a calm voice. Like she needs an inflection to cause a reaction with that statement.

"So something is wrong! And Hermione knows what it is!" Ginny yelled.

"Harry, this is something they need to hear from you and unlike this afternoon it is for emotional reasons." Hermione was giving Harry a firm look. Harry let his shoulders slump. Around him the kitchen was more quiet than he had ever experienced it.

"This morning Minerva flooed me to tell me that a group of people had been captured on the grounds of Hogwarts. They were apparently impersonating my parents, an unknown girl and myself." There were sounds of outrage from around the table. "I was there when Shack questioned them under Veritaserum. They didn't change their story. Shack and Minerva asked around and Hermione and Dumbledore's portrait suggested more or less the same possible explanation. Hermione?"

"Wait. You want me to tell the rest?"

"You actually understand it."

"Oh, alright. Both Professor Dumbledore's portrait and I think that there is a good chance that these Potters came from another world."

"You mean like the moon?" Ron interrupted. Hermione blinked at him in consternation.

"You do realise that the moon is a satellite and not a world, don't you?" she asked her boyfriend. At Ron's confused look she just sighed. "Never mind. No, not like the moon. Both physics and arithmancy predict the existence of multiple worlds, or universes if you prefer. The theory states that every event that happens one way births a new universe with an identical history up until that point, but where the result of that event was different. Travel between these universes has been a matter of fantasy so far though. These Potters apparently gave a djinn a rather nonspecific wish when their house came under attack and that's our best guess for how they ended up here."

"What kind of nonspecific wish?" Bill asked curiously.

"Apparently my counterpart told the djinn 'get us out of here'." Harry said dryly. Bill winced.

"I suppose that that's about as open ended as you can get with those guys. Only asking them to do 'something' or 'anything' would get you a more unpredictable result."

"So does this mean that Harry has a family now?" Ron asked.

"No." Harry answered in a flat voice. "At least, not them. From our encounters I don't really think they're ready for us to be one big happy family either."

"That reminds me: how did it go this afternoon?" Hermione wanted to know.

"They were convinced that we were keeping them trapped in an illusion." Hermione, Bill and Fleur gaped at Harry's pronouncement. "Yeah, that's more or less what I said."

"Okay, why is that weird?" Ron asked looking between the others at the table.

"Because in order to keep up an illusion this detailed for this long you would need the kind of power that could ward all of Britain." Harry deadpanned.

"Wow. So why are they so sure of that idea then?"

"They're not anymore. I pointed out the little flaw in their explanation and gave them Hermione's. Shack'll figure out what they need to do to get out of the cells we were keeping them in."

"You locked them up? Why?" Ginny asked.

"Because their father wanted to thrash me for daring to look like his son and calling myself Potter." It was silent for a long moment in the kitchen as all the Weasleys tried to digest this news along with their dinner.

"Do you think that they'll accept whatever terms Kingsley ends up coming up with?" Hermione asked softly.

"Probably. The kids looked uncomfortable with their accommodation and the mother was being reasonable when I left. I think that they'll be able to convince their father."

"So they'll be joining us at Hogwarts this year?" Harry blinked at Ron in surprise. I didn't know Ron had come to a decision about returning to school. Hermione was apparently pleasantly surprised as well as she gasped before throwing her arms around Ron and kissing him. Harry was prepared to let them get it out of their system, but a throat clearing from Mrs. Weasley brought his friends up for air with bright blushes. Ron looked a little smug about what just happened, while Hermione just looked embarrassed at her loss of decorum.

"Not sure. It depends on the parents and my counterpart may feel that he has learnt enough to take his N.E.W.T.s without taking an extra year."

"This is just so strange." Ginny said as she seemed to be focused on something beyond the kitchen. Harry just cocked an eyebrow at her. Not that I disagree but you haven't even met them yet. Strange doesn't quite cover it. The rest of the evening was filled with speculation on what the new Potters would do. In the end it started grating on Harry's nerves when people kept asking him if he would be treating these newcomers as family. Do they really think that I'm still so desperate for a family after all these years that I'll jump in blindly?

Probably. I know I would have if I was still eleven and an optimistic little idiot. Now I can't help but think that these people may have all sorts of motivations that I know nothing about and that they would be nothing more than a cheap replacement for my real parents if I start treating them like that. Eventually Harry begged off from further conversation and told everyone he was going home. I don't think I'll be able to focus on another lesson about wards, so that makes this the perfect opportunity to ask Godric what he wants with the Sorting Hat. Harry managed to turn all the protests to his leaving into goodbyes and promises to get together again sometime soon. All except Ginny's that is. She followed him outside.

"Please, Harry. If you won't stay the night here then at least let me come with you and stay there." she pleaded.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Gin."

"Why not?" Because I can't sleep for three hours at a stretch without screaming loud enough to wake the dead.

"Because I have to be up early to get back to work on repairing Hogwarts. It's the only way we're going to get to spend some time together as normal teenagers." Ginny shot Harry a suspicious look at his answer.

"Are you sure that's the only reason?" I could tell her about my nightmares without mentioning what they're about… couldn't I? Even as he considered it Harry felt a wave of resistance to the idea surge through him. No. I'm not telling anyone about that. It wouldn't help and I would just have to put up with their pity.

"Yeah, Gin, I'm sure. I'll try to come by a bit more often." Harry pressed a quick kiss to her lips and apparated out before she could come up with some other reason why she should come along. I think I've figured out the real reason from the hints she's been dropping anyway. Ron would probably think I was daft if I was turning down anyone other than his little sister. Harry sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. I think I need to be able to sleep by myself before I can consider sleeping with someone else. With a groan Harry lowered himself into the armchair in his living room and closed his eyes for a moment. Might as well get something done before I take that bottle upstairs. He summoned his 'Founders Notebook' and twisted the Resurrection Stone around his finger three times.

"Potter! Good of you to call, old bean." the shade of Godric Gryffindor appeared in front of Harry.

"Teacher. Rowena said that you had something you wished to speak about concerning the Sorting Hat."

"Quite, quite. I believe that the old one was burnt to a crisp while you were fighting that madman. I want you to make another."

"I thought it might be something like that. I suppose you'll want to teach me the animation spells you used and a chance to approve the actual hat?"

"Not so fast, old boy. The point of these charms was that they embedded bits of all our consciousness in a thought matrix that we then stuck into the hat. Since we've moved on you're going to need to find four consciousnesses that can take our place." Harry groaned.

"First ley lines, now this. Did the four of you never stop to think before you cast a spell?"

"We were pioneers! Discoverers, even! We could not be bound by cowardice!" Godric boomed.

"And yet what you did sounds dangerously close to making a Horcrux." Godric's jaw snapped shut soundlessly.

"I suppose I can see how you arrived at that conclusion with your experiences, but we embedded thought patterns, not pieces of our very souls."

"Fine. Who do you want me to use for this?"

"That's up to you, old bean. Just find people who are intimately familiar with Hogwarts and what we would want in our various Houses."

"Oh right. Knowing what you would have wanted should be easy after a thousand years."

"That's the spirit, lad." Godric laughed completely ignoring the heavy sarcasm in Harry's tone and disappeared. I swear one of these days I'm going to damn that spirit to a dark oblivion.Thoroughly put out with everything in general after the day he'd had, Harry snatched the bottle of whisky from the cupboard and stomped up the stairs.

:-:-:-:-:

"So you are claiming that you were the Boy Who Lived?" a reporter asked in clear disbelief.

"Technically, I still am. Unless you are the afterlife and someone's forgotten to tell us." Hadrian quipped causing several snickers. "To be serious though, I make no claims to that title. If the Minister and my counterpart are right, this world already has its Boy Who Lived and I'm perfectly willing to leave it at that. I understand that with the two of us it could get confusing for the general public so if you want to, you can think of me and my family as Travelers, rather than the family of the Boy Who Lived." Hadrian caught the subtle smirk on Dad's face. That's right I'm the Boy Who Lived but also a whole lot more.

"But you did survive a Killing Curse as a child?"

"I did."

"And do you know how you survived?"

"I'm sorry to tell you that the good people who researched that in my old universe never found the answer to that. I feel pretty happy telling you that the bad people who were researching it didn't either." Again there were titters through the crowd. It's like they've never been to a press conference before. They should be used enough to my counterpart that they should be more at ease. Oh well, it certainly makes them easier to control.

Minister Shacklebolt had presented the facts of what had happened to them and confirmed that they had answered any and all questions under Veritaserum. He had also confirmed that Harry Potter knew of their arrival and had spoken to the Potters. After that they had answered questions from the press. The Veritaserum interrogation and Hadrian's name change had limited how much the reporters could try to trap the family into saying they weren't Potters. Not that it would have worked what with us actually being Potters, but it would have gotten tedious and we want to make a good first impression on the public. After that Hadrian had drawn on the experience of dozens of press conferences in his home universe and it was finally paying off. The reporters were starting to relax and a relaxed reporter tended to write a more positive piece. It would probably take a few interviews to establish that it was in their best interests to be completely positive about him, but this would be a good start.

After Hadrian had managed to break the ice, the questions became more amicable.

"Was the Quidditch League the same in your world and what is your favourite team?"

"I don't know yet, but I certainly hope so. I've always supported Puddlemere United." The reporter who had asked the question called out that they were a part of the league here too which got a grin and a thumbs up from Hadrian.

"Will you be returning to Hogwarts with others your age this year?"

"I admit that it was quite a shock to see Hogwarts in the state it was in, but I'm not sure what I will do yet. I think my family and I will need to adjust to this new world before we make any major decisions. It's a bit daunting, I can tell you." That of course prompted more questions on how they would make a living which caused Dad and the Minister to reveal that Dad had accepted a job as an auror. As the Minister was speaking Hadrian could spot a tightening around Dad's eyes that was a clear indicator that he was unhappy with what was being said. The questions continued for over an hour, with Hadrian answering the majority. When the Minister called an end to the proceedings the press seemed honestly sad to have to leave. That should turn into light mutiny soon. Back home they only left if asked them to. Still, time will give us a stronger rapport with them.

The Potters followed Minister Shacklebolt back to his office where he offered them a portkey so that they could get to their rooms in the Cauldron without harassment. He assured them that the articles being published tomorrow morning should help somewhat, but that for their own safety they should consider the portkey for tonight. Dad thought about it for a moment before accepting the Butterbeer bottle and holding it out to the rest of them. Once they were all touching it, Dad activated it with a wand tap. The moment they landed in a room that certainly looked like it belonged in the Cauldron, Dad was casting detection spells. It took him ten minutes before he was satisfied.

"Well at least it looks like they haven't done anything to the room." He looked over at Hadrian. "Good job today, son. You had them eating out of the palm of your hand."

"It was easy, Dad. It's almost like they'd never done this before." Dad snorted in derisive amusement. "So what's the plan, Dad? We managed to use the press conference to our advantage, but I know you must have figured out the next step already." Dad looked a little proud at that.

"Well the first thing we need to do is get some money. I don't mind using these rooms for the full month that the Ministry offered, even if it's only to poke them in the eye, but after that we're going to need a place to live."

"They gave you a job, though. Wouldn't that let us take out a mortgage?" Mum asked. Dad's face turned thunderous.

"They gave me a job as a Junior Auror." he ground out. "It'll take years to get back to the level of income we're used to." Mum gasped and Hadrian scowled. Dad is the best of the best when it comes to being an auror. They should be thanking him on bended knee that he's even willing to work for them.

"But you have a plan right?" Hadrian asked, letting a little of his frustration seep into his voice.

"I do." The grin on Dad's face promised the kind of mayhem that normally took a full complement of Marauders to pull off. "One of the reasons that I didn't want us to give up the Potter name is that our vault at Gringotts is set up as a Family Vault. That means that anyone that can prove they're a Potter can get access." Yes! Way to go Dad! "Once we have access to the vault we will be able to withdraw a limited amount per person unless the primary account holder of the vault says otherwise. The primary account holder here will be… Harry." Hadrian didn't blame Dad for having trouble saying the name.

"So we'll have a little bit extra to supplement our income?" Mum asked sounding cautiously optimistic. Dad's Marauder grin just widened.

"No. Once we are on the vault I can challenge Harry's status as primary account holder. I am the oldest Potter and a generation above him so the challenge should go through without a problem." Dad sat there looking like the cat that got the canary for a few seconds before Mum grabbed him and kissed him. That's brilliant! Simply keeping our name will put Dad back in charge of the Potter family fortune. I knew he had a plan. "The good news doesn't stop there. If the war was really as bad on this world as it seems to have been, then we'll be able to get a house relatively cheaply. " By now Hadrian and Mum were wearing grins as wide as Dad's.

"What are we going to do when Harry claims that limited amount? Or if he needs to use the Family Vault to pay for Hogwarts?" Iris said quietly. Eugh. Trust her to be the buzzkill in all this.

"We'll have to see. I think we could use both those points to wring some concessions from him once we have control of the vaults. We won't phrase it like that of course, but he'll have to help us achieve our proper station in this world if he wants to benefit from our vault." Iris opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else, but shut it and shook her head. "Right, I think we should turn in early tonight. You kids take the other room; your mum and I will take this one. I'll head to the bank first thing tomorrow and then we can use the emergency loan the Ministry gave us to buy some necessities."

"I thought it was a stipend?" Hadrian asked.

"It is, but I intend to return the money. I will show them that they need us more than we need them and it will look good when it leaks to the press." I still have a lot to learn from the original Marauders. 'Marauder' now, I suppose. Hadrian said goodnight to his parents and headed off to the room he would have to share with Iris for now. I think I'll ask Dad if he'll come back from that idea of sitting out the full month here. Tweaking the Ministry's nose isn't worth being stuck in these conditions. Maybe we can find out from Tom if the rooms have been paid in full already? I'll suggest it to Dad tomorrow. Plans made, Hadrian fell asleep.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry woke up with a groan. He managed to bring his hands up to hold his head in place while he waited for it or the room to stop spinning. Still beats the alternative. With a grunt he forced himself out of bed and made his way down to the kitchen where he set about making a pot of coffee. Tea might be the national beverage, but it sucks for getting rid of a hangover. It took an entire cup of coffee before Harry could stand to even look at the world. Pouring himself a second one he stumbled back up the stairs. By the time Harry had reached his room and managed to get his clothes from the day before off, that second cup had been drained as well. After his shower Harry felt like he might be human again. He got dressed quickly and emptied the last of the coffee in his pot into the mug he had brought back down with him. He sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy this cup; well, to at least be aware of what he was pouring into his mouth which no longer felt like it had been stuffed with cotton wool.

As Harry was drinking his coffee he heard a tapping on the window. When he looked up he saw a large, black raven sitting there. Got to hand it to the goblins: that's an inspired way of getting around an Owl Redirection Ward. Harry had erected the ward around himself a week after he had destroyed Voldemort since he hated waking up to piles of mail that reached up to his waist. Ginny had told him that he was being rude to people who only wanted to express their gratitude, but Harry didn't care. I didn't do it so that some fickle idiots would like me. If they really wanted to thank me they'd respect my wishes to be left alone. Harry got up to retrieve the letter from the raven. Once he had gotten it loose from the bird's leg it took off and flew back out the window. Guess they don't need an answer.

After the war Shack had done Harry a favour and sent someone from the Goblin Liaison Office to open negotiations with the goblins that would include the subject of how they would treat Harry if he came to collect money from his vault. Harry and the negotiator had hammered out a set of arguments that justified Harry's break-in only to find them largely unnecessary. As it turned out the goblins weren't any more united than humans were when it came to politics. Voldemort's takeover at the Ministry had sparked a takeover of Gringotts by those clans that favoured siding with him to exterminate most of the rest of the wizards. Harry's victory had swung power back to the clans that supported milking the humans for every galleon they had. These clans were grateful enough to Harry for their return to power and long term profit that they let him get away with a symbolic fine of 100 galleons and the agreement that all members of his 'clan' would be challenged by goblin guards who would inquire after their intentions any time they visited the bank. Harry had agreed and been grateful that he hadn't kicked off another war right after they had finally finished the one with Voldemort. Weighing the envelope in his hand for a moment, Harry broke the seal and opened it.

Mr. Potter,

As your account manager it is my duty to tell you that members of your family, previously not authorised to access your account, have made a claim to such access. They have backed up their claim with proof of lineage through blood. Since your vault is a Family Vault there is no way to deny them their claim. As the principal account holder you may set restrictions on their access to the vault and you have 48 hours to do so, or Gringotts will assume that your family has been granted unconditional access to the vault.

Expecting that you have been sufficiently informed,

Fenrac

Harry carefully read the letter again. No points for guessing who these 'family members' are. Harry thought it over for a moment longer before he walked over to the fireplace. This is going to be a special kind of horrid with this hangover. Nothing for it though. Harry knelt in front of the hearth and threw a pinch of floo powder into the grate before sticking his head into the green flames and closing his eyes. "Hogwarts Headmistress's Office."

"Harry. Is something the matter?"

"Good morning, Minerva. I'm just calling to let you know that I'm going to be a bit later today. Could you let the crews know? I'll get started as soon as I've run a hopefully quick errand."

"I trust that this errand is nothing serious?" Minerva's honest concern led Harry to reveal a little more.

"Just a letter from Gringotts that I need to do something about."

"Hmmm. Be careful, Harry."

"I will, Minerva. I'll be by in a little while." Harry said as he withdrew his head from the flames. Right. Off to Diagon then. Harry checked that he had his wands, both holly and elder, and cast a Notice-Me-Not Charm on himself before he apparated out of his kitchen. He arrived in the courtyard behind the Cauldron with a barely audible pop. He immediately made his way through the gateway to the Alley that was kept constantly open at this busy time of day. Harry managed to make it all the way to the doors of Gringotts without anyone realising that he was there. Unfortunately walking into the bank under a charm like this was just asking for an incident. He waited until he was standing right in front of the guards before Disspelling it though. The goblin who suddenly noticed the most notorious wizard in the world, at least from a goblin perspective, appearing before him started in surprise before pointing his halberd at the man's throat.

"Are you here as an enemy of Gringotts?" the goblin barked out.

"Not that I know of." Harry responded with one eyebrow mockingly raised. "I'm responding to a letter from Fenrac." The guard lifted his weapon away from Harry.

"Enter, human." Harry gave a nod and walked past the guards and into the main hall of the bank. He shook his head at the large golden coat of arms that had been laid into the floor. Somehow I get the feeling that the clans that supported Voldemort paid for that little addition. Harry hadn't even gotten the chance to join one of the queues when a goblin came up to him.

"You here to see Fenrac?" the goblin growled.

"I am."

"Follow me." Harry followed the goblin past the now whispering customers that were waiting for their turns. Looks like this is going to turn into an escape after all. Can't they keep their eyes in their sockets? It was a small mercy that it didn't take long to get out of the hall. Harry was led down several corridors until they stopped in front of a familiar door. The goblin knocked and walked away without waiting for an answer. When Harry heard something being yelled in Gobbledegook from within he opened the door.

"I have no idea what you just said so I'm going to pretend that it was 'please come in'."

"Potter." the goblin sitting behind the desk in the spacious office grunted. "You didn't waste time."

"You told me some jackass is trying to get access to my vault and you can't stop him. It seemed a pressing matter."

"I can assure you that the person in question proved his claim by blood and magic." Fenrac retorted. "After seeing the papers this morning that at least makes sense. What I'm worried about is whether he'll try anything else." That got Harry's attention. Despite the acerbic tone of their discussions, Harry and Fenrac got along about as well as a wizard and goblin could. For Fenrac to drop out of their usual form of communication meant that something serious was going on. Harry lowered himself into one of the chairs across from Fenrac's desk.

"Alright. I'm listening."

"Am I correct in assuming that you have no idea how your vault is set up?"

"Probably."

"Very well. As stated in my letter to you: it's set up as a Family Vault. This was actually a pretty common thing to do during the First Blood War and several families fell back on it during the more recent conflict. This was done so that even if heirs were underage, or an unanticipated number of family members were killed, their inheritance couldn't be stolen by regents who were not part of the family."

"Makes sense."

"Quite. A Family Vault is open to anyone who can prove that they are a member of that family. The principal account holder can set limits of no less than 300 galleons per person per month as that is considered 'the minimum income for a dignified life'. If the vault cannot pay out 300 galleons per person per month then access to the contents is divided evenly among the access holders." Harry snorted at that. "In the case of minors this money would be given to their guardians. Those limits may be changed at any time, but to ensure that we do not preempt our principal account holders the claimants cannot access the vault for 48 hours after making their claim."

"I think I got that much from your letter. What's this problem you hinted at?"

"I'm getting to that, Potter. It has to do with the determination of the principal account holder. Usually the access holder with the strongest claim is the principal account holder. After my meeting with a Mr. James Potter this morning I get the suspicion that he believes he will be able to claim that position once he has access to the account. My personal opinion is that since the magic tied into your vault recognised his right to access it, it is entirely possible that he may be right in his assumption even though he was not born in this universe." Harry was quiet as he thought it over. I never cared about the money, but it is one of the few things my parents and Sirius were able to leave me. For someone whose motivations I don't trust to have access to that… I don't like it.

"What can we do about this?"

"I believe your best option to be opening a private vault and transferring your funds into it. That would prevent anyone from being able to access it without your express permission. We would have to revise the will you made to account for the change in vault number and type as the inheritance of a personal vault is slightly different from a family vault. You may or may not have noticed that in your inheritance from Mr. Black a few years ago." Try 'not'. "I would recommend waiting to change your will until we are sure that Mr. James Potter intends to wrest control of the account from you. That will allow you to bring it up and deceive him further if needed."

"So you recommend that I move everything into that personal vault?"

"No. I recommend that you leave some monies in the family vault and introduce the restrictions at the legal minimum. If I am right and Mr. James Potter manages to wrest control of the vault from you, he can no more stop you from using it than you can stop him. If you leave some assets in the current vault then your enemy will not look any further, you will have an extra source of income as long as you remember to make the appropriate withdrawals and your enemy will underestimate you. If you remove everything then there is a chance that he will charge you with mismanagement of the vault which, while unlikely to result in a conviction in either a human court or ours, will tell him where that money went and how much it was. I believe that you face enough threats without adding this one."

"You believe he would kill me for money." Fenrac shrugged.

"He is a proud man, with a family to support, who suddenly finds himself without resources. What do you think?"

"That I'd rather not find out." Harry considered his options carefully. "Alright. We'll do this your way. How much money was in the vault at the time my parents died? And how much is in there now?"

"The account balance on the 1st of November 1981 was 32'462 galleons and represents 3.7% of your current wealth due to the Black inheritance and the various bounties you have been paid for defeating the Dark Lord and his minions as well as donations and inheritances from devoted fans." The last bit of that statement made Harry a bit uncomfortable, but it made the point very clear: he had enough money that he could blow some of it on ensuring some peace of mind and one less threat to his life.

"What do you think? Enough of a smokescreen?"

"I should imagine so."

"Then leave them that and transfer the rest to a personal vault. Will James be able to see this transaction?" Fenrac's grin was truly something to behold.

"He is not yet on the Potter account and this transfer hasn't left the family. According to some rather corrupt legislation that hasn't been addressed yet by your friend, Ms. Granger, we're not even allowed to record this movement of funds." Harry couldn't help but snort in amusement at that. "I happen to have the appropriate forms for the opening of a personal account here, Potter, as well as the forms for the restriction on access to a Family Vault if you'd like to get them out of the way now." It took Harry and Fenrac less than fifteen minutes to get all the paperwork out of the way. Harry left the bank with the key to vault 496 and an assurance that the agreed upon amount would be transferred by the end of business today.

Shit. Looks like I was right. Outside of Gringotts, Diagon was teeming with witches and wizards who didn't look even slightly interested in shopping. The crowd surged the moment Harry stepped out of Gringotts and it was only a rapidly cast Barrier Charm that prevented Harry from getting squashed. Thank you, Hermione. I don't know how you knew about this charm and I don't care. The first time Harry had let himself have a good whine about the way he was crowded by the wizarding populace, Hermione had suggested this spell and taught it to him. He had used it numerous times since then and had mentally thanked his best friend every time. Getting to the apparition point still required some pushing and shoving to get through the crowd but not nearly as much as it might have if he hadn't cast the charm. Harry barely managed to escape before reporters could make their questions heard over the noise of the mob. He landed in Hogsmeade and quickly strode onto the grounds which he knew were being patrolled by off duty crews who would keep the Nosey Parkers away while the castle was still under construction.

Chapter Text

Hadrian was lounging in his room at the Leaky Cauldron, reading the Daily Prophet's article on himself and his family. It's not bad, but we'll have to work on the way they keep comparing me to Harry. I'll have them doing it the other way around soon enough. I just need to figure out what his strategy is so I can counter it and I'll be able to take my rightful place. The problem is that by the time he reveals his hand it'll be too late. Hadrian sighed in frustration. What I need is someone who can tell me how he thinks. Hadrian sat up sharply as inspiration struck him.

"Mum, where did you put the quills and parchment?" he yelled as he ran into his parents' room. He could see Mum blinking in surprise.

"What on earth would you need them for, popkin?"

"I want to write a letter to the Weasleys. I think we could use some friends in this world and I thought we could start with the ones we had back home."

"Oh, popkin, that's a wonderful idea. I put the writing utensils in your school trunks."

"Thanks, Mum. You're the best." It hadn't taken long for Hadrian to decide that he would be returning to Hogwarts. It's as obvious as it's going to get that everyone my age is going to be attending this year. This is going to be my best year at Hogwarts yet. I already know all the stuff they're going to teach us up to the Easter break, so classes are going to be easy. That'll give me more time to get my peers on my side. With any luck I'll be back to where I was by Christmas. Hadrian threw his trunk open and started rummaging through it. It took a bit of looking around but he was soon sitting at the rickety desk in the room and tapping a quill against his chin in thought. I have to be careful not to be too familiar, but if I don't play on what I know of him, Ron's never going to answer. It needs to have the right amount of politeness and offer him something that he'll want. I wonder what Chudley tickets cost? If they're anything like at home it should be easy enough. Damn the fact that we have to buy a house, that's going to put a serious dent in my pocket money. We should have a little more breathing room the day after tomorrow.

Actually that might work. Ask him to come out and spend some time with me in Diagon after we've handled some family matters at Gringotts. Ron'll take that as a hint that he can get something from me. At the very least we can get some Butterbeers and talk. Happy with his ideas, Hadrian started writing. He made sure to mention that they had been friends back home and that he could really use a friend now as well as the family's trip to the bank. He asked Ron to meet him that afternoon, confident that the counterpart to his best mate would come if the two were anything alike. The hardest part of the letter turned out to be signing it as 'Hadrian Potter'. Note to self: work on a new autograph. When he was done, Hadrian got a few knuts from Mum and went into Diagon to post his letter.

The day that they were to be added to the Potter accounts Hadrian took care to look his best, though admittedly the robes he was wearing were not up to his usual standard. We really need that money. Ron was always a good bloke, but I don't particularly want to live like that. When he was satisfied with the way he looked, Hadrian knocked on the door to his parents' room. Dad opened the door and checked Hadrian over before giving an approving nod.

"Iris, hurry up. We're going to be late if you don't." He called over Hadrian's shoulder.

"Yes, Dad." Iris replied. Hadrian accompanied Dad into the other room with a grin on his face.

"What's got you so excited then, son?"

"This whole thing. It's one of the best pranks you've ever pulled, especially considering how little time you had to plan it out and the fact that we didn't have any resources you could use." Dad grinned at him.

"Years of experience, my boy. You'll be able to come up with something like this when you're my age and probably something better." Hadrian swelled with pride at Dad's words. "You're meeting with Ron after we get done at the bank aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am."

"A perfect example of what I'm talking about; you're already working to make the best of our situation. See if he knows where Padfoot and Moony are. We need all the help we can get."

"Of course, Dad, but do you think that we can really count on this world's Marauders? I mean, they haven't exactly come running after hearing that their brother is back from the dead."

"I don't know if we can count on them any more than you know if you can count on Ron, but if we're going to start building friendships it makes sense to start with what we knew back home."

"Wouldn't it make more sense to try and actually talk to the Harry Potter of this world? He's family after all." Iris voice sounded from the door of the room. Dad just scowled at her.

"I don't trust that little shit. He's the main reason people are being so reluctant to help."

"Yeah, and there's something off about that guy." Hadrian added. "You saw him during the interrogation in that tent and outside the cells his friends put us in. I don't care what he said, he was way too comfortable with us being there for this to be a real surprise to him." Iris opened her mouth before shaking her head and closing it again. She probably didn't think any of it through. I swear, she's such a drag on this family. Once Iris was in the room Dad called to Mum who was still in the bathroom working on her make-up. Mum appeared a few moments later looking as glamorous as she always did when the family was 'on display'.

"You look amazing, sweetheart. I'd kiss you if I wasn't worried it might ruin the effect." Dad said in a slightly deeper voice than usual. Mum just smiled flirtatiously in response. "Alright then, let's go get ourselves added to the Potter accounts." The family's walk down Diagon was accompanied by many turning heads. Heh. Still got it. Hadrian was enjoying the attention until he reached the steps of Gringotts and the guards at the door crossed their spears.

"Have you come here as enemies of Gringotts?"

"No." Dad's response was cold and precise. The goblins glared at him for a moment before moving their weapons into a neutral position. Hadrian wondered what was going on. The goblins back home never treated us with such disrespect. Dad led them into the bank without another look at the guards. Once inside he looked around. "You there. We're here to see the Potter account manager." The goblin Dad had addressed looked up with a typical sneer on its face. It gestured for them to follow it. The goblin led them to an office with another goblin sitting in it.

"Account manager, I've brought the members of my family that are to be added to the Potter account." The goblin just looked at them with narrowed eyes before nodding. It got up and went over to a cabinet before coming back with four scrolls.

"Each one of you will need to add a drop of blood to the scroll with your name on it and you will be added to the access list for the Family Vault." the goblin said as it placed a knife next to each scroll. Hadrian and his family read the scrolls to find the right ones for themselves and added the required drop of blood. The goblin collected the scrolls when they had all finished. "These will be filed by the end of business today." It then placed four small bronze keys on the desk between them. "I should inform you that the principal account holder has decided that you may all have access to 300 galleons per person, per month. Is there anything else that Gringotts may help you with?" 300 galleons per month? Where does that berk get off telling us how much money we can take out of the family vault?!

"Actually there is. I would like you to give me a list of available properties. I will also need an account statement including the records for the past three years and I am challenging the position of the principal account holder. I stand a generation above Hadrian, Iris and Harry and am therefore the eldest Potter available to oversee the family finances. I am also the only one who will be adding to the balance of the family vault, through my salary, for the foreseeable future as the kids attend Hogwarts." Alright! Go, Dad!

"A dispute hearing can be arranged for tomorrow afternoon at one o'clock at the earliest. There are no properties associated with the account."

"What?! What about our house in Godric's Hollow?"

"The Potter House was seized by the Ministry in 1984 and turned into a national monument. Do you wish the hearing to be arranged for tomorrow?"

"Do so."

"Very well. The account statement will be sent to you by owl when we have compiled it. Was there anything else?"

"We need to visit our vault." Dad said as he picked up the four bronze keys.

"Very well. Ragsnarl will accompany you." The goblin gestured to the door where one of the creatures was already waiting for them. Dad stood up and gave the sitting goblin an absent nod before following the other one. Hadrian got up and joined Dad. I need to get a few galleons if I'm going to get some drinks with Ron later. The cart ride down to their vault was unremarkable. When the door opened Hadrian caught Dad's frown. He was expecting it to be a bit more than this. No matter it's still more than we had. Dad'll figure out how to use this to our advantage.

They all took a few handfuls of galleons and returned to the surface. Dad had to leave for work and Mum and Iris headed to the bookstore to look for historical books that might explain what the differences were between this world and their own. Which leaves talking to people to discover the differences to me. Ron said he'd be at the Cauldron around two. I think it would be best to just find a table and let him come to me. It'll set a better tone than if I walk up to him, hat in hand, to beg for scraps of information. I have a little time though. No need to run to the pub from here. Hadrian took his time strolling down Diagon. He enjoyed the looks and whispers that proved that he was already being recognised. He took a moment to look through the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies and admire the Firebolt on display. It's going to be a while before I can get one of those again. At least it looked like we'll have enough gold to buy ourselves a house when Dad takes over the account. I almost feel sorry for Harry. He's outclassed in every possible way facing off against me and Dad.

When he stepped into the pub he took a quick moment to check the room for a shock of red hair. I wonder what it would be like if this world had blond Weasleys and ginger Malfoys? Nah, that's too weird. Hadrian made his way over to the bar and ordered a Butterbeer before picking a table that would allow him to keep an eye on the whole room without twisting around obviously. He was just finishing his drink when an unmistakable shade of red walked into the bar. Hadrian couldn't stop the smile that broke out on his face when he saw his best mate. Well, a very convincing copy of my best mate at any rate. Hadrian could spot the exact moment that Ron saw him. The redhead's eyes widened before he started weaving his way between tables to where Hadrian was sitting.

"So you're Harry's counterpart, huh?"

"I prefer to think that he is my counterpart. Hadrian Potter." Hadrian held out his hand and Ron took it after a slight hesitation, with a suspicious look on his face. "Sit down. Would you like a drink? I could do with a refill anyway."

"Um, I don't know that I should..."

"My treat."

"In that case, I'll have a Butterbeer."

"Excellent. Tom! Can we have two more Butterbeers over here?" Seeing the old landlord nod Hadrian turned back to Ron. "I'm glad that you agreed to come out here and meet me."

"Speaking of that: why did you want to see me?"

"Pretty much the reasons I set out in my letter. Back home you were my best- thank you." Tom nodded as he set the two bottles on the table and made his way back over to the bar. "You were my best friend. I realise that we don't really know each other, but who else was I going to reach out to first? Malfoy?" Ron snorted into his drink.

"I thought you'd have asked Harry first, actually."

"Our interactions so far have been… awkward at best, I'm afraid. It's beyond strange to talk to someone who looks like you and yet… doesn't."

"I think I can see that. You two do look a lot alike, but there are some definite differences."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. You seem more comfortable around people. Harry's more of a recluse."

"I wondered why the press seemed so unused to a press conference with a Harry Potter." Ron snorted again.

"Harry? Giving a press conference? Never in a million years. He hates being in the public eye. Annoys Ginny to no end."

"They're dating here then?"

"Yeah. Did you and..."

"Yeah. That's done though unless I can find a way home." Hadrian saw the way Ron was looking at him. "Don't worry. I'm not going to act like you or she are the people I remember, but I would like to get to know you and see if you're anything like the Ron and Ginny I knew." He shot his friend a grin. "It may be a little soon to judge, but I get the feeling that you're a lot like the man I remember." Hadrian could see the way Ron brightened up at that. He always was insistent that he was a man and not a boy.

"So how's this world different from yours then?"

"I'm still trying to work that out actually. The differences with my counterpart seem to mostly revolve around the fact that his parents died when he was young. I don't know what all the differences with you are yet. You dating Susan Bones?"

"No. She's dead."

"What?" I did not see that coming.

"Yeah. Summer before sixth year. You Know Who decided to kill her aunt and Susan was home, so..."

"Damn. That's rough." Hadrian took a long pull from his Butterbeer. "So, who are you seeing? Or are you just playing the field?"

"I'm going out with Hermione Granger." Hadrian almost choked on his drink. What the hell?! Beaverface? What's wrong with this world? "I guess that's really different from your world, huh?"

"Yeah, you could say that. You two couldn't stand each other back home." And I won't ask you what the hell you're dating the class nerd for; not yet at least. Who knows, maybe this Granger has actually figured out how to act like a human being. "So how did that happen?" What followed was a story that Hadrian had trouble believing. Trolls, possessed teachers, basilisks, dragons, Padfoot in jail, the TriWizard Tournament, Padfoot dead, Moony dead, Fred dead. This is impossible. Although it is Ron telling the story and he seems fairly similar to how he was back home. There's probably some exaggeration in there somewhere; probably everywhere actually. The two boys spent an enjoyable afternoon trading stories after that. Hadrian was careful not to drink too much so that he would at least be able to do something with the information Ron was supplying. Around supper time Ron begged off.

"Mum wants us all home as much as possible."

"Yeah, I can understand that. Give her my best and maybe we can do this again sometime."

"How about tomorrow?"

"Perfect. I've got something to attend to at Gringotts at one, so same time and place?"

"Works for me. See you tomorrow Hadrian."

"Yeah, 'til then." Hadrian sat quietly and watched as Ron flooed out to the Burrow. At least I have a place to start. It sounds like we won't be having any trouble from Harry at least. Once he'd finished his drink, Hadrian went over to the bar and paid Tom before making his way up to the rooms. He walked in to find Mum and Dad sitting together on the couch.

"Hadrian! How was your day, my boy?" Dad greeted with a smile.

"I'm not really sure, Dad." Hadrian proceeded to relate what he had learnt from Ron. When he had finished, Dad was looking serious.

"If the Marauders are all dead it would explain why they didn't come to greet us. I wish I could ask them why they told Harry about our animagus forms though." Yeah, especially since you didn't even tell me. Unexpectedly a small smile creased Dad's face. "As for the rest of it, I'm sorry, son, but I think that your friend was trying a little too hard to impress you."

"I agree, popkin." Mum added. "He said that Dumbledore was the headmaster here until Severus helped him die, right?" Hadrian nodded. "Well, do you really think that Dumbledore would let those kinds of things happen at Hogwarts?"

"No. I knew there was something off about the whole story. Thanks, Mum."

"Of course, popkin. Will you be meeting your friend again?"

"Yeah, we agreed to meet up tomorrow after Dad takes control of the account."

"Good. I'm happy that you've started making friends."

"Don't forget to get up on time tomorrow. You should probably get some decent robes. We're going to need them even if Harry is a complete idiot when it comes to public relations." Dad said with a smile on his face.

"Of course, Dad." I think that I could grow to like this world. If we play it right I could have all the benefits of being the Boy Who Lived without the dangers of a Dark Lord trying to kill me.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry read over the letter in his hands again and felt a dark amusement swirling in his chest. So Fenrac was right. It's a good thing I listened to him then. The letter in question informed Harry that there was a dispute over the identity of the principal account holder and that it would be resolved with or without him at 13:00 that day. Harry had let the construction crews know that he would be absent today and they had all taken a day off as well to spend some time with their families. I do believe that I'm looking forward to this. Harry got himself dressed in a pair of jeans and simple burgundy shirt. Thank you, Mrs. Granger. When Harry had been re-introduced to Hermione's parents after they came back from Australia, Mrs. Granger had made a remark about his clothes. Harry had told her perfectly honestly that he simply had nothing else to wear. The result had been a seemingly endless shopping expedition to set him up with a few trousers and shirts that actually fit him. I think I may have been a step away from using Compulsion Charms to get her to stop at one point. I just don't understand the need to try out everything in a shop. Hermione had tried to explain it to him, but 'you never know if you might find something nicer' didn't make much sense to him. If it fits, it fits. There's a limit to how much more you can say about clothes than that.

Having dressed for a day of not working Harry checked that he had his wands on him and apparated to the Leaky Cauldron's courtyard. He quickly made his way over to Gringotts, trying to avoid the stares as much as possible. It's not like there are millions of wizards. Haven't most of them seen me by now? At the doors to the bank Harry stopped for his obligatory questioning before he was waved in. There was a lot less posturing involved than usual in that challenge. I wonder what's off today?

"Excuse me." he stopped a passing goblin. "Could you show me to Fenrac's office? I'm responding to a letter from him." The goblin looked Harry over for a moment before giving him a curt nod. Harry followed the goblin down a route he could probably have taken himself by now. Not that that would be wise, especially for someone they already know broke into their vaults once. When they got to the door to Fenrac's office the goblin escorting Harry knocked and barked out something in Gobbledygook.

"Come in, Mr. Potter." Fenrac's voice sounded as if he was simply conversing with Harry. Magic does have its uses. Harry opened the door and stepped inside. He inclined his head towards Fenrac.

"Wealth and honour to you, Account Manager Fenrac." If we're going to be putting on a performance, we might as well play the whole part.

"Wealth and honour, Mr. Potter." Formal greetings concluded Harry took a seat across from Fenrac and studied the others who were in the room with him. Good grief. Someone pulled out some cash yesterday and wasted it. Harry's counterpart reminded him uncomfortably of Gilderoy Lockhart in lavish scarlet and gold robes. The kid's mother was dressed like she was going to a Ministry ball after this and his father was dressed in his auror robes. The only normal one in the group is the girl. Iris seemed to be wearing everyday robes like he had come to expect from Ron and Ginny. Functional and not too flashy. Harry stopped his observations when Fenrac cleared his throat. "Now that everyone has gathered, we can proceed. Mr. Potter are you aware of what is happening today?"

"Yeah. This prick is trying to steal from my family more than he already has." Harry answered while jerking a thumb at James.

"What do you mean your family, boy? It's just as much our family."

"Actually from where I sit, you're just interlopers who've forced their way into my vault by exploiting your similarity to my parents."

"Well, we'll just see what the vault's magic has to say about this, won't we?" Harry just huffed in response. I was wrong. This isn't entertaining, just sad. He's so sure that he's got me outmaneuvered that he's not even pretending to care that he's robbing me of what my parents earnt. If he really believed that nonsense about us being family he wouldn't have tried to do this in the underhanded way that he is; well, he might have at least pretended to be civil about it.

"Correct, Mr. Potter." Fenrac broke in smoothly. "If I might ask you all to hand over your keys?" Harry reluctantly handed his key to the goblin. It wasn't even an act. I knew what was coming and I've taken precautions, but now that the moment's here I don't want to go through with this. Too late to back out now, if I ever could. I'll just have to think of a suitable revenge. Once Fenrac had all the keys he placed them in a stone sphere which sealed itself when the last key was put in. "This orb has enchantments that are linked to the vaults themselves. It will determine who has the strongest claim as principal account holder. All of you please place your hand against its surface."

Despite himself Harry was curious about this piece of magic. He placed his hand against the orb like the others and felt the orb heat up. He could feel the magic of the vaults testing his own. The heat of the orb concentrated itself in his palm before cooling rapidly. Harry could feel a key pressed into his palm. I guess we look and see what colour it is. Harry withdrew his hand catching the key as it started slipping away from the stone surface. He opened his hand to look at the little key resting there. Bronze. I guess Fenrac was right again: the magic involved can't tell that these bastards are from another universe. I'm glad we moved the money first. As Harry looked around he saw smug looks on three of the four interlopers.

"I told you, boy." James apparently couldn't quite keep the sneer out of his voice. "Goblin. I want unlimited access for myself, my wife and my son. Limited access for Iris and Harry."

"So you're not just going to steal my parents' money, you're going to deny me access?"

"You didn't seem to mind placing those restrictions on us. I'm sure you'll survive. Perhaps if you show that you can be a part of our family we'll reconsider your limits." You mean if I'm a good boy and do everything you say. Couldn't you at least try to be a little bit subtle about it?

"Like hell. I'm not for sale." And I have far more money than you do.

"I think you'll find your tone changing when you face the real world, boy." Harry couldn't help himself. He snorted in amusement.

"I think you'll find that I have eighteen years more experience facing this world than you do."

"And you think that that will be enough do you? You didn't even know what the status of your account at Gringotts was."

"We'll see, Junior Auror Potter." Okay, that was just petty, I'll admit it. Still, I've only ever seen Vernon turn that colour. Turning away from James, Harry inclined his head to Fenrac. "Wealth and honour, Fenrac." With that he left the office. Damn that git. How can someone who started out as the man everyone tells me my father was turn out to be such a… he's like a combination of Fudge and Lockhart. Harry was not bothered by anyone as he made his way to the Leaky Cauldron lost in his chuntering thoughts. Nobody wanted to bother Harry Potter when he was wearing a face like a thundercloud. Harry stalked into the pub and pulled up short in surprise.

"Ginny? Hermione? Ron? What are you doing here?" Ron came up to Harry and gave him his customary clap on the back.

"We're waiting for that counterpart of yours to show up. We're meeting him for drinks. Wanna join?" Harry didn't bother to keep his distaste off of his face.

"No thanks, Ron." Ron's brow furrowed in consternation.

"What were you doing here then?" Right as Ron asked that question the Potter family walked in.

"Getting robbed." Harry said with a dark look at the other Potters. "Excuse me." He dropped his shoulder out from under Ron's grip and moved towards the door. I'll just find a quiet spot to apparate from in muggle London. Harry made his way out of the door and stalked off down the street. Muggle clothing has more uses than simple practicality. At least this way I can dodge the idiots. Harry kept going until he found a deserted alleyway. I think I need to spend the rest of the day doing something thoroughly uncomplicated. I haven't been to see Andi and Teddy for a week or so. Harry took a deep breath and apparated away to spend a few hours with his godson.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian could see that Dad was fuming. Harry's last words must have really gotten under his skin. Hadrian had enough sense to wait until they were out of earshot from the goblins. He knew better than to show them weakness.

"Don't worry about it, Dad. He just knows he lost and had no chance to stop it. It's got to hurt so of course he's lashing out." Hadrian saw Dad taking a deep breath and nod.

"You're right of course. I just let my own frustrations with this world get to me."

"Think about it this way: he got an insult in, you got control of the family account. I'm not sure what the exact scoreline would be, but I think you win this one." Hearing Dad's bark of laughter made Hadrian smile. That's right, it sucks to be Harry but it's the family that's important. The family made their way over to the Leaky Cauldron. As they entered Hadrian could see Ron talking to Harry who threw them a dirty look before storming out the door to muggle London. Idiot. What are you hoping to find out there? "Hey, Ron! Good to see you."

"Hey, Hadrian." Ron sounded a little perturbed and was looking at the door Harry had just stormed out of. "Ginny and Hermione were curious to meet you. I hope you don't mind that I brought them along."

"Not at all. Have you lot got drinks yet?"

"Yeah we're all set."

"Alright. Let me get a Butterbeer and I'll join you." While Hadrian was standing at the bar waiting for his drink he reflected how strange it was the he'd be sitting at a table with Beaverfaceof all people. Don't jump to conclusions. You don't know what this version of Granger is like. Besides she's Ron's girlfriend; that means that insulting her will probably drive him away as well and that would be a shame. Once Tom had given him his Butterbeer, Hadrian made his way over to the table where Ron was sitting with the girls and plopped down nonchalantly in a chair. "Hello, all. Hadrian Potter." He could see Ginny's eyes scanning him in a way he wasn't used to. Eventually she extended her hand.

"Ginny Weasley." Hadrian gently took her hand and kissed the air above it. When his head came back up he could see the sparkle in her eyes. That's good.

"Hermione Granger." Granger was holding her hand out with a hard look in her eyes. Yeah, charm's not going to work on this one. Hadrian chose to grip her hand firmly for a single pump. "So why did Harry shoot your family that look as he mentioned being robbed?"

"Because he's melodramatic." Hadrian watched as Granger raised a sceptical eyebrow. There was something else in her eyes that he couldn't quite figure out. Oh well, not like it matters. The goal here is to not insult her, not make her like me. "It's a family matter."

"It's still weird. Harry's not normally like that." Ron sounded honestly worried. Hadrian debated the matter in his head for a moment. I don't like telling Granger, but Ron and Ginny are different. I suppose they're a package deal in this world. Besides, this way Harry won't be able to put his own spin on what happened.

"It really isn't a big deal, Ron. The Potter account at Gringotts is a Family Vault. He's just annoyed that he has to admit that we're family."

"That makes more sense. I suppose he's a still a bit sensitive about his parents dying." Ron said thoughtfully. "I guess he feels like your Mum and Dad are trying to take their place."

"I suppose it's possible." Hadrian admitted. "It's not like Dad could completely block off his access in the first place, so I really think that he's overreacting."

"Wait. How did your Dad get entered into this and why would he be able to block Harry off at all?" Ginny wanted to know.

"Ah, well, since Dad is the eldest Potter he controls the account. Harry didn't agree so there was a hearing at the bank today. Obviously Dad won and Harry started acting like a little kid. Dad had to restrict his access after that or lose the respect of the goblins which would be a disaster in the long run. Harry pretty much told our Dad to piss off after that. He wasn't even interested in working out a way for us to get along." Hadrian wasn't all that sure what might actually cause the goblins to lose respect for someone, but it sounded better than 'Harry's restricted until he cooperates'. Any novice celebrity could tell you that much. The group was silent for a few moments after that. "In the interest of understanding my… cousin, for lack of a better term, I don't suppose any of you can tell me why he insists on walking around in those muggle clothes, can you?"

"Harry was raised in the muggle world." Ron said in a heavy tone of voice. Ginny nodded along morosely.

"Wow. I didn't know. I mean… that just sucks."

"So why 'Hadrian'? I mean I can understand changing your name, but why did you choose that particular one?" Granger asked suddenly. What? No excessively long rant about the joys of muggle culture? Maybe there are a few things that she's better at in this universe after all. Hadrian shot Granger a grin.

"Because Harry is a bit immature." Ron snorted with laughter at that and even Ginny tittered a little. Granger didn't even twitch. Seriously? If I had acted like that berk back home, you'd have been trying to nag me for weeks until Ron and I pranked you into submission. Guess you're just not meant to be understood in any universe. Time for a change of subject. "Speaking of children: do you guys know what's going to happen with Hogwarts?"

"I don't think that anything's really set in stone. I know they want to work something out so that everyone can get their N.E.W.T.s despite the war basically screwing over our education." Ron said with a shrug.

"There is still some debate over whether attendance should be mandatory and to what extent the Ministry should compensate students who do want to return." Beaverface rattled off. Guess she's not learnt how to act like a normal person in this world either. What does Ron see in her?

"Do you think you'll be attending?" Ginny asked leaning her chin on her hand. Hadrian grinned at her.

"I think there would be some upsides." I really didn't mean to flirt with her, but damned if she doesn't make it hard.

"Oh really?" Ginny asked with a smirk. "What was Hogwarts like in your world?" Hadrian's grin widened and he regaled them with tales of his years at Hogwarts. He told them of pranks played and professors dodged; of sneaking off into the Forbidden Forest and playing Quidditch. Ron and Ginny seemed pleasantly surprised that he was the Gryffindor team's star Chaser; apparently Harry played Seeker. This'll be the year I show them what a Chaser trained by James Potter can do, then. They talked for a little while longer until Beaverface stood up unexpectedly.

"I think it's time I left. I promised my parents I'd be home for dinner. Hadrian, it was interesting to meet you. Ron, Ginny, I'll see you tomorrow." Hadrian studied Beaverface's body language as she left. There was something in there that he didn't like. He watched her throw floo powder into the flames of the fireplace, but he couldn't quite catch her destination across the full barroom.

"We should probably head out as well." Ron said with a significant look at his sister. "Mum's still a little on edge what with the war and all. She'll lose it if we're not home before dark." Ginny nodded her agreement.

"I remember. Would you care to join me out here more often? It's terribly boring being in a new world if you don't have anyone to talk to." Ron grinned at Hadrian's light, joking tone.

"I'm sure we can figure something out."

"Good. I'll send you an owl sometime then, yeah?"

"Sounds good." Hadrian and Ron clasped hands with broad grins on their faces. Hadrian gave Ginny's hand another kiss and watched them leave before turning to head back up to the rooms. It was good to see Ginny again. I think going to Hogwarts is definitely the right choice. From the sound of it I'll be ruling the castle even sooner than I first estimated.

:-:-:-:-:

"I can't stand that smarmy bastard." Harry looked up at the sound of his best friend cursing. He had only just arrived back from visiting Teddy. It had done him a world of good to spend time with a permanently happy baby and he had felt a lot better, but clearly Hermione's mood had deteriorated significantly in the same time-period.

"Hermione? What are you doing here?"

"I just spent a delightful afternoon listening to your cousin." Harry blinked at the venom in Hermione's voice as she threw herself down on the couch next to him.

"Where on earth did you meet Dudley and why didn't you just leave?"

"Not Dudley. Hadrian." There was an uncharacteristic sneering quality when Hermione said his counterpart's name that it made Harry wonder if she'd hexed him yet. After all, if he's managed to hack her off this much it's just a matter of time. "Apparently, he's decided to refer to the two of you as cousins."

"Well, that does tie in rather neatly with my family experience so far." Hermione gave a snort of grim laughter. "Would you like to vent?" Hermione was quiet for less than a minute before she seemed to boil over.

"He's just such… such… such a ponce! I was honestly considering whether I would rather be spending that time with Malfoy at one point."

"I thought he reminded me of Lockhart actually."

"YES! Exactly that. At one point the slimy git even asked why you wore muggle clothing, which would be an idiotic question even on the face of it, but when Ron told him that you had been raised by muggles they all got this pitying mournful look. I mean, it's one thing for Ron and Ginny to think like that; they at least know which muggles raised you. That miserable specimen was going along with it because he thought being raised by muggles was something terrible in and of itself! Doesn't he realise that that's how his mother was raised?" Harry was having trouble not staring at Hermione open-mouthed. I can't remember the last time she got this riled over something that wasn't life or death… okay, bad standard of measurement considering our school years, but still. "Then he spent hours bragging that he was a puerile bully like it was something to be proud of. Some of his stories made it patently obvious that it was my counterpart he was bullying. School is going to be absolutely revolting this year if he insists on hanging around us." 'School's going to be revolting'? For Hermione? This is getting serious.Hermione was suddenly shooting him a piercing look. "I don't know what you did to the little bastard and his family, Harry, but I hope it's something that'll really hurt."

"Excuse me?"

"Don't try to play innocent, Potter. I know you did something to them at Gringotts; I just don't know what."

"What gave me away?"

"A tantrum? Over money? Really?"

"That wasn't as hard to fake as you might think."

"Oh?"

"Well, they were doing their best to steal one of the few connections I have with my parents from me."

"Oh. Right. So what did you do?"

"Well, a couple of days ago I got a letter from my account manager, Fenrac. He'd had a visit from Uncle James." Hermione chuckled darkly at Harry's sarcastic pronunciation of the title. Harry proceeded to explain all about the concept of a Family Vault and how the Potters had taken advantage of that. "So during my appointment to set limits on their access, Fenrac told me what he expected to happen. We ended up moving most of my wealth into a Personal Vault."

"How much is most?"

"96.3%." Hermione gaped at Harry for a moment and then started laughing out loud.

"That's even better than I was hoping. Are you going to tell them?"

"No. Fenrac was right: it'd just give them something to chase."

"Too bad. I'd have paid to see their faces."

"Well. If you've got any ideas for a suitable revenge, I'll be happy to listen. James really got under my skin today. I said the kid was like Lockhart, but his dad adds Fudge to that and comes out the worse for it. I had considered going to Shack and asking him to drop the bastard, but that would be a blow to the Ministry's resources that Shack doesn't need. Besides, as long as he works I'm going to get 300 galleons a month out of it." Hermione was quiet for a moment as she thought things over.

"You're right that the Ministry needs all the aurors it can get, but does it need this particular auror to advance through the ranks?"

"I'd still be a little uncomfortable asking Shack to sabotage someone's career for annoying me."

"So we don't ask. Let's just tell Kingsley what happened and I'm sure he'll draw his own conclusions about what he wants and needs from his auror force."

"We?"

"Please, Harry? I really want to smack them, but physical violence isn't the answer." Harry just cocked an eyebrow and Hermione sighed. "Fine. Emotional scars last longer."

"Remind me never to get you this mad at me." Hermione grinned at him.

"Does that mean we're going to do it?"

"If the chance presents itself. We're not going to try and corrupt the Ministry with suggestions."

"Thanks, Harry. You're the best!"

"Yeah, yeah. You staying for supper?"

"I can't. I promised my parents." Hermione looked apologetic. Harry gave her a small smile of understanding.

"Go. Say 'hi' to them for me. We'll plan the downfall of the people who annoy us some other time." Hermione gave him a smile and a hug.

"I'll see you soon, Harry. Thanks for listening." Harry just waved at Hermione in understanding and she disapparated. For once I think that you're the bad influence, Ms. Granger.

Chapter Text

"I just want to tell you all that you've done a masterful job." Harry spoke to the assembled construction crews. "I know that when we started it seemed like there was no chance of us ever finishing, but you've proven that there is nothing that can stop us when we work together. You can be proud of yourselves for what you've accomplished here. First round's on me tonight in the Broomsticks." The statement was met with loud cheers. Harry waved at them and left the makeshift stage that had been erected so that prominent members of society could speak at the completion of the project. Well, nominal completion. We still need to put up the wards, but at least the castle is standing and the builders can go home.

"I think that may have been a bit shorter than the Ministry had hoped, Harry." Minerva spoke up as Harry was walking away from the podium.

"Probably just about as long as the rest of them were hoping for." Harry retorted.

"Yeah, but now I have to top that." Shack sighed melodramatically.

"Like I told you last time: you get paid for it." Shack snorted at Harry's response.

"Speaking of: will you be alright paying a round for everyone here?"

"I should be. Why?"

"I've heard something about the other Potters taking your account from you." Harry heaved a sigh at Shack's question.

"You mean that you spoke to an angry Hermione?"

"Pretty much."

"She tell you that the bastards missed their shot?"

"Language, Mr. Potter." McGonagall interrupted the conversation.

"Sorry, Professor." Harry responded, snapping back to the more formal mode of address at the reprimand. He ignored the slight smile on Minerva's face and continued: "Those people just really rub me the wrong way."

"If they stole your money, I can understand that." Shack said.

"It's not the money." Harry took a deep breath before he revealed what was really bothering him. "They're just examples of everything I've tried not to be over the years. A large part of why I thought I shouldn't act like they do is that I thought that it wouldn't be how my parents would want me to act. They're rather ruining the image I had of my parents and I don't know if I can forgive them for that." For a moment Harry was afraid that Minerva was going to hug him judging by the look she was giving him. In the end she just nodded at him and changed the subject though.

"You said that you think you'll be able to recreate the wards, Harry. Normally I would insist that we let experienced warders handle this, but you have surprised us before so I'm willing to let you try first. Do not activate the wards without getting your scheme checked over by someone with the proper qualifications, do you understand me?"

"Yes, Minerva." I wonder if there is anyone more qualified than Rowena? Well, I was planning on asking Hermione to help me anyway. She can check them over for me.

"Very well, then. When do you think you can have the wards done, including that check?"

"I'm not sure. I think maybe a month?" The Headmistress looked surprised at his answer.

"That soon?"

"I wasn't planning on doing everything by myself." Understanding brightened Minerva's expression.

"That's good to hear, Harry. If you are confident that you can get it done in that time frame then I'll wait to send out the letters until after you're done. We may have to rely on the Ministry's help to find the names and addresses of potential students if you can't find a scheme that will tie our wards into the magical birth records though."

"You'll have it." Shack said firmly. "All the rebuilding in the world will be for nothing if we forget about future generations."

"Thank you, Minister."

"Have you considered how you plan to organise the school this year?" Minerva nodded in response to Shack's question.

"We're going to have an unusually large first year. Students will be divided up by ability, rather than age this year and then finish their education from there. We are encouraging all seventh year students to come back and retake the year that they missed as Madam Marchbanks has indicated that the Wizarding Examinations Authority won't be functional until the end of the school year due to its low priority. If they have to wait a year to take their exams anyway then they might as well spend that time learning." Shack nodded thoughtfully while Harry just listened. The group was interrupted by one of Shack's aides running up to him to whisper frantically in his ear. Shack nodded before turning to his two companions.

"Duty calls. I've got to take my turn being the show-pony." he said causing the aide to look shocked. Harry just sniggered and nodded while Minerva shot the two a fondly despairing look.

"You do that, Shack. I've got something to take care of in the castle."

"Will you be sharing that task with us, Mr. Potter?" Minerva asked with a clear expectation in her tone.

"Not right now. There are a few more people who would need to agree." Minerva huffed at Harry's flippant response while Shack just shook his head with an indulgent smile. "I'll see you down at the Broomsticks tonight." Harry threw a wave over his shoulder as he started walking towards the castle. Let's see if everyone's back yet.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian was once again sitting in the taproom of the Leaky Cauldron waiting for Ron. He had been writing the Weasleys on a regular basis. It may have been a bit of a risk to start writing to Ginny as well given how little I know about her relationship with Harry, but after meeting her again, how could I not? Besides she didn't exactly give me the cold shoulder when we met and she's written back a few times without telling me to bugger off. I think I can safely say that the gamble's paid off. Hadrian was currently making sure that his body language conveyed a relaxed confidence to everyone around him. It was one of the first things Gilderoy had taught him: your image is your greatest asset. You never know who is watching so you must always present the image you want to fix in the public's mind. And it's more important than ever to have a spotless public image.

Dad had finally gotten the account statements from the goblins and, like they had feared, those statements had indicated less wealth available to them than they had hoped for. It looked like Harry had never done an endorsement deal in his life. Dad had said that he couldn't remember the exact figures but that this looked like roughly the amount that had been in the vault when Hadrian was born. If he hasn't done a lick of work since then it may actually be more impressive that he's managed not to deplete the account. Hadrian was feeling a touch bitter about the whole thing since their spending was now curtailed as they tried to rebuild their wealth. If Harry decides to take out the full 300 galleons per month it's going to slow down our progress even more considering the Ministry made Dad a Junior Auror. It's going to take some time for him to get back to his former pay-grade. At least Harry won't be able to visit the bank if he's going back to Hogwarts. I'll have to remember to ask Ron about that today.

Hadrian was taking another pull from his Butterbeer when the floo flared green and a gangly redhead stepped out. Hadrian was about to call out a greeting when the floo flared again and another, far prettier, redhead followed him out. Looks like that gamble is paying off more than I thought. Hadrian raised his hand in greeting and watched his two friends walk over; well, he watched Ginny at least. When they got to his table Ron flopped down into a chair while Ginny sat down gracefully and shot him a smile while looking at him through her lashes. Good Merlin, Harry, how the hell are you not with her every moment of the day? Just look at her. A man would be mad not to want to be seen with her.

"Hey, guys. Good to see you."

"Good to see you too, Hadrian." Ron grinned. "What's the plan for today?"

"I figured we could look around Diagon or maybe Hogsmeade."

"Let's save Hogsmeade for when we're at school." Ginny suggested. "We should take advantage of the chance to explore while we're here." Hadrian had to forcefully stop himself from speculating on the possibility that she was dropping a hint about going to Hogsmeade with him. Instead he turned to Ron.

"Well, she does have a point about availability." Ron looked at Hadrian for a second before he snorted and nodded his agreement. The three teens stood from their table and made their way out of the magical exit. As they walked around Diagon, Hadrian noticed that their group was getting a lot of attention. He also noticed that a lot of people grew less enthusiastic when they realised he wasn't his counterpart. Stay calm. Remember the lessons. Your image is your greatest asset and you control your image. Eventually someone at the Prophet had apparently gotten their arse in gear and sent a photographer. Hadrian was very aware that he was probably a bonus rather than the reason that they sent the obnoxious little fellow. Far more likely to attract reporters were one of the Young Heroes and Harry Potter's girlfriend. Hadrian knew this and never let it show on his face. He doubted that either of his friends noticed that he was wearing a mask; they hadn't known each other for very long after all. He also noticed that Ginny seemed to know exactly where the camera was at all times. She's amazing. She hasn't broken character once and manages to give the idiot a pose he can't miss every single time. Ron also seemed aware of the fact that the camera was there, but was nowhere near as natural as Ginny at finding a pose.

Hadrian could already guess what would be in the society pages tomorrow: speculation on what Harry Potter's girlfriend was doing out and about with his counterpart. Having Ron along as a chaperone combined with how popular Harry Potter was at the moment would keep that speculation very circumspect though. It's not how I really want to feature in those pages, but it should at least whet the editor's appetite.

At the end of the day the trio headed back towards the Cauldron for a drink followed by several reporters who were barely even trying to disguise that they were following the teens. Hadrian, Ron and Ginny settled at the same table they had met at and ordered a round of Butterbeers. Conversation turned easily to the day they had just had.

"I want to thank you two for joining me today. It really has been a bit lonely without the people I knew back home and it means a lot to me that you'd do this."

"Oh, it's no problem, Hadrian." Ginny responded kindly. "It must be awful to be ripped from your home like that. I would hope that the Ginny Weasley you knew wouldn't have hesitated to help my Harry if he had been the one to end up in your world." Sweet Circe's tits, but she's good at this. How is Harry not rolling in endorsements?

"Yeah, it's good to get out." Ron said in what was probably supposed to be a casual voice. He's close, but just a little too tense and pompous. I should offer him some lessons next time I write him. Thankfully Ginny seemed to understand the problem and drew them into a discussion about Quidditch. Hadrian happily entered into an unusually civilised discussion on the subject. The press already knew their favourite teams, so a discussion of their chances in the upcoming season was merely a chance to showcase their knowledge on the subject. Hadrian was surprised to learn from Ginny that Ron was one of the driving forces behind ensuring that there would be a Quidditch League at all this year. Many had felt that it was a low priority issue but, according to Ginny, Ron had convinced them that people needed something to look forward to, something to give them hope that things would eventually return to normal. I think she may just have been more eloquent than Ron ever was in pursuing his project. If I had to guess I'd say that it was done as a favour to a war hero. Ginny just gave him back every bit of political capital he spent to make it happen. I think I may be in love.

Eventually the two Weasleys said their goodbyes, citing the same reason as the last time, and flooed back to the Burrow. Hadrian made his way back up to his family's rooms. As he walked up the stairs he noticed several wizards and witches pushing to be the first out of the door and couldn't contain a smirk.

:-:-:-:-:

With a soft pop, Harry Potter appeared out of thin air in a decidedly muggle neighbourhood. He quickly looked around to see if anyone had seen him appear. The coast seemed to be clear. Well, that was the whole point behind coming here after nightfall. Satisfied that he hadn't broken the Statute of Secrecy, Harry started walking. He made his way to a house he had only been to a few times before and rang the doorbell. A few moments later the door was opened by a woman with curling chestnut hair that was starting to go grey.

"Harry! My word, we weren't expecting you tonight. Come in, come in." Harry stepped into the well lit hall and smiled at his host.

"Good evening, Mrs. Granger. Is Hermione here tonight?"

"Harry, how often do I have to ask you to call me 'Helen'?"

"Sorry. Is Hermione here tonight, Helen?"

"That's better, young man. Yes, Hermione is here tonight." Helen started leading Harry through the house. "You should have come by a little earlier, you could have joined us for dinner."

"I didn't want to intrude."

"Nonsense. You look like you could use a few square meals."

"I'm fine."

"Hmph. Hermione was right: that response is annoying." Harry blinked in surprise at that blunt statement. "You shouldn't claim to be fine when it's obviously nonsense, dear. Why don't you join us for dinner tomorrow?" Harry found himself scrambling for a response, something that hadn't happened for a while. He hadn't found one by the time they walked into the family room. "Hermione, you have a visitor." Harry saw Hermione's head come up out of a book, a look of curiosity on her face.

"Harry! What are you doing here?" she exclaimed happily as she shot up and came over to give him a hug.

"I needed to ask you for some help actually."

"It couldn't just be a social visit, could it?" Hermione asked him archly.

"That's tomorrow when he stops by to join us for dinner, dear. He needs to eat properly and it's been a while since we've seen him." Helen broke in with a smile. Harry tried to ignore the snickering coming from Mr. Granger and Hermione at the look of consternation that crossed his face.

"Well, if you're going to be here for dinner tomorrow then I suppose we can work on whatever your problem is today." Hermione said with a smile as she pulled him over to the couch.

"I don't need help working it out. I need help implementing it." Harry said as he allowed Hermione to pull him down on the couch. "And I didn't say I was going to be here for dinner." Hermione shot Harry a pouting look.

"Please? It's been ages since it was just the two of us."

"It'd be the four of us." Harry pointed out dryly.

"Are you saying you don't want to spend time with us, Harry?" Helen asked with an expression that was unnervingly similar to her daughter's.

"No. I didn't say that either. I-... fine." Harry sighed and let his shoulders slump in defeat. "What time should I be here tomorrow?"

"Around six should be fine." Helen said, her previous melancholy making way for a smug satisfaction. Richard Granger's snickers turned into full blown laughter.

"I'm sorry, lad. I'd try to help you, but I actually agree with the women on this: you look like hell." Hermione, on the other hand, was looking at Harry with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"Thank you, Harry. I'm happy you'll be here tomorrow." Harry just shot her a half-hearted glare. "Now, what was it that you need my help with?"

"The Hogwarts wards." Harry noticed that the playfulness had left Hermione's eyes once he'd mentioned the wards.

"They gave you the ward scheme and you need me to inscribe them?" Hermione guessed.

"Actually they taught me, but I think that having someone to help with the inscriptions and who can check my work is a good idea. It's going to be my first time trying this after all."

"They taught you Ancient Runes in a matter of months?" Hermione looked utterly shocked.

"No. It took them months to teach me this ward scheme. Rowena thinks that my understanding of these wards is good enough that I should be able to put them up. I doubt that I would be able to figure out any other wards though. On the other hand it's not like there's another scheme out there that would enchant the ceiling of the largest room in the structure to reflect the outside sky." Hermione looked a little dubious at Harry's declaration.

"No wonder you want me to check your work." she murmured before blushing when Harry's cocked eyebrow told her she'd said that out loud.

"Would you like a cup of tea, Harry?" Helen asked him. "And no, it's not an imposition at all." Harry shut his mouth with a clack when he heard the second sentence. I think I may as well surrender at this point. I just want to know if I have 'Mother Me' tattooed on my forehead or something.

"I would love a cup of tea, Helen." Hermione's mother nodded at him happily and bustled off into the kitchen. While she was gone Harry turned to Hermione.

"By the way, I've a bone to pick with you, Ms. Granger."

"Oh?" Hermione almost managed to look and sound innocent.

"I thought we'd agreed that we weren't going to bring the situation with the Potters up with Shack?"

"I didn't!" Harry gave his best friend a sceptical look. "What? I really didn't. That man showed up in the Minister's office unannounced and dropped off a bag of gold with a lot of posturing about how he 'wouldn't be in any man's debt'. He even said that he'd added in ten extra galleons as interest on the loan. When the Minister tried to point out that it was a stipend that was already recorded as such in the Ministry's financial records and that taking it back like this would be the equivalent of taking a bribe and that he should take it up with Accounting, James just waved it off. When he'd left the Minister was wondering where Potter'd managed to get that money as he hasn't even had his first salary yet."

"Shack actually asked you that?"

"Well, I could see that he was wondering it." Hermione admitted while carefully ignoring the guilty look on her own face. "I told the Minister how they took your account from you and how you were adamant about not using your influence to get James dismissed. He asked me if you had a new account yet and I told him that you did. The stipend and the extra galleons should be in your Gringotts vault already."

"And this constitutes not bringing it up?"

"Not bringing what up?" Helen asked as she walked in with a tray of steaming mugs.

"Something about someone stealing Harry's vault from him." Richard promptly supplied. When Harry and Hermione shot him identical odd looks he shrugged. "It's really rather fascinating to see the way you two calmly discuss manipulating the entire government on an ethical basis rather than whether or not you can."

"Someone's been stealing from you, Harry?" Helen wanted to know with narrowed eyes.

"It's that alternate reality family of his, Mum. They used a legal loophole that only worked because they are so similar to Harry's actual family, magically and biologically speaking." Hermione rattled off. "They got themselves added to his account because it was set up as a family account, then his father's counterpart took control of it by claiming that he has seniority and is the breadwinner."

"And why do you not want to bring this up with the government?" Helen wanted to know.

"Well, to be honest they think that they've gotten away with it and I don't want to see what they'd try if they got a different idea." Harry told her.

"Hah! I knew it! You two have to let me in on it whenever you plan your world-takeover." Richard crowed. "So what did you do?"

"I hid most of the money in another account. I left them enough to convince them that they had taken everything they could from me." Richard was sniggering again as he listened to what Harry had done. Helen was still watching Harry and Hermione with narrowed eyes.

"Well, if you're alright with it I suppose that's all that matters." she finally said. "Why don't you tell us how your rebuilding efforts are going?"

Harry was drawn into a night pleasant conversation and gentle teasing with Hermione's family. For a few hours he forgot the war and the devastation it had wrought on the world. When Helen asked him if he would like to stay the night Harry declined mentioning that with apparition there was no reason to not sleep in his own bed. This time she let him escape with only a reminder that he had agreed to stop by again the next day. I'll just be grateful she didn't hug me this time. It's one thing when Hermione does it, or even when Ginny does it, but I don't need people touching me.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian stepped out of the floo and into a kitchen filled with delicious smells. Morrighan's Cloak, but I've been looking forward to this.

"Hadrian! You're here!" Hadrian grinned at Ron's enthusiastic greeting. "You brought a broom right?"

"Can't play Quidditch without one, can you?" Hadrian retorted, drawing his shrunken Nimbus 2001 from his pocket and enlarging it with a wave of his wand. I still can't believe I had to actually pay for a broom. The manufacturers should be vying for me to be seen on their product.

"Welcome to the Burrow, dear. I'm Molly Weasley." Mrs. Weasley broke into their conversation. I suppose it is a bit rude to just carry on in the middle of their kitchen without saying 'hello'.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Weasley. Thank you for having me. It means a lot."

"Think nothing of it dear. You aren't the first Potter boy looking for a home that Ron's invited over after all." By now Hadrian had enough practice at smothering his irritation at being compared to his counterpart that it was almost second nature. He just smiled winningly at his best mate's mother.

"We're going to be playing some Quidditch, Mum. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not, Ronnie. I'll send Ginny along if she comes down." Hadrian saw Ron grimace, but couldn't tell if it was due to the pet name his mum had used or the promise of Ginny joining them later. "Will you be staying for dinner, dear?"

"I would love to if it's not too much trouble, Mrs. Weasley." She beamed at him and ushered the pair of boys out of the door. They were halfway to the Weasley's Quidditch pitch when Ron broke the silence between the two.

"So a Nimbus 2001? Not bad. I was half expecting you to pull out a Firebolt, you know?" A Firebolt? I wish. I had a hard enough time justifying this expense to Dad as it is. It's a big investment to make when we don't even have a house yet, but Quidditch is a quick way to increase our fame and that is still our main asset. I don't want to think about what it would mean if I don't make the team this year, unlikely as that is. "Either way it'll be good to practice with a Chaser for once; other than Ginny that is."

"Oh yeah? Just wait 'til I'm flying rings around you." Hadrian retorted with a grin, his natural competitiveness coming out. Soon the two boys were in the air laughing as they threw the Quaffle. Sure, they only had one hoop, but for both it was a chance to finally let loose on a broom again. Their shouts soon drew Ginny out of the house to join them and the three teens had a grand time playing their favourite sport. When they had tired themselves out and landed, they sprawled out on the grass and waited for their breathing to settle.

Once they had caught their breath Hadrian gave Ron the public relations class he had promised in their letters. Ginny was a brilliant assistant due to her natural talent and Hadrian was rather pleasantly reminded of the photos the Prophet had published of her. I'll have to make sure that the date of my school shopping not only coincides with hers, but is leaked to the press. Of course they'll probably come running even if we don't leak it so it's not a high priority. The lesson ended when they heard Mrs. Weasley calling them in for dinner.

"Don't worry, Ron. It just takes a bit of practice, but I'm sure you'll get it." Ron seemed to be thinking something over.

"You'll come by and help me again though, right?"

"Of course. What are friends for?" Ron brightened for a moment before his face fell.

"Not showing up for ages at a time because they're 'busy'." he groused. Should I get involved? It can't hurt to let him vent.

"Something to do with Harry I take it?"

"Him and Hermione both. They've been up at Hogwarts for weeks now. Whenever I ask they say that they're putting up the new wards, but Harry doesn't know anything about wards. I thought that they might be… well, you know… behind our backs so I followed Herms up there one day but Harry was just leaving when she arrived, so that can't be it either."

"If they're using warding as an excuse it can't last forever right? Anyway, if you're ever looking for someone to hang around with, you can just send an owl. I certainly don't have anything to do until September." Ron gave Hadrian a tired grin.

"Thanks, mate. I just might do that."

"You boys mind if I join you sometimes? With those two off doing whatever it is they're doing I'm stuck as well." Ginny interjected with a smile that made Hadrian come alive.

"I don't particularly mind. Ron?"

"I suppose." Ron conceded gracelessly as they walked to the house. When he sat down to dinner between Ron and Ginny that night Hadrian couldn't help but feel that today had been a very good day. A very good day indeed.

:-:-:-:-:

"So it looks good to you?" Harry asked as Hermione straightened up from the ward stone she had been inspecting.

"Yes. It's amazing when you think about it that we managed to carve all the runes without making a single mistake."

"You mean that I was able to do my bit without making a mistake." Harry said with a grin. "Thanks for all your work on this, Hermione. I couldn't have done it without you."

"You silly man. Of course I'd help." Hermione answered with a soft smile.

"In that case could you warn Minerva to expect the first wards to come up soon? I don't want to get yelled at because we surprised her." Hermione gave him a sharp look.

"You're sure that you'll stop after the first set and not carry on to the point where you get dangerously drained?"

"Yeah, yeah I promise."

"I'm holding you to that, Potter." Hermione said before turning around and leaving the ward room. Harry took the chance to sit and admire the work they had done. Over the course of four weeks he and Hermione had worked in shifts to get the ward scheme the founders had passed on to them engraved into the ward stone. Harry let his eyes trace the markings that signified the final completion of Hogwarts' rebuilding. I can't believe it's already done. There's still a month or so left of summer, but even the Sorting Hat project is not going to keep me that busy. It's a little disturbing how experimentally Godric's treating the whole thing; we could be destroying four consciousnesses if something goes wrong. If it works though, I'll definitely need to find a new project to keep me busy. Maybe Hermione could use some help getting everyone to cooperate in the Ministry? Or maybe she'd tell me I'll just get in the way. I should probably spend some more time with Ginny and Teddy now that I have it. Ginny has been pretty patient with me so I guess I should do something nice for her. Looking up Harry estimated that Hermione should have been able to make it up to the Headmistress's office in the time he'd been staring at the spherical piece of granite in front of him. No point in keeping them waiting. Harry stood up and walked over to the wardstone. Let's see now. If I remember correctly Rowena said that I had to place my hands on the stone and channel my magic into it and through it to the ley-lines below. Draw the ley-lines' power up and link it to the wards and we should once again have the strongest wards in Britain.

Carefully Harry placed his hands on the wardstone. He took a deep breath and located his magic core gently he pushed out tendrils of magic through his hands. Wow. I can feel the magic falling into patterns. For a moment Harry allowed himself to get lost in what he was feeling as his magic probed the structures they had laid out with the runes, then he regathered his focus and let his magic find a way down along the paths that must be the structure of the wards. He knew he had reached the end when he felt his magic lurch for a second before finding the familiar well of magic that he had been working with to rebuild the castle. Gently Harry started pulling. He coaxed the magic up from the nexus of the ley-lines slowly as he had learnt during the building process that speed was not helpful when dealing with the Earth's own magic field. He felt the magic come into contact with the patterns that were inundated with his own magic. The resistance forced Harry to slow down even more or risk ripping apart the structure of the wards. Later he would never be able to tell anyone how long he stood with his hands on the stone, gently guiding the magic into the wards. The one thing that he was sure of was what happened when he finally anchored the magic after weaving it through every pattern his magic had sunk into.

Harry straightened up with a gasp as he pulled his hands from the wardstone. The stone was emitting a gentle pulsating glow which Harry took to mean that he had been successful. The only thing he couldn't figure out was why his vision seemed to be greying out. I think I may be getting yelled at anyway was his last thought before grey turned to black and Harry fell to the ground unconscious.

:-:-:-:-:

Ouch. My head. What happened? Harry came to in a room that was uncomfortably familiar: the Hogwarts Hospital Wing. Bugger. I thought I was done with this place. Harry gingerly looked around and almost wished he hadn't when he came face to face with a furious Hermione Granger.

"What the hell were you thinking?" she hissed at him as soon as she saw that she had his attention. Crap. If she's swearing, she must be really upset. "What was the last thing you said to me as I left that room?" Harry wracked his mind for the exact words of that conversation.

"I think I promised that I would only put up a single wardset."

"Yes, you did. Would you care to explain why you decided to put up the entire scheme in one go then?"

"I did what?!" That's impossible. Rowena told me that activating the whole scheme would kill me, but I'm still here.

"Harry, I want you to listen very carefully and tell me the whole truth: do you actually know how to gradually set up a ward scheme?"

"I thought I did. I did it just like Rowena told me to. I sank my magic into the wards' patterns and pulled the ley-lines' magic up to power them. She also told me that I would die if I did the whole scheme in one go. Since I'm not dead I think that we can rule out that particular part of your-"

"You almost did die, you thick-headed troglodyte!" Hermione screamed through his explanation. "If we had been any slower getting you up here you would have died. As it is Madame Pomfrey, Professor McGonagall and I had to recharge your core with our own magic to prevent a fatal collapse." Harry could feel his jaw hanging open at Hermione's tirade. He could see the tears leaking from her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I didn't realise..." He held out an arm in an offer of a hug which Hermione ignored with a withering glare.

"That is becoming abundantly clear. If you ever do something this stupid again I'll… I'll… well I don't know what I'll do yet, but I will make sure you regret it."

"I hope you won't be putting him back in here, Ms. Granger. I see quite enough of Mr. Potter without your help." Madam Pomfrey came up behind Hermione. Harry took it as a bad omen that his Healer was looking just as put out with him as Hermione was. "For now though I think we should let him rest. There will be enough time to let Mr. Potter know what we think of his actions when he is fully healed."

"Hmph. And you can be sure that there will be quite a list of people wanting words with you about that, Harry. Aside from Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall, Mum, Andromeda Tonks and Mrs. Weasley already know. Ginny insisted that we celebrate your birthday here with you since you missed it due to your idiocy, but you can be sure that she'll be taking this up with you as well. I'm not through with you yet either." Hermione whirled around and stormed off in a fury after a curt nod to Madam Pomfrey. The Healer cast a gimlet eye over Harry that made him feel about three inches tall.

"Rest." was all she said before marching off to her office. This day is already horrible. Maybe I should just try to be happy that I managed to sleep for a full night or three.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Potter." Harry fought not to wince at the still disapproving tone in Minerva's voice. Over the past week he had been chewed out by Hermione, Madam Pomfrey, Minerva, Hermione, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Hermione, Shack, Andi and Hermione. Pomfrey was still furious that Harry had managed to sneak out of the Hospital Wing after waking up. I couldn't stay there and inflict my nightly habits on her. The only one he had been able to avoid so far had been Helen Granger, but he wasn't sure that giving Hermione's mother time to choose her words was necessarily the best choice he could make. Steeling himself for another lecture he made his way over to the floo where Minerva's face was sitting in the flames looking as stern as ever.

"Yes, Professor?"

"Since you have warded yourself against owl post I am delivering you your Hogwarts letter in this manner." A hand holding an envelope appeared in the flames next to Minerva's head. Harry reached out and snatched it from the flames before he could burn it or himself.

"Thank you, Professor."

"Yes, well, see to it that you show responsibility appropriate to your station this year." his old teacher grumbled before she disappeared and the fire died out. How many times can I say that I'm sorry but it was an accident? Harry looked at the envelope in his hand as if it might tell him the answer. Probably not. With a sigh Harry cracked the seal and pulled the letter out of the envelope. What he hadn't been counting on was the two small, silver badges that fell out as he pulled the letter clear. Bending down in surprise Harry picked up the two badges and noticed that one had a 'C' on it and the other 'HB'. Head Boy? She made me Head Boy? At least it explains what she meant about 'responsibility appropriate to my station'. Harry shook his head as he looked at the badges one more time before putting them on the kitchen table and reading his letter. There were two pieces of parchment in the envelope for him to read. One was a booklist like he might have expected. The other was more specifically addressed to him.

Dear Mr. Potter,
I will assume that by now you have realised that you have been assigned the Head Boy position. Since you were not a prefect I would ask that you obtain Hogwarts Rules and Guidelines by Armando Dippet to educate yourself on the responsibilities you will bear this year.
It is my duty to inform you that the International Wizarding Examination and Certification Authority has conferred on you a Mastery in Defence Against the Dark Arts following your defeat of He Who Must Not Be Named. As such you are exempted from taking that class. I assure you that our prospective Defence Professor was relieved to hear that he would not have to teach you, so you may consider yourself removed from that class.
I have received a request from Minister Shacklebolt that Hogwarts be lenient in its requirements as far as your presence on campus is concerned so that you may help the ministry in its rebuilding efforts as you have been doing. He has made the same request with regards to Ms. Granger. I have decided to honour his request and I can only hope that you will not abuse the trust this implies.
Kind regards,
Minerva McGonagall
Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Harry sat at his kitchen table and stared at the letter he had just read. I should probably be more annoyed at Shack trying the same shit that Fudge and Scrimgeour tried except that I actually sort of agree with this Minister. I don't have to keep quiet about what I think of him not asking me directly, though. Honestly, it's not like the man doesn't have my floo address, same as Minerva. Harry stopped and blinked at that last thought. I'm not sure if that's an indication that I've been spending too much time with Hermione or that her ignoring me is starting to get to me. Harry shook of his stray musings and decided to floo the Burrow and ask when his friends were planning on heading to Diagon to do their shopping. Steeling himself for yet another possible lecture Harry threw the floo powder into the grate and stuck his head in the resulting green flames.

"The Burrow." When the nauseating sensation stopped Harry opened his eyes and found himself looking at the Burrow's kitchen. As he might have expected Mrs. Weasley was working at the stove. "Excuse me? Molly?" Harry saw her start at his voice.

"Oh, Harry, dear. How are you?"

"I'm fine, Molly. Have Ron and Ginny gotten their letters?"

"Yes, they arrived yesterday. We'll be heading out to buy their things next week on Thursday. With how popular you children have become it's probably for the best to just get it out of the way. That should keep others from waiting and will reassure everyone that you are going back to school." Mrs. Weasley's explanation sounded a bit less than enthusiastic. It also sounds like she heard it somewhere else. Probably Hermione or Mr. Weasley.

"That's actually exactly what I wanted to know. I was hoping we could all go together and get our things."

"I'm sure Ron and Ginny would love that, dear. Why don't you come on through and spend some time with them? They're flying out back with your cousin." Harry had been about to agree until he heard that last sentence.

"Hadrian's there?"

"Why yes, dear. He's been coming over quite a bit recently. Of course with how much he's like you, I'm not surprised my children have become friends with him so easily." Molly gushed fondly.

"Actually if you could just let them know that I called and that I look forward to seeing them at Diagon Alley if we don't get together sooner. My… cousin and I don't really get along and I would prefer not to bring that into your home." Harry had just enough time to see Molly's shocked look before he wrenched his head out of the flames and he was once again in his own kitchen. So Hadrian's been making friends with the Weasleys. I can't really say that that wasn't a possibility after they actually came to the Leaky Cauldron to meet up with him. I was hoping that their impression of him would match Hermione's and mine, but apparently not. Harry gave a sigh as he thought about Mrs. Weasley apparently considering that kid to be like him. We look alike since we have the same genes but I certainly don't think we have similar personalities. Or maybe we do and I haven't noticed because we've been so antagonistic towards each other? I guess I'll just have to ask Ron and Ginny what they think of him when I see them again, assuming the kid himself isn't there. Harry briefly considered popping over to the Ministry to ask Hermione when she was heading out, but decided that he would probably see her in Diagon with the Weasleys even if he didn't go collect another scolding.

It's annoying to have nothing to do and all my friends upset with me; or hanging around with an alternate version of me. If Harry was honest with himself it was more than just annoying. Without anything to do and feeling a sense of isolation, Harry's mind had more time to dwell on what he had seen in the war.

He had taken the master bedroom when he moved into Grimmauld Place since it was the most heavily warded room in the house and that usually allowed him a more restful sleep. Unfortunately he didn't always make it up there when he was pissed. It's turned into an ancients cursed roulette game to see where I'll wake up in the morning. The locations might vary but the headache never did. Harry was having more and more trouble sleeping as his mind conjured up images of tormented, screaming, terrified people who had already suffered needlessly and whom he couldn't stop killing. I need to find something better to stop the screaming. Wait! I still have to sort out the Sorting Hat!

It's a goal to be completed at least. Happy that he had found something to occupy his time, Harry considered what he would need and decided to go check on the people he had spoken to at Hogwarts. He checked that he had everything that he would need for a trip to Scotland and apparated out. Harry landed precisely at the edge of the Hogwarts wards. He had found that even if most of the people he knew and liked were angry with him for setting them up the way he did, he at least had an uncanny awareness of exactly where they were and what they did. Harry quickly walked up to the castle and started looking around for his targets.

"Harry Potter! You have returned." Harry whirled around and spotted Nearly-Headless Nick.

"Sir Nicholas, it is good to see you." Harry replied with a smile.

"I suppose you have come to hear our answer."

"More to hear if you have an answer. Should we find the others?"

"I believe that that would be best. If you would wait for us in the Great Hall, I will summon them."

"Very well. I'll see you there, Sir Nicholas." When the Gryffindor ghost bowed and floated off through a wall Harry turned and made his way down to the Great Hall. This is either going to go better than I had hoped or I'm going to have to go on a new search for consciousnesses that would meet Godric's criteria. When Harry got there the Great Hall was mercifully empty. Harry sat down at the Gryffindor table mostly out of habit and waited for Nick to return with the other house ghosts. They eventually made their entrance by gliding down majestically from the enchanted ceiling. Harry managed to stifle the urge for a sardonic clap.

"Thank you all for agreeing to meet me here today." Harry began. "I have to ask you if you have made a decision yet as to whether you will agree to allow your consciousnesses to form the basis for the new Sorting Hat. Don't worry if you haven't, I understand that this is a major decision."

"I believe we do have an answer for you, young founder." Helena Ravenclaw said softly.

"I'm not-"

"Oh, but you are. You have resurrected our dear Hogwarts in a way that I would never have thought possible. With your help Minerva will set the basis for a new era of thought." the Fat Friar interrupted. That makes me a glorified repairman, not a founder. I haven't started a single thing here. I'm only restoring what we lost in the war. Somehow I don't think that pointing all that out is going to help me here.

"Oh, call me whatever you like." Harry said, not quite keeping the huff out of his voice. "I'm pretty curious what you have decided, to be honest."

"We have decided that we will help you, young founder." the Bloody Baron spoke up. Harry had to blink in surprise at how gentle he sounded. The smile that appeared on the old ghost's face did nothing to help with that surprise. "Our existence has become empty, young founder. We no longer taste or smell or touch. We have nothing to validate our existence on this plane except for our duty to the students of this school; a duty that most of them do not understand or particularly care for. What you offer is a chance to have purpose once more and we will gladly take it." That has to be more than I've ever heard him speak. I hadn't thought that they would see it like that. I was sure that people who would choose to linger on this plane because they were afraid of what might lie beyond the Veil would baulk at the idea that they might disappear forever.

"Thank you." Harry's voice sounded a little raspy, even to his own ears. "I think that you may understand what this will mean for the future better than I do, but thank you."

"When would you like to do this, young founder?" Nick asked.

"How about a week from today? That will give you a chance to set any affairs you may have in order. I don't know how the selection of a House ghost works, but perhaps you could nominate your replacements to whomever is supposed to decide? Would you like to have your friends here when I perform the spell?"

"You are a thoughtful one. I am glad that I spoke to you during the recent conflict." Helena said. "A week from now it will be. You should call on the staff and your friends to witness your feat as well." Harry stood and bowed to the four ghosts who returned the gesture. The ghosts drifted away talking amongst themselves and Harry made his way back out of the castle. I think I may have overestimated how much time I could spend on this project. Since I have some time and Ron and Ginny are busy, I think maybe I should visit Teddy and Andi. I hope she's not still put out with me. I've been having some good luck with that today at least. I can review the spellwork involved in creating a new Hat when I get home tonight. It wouldn't hurt to talk to Godric either. I can't afford to screw up again or my ears may never be the same. Plan made, Harry walked out of the Hogwarts gates and disapparated, hoping to find some peace upon arrival.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian was pacing through his room. And thank Merlin that it really is my room. Mum and Dad had finally found a house they liked for a good price and the family had moved to Hogsmeade. All their purchases had been a drain on their account though and Dad had only just received his first salary. Hadrian knew that Dad was frustrated with their financial situation despite having a little less than half of the balance left from when he took over the Potter vault. This week the Prophet had published a piece that announced the Ministry would be paying the tuition for those who had been forced to miss the last year due to the war. It rubbed the Potters the wrong way that Hadrian and Iris weren't eligible for that program while Harry was. Hadrian shot a glare at the acceptance letter on his desk. We're being treated like sodding firsties. Well, not quite like firsties. I don't remember having to take an aptitude test to determine what year I was going to be in when I started Hogwarts. The tests had been easy, as Hadrian had expected. I've already done enough of my seventh year that I'd be able to give Beaverface a run for her money if I wanted to. Who would want to though? I need to be spending my time building a network. It's too bad that I can't be Head Boy or even a prefect as an incoming student. Sharing out those perks was an easy way to build up gratitude. I think I may be getting used to being disadvantaged like this though. We have been since we arrived here.

It really doesn't help that Harry's getting help to pay his tuition. That was a major chance to get some concessions from him that was completely scuppered. Add to that we have no idea where he lives or what he does most of the time and our analysis of him is severely hindered. I hate to say it but we overlooked something important when making that plan. If Harry managed to keep the vault balance roughly level for as long as he has then he doesn't use a lot of money. That means that he is unlikely to come crawling to us for financial help.

Hadrian flopped on his bed with a sigh. It's not all doom and gloom. I think I can safely say that Ron and Ginny are my friends. It would have been good to have them as friends even if they weren't also excellent assets when it comes to public relations. I wonder how it will play out when we go to get our things for school. I'm sure Harry and Beaverface will be there. Will they behave or will they force Ron and Ginny to choose? I certainly hope not. I'm not so confident in our friendships yet that I'd want to put them up against seven years of friendship with my counterpart. Hadrian rolled over and moodily scowled at the wall. The fact that Ron and Ginny were still Harry's friends first and Hadrian's second had been made painfully clear to him when he had celebrated his birthday with just his family. Harry had been in hospital at the time for some reason Hadrian hadn't managed to pin down exactly. Almost died putting up new wards for Hogwarts, my ass. I don't really care enough to find out the real reason though. Hadrian couldn't blame the Weasleys for choosing to celebrate Harry's birthday at his sickbed. It was the wise thing to do from a PR perspective, especially for Ginny. The dutiful girlfriend and all that. Damned if it doesn't still hurt to see her with that dour, dopey version of me though. At least they agreed to meet up with me at the Cauldron rather than making some vague agreement to meet while shopping. I've made enough of those to know how that would end.

When Thursday finally rolled around Hadrian made sure that he was dressed to impress. With not only Ron and Ginny, but Beaverface and especially Harry there as well there is sure to be a massive amount of photo ops. I need to make sure that I show the world that I'm more worthy of their attention than Harry is. Hadrian checked his appearance in the mirror one last time before he headed downstairs.

"Mum, I'm off to Diagon for my school shopping." he announced as he walked into the kitchen.

"That's fine, popkin. Will you be taking your sister with you?" Hadrian resisted the urge to get dramatic about that frankly idiotic proposal.

"Mum, we're trying to make a good impression on the media, remember? Besides, Iris is going to be a fifth year again; she can handle going shopping."

"He's right, Mum. I'll be fine by myself." Wow. The twerp and I actually agree on something, even if it is not being forced to be seen together.

"If you're sure, Iris?"

"I am."

"Alright then. Have a nice day, you two and remember to be home by six for dinner."

"Alright, Mum. See you tonight." Hadrian said as he threw a handful of powder into the fireplace. "The Leaky Cauldron." he said in a firm voice as he stepped into the green flames. Hadrian landed in the taproom of the Leaky Cauldron gracefully and looked around to see if his friends had arrived yet. It was hard to miss the happy redhead waving at him. Ah, I see we have company. Ron was sitting at a table with Ginny, Harry and Granger. I know that they're dating but I don't like how close they're sitting together. Harry was wearing a politely neutral mask and Beaverface was as incapable of human expressions as always. At least Ron and Ginny look happy to see me. I'm going to say that that's what counts.

"Hello, all. Good to see you again.

"Hadrian! Glad you could join us." Ron called out. Ginny gave him a smile and leant into Harry. Harry and Granger just gave him barely polite nods. "You ready to head out?"

"Almost. I need to stop by Gringotts to get some money."

"You and everyone else." Ron retorted. "Mum's finally trusted us to get some money from the vault on our own. Doubt it will stop her from checking how much we actually took though."

"Well, let's get going then." Before the dour duo drags us all down to the point where any coverage is going to focus on the problems facing this world. As they walked into Diagon Hadrian was confronted with the reverence people had for his counterpart. They're barely a step away from kowtowing before him. This is beyond anything I've ever seen at home. Maybe Harry is better at playing the media than I thought. I'll have to talk with Dad about whether limiting the supply as far as media exposure is concerned might be a workable strategy. He also noticed the fact that a positively glowing Ginny was clinging to Harry's arm and pointing out cute little nothings to him. I can't blame her. She does look absolutely wonderful though. I think I've gained a whole new appreciation for why we were Witch Weekly's Top Ranked Power Couple. Merlin, but I'd like to have that back, if only to poke the Malfoys in the eye.

Hadrian counted no less than four photographers in the crowd as they made their way to the bank. I wonder how long they were sitting in the Cauldron? It would give me an idea of exactly how desperate the press is for Harry. Inside the bank Ron, Ginny, Harry and Hadrian decided to share a cart to visit their two vaults. Beaverface stayed upstairs to exchange her muggle money for normal money. As if she wasn't weird enough. The cart's first stop was the Weasley vault, which was surprisingly fuller than Hadrian had expected. I mean, it's not the Potter fortune, but they're not poor. Maybe it's one of those differences between our worlds? Hadrian wasn't going to ask after his friends' financial situation though; that would be crass. Their visit to the Potter vault had an unexpected side effect. When the doors opened to reveal a, to Hadrian's eyes, disappointing pile of money he saw Ron and Ginny's eyes widen. More importantly, Hadrian was very aware of the fact that they noticed how much more he was able to put in his money bag than Harry was. I'll have to return the rest of the money to Dad, but the lasting effect should be worth it; he'll see that.

Back in the lobby they rejoined Granger and set out to buy their things. Robes and potions ingredients were first since they could be gotten out of the way quickly. Thank you, Mum for making sure I knew Potions during the O.W.L.s. I can't wait to see what that class is like without His Greasiness teaching it. Hearing about Snape's death had been one of the better bits of news the Potter men had heard since arriving in this world. In Madam Malkins' Hadrian felt he scored another point against Harry. He had noticed that Ginny was eyeing a particular silk scarf. Harry had been totally oblivious to her hints or had simply not wanted to buy her the scarf. Probably doesn't help that that pennypincher is as good as broke. Hadrian had bided his time until Harry and Ginny were already leaving the store before adding the scarf to his purchases. If everything here is still the same as back home then her birthday is going to be next week. Hadrian was happily imagining how he would give Ginny the scarf on her birthday and watch Harry wallow in his jealousy. Wait, there are a lot of ways that could backfire. It's one of those situations where Ron and Ginny could be forced to publicly choose between me and Harry. Perhaps I'd better find a moment to talk to Ginny while we're out today. Having kept himself from making a potentially disastrous blunder put Hadrian in a good enough mood that he wasn't even going to complain when they walked into Flourish and Blotts.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry resisted the urge to bang his head against a wall. So far this shopping expedition was exactly as torturous as he'd feared it would be and it was wearing at him. Hermione was still miffed with him for how close he had come to dying. There were reporters everywhere taking pictures of him like he was a tourist attraction. Every sudden movement and sound made him feel like he was about to be attacked and he was desperately suppressing the urge to defend himself whenever that happened. He even had to listen to his counterpart talk about the time he and Ron's counterpart had escaped a swarm of Bugbears after sneaking into the forest. Mum, Dad, I'm sorry, but I really hope you'd have a done a better job of raising me than this. Harry found himself moving away from Ron, Ginny and Hadrian just so he wouldn't explode with frustration. Hermione had abandoned their group the moment they set foot in the bookstore, to no one's surprise.

As he moved through the aisles, Harry pondered how he was supposed to spend any time with his girlfriend when the rest of the world was so insistent about sticking their noses in. I love the Burrow, but her childhood home is hardly an inspiring date location. I wish I could get her out into the muggle world. There is so much to see and do there and we wouldn't be bothered by endless waves of paparazzi. Harry barely managed to suppress a sigh. Ginny was incredibly opposed to going into the muggle world which had so far meant that their dates were rather awkward exercises in trying to avoid the press. I know that's not what she wants either, but I can't figure out how to get around the fact of the public's obsession with us. Harry was looking through a book on Charms when he noticed Hermione walking into the aisle he was in. He put the book away and wanted to walk over to her, but Hermione gave him a disapproving look and sniffed before turning to walk away again. This time Harry did sigh as it was that or start throwing things in frustration. Damn it, Hermione! Hasn't this gone on long enough yet? Angrily he whirled around and stalked off, only to come into a hard contact with a large stack of books being carried by a small person.

"Oomph!" was accompanied by the sound of books hitting the ground around them. Harry took a look at the person he had run over. Great. Iris Potter of all people. I can't just leave her like this though. Harry reached down a hand to help Iris up and was met with a suspicious look.

"My apologies, Ms. Potter. I was a little preoccupied and didn't see you there." Iris hesitantly reached up and took his hand. Harry hauled her up to her feet and quickly checked her over for any serious injuries. Iris stooped down to start picking up her books so Harry drew his wand and waved it to collect all her books and make them hover in front of her. Iris' head shot up when she felt the books she had already collected slip out of her arms, but her look of anger turned to one of confusion when she saw the stack of books in mid-air between her and Harry. "You are an avid reader I see." Harry wasn't sure why he was trying to make conversation with one of the Potters, but the memory of her face being the only one that didn't look smug and self-satisfied when they took his vault kept pushing its way to the forefront of his mind.

"I guess."

"I don't blame you. My best friend is very partial to her books."

"Her? I thought Ron Weasley was your best friend?" Iris sounded honestly confused.

"I was thinking of Hermione actually."

"Granger?! Your best friend is Hermione Granger?"

"Yeah." Iris looked like her world had been turned upside down. "I take it that your brother and the Hermione from your world didn't get along?"

"No, they don't. She's the only person he picks on more than-" Iris mouth shut with a clack before she could finish her sentence. Harry didn't need her to. He could recognise the shock and touch of fear from his time with the Dursleys.

"More than you." he finished for her quietly. Iris just hung her head in shame. "So do you have any favourite subjects?" When Iris shot him a disbelieving look Harry tried to convey with his eyes that he understood what she was feeling. I never wanted any pity and if her parents have been allowing it to go on for her entire life then she's not going to believe that anyone can stop him and she doesn't trust me anyway. The best I can do for now is offer my friendship.

"I-I like Charms and… and History." 'History' was said as if it was a confession she fully expected to be reprimanded for.

"Really? Well, I've always been partial to Charms and Defence myself. I think that History of Magic might have been better if we didn't have Binns teaching it, but as it is I never really got into it. Who was your teacher?"

"Um, we had Professor Binns too. I just got into it because I like to read and I think that historical accounts are fascinating. Trying to imagine what it was like for people back then can teach us so much about ourselves. Take the 1286 Goblin War for instance. While wizard involvement was relatively light, the feud between the goblin clans shows some interesting parallels with the war we have now... the one that you just had, I mean. I think we can learn from our past to avoid making mistakes in the future." Iris' eyes had lit up the moment she started talking about the past. Once she stopped talking her eyes widened and her cheeks turned pink. "I-I'm sorry. I know nobody else cares, but-"

"Actually I was thinking I should talk to Professor McGonagall about hiring you." Harry interrupted her stammering apologies. "You were more interesting and informative in a few sentences than Binns was in five years." The pink on Iris' cheeks turned to a full-blown red. Harry was struck by a sudden idea. "You know if you are interested in history, you should stop by Hogwarts this weekend. We're going to be trying something that will probably be something of a historical moment if it works." Hermione may not be willing to talk to me long enough for me to invite her, but this could be a good chance to get to know Iris a bit better. I can always ask Minerva to pass on an invitation to Hermione.

"What's that?" Harry almost smiled as he could no longer hear that trace of fear and reticence in Iris' voice.

"We're going to try and make a new Sorting Hat." Iris' gaped and for a moment Harry was worried that she would drop her books again.

"A new Sorting Hat? How? Why? What's wrong with the old one?"

"Well, the old one got destroyed by Voldemort in the final battle of the war. That means that if we want to continue sorting children as we have, we need a new hat. I've found a method that may work, but I think that you'd prefer to see it in action rather than have me explain it in the dusty aisle of a bookstore. How about we meet at the Three Broomsticks, this Saturday at two?"

"You mean it? Oh, this is going to be fascinating."

"You're a lot more like Hermione than I thought. If you have everything you need here, why don't you join us?" The discomfort made a reappearance on Iris' face.

"I don't think that my brother would like that too much."

"In case you haven't noticed: I am singularly unconcerned with your brother's opinion. If he makes an issue of it, we'll just point out that I invited you along and that if he doesn't like it he's free to piss off." He couldn't stop the slight grin that formed at her dumbfounded look. "Come on. Let's go find the others. Hermione might be annoyed with me at the moment, but she'd love to talk with a fellow book enthusiast." Harry and Iris made their way to the till and paid for their books. Harry took a moment to shrink both piles down to a more manageable size. When they rejoined the rest of the group Harry could see the kid getting ready to make a sneering comment and decided to preempt him. "Hey, Iris, do you know everyone here? Everyone, this is Iris Potter. I thought she might like to join us for the rest of the day." He could see Hadrian's jaw working and the anger sparking in his eyes. It's wrong of me, but damned if I'm not enjoying poking him in the eye. Everyone else greeted Iris politely enough even if they were confused about why she was joining. Not too surprising, I suppose, given my attitude towards Hadrian.

"Alright, if we have everything then perhaps we should get back to the Burrow. You lot are still coming over for dinner right?" Ron said, recovering from his surprise without any trouble. Harry almost declined when he heard Hadrian eagerly accept. Suck it up, Potter. You're going to have to put up with the kid at Hogwarts so you might as well get some practice in. "You can come too, Iris. I'm sure Mum wouldn't mind one more; she never has." Iris nodded shyly and followed them as they trooped down Diagon. Harry was once again walking with Ginny hanging on his arm. She smiled up at him and pressed a kiss to his cheek.

"I enjoyed this, Harry. We should do it more often." Harry didn't respond other than to smile at her. I don't know how often I could stand to play zoo-animal, Gin. I feel completely wrung out already. The whole group walked into the Leaky Cauldron and used the floo to get to the Burrow. Soon after landing in the kitchen, Ron proved that he knew his mother well.

"Mum, is it okay if we have one more for dinner?"

"One more, dear? Who?"

"Mum, meet Iris Potter, Hadrian's sister and Harry's other cousin." Harry could see that Iris was a little taken aback at the idea that they were cousins, but she rallied quickly to find her manners.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Weasley. I hope I'm not too much of a bother." Harry could also see that Mrs. Weasley was wonderfully pleased to have another girl in the house. Probably while thinking 'such a polite one', at that.

"Oh nonsense, dear. You're not a bother at all. You just sit down with the rest and I'll have dinner sorted in a few minutes."

"Um, would you mind terribly if I flooed my mother to let her know where I am? I could reimburse you for the powder."

"If you're going to be such a good example for my own children the powder is most certainly free." Mrs. Weasley chuckled as she led Iris to the fireplace. When everyone moved to sit Harry noticed that they had more or less paired off. Harry was sitting next to Ginny who was happily gushing about a set of robes she had seen at Madam Malkins and the various accessories needed to make it 'the outfit of the season'. On his other side sat Iris who was deep in discussion with Hermione about a Goblin War. I have yet to hear her refer to them as a 'rebellion'. I wonder if that's intentional? On the other side of the table Ron and Hadrian were snickering about something and trying to draw George into it every so often. Once Mrs. Weasley had served dinner she sat down between George and Mr. Weasley, who was sitting at the head of the table. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were discussing Mr. Weasley's work in rebuilding the Ministry with Shack and they too were trying to draw George into their conversation, despite his best efforts to ignore everyone around him. I think I can empathise. I've just about had all I can stand of people for today too, never mind when well-meaning busybodies try to draw you into conversations that you just don't care about. Speaking of... Harry wrenched his thoughts back to the present and the conversation he was supposed to be having with Ginny. By the end of dinner he was ready to scream. I need to get out of here before I lose it.

Harry knew he was tired, the wrong kind of tired; he could feel the wall he usually kept around his worst memories cracking. In the back of his mind he heard the screams starting. Some days I wonder if Tom didn't fucking win anyway. As soon as he could without being rude, well, without being unforgivably rude, Harry started saying his goodbyes. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny tried to convince him to stay longer, telling him that he was welcome to take the bed in Percy's room. And subject you to my sleeping habits? Not going to happen. Ron looked a little confused as to why Harry was leaving already, but didn't try to stop him. George looked like he had a far better idea of what was going on while Hadrian just looked delighted that Harry would be leaving for any reason at all. The most dangerous goodbyes, in Harry's opinion, were Iris and Hermione. Both raked him with a look that told him they knew that something was going on, but that they couldn't quite tell what. Iris doesn't know me well enough to begin with, and I've been making sure that Hermione doesn't find out. I don't want to know what she'd come up with if she did know; especially considering what happened with the wards.

Grabbing his shopping, Harry managed to get to the door and call out a last goodbye without anyone pulling him back for another. He disapparated as soon as he was a step outside the door, waiting only that long for politeness' sake and because it would have looked even more like running otherwise. He landed in the kitchen at Grimmauld and unceremoniously dropped everything he was holding. Harry could feel his facade of being just fine slipping away from him and stumbled over to his liquor cabinet as the screaming in his memories grew louder. He sank to the ground clutching a bottle and set about drowning the voices.

:-:-:-:-:

I can't believe he decided to just bugger off out of nowhere. Hadrian couldn't believe his luck. I was sure I was going to have to uncomfortably manufacture a reason to be alone with Ginny for a moment. It helped that Ginny had run off upstairs at Harry's rather abrupt exit. The rest of the family was discussing what might have caused Harry's unusual behaviour but Hadrian didn't care. He had carefully tucked the scarf he had bought for Ginny under his robes and was now just waiting for a moment when he could claim to need to use the toilet without arousing suspicion about why he was gone so long. Thank Merlin for in-store gift-wrapping. I wouldn't be able to do that as well in the time frame I've got. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of his sister and Granger discussing something that seemed to be surprising the older girl. I don't know what they're on about and I don't care. I'm pretty sure Harry just included her to annoy me. It's not going to work. All she's done all night is keep Beaverface busy and out of my hair so I'm even willing to admit that the twerp has her uses. Nerds of a feather flock together. As the conversation around him started turning to Quidditch, Hadrian took his chance.

"Just going to talk to a man about a krup." he muttered to Ron, who nodded absently before launching into a rather overstated analysis of the Cannons' chances this year. Hadrian slipped out of the door and, instead of heading down the hall to the toilet, crept up the stairs. When he got to Ginny's room he took the package out of his robes and knocked carefully. For a moment nothing happened and then the door opened to reveal a Ginny who had obviously been crying. Damn, she still looks spectacular.

"Hadrian? What is it? I'm not really in the mood for company right now."

"I understand that. I just wanted to give you this." He handed her the package containing the scarf. "It was supposed to be a birthday present but I think you could use some cheering up now. Besides, I'd bought it before I'd thought through what it might mean to give this to you in public." There was a definite light of curiosity in Ginny's eyes now. She tore open the wrapping paper gently and gasped when the silk spilt out over her hands. She looked up at Hadrian and he was ecstatic to see wonder in her eyes.

"How did you...?"

"You were looking at it in Madam Malkin's. I thought it was pretty obvious."

"But can you afford this, Hadrian?" Hadrian smirked a little.

"I do have access to the Potter family fortune, you know? Dad knows that, unlike some members of my family, I can be trusted to act in a mature and responsible way. I mean tonight was-" he stopped himself before he outright insulted Ginny's boyfriend. "Let's just say that despite being my counterpart, I just can't understand what goes through his head." Ginny shot him a sharp look.

"I thought that I noticed you take out a lot more gold than Harry when we visited your vault." Hadrian allowed his smirk to grow just a little. "So do you have a higher limit or total access?"

"Total access. I'm pretty sure that I'll be inheriting the fortune eventually as well." Hadrian was unable to resist adding that last bit.

"Confident that the magic will choose you, are you?" Good there's some fire back in her.

"That depends on whether it will still be a family vault when the time comes. Dad might decide to change it from a family vault to a private vault." In fact I might just suggest that he do exactly that. "That would mean that only the people he wants to allow would have any access at all." Definitely suggesting that Dad do that while we're at Hogwarts. Harry won't be able to do anything about it without leaving the school which he can't do. Hadrian could see that the news had a significant impact on Ginny. I don't like seeing her eyes troubled like that, but she deserves to know that when they finish Hogwarts, Harry could be a penniless loser. "I'll leave you to whatever you were doing, Gin. I just hope that you feel a little better at least." Ginny blinked herself out of her thoughts and gave him the kind of smile Hadrian thought he would go to war for.

"I do, Hadrian. Thank you." She stepped forward and raised herself up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. Still smiling she stepped back and closed the door. Hadrian felt like someone had inflated a balloon in his chest. He made his way downstairs and plopped himself on the couch next to Ron where he had been sitting. He noticed that the conversation was still on Quidditch, but for once he felt no need to contribute. I can't say today went exactly as I'd planned, but it certainly ended on a high note. With a grin Hadrian settled back and watched the interactions around him.

Chapter Text

Harry made his way into the Three Broomsticks at exactly two in the afternoon. I hope Iris is here already. I really don't want to sit here and watch a bunch of gawkers swarm this place trying to fill their empty lives. Harry was wearing a pointed wizard's hat with a wide brim which should buy him a little time, but he wasn't fooled into thinking that it would hold up long as a disguise. It turned out that he was in luck as he saw a head of black hair sitting at the bar the moment he walked in.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Potter." Iris' face scrunched up in distaste.

"Is it really so hard for you to call me 'Iris'?"

"I suppose not. Will you call me 'Harry' then?"

"Alright, Harry." He gave her a nod.

"Let's go then. History in the making and all that." The two Potters walked out of the pub with whispers following them out. As they walked up to the castle, Harry tried to get to know the girl walking next to him. "You looked like you were getting along well with Hermione at the Weasleys'." he offered.

"I was. She was one of the few people I could talk to back home. Everyone else sort of took their cues from Hadrian and he thinks-... well, he doesn't like me much." Harry could hear that she wasn't entirely used to her brother's new name yet.

"Any particular reason? Or is it just because he needs to feel like a big boy?" Iris snorted at Harry's comment.

"I'm not sure. He's never really given a reason that I could understand. He's made it clear that he didn't like me being around for press conferences, though."

"I'm not sure why you'd want to be." Harry said with a shrug. They walked for a little while without further conversation, but Harry soon noticed that Iris was shooting him strange looks every so often.

"Something you want to ask me?" Harry could see the blush on Iris' face at having been caught staring.

"Um, Hermione said she was mad at you for nearly killing yourself. Did you try to commit suicide or something?"

"It wasn't on purpose." Harry groaned out in frustration. "I made a mistake putting up the new wards for Hogwarts and it dangerously drained my core. Now Hermione is giving me the cold shoulder as a punishment." Iris had gone wide eyed at his response.

"You put up a whole ward scheme by yourself?"

"I was trying to put up one set of wards, not the whole damn thing." Harry tried to defend himself.

"And is Hogwarts going to be keeping these wards?"

"I guess. No one's said anything about getting them redone at least and I'm sure Hermione would have let me know at length if I had almost died for no good reason."

"Damn." Harry cocked an eyebrow at Iris' low exclamation. "Sorry. Just trying to imagine Hadrian managing the same thing." Harry wasn't sure what to think of that. The kid doesn't look like he could manage a decent shield charm, but I didn't exactly do it all by myself either. Most of the help I can't actually admit to though, or I'll become a focal point for everyone who wants one last word with the dead. "So is that the hat you'll be using?" Iris asked, looking pointedly at the wizard's hat on his head.

"Hm? Oh, yeah. I had to wear it to some formal thing at the Ministry, but I'm not big on hats in general. It's better if this thing actually proves to be useful."

"I swear, you are nothing like the Harry Potter I was used to. 'Some formal thing at the Ministry'? It's like you don't even care about your fame."

"I don't; or rather: I wish it would go away. No offence intended, but your brother reminds me a lot of Lockhart sometimes."

"Why would I be offended by that? Professor Lockhart is the one who taught him how to deal with his fame." Harry felt his jaw drop.

"And he listened to that miserable ponce? Fuck. No wonder the kid's such an annoying little git." Iris scowled at him.

"I thought you'd have a little more respect for a hero like Professor Lockhart."

"He never got exposed as a fraud in your world I take it?"

"What?!"

"Yeah, interviewed people who had done something spectacular, obliviated them and passed off their accomplishments as his own in barely literate prose." Harry saw that Iris looked anguished at the revelation.

"How do you know? Can you prove it?" Harry sighed and told her the story of his second year. It took them until they were walking in the entrance hall for him to finish it. He thought that Iris looked a little overwhelmed at the end of it.

"I always wondered why Professor McGonagall didn't like him. You're a Parselmouth?" Harry shrugged.

"Not sure if I am anymore or not."

"How can you not be sure?"

"Riddle may have removed that part of me when he hit me with a Killing Curse."

"What?! That's impossible!"

"And your brother wondered why your appearance didn't faze me more." Harry said with a laugh in his voice and a lopsided smirk of amusement on his lips. "Get used to the impossible happening on a yearly basis around here, Iris. It saves time and lives. I'll fill you in on the details afterwards, but for now we have a Sorting Hat to enchant." Iris looked around in surprise as she realised that they were already making their way into the Great Hall. Inside they found Hermione, Minerva, Pomfrey, Flitwick, Sprout, Slughorn and Hagrid waiting for them along with the four House ghosts. Good. Minerva managed to get Hermione to come. I hate to think what she would feel if she missed this. Harry walked over to the Headmistress first to greet her. She was speaking to him as soon as he was close enough that she could do so without shouting.

"Now then, Mr. Potter, I trust that this 'historical moment' you've gathered us for won't require another stay with Poppy?"

"It'd better not!" the Healer exclaimed before Harry could answer.

"Don't worry. There's absolutely no reason that this should result in a near death experience." Harry reassured the three women who were giving him stern looks. It was at least good enough for Slughorn who took the chance to grab Harry's hand and start pumping it while offering invitations for his various little get-togethers that he would be organising throughout the year. Harry had never been so happy to feel one of Hagrid's rib-crushing hugs as when the gentle half-giant didn't bother to wait for Slughorn to get done with his self-aggrandising. After that Flitwick and Sprout both greeted him in a relatively restrained fashion. Finally Harry ended up in front of Hermione.

"Just out of curiosity, how long are we going to keep this up?" he asked her with false lightness.

"Have you decided to not try and kill yourself next time you don't know everything?" she asked him archly.

"Yes." Harry sighed. How many times do I have to repeat that? Hermione studied him for a moment before she flung her arms around him.

"You really, really scared me, Harry. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here." she said softly in his ear. Harry let his arms come around her, happy that at least one thing in his life seemed to be resolving itself. He drew back from Hermione and gave her a smile. "I see that you invited someone else as well." Harry turned to look at Iris without losing his smile for even a moment.

"Well, Iris said that she's interested in history and if this works, I think it would be pretty relevant to history; or at least to Hogwarts: A History." Hermione huffed at Harry's teasing, but a small smile broke out on her face. I guess that means that I really have been forgiven. I should probably go and say hello to the guests of honour for this thing. Harry walked over to the four ghosts who were patiently hovering a few metres away.

"Gentlemen, Lady, are you ready?" the four ghosts nodded as one. "Then let's begin." Harry walked over to the spot in front of the High Table where the new students were sorted every year. Godric said that it wouldn't really matter where I did this, but it feels most appropriate here. Harry whipped the hat off of his head and placed it on one of the flagstones. Next he took a piece of chalk from his pocket and traced a circle around the hat and another slightly wider concentric one. In the space between the two he began to draw a string of runes. Once the space was filled he stepped back and turned the ring on his finger three times.

"That looks just like it should, old bean. You remember the incantations, I trust?" Harry just nodded slightly. I've been practicing them for two weeks for lack of anything better to do. If I'd gone on any longer I'd have started casting in my sleep. Harry turned to look at the ghosts.

"It's time. Could you take up positions around the hat at even intervals?" The ghosts floated over and hovered around the hat as Harry had asked. "Before we begin, I just want to say thank you again. This may well be one of the most tangible things we can give future generations of students." The Baron, the Friar and Nearly-Headless Nick gave him slight bows while Helena curtsied. Bowing in return Harry drew his wand. When he straightened up he raised it and began chanting. The runic circle around the hat began to glow. That glow seemed to seep into the very threads of the hat in a tracery that reminded a small part of Harry's mind of the veins on a dragonfly's wing. The chant grew steadily louder and the glow intensified. The four ghosts started swirling around the hat, borne on the swirling currents of the enchantment's magic. Faster and faster they spun around the hat until they looked like a whirlpool of silvery mist. As the chant reached its apex the ghostly vortex seemed to sink into the hat. There was a flash of light and when it had faded the chalk markings around the hat had disappeared and so had the ghosts. The hat itself sat on the floor, looking quite unremarkable. Harry used the Elder Wand to cast the most powerful preservation charms he could on it to cap his work off. Time to test this thing and see if it worked. Bending over he picked up the hat and put it on his head. Hello?

Well met, young founder. This hat's voice was different than the one he remembered; softer and more ethereal. I believe that may be due to the consciousnesses you used to create me. Harry could feel the hat combing through his memories. Your mind is ravaged, young one. Drink is not the answer to your problems.

Maybe not, but it's the only one I've got. Harry pulled the hat off of his head before it could start dredging up things he didn't want to think about and walked over to the Headmistress. "It worked. We have a new Sorting Hat." Minerva nodded looking a little overwhelmed by what she had just seen and took the hat from him. She carefully removed her own hat and put on the new Sorting Hat. After several minutes she removed it again.

"I am impressed, Mr. Potter; very impressed." Minerva said. "With this I think we can safely say that Hogwarts has been restored to its former glory. It will now be up to us, as staff, to make sure that the students feel the same way. We will do our best to be worthy of what you have given us here." Harry felt a little uncomfortable at the praise she was giving him. It's a good thing it's just these people or there would be another sodding Prophet article tomorrow; though with Slughorn in the room I suppose anything is still possible. The staff members present were each taking a turn wearing the Sorting Hat and happily chattering on about how amazed they were at seeing it created. Harry sidled up to Hermione and Iris.

"Now that that's taken care of, how about a cup of coffee in the muggle world?" he murmured just loud enough for them to hear. Both girls gave him an appraising look before nodding their agreement. Harry turned to where the professors were still discussing the creation of the Hat. "Professor, I think we will leave you to plan out the final details for this year." Minerva looked up at Harry who was already edging towards the door.

"Very well, Mr. Potter. I will, say that you are certainly acting every bit as responsibly as I'd hoped you would when I sent you the badge. Please enjoy your day." Harry nodded and called out an agreement to Hagrid's invitation for tea sometime during the school year before ignoring a similar attempt from Slughorn. As soon as they were out of the Great Hall, Harry felt himself starting to relax. I am never putting that damn thing on my head again. It wasn't until they were walking down the path to the front gates that Harry noticed the trouble the girls were having walking at his speed. He slowed down to a more relaxed pace. This was apparently an indication for Hermione to start asking some questions.

"Harry? Which badge did the Headmistress send you?" Hermione sounded tentative.

"She made me Head Boy. Quidditch Captain too, actually."

"Why haven't you told me before now?" This time she sounded hurt. Harry glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.

"Seriously?" I couldn't even get you to stand still long enough to say 'hello', never mind 'I've been made Head Boy'. Hermione had the good grace to look embarrassed as she realised the answer to her question. They made the rest of their trek to the gates in silence, each caught in their own thoughts. Once they were out from under the wards Harry turned to Hermione once again. "Do you know where that new coffee place is that your Mum was talking about?"

"You mean Cafe Nero? Yes, it's in The Martletts, near the Memorial Gardens."

"Great. Do you think you can apparate us somewhere nearby?" By way of an answer, Hermione slipped in between him and Iris and grabbed their hands before disapparating. The trio appeared between some trees and Harry and Hermione quickly performed their standard check to see if they had gone unnoticed before Hermione transfigured Iris' robes into something less eye-catching.

"It's this way." Hermione said leading them towards what looked like a shopping centre. They quickly found the cafe and settled down at a table. They made casual conversation and tried to keep Iris from staring too obviously at the muggle things around her until their order was taken and delivered. Once they had their beverages Harry threw up a Notice-Me-Not Charm while Hermione cast a privacy spell. "Alright, now why did you want us to go out and about to get coffee?" Hermione asked curiously once they were sure they wouldn't be interrupted.

"Actually, Iris here was having a little trouble believing some of our adventures so I thought we could tell her about them as we get to know her." And I missed spending time with you these past two weeks. Hermione seemed to get his unspoken message as she leant forward to give his hand a squeeze.

"Should we go in chronological order then?"

"Might as well." Harry and Hermione spent the next two hours amazing Iris with the tales of their Hogwarts years. Iris reciprocated with stories of what it was like in her home universe. Throughout it all Harry and Hermione allowed their friendship to heal itself as they spent time together and got to know someone who might one day become a friend as well.

:-:-:-:-:

What the hell is wrong with that guy? Hadrian was looking at the place where Harry Potter had just disapparated. It wasn't even a particularly severe prank. Harry, Hadrian and Granger had found themselves visiting the Burrow at the same time to spend a day with the Weasleys before the inevitable end to their freedom came next week when they got on the train. The day had started great. Since Granger didn't like Quidditch in this universe either, and what kind of freak doesn't like Quidditch?, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hadrian were able to form even teams for a pick up game. Harry's a good flyer but a lot of it is probably due to the fact that he's riding that Firebolt. Once they had tired themselves out and landed the two couples had paired off, leaving Hadrian feeling like the fifth wheel on the carriage. It didn't take long for Ron to convince Granger to go inside with him. Hadrian knew what his friend was trying by the grin he shot over his shoulder. Well, good luck to him I suppose.

Unfortunately this left Hadrian with Harry and Ginny. They were sitting in the Weasley family orchard with Harry leaning against one of the apple trees and Ginny sitting between his legs. So far this summer I think that I've been able to convince her that I'm a better version of the guy who's holding her. It almost makes me wish she was just a little less loyal. Hadrian almost growled when he saw them kiss. If she's already coming around to seeing me as I am, maybe I should give her a chance to see him as he is. Hadrian fondled the prank he had brought along in his pocket. It was something the Marauders had developed back home: a Tickle Grenade. It would detonate with a loud bang near the target covering them with a vaporised Tickling Ointment. I'll have to wait until he separates from Ginny at least a little though. If she gets caught in the blast, she won't be able to appreciate the effects on Harry. So how do I get her away from him long enough to use this baby? Luck seemed to be on Hadrian's side though as Ginny was called into the house for a moment by Mrs. Weasley. Hadrian watched her arse until she disappeared into the house. Now I just need to wait for her to come back outside so she can get a good view of Harry making a tit of himself.

Harry didn't speak and Hadrian didn't feel the urge to break the silence between them either. It's enough for now that we can sit together without fighting. I think he may have actually surrendered to the inevitable. He'll be in for a surprise when Dad moves all the money into a private account. Dad was really happy that I came up with that. He didn't even mind that I used the family funds to pay for Ginny's birthday present.

Hadrian tried to surreptitiously observe Harry. He looked even gaunter than usual, the bags under his eyes were dark against his pale skin. How on Earth can she be attracted to someone who looks like that? If he greased his hair, he'd look freakishly like Snape. Can't he cast a Glamour or a few grooming charms at least? On top of that he has to wear those strange muggle clothes instead of robes like a normal person. Thank you, Mum and Dad, for making sure I never looked like that. Hadrian was still busy cataloging a list of faults that his counterpart was exhibiting when he noticed a movement close to the house. As he straightened up he saw that it was indeed Ginny coming back. Harry, seeing Hadrian's interest turned to look at the house as well. This is my chance!

As quickly as he could Hadrian took out the Tickle Grenade, pulled the pin out and lobbed it towards Harry. Hadrian could see Ginny's eyes widening as she saw what was about to happen a split second before the grenade exploded with a loud bang three feet behind Harry. Harry flung himself away from the noise faster than Hadrian would have thought possible. The vaporised Tickling Ointment had barely escaped its confines when Harry's wand was already a blur of action. There were three different coloured shields around him before he had completed the roll he had leapt into. Hadrian could see the moment that Harry caught sight of the cloud in front of him. He was finally presented with proof that Harry's face could in fact get paler than it already was. His eyes burnt feverishly and with a chilling cry he cast a spell at the mist in front of him that blew it away on a sudden wind and followed it up with a Piercing Curse. What?! Why is he casting a curse like that?!

"Harry!" Ginny ran forward trying to get to Harry but was stopped by one of the shields surrounding him. Harry's wand swung around and was pointed at a spot between Ginny's eyes with the tip already glowing. For a tense moment Hadrian was sure that she was going to be killed by her boyfriend but then Harry shakily lowered his wand.

"Ginny?" Harry's voice didn't sound any steadier than his wand hand looked; in fact he seemed to be trembling like a reed. "I need to go." With a loud crack Harry disappeared. That was how Hadrian came to be staring at an empty space in the Weasley orchard.

"Ginny! Are you alright? Did he hurt you?" Hadrian rushed to the side of the girl whose counterpart he had considered the love of his life and slipped an arm around her. Harry's trembling almost seemed contagious as Ginny's body was shaking as it rid itself of a sudden adrenaline rush.

"I-I think so. What was that?"

"I don't know, but I'm damn sure going to have words with Harry about it."

"What about what you threw?"

"A Tickle Grenade. It's just a prank." Ginny was quiet for a while after that. When she did speak it was in a pensive tone of voice.

"Hadrian? Can you help me with something?"

"Anything." She looked up at him with a determined look, but he could see a touch of fear behind it.

"Tell me how I can end a high profile relationship without ruining my life." Hadrian was stunned at the request. Damn. If she's serious… don't mess this up. This may be the moment that you remember as the beginning of something wonderful. Hadrian tried to suppress his giddy optimism.

"With how popular he is right now there is going to be some fallout, no matter how you approach this. My advice would be a joint press release that says that you mutually came to the conclusion that it was in your best interests to continue as friends." Hadrian was speaking as gently as he could since he could still feel the tense set of Ginny's shoulders. "A joint press conference would normally be better, but I've seen Harry in action. That grouchiness would send out entirely the wrong message; assuming he doesn't find an even worse faux-pas to commit of course." Ginny just nodded thoughtfully.

"I think it would be best if I had it written up beforehand. I already know that Harry won't be any help in that department." She eyed Hadrian speculatively for a moment. "Could you help me with that?"

"Of course. I'm here for you." The two teens sat outside until Ginny felt in control of herself again. Once she was steady again Hadrian and Ginny went inside and up to her room. It's just lucky that there wasn't anyone in the kitchen or they might have asked annoying questions like 'why are your arms around Ginny?'. This is far preferable. They spent the rest of the afternoon writing draft after draft of the press release that would announce the end of Harry and Ginny's relationship. There was only one moment where Ginny seemed to doubt her chosen course of action.

"What do we do if Harry doesn't want to break up?"

"Honestly, Gin, it's not his call. If you want to end things, the relationship is over. If he decides to kick up a fuss in the media over the fact that you dumped him it will still be beneficial for you in the long run as we can frame you as something not even the darling of wizarding Britain could hold on to, even though he desperately wanted to." Ginny gave Hadrian a small smile.

"Thanks, Hadrian. You really know your stuff."

"Well, I have been dealing with it for years now. I'm sure Harry could have given you the same advice." Ginny snorted disbelieving.

"I doubt that. He hates dealing with the press." I know that, but it doesn't hurt to remind you that you don't like him right now and that I am the one helping you, while being modest about it.

"Maybe so, but he still has to deal with them." Hadrian said resolutely. Ginny nodded with a contemplative look on her face. I guess no one's actually come out and told him that yet.

By the end of the afternoon Hadrian and Ginny had a draft that they were satisfied with. Well, it's a good start to a press release at least. We'll flesh it out later. It would have to be later since they had just heard Mrs. Weasley calling up for everyone to come down as dinner was ready. Hadrian and Ginny made their way downstairs and found a heavily laden table and the Weasley parents waiting for them.

"Hello, dears. Where are the others?"

"I think Ron and Hermione may have finally learnt to use a Silencing Charm, Mum. As for Harry, he-... he ran off this afternoon."

"Ran off? Did Kingsley need him for something?"

"I don't think so. Harry didn't say anything except for 'I need to go'." Hadrian told his hostess.

"Well, I'm sure he'll have had a good reason." Mr. Weasley said as he walked up the stairs. "I'll just go get Ron and Hermione, shall I?" Hadrian realised what was happening too late to come up with a way to stop him.

"Damn. This is going to be embarrassing for Ron." he muttered. Ginny shot him an odd look as she managed to hear his comment.

"I'm sure they're used to the idea that everyone knows by now. Besides I think that Hermione at least will be glad for the interruption."

"They have been gone for a long time." Hadrian admitted diplomatically, not wanting to reveal that he couldn't care less if Beaverface got worn out. I have to hand it to Ron though: that's some serious stamina. Hadrian's thoughts were rudely interrupted by a sudden explosion of noise from upstairs. The sound of two people screaming at each other tore through the house.

"What the hell was that?!" Hadrian exclaimed to a disapproving frown from Mrs. Weasley for his language.

"Dad must have lifted the Silencing Charm on Ron's room." Ginny said, utterly unsurprised.

"They Silenced the room because they were screaming at each other?"

"Of course. Why did you think they needed it?" Hadrian decided that it was probably not in his best interests to say what he had been thinking out loud. Ginny didn't look puzzled for long though. In fact, if that mischievous light in her eyes is anything to go by I may be in for an interesting dinner.

"Don't you dare, Ronald! You know it's up to the Headmistress to decide who will be the Head Boy!" Granger came storming into the kitchen while yelling over her shoulder. "Harry, will you-... where's Harry?" Granger was clearly surprised to see Hadrian and Ginny sitting at the table without Harry. Get used to it, Beaverface. There's going to be a changing of the guard around here.

"He apparated out shortly after you and Ron left. He didn't really give a reason why." Hadrian answered while trying not to be curt in his embarrassment. Granger's face twisted into concern.

"Was he acting like he was after our shopping trip in Diagon?"

"A bit I suppose." Granger chewed on her lip for a moment.

"I think I'll go make sure he's alright, then." Just go already. At least we'll be shot of the dead weight with you and Harry out of the picture. "He looked terrible when he left last time and Harry's the type who would try to hide it if he's hurting."

"Oh, of course. Run off to see Harry Potter instead of having dinner with your boyfriend." Hadrian looked over to the stairs to see that Ron and Mr. Weasley had made it down as well.

"I have dinner with you more often than I do with my parents at this point, Ronald. I would think that you'd be a little more worried about your best friend than your stomach; or are you just going to abandon him again?" Ron started sputtering an angry rebuttal but Hadrian couldn't actually make out what he was saying; neither could Granger apparently. "While you're working that out, Ron, I'll be checking on Harry." Beaverface stalked over to the floo and grabbed a handful of powder. When she threw it in Hadrian heard her garble whatever address she had meant to say. Morrighan's cloak, but she's stupid for a know it all. Oh well, no skin off my nose where she actually ends up. Ron stomped over to the free seat next to Hadrian and dropped into it with a huff.

"She was bang out of order, mate. It's not on to just leave like that, especially to go see another bloke." Hadrian commiserated with his friend.

"I know, right? Sometimes I wonder if she's worth the trouble." Why wonder? She isn't. Hadrian swallowed his comment and instead asked Ron about the upcoming opening of the Quidditch season to distract his friend. It worked as Ron soon got caught up in all the ideas that he wanted to implement for the momentous occasion that he was largely the cause of. This is what dinner with friends should be.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry desperately brought the bottle to his lips again. He thought that he might have already consumed a whole bottle of whisky, but it was hard to tell since the first bottle hadn't been full when he started. Please stop screaming. I can't let you attack innocents, no matter how horribly you were treated. Please. Please stop.

He wasn't sure in which barrack he was. There were a multitude of misshapen, suffering disasters swarming around him. Most of them seemed to be able to emit poisonous mists. Why are there so many? Did Rookwood go on a poison kick for a while or something?

"Harry?!" Ancients, no. Was one of the volunteers lost? Harry tried to look around for anyone who had been pulled from their formation, but he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing; none of his teammates were anywhere to be found. Alone in one of these barracks; I'm fucked. "Harry, where are you?!" There was something wrong with the voice he was hearing, but Harry couldn't figure out what. He heard footsteps approaching. I should take cover. For some reason Harry's body wasn't responding to his commands. Shitshitshit, not now. Harry tried to focus on what was going wrong, but the screaming was making it difficult to do that.

"Harry? What-..." The voice seemed to be closer this time and a lot more scared. Suddenly the bottle was torn out of his grasp.

"No! Give it back!" Harry cried out through a mouth that seemed to be too thick to function properly.

"No. You've had enough. What possessed you to drink yourself stupid anyway?" Harry ignored the question. The screaming was getting louder again as if it could sense that the comfort of liquid oblivion had been stolen from Harry.

"Please. Give it back. I can't… the screams… please." A pair of hands grasped Harry's face. He threw himself away from them. Getting caught meant pain. He couldn't figure everything out right now, but he knew that.

"Harry, look at me." Hoping that the voice would give him the bottle back, Harry obeyed. A moment later he wished he hadn't as the confused mess in his head twisted violently when he recognised the face in front of him.

"No. No, you're not here. You and Ron left for Australia. You're not supposed to be here." Hermione shouldn't be here, shouldn't see this. She's not here. What's happening to me?Hermione's face was right in front of him and creased into familiar worry lines though.

"What are you talking about, Harry? Ron and I came back from Australia months ago."

"No, you just… you left… with Ron." Harry started looking around, frantically hoping to find someone else from his team who could help him. They all did the smart thing and left. Only you and Shack were stupid enough to carry on. Again he felt the hands on his face, but this time he could see that they belonged to Hermione. He felt himself calm down slightly as Hermione was here. Everything'll be alright if Hermione's here, even if she's not here. Hermione's in Australia. Hermione's right here. Harry's thoughts seemed to be tangling in on themselves like a ball of yarn. He tried to shake his head to clear it, but couldn't quite manage with Hermione holding on. Where Hermione's palms were moved over his cheeks, Harry could feel his face becoming wet. Did Hermione wash her hands?

"Harry, what's wrong?"

"The screams." Harry looked into worried brown eyes and tried to make her understand. "I can't stop the screams. I killed them and now they won't stop screaming. I can't-... I don't-…" A violent shudder raced through Harry's body and he felt one of the hands leave his face. The other seemed to be holding him here; wherever 'here' is. A few heartbeats passed and those thumps seemed unbearably loud to Harry.

"Here. This will help." Harry felt a bottle mouth being pressed against his lips and gratefully swallowed what was being poured into his mouth. Peace filled him as a welcoming darkness swept over him. For a moment everything was quiet; then the screams returned. This time Harry could clearly tell that he was in the camps fighting the results of Rookwood's experiments. Each time he managed to kill one it's corpse would ask what it had done to deserve being treated like this by both the Death Eaters and the supposed saviour of the wizarding world. I need to find Shack. We need to do this; no matter how much it hurts.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry groaned as consciousness made itself known. Fuck. I hurt. The headache was familiar, but the exhaustion wasn't. I can't remember what nightmares I had last night. Strange. Usually I wake up in the middle of one.

"Harry?" What the hell? Hermione? With a herculean effort Harry forced his eyes open before instantly snapping them shut against the harsh daylight burning straight into his brain. Let's see, I'm in a bed so the Hangover Remedy will be in the drawer of the nightstand. Blindly Harry reached out and found the vial he was looking for exactly where he expected it to be. Quickly he uncorked it and poured it down his throat. A shiver passed through his body as he sweated out the toxins that were still present in his body. Once the process stopped, Harry was overcome by thirst. Grabbing his glasses, he swung his legs out of the bed.

"Just a moment, Hermione. I need the loo and a few glasses of water." And a moment to collect myself. I have a bad feeling about you being here. Once in the bathroom Harry made quick work of his needs and managed to drain four large glasses of water before the edge had come off his thirst. Taking another glass of water out with him, Harry returned to his bedroom. Technically not my bedroom I see. Why did I choose to pass out in the room I shared with Ron when the Order was still using place? What was altogether more surprising to Harry was the presence of a third person in the room.

"Morning, Shack. Skiving off already?"

"Actually, I got summoned here." Harry snorted at that.

"Is it something about that office that makes you melodramatic?" Before Kingsley could continue their banter the two men were interrupted.

"That's enough, Harry. I hardly think this is a joking matter."

"I would apologise, except that I don't actually know what this matter is."

"The matter is that I found you getting blinding drunk last night before you spent the whole night screaming and crying in your sleep!"

"I didn't wake up?"

"That's not the problem here!"

"It would have stopped the screaming and the crying."

"Why were you screaming and crying in the first place?!" How do I answer that? I can't bloody well tell her about the camps. I couldn't do that to anyone, let alone my best friend.

"It's not important, Hermione."

"The hell it isn't!" she screamed, causing Harry to flinch. That's twice in one month I've made her curse. I hope she doesn't repeat the cold shoulder treatment from last time. "Harry. I don't care if you won't tell me, as long as you tell someone what's bothering you. You need help."

"Is that why Shack's here?"

"I asked Kingsley to come here because you called out for him several times last night."

"Was it the camps?" Kingsley asked in his deep voice. Harry stiffened, which he belatedly realised was as good as a confession.

"The camps?" Hermione asked, clearly curious. "What happened at the camps? How bad was it?" Harry just shot her a mulish glare.

"Bad." Kingsley supplied. "What we saw, what we did there… it would be enough to give anyone nightmares."

"It's been the same for you then?" Harry asked. Kingsley nodded.

"I had nightmares every night for weeks afterward. It's only started getting a bit better recently." Harry gave a snort.

"Then you're stronger than I am." he said morosely. Shack gave him a considering look.

"Have you spoken to anyone about what happened there?"

"Of course not. I'm not so cruel that I'd pile that shit on someone else." Said the man who slaughtered tortured innocents. Something in Kingsley's face hardened. Hermione seemed to want to interject something, but closed her mouth at the last moment and moved back. Harry's attention was drawn back to Shack when the Minister started speaking again.

"Then I am. I have been talking about it."

"You have?! With whom? Why?"

"Because it's not something you can face alone and because Gary wouldn't let me try." Who now?

"Who's Gary?"

"My boyfriend." Harry tried to shake the feeling that he had been dragged into an alternate dimension like his counterpart had.

"You have a boyfriend?"

"I do. He's a muggle who works for the Prime Minister. We met while I was assigned to Downing Street. I haven't introduced him to the magical world because it would just paint a target on his back and because I am still explaining some aspects to him. Silvery otters that scream at you to get your arse down to Headquarters right fucking now or else for example." Harry didn't pay any attention to Hermione's mortified expression; there was a question he needed answered first.

"But… if he's your boyfriend, why would you tell him about that? Don't you love him?" Kingsley never got a chance to respond as Hermione seemed to have found her temper again and strode across the room to glare at Harry from a distance best measured in inches.

"Of course he does, Harry. You're forgetting that Kingsley's boyfriend loves him too. He'd probably be willing to do a lot more than just listen to some nasty stories if it helped Kingsley." Harry wanted to look away from that blazing stare, but couldn't quite manage it.

"Harry," Kingsley said softly, finally managing to draw Harry's gaze away from Hermione's eyes, "Hermione's right. Gary helps me because he loves me. You can't bear this burden alone. It's a minor miracle that you haven't cracked sooner. You have to find someone you trust, someone you can confide in."

"Would you be more comfortable if we fetched Ginny?" Hermione asked.

"No." Harry hadn't even taken the time to consciously think about it before he answered. Doesn't matter. I can't talk to Ginny about the camps. She's still far too much an innocent. "Ginny can't even understand what we went through on the Hunt; there's no chance she'd be able to understand what we did at the camps."

"Could… could you talk to me?" Hermione had once again taken up position right in front of Harry, though this time her gaze was considerably softer.

"I don't want to do that to you, Hermione."

"Weren't you listening, Harry? You don't get to decide what I'm willing to do. If it helps you, I'm more than willing to listen to you, even if that means that I have to know things I might rather not. There is nothing you can tell me that would be worse than watching you slowly kill yourself."

"Hermione, I-…" Harry trailed off as he wasn't sure what he was trying to argue.

"Can we at least try it? If it really is too much I'll let you obliviate me, okay?" Harry hesitated. Can I really do this? It doesn't seem fair, but if Shack is right it's the only thing that will help.

"I- are you sure?" Harry hated how small his voice sounded, but Hermione nodded resolutely. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Alright." Harry felt Hermione's arms come around him.

"This'll help, I promise. We're going to get through this together."

"Good." Harry heard Shack's rumbling voice. "I think I need to get back home so I can change before I go to work. I'll leave Harry in your hands, Hermione." Harry felt her nod against his chest. "Goodbye, then." It took a while after Kingsley left before Harry and Hermione broke apart. It was Harry's stomach growling that reminded them that the world around them was still turning.

"Shall I make you some breakfast?" Harry offered.

"I'd like that." As they walked down stairs Hermione, true to form, started planning out how their arrangement would actually work. "Why don't we have a few general sessions first and then you can call me any time you have a nightmare?" Harry snorted at that thought.

"I don't think I should wake you every time I have a nightmare." he said dryly. Imagine getting Hermione out of bed every night.

"Just how often do you have these nightmares?" Harry pretended he hadn't heard the question and set about making them breakfast until he was pulled around by the arm. "Harry, how often?" Hermione demanded while giving him a searching look. She found the answer in his eyes before he ever gave voice to it. "Oh, Harry." He was dragged into another hug. "I'm not letting this continue."

"I don't think you can stop it, Hermione." Harry said gently. "Either way, I'm not disturbing you and possibly your parents every time I have a nasty dream."

"No. That wouldn't work." Hermione mused. For a moment Harry thought that she might have reconsidered talking to him about his dreams, but then she turned a familiar determined look on him. "I'm moving in."

"What?!" Harry nearly dropped the skillet he was planning to use to make them breakfast.

"I know you value your privacy, Harry, but we'd only really see each other at night. We both keep pretty busy during the day." I'm not sure what's going to get me first: the nightmares or Hermione on a mission.

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry. What?"

"I said 'I want to break up with you'." Harry stared at the redhead in front of him, not really comprehending what she was telling him.

"Why?"

"Harry, I want a relationship with someone who will put me first. Sometimes it feels like you put me twenty-seventh. Yesterday at the Burrow you even seemed ready to curse me." That was because that damn kid triggered a flashback; I think that's what Hermione called it at any rate. So this is it: do I tell Ginny what Hermione found out about or do I give up on this relationship? It unsettled Harry how quickly the answer came to him. I'm not willing to fight for this relationship. Ancients, but I'm a dick. Since when have I felt this way? Harry searched his memories for a time when he had been willing to put it all on the line for his relationship with Ginny. I can't remember feeling like that since the end of the war. I'm not sure if the time we were on the Hunt counts. What about the time before Dumbledore's funeral? Harry wasn't sure and he didn't like what that implied about his character.

"Harry?" Harry suddenly became aware of the fact that while he was lost in his thoughts, Ginny had been waiting for some kind of response.

"I-... I'm not sure what to say, Ginny."

"I get that it's a little sudden, but can you honestly say that you think our relationship is right the way it is?" How am I supposed to know? My only experience so far has been a single date with Cho and what I've had with you. Hell, I didn't even understand what I had with Cho. Hermione had to explain every single thing about what was happening to me and she isn't here to help me out now.

"I honestly don't know, Gin."

"Can you come up with anything that would make it better?" How can I? I still don't understand what the problem is. Ginny interpreted Harry's confused silence for him. "If not, then isn't it better if we just end things here?"

"I-... what do we do now, then?"

"Well, I'd like to still be your friend." Ginny said with a small smile. "More practically, I think we should write a press release so that no one invents drama where there isn't any."

"Of course we're friends, Gin. Do you really think a press release will help?"

"I do. If we tell everyone that we simply decided to end our relationship and if we both stand behind that then it will make it harder for anyone to invent an affair, a pregnancy or something even more outlandish." I really hope that one day I don't have to take things like that into account. "How about I write up a draft and you can check it over?"

"Alright, I suppose."

"Good. I'll just go get started on that then. Again, Harry, I'm sorry for springing this on you, but I really think we'll be happier as friends." Ginny made her way over to the fireplace and flooed away to the Burrow leaving Harry sitting in his kitchen feeling a little dazed. I suppose that means that I'm single now. That feels… strange? unexpected? not as different as I thought it might? Harry tried to shake the feeling, but couldn't quite manage it. It kept lurking at the edge of his consciousness as he puttered about Grimmauld Place doing chores as he had since Kreacher had died in the final battle. He had already cleaned the house with magic in anticipation of Hermione arriving tonight and moving in, but now he redid everything the way he had learnt at the Dursleys. The strange feeling watched him while he cleaned the bathrooms. It sat in the corner of his mind while he mopped the floors. It looked over his shoulder while he prepared dinner for Hermione and himself. As a result Harry felt desperately relieved when Hermione finally got to Grimmauld Place.

"Hermione! How was your day?" Hermione set her trunk down and brushed the soot from her robes as she stepped from the floo and smiled at the enthusiastic welcome.

"I think we made some real progress with the banking laws. It was inspired to ask the goblins for help in closing the loopholes in both that and the tax code. How did you come up with it?"

"Something Fenrac said while we were working to pull the wool over James Potter's eyes. They went for it then?"

"It took me a while to get everyone on board, but once they heard that it was your idea they at least stopped yelling that they 'wouldn't trust those filthy creatures'. I had to make a concession that we would meticulously check the law to ensure that the goblin's weren't inserting loopholes for their own gain."

"Who's going to do the checking?" The whole point of asking the goblins for help was that we don't have anyone who is both capable and trustworthy.

"That hasn't been agreed to yet, but who needs those kinds of details?" Hermione asked sardonically. Harry chuckled at his friend and started serving up the food. "How was your day? You were going to spend some time with Ginny, right?"

"Ah." How do you break this kind of news? Might not even matter considering Hermione is going to try and drag a conversation about my feelings out of it no matter how or when she finds out. "We broke up."

"What?!"

"Yeah, I didn't see it coming either."

"What happened?" Harry told Hermione everything that had happened earlier that day when Ginny had come over and watched as she seemed to mull it over. "How are you feeling about it, Harry?" Called it. To be honest, I think Trelawney could have managed that prediction.

"I don't really know. I've been struggling to put a name to it all day. I also don't know why I don't feel… worse."

"What do you mean?"

"I thought you were supposed to be really upset if someone breaks up with you. I'm… not; not really." By the way Hermione was chewing on her lower lip, Harry knew that she was thinking carefully about how to answer him.

"I think that if you are in love with someone you feel attached to them. Breaking that attachment can cause a sense of loss. If you aren't feeling that loss then maybe you weren't as attached to Ginny as you thought you were." Harry allowed that idea to percolate through his mind. "You know this might actually be a bit of good news." Hermione said tentatively. "If you aren't hurt by this development, then maybe Ginny was right to end it." I hadn't considered it like that yet, but it does make sense.

"Thanks, Hermione. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Let's not find out. Do you want me to help you check the press release when Ginny sends it over?"

"You mean I could stop you?" Harry had to duck a piece of broccoli that came sailing at his head for his cheek. The rest of the dinner passed amicably between the two friends, as it used to at Hogwarts. Harry was both looking forward to any help Hermione could give him with his nightmares and dreading having to tell her what he had done to earn them.

"What are you thinking about?" Harry started up to find Hermione looking at him carefully.

"I'm sorry?"

"You seemed a million miles away just then." Harry just shrugged in response, not entirely sure how to express his thoughts. "Was it to do with me moving in?"

"A little." Hermione's careful look hadn't changed a jot.

"Are you worried about talking to me?" Harry couldn't look her in the eye until he felt a hand grab his. Looking up he found those determined brown eyes closer than he had expected. "Harry, I think we need to set some ground rules about this." That sounds like the Hermione I know. "First off: you don't have to talk to me. If you're more comfortable with someone else, I won't be offended."

"I don't think someone else would make this easier."

"Okay then. I want you to know that I won't tell anyone anything you tell me without your permission." Harry nodded and Hermione squeezed his hand once. "You can talk about anything you feel comfortable with. We aren't on a timetable and you don't need to force yourself to talk about things you aren't ready for. Agreed?" This time Harry's relief was tangible as he nodded.

"Yeah." he croaked out. "I had been wondering how I was going to tell you everything."

"Slowly. The point of this isn't to magically cure your nightmares, Harry. It's going to take time, but talking out loud about what you experienced will help you to accept what happened sooner than if you keep it all bottled up." Harry felt Hermione's hand let go of his followed by a pair of arms coming around him to draw him into a hug. "Don't try to carry more than you can, Harry." The two friends stayed like that for a long time. Eventually Hermione drew back and, taking Harry's hand, she pulled him up the stairs to the top floor.
"Go get ready for bed. Once you're in your pajamas, we'll talk for a bit and then we can get some sleep. I'll be in the room next to you so I can come wake you if you start screaming again."

"You can't, actually. The master bedroom is warded beyond belief against exactly that sort of thing. I've not figured out how to add anyone to the wards yet."

"You've actually been looking for that?"

"Well, not before today. It hasn't come up before now."

"Then perhaps another room for tonight and we'll scour the library tomorrow?" Harry hesitated for a moment. Those wards or a bottle and then some of whisky are the only reason I've been getting any sleep at all. I guess it comes down to whether I trust the wards or Hermione more.

No contest.

"Alright. I'll take Sirius' old room." Hermione beamed at Harry.

"I'll take Regulus' room then. I'll meet you in about half an hour okay? Make sure you brush your teeth."

"Was reminding me to brush my teeth the condition your mum set for you coming to stay here?"

"No. That was you coming to dinner at least once before we head back to Hogwarts. Don't bother thinking up an excuse for why you can't attend just yet. We'll have our talk first and can deal with scheduling dinner tomorrow." Harry closed his mouth which had been open to come up with such an excuse. "Don't worry. She's not going to chew you out; much." With that Hermione ducked into Regulus' room before Harry could respond. He just shook his head and headed into Sirius old room to get ready for bed. If nothing else I'm trying something new. Nothing else has worked so far after all.

:-:-:-:-:

"Hadrian! You have a visitor!" Hadrian looked up from his copy of Which Broomstick as his mother's voice drifted up the stairs. A visitor? That's a new one. The only people I can imagine coming by are Ron and Ginny and they haven't given any indication that they would. Closing the magazine and placing it on his bedside table, Hadrian got up from where he had been lounging on the bed. He made his way down the stairs playing a guessing game with himself about who he would see. My money's on McGonagall needing something else for school. When Hadrian walked into the kitchen he was surprised to see Ginny Weasley standing there. Something's wrong. She looks miserable.

"Hey, Hadrian. I was hoping we could talk for a moment."

"Sure, Gin. Did you want to come up to my room?"

"Please."

"Go right ahead, dears. I'll bring up some tea and biscuits in a bit." Mum said with a hopeful smile.

"Thanks, Mum." Hadrian held out his hand to Ginny which she took without hesitation. He gently led her up the stairs and to his room and closed the door. Hadrian quickly threw some dirty laundry off of the large comfy chair that his parents had placed in his room as his 'reading chair'. "Why don't you have a seat and tell me what's wrong?"

"Is it that obvious?" Hadrian shrugged.

"Mum didn't seem to notice, so maybe not."

"I broke up with Harry today." Hadrian had trouble not cheering when he heard that. Not only did she end things with him, she turned to me after that. I think my future in this universe just started looking up.

"That must have been hard to do."

"It was. I've been in love with Harry Potter for a long time and it hurts to have to let that go. He just wasn't the man I thought he was." Hadrian crouched down in front of the chair and took Ginny's hands in his.

"You can't blame yourself for that, Gin. I think that you did the right thing. Harry didn't deserve you."

"I know. It's just…" Ginny trailed off with a small shrug.

"You wish it would have worked out?"

"Yeah." Hadrian let go of one of her hands and gently tilted her head up so she was looking him in the eye.

"I know that it probably sounds trite right now, but you'll find someone who can treat you the way you deserve one day." Hadrian lifted the hand that was still holding Ginny's and kissed her knuckles while keeping eye-contact. The widening of Ginny's eyes told him that she had received his unspoken message and the way she squeezed his hand gave him hope that she was considering a favourable answer. "First though we have to make sure that the press doesn't tear you apart. You certainly wouldn't deserve that." Ginny gave a watery little chuckle and a nod.

"I told Harry that I'd write up a press release and get it to him so he could check it over."

"Good. Give it to him tomorrow afternoon. Twenty-four hours is a believable time-frame to get it to him." Ginny gave another nod. "Once it's published you'll have to play widow for a while." Ginny quirked an eyebrow at him. "I mean that you'll need to allow some time between now and any other relationship you wish to pursue. About three months should be fine." She nodded in understanding. "Good. Now tell me what you think of Gryffindor's chances at the Cup this year."

Hadrian's change of subject allowed the two teens to talk about more mundane things for a while. Mum even dropped in with the promised tray of tea and biscuits. She didn't hang around but she did smile happily at Hadrian as she was leaving. I guess Mum approves just like she did back home. I imagine Dad will too. There was only one thing that whole afternoon that gave Hadrian some pause. They had been talking about what things would be like at Hogwarts this year when Ginny had honestly asked: "You're definitely going to be a Gryffindor then?"

"What else could I be?" Ginny had accepted his answer with a smile, but insecurity had taken root in Hadrian's mind. They've been more or less treating me like a firstie so far. Are they going to make go through the sorting again? I'm pretty sure I'd end up in Gryffindor no matter what, but I'm not sure I want anyone outside of the family knowing all of our plans and that includes hats.

The afternoon ended when Mum had come up to ask if Ginny would be staying for dinner. Hadrian could have predicted her response fairly accurately from his experiences with the Weasley siblings so far and Ginny's innate sense for public relations.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Potter, but I should be getting home. Mum still gets nervous if any of us stay out late unannounced." Hadrian let his mother take care of convincing Ginny to come and join them for dinner one of these days. That makes it safer for her to accept, especially considering that I just told her to put a lid on any relations for a few months. In the end Ginny deferred any possible dinner until the Christmas hols given that they only had a little under a week left until the Express was due to leave for Hogwarts. Hadrian and his mother both escorted Ginny to the floo expressing their hopes that they would see her again soon. Once Ginny was gone, Lily Potter turned to face her son.

"So was it good news, popkin?"

"I think so, Mum. She broke up with Harry and wanted someone she could talk to about it."

"Good news indeed then." Mum said with a knowing smile. "I'm going to get dinner started. Can you set the table for me, popkin?"

"Sure, Mum." And thanks for not using that ridiculous nickname in front of Ginny.

Dinner that night was a pleasant affair. Hadrian had told Dad what had happened that afternoon and been treated to a proud look.

"Well done, son. Well done indeed. Pretty soon everyone else will realise what Ginny apparently already has: that there is no substitute for the real thing. I always did like that girl."

"So do I, Dad." Hadrian hesitated for a moment and then asked: "Dad? Have you heard anything about whether they are going to try to resort us when we get to Hogwarts?" Dad considered him for a moment before slowly shaking his head.

"No, I haven't, but I haven't really been asking around about anything like that either. I could if you wanted me to."

"I just think that it's going to hurt the whole 'more mature than Harry Potter' angle if I have to get sorted with the firsties while the arrogant git looks on."

"You've got a point there. I'll see what I can dig up."

"Thanks, Dad." Feeling a lot better about the upcoming Welcoming Feast now that his father was on the case Hadrian happily resumed eating.

:-:-:-:-:

A touch to his shoulder brought Harry abruptly out of his nightmare, acutely aware that there was a threat in the room. He had whoever it was pinned to the ground by the throat with his wand pressed to their temple in a flash. By the light of his barely restrained curse he could see a pair of familiar brown eyes looking up at him with unfamiliar fear. He could feel Hermione's pulse thundering against his palm, each beat an accusation. You almost killed your best friend.

Horrified Harry threw himself back and dropped his wand. He scuttled back on hands and feet until his back hit his bedframe. Unable to retreat further he brought his knees up to his chest and gripped his own shoulders. I almost killed Hermione. I shouldn't be allowed around people anymore. If I can attack her, anyone could be next. A hand touched Harry's shoulder and he flinched away from the contact.

"Shh, Harry. It's me. I'm here." Harry looked up and found Hermione holding a lit wand and looking at him with concern. Something twisted in his gut when he noticed the reddish handprint on her throat.

"I'm so sorry, Hermione. I-... I don't-... I didn't-…"

"I know, Harry. It's going to be alright."

"No it isn't! Hermione, I almost killed you tonight!"

"But you didn't."

"I might not stop next time. What would I do with myself if I killed you?" I would have to kill myself to come apologise to you in person. "You need to go."

"I'm not leaving you, Harry."

"No, you need to go. You need to stay safe."

"We are safe here, Harry."

"You're not."

"Yes, I am. You'd never hurt me, Harry. I already know that. It's my fault for startling you." Hermione sat down next to him and slipped her arm around his shoulders. "We knew that this wasn't going to be as easy as applying some bruise remover." Harry couldn't stop his eyes from flicking guiltily to the bruise that was sure to form on her throat. "This is all just part of the learning process. Now I know that I should be careful about waking you when you have a nightmare about being attacked. After what you told me today I should probably have guessed."

"You shouldn't have to. You shouldn't have to guess what will cause me to attack you. You shouldn't have to learn how to put me back together. You deserve better than that, Hermione."

"Maybe, but like I told you before: you don't get to decide what I'm willing to do."

"Why?" Harry couldn't keep the lost note out of his voice as he asked that one word question.

"Because you're important to me. Because you shouldn't have to face this alone. Because I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did let you face this alone and so many more reasons." Hermione tightened her hug and Harry realised that at some point his head had been drawn onto her shoulder and she had wrapped another arm around him. I still don't understand. Why would you be willing to put up with getting almost killed just for me? What could make that worth it?

Harry didn't quite manage to get his thoughts out to Hermione who had started rocking him. The action was so new to Harry that he struggled to understand what he was feeling. Slowly he felt the tension ebbing out of his muscles. Despite the relaxation Harry didn't think he could get to sleep. He could still see the nightmare too clearly for that to be an option. Oh well. I've gone with less sleep. He looked to the side to see how Hermione was doing. Her closed eyes and even breathing revealed that she at least was sleeping peacefully again. Harry carefully disentangled himself from her arms and lifted her onto his bed. He gently pulled the covers up over her and tucked her in. Thanks for being here, Hermione, but you need your rest. Turning around Harry snuck out of the room. I think I'll go down to the library. Might as well get a headstart looking for ways to adjust the master bedroom wards.

As he looked through the Black family library for the appropriate text, Harry allowed himself to remember his conversation with Hermione before they had gone to bed. He hadn't told her about the camps in any great detail, but she knew what they had found and about the battle that he and the other liberators had fought to protect those that hadn't been experimented on at Rookwood's camp. I wonder if she'll still tell me that I'm not a horrible person when she finds out that we exterminated the others while they were still locked in their cages? Harry took a deep breath as memories threatened to overtake his mind. That's a definite downside to talking about this stuff: it's all much closer to the surface. I'm not sure I want to know what I'll see when we get to the really gruesome stuff; if we get to the really gruesome stuff. I didn't think it would be that hard to tell her about what happened.

Shaking off his dark thoughts, Harry grabbed an old family journal and threw himself into a chair. Distractions are always good after a nightmare.

Forcing himself to focus on the pages in front of him gave Harry that sought after distraction and kept him busy until he noticed that the light in the library had begun to change. Looking up from the journal revealed that dawn was breaking outside. Time to go make breakfast. I wonder what time Hermione will get up? After considering it for a moment Harry decided to just use warming charms if Hermione woke up much later than he finished.

He started breakfast by making his usual pot of coffee. It feels almost surreal without the hangover. While the grind was steeping he set about cooking Hermione a full English breakfast. I know she doesn't particularly care for it, but it'll have to do until we can go shopping. He was just filling his own plate when he heard hurried, stumbling steps coming down the stairs. A moment later Hermione appeared in the doorway, her hair wilder than usual and her eyes wide and on the verge of panic. When she spotted Harry making breakfast she froze.

"Good morning, Hermione. Sorry that this is all we have for breakfast. I can go shopping later if you give me a list of what you'd like." His voice seemed to snap Hermione out of whatever she had been thinking and Harry found her suddenly in front of his face, inspecting him carefully. "Hermione?" For a few seconds Hermione's only response was to sniff the air a little.

"Well, it seems like you didn't choose to drink yourself into oblivion last night. Did you get back to sleep at all?"

"No." Some of the hard determination in Hermione's eyes turned into sadness at Harry's simple reply.

"You will, Harry; one day."

"I know, Hermione." Hermione gave him a slightly odd look to which Harry responded with a smile. "I have yet to see you fail at something you really set your mind to. Now let's have breakfast." Hermione allowed him to lead her to the table and Harry sat her down in front of the plate he had made for himself. "There's coffee in the pot, or would you prefer some tea?"

"I'll try the coffee, Harry." Hermione reached out and poured herself a cup while Harry loaded up a second plate and grabbed another cup for himself. He got back to the table just in time to see Hermione's face twist into a grimace. "Eurgh. That's disgusting. How do you drink that swill?"

"I started drinking it because it helps with the hangovers, but now I just like the taste." Harry explained as he set a kettle on the stove to boil some more water for tea. Hermione pushed her cup of coffee across the table and claimed the empty cup that Harry had set down next to his plate. Harry soon had a pot of tea on the table for Hermione who was already half-way through the food on her plate.

"What are your plans for today?" Harry asked as he started on his own breakfast.

"I have some consolidation meetings at the Ministry today so that they won't need to bother me at school. Kingsley may have gotten permission for me to leave school from time to time, but I've already told him that I won't for anything less than an emergency. After that I'll be free until September first. I intend to take my last year of school seriously. What about you? What have you got planned?"

"I've not finished with the book Minerva made me get. I'll probably spend the day studying up on what I need to know so I don't embarrass you this year." Harry sighed melodramatically. Hermione just snorted in amusement.

"Take it seriously, Harry. I'll be quizzing you when I get home." Hermione warned with feigned sternness.

"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Harry responded with a teasing grin.

"Hmph. We'll see about that." Hermione sniffed before dropping the act. "I'm going to get dressed. Thank you for breakfast, Harry." Harry watched Hermione leave the kitchen before he sent the dishes to the sink to clean themselves with a flick of his wand. He calmly finished his cup of coffee before heading up to fetch the book. I really should make sure that I get through this as soon as possible so I don't make an arse of myself when we get back to Hogwarts. I still haven't found out how to change the wards on the master bedroom either.

Harry had barely settled back in to the library when the door cracked open and Hermione stuck her head in.

"Harry? I'm heading out. I'll be having dinner at the Burrow tonight. Will you be there?"

"I think not. It'd be a little too uncomfortable."

"Okay. I'll be back late then. Will you be alright?"

"Yeah. Don't worry so much. I'll see you when you get home or tomorrow morning. Did you leave me a list of groceries you'd like me to buy?"

"It's on the kitchen table."

"Okay. Have fun today."

"You too. No drinking." Hermione added the second sentence in a warning tone. "Good-bye, Harry." Hermione closed the door behind her as she left and Harry turned his attention back to his book. There sure are a lot of rules to remember. It's a wonder anyone except Hermione manages. It certainly offers one reason that she was such an effective prefect though. Harry did his best to memorise all the rules and regulations in the book as he wasn't entirely convinced that Hermione had been joking when she told him that she'd quiz him.

Harry was just considering heading downstairs and getting some lunch when he heard the floo chime. He was instantly on alert. There is no way that the meetings at the Ministry went this quickly. Someone else must have decided to drop in. Okay, calm down Potter. The only people who know the secret of the Fidelius are your friends. Just stay calm. Don't attack them like you did Hermione last night.

"Harry? Are you home?" a familiar voice called up the stairs.

"In the library, Gin!" Harry listened to Ginny's footsteps coming up the stairs and reflected on the strange feeling that once again took hold of him when he considered that Ginny and he weren't dating anymore. I hope she doesn't stay long. Not the most charitable of thoughts, but she's not even in the room yet and it's already awkward. The door opened a lot like it had that morning except instead of a head full of brown curls a lithe redhead stepped into the room.

"Studying already, Harry? Are you sure you haven't been hanging around Hermione too long?" Harry felt a slight stab of annoyance at the dig at Hermione. He quickly gave himself a mental shake.

"I have to. Minerva made it clear that I'm to show 'responsibility appropriate to my station' this year and I was never a prefect like you lot."

"She gave you homework to become Head Boy?"

"Yeah. Anyway, what's up?"

"I just came by to drop off the press release." Just like that the awkwardness that had dissipated slightly under their friendly banter was back.

"Of course. I'll take a look at it in a bit." Harry said as he took the roll of parchment that Ginny was holding out to him. "Would you like to stay for lunch?" Say 'no'. Say 'no'. Say 'no'.

"I… I already told Mum I'd be home for lunch. I'm sorry, Harry." Yes!

"That's okay, Gin. Should I just pass this on to the Prophet when I'm done with it?"

"Actually, I was hoping that we could discuss it if you find anything you want to change?"

"Sure. I'll let you know if I find anything."

"Alright then." For a moment Ginny stood there fidgeting a little. "I should go." she blurted out, clearly just as uncomfortable as Harry was.

"Of course. Thanks for stopping by, Gin."

"Yeah, no problem. Bye, Harry." As Ginny hurried from the library, Harry allowed himself to relax back into his chair. I didn't even notice how tense I'd gotten. I'll have to ask Hermione if there's any way to do something about that awkwardness. He considered the scroll in his hand for a moment before placing it on the table in the library. Might as well wait for Hermione to get home so we can look at it together.

Putting the scroll and Ginny carefully from his mind Harry picked up the book he had been reading and headed down to make himself some lunch. I can always read in the living room. Sitting down to lunch, Harry saw the grocery list Hermione had left on the table. It'll be something to do at least. I'll just go grab some pounds after lunch and head out. The books can wait til I get back.

By the time dinner rolled around Harry had at least read through Hogwarts Rules and Guidelines, though memorising everything was going to take a good while longer, and gotten enough food to last them until they had to go back to Hogwarts. He made himself a sandwich rather than make a large mess cooking a full dinner. After putting his plate in the sink, he made his way back up to the library to keep looking for instructions on how to alter the wards on the master bedroom. He had trouble focusing on it though. Every creak the old house made made him look up in the hope that it was Hermione coming home. How sad is that? She's only been here one night and I already miss her when she's gone.

Harry was so focused on listening for clues of Hermione's arrival that when a massive apparition crack sounded in the entryway he shot up out of his chair, his wand already in his hand. He carefully made his way out of the library and down the stairs, just in case it wasn't Hermione who had arrived so loudly. He found Hermione in the kitchen angrily looking through the cupboards.

"Hermione?" She whirled around and glared at him for a moment. Harry heaved a sigh. "What did you two fight about this time?"

"Who says we fought?"

"I've been friends with the two of you for years." Hermione scowled at that response and crossed her arms. Harry slowly moved away from the door and wrapped her in a hug. "So what was it about?" He felt her shoulders slump and her head hit his shoulder.

"Doesn't matter… stupid…" he heard her mumble.

"Okay. May I ask why you were taking it out on the kitchen?"

"I was going to make a calming cup of tea." I think that she may actually be embarrassed.

"Why don't I do that for you while you get a book and meet me in the living room? Or you can tell me how your day at the Ministry went if you don't feel like reading." A bit more tension bled from Hermione's posture at Harry's suggestion.

"Okay."

"Good. Go on." Hermione stepped back and gave Harry a weary looking smile.

"Thank you, Harry." She raised herself on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his cheek before leaving a startled Harry in the kitchen to take care of the tea. He gave himself a mental shake and grabbed cups, a teapot and teabags and set about brewing. When he entered the living room he saw that Hermione had lit the fire in the hearth despite the fact that it wasn't even a little cold.

"I just felt like having a fire to stare into." Hermione defended herself when she saw his look. Harry just set the tray he was carrying on the coffee table and sat down next to Hermione on the couch.

"So how were the meetings?" Harry asked to get Hermione talking and thinking about something other than whatever had upset her that evening. I'd still bet on a fight with Ron, but I know I hate it when she pushes for something I don't want to talk about. I'm not going to do that back to her. This way she gets to vent without having to deal with things she doesn't want to talk about. As Harry had been sure she would, Hermione started talking about the difficulties she still had in getting the various negotiators to agree on anything. When she ran out of things to talk about the two friends just sat together and stared into the fire in comfortable silence. I don't know how much it's going to help with the nightmares, but it is nice to have company in this mausoleum of a house. Feeling quite contented, Harry made himself comfortable on the couch to enjoy the heat of the tea on the inside and the heat of the fire on the outside; he never even missed the burn of his whisky.

Chapter Text

The first of September had long been one of Hadrian's favourite days. There's just something about the pageantry of all these wizards gathering together that is wonderful to behold. He was well aware that wizarding parents made sure to dress their best for this occasion. What most people overlooked was putting any effort into dressing their children. Dad had been the one to realise this first and every year Hadrian had been dressed in a set of non-regulation Hogwarts robes for the trips back and forth on the Express. The robes were specially tailored to bring out the best of Hadrian's physique at the time and were made of a better material than the standard robes. The resulting effect was that Hadrian simply looked better than his peers without looking gaudy the way the Malfoys sometimes did. Dress robes are all well and good, but they do tell people that you're trying very hard to look your best. These robes are far more subtle and far more effective since a cursory glance wouldn't tell you that they are anything but a normal school uniform. Looking this good in a school uniform makes you very attractive to the journalists who need a shot to go with their annual piece about Hogwarts starting up again.

This knowledge hadn't been shared with anyone who wasn't a Potter or a Marauder so that they could preserve their advantage; up until earlier this week at least. Hadrian had shared his secret with Ginny after she had broken things off with Harry. Her eyes had lit up with admiration for his father's brilliant scheme. I'm sure she'll have taken advantage of the information for today. After all, the only reason I never shared this with her counterpart was that it seemed crass to brag about being able to throw money away like this when her family was so poor. These Weasleys have no such problem so it's only right that she should know. Besides, she could use the extra edge with all the media attention she's likely to get.

Yesterday the news had broken in the press that Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley had broken up and were single again. The society pages hadn't had any other stories as everyone and their pet krup was speculating on what had caused the break up. It's not as bad as it might have been though.

The joint press release was doing a lot to curb the more outlandish speculation on possible causes for the break up, even if it hadn't been able to diminish the general curiosity. That general curiosity was reflected in the sheer number of reporters present. I've never seen so many people sent to cover a bunch of kids going to school. Conclusion: they're not here to cover a bunch of kids going to school.

In all honesty Hadrian was getting a little nervous. Not because the reporters were there; not exactly. The problem is that I'm used to being able to direct them at least somewhat. Here I'm stuck waiting for someone else. There was no sign of the Weasleys, Harry or even Beaverface yet, so for now Hadrian was making conversation with his parents as he waited for the reporters to start taking pictures for more than appearances' sake. I never realised how hard it is to wait without looking like you're waiting. If you looked like you were waiting for someone, you were implying that they were important enough to give your time to. Rather like the press is doing right now; like the Boy Who Lived never should. People wait for me, damnit.

So far the only thing Hadrian had noticed that was out of place was a blonde he wasn't familiar with ferrying what looked like first years between the barrier into the muggle world and the Express. Definitely a muggleborn with that outfit. Possibly born to parents who died in the first war back home. I suppose she thinks she's helping. As the girl passed him again Hadrian observed her surreptitiously. There's something off about her, but I can't place my finger on it. He thought about it for a moment before putting it from his mind. I'm far more likely to make the connection if I'm not trying to force it.

Hadrian refocused on the conversation with Dad about the news Dad had heard about at work: there were going to be elections soon to replace the interim government. The announcement itself wasn't due until tomorrow as Minister Shacklebolt had wanted both the Ministry and the parents to have the madness of getting all the magical children in the country on the Hogwarts Express behind them so they could focus fully on the elections.

Hadrian was careful to keep his posture relaxed and confident. I know that they've been snapping pictures of me rather than of the scruffy masses when they feel the need to pretend that they aren't just standing there. Thank Merlin that Iris buggered off. The whole thing wouldn't have worked if she was standing next to us looking like she wandered over from some other family. Of course the attention wasn't what it should be yet, but Hadrian was confident that they would get there in the end. I just need to focus on my short term goals once I get to Hogwarts. Get on the Quidditch team and impress my peers. There's no reason I shouldn't have been scouted for a professional team by Easter and having the cattle impressed shouldn't take longer than Halloween. After that I have until the end of the year to make those impressions stick.

In the middle of the discussion Hadrian noticed the blonde passing by with another wide-eyed firstie who was staring at everything like a backwater yokel. She led him to the train and levitated his trunk in for him. Seventh year then. I can't imagine someone like that being anything less than a nerd and if she can legally use magic she's already seventeen. Hadrian filed the information away carefully and once again brought his attention back to the conversation he was having with his father.

After what felt like ages a commotion rose from the journalists. Hadrian cast a quick look at the centre of their activity and realised that the Weasleys had arrived at the platform. And it looks like someone copied my trick. Ginny looked almost unnaturally elegant in her school uniform, but Hadrian's experienced eye told him that it was just like his. The look on her face is perfect too. Just this side of mournful. Not so much that people think she's pining for Harry, but enough that she isn't snubbing the most popular person in wizarding Britain either. Too bad, Harry. You're going to regret not hanging on to her, I can promise you that. It's also too bad that it would be social suicide to make a move on her already.

"Hadrian! How are you? Seen Harry or Hermione yet?" Thankfully there is no reason why her brother shouldn't talk to me. Hadrian noticed that the press was suddenly a lot more interested in him and from the corner of his eye he saw that Dad had noticed it too.

"I'm fine, Ron, and no, I've not seen either of them." He could tell by the way Ron frowned at the news that he was disappointed to hear it.

"Oh well. Let's go find a compartment. They'll just have to catch up." Hadrian said an efficient goodbye to his parents, I'm glad we're experienced enough to just do that in three soundbites,and headed for the train with Ron. He had to force himself to give Ginny nothing more than a polite greeting when she joined them. I'm sure there will be a picture of the two of us in the paper somewhere tomorrow. We are simply the best looking people here. As they got closer to the train Hadrian saw the blonde he had been observing all morning levitate yet another trunk on board.

"That's all of them." he heard her call to someone else inside the carriage. What surprised him was the way Ron started when he heard her voice.

"Hermione?! What are you doing wearing a glamour?" The blonde whirled around and gave them a stern glare that convinced Hadrian that Ron hadn't been imagining things. The press had heard Ron's exclamation just as clearly as everyone else on the platform.

"I was trying to avoid media attention, Ronald. Being mobbed by reporters would be a terrible way to welcome the new first years to our world." Ron's eyes meanwhile had tracked to the carriage behind her.

"Harry's already on board isn't he?" Granger just gave them a prim look that even Hadrian took as a confirmation. What an idiot. He really doesn't understand the first thing about being a public figure. I wonder if one of the reporters is desperate enough for an interview that they'll board the Express? A few of them seemed to be seriously considering it.

"You lot should get on board as well. The Express is about to depart. Ronald, Ginny, I'll see you in the prefect's meeting." With that Granger briskly got on the train and disappeared from sight.

"I suppose we'd better do as she says." Ron sighed out. Never thought I'd hear that coming from your mouth. Sometimes this world is still too weird. Since they were all of age, Hadrian, Ron and Ginny had no trouble levitating their trunks into an empty compartment. "Right, we'll see you after the meeting, Hadrian. I'm afraid we can't avoid going."

"Don't worry about it. I was Head Boy back home. I know what you need to do." Ron shot him an amused smile and left with a wave. Ginny's smile was only a sparkling in her eyes. A few minutes after they'd left the train started moving with a jolt. Here we go. This is going to be the start of the rest of my life in this dimension.

It didn't take long for Hadrian's sense of optimism to be battered down by boredom. How long can that damn meeting take? I managed to push it through in ten minutes. Then again I didn't have a shrew like Granger as Head Girl and I was assertive enough that Padma mostly let me get on with it. She did make a good secretary though. She even did my social calendar for me.

That's another thing: there's no one in this universe who'll come in and talk to me; in fairness, there's no one I'd go and talk to yet either. Guess I'm stuck waiting for Ron and Ginny to come back. Hadrian moodily propped his chin up on his hand and just watched the landscape rush past as he did the only thing he could: wait and let his thoughts chunter on about the unfairness of it all. Those thoughts kept him occupied until he heard the door open.

Hadrian almost jerked around in his seat to welcome his friends back but managed to turn it into something a little more dignified in the last moment. Thank Merlin for that. He would bring her along. Ron seemed to be arguing with Granger again as they came into the compartment.

"I'm just saying that everyone does it and no one will blame us if we take some time for ourselves."

"I'm the Head Girl, Ronald. If I don't set a proper example then soon everyone will be slacking off." Typical Beaverface; assume everyone will follow the rules because you do. There is something that's different about her though.

"What did you do with your hair?" Hadrian blurted out when he finally put his finger on it.

"Excuse me?"

"Your hair. It isn't a bushy mess. What did you do with it?" Granger reached up to touch her hair self-consciously.

"I used some Sleekeazy's this morning so it would be easier to disguise myself. A more intensive glamour would have more chance of being discovered due to the tell-tale shimmer around it." She's just as strange as Harry is. It's a bloody wonder that Ron's managed to stay as normal as he has.

"But if you know how to actually make your hair look normal then why don't you do that every day?"

"Thank you! See? Hadrian agrees with me." Ron interrupted loudly. Poor guy. He really deserves better. It didn't look like Granger agreed with them though.

"What I do with my hair is my own business, Ronald. Besides we were talking about the need to finish our patrol before we can sit around and socialise."

"Look, it's really not necessary. Who's going to cause trouble if they think that might have to answer to Harry for it?" I would tell you that back home people still did things even if they thought that I might catch them if it didn't mean agreeing with Beaverface.

"Ronald, we are going to do our duty. If you don't want to, then you should just have refused the badge."

"Fine." Ron muttered. He watched Granger leave before turning to Hadrian. "I swear, she's been having a go at me all morning. I think it may be that time of the month."

"Ron!"

"Coming! Hope you have more fun than I'm about to." Ron said the last bit in an undertone to Hadrian as he made his way out of the compartment. In Ron's wake Hadrian saw that there were several other people who had been waiting at the entrance to his compartment.

"Hello, Hadrian. Do you mind if we join you?"

"Of course not, Ginny. Please come in." Hadrian had to exercise all of his self control to not comment on her companions.

"Hadrian, I don't know if you know Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood?" Looney and the squib? Why on earth are you hanging around with such losers?

"Not in this world. A pleasure to meet you both; Hadrian Potter." Hadrian held out his hand as he spoke. Losers they may be, but you never know who is watching. Besides if they are important to Gin, I'm not about to start by alienating them. Longbottom was the one who took the offered hand.

"So you're Harry's counterpart. Welcome to… our world, I suppose?"

"The terminology still gets me too." But not as much as everyone's reflexive need to talk about my counterpart. At least the tendency is for them to only do that the first time we meet. Hadrian also held out his hand to Looney who simply took his wrist and started inspecting the back of his hand. Circe's tits! She's as mad as she was back home. No one seems able to explain to me why the Boy Who Lived has such useless friends. Back home I picked on this lot, except the Weasleys of course, and was friends with everyone else in the school, except the snakes. How did Harry not see that he had to take that approach? Looney's vacant stare had shifted from his hand to his forehead.

"Did you know that you have an unusually large number of wrackspurts?"

"Uh, no." Get away from me, you freak. As if she heard his thoughts Looney dropped Hadrian's hand and turned to Longbottom.

"We should go, Neville. We're making Mr. Not-Harry very uncomfortable."

"What? I'm not-"

"Sure, Luna. I haven't seen Harry yet."

"Ooh, that's a good idea. I didn't get a chance to ask him if he saw a Crumple-Horned Snorcack over the summer during the meeting."

"Let's go ask him then. If Hermione's patrolling he should be in the prefects' compartment." The two turned and left the compartment completely ignoring Hadrian and Ginny. I think that this may have been the first time a pair of certifiable idiots ignored me like that.

"Sorry about that. I don't know what Luna was like in your world but here she's a bit… out there." Ginny said looking a little embarrassed.

"You mean she's completely off her rocker."

"No." There was a hard note in Ginny's rejection of that assessment. "She did her part in the war."

"Okaaay. You have to realise that it's hard to see that."

"I know. Just try to remember that she's a hero to a lot of people especially at Hogwarts."

"And Longbottom?"

"If Harry hadn't decided to come back McGonagall would have made him Head Boy, no matter what Ron thinks. Last year the school was taken over by Death Eaters and Neville led the resistance among the students. A lot of us owe him our lives."

"I see." Actually it's even more unbelievable than Looney managing to act normal in any sense. I think it may be time to talk about something safer.

"So I see that you're wearing something that's not exactly off the rack." Ginny's mischievous smile sent a thrill of excitement running down Hadrian's spine. There are still definite upsides to attending school here.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry was sitting in an otherwise abandoned prefects' compartment. According to the book Minerva had made him read, one of the Head Students was always supposed to be on duty in the compartment during the trip so that other students could easily find them. So when Harry and Hermione had been working out the patrol schedule the day before he had volunteered to be the one to stay behind so she could spend some time with Ron. Considering the fact that she hasn't had an uninterrupted night's sleep all week, this is the very least I can do to start paying her back.

I'm not all that sure that her presence is helping with the nightmares, but I suppose I have been drinking less. Well,... Hermione's not spending as much time ranting about my 'tortoise-paced suicide' anymore. Harry was currently reading through one of the books he had brought along from the Black family library to pass the time. He hadn't been able to find a way to alter the house's internal wards, but he had also been unwilling to take any of the family records that might contain that information out of the house. After all, Hermione won't be around forever and I don't want my subconscious to come up with ways the wards could be breached when I'm trying to sleep. Instead Harry had brought along books that he could read simply to expand his knowledge; it was a rather new experience but one that he was coming to appreciate if only because fans bothered you less when you were visibly busy and a book was a good way to always be busy. I wonder what my eleven year-old self would say if he could see me now? He almost chuckled out loud at the thought of his own shocked face seven years ago. Harry's reading material of choice for the trip was An Analysis of Ward Breaking Methodology For BeginnersI really wish I had chosen different electives in second year. Nothing for it now except to finish my education and maybe study them on my own time when I get a job. I wonder where I could get some instruction? The founders are always a possibility, but I don't want to use the Resurrection Stone too much. Hermione would also be a natural choice, but she's going to have better things to do. There has to be another option. Harry was jerked from his contemplation by a knock at the compartment door. Steeling himself for yet another stuttering remark about a wrong door or directions to the loo Harry got up and opened the door.

"Um, hey. Can I come in?" Harry blinked in surprise at seeing Iris Potter standing in front of him and asking to be let into the compartment. By way of an answer he stepped to the side to give her room to enter and closed the door behind her.

"Is something wrong, Iris?"

"Not-… not really. I was just getting a little tired of sitting by myself and I was hoping… " Somehow it sounds like it was more than that.

"It's okay. I don't particularly mind if you sit here." At least I know that you, unlike some other people, won't bother me with stupid questions and autograph requests.

"Thank you, Harry. That really means a lot." The honest relief and gratitude in Iris' voice caused Harry to eye her carefully for a moment. I think she might be about on my level as far as social interactions go. The two Potters sat down and buried themselves in their books for a while until it was once again Iris who broke the silence. "Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I ask you a favour?"

"What kind of favour?" Harry asked, feeling suddenly worried. Don't tell me she's been using me this whole time. I swear, if this is some ploy by that family to get me to do something for them I'm never speaking to any of them again; not worth the trouble.

"I was hoping you could teach me how to cast the Patronus Charm." Seeing Harry's calculating look, Iris quickly continued. "It's just that it's such an amazing piece of magic and you and Hermione told me that you taught it to the DA in your fifth year and I just really want to be able to do something that will make my parents notice that they have two children." Harry had been about to turn her down when Iris rambled out her reason for wanting to learn the charm. I remember what that's like. I remember thinking that if I could just prove that I could do something better than Dudley that maybe Aunt Petunia would like me; or at least hate me less.

"It's not going to work."

"What? Why not?"

"Because there is nothing you can do to earn their love. You either have it or you don't. If you did get their attention with this you would forever be left wondering whether they love you or the spell." Iris looked dismayed before her face hardened.

"No. I'll make them see that I'm at least as good as Hadrian."

"You already are and they don't see it now."

"How the hell would you know?! You never spent any time with them!" Harry felt that dull throb of grief that rose in him whenever he remembered that he had no family; no one who would care for him unconditionally. I have Hermione… well, sort of… not really. Whatever, she's been there for me when I needed her. That's enough. I'll make it enough.

"You're right. I never knew James and Lily Potter before your family appeared. I do know that trying to be better than the favourite child never worked with Aunt Petunia." Iris looked horrified as she realised what her words had meant to Harry.

"Harry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

"I'll teach you the charm. Who knows, maybe you're right and real parents will react differently." Iris looked a little relieved at his words. Hell, I doubt it will actually work, but she's not going to take my word for this. Iris is going to have to learn through experience; maybe we're more alike than I first thought. "Alright, you're going to need to realise that this is likely to take a while to learn. The spell is fairly taxing so you may need to build up your magic to the point where you can handle it. For such a complicated spell the basic theory is surprisingly simple." So began Iris' Patronus lessons as she and Harry thundered towards the Scottish highlands. After a short discussion on the theory Harry had her going through her memories for one that was suitably happy, warning her to pay close attention to what she felt each time so she would know to which she had the strongest reaction. It didn't take long for Iris to declare that she was ready to try the practical.

"You sure? This isn't like practicing Cheering Charms. You're likely to exhaust yourself."

"I can do this." Yeah, I don't think I was any more reasonable when I was trying to learn this.

"Alright. Just once to begin with. Whenever you're ready." Iris took a deep breath and brought her wand up.

"Expecto Patronum!" At her incantation several things happened simultaneously. The door to the compartment was flung open and Neville and Luna charged in with wands drawn looking around for the threat. Iris wobbled and collapsed as the drain on her magic proved to be too much. Harry moved quickly to catch her before she could hit the floor, having positioned himself close by for just such an eventuality.

"You do realise that we don't even know if our Defence Professor will be so bad that you need to teach us again, right? I mean we haven't even gotten to Scotland yet." Neville asked lightly as he lowered his wand.

"Nev! Luna! It's wonderful to see you two again. I'll be with you in a moment."

"Take your time, Harry. Your sister looks like she could use that Chocolate Frog you have for her." Luna said as she tucked her wand behind her ear. Smiling at his blond friend's airy commentary Harry reached into a robe pocket and drew out a Chocolate Frog which he pressed into Iris' hands.

"Eat it. You'll feel better." Iris looked at the candy and then up at Luna.

"How did you know?" she asked the older girl. Luna turned her silvery grey eyes on the youngest Potter and studied her for a moment before answering.

"Because Harry is a good teacher and he always had some when we were learning the Patronus in fourth year."

"You can both cast a Patronus?" Iris asked in a mix of awe and envy. Neville responded with a smile and cast his Patronus: a glowing, silvery bear.

"Harry managed to teach me while I still had a wand that was so poorly matched to me that everyone thought I was a near-squib. You'll get it eventually." Iris looked up to Harry for confirmation and was met with a stern look.

"Eat." Iris blushed and started fumbling with the packet. When she got it open the animated confectionary would have gotten away if she hadn't been lying in the arms of a Seeker. Her blush deepened when Harry caught the Frog and held it out for her. She carefully took it and started nibbling.

"Harry was always good at catching people who used too much magic too." Luna continued airily.

"That only happened once, Luna, and it wasn't Hannah's fault." Harry told her. Luna just shrugged in an utter lack of concern.

"I didn't say it was, Harry. Just that you'd caught her." Harry rolled his eyes before checking on Iris once again. There was a small smudge of melted chocolate on one side of her mouth. Iris wasn't in any state to notice it though as she had fallen asleep from exhaustion. Harry flicked his wand into his hand and transfigured one of the comfy chairs in the compartment into an equally comfy cot. He gently lifted Iris up and tucked her in to let her get some rest. As a final touch he added a Silencing Charm so that she wouldn't be bothered by the comings and goings of other students. With his sort-of-sister tucked in he turned to his two friends who were standing a little way off with smiles on their faces.

"What?"

"Nothing." Neville responded just a little too quickly and without losing his smile.

"That was very big brother-ish of you, Harry." Luna told him. "Now I have a really important question for you: did you see a Crumple-Horned Snorcak over the summer?" Harry blinked in surprise before he smiled fondly at Luna.

"Sorry. I was rather busy with a few other projects and I didn't really travel much."

"Oh well." Luna sounded completely unconcerned that Harry hadn't managed to find one of her creatures. "Maybe next year."

"Maybe. How were your summers?" Harry settled in for a pleasant ride up to Hogwarts catching up with his friends. Neville and Luna both spoke of their own efforts to rebuild parts of the wizarding world. Neville had joined his grandmother several times when she went to negotiate at the Ministry so he had at least seen Hermione a few times. Luna and begun re-establishing the Quibbler, but was finding it difficult with the loss of her home, which had contained most of their resources, and her father. Harry found out that she had been spending a lot of time at the Longbottom house. It took a while longer for Neville to finally admit that the two of them had started dating. Harry just grinned broadly and congratulated them. He in turn told them about his work on Hogwarts and the arrival of the other Potters. Their chatter whiled away the time very pleasantly. I've missed this. I've missed just being able to spend time with friends without some Nosy Parker trying to butt in and ask me what I think about how the economy's doing in Argentina or some such rot.

It wasn't until the windows were dark that Harry was forced to call an end to the enjoyable experience. His wand gave him a small shock which caused him to check the watch Molly and Arthur had given him for his birthday last year.

"We should be close. Luna could I ask you to give the other prefects a heads up? I'll wake little lazy bones over here and get her moving too."

"Alright, Harry. This was fun. You shouldn't lock yourself away this year. I would miss you." Harry blinked in response to the odd goodbye as Luna and a chuckling Neville left the prefects' compartment together. It's good that she's still so wonderfully mad Harry thought fondly to himself. Your warning has been received, Luna, but I think it would have been unnecessary; Hermione wouldn't have let me lock myself away in the first place. Still smiling to himself, Harry walked over to the girl on the cot. "Iris." He gently shook her shoulder. "Iris, wake up."

"Hmwah?"

"Come on. Up you get. We're nearly there."

"Harry?" Iris' hands came up to rub at her eyes.

"Yep. You know if you keep sleeping you're going to miss the Welcoming Feast." Iris froze mid-rub and her eyes widened.

"Welcoming Fe-...oh. Sorry, I was thinking of the wrong Harry. Hadrian and I never spoke on the train so…"

"It's okay. I still can't have you sleeping and missing dinner though." Harry said with a small smile.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm going." Iris grumbled good-naturedly as she got up and stretched. "Harry?"

"Hm?"

"Thank you; for all of it." Iris sprinted out of the compartment as soon as she had finished talking, leaving Harry to contemplate his second surprising goodbye of the day. Focus, Potter. 'Responsibility appropriate to your station', remember? I should find Hermione and make sure that the firsties find Hagrid okay. Centering himself, Harry stepped out of the compartment as well and set off to do the duties Minerva had entrusted him with.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian walked into the Great Hall to a sense of homecoming he hadn't really felt since coming to this universe. I need to remember to thank Dad again for making sure we weren't going to be treated like sodding firsties sitting on that stool. He was right that we already testified to what house we were in under veritaserum. Hadrian was walking with Ginny and Ron. Granger had left at some point to 'help the first years'. What does she think Hagrid's doing out there? Oh well, no skin off my nose if she decides to bugger off.

Hadrian had also noticed that Iris had come in with Looney and the squib. He hadn't even been surprised that those two kissed when Looney peeled off for the Ravenclaw table. Figures that those two losers would end up together and then top that off by becoming friends with the twerp. Longbottom ended up sitting next to Iris at the Gryffindor table. The other students were leaving some space around them already. At least that's the same as back home. Hadrian himself sat down next to Ron who had Ginny on his other side. No need to set myself up for more temptation. It's going to be awkward enough until we finally start dating.

There wasn't a doubt in Hadrian's mind that he would end up dating Ginny. We're too perfect together and I know she thinks so too. The signals she's sending are unmistakable. Hadrian almost lost himself in a daydream of getting together with her, but was distracted when a hush descended over the usually raucous Great Hall. It didn't take long to find out what had caused this unusual behaviour: Harry and Beaverface coming into the Hall. Mab's Wings, but I hope they don't do that every day. It's going to get old bloody fast. Hadrian saw Harry scan the table before moving over to where Longbottom and Iris were sitting. He slid into one of the open spaces across from the pair while Granger sat down next to him. Ron doesn't seem too happy about that. I can't blame him. What kind of girlfriend ditches her boyfriend to sit with another bloke? Honestly, Harry gave Ron more of a look than she did. Then again, maybe I should be grateful. I wouldn't have wanted to see if she could squeeze in between the two of us. As Hadrian was looking down the table after his counterpart he suddenly noticed something. There aren't any House Ghosts in this world! That or they have several. But where's Nearly-Headless Nick? A quick look around the hall revealed that the other Houses also had several ghosts sitting at the table and that none of them were the ghosts that he remembered.

Once Harry and Granger were seated, Flitwick marched through the door, followed by a long line of first years who were just as tall as he was. Bugger; I didn't realise that there would be so many firsties this year. It's going to take forever to get them all sorted. Hadrian barely managed to contain a groan of frustration. As it turned out he needn't have bothered as Ron's groan was loud enough to cover any noise Hadrian might have made. He looked to the side and gave his friend an understanding grin.

"They'd better hurry this up. I'm starving." Ron muttered through barely moving lips. Hadrian just nodded in agreement. In the end eighty-seven students had to be sorted. Hadrian had never spent so long waiting for the food to appear on his plate. This is fucking child-abuse. When the last of the first years had run to his table McGonagall stood up to address the students. That's not normal either. It should be Dumbledore up there. At least the Board had enough sense to make the Head of Gryffindor the Headmistress. Who else could be qualified? Can't give the job to a snake, nerd or duffer.

The silence that fell in response to McGonagall standing up wasn't nearly as absolute as when Harry and Granger had first entered the Hall but she still made herself heard easily.

"Welcome, all of you, to another year at Hogwarts. As most of you no doubt know we have had to go to great lengths to make this day happen. I will speak more on that after you have eaten. Tuck in." Mercifully the plates in the Hall filled with the kind of delicious fare that Hadrian had come to expect from Hogwarts. He quickly served himself a generous portion and started eating with gusto. Next to him Ron was already tearing into his own meal. A quick look down the table had revealed that Harry had looked saddened when the food came out and had to shake himself before he chose his meal. Just when I think that he can't get anymore freakish he gets upset by food. Hadrian happily put his strange counterpart from his mind and focused on the food. When the last of the desserts were being polished off McGonagall once again stood up to address the student body.

"I trust that you are well fed and perhaps even looking forward to your bed. Before you go however there are some things to which I want to draw your attention. First, as I said before we sat down to dinner, a lot had to happen for Hogwarts to open today after the ravages of the final battle of the Second Blood War. Many witches and wizards gave their very lives so that you could sit here and learn free from tyranny. Many more selflessly helped to rebuild the castle, ensure a complete supply of textbooks, ingredients and other necessities and that a proper curriculum could be taught. I ask all of you now for a minute of silence as we remember how grateful we are to those people." Most of the students bowed their heads in thought; a few were even shedding silent tears. Hadrian couldn't quite bring himself to do the same. I'm sure it means something to all of them, but maybe they should be looking at their Boy Who Lived for some answers. I know nothing like that ever happened back home and the main difference is pretty clear. You Know Who must have been more scared of me than he was of Harry.

"Thank you. I wish to speak of one person in particular who gave of himself that Hogwarts could be here today." Let me guess: Harry Potter? "I wish to speak of one of our own who stood against evil and defeated it; I wish to speak of one who rebuilt, with his own hands, this castle and her enchantments from the wards and the ceiling of this Hall down to the Sorting Hat; I wish to speak of Harry Potter." Called it. Also calling horseshit on those accomplishments. Ron even said that Harry didn't know a thing about warding and he would know. I wonder how Harry got McGonagall to give him this moment? "Mr. Potter, would you please stand so that your fellows may see you?" Harry rose stoically. "I thank you, Mr. Potter, for all you have given us and future generations that will walk these halls. To Harry Potter!" As McGonagall raised her goblet to Harry the rest of the Hall copied her and loudly echoed Harry's name. Harry just gave them a regal nod before sitting back down. I hate to admit it, but I will: that was a damn cool response. Unfortunately it just makes his interactions with the press, or lack thereof, even harder to understand.

"Since the castle has been rebuilt, I urge all of you to be careful in the coming weeks since everything may not be as and where you remember it. If you have any questions please speak to a member of staff, a prefect or one of the Head Students."

"We have several new members of staff joining us this year. Professor Savage was injured in the Battle of Hogwarts and retired from the Auror Corps. He will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts from this day forward. Professor Kowalski comes to us from the United States of America and she will be taking Transfiguration. I would also like to inform you that I have named Professor Flitwick my deputy and Professor Hagrid will be taking over as Head of Gryffindor." Each of the new professors waved in acknowledgement of the applause they received.

"Finally it falls to me to warn you that Hogwarts has a fairly extensive list of banned items. If you are caught with any of them you may be punished. If you wish to avoid this I suggest that you read the list that you will find posted in your common rooms. There you will also find a reminder that you should stay out of the Forbidden Forest. We learnt just how many dangers that even the staff were unaware of call that place home during the Battle." Hadrian could see that the warning was being taken seriously; far more seriously than it ever had been back home. "That will be all. I bid you goodnight. Prefects, please ensure that everyone finds their way to the dormitories." As everyone got up Ron hurried off. Probably going to talk to Beaverface.

"Ms. Weasley, might I escort you up to our common room?" Hadrian asked in a teasing voice. Ginny gave him a sad smile.

"Sorry, Hadrian. I think I need to spend some time with my roommates." Of course, she can't be seen walking on my arm yet. Just how tired am I?

"I understand." Hadrian tried to convey his honest understanding of her motives with his eyes as he spoke. Ginny nodded and headed off to find her other friends. Guess I'm heading up by myself. That's not how I thought this night would go. Feeling a bit sorry for himself Hadrian made his way up to Gryffindor Tower at a dull trudge.

Chapter Text

"What are you reading?" Harry looked up at the voice of his best friend as she sat down next to him at the Gryffindor table.

"The Prophet. Shack's finally announced the elections." He tilted the paper so that Hermione could read the headline and she nodded, unsurprised.

"He said he would do it today. Kingsley decided that it would be best to get it out of the way while all the children were at Hogwarts." Hermione reached over and stole Harry's cup. "Blergh. Where did you get coffee?"

"Seems the house elves figured out my preference somehow. I'm not complaining."

"You wouldn't." Hermione said as she put his cup back in front of him and poured herself some tea. "What date did Kingsley finally decide on?"

"December fifth."

"Hmm, Saint Nicholas' eve. Though I'd guess he simply picked out the first weekend in December."

"Probably. I haven't found a reason other than 'the law requires that an announcement be given three months in advance'."

"That's true enough. He told me that he wants the elections in early December so that the new government can be inaugurated at the winter solstice and can start work in the new year."

"He's getting a little too good at this politics thing." Harry grumbled, causing Hermione to smile and bump his shoulder with hers.

"Come on, Harry. You know he's learning on the job." Harry just took a sip of his coffee and scowled. "And he's your friend."

"I know. I just never thought I'd be friends with a politician."

"Well, it'll be up to us to keep him in line then."

"Isn't your schedule getting a little full with all the people you're keeping in line?"

"Fine. You keep him in line. I'll stick to keeping you in line." Harry finally cracked a smile at Hermione's flippant response.

"Little Miss Know It All has an answer for everything." he said fondly.

"Just remember that and we'll get along fine." Hermione grinned in response. Harry folded the paper and put it away as Hermione served herself breakfast. "Aren't you eating?"

"Already did."

"One of these days, Harry, I'm going to see to it that you oversleep." Harry looked around furtively before realising that there was no one sitting close enough to overhear them.

"Please don't do that."

"Sorry. The point still stands though." Harry grunted and returned to his coffee. I should probably just be glad that I didn't wake half the castle last night. That private suite is a godsend.Last night Harry and Hermione had patrolled the halls with the staff to make sure that everyone had made it to their dorms before making their way to the Heads' Suite. It consisted of a small common room with a pair of desks and bookcases, a couch and two armchairs on a rug in front of the fireplace and a pair of identical bedrooms. All of which means that I'll only be waking Hermione every time I have a nightmare; joy. I'll need to see if I can't find a way to stop being such a wimp.

"Harry." a loud voice said in his ear making him jump. His head whipped to the side to find Hermione looking at him with concern. "Are you alright? I've been trying to get your attention for a full minute now, but you seemed a million miles away."

"Yeah, I'm fine." A scowl marred Hermione's face at Harry's standard answer to any inquiry after his health.

"Uh-huh. Anyway, I asked if you have any plans for your free periods this week?"

"I hadn't really thought about it. I should probably go see Shack at some point since he specifically asked Minerva to let us out so we can help him. I'll probably start by organising the Quidditch tryouts though. I'm afraid they're going to be even worse than in sixth year."

"They weren't that bad, Harry."

"Half the people who tried out didn't even want to be on the team. I'd call that pretty bad."

"Fine, but you still got a championship team out of it didn't you?"

"Yeah, yeah, but no jinxing the competition to get your boyfriend the spot this time." Hermione's cheeks turned rosy and this time she was the one to look around furtively to see if they had been overheard.

"I'll thank you not to talk about that anymore, Harry Potter." she hissed at him. Harry held up his hands in surrender.

"Sure. Just trust Ron to win the spot on his own, okay?" Hermione just grunted something and viciously stabbed the fruit on her plate. I think I'll just assume she agreed for all our sakes."Thank you." While Hermione was occupied with her assault on her breakfast, Harry took the time to look around the Hall. The two of them were fairly early but it was slowly starting to fill up. He also noticed that a lot of heads turned away right as he looked in their direction. Nothing new there.

Hermione had finished her breakfast and was enjoying a cup of tea when Harry saw the seventh year Gryffindor boys entering the Hall. The lot of them looked half asleep as they shuffled towards the table. I wonder if they had any trouble getting to sleep? At least their dorm setup barely changed. Poor Parvati would have been alone if Jada hadn't been so studious last year.

Jada Angela was a girl who had been in Ginny's year, but had moved up to seventh year due to her knowledge of the required material. Harry wouldn't have known about it if Hermione hadn't been called to the Gryffindor girls' dorms to settle a dispute last night. Apparently some of her former yearmates felt that the only reason she had managed to advance a year when they hadn't was that she hadn't stood up to the Death Eaters like they had. Hermione had managed to calm things down, but in Harry's experience these things didn't just go away. You'd think they'd have learnt something from being put through a war, but it looks like it's still the same old senseless dramatics and feuding.

While Harry was contemplating the situation in the Gryffindor dorms his yearmates had joined them. Ron sat down on Hermione's other side and pecked her on the cheek.

"Morning, babe." Judging by that grimace he's not brushed his teeth yet this morning. I hope she manages to keep her annoyance in check. It's still far too early for them to get in a row.Harry poured himself another bracing cup of coffee just in case. Thankfully Hermione did manage to sit on her temper and Ron remained blissfully ignorant of the near miss as he was preoccupied with getting something to eat before Hagrid came by with their schedules. The rest of the boys sat down around them as well, grunting out morning greetings that were clearly afterthoughts as they focused on their breakfast. That was also the last of the conversation for the time being as their mouths were occupied with more important matters.

Harry couldn't stop his eyes from drifting over to Hadrian. It's weird to be sitting here with the kid and not feel an air of tension. Maybe spending a year at school together can help us find a balance if nothing else. I can't help but remember what Fenrac said about not needing more people trying to kill me. Looking at Hadrian made Harry curious about the only 'other Potter' he had any kind of positive relationship with. He quickly found Iris sitting a little way down the table. She was surrounded by her new dormmates and judging from her body language she was being interrogated. Poor kid. Having to put up with gossip-hungry girls is a truly shit way to start your day. Soon enough his attention was drawn back by Hermione fidgeting next to him. Harry could see she was looking up at the High Table in eager anticipation. If she can manage to not have a go at Ron, I can manage not teasing her for her eagerness.

Harry followed Hermione's gaze to the High Table and, to his surprise, he found Hagrid looking back in what he could have sworn was amusement. Don't tell me you're stretching this out on purpose, Hagrid. She's going to blow if you don't start handing out our timetables soon. As if Hagrid had heard Harry's thoughts he stood up and started making his way down the Gryffindor table handing out slips of parchment that looked ridiculously small in his hands. Next to Harry, Hermione was now nearly vibrating in anticipation.

"Alrigh' there, you three?" Hagrid asked when he came up to where the seventh years were sitting. Definitely drawing this out on purpose.

"Yeah. You, Hagrid?"

"Can' complain. Yeh'll be wantin' yer schedules then?"

"Yes please, Hagrid." Hermione said so quickly that she almost mashed the words into one. Hagrid chuckled in response and held out a slip of parchment to her which Hermione eagerly snatched out of his hand.

"Was that really necessary, Hagrid?" Harry asked as he took his own schedule.

"Don' know what yer talkin' about, 'Arry." Hagrid replied with a blush that must have been visible from the other side of the Hall before quickly handing out the rest of the timetables. Sorry, Hagrid, but you still can't lie worth a damn. Harry quickly looked over his schedule and saw that he only had Charms and Herbology that day. And a free period. Guess I'll get started on organising those tryouts sooner than I expected. When he looked up again he saw Hermione's anxious eyes looking at him. With a sigh he held out his timetable which was snatched up as eagerly as her own had been. I don't know why we have to go through this every year. It's like she's worried we'll not be enrolled in any classes. On Hermione's other side Ron caught Harry's look and grinned in understanding before holding his own schedule out to be taken. Eventually Hermione had reviewed both boys schedules and made the appropriate annotations on her own. By the end of the day that thing's going to be colour-coded and covered in Impervius Charms.

"If everyone's done, perhaps we should go collect our things for Charms." Harry suggested to nods of agreement from the others. As they were getting up Harry heard a familiar pop behind him. Turning around he found a house elf standing there.

"Master Harry, sir. Trippy is bringing you your post." it said as it held out a single envelope.

"Why are you you delivering Harry's post?" Hermione asked sounding curious and potentially outraged at the same time while Harry accepted the letter.

"Master Harry is putting up spells to keep away owls. Today an elf from the Ministry comes demanding to bring this to Master Harry, but we is not letting him. 'Hogwarts elves will be taking care of Master Harry' we says. When poncey elf leaves we is checking the letter for dangers before giving it to Master Harry."

"Thank you very much, Trippy. It means a lot to me to have you taking care of me. Please thank the others as well." Harry broke in quickly before Hermione could build up a head of steam.

"Master is too kind." Trippy responded with a deep bow and popped out. Hoping to keep Hermione off balance enough to avert an explosion Harry simply started walking out of the Hall. It didn't take long before he heard rapid footsteps catching up with him. Too many to be Hermione alone. Probably all of them.

"Harry, mate, hold up!" Harry slowed down as he heard Ron call out. The redhead was soon standing next to him puffing a little at the recent exertion. "What on earth was that? Since when do the elves call you 'master' here?"

"Not sure. They started doing it over the summer and I can't get them to stop."

"Hermione made you try, huh?"

"I did not, Ronald." Hermione said primly from among the group of seventh years who had caught up to them. "I was happy that he did though." Ron looked like he might say something in response for a moment before he turned back to Harry.

"So who's the letter from anyway?"

"Ron, it's incredibly rude to pry into other people's correspondence."

"It's alright, Hermione." Harry interrupted before his friends could get started. We were off to such a good start. Maybe we can keep the peace a little longer, you two. Harry quickly opened the letter and scanned it. "It's from, Shack. He wants some help with a couple of stubborn Ministry workers. He's asking me to stop by during my free period on Thursday." Ron blinked in surprise before he looked over his own schedule.

"I hate to break it to you, Harry, but we don't have a free period on Thursday. Potions and Charms in the morning and double Defence in the afternoon."

"I'm not taking Defence this year, Ron."

"What? Why not?" Harry was uncomfortably aware of especially Hadrian's eyes on him.

"I don't qualify for the course anymore."

"Why not? We should go talk to McGonagall. How can the man who defeated You Know Who not qualify for a course in Defence?!" I appreciate your indignation, mate, but you're not helping.

"It'll have to wait for now, Ron. We have a Charms class to get to." Harry stopped for a moment and looked at the others. "Was being late for class actually ranking as problem weird for anyone else?" His classmates laughed at that and started talking about other things they had found strange since coming back to school. At least we managed to change the topic. I'll have to make sure I drag Ron off to tell him about my Mastery at some point today. Shaking himself, Harry hurried back to the Heads' Suite to collect his books for his classes. After their double Charms class, Harry held Ron back a little as they were walking to lunch.

"Come on. You didn't get a chance to see the Heads' Suite last night and I figure you're going to be spending most of your time there anyway."

"Alright." Ron looked intrigued by Harry's suggestion and followed him up to a portrait of a wizard wearing a cavalry uniform that was probably an indication of his high rank if the number of tassels and medals were anything to go by.

"Morpheus." Harry gave the password.

"Hermione set the password?" Ron asked as the portrait swung open to let them into the common room Harry and Hermione would be sharing this year.

"Uh-huh. I'll show you around." After a quick tour of the common room, Harry showed Ron around his room. He was rummaging in his trunk for the letter that would explain why he wasn't attending Defence when he heard Ron ask:

"So are we visiting Hermione's room next?"

"Not a chance, mate. If you want to see that, get Hermione to show you. I don't need to be living with your hacked off girlfriend." Ron chuckled at that.

"So what are you looking for?"

"This." Harry stood up with the letter Minerva had sent him over the summer. "This is going to help me explain why I'm not taking Defence this year." Ron eyed the letter with interest. "Go on. Read it." Harry kept a careful eye on Ron's expression as he read the letter. Damn. I was really hoping we could avoid this. Ron's ears had turned red about halfway through the letter and by the time he had finished the flush had spread to his cheeks and neck. Glaring at Harry he tossed the letter on the bed.

"So… Mr. Big Name gets a Mastery in Defence and I get bugger all."

"Ron-"

"I mean I did just as much as you did to end You Know Who! I should have gotten a Mastery too!"

"Ron, I-"

"Did you even mention what I did for you or did you just pretend that it was all you?" Oh, for fuck's sake! Give it a rest.

"RON!" Ron's mouth shut abruptly as Harry yelled his name practically in his face. "I had you read the letter because I thought it would prove that I didn't know about this until Professor McGonagall sent that to me. I don't even know where the International Wizarding Examination and Certification Authority is."

"Yeah, but you didn't try to find out either did you?" Ron bit out before he stormed out of Harry's room. Shit. So much for keeping this under wraps. Ron in a snit is sure to tell everyone what his problem with me is; loudly. Harry put the letter back where he'd found it and hurried after his touchy friend but didn't catch up to him until he reached the Great Hall. Ron was already sitting down between Hermione and Ginny when Harry got there and clearly wasn't wasting any time getting his grievance off his chest. Ginny was totally absorbed in what her brother was saying, but Hermione managed to find the time to send Harry an aggrieved look for setting her boyfriend off like this. Harry decided that it was probably in his best interests to sit somewhere else for lunch. Ron didn't usually calm down while still within shouting distance of the person he was arguing with. Looking up and down the table Harry spotted Iris sitting by herself and walked over to her.

"Hey, mind if I join you?" Iris looked up in surprise but managed a small smile when she saw who it was.

"Of course not, Harry." She looked past him and must have seen Ron and the girls. "What's wrong with Weasley?"

"He's just found out that IWECA gave me a Defence Mastery."

"Shouldn't he be happy for you then?"

"I don't know, Iris. I just don't get people sometimes."

:-:-:-:-:

"Good afternoon, Harry."

"Afternoon, Minerva." Harry said listlessly as he entered the Headmistress' office. "Thanks for letting me use your floo."

"You are very welcome; it's for a good cause, I'm sure."

"I'm not." Harry muttered under his breath.

"How have you found Hogwarts so far?"

"About the same as it's ever been." Minerva blinked in confusion.

"I'm not quite sure what to make of that given how you spent your first six years here." Harry sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I'm not either, but everyone still gossips and stares like they used to."

"Ah, you mean that word of your Mastery has gotten out." Harry just nodded. "It's something to be proud of, Harry."

"I know. I just wish Ron would have taken it better. I'd rather have my friends than a distinction."

"He will come around. After all: a friend will not make you choose between them and a distinction you have rightfully earnt."

"I hope so. I'd better get going and see what Shack wants."

"Very well. Good luck with the Minister, Harry." Harry grabbed a pinch of floo powder and loudly called out:

"Ministry of Magic, Atrium!" One dizzying ride later he landed in the cavernous space he remembered from Dumbledore's fight with Riddle back in fifth year. He made his way over to the visitor's desk. The security guard manning it was not the same one he had seen back when he came here for his underage magic hearing. "Good afternoon. I'm here to see Minister Shacklebolt." The guard behind the desk looked up petulantly and Harry got the dubious pleasure of watching the man's mouth fall open in slow motion.

"M-m-mr. Potter. What can I do for you, sir?" The man appeared to be trying for militaristically competent, but it came off a little bumbling.

"I think you need to check my wand in, don't you?"

"Um, y-yes, sir." Harry held out his wand handle first and watched as the security guard took it reverently and placed it on the scales. Another weighing of my wand. The scales vibrated and a slip of parchment shot out of the slit at the bottom. The guard tore it off. "Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, been in use seven years." the guard almost whispered. Harry noticed that the man hadn't even looked at the parchment in his hand.

"That's right." The man laid Harry's wand across his open palms and presented it to him like an offering. Harry tried to take it calmly rather than snatching it back.

"You're all set, sir. Go right on in."

"Thank you." Harry quickly walked over to the lifts. When he got there he looked back and saw the security guard staring down at the slip of parchment he was still holding. Shaking his head, Harry got onto a lift and pressed the button for the first floor. By the time the lift got there Harry's neck was itching from all the stares he was getting from the other passengers. He got off as quickly as he could without running and made his way over to the Minister's office. When he got there he discovered another obstacle: Shack's secretary. The girl was only a few years older than Harry if he had to guess and the moment she saw him she let out a loud squeak.

"You're Harry Potter." she breathed out in awe.

"I am."

"I'm Melody Pickford, sir. I'm the secretary to the Minister." the secretary said in a rush. Ancients preserve me.

"A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Pickford. Is-"

"You can call me 'Melody'."

"Melody; is the Minister in?" Melody's face lit up with a blush that would put a tomato to shame.

"He is, sir. Um, do you have an appointment?"

"I don't actually know. He asked me to show up around this time so I suppose I might." Melody's blush somehow intensified. She's going to burst a capillary soon.

"I-... I'll just go ask him, sir. Please wait here for a moment." Harry watched the girl jump up and rush for the double doors a little further down the hall. She slipped inside and came out again less than a minute later still wearing that same blush. "The Minister will see you right away, sir." she said as she held the door open.

"Thank you, Melody." Harry said as he walked into the office, earning himself another squeak. Harry took a moment to close the door behind him before turning to face Shack.

"You know, she's usually a competent, no-nonsense kind of girl." Shack said by way of a greeting.

"Your secretary?"

"Mm-hm. So what did you do to unsettle her?"

"Showed up." Shack let out a snort of laughter at Harry's deadpan delivery. "Impressive office, Shack. You going to try to keep it?" The office was impressive, probably on purpose so guests give the sitting Minister the appropriate respect. No other way Fudge could have gotten any. The Minister was sitting behind a large desk made of a dark-coloured wood which was polished to a high sheen. There were a pair of couches to one side with a glass coffee table between them on a shag-rug. The rest of the office-floor was made of a slightly lighter wood than the desk. There was what looked like a wet bar past the couches and several filing cabinets across from it. I wonder how often that's led to unnecessary cock-ups? The walls were covered with wood panelling and had several still-life paintings hanging on them for colour.

"I haven't decided yet. I'm going to give it another week to see if anyone else is going to run aside from Mordred Montague."

"Montague? Sounds like a Death Eater."

"He isn't, we checked. Definitely sympathises with some of their ideas, but didn't think starting social upheaval when you're already the ruling elite was a good idea."

"So a smart bigot?"

"Pretty much." Harry groaned and rubbed at his eyes.

"And no one else is gearing up to keep him from royally screwing over the recovery effort?"

"Doesn't look like it."

"Good luck then, Shack. You're going to need it."

"Actually that's why I have you." Harry glared at his friend, which was roundly ignored. "I need your help getting some people to work together."

"So your letter said, but isn't that your job, Minister?"

"Yes, but I know when I'm outclassed. The people we need to bring together are the delegation from Gringotts and the representatives of some of the more… conservative… elements of our government."

"Stop talking like a damn politician and say 'bigots' if you mean 'bigots'."

"The point is that you are probably the only wizard the goblins respect and combined with your standing in our world I was hoping that putting you in a room with them will keep them from making total idiots of themselves in an effort to impress you."

"So you want me to babysit the people who are determining our tax code and financial laws?"

"Essentially." Harry huffed out a deep breath.

"Can I curse them if they annoy me?"

"I'm not sure how the goblins would take it, but I'm pretty sure that Hermione put something in our laws that says you can't."

"Fine. When am I getting started?"

"They have another meeting in fifteen minutes. I'll show you the way."

"You're not hanging about are you?"

"I scheduled it so I could ask you if you would do it first."

"And if I'd said 'no'?" Kingsley shrugged his shoulders.

"They'd have carried on as they have for the past weeks, which would probably have left those laws in the hands of the Wizengamot when they finally get elected."

"And three months is a lot of time to get your account set up so that everything seems legal."

"That too." Harry shot Shack a questioning look. "It also gives them loopholes through which they can bribe people in any number of ways to do any number of things and get their friends into office; not the start we want for the new government." Harry nodded in understanding. From what Fenrac told me, the way the purebloods were able to move their money around was half the problem of this society to begin with. That was the whole reason for mentioning it to Hermione over the summer in the first place. Soon Shack and Harry arrived at the conference room where the meeting would be held. It was a plain room by Ministry standards. Only a large table with seven chairs around it, three to either side and one at the head of the table. "The goblins and the Ministry team should be here shortly. I hope you get them to cooperate, because I'm running out of ideas."

"I'll see what I can do, Shack." Once the Minister left Harry took off his school robes and draped them over the back of the chair at the head of the table. No point in reminding them that they need a schoolboy to monitor their negotiations. Thank the ancients that I still wear normal clothes under my robes. Sure they're not the height of fashion in either world, but the point here isn't to out-posture the politicians. Harry had been sitting quietly, wondering what to expect when the door opened and the floo flared simultaneously. From the door came the Ministry delegation while the floo disgorged three goblins. All of them stopped when they saw that someone was already present.

"Welcome." Harry said dryly. Good. Fenrac is one of the goblins. That should make talking to them a lot easier. "Well? Sit down. As I understand it we have work to do, gentlemen." Slowly everyone started moving again and the two delegations took seats facing each other.

"Mr. Potter?" one of the Ministry-types ventured. "It's an honour to have you here, sir, but what are you actually doing, um, here?"

"The Minister asked me to sit in on your negotiations. Perhaps some introductions are in order?"

"Indeed." the eldest of the Ministry delegation said. "I am William Beville. With me are Dorian O'Flaherty and Henry Abbot."

"Harry Potter; a pleasure." Harry answered leaving the men looking slightly unsure how to respond to an introduction to someone whose name they already knew. Harry ignored their discomfort and turned to the goblins.

"Wealth and honour, Potter. With me are Hork and Rashkall."

"Wealth and honour, Fenrac."

"You know this goblin, Mr. Potter?" Beville asked quickly.

"He happens to be my account manager at Gringotts." Harry responded lightly, almost daring the man to make an issue of it. "Now I don't know how far you've gotten in your negotiations, so why don't we start with you listing the things you have already agreed on?" It turned out that that list was non-existent. For the next two hours Harry was treated to grown men and goblins snipping at each other in polite, but cutting tones. I certainly haven't heard anything about finance, taxes or other money-related jargon at least. I wonder if putting Hermione in this room with these idiots would get her to consider an exception to the law that allows for cursing politicians. Harry cleared his throat to get the attention of the others in the room. When that didn't work he slammed his palm down on the table.

"Let me get this straight," he said quietly into the resulting silence, "the lot of you are still busy trading playground insults and that is why we don't have a tax code or financial laws, have I got that more or less right?" No one answered him. "Mr. Beville, you have been pretty vocal about your dissatisfaction with the idea that the goblins should help us write these laws. May I ask you what you actually know about financial law?" Beville's lip curled up in a sneer that would have made Snape green with envy.

"I may not know everything I would like to about financial law, but I do know that we should not turn our backs on these beasts and let them write the laws to their own benefit."

"Because they can't be trusted?"

"Exactly." Harry held up a hand to stop the goblins from responding to what was frankly an undisguised insult. Even he was surprised when they settled down.

"So you don't have an account with Gringotts?" Harry asked as if he didn't already know the answer. Beville's face turned blotchy as it contorted into an ugly mix of embarrassment and anger. "You already trust them with your money, Mr. Beville, even if you've been conveniently choosing to forget that. For the sake of argument let's say you are right and we can't trust the goblins: how would you make sure that you hold them to their word that they won't write the laws to benefit themselves?" Beville stayed quiet and just glowered at Harry. I wonder if he thinks I'm setting him up again? "Would you feel better if they signed a contract stating that they will help us write the laws to our benefit and not theirs?"

"It would help." Beville allowed stiffly.

"And you understand that if we turn this into a contract that they are fully within their rights to demand payment for the service they are being contracted for?" Okay, I might be setting him up a little bit. Beville gave a stiff nod while his face looked like his neck was breaking in the process. "Good." Harry turned to the goblins. "Fenrac, would you accept a contract to write our financial laws and our tax-code for us that states the government's basic wishes and contains a clause to the effect that you won't write in any loopholes to your own benefit?"

"I think that could be managed, Potter. It would not come cheap though."

"Then might I suggest that we stop here for today? It will give both sides a chance to talk to their respective leaders and we can set another meeting for next week where the Ministry can present a draft contract and Gringotts can quote us an estimate for what it's going to cost us."

"Agreed." Fenrac barked.

"Agreed." Beville grunted in disgust.

"Wonderful. I will see you next week at the same time then." Harry said as he stood up and grabbed his school robes and threw them over one shoulder. "Good day, gentlemen." He left the conference room without looking back. He made his way back up to Shack's office, fully intending to give the Minister a piece of his mind for dragging him into this. This time he breezed past the secretary without stopping and stalked into Shack's office. Shack looked up in surprise when his office was invaded without an announcement, though that expression washed off of his face when he saw who it was.

"Minister, I'm so sorry. He just walked straight past me; I didn't even get a chance to-..." Shack held up a hand.

"It's alright, Melody. I don't blame you."

"Y-yes, sir. Thank you, sir." she stammered as she backed out and closed the door behind her.

"So? How badly did it go?"

"You should've just let me curse them." Shack let out a low whistle.

"No luck then?"

"I told Beville that if he doesn't trust the goblins and doesn't know the first thing about the laws they're helping us write we should just have them sign a contract that would have them agree to limit their work to our best interests. I may also have pointed out that the goblins could demand payment if we were turning this into a business arrangement."

"And he went for it?"

"We're meeting next week to talk contract and fees. I gave them the excuse that they should go talk to their respective leaders."

"Harry, I don't know how well this will work. The Ministry doesn't have enough money to pay the goblins an outrageous sum to write these laws for us."

"I didn't think it would. When Beville comes whining to you, though, you just tell him that if he insists on the contract, he's paying for it. It's his choice whether he wants to trust their pro-bono work or pay for their contract. That should shut him up one way or the other." Shack gave Harry a calculating look for a long moment. Harry sighed. "Fenrac was leading the Gringotts delegation. He's my account manager. I'll see what I can do with him behind the scenes."

"You would make a frighteningly good politician."

"Prick. Was that all? I need to get back and get started on my homework."

"That's it. Thank you for your help. I'll make sure to get Beville in line."

"Good. I'll just-..." Harry was interrupted by a knock on the door. Melody poked her head in with a nervous look on her face.

"Um, sir? Security is reporting that the atrium's completely blocked by the press."

"Well, that's my cue to get out of here." Harry said standing up. "Mind if I use your floo, Shack? That way you can tell them that I've already left and they should sod off." Melody looked shocked and a little impressed at the way Harry was addressing the Minister, but stayed quietly by the door.

"I think that may be for the best. Melody, have security tell the press that Mr. Potter has flooed out and they are wasting their time."

"Yes, sir." She hurried from the room to carry out her orders.

"Floo powder's on the mantle, Harry. See you next week."

"See you, Shack. Have fun with the reporters. Hogwarts, Headmistress' Office." After the usual dizzying ride, Harry was surprised to emerge into an empty office.

"Ah, Harry, my boy." one of the portraits began. "I was hoping-"

"Don't care, Albus. I'd tell you to fuck off and die, except it hasn't helped much so far." Harry stalked out of the office before the portrait could rally from the unaccustomed talking to. Feeling like he might curse someone if he was exposed to more idiocy Harry made his way down to the kitchens and asked for a meal he could carry up to his room. The elves wouldn't hear of it and told him that dinner for one would be served in the Heads' Suite. Whatever. I'm not up for another argument. Harry thanked the elf he was talking to and simply headed back up to his and Hermione's rooms. When he got there he found that one of the desks had been covered with a tablecloth and set like it was standing in a high end restaurant. Right. Better eat before Hermione comes in and gives me an earful for making extra work for the elves. Harry polished off his dinner in a hurry and tried to get a start on his Transfiguration essay that was due next week, but it felt like his mind had been turned to mush at the Ministry. In the end he gave it up as a bad job and decided to just go to bed. It says something that I'd rather take the nightmares than this, but I'm too tired to figure it out.

:-:-:-:-:

This had better be quick. Hadrian was getting frustrated just sitting in the stands and waiting for the Beater trials to end. Actually this whole damn place is frustrating. Hadrian's first week at Hogwarts had been disappointing to say the least. The students were proving to be far less tractable than he had expected. The dynamics in the dorm were pretty much locked in place. None of the boys were unfriendly per se, but Seamus and Dean spent most of their time together. The squib was frequently with either Looney or Harry. The only one who had been hanging out with Hadrian was Ron. I'm pretty sure that it's because he is on the outs with Harry because of that Defence Mastery.

That had been a shock. I never considered getting out of a class by getting someone to give me a Mastery. I have to admit that it's genius though. It had only been one of the points Hadrian had mentioned in a very full letter home. The news that Harry was involved in high level politics to the extent that the Minister sent him personal requests to deal with unruly elements hinted at a strategy that was far more focused on subversion than persuasion. Dad will know what to make of it. It does pose a problem that Harry has the Minister's ear for now. Still, with the elections coming up that might not be true for long. Hadrian didn't quite manage to believe that himself. If he's good enough to be involved in high-level politics already then he has a plan for any outcome of the election. He'll still be in a position of power afterwards; one way or the other. The best thing I can do is focus on my own position and this is the perfect place to start.

There were a lot more people at this tryout than any Hadrian had ever been at. It looks like every last person in Gryffindor is here to watch this. Good. More witnesses means word will get around faster and no one's going to beat me at Quidditch.

"Alright! Beaters, that's enough! Chasers, get down here!" Hadrian looked up as he heard Harry's voice ring out over the stands. Showtime! He could see a throng of people pushing at the stairs as they rushed to get down and met the Beater hopefuls coming up. Idiots. Hadrian stepped up onto the railing of the stands before diving off and mounting his broom mid-fall. Seconds later he landed easily in front of Harry who raised an eyebrow at him but gave him a nod and made a mark on his parchment. I wish I could read him better. He doesn't seem to be condemning me for showing off, but that wasn't exactly approval either. Note to self: never play poker with Harry. Hadrian was distracted from his musings by another flyer landing next to him. He glanced to the side in time to catch Ginny's wink. Heh. Now that was approval. Soon there were more and more students who were following their example and simply flying down to the pitch. Too bad, kiddies. It's only impressive if you're the first one to do it. It's just bollocks that I even need that kind of advantage, but what do you want when the guy doing the choosing has a house-sized grudge against my family?

Harry waited until everyone was down and divided them up into groups. Each group was told to fly three laps around the pitch. Hadrian found himself in one of the last groups with Ginny. When it was their turn he grinned a challenge at her before rocketing off into the air. For all three laps Hadrian and Ginny set the pace, leaving most of the group behind except for one girl whom they couldn't shake no matter what. Circe's tits, I think Ginny may be an even better flier here than back home. After the basic flying test they were put through basic Chaser drills. After each one several hopefuls were thanked for trying and sent back to the stands. When there were only nine potential Chasers left Harry called out the Keepers and, after another basic flying test, had the Chasers divide up into three teams and each take five runs at each Keeper. Hadrian formed a group with Ginny and the girl who had kept up with them during the first test. Ginny introduced the girl as Demelza Robins, the other chaser left from the old Gryffindor team. And it looks like the three of us will be the new Gryffindor front line.

During their runs at the hoops, Hadrian's group proved it was effective, if nothing else. They even managed to score three goals on Ron. Sorry about that, mate, but I need to be flawless if I'm going to convince Harry to pick me. I can't afford to screw this up.

After the last group had flown at the last Keeper they were all dismissed and Harry promised them that he would have the results of the tryouts up on the notice board by the next morning. Hadrian joined Ron as they headed in for a shower and a change before dinner.

"Hey, Hadrian? I was thinking: how would you like to come to the opening of the Quidditch season next weekend with me and Hermione?" Spending time with Beaverface isn't high on my list of priorities, but I can suck it up for this.

"That'd be amazing. You got tickets?"

"Well, they really only got this far because of me. Of course I got tickets. I was planning to invite Harry before he shafted me and Herms by claiming all the credit for the work we did together. I thought you might enjoy this though."

"I would. I really would." And it will be made all the sweeter by Harry's absence.

"Great. I'll let McGonagall know so you can get permission to leave school grounds. It's going to be great. There will be a performance by the Weird Sisters in their new formation and we'll get to watch the Cannons take on the Tornadoes." Ron launched into a detailed argument of why the Cannons would win their first match of the season. I'm sorry, mate, but I just don't see it happening. I suppose I should just be thankful that your Cannons don't have to play the United or I would have to rubbish this optimism of yours. It's really far preferable to just let you carry on in exchange for a ticket to one of the must-see events of the year.

Chapter Text

"Alright team, that was a good practice." Harry said as he looked over the figures huddled in the rain which felt even colder now that they weren't playing anymore. "We can discuss areas for us to improve in another time. Get inside, get showered and get warm before you catch your deaths. We can't play if Madam Pomfrey confines you to bed rest." Harry caught some grateful looks as the Gryffindor team made its way back to the locker room. I can't imagine how they would have reacted to Wood. He would have kept us practicing for another hour to make sure we could perform in all conditions. He considered going to the locker room with the rest of the team but decided against it. The only thing I'll find is a crowded shower. I think I'll just head up to the suite and take a private shower there.

Unable to stop the mischievous smirk that broke out on his face, Harry turned his broom towards the castle and rocketed off. Rather than landing and walking all the way to the third floor where the suite was, Harry just kept on flying through the halls and up the stairs. He quickly found himself in front of a grinning portrait.

"Evening, Roland. Morpheus."

"Welcome back, Potter." the portrait said with mirth clear in its voice as it swung open. Harry flew through the portrait hole and headed straight for his room.

"Harry? What on earth are you doing?" Hermione was sitting at one of the desks with an essay in front of her and an incredulous look on her face.

"Um, heading in to take a shower?"

"And you had to fly your broom all the way through the school to do that?"

"I was cold." Hermione shook her head with a smile at Harry's deadpan answer.

"Oh, go on, before you soak our entire common room with your dripping." Harry grinned back at her and dove into his room. A warm and, by his standards, long shower later, Harry emerged into the common room wearing his pajamas and carrying his book bag. He sat down at the free desk and started pulling out his homework. Might as well get started on that Charms essay. It's the longest and already due on Monday. Harry stopped and blinked for a moment. I think I may actually be getting used to being a schoolboy again; and it only took six weeks.

Of course most school boys didn't have to write letters to various negotiating parties to get their country's fiscal laws set up. Hermione had been a tremendous help in drafting the letter to Fenrac despite her stated aversion to allowing politics to distract her from her schoolwork. They had informed Fenrac of the point of Harry's ploy and at the next meeting the quoted estimated had apparently turned out to be a few galleons more than the contents of Beville's vault. The man had asked for some time to consider the contract carefully. Shack had since reported that Beville had been running around like a madman trying to get donations from like-minded wizards. They weren't sure if he would manage to get all the money collected, but he certainly seemed to be trying. Not that it matters since the goblins have already written the laws in such a way that a contract wouldn't unduly bother them. If Beville does manage it a lot of bigots will lose their money for no good reason. It's enough to give you a warm feeling inside.

Harry shook himself and got up to look through the bookcases for the appropriate reference books. Hermione had organised the bookcases on their second night in the Suite and had only waited that long because they had been busy patrolling the first night. The bookcases were neatly organised by subject, though Hermione had arranged the books Harry had brought from the Black library on their own shelf. He was just wondering if she had redone her organisation when he got distracted by a meaningful cough behind him.

"Looking for these?" Harry turned around to see Hermione indicating a stack of books on her desk.

"If those are the Charms books."

"They are. I'll even let you have them if I can borrow something from you."

"And what do I have that you want, Ms. Granger?"

"A certain map that will allow me to find my boyfriend more quickly so that I don't have to waste time I could spend studying."

"A hard bargain, but done." Harry declared with faux-solemnity. Hermione grinned and pushed the books across her desk towards him. "The map's in the drawer of my nightstand."

"Thanks, Harry." Harry just waved her into his room and collected the books. He sat down and opened the first one to the chapter that dealt with long-term animation as it applied to inanimate objects. Hermione meanwhile disappeared into his room and came back out a minute later with a familiar piece of parchment. "Don't wait up for me, Harry."

"Didn't need to know that." Hermione laughed as she ducked out of the portrait hole to go and find Ron. It's good to hear Hermione laughing again. There were months in that tent when I didn't think that would be possible. I guess things really are starting to look up. Harry took a moment to contemplate how far they had come since then. The Potters dropping in may have been stressful, but I believe I could honestly start to think of Iris as my little sister someday. The rest of them are still pains though. Iris had been stopping by the Suite twice a week for her lessons on the Patronus Charm and frequently stuck around to spend time with the two occupants. She and Hermione really get along well. In fact everyone around me seems to be getting along better. Even Ron's forgiven me; rather, he's started acting like nothing ever happened since he came back from the Quidditch League Opening in such a good mood, despite the Cannons losing again. Harry gave himself a mental shake. I'd better get started. I really don't need this essay hanging over my head. Firmly putting thoughts of his friends out of his head for the moment Harry picked up his book again and started looking for information that he could use in his essay.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian was standing outside the women's locker room with Ron as they waited for Ginny. Ron was happily analysing their chances against Slytherin. Despite his apparent attention to his friend, Hadrian was far more occupied with analysing the last six weeks of his life. It's just frustrating. The school still hasn't come around to seeing me for what I am. At this rate I'm going to have to do something drastic to get them to notice me. I think it may time for me to start planning my first big prank of the year. It'll have to be something that'll improve my position amongst the students. I think I have enough information to make that work. What I need now is some time and some peace and quiet to work out exactly what I'm going to do. Speaking of a lack of quiet…

Hadrian pulled his attention back to Ron's ongoing monologue which had moved on to a dissection of the Hawkshead Formation and if it would benefit the Slytherins more than a Porskoff Ploy. Really, with me on the team it's not like the result is in any kind of doubt, no matter what the snakes try. Ron's latest rant on the intricacies of the Slytherin's Chaser plays was interrupted by a voice from the door behind them.

"Oh, give it a rest already, Ron. We all know we have the best team this year." Hadrian spun around with a grin on his face.

"I don't know, Gin. I don't mind hearing that we are the best over and over and over and-"

"Yeah, yeah. So I care about the team. Are you two done now?" Ron muttered to the two singgering next to him.

"Aww. Sorry, Ronniekins. We'll stop being meanies now." Ginny said in a baby voice to her brother. Hadrian chuckled as he swung an arm over Ron's shoulder.

"On an almost serious note: have you considered becoming a pundit for the Wizarding Wireless when we graduate? I think that they could use someone like you to explain all the details to the listeners." Ron's face pulled into a thoughtful expression.

"You think they'd go for something like that?" he asked in a musing tone.

"Don't tell me you've given up on playing Keeper for the Cannons?!" Ginny exclaimed in faux shock.

"No, I still want to do that, but it'd be good to have a backup like Herms keeps nagging me about."

"Hmm, don't want to get the wife angry now do we, brother dear?"

"Oi! She's not my wife! And it's not like I do everything she says. She probably wouldn't nag me so much if I did."

"No, she'd still nag you. It's just the kind of nightmare she is." Hadrian blinked at the twin stares he was getting from the Weasleys. "Sorry. Didn't quite mean to say that out loud."

"But you meant it." Ron said quietly while giving him a measuring look. Hadrian let out a sigh.

"Yes, I meant it. If I'm honest I don't understand your relationship with her. I mean: she's not attractive, she doesn't even put any effort into trying to be, she acts like her shit smells of flowers, she can't stop talking about whatever ridiculous muggle thing pops into her mind, she doesn't put you first… I suppose I just don't know what you see in her." The trio rounded a corner and Hadrian's head shot up. I could have sworn I just saw something move. Before he could spend too much time contemplating what he might have seen Ron was drawing his attention back with his answer.

"Well, sure, she's a nightmare, but who else is there? Parv's attractive, but she hates me ever since I dated her sister and then her best friend. Padma's out after she ditched me for some frog in fourth year. Lav's dead. Susan's dead. Roper and Dunbar left the country during the war and haven't returned yet. Jada's just another Hermione only I know her even less. Hannah's still hoping that Nev tires of Luna and I'm not going to be thrown over for him. The snakes that came back are still snakes. Su Li's dead. Mandy's dead. Midgen's still minging." Ron gave a shrug to a now open-mouthed Hadrian. "Herms might be a nightmare, but she's the best of what's left."

"I-… I hadn't looked at it like that." I never thought about how many people might have to die before Beaverface became an option, but it actually happened here. "Why haven't you looked at some of the lower years though? You're a war hero and a Quidditch star. You don't need to stick to your own year."

"I've thought about that, but the younger ones are just a little too young, y'know? I could ditch Herms completely but I'd still rather have a girlfriend than spend my last year in Hogwarts by myself if you know what I mean; the free homework help's not bad either. When I get out of Hogwarts I'll join the Cannons and be on the road most of the time anyway. Herms isn't going to accept what comes with that so I kind of expect her to break it off after graduation anyway and by then some of the younger years should have filled out proper-like."

"You mean the groupies that you're going to get?" Hadrian grinned.

"Of course."

"How are you going to deal with that, Hadrian?" Ginny's question seemed light-hearted at first glance, but Hadrian knew what was hovering behind it.

"It's all a matter of alternatives, Gin. If I knew I had Granger waiting for me at home, I might even jump at the chance to be with a hag. If I had someone worthwhile waiting for me, I wouldn't risk it."

"Hmmm."

"You know what the real problem with Herms is though?" Ron broke in, oblivious to what had just passed between the two walking next to him. "She has her priorities all wrong. We saved the world. The war's over and everyone who's not a slimy snake is happy. We've done our bit and now we can just have all the benefits come to us. I mean: even if I was shit at Keeping, I know I could still get a Quidditch team to take me, because we're famous now. We don't need to keep working ourselves to the bone anymore but all she does is work on new laws, new homework assignments, new anything as long as it's not something new in the bedroom; hell, anything in a bedroom." Wow. I think he may have really needed to vent. Of course it's a miracle he's held on this long in the first place.

"That's rough, man." Hadrian tried.

"Yeah. Another thing is that she spends all her time hanging around Harry. If it's not Head duties, it's something for the Ministry. If it's not that it's homework. I know that they're hiding something from me, I just haven't figured out what yet." Ron kept up his litany of complaints all the way to the portrait of the Fat Lady. Hadrian and Ginny both just made commiserating noises as they let him get it out of his system. Hadrian did take a moment to shush Ron before they entered the common room.

"Just keep it inside until we get to the dorm if you want your relationship with Granger to stay alive. You know how fast gossip travels around here." Ron just grumbled something that Hadrian took as assent. When they were up in their dorm Hadrian quickly checked to make sure none of the others were there. "Look, Ron. I understand your frustrations and I think I have a solution."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"There's a grove in the Forbidden Forest that's home to a few dryads. They can't speak human languages so they are very… discrete. Why don't we take a Hogsmeade weekend to see if it's in the same place I remember from back home? I promise you that they are completely uninterested in new laws and homework assignments and very interested in new things in the bedroom." Hadrian could see that Ron was already imagining himself surrounded by scantily clad women.

"I suppose it couldn't hurt to look." Don't worry, mate. We'll have you free of Beaverface's delusions in no time.

:-:-:-:-:

I swear Flitwick's gotten more demanding this year. Harry dropped his quill on the parchment in front of him and rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses. He quickly checked the time and saw that Hermione had already been gone for nearly an hour. I am not going to think about that. There are some things their best friend just isn't supposed to know. Harry turned back to the essay, but found that his mind was an absolute blank. Oh, what the hell. I could use a break anyway.

Leaving the essay on the desk, Harry made his way over to the couch in front of the fireplace and flopped down on it with a groan. He spotted the paper that Hermione had been reading lying next to him and picked up. A quick glance told him that the paper was sensationalising the upcoming elections again. I know that they must want to sell more papers, but wouldn't a little variety accomplish that too? He just let the paper drop back where he had found it and leant his head against the couch's backrest. He let his eyes close and breathed out in an effort to relax muscles that had tensed up during his time sitting hunched over a parchment. I think I'll just stay like this for a little while.

Harry didn't know whether he had dozed off or not, but he did know that a sudden slamming of the portrait shocked him to full awareness in an instant. The cause wasn't a mystery for long as he saw Hermione running through the common room and into her own bedroom slamming that door as well. She had her face hidden behind her hands and was audibly sobbing. Should I go to her or leave her alone?

If I go to her she can tell me sod off. If I don't she can't tell me that she wished I would have been there for her until after the fact. Let's go see if I get told off then. Decision made Harry stood up and made his way over to Hermione's door and knocked softly.

"Hermione?" There was no answer. Harry tried to open the door and found it unlocked. He stepped quietly into the room. "Hermione?" Still no response. "Hermione, I'm going to turn on a light." With a wave of Harry's wand the room was filled with a soft light that easily allowed him to spot Hermione lying on her bed, sobbing into her pillow. He quickly made his way over and sat down next to her on the bed. Hermione shot up looking startled and giving Harry a good view of her red, puffy eyes and the blotches on her cheeks. "Oh, Hermione." He wrapped her in a hug. "What happened?"

Harry didn't receive an answer. As soon as his arms had come around her, Hermione had latched on to him like a drowning woman to a life raft. He could feel her shoulders shaking in his grip as sobs wracked her body and his shoulder grew wet from her tears. Right. Not talking then. For nearly fifteen minutes Harry just rubbed gentle circles on Hermione's back and whispered comforting nothings into her ear. Eventually the crying tapered off and Harry started wondering whether he could convince Hermione to tell him what was wrong.

"Harry?"

"I'm right here Hermione." Let's wait and see what she volunteers first.

"What do you think of me?" Harry's heart ached at the vulnerability in the tone of the question.

"I think that you are one of the smartest, kindest, bravest and most noble people I've ever met." He felt Hermione give him a slight squeeze.

"What-... what about… physically?" Huh? Why would-... doesn't matter.

"I think you're very pretty; beautiful even." Harry lifted Hermione's chin with one finger. "I hate it when I see you crying though. What's happened, Hermione?" Hermione looked away, avoiding eye-contact before she buried her face in his chest again. Damn. I shouldn't have pushed.

"I overheard them talking." Or maybe she wants to talk after all.

"Them who, Hermione?"

"Ginny, Hadrian and… Ron." Harry let his hand resume it's comforting circuit on her back as Hermione fought re-emerging sobs to tell her story. "Hadrian was asking Ron why- why he wasn't dating someone better looking. Ron told him- he told him that I was the best one left, at least until some of the younger girls are old enough." Hermione lost the battle with her emotions and Harry once again felt tears soaking the shoulder of his robes as he tried to assimilate what she was telling him. Hermione must have misheard something. There's no way that Ron would say those things about her.

Well, there's no way he'd say them where she'd overhear.

"He- he agreed with Hadrian that I was a nightmare; that I was bossy; that I had my priorities wr-wrong."

"I'm sure he didn't mean it, Hermione. Maybe he was trying to sound cool for Hadrian."

"Would you stay in a relationship with someone who talked about you like that behind your back?"

"I… I guess not. I'm not really good at relationships though." Hermione broke out in sobs again and Harry couldn't do anything except hold her in his arms. When she finally stopped shaking Harry noticed that it was because she had fallen asleep. He tried to get up, but found that he couldn't get out of her hold. At least not without waking her. Guess I'm sleeping like this. Harry leant back against the headboard and closed his eyes. Tomorrow I'll have to find Ron and ask him what he was thinking when he said that. I hope it doesn't hurt them too much.

:-:-:-:-:

When Harry woke the next morning he felt more rested than he had in months. He almost shot up in surprise when he realised that he hadn't had a single nightmare. Only the weight of Hermione's head resting on his shoulder kept him from reacting physically. Of course it would be the one time when Hermione's suffering that I finally have a full night's sleep Harry thought in disgust.

Try to look on the bright side: at least now I'll be able to help her if she needs me. Harry stayed there for a while before wondering if he should wake Hermione. I'll let the time decide. If it's after seven-thirty then Hermione would probably get more stressed if I let her sleep so I wake her, if not, I let her sleep a while longer. Harry carefully drew his wand, doing his best not to disturb the girl curled up against him. He quietly cast the Chronometer Charm. Seven-forty-eight?! We'll actually have to hurry if we want some breakfast. Harry put his wand away before he gently shook Hermione's shoulder.

"Hermione. Time to wake up. Rise and shine." Hermione just swatted ineffectually at the arm that was shaking her and tried to burrow into his side.

A shudder traveled down Harry's nervous system from where she made contact. He shook it off and tried to wake her again. He got a moan for his efforts this time. This isn't working. What would really get Hermione-...

"Hermione! The library's on fire!"

"Huh! Wha- save the books!" Hermione shot up looking around frantically before her eyes settled on Harry in confusion. "Harry? What are you doing in my bed?"

"You wouldn't let go."

"What do you-... oh." Harry felt like scum when he saw the way Hermione's face crumpled. I'm not even sure that I could have stopped that from happening. I can try to do something about it now though. Harry sat up so he was level with Hermione and pulled her into a hug.

"I'm here for you, Hermione. Anything you need, just ask."

"I thought I was supposed to be helping you?"

"You have. I didn't have a single nightmare last night so maybe you've cured me. That gives me more time to help you." Hermione let out a watery chuckle.

"Since when are you such an optimist?"

"Since you need me to be." Hermione's jerked up to look at Harry in confusion and for just a moment he let his eyes tell her that he did want to be there for her before forcing a smile onto his face. "We really do need to get up though. It's nearly eight." Hermione nodded at him and smiled back even though her eyes were still sad.

"Well, get out of here then and let a lady get dressed in peace." Harry could see that she was trying to put on a brave face. Nice try, Hermione, but that's my thing. Guess I'll just have to keep an eye on you today.

"Alright. See you out in the common room in fifteen minutes or I'm barging in here whether you're decent or not."

"You wouldn't!"

"Guess we're about to find out, huh?" Harry quickly ducked out of the room before Hermione could think about it too much. Of course I'm not going to just barge in. The distraction should at least get her going so she doesn't miss class though. I'm not sure I could cheer her up if that went wrong too. Speaking of, I'd better get a move on myself. Harry showered and got dressed in record time and made his way out to the common room. He picked up his schoolbag from where he had left it the night before and packed it with the books needed for today's classes. Harry sat down on the couch to wait for Hermione, but he was so keyed up that he soon started pacing the room to rid himself of some of his nervous energy.

When he heard Hermione's door open he spun around to find her standing there looking at her shoes. Is it me or is her hair bushier than usual? Not important right now. Harry hurried over to his friend and gently took her hand in his.

"Thanks for not calling my bluff." Hermione just shrugged. "Ready for breakfast?" Another shrug. "Well, let's get going anyway. I doubt you want to be late for Transfiguration class." Hermione allowed Harry to pull her out of their suite and along to the Great Hall. This is starting to really worry me. Normally she would at least be animated about what's happened; angry even. This quiet, little doll act is just not normal. As Harry drew her into the Hall he felt resistance from Hermione for the first time that morning. He followed the gaze of her narrowed eyes and quickly found the reason: Ron had spotted them and was waving them over.

"Let's go, Harry. I am not staying here with him." Hermione hissed out. Well, there's the anger I was expecting. Guess it just needed a target to wake up. I wonder if she thinks leaving here will help now that we've been spotted? Oh well. It will at least give them some privacy to yell at each other.

"Alright. We can just swing by the kitchens for a quick bite and still make it to class in time." Harry said. As they turned around he noticed Ron getting up and hurrying towards them. Harry waited until they were already heading down the hallway to the kitchens to warn Hermione. "We're about to have company." Hermione gave him a look askance which hardened when she heard footsteps coming up behind them.

"Harry! Herms! Why aren't you at breakfast?" Ron came puffing up beside them. Hermione just increased her stride forcing the two boys to nearly jog to keep with her. Ron quickly tired of being ignored. He reached out and grabbed Hermione's arm, spinning her around to face him. "Hey! What's going on?" Hermione's response was to slap him across the face with as much force as she could muster. "OW! What the fuck, Hermione?!" Ron cried out as he dropped her arm to cradle his injured cheek.

"Don't you dare touch me, Ronald Weasley." Hermione hissed out. She looked like she was considering slapping Ron again but settled for a verbal assault. "I don't know what I ever saw in an inconstant guttersnipe like you. I never want to see you again." Before either boy could respond she whirled around and stormed down the corridor.

"What was that all about then?" a bewildered Ron asked Harry. Harry gave him a heavy look in response.

"She told me she heard you calling her a nightmare, that you were only with her until something better came along, among other things. Please tell me you didn't and this is somehow an enormous misunderstanding."

"What? How could she possibly have heard that?" Harry's palm hit his forehead before he could stop it. He dragged his hand down his face and cleaned the glasses he'd pulled off his nose to buy himself some time to formulate a response.

"So you did say that."

"Well, yeah, I suppose. That doesn't answer the question of how she heard it though. I know we didn't see anyone nearby."

"That's not the bloody point. What possessed you to call Hermione an unattractive nightmare?" Ron looked at Harry like he was an idiot.

"Because she is."

"The hell she is! Hermione is everything you could wish for in a girlfriend, down to the bits that occasionally annoy you."

"Herms isn't here, Harry." Ron said in an annoyed tone. "You don't have to pretend for my sake."

"Who's pretending? I hope you remember this for the rest of your life, Ron, because I think it's the moment that you cocked up your relationship with the best woman either of us will ever know." Harry watched as Ron's expression twisted into something he couldn't quite read.

"You love her." What?! Ron's expression started resolving itself into something Harry was more familiar with: anger. "You love her! How long has this been going on?!"

"What are you talking about, Ron?"

"You and Herms! Been living it up in that private suite, have you? Been making a right fool of old Ron Weasley?"

"You're an idiot." Harry bit out in disgust. "Even if you thought that I would do that to a friend, how could you think that Hermione would ever do something like that?!"

"An idiot am I?" Ron asked almost hysterically. "I guess I must have been for trusting you. You and that backstabbing, treacherous, little-" Whatever Ron had intended to call Hermione would remain a mystery as he was cut off by Harry's fist landing on his jaw hard enough to knock him flat on his back.

"You know, Ron, I really don't care what you think of me, but I never want to hear a whisper about you speaking ill of Hermione again." Harry didn't realise that his voice had turned into a deadly hiss or that his eyes were blazing with barely restrained rage. All he saw was Ron's paling face and frightened nodding. "Good, then why don't you piss off and leave Hermione alone until she decides to forgive you?" Ron scrambled up and fled back towards the Great Hall. Harry watched him go until he was out of sight. Right. Now to find Hermione and get some breakfast. The bell for morning class rang and Harry cursed softly. Never mind. I guess I'm going straight to Transfiguration.

When he got to class Harry found Hermione sitting in her usual spot at the front of the classroom. He carefully sat down next to her only to discover that he was being ignored in favour of an empty blackboard. I think I'll just leave things as they are for now. I have enough to think about after what Ron said. I can't really be in love with Hermione; right? I mean, sure, she's the most important person in my life and I think she's wonderful and beautiful and-... fuck. Maybe there's another name for it? Harry didn't quite believe the words even as he thought them. It doesn't matter what it is or isn't. Right now Hermione's hurting and heaping more of an emotional mess on her would fall firmly under the heading of not helping.

For the rest of the day Hermione didn't say a word to Harry, though he noticed she didn't mind using him as a shield between her and the rest of the student body. Combined with Ron's glares and the bruise on his jaw, Harry was sure that there must already be twenty different rumours about what could have caused the trio's strange behaviour floating around the school. He was relieved to get back to the Heads' Suite that night. Hermione was still ignoring him except when she needed him to get between her and a busybody and frankly Harry was exhausted. I just know that I'm not getting a lot of sleep tonight. It's a good thing that I had a full night yesterday.

As the memory of waking up that morning floated through his mind, Harry's eyes found Hermione almost automatically where she was sitting at her desk. She looks as tired as I feel. She really needs a break from, well, me; especially now that she's dealing with this nonsense with Ron. A thought suddenly occurred to Harry. That might work. I'll have to wait until Hermione's asleep though. She's stubborn enough that she'd try to stop me and probably be mightily offended in the process.

That night, after he was sure that Hermione had gone to sleep, Harry Potter used the Elder Wand to carefully set up Silencing Charms on his bedroom. There. That should take care of it. As he got into bed he was uncomfortably aware of the fact that he would be facing his demons alone tonight. It's for the best. I can't just keep relying on Hermione; I have to carry my own weight. It didn't erase the apprehension he felt as he laid his head on his pillow.

:-:-:-:-:

In the privacy of his four poster, with the curtains drawn, Hadrian Potter was carefully reviewing the list of pranks he had written down as he tried to remember all of his past successes. There are some real beauties here, but it wouldn't do to repeat a prank just because no one here has seen it yet. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. Merlin, I'm tired. The downside to setting so many conditions on this prank I suppose: I have to do absolutely everything at times when I'm sure no one is watching, including the planning.

Hadrian looked back at the parchment on his bed like there might be something on there that he didn't already have memorised. What the-...?! Hadrian did a double take as he thought he saw a prank that had never occurred to him on the list. Damn. Just the one with that variation on the Babbling Beverage that we gave to Longbottom to make him spend the day saying everything that came to mind. I thought it said-... wait. That could actually work. I'll need some time to check the recipes and brew everything, but if I modify that prank a little, I might have just what I need. Smiling to himself Hadrian carefully hid the list of his accomplishments in his trunk. I can get down to the actual planning tomorrow now that I have a basic idea of what I want to do. It'll be better to look at that when I'm not half-asleep 'cause if I do this right, I will become the undisputed king of Hogwarts in one fell swoop.

:-:-:-:-:

"I didn't hear you screaming last night. Did you have another nightmare free night?" Harry carefully kept his face neutral when Hermione asked him that as they were leaving the Suite.

"I've always maintained that you could accomplish the impossible." True, if utterly irrelevant to the question you just asked. You don't need to know about my night though. Hermione just gave him a slightly strained-looking smile as she headed towards the Great Hall without another word. So much for our morning interaction then. When they got to the Great Hall the two friends sat together like they did most mornings. Harry had just finished loading his plate when he heard a familiar popping sound.

"Good morning, Trippy. How are you today?"

"Trippy is doing well, Master Harry. The poncey elf is bringing another letter." The diminutive creature held out a cream-coloured envelope for Harry to take and popped out as soon as that job was done. Breakfast must be keeping him busy.

"I wonder why he's referring to that other elf as 'poncey'?" Harry heard Hermione murmur next to him. Somehow, I don't think that I was actually meant to hear that.

"I'd guess that even elves don't like government officials." Hermione started when Harry answered her question and shot him a slightly guilty look. Nope, definitely wasn't supposed to actually hear that. Harry tore open the envelope and read through the missive.

"What does Kingsley want?" Harry briefly considered asking Hermione if this meant that they were done acting awkwardly around each other, but decided that it would be counterproductive.

"He's asking me to stop by this afternoon for a meeting. He says it shouldn't take long, but that he really does want to see me." Harry frowned at the letter as he tried to work out what it was that Shack could be asking him to come in for.

"Don't look so worried, Harry. I'm sure it's not a major catastrophe."

"No, just a cryptic letter that makes whatever it is sound pretty important." I don't really have any way of finding out before this afternoon though, so I might as well focus on my classes 'til then. At least Hermione is starting to come out of that funk that she was in yesterday. I'll count that as the day off to a good start.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry walked through the halls of the Ministry of Magic, uncomfortably aware of the fact that his every move was being watched and analysed. Despite Harry's refusal to run for any public office the wizarding world seemed determined to drag him into this election, one way or another. The papers had already picked up on his meetings with Shack as an endorsement of the man for Minister. Harry desperately wanted to avoid accidentally endorsing anyone else. Endorsing Shack is fine; I probably would have done that anyway. I don't know about any of the candidates for the Wizengamot yet. When Harry came up to Melody's desk she barely squeaked this time. I think that she may even get over that annoying tick if I give her another three years or so.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Potter. I'll let the Minister know that you've arrived." she managed in a breathless voice.

"Thank you, Melody." Shack's secretary blushed and bowed as she hurried to his office door. She had barely poked her head in when Harry heard Shack's voice floating out of the office.

"Ah, I take it Harry's here? Send him in."

"Yes, Sir." Melody opened the door fully and stepped aside so Harry could pass her and bowed. Harry nodded at her as he entered the office but waited for the door to close before he spoke to Shack. The Minister took advantage of the opening gleefully.

"You know, there is a unique pleasure in being able to tell that you're at the door by my secretary's face."

"I'm sure there is, Shack. What did you need to see me about? Your letter made it seem urgent."

"Ah yes. Something came up at the Coordination Meeting a few days ago." Shack leaned back in his chair but Harry noticed his gaze sharpening. "Normally the last duties in a Chief Warlock's term would be swearing in the new Minister and Wizengamot and leading the debate to determine his successor. The procedures we have set up for after the election will keep to that tradition and that leads us to our current trouble: we have no Wizengamot and no Chief Warlock. The last person to hold that post was Rabastan Lestrange and we wouldn't let him officiate even if he wasn't a soulless husk."

"I think I can see where this is going."

"I'd be surprised if you couldn't. We're hoping that you will swear in the new government after the election. If it's you then the people will be more likely to recognise the government's legitimacy."

"I hate that reasoning." Harry muttered to himself. Judging by Shack's wince he hadn't muttered quietly enough.

"I think I can understand that. There shouldn't be any nightmares from this one though."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll play along in your dog and pony show, Shack. Was there anything serious we need to talk about?"

"Annoying as it is, the pageantry is pretty serious. Appearances matter in politics, much though I'd like it to be otherwise." Harry just scowled at his friend. "If you're asking whether you can offer some more substantive help then the answer is yes. Once the Wizengamot has been sworn in they will have to debate and decide on which parts of the laws Hermione has written up will be confirmed and what they want to change. I was hoping that you would stick around for at least the first debate to keep them from trying to bend things back too much to what they were five years ago. It would be a shame to let Hermione's work be for nothing." He has a point, even if I don't like it much.

"Alright. I'll stick around to make sure that they take Hermione's work seriously."

"Thank you. I'm sure that with you there we shouldn't have too many people telling us that they don't like your best friend's work."

"I'm not sure I like that thought, Shack. People should be free to speak up if they disagree with Hermione's work. I'll defend it, but I won't intimidate them into accepting it."

"I'm sorry, Harry. You're right of course and I won't ask for more than that, but you may want to wait until you see the Wizengamot in action before you think too harshly of me." Harry sighed, but nodded in response to Shack's words. "Good. How are you doing with your nightmares?"

"I've actually had a full night's sleep recently." Harry answered struggling against the heat he could feel rising in his cheeks.

"Really now?" Shack's voice was filled with barely restrained mirth. "How did Hermione manage that then?"

"Oh piss off." Harry grumbled at the sitting Minister for Magic.

"What?" Shack responded with feigned innocence. "I know how Gary managed to help me, but I'm curious how Hermione helped you." Harry just glared across the desk as Shack lost his composure and started laughing his head off. Prick. I can't even leave now without everyone in the wizarding world speculating about what happened. When he finally got himself back under control the Minister smiled at his young friend. "Alright, Harry, I won't ask anymore. However she managed it, it's good to hear that there's been some progress. Give Hermione my best when you see her."

"Yeah, sure." Harry muttered still feeling a little put out with the older man. "That was it then?"

"Unless you have something you want to bring up?"

"Not really. See you next time, Shack."

"See you, Harry. Thank you for stopping by." Harry just grunted and walked out the door. As he made his way back to the public floo he wondered what had bothered him more: Shack's insinuations or that a small part of him was starting to wish that the Minister was right in his assumptions.

Chapter Text

You love her. You love her! Harry could still hear Ron's accusation ringing through his memories as he sat in the Great Hall; had been hearing it for the past three weeks. The Quidditch practices have gotten a bit strained. Half the team wouldn't do a thing I said if their positions didn't depend on it. Slytherin's going to have a lot of help today. Harry sighed as he considered the work he had put into trying to get Hadrian, Ron and Ginny to participate as team members with the rest, but the three of them didn't seem to care about the mood in the dressing room all that much. I never thought that of the three I would find it easiest to talk to my ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately she still feels closer to two people who currently hate my guts for reasons I'm not entirely sure are my fault. On top of that I haven't been getting more than an hour or two a night. Without Hermione to wake him from his nightmares and talk him down, there was absolutely no chance of Harry getting back to sleep as the horrors kept wheeling through his mind. That in turn had led to his ability to get to sleep at all taking a beating. He was starting to revert back to his old habits from before Hermione had found out about his sleeping problems. I swear, if this keeps up I'm going to use the next Hogsmeade weekend to get some whisky. I know it's not a perfect solution, but without Hermione, it's the next best thing.

I never realised just how much she was helping me. Ancients, but I'm exhausted. Harry lifted his cup of coffee to his lips and took a drink. At least the coffee is keeping me awake during the day. Harry looked up as someone sat down next to him. He instantly recognised the curling, brown locks of his best friend.

"Good morning, Hermione."

"Hmm? Oh. Yeah." Come on, Hermione. I'm not the one who can draw people out with conversation. That was always you or Ron. Hermione had barely spoken since she had overheard Ron. In classes she didn't volunteer extra information anymore and only answered the questions their professors specifically asked her. I'm not sure what to make of the way she's been acting either. Hermione had been furious for the first few days after the incident. She had taken every opportunity she got to glare at Ron. After that she had withdrawn in on herself and made a point of ignoring Ron and anyone within five feet of him. She still did her duties as Head Girl, but Harry found himself leading the weekly meetings with the prefects in their entirety while Hermione sat there without saying a word. It's not that I mind doing the work, but she's really worrying me.

"So, will you be coming out to the match or are you going to spend the time doing something else?"

"Don't be silly, Harry. Of course I'm going to come watch you play. I haven't missed a single one of your matches since we started Hogwarts and I'm not going to break that run now." I'd be more convinced if that was anything like your normal tone of voice. Harry was spared having to come up with an answer by Iris dropping into the seat on his other side.

"You know, I think this may be the first time I've ever been excited to go to a Quidditch match." she said as she started loading up her plate.

"Oh? Why's that?" Harry asked.

"Well, normally I would have to go because of Hadrian and everyone would talk about how he was the star performer, no matter how well or poorly he did. This time I can go to watch someone I can actually get along with and want to cheer for. On top of that Hadrian doesn't have the fanbase here that he did back home and I'm curious if people who aren't already enamoured with him will be as impressed with his gameplay." That's… actually, I'm not sure what that is. I've never really had someone tell me they hope to see someone playing poorly on the team they are cheering for.

"Well, we'll do our best to entertain then." Though I'm worried that it's going to be a comedy act. Might as well get it over with. Harry stood up from the table and called out: "Gryffindor team on me!"

"Good luck, Harry." Iris said. Harry looked at Hermione wondering if she was going to say anything. She ended up mumbling something without looking at him. Harry felt like a cold knife had been stuck in his chest at her indifferent attitude. After this match I'm going to have to confront her about this. I can't take another cold shoulder treatment or whatever this is; not on top of the recent uptick in nightmares. Harry gave the girls a stiff nod and strode out of the Great Hall with his team following in his wake. As he was walking through the doors he chanced one last look over his shoulder and saw that Iris and Hermione were deep in what looked like a furious debate. I definitely need to talk to Hermione about what's going on with her.

When he got to the dressing room Harry went into the captain's office to change and prepare his pregame speech. I doubt it's going to make much difference at this point. I'll just have to get the Snitch as soon as I can. Once he felt he had given the team enough time to get into their gear he stepped out to address them. At least I don't have to rush them into getting dressed. Good thing everyone here's a Quidditch nut.

"Alright, you lot. It's up to us to open the Hogwarts Quidditch season and we're going to make it a good one. With how many Slytherins were expelled we can't count on them playing their usual style so keep your eyes open and be ready for anything out there. I know our team has the quality needed to get this season off to a good start and I mean to see that happen. I told you when we started practicing that we were already on the road to the cup. Now it's time to take that first hurdle. Let's go." There was an encouraging cheer from half of the team while Ron, Ginny and the kid remained stubbornly quiet. It looks like Ron might be a little less hacked off at me though.

Okay, that might be my imagination. I'll deal with it all after I've caught the Snitch.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian shot forward to grab the falling Quaffle that one of the Beaters had knocked loose from a Slytherin Chaser. Got it! He immediately turned his broom up the pitch and rocketed off as fast as he could. He waited until he had the attention of most of the opposing players and two Bludgers heading for him before he threw a long, looping pass to a wide open Ginny. With that much space and time she didn't have any problem putting the Quaffle through Slytherin's right hoop. Hadrian flew back to the Gryffindor side of the pitch while Ginny took her celebratory flight past the screaming Gryffindor section. That makes it 70-50 to Slytherin. What the hell are our Beaters doing? They can't still be hanging around 'keeping their eyes open and being ready for anything', can they?

Despite the success of the last play, the Gryffindor Chasers had regularly found themselves blocked by a well hit Bludger or a Beater hanging in their flight path. I don't know where the snakes found that kind of talent, but it's obvious that our 'captain' has neglected that aspect of our team. I will admit that their Keeper is unusually good though. The Gryffindor team was struggling to find an opening to tilt the game in their favour. And while we're all struggling along down here, Harry's flying around up there without a care in the world. This is why you never make a Seeker the captain.

Hooch's whistle sounded and Hadrian watched carefully as the three Slytherin Chasers flew at them in a bunched formation. Play Action Feint. They'll split apart with each one trying to look like they have the Quaffle. When the Chasers split apart it only took Hadrian a split-second to find the one with the Quaffle. On the left. Hadrian leant down over his broom and shot off to challenge for the Quaffle. Just before he got to the opposing chaser he killed his speed and looked carefully to see what way the girl would dodge. She threw herself and her broom further towards the edge of the field and Hadrian re-engaged his broom with one hand coming off of the shaft to punch the Quaffle out of his opponent's hands. Just as he had committed to the tackle he saw the red ball being launched over his head towards the other side of the field. Ahead of him was only the smirking face of the damn she-snake. Just you wait. I'll get you back for that.

Hadrian wrenched his broom around and rocketed back towards his own hoops. By the looks of things he could tell that another Chaser had already passed the Quaffle to take Ginny out of the game leaving the third Chaser facing off against Ron and Demelza. Two on one. They've got this. A pair of bludgers put paid to Hadrian's analysis though and the Slytherin Chaser scored and flew back to his own half, pumping his fist. Shit. We need to close the damn gap on that scoreboard. Ron passed the Quaffle back out to Ginny and the Gryffindor Chasers surged forward.

"Hawkshead!" Hadrian heard Ginny scream. He and Demelza quickly obliged and fell in behind their teammate. I would be a better choice as center forward, but Ginny is an acceptable choice given her experience in this world. Hadrian shook the stray thought off as he brought his focus back to the match. Hadrian saw two Chasers and a Bludger closing in on Ginny. Any moment now. Be ready. As he had expected Hadrian saw the Quaffle come out in his direction when the two Chasers were too close to Ginny to react. He eked a bit more speed out of his broom as he shot forward and blasted past the challengers as he grabbed the Quaffle. The third Chaser came up to block him and Hadrian recognised the girl who had thrown the Quaffle over his head a minute ago. He dove under her using a corkscrew move. Hah! Told you I'd make you pay. With the way open to the hoops Hadrian mentally prepared his shot. He pumped a fake towards the left hoop before throwing the Quaffle towards the right. The Keeper had started to move towards the faked shot but managed to fling his body the other way at the last moment. He didn't manage to get more than a fingertip to the Quaffle but it was enough to deflect it onto the brass. As the Quaffle bounced off of the hoop Hadrian was surprised to hear the crowd's gasp turn into a thunderous cheer. What?! There is no way that everyone has suddenly started to cheer for the snakes. Hadrian twisted around on his broom and saw that Harry was falling like a meteor.

"Someone stop Potter!" the Slytherin Keeper screamed in a blind panic. The Beaters smacked the Bludgers towards the speeding blur but Harry dodged them without even looking. He swerved through the Chasers in less than a second and kept plummeting towards the pitch. Hadrian was sure he was about to lose his counterpart when Harry turned at nearly a right angle and shot along the pitch. Another three seconds later Harry raised his hand and Hadrian could see a pair of silver wings beating against his fist. It's done. We've won. Hadrian's thoughts felt like a chill wind sweeping through him. I wasn't able to make a lick of difference.

That hollow feeling stayed with him as his teammates celebrated around him. It was still there when he showered and changed. It didn't leave him until he was standing in the Gryffindor common room with a warm Butterbeer in his hand. The entire House was celebrating their first victory of the season around him, but Hadrian had rarely felt like more of an outsider since his first night here. And it's not even like anyone is actively ostracising me. The thing that finally filled the hollowness inside with another feeling was a throwaway comment that he heard behind him.

"As long as we have Harry it doesn't matter if the Chaser line and the Keeper can't play worth a damn. They just have to keep the difference less than 150 points." a young voice said. No! I am the strength of this team. Harry's decisions as captain are the only reason we hadn't already won the match by the time he caught the Snitch.

Could it be that he is training us in such a way that he'll get noticed more by the scouts? The idea made a frightening amount of sense to Hadrian. If I'm going to get the team to listen to me rather than him, I need to make them see that he is fallible. It worked wonders with Ginny over the summer and I'm sure it could work again. I've almost perfected my delivery system so I think it's time that I started brewing the necessary potions. Feeling bolstered by his resolution, Hadrian found himself more able to appreciate the party and he went to find Ron and Ginny. By this time next week, everyone will know that listening to Harry over me is a bad idea.

:-:-:-:-:

"I had forgotten how much I hate watching you play." Hermione said as Harry dropped down next to her and Iris on the couch.

"Really? I thought he was quite good." Iris responded in surprise.

"It's not that. I hate watching him try to kill himself chasing that Snitch."

"I'm not going to kill myself, Hermione. Quidditch might be rough, but no one's ever died while playing it."

"You and I both know that you have come damn close over the years."

"I don't think I will have to play through a cloud of dementors again though, do you?"

"Damn it, Harry. The war is over and done with. You shouldn't be risking your life anymore." Hermione hissed at him before she stood up. "I'm going to go to bed. You have fun with the rest of the maniacs." Harry watched as Hermione marched off through the crowd.

"Harry? Are you alright?" he heard Iris ask.

"I will be. I'm just worried about Hermione. She's been acting really out of sorts and I don't know how to snap her out of it. Hell, I'm not even sure that I can." Iris was silent for a moment and when he looked to the side Harry found her worrying at her lower lip. "You know what's bothering her." Harry felt very sure of his epiphany all of a sudden. "You were discussing it in the Great Hall this morning."

"I-... I can't tell you, Harry. Hermione told me that in confidence and I don't want to break her trust."

"Just tell me that it's nothing serious. Please."

"It's nothing serious." Harry gave his pseudo-sister a sceptical look. "I meant that, Harry. It's nothing life threatening, it's just something she has to come to terms with on her own."

"Can I help her with whatever it is? I don't even need to know what it is."

"No. I think that you'd probably make it harder for her if you tried to help."

"Can you help her?" Iris looked taken aback at Harry's question. I don't care, just as long as I know that someone is there for Hermione.

"I can try."

"That's all I can ask." At least until I figure out what else I can do. Harry spent the rest of the evening doing his best to pretend that being surrounded by happy, touchy people wasn't tearing at his nerves and that he wasn't worried about Hermione.

A few days later Harry was patrolling the corridors. The conversation with Iris and Hermione was still swirling through his mind. It hasn't gotten any better. I know Iris said that I can't help, but there has to be something. He sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. I'm sorry, Hermione. I can't stop worrying about you, I can't sleep, I can barely focus on my days anymore. The coffee isn't enough. I know you won't like it, but this weekend I'm going to get a case of Lagavulin. It might be bad for me, but better bad for me than bad for you. In the meantime I'll just try to exhaust myself again. Harry took out the Marauders' Map. Let's see who's out of bounds tonight.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian tried to work as quickly as he could without making mistakes. This is going to be great. With a little luck I'll be in my proper place by dinner tomorrow. Hadrian had worked diligently over the last three weeks to prepare this prank and it was almost perfect. He had taken apart one of the Tickle Grenades he had made over the summer and attached its trigger mechanism to a magically powered piston with a nozzle at the end. His piston was filled with the potions he had painstakingly brewed and vaporised. Now it was just a matter of aiming and priming it and then waiting for someone to walk by and trigger the Proximity Ward.

I'll admit I'm not overly fond of the amount of luck involved in the targeting, but placing it here and now should give me the best chance at a favourable outcome. Hadrian was working in the corridor that lead to the Head Suite. At least it did when I was Head Boy back home. It was about as close to curfew as Hadrian could reasonably cut it without getting caught. The Head Students' effectiveness had become nearly legendary in the two months that they had been patrolling the halls. This isn't going to work if they see me here. Those two are too mistrustful of me for them to accept the idea that I was simply passing by.

Hadrian checked everything one last time before sitting back and wiping his hands on his robes. That should do it. All that's left is to pull the pin and get out of here before someone puts me at the scene of the prank. He got up and walked a few steps down the hall before summoning the trigger mechanism's pin. As it flew into his hand, Hadrian heard a satisfying click. He quickly got out of there and hurried back to Gryffindor Tower. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry was walking back to the Suite after completing his rounds. Ancients' blood, but this was a long night. I can't believe they thought that if they all went out at the same time that they would stand a better chance of getting away with it. Harry had found no less than seven couples in various broom cupboards around the school. Who even comes up with a plan like that? And how do you pitch it? 'At least some of us are going to get caught, but the rest might get lucky'? I have to hand it to them for the inter-house cooperation though. The couples had all had at least one partner in the fifth year Arithmancy class. They had conspired to try and get away from the attentions of patrolling Head Students and staff by all going out together in the hope that people would stop looking after finding the first couple. And there goes the nerd image. I wonder how many extra sign ups Professor Vector is going to get from this?

Harry had been so lost in his thoughts that he found himself in the corridor leading to the Heads' Suite before he realised it. What drew his attention back to his surroundings was a soft click. Harry looked up from his musings just in time to see a spray of light blue mist hit him straight in the face from out of nowhere. Fuck. Move. He dove to the side and tried to throw up his usual combination of shields but fell sprawling on the floor before he could bring his wand up. Something's off. Everything around him seemed hazy and there was a ringing in his ears. Move. Harry's fingers scrabbled for purchase on the flagstones as he tried to get himself up again. Move. His feet refused to stay under him long enough to get him upright. Move. In the back of his mind, Harry could hear the familiar screams growing louder. MOVE!

With a lurch Harry made it to his feet. He would have fallen back down if he hadn't flung himself against the wall for support. Panting from exertion Harry forced one foot in front of the other. He could feel the rough granite of the castle walls scraping against his shoulder through his robes. Cold sweat dripped down his back and he felt like gibbering in terror. Get a grip, Potter. Get to a defensible position. The screams in his head were getting louder and louder. The shadows around him seemed to move as unknown assailants prepared to attack but he beat them back with haphazardly flung curses.

"Potter?" Harry looked up and saw that he had made it to the portrait that guarded the Heads' Suite.

"Relief." he rasped out the password. The portrait looked like it was going to say something else but swung open. Harry stumbled through the opening and crashed painfully to his knees. Gritting his teeth he staggered back to his feet and dragged himself to his room. The door had barely closed behind him when he collapsed next to his bed. This time he didn't get back up, but curled into a ball as his memories overtook him. There was someone whimpering and crying and Harry had the uncomfortable suspicion that it might be him. Each and every life he had taken since Professor Quirrel when he was eleven was paraded in front of him as he lay on the ground.

"Harry?!" Harry jerked around and tried to train his wand on the intruder, but his fumbling fingers couldn't get a grip on the smooth wood. He felt someone gather him into a pair of soft arms. "Oh, Harry. What happened to you?" Now that he could feel someone else Harry noticed that he was shaking. "It's going to be alright, Harry. You're at Hogwarts, Voldemort's dead and we're all safe. Just stay with me; focus on my voice."

"H-hermione?"

"That's right. I've got you, Harry." Harry thought he could feel a hand brushing through his hair, but was still too disoriented to be sure.

"Mab's wings! What is going on here?!" The new voice sent Harry into a panic. Protect Hermione! Get your damn wand, Potter! His attempts to keep this newest threat away from his friend were stopped by a small hand grabbing his wrist and holding it down.

"Harry, it's okay. It's just Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey. They aren't going to hurt you. Please, Harry, just trust me. I won't let anyone hurt you." Trust you? Of course I trust you, Hermione, but we're under attack. I can't trust anyone else. "Stay back. You're frightening him." Harry tried to get a better look at who Hermione was talking to, but even his head was refusing to move the way he wanted it to now.

"Harry, we need to let Madam Pomfrey take a look at you. She won't hurt you; I'll be with you the whole time to make sure of that, okay?" Harry could feel an arm in his grasp even if he wasn't sure how it had gotten there. He gave it a squeeze that was more desperate plea for Hermione not to leave than any real consent to be examined, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. "Madam Pomfrey, I think he should be okay for now, but please, don't do anything to startle him."

"Do you know what happened to him, Ms. Granger?"

"No. Harry was out patrolling tonight. I thought I heard him come in, but he seemed to be stumbling and falling all over the place so I came to look and I found him lying here like this." There was a slight pause before Hermione resumed in a more suspicious tone. "How did you know to come here?"

"Your guardian portrait and several others alerted me that Mr. Potter had entered your suite looking extremely ill. I summoned Madam Pomfrey and accompanied her here." Harry tried to make sense of what the voices around him were saying but it was hard. The only one he could really keep track of was Hermione. Hermione is the only one I need to be aware of. She said she'd be here. Hermione always keeps her promises.

"He is being affected by some kind of potion. I will need to draw a blood sample to analyse if we're going to discover what it is. Please hold him still, Ms. Granger."

"Did you hear that, Harry? Madam Pomfrey needs to draw some of your blood. It may hurt a little but it will help us heal you, so please let her do it, okay?" It turned out that Harry barely felt the sting. By now the adrenaline was starting to wear off and his eyes were starting to feel heavy. "There. All done. Let's get you to bed, Harry. I'll be right here with you. I promise I won't leave you."

Harry felt himself being floated up and landing on something soft. He felt the covers being drawn up over him and this time he was sure he could feel a hand running through his hair. That feels really nice. Harry fell asleep even though there was still a murmur of voices around him, for once unable to form a concern about possible attacks in the face of his utter exhaustion.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry awoke slowly. The first thing he noticed was that he was being held against a soft, warm body. He blinked his eyes open and tried to see what he had gotten himself into now.

"Harry?" a familiar voice, filled with worry asked.

"Hermione?" he managed.

"I'm here, Harry. How are you feeling?" Harry turned to the voice and saw a blob of brown that was presumably his best friend.

"I don't know. Tired I suppose, even though I don't remember having a nightmare. You sound worried. What happened?" Harry felt like the words were bubbling out of him in a jumbled mess. Hermione was quiet for a moment.

"You were suffering from the effects of a potion last night. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Slughorn should have analysed it by now and one of them will hopefully be by soon to at least tell us what it was and hopefully bring any potions you might need to heal."

"Oh. Hermione?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"Why are you in my bed?"

"You had a pretty firm grip on my arm last night and lying down next to you was the only way I could get comfortable enough to sleep."

"Sorry about that. I hope I didn't hurt you."

"You didn't, Harry. Don't worry."

"That's good. I don't want to hurt you. I never want to hurt you. What did the potion do to me?"

"You were delirious. I heard you come in because you were bumping into the furniture. I found you screaming and crying on the floor next to your bed." There was a pause and Harry got the uncomfortable feeling that he was being scowled at. "That Silencing Charm that you put up is going to come down, Harry. I had thought it was a little suspicious that you hadn't had a nightmare since I broke things off with him and now I know that I should have been a lot more suspicious. How am I supposed to help you get through this if you won't let me help?" Harry cringed at the anger and disappointment in Hermione's voice.

"You were having trouble sleeping after what happened. You needed rest, not my problems added to yours."

"I thought we'd agreed that it was my decision to make that I want to help you?"

"Maybe. I've earnt my nightmares though, you haven't."

"Harry, no one deserves to have nightmares like that." Hermione's tone had softened as she spoke about his problems.

"I do. I'm a monster."

"What makes you say that?"

"I killed innocents; slaughtered them."

"Harry, you know that's not true. You fought to defend those who couldn't defend themselves. What happened wasn't anyone's fault except Rookwood's."

"No." Harry's voice was barely above a whisper. "No, that was just that night. They were just the ones that had escaped from one barrack; one barrack of seven."

"Harry?"

"We had been discussing what we should do about the victims of the experiments before the attack. I argued that we should try to help them as much as we could, that we should try to heal them. The Unspeakables we had along were arguing that we had to put them down, that we didn't have the resources to keep them safely locked up and that it was only a matter of time until they broke out again. After the attack everyone agreed with them. I couldn't get anyone to agree with me anymore. Several of the experiments had been seen eating their victims and no one wanted to think of ways we could help them anymore. All I could do was get them to agree that only volunteers would go into the barracks and that they would be told exactly what we were doing before they went in." Why can't I stop talking? Hermione shouldn't have to hear this.

"At first no one wanted to go in and murder innocents in cold blood. I- I volunteered. I thought that if I did it that no one else would have to get their hands dirty. Once I had volunteered others soon joined me. We headed into the first barrack with a dozen men and women. The experiments were locked in cages with rune powered containment wards. We could see half eaten human corpses in the cages with them and someone pointed out that we wouldn't have been able to feed them anyway. It doesn't really make a difference to the end result though: we slaughtered them. The wards allowed us to curse them without letting them fight back." Tears were running down Harry's face by now and he couldn't stop them any more than he could stop the stream of words running from his mouth.

"After that first barrack five of the volunteers couldn't bring themselves to go on. The rest of us moved on to the next barrack. The experiments saw what we were doing and they tried to get out of their cages to get to us, to protect themselves. In the fourth barrack they succeeded. We were caught in a battle we were hopelessly undermanned for. We managed to kill the experiments but two of our squad were so injured that they couldn't carry on; three were killed. Shack and I finished the last two barracks together." Harry absently noticed that he was shaking. He didn't know if Hermione was still there or not, but the words wouldn't stop coming.

"The last barrack was the worst. Rookwood kept the children he experimented on in there. I saw a toddler with insect wings bashing itself bloody against the wards. There were newborns that had grown claws and teeth and apparently torn their way out of their mothers; we could see that they had been eating their own parents. One little boy was screaming as he caught fire over and over; I could smell his flesh burning through the stench of the dead bodies, but whenever the fire went out he looked fine again. Not one of the experiments in that building was even old enough to go to Hogwarts, but we killed them." Harry turned his face up to where Hermione had been and almost fainted when he saw that blob of brown hair still lying next to him. "I murdered innocent children, Hermione. I deserve to suffer for being the kind of monster who could just do that."

Harry felt Hermione's arms tighten around him as sobs tore through his body. He could hear her whispering into his ear, but the words didn't make sense to him. When he finally regained some control, Harry noticed that Hermione's hand was stroking his hair and he began to make sense of her words.

"You are not a monster, Harry. You are a good man who's had to do monstrous things. A monster wouldn't have nightmares every night for months afterwards. You told me they were lashing out at anything that moved. That tells me that they were in pain. I know I would have preferred to be killed rather than live on in suffering that no one could hope to cure."

"How?" Harry's voice sounded like a croak.

"How what, Harry?"

"How can you even stand to look at me?"

"Like I said, Harry: I know you are a good man. One who's killing himself over doing what he had to and I would really be a monster if I didn't help you."

"You could never be a monster."

"Neither could you, Harry." Harry was about to protest that when the door to his room opened.

"Ms. Granger? What's going on here? Has something else happened to Mr. Potter?"

"No, Madam Pomfrey. We're fine." As she spoke Hermione drew Harry's face into her shoulder as if she was protecting him from something.

"Of all of Mr. Potter's traits you could have chosen to emulate, did it really have to be that answer?"

"We really are fine, Madam." There was an edge to Hermione's voice that Harry knew meant a warning to stop this line of conversation. He tried to jump in and help her reassure Madam Pomfrey that everything was fine and could she please leave so they could get back to being fine, but his words were being muffled by Hermione's shoulder and she wasn't giving him a chance to draw back. "What was the potion that was affecting Harry?"

"There were two." Madam Pomfrey said, sounding a little taken aback. "A Befuddlement Draught and a variation on the Babbling Beverage. Its effects are slightly mitigated, but released over a longer period of time. We expect that Mr. Potter will spend most of the next twenty-four hours with an uncontrollable urge to talk about anything and everything on his mind." Nononono, please, no. Hermione is one thing, but I can't tell everyone what happened. Harry felt Hermione's arms give him a reassuring squeeze and tried to draw comfort from it, grateful that everything that he was saying was still being muffled by his friend's shoulder.

"Is there anything we can do?"

"Professor Slughorn has been brewing all night to create this antidote which he assures me will have Mr. Potter back to his normal self within the hour." Harry felt Hermione shift a little and then a potion phial was pressed to his lips.

"Go on, Harry. Drink it." Hermione whispered to him. It was a little awkward, given their positions, but Harry managed to swallow the potion down. There was another shift that Harry interpreted as Hermione giving the phial back to Madam Pomfrey as she pulled him back into her shoulder. "Thank you, Madam. Was there anything else?"

"Have Mr. Potter come up to see me this evening before dinner. If he does not, I will be coming to look for him."

"I'll make sure he's there, ma'am."

"Hmph. See that you do." Madam Pomfrey's huffy declaration was followed by crisp footsteps and the sound of the door closing.

"She's gone, Harry." Hermione said softly, fractionally loosening her grip. "How about we get ready for breakfast? We can just drop by the kitchens instead of sitting in the Great Hall if you like."

"I-... okay. Thank you, Hermione. I don't know what I'd do if had to spend the whole day talking. I don't want to know what I would end up saying. And thanks for-... for listening and-..." Even with the potions running through his body, Harry couldn't quite find the words.

"You're welcome, Harry. Just remember: I meant what I said. You are not a monster and you never could be." Hermione said just before she pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I'll see you in the common room, alright?" Harry nodded numbly and raised one hand to touch the spot her lips had just left. Hermione smiled at him and slipped out of his bed to head to her own room. It took Harry several more minutes to get himself in gear. He quickly showered and got dressed muttering to himself all the while. When he headed out into the common room he found it empty. Hermione must still be changing. He settled onto the couch to wait for her. I think I can actually feel the need to talk getting less. Ancients' blood, but I never want to have to talk that much again. Harry was brought out of his thoughts by a poke in his shoulder and looked up to find a smiling Hermione standing over him.

"Ready to go?" Harry nodded in response. "Good. Before we leave though, you can just remove that Silencing Charm on your room." Harry rolled his eyes at her but drew his wand with a small smile and set to work.

:-:-:-:-:

Come on, come on. Don't tell me that he's not going to show. Hadrian was having trouble hiding his excitement as he sat at the breakfast table. Calm down. I don't know that it's going to be Harry just yet, but the fact that he's not here is promising. Of course Granger, Pomfrey and Slughorn are also missing. Don't tell me that they took him straight to the Hospital Wing? The whole point is to have him in here babbling like Looney on a bad day. The Befuddlement Draught should have caused him to see enough nonsense that he will completely make an arse of himself when he can't shut up about it.

No. Think positive. Maybe Granger's missing as well because I got both of them. That would be better than anything I dared to dream of. Slughorn and Pomfrey could be doing something else; restocking the Hospital Wing's potions supply for example. Hadrian couldn't quite believe his own reasoning. Where could it possibly have gone wrong? I need to figure that out before I try again. Hadrian had another three altered Tickle Grenades filled with gas, not yet primed, in his trunk. I also need to come up with a name for this prank. Insanity Ambush? Hmm, not quite; needs more work.

Hadrian's musings were interrupted by the bell for their first classes. He and Ron got up and headed for their Potions class. Ron was still riding high on their defeat of Slytherin last week and hadn't found a reason to stop talking about it yet. When they got to class Hadrian saw that Harry and Granger had made it there before them. They were talking in quiet whispers, but that stopped when the rest of the seventh years taking the class walked in. Guess I didn't hit them then. They look like they managed to sleep so there is no way they would have been able to analyse the potion they were hit with and counter it so quickly, not with the Befuddlement Draught keeping them from thinking clearly. After identifying it they would still have had to brew an antidote so there is no way they could have recovered already. So the question becomes who did I hit?

Hadrian kept his eyes open for the rest of the day, but nobody was babbling nonstop nonsense. As he sat at dinner he tried to analyse what could have gone wrong. The mechanism must not have fired. Maybe the summoning charm introduced magical interference? Or possibly there was a simple mechanical failure. That is the only explanation for why no one is showing any symptoms.

:-:-:-:-:

Man, what a day Harry thought to himself as he got ready for bed. I am absolutely exhausted. Who knows, maybe I won't even have a nightmare tonight. Even as he had the thought, Harry knew that it was wishful thinking. No matter what Hermione says, what I did still makes me a monster. I did what Riddle tried to do to me, except that I was successful. He was about to get under the covers when he heard a knock at the door.

"Harry? Are you decent?"

"Yeah. Come on in, Hermione." The door opened to reveal Hermione in her nightclothes. "What's up?"

"Are you ready for bed?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Good. Get in." Harry was about to protest when he noticed the stubborn set to Hermione's mouth. I'll probably find out what this is about faster if I play along. Harry got into bed and laid down before shooting Hermione a look from his pillow. Ta-da! Hermione worried at her bottom lip for a moment before she came up to the bed and toed off her slippers. She quickly slipped in next to him, taking Harry by surprise.

"Hermione? What's-… what are you-…?"

"Hush, Harry. You told me this morning that you hadn't had any nightmares despite what happened to you last night. The only other time you've mentioned not having nightmares was two weeks ago when you comforted me after what I'd heard him say. What do these two events have in common?"

"We were sleeping in the same bed?" Harry asked as kept himself as still as if he had been hit by a Full Body Bind. I'm not thinking about being in bed with Hermione became his new mantra.

"Yes. That's why we're going to do the same again tonight. It's called the scientific method, Harry. I have a hypothesis and now I'm going to test it."

"And what happens if your hypothesis turns out to be correct?" Hermione scooted up close to Harry and pressed a kiss to his cheek before snuggling down and laying her head on his chest.

"Goodnight, Harry." Harry was uncomfortably aware of the way she was pressed into his side, but reached out to grab his wand and turn off the lights. You are going to be the death of me one of these days, Hermione Granger. As Harry fell asleep he didn't notice his arms coming around Hermione and pulling her closer to his chest.

Chapter Text

"The final item we need to address is the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend." Hermione said to the assembled prefects. "It was moved on the calendar after the Ministry's announcement of the election date so that our of-age students can exercise their right to vote. This means that we will be relying on the younger prefects to help us keep order as we will probably be a few prefects short at any given moment."

Harry just watched as Hermione ran a flawless prefects' meeting. I'm happy she's back to her old self; well, mostly anyway. I know that she's still hiding something that's bothering her. He had been watching her carefully ever since Iris had warned him off from trying to help his best friend. It's strange to think it, but she's been more like herself ever since she found me frothing at the mouth from those potions. The problem is that too many things changed that day for me to pin one down as the reason for that change. It had been hard for Harry in the following weeks to not demand that she let him help her as she had done with him. I just have to trust Iris. I'll try to get another progress report from her soon. Harry knew that Iris hated it when he bugged her about how Hermione was doing, but he couldn't help himself. She's the only way I have of monitoring whatever is bothering one of the most important people in my life. I can't get on Hermione's case for keeping secrets considering that I wasn't exactly forthcoming about my own, but I've gained a whole new appreciation for how much she's done for me. This is hard. When Hermione dismissed the meeting Harry watched the prefects chatting to each other as they left the room.

"You did a good job today." Harry said quietly once they were alone again.

"Thank you, Harry." Hermione replied almost absently as she gathered up her notes from the meeting. The two friends left the room together and by unspoken consensus turned their steps towards their common room. Hermione's face was drawn into a thoughtful frown. I know that look; Hermione's got a project. I think I won't have any luck actually talking to her before we get our homework done. "Harry?" Or not.

"Yeah?"

"Have you decided on what you'll be doing over the holidays yet?" Hermione kept her gaze fixed firmly ahead and wouldn't look at him.

"I'll probably go home. I wouldn't be a very good godfather if I didn't go visit Teddy at Christmas."

"So you'll be at Grimmauld Place by yourself for the rest of it?"

"I also wouldn't be a very good godfather if I hung around their house in my condition." Harry said quietly. Hermione walked next to him in silence for a while longer before she finally looked at him.

"Come stay with me and my parents." What?

"Hermione, I don't want to be a burden on you or your family like that. Take the holiday, you've earnt it."

"You mean leave you to get as bad as you did while you had your room Silenced? I don't want to come back here to find you looking like you haven't slept a wink and with that pain in your eyes."

"I wasn't that bad." Harry tried, but Hermione shot him a scathing look. "Have you even asked your parents if they'd be okay with having me there?"

"Yes, and they would love to have you." Hermione said almost defiantly.

"Do they know how much sleep this is going to cost them?"

"It isn't going to cost them any sleep, Harry. You don't scream nearly as often as you used to and we can put up a Silencing Charm just in case if it bothers you that much."

"I thought you were going to do something unspeakable to me if I ever put one of those up again?" Hermione just shrugged.

"It doesn't really matter to me if you put one up as long as I'm inside it with you." Harry froze midstep.

"You want us to stay at your parents' house and continue with our current sleeping arrangement?"

"Of course."

"But, I thought-... aren't parents usually opposed to that sort of thing?"

"To what? Their daughter sleeping in some bloke's bed?"

"Well, yes."

"Do my parents have a reason to be worried then?"

"I- no. Hermione, I just don't want to do anything that might strain your relationship with them. There's been enough of that already." Harry saw a brief flash of something in Hermione's eyes but it was gone before he could read it.

"My parents aren't the kind of anachronisms that feel the need to threaten any boy that I happen to bring home. Besides, they already know you and they like you." Harry thought it over for a moment. have become pretty dependent on having Hermione around and it would be nice to spend Christmas with her. Two weeks with her in her parents' house might be more than I can handle though. It's a little too close to the daydreams I've been having recently.

"What would you do if I said 'no'?"

"Then I'll come and stay at Grimmauld Place with you." And not be able to spend as much time with her family. Damn, she plays dirty.

"Okay. I'll stay at your place for the holidays, if your parents really don't have any objections." Hermione grinned and looped her arm through his as they continued on towards the Heads' Suite. "And stop looking so smug. I know I folded like a little girl." Hermione's grin just grew a little bigger.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian was sitting in the seventh year boys' dorm by himself. He had chosen this spot for the privacy it currently offered. In his hands was one of the adjusted Tickle Grenades. There has to be some way that I can guarantee that Harry gets hit with this and ruins some of his credibility. Hadrian had already come up with an ideal time and place, but once again it was the targeting that was the problem. If I hit him on the Express home, then he will be acting like an idiot with all those reporters and paparazzi there to witness it. Harry Potter losing it on Platform 9 ¾ should keep their interest at least until he goes back. I don't need them looking at this as an attack though. That means that I'll have to hit him early enough in the trip that the Befuddlement Draught will have a chance to wear off enough that he'll only be babbling.

Hadrian was contemplating ways to get into the prefects' compartment before the train left to plant his little device when he heard a knock at the door. He quickly hid the device under his bed and went to open the door.

"Ginny?"

"Hey. Are you alone?"

"Yeah." Hadrian stepped back from the door and let Ginny slip into his room. He almost smiled when she went straight for his bed and sat down on it. "Something on your mind?" Ginny played with one of the fastenings on her robes as she put her thoughts in order.

"Hadrian, do you remember what you told me about three months ago?" Three months ago? Hadrian cast his mind back and had to forcefully suppress a smile when he realised what had happened around that date.

"Are you talking about my advice to you after Harry nearly killed you?"

"More like the advice you gave me after I broke up with him... about how I had to act like a widow for three months?"

"I remember."

"Since then you've-... well, I feel like you've been sending me certain signals. I was just…"

"You were wondering if you had imagined things and, if you hadn't, whether we had waited long enough?" he asked without allowing any expression on his face. Ginny's face started turning red and she tilted her head forward hiding her face behind a curtain of hair. I guess I'll take that as a yes. "Ginny?" When she didn't respond, Hadrian tipped her head up with a single finger under her chin. "Ginny, would you go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?" Hadrian smiled as he saw Ginny's face take on an expression of stunned relief; then she smacked him in the chest.

"You unbelievable prat! You could have led off with that!" Hadrian just laughed as he could hear by her voice that she didn't really mean it. She got a few more swats in before Hadrian caught her wrists and used them to pull her closer to him.

"I am going to need an answer, you know. Will you go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?"

"Yes. Yes, you git." Ginny said with a broad smile. "Did you really have to let me think that I had been misreading your signals this whole time?"

"Have to? No. It's a lot more fun like this though." Hadrian grinned back at her.

"What am I going to do with you?" The glint in Ginny's eyes told Hadrian that she had a few ideas about what the two of them could do together already. For a moment Hadrian felt an overwhelming urge to kiss the wonderful woman in front of him. No. Save it. You know how many points you're going to score with her if you wait for a special moment.

"You know, what with the election there's bound to be a few reporters." he said instead.

"With Harry voting in Hogsmeade? More than a few I'd say."

"And unless Harry's changed since the last time I saw him he'll be avoiding them like the plague."

"Which means that they'll have to find someone else to interview to fill their pieces."

"I think we can give them a sliver of a story and leave them to speculate, don't you?" Ginny just beamed at him.

"Which colours?" Yes, you are definitely going to regret letting a woman like this go, Harry.

"I'd think red with hints of green would be appropriately seasonal."

"I agree. We'll meet at breakfast?"

"Definitely." Ginny stood up elegantly from the bed and carefully rearranged her robes. When she was done she leant over and placed a gentle hand on Hadrian's shoulder.

"I'll see you at breakfast on Saturday then." she said in a slightly husky voice before turning to walk away while letting her hand trail across his chest. As soon as the door closed behind her Hadrian let himself flop back on the bed. Circe's tits, what a woman. He forgot all about his project to make Harry look like an idiot as he lost himself in fantasies of being with Ginny Weasley.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry was quietly sipping his morning coffee as he watched the excited chatter of the students around him. There was the usual excitement from the third years who still had places to discover in Hogsmeade. There was the usual excitement of the last Hogsmeade visit before Christmas which had everyone discussing what presents they wanted to buy for whom. Piled on top of that though was the excitement of the of-age students to participate in a vote for the first time. With only an interim government currently in charge of the country there was a sense that their votes would really determine the way Magical Britain was going to be run for years to come. And if one more person asks me who I'm voting for I may just string them up by the ankles.

Next to Harry, Hermione and Iris were discussing politics and Harry was fairly sure that there were more than a few people listening in on that discussion in the hope of determining how the Young Heroes would vote. Can't these idiots think for themselves? You shouldn't base your vote on what we're going to do, but on what you consider best for the country. Is it any wonder Dumbledore had to take over three massively demanding jobs with this kind of behaviour from the populace? I am not going to let them do that again. It's time the magical world grew up. A poke to his side made Harry jump. He glared at the perpetrator who had nearly made him spill his coffee.

"Stop thinking frowny thoughts." Iris admonished him while wagging the finger that had been digging into his side under his nose. I swear that she's getting more immature the more time she spends here.

"Oh leave him, Iris. Harry seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed today." Between the nightmare last night and the prospect of a full day of gawkers can you blame me? Last night Harry's nightmare had left him screaming again. I know it's getting to be a less frequent occurrence with Hermione sleeping next to me, but damned if scaring her awake like that isn't a hell of its own. She's not complained yet; strong-arming me into staying with her over the hols is the opposite of complaining, actually, but I can't help feeling like she's going to regret wasting her time on me. Probably right after Minerva catches us in the same bed and takes our badges. I wish I could turn this off somehow. Harry tried to shake his maudlin thoughts off. He went to take an extra large sip of his coffee when he noticed the two girls still looking at him.

"I'll be fine." Stop looking at me like that. Harry raised his coffee the rest of the way to his lips. If anyone had asked him if he was hiding behind his cup he would have denied it. Iris and Hermione slowly turned back to their conversation and Harry allowed himself to relax just slightly. His thoughts turned to the day ahead. The voting booth is going to be the tricky bit. I'll need to drop any Barrier Charm at least until I can place my ballot in the ballot box. Damn the magic revealing parchment for not letting me levitate it in. Harry understood why the parchment was necessary: it prevented someone from tampering with the votes by magic. Like this country has ever relied on magic to facilitate its corruption. Once I'm done voting I'll probably have to hide so that I don't cause more problems for the professors and prefects. Good thing I have the cloak with me. Harry had brought along his father's old cloak so that he could fulfill his duty of supervising the outing while remaining hidden from eager gawkers rather than leaving Hogsmeade so it didn't get overrun with people looking for him. At least Hermione has Iris to spend time with now if I should have to bugger off so I don't become the epicentre of a riot; not what I thought being Head Boy would mean back in first year.

Harry carefully cast another glance around the Hall. There was something niggling at him. It's like coming into your room after someone has moved one piece of furniture a few inches. Nothing jumped out at him as being out of place. Though I suppose if it had I wouldn't have this feeling. I just know that I'm going to get bitten in the arse over this. Harry noticed that several students were getting up and heading for the massive front doors and shook his thoughts off. He turned to Hermione just in time to hear her say:

"Let's go, Harry. People are starting to head out so we should too." Joy. I'm definitely using the invisibility cloak as soon as I can.

"Alright. You joining us, Iris?" Harry asked as he stood up.

"Sure." Together the three teens made their way out of the Hall and turned their steps towards the only completely wizarding village in Magical Britain. It's almost strange not to have Filch prodding and poking us as we leave Harry thought to himself as he and the girls passed through the Entrance Hall. It's definitely an improvement though. I wish it hadn't taken the old coot dying in the war, but Hermione did tell me to 'look at the positives'. As they walked down to the village, Harry barely listened to the girls talking about the differences between the Hogsmeade trips they had gone on in the past and this one. I wonder what it would be like if the village was different in another world? Of course it could also just not be there at all. Our Hogsmeade might not have been if Riddle hadn't been so completely fixated on Hogwarts.

Harry was forced to pull himself from his thoughts when they reached Hogsmeade itself. The moment the three teens set foot on the main street of the village they were surrounded by reporters. Harry barely had enough time to put up a Barrier Charm around the three of them.

"Mr. Potter, do you have any advice for the voters at home?!"

"Mr. Potter, are you going to keep working with the Ministry if the administration changes today?!"

"Mr. Potter, are you dating one of these two girls?!" That's it; I'm cursing my way through. Harry was stopped from raising his wand by Hermione's hand gripping his wrist. When he looked to the side he saw that her eyes were filled with an understanding that did nothing to diminish the warning he could also read there. With a resigned sigh that couldn't be heard over the storm of questions Harry left his wand where it was and resumed trying to push his way through the mass of idiots around them.

"Mr. Potter, please, a comment on the elections today?!" All the reporters fell quiet for some reason at that question. Bugger. Fine.

"I think that we should all be grateful that we're able to have elections. Whether or not we personally agree with the results we will at least know that our voices were heard and that we were not forced into submission under the boots of conquerors. It is now up to us to decide our own futures and make something of our country. Thank you." Harry pushed forward and even made it a few steps before the cacophony of questions resumed.

"Mr. Potter, can Minister Shacklebolt count on your support today?!"

"Can you confirm rumours that you will be taking up the post of Senior Undersecretary?!"

"Boxers or briefs, Mr. Potter?!" At long last Harry managed to wrestle his way into the polling station that had been set up just for today next to the Three Broomsticks. The reporters tried to follow him in but were thrown out in short order by the witch in charge.

"I already told you that you can't be in here when someone's voting and who that person is doesn't suddenly change that. Now get out of here the lot of you before I have the aurors come and arrest you for disturbing the democratic process!" Harry was downright impressed when her tirade actually managed to get the reporters to leave.

"Thank you." he told her gratefully.

"Everyone must be given a chance to cast their vote." the woman told him sounding every bit as stern as she had when telling off the reporters. She settled down behind a small desk and looked him over. "Please place your hand on the identifier and push a small amount of magic into it." She pointed at something that looked like an obsidian mirror as she spoke. Harry Disspelled the Barrier Charm and laid his hand flat on the mirror and pushed some of his magic out through his hand. A soft green light started emanating from the stone and the woman nodded.

"Do you mind if I ask what would have happened if Harry was not who he appears to be?" Hermione asked with curiosity burning in her eyes.

"The identifier doesn't tell me who you are. It merely notes that your magical signature hasn't voted yet. It is linked to the others at the other polling stations so that you can't try to circumvent the system, as well as national records to make sure that you aren't a foreigner or underage. I still don't know if you are who you look like and it doesn't matter for the purpose of a proper democratic process." the woman told them frostily. She handed Harry two pieces of parchment with a list of names on them, one significantly longer than the other. "Take this into the booth and mark your preferences with your wand. You get one vote for Minister and one vote for a Wizengamot member."

Harry ducked behind a curtain to study his parchment while he heard the woman ask Hermione to place her hand on the mirror to make sure that she would be allowed to vote. Hermione was eagerly asking about something called a 'palantir', whatever that was. His vote for Minister was a quick decision. Shack or 'not quite a Death Eater'? Easy. He pressed his wand to the parchment next to Shack's name. Harry's choice for which Wizengamot member he wanted to represent him took a little longer, but in the end he pressed his wand down next to the name 'Augusta Longbottom'. I'll trust Nev's Gran. After what he told me about her work over the summer I'm inclined to believe that she wants to change things so that we don't get stuck with another Voldemort. Having made his choices Harry stepped out of the booth and dropped his folded ballots through the slot in the bin that was located next to the overseer's desk. He then endured her suspicious glares while he waited with Iris for Hermione to cast her own vote. Once they were done the three headed outside and straight into the mass of reporters screaming questions at them.

"Time for plan B. I'll be on patrol." Harry said into Hermione's ear loudly enough that she could hear him over the noise of the busybodies. With a loud pop Harry disappeared leaving a confused silence in his wake. In actual fact he only apparated about a hundred yards so he ended up behind the Broomsticks and had a moment to throw on his invisibility cloak. Cursing at the reporters in his thoughts Harry snuck around the side of the pub and peeked around the corner so that he would not get accidentally found out by the press of humanity. From his vantage point he could easily spot the two girls telling the reporters to get lost and that they had no idea where he'd gone. I do feel a bit bad for Hermione and Iris, but the press is a lot more likely to leave if they think I'm gone. The reporters did not seem eager to prove him right though and dispersed to look for him.

As he had agreed with the girls, Harry started his unseen patrol. Hermione had even theorised that Harry might find something the students wanted to hide from them. So, it's just snooping again. Oh well, maybe I can find whatever it was that I couldn't identify at breakfast. As he moved along the back alleys of Hogsmeade to avoid the bustling mass in the main street, Harry kept an eye out for anything strange or suspicious. His first indication that something might be wrong was a small cluster of reporters milling around a central point. I may not want to talk to those idiots, but damned if I'm going to let them harass students because they couldn't find me. Harry snuck in closer to see what had caught their attention. Through a break in the crowd he caught sight of something that made him freeze up. A familiar curtain of red hair resting on the shoulder of a man who could be his twin. Ginny and Hadrian? The two Chasers were standing in the middle of the crowd of reporters with contented looks on their faces. They don't look like they need rescuing. Harry crept up close enough to hear what was being said.

"So, are you now dating the other Mr. Potter, Ms. Weasley?" The two teens at the centre of all this looked at each other and smiled coyly.

"I don't think we want to comment on that just yet." Seriously? She dumped me so she could date another version of me? Harry wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel about that. It could either be a compliment that she is apparently really interested in 'Harry Potter' or a damning indictment of how different our expectations for the relationship were. Were they acting like this at breakfast? I can't remember, but it would certainly explain the feeling I had of being about to run headlong into a problem. If Hadrian is going to be such a large part of the Weasley family my relationship with them is bound to get strained. Even with Ron being an unbelievable prat that would be awful. I don't have so many people I can call friends that I can stand to lose any. Harry watched his counterpart and ex-girlfriend playing to the crowd for another minute before turning around and moving away. I should get back to patrolling. I'm not going to learn anything more here. As he turned away from the scene Harry felt like he was turning away from more than just that.

:-:-:-:-:

The day after the elections Hadrian walked into the Great Hall in the best mood he had been in since Ginny broke up with Harry. The world seemed brighter and his place in it surer. He was even humming a tune though he would have been unable to identify it if anyone had asked him. I knew I was going to be in a good position by Christmas. If I can find a way to knock Harry down a few pegs then I may even be where I had hoped I would be. Hadrian looked the Gryffindor table up and down and easily spotted his best mate. He happily dropped into the seat next to Ron.

"Good morning, mate."

"Are we?"

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"I mean are we still mates?" Ron sounded decidedly grouchy.

"Hey, just because I took your sister out on a date doesn't mean that we can't still be mates."

"You what?!" Ron roared as he shot to his feet. Hadrian yanked him back down by the arm as a curious silence spread around them.

"Ginny and I went on a date yesterday. Isn't that why you were upset?"

"It wasn't, but I am now."

"Well, since I was prepared to deal with that I'll tell you that I trust Ginny to know what she wants and to go after it; don't you?" Ron just grunted something unintelligible. "I'm not asking you to be overjoyed that I'm dating her, but could you at least hold off on trying to hex me?" Another grunt. "So what was the other thing that was bothering you?"

"We had plans for this weekend didn't we? Something about a grove?" The dryads!

"Sorry about that, mate. I should have realised that you would be, ah, feeling some pressure. In all fairness, it's still the weekend. You know that everyone will be heading down to Hogsmeade again soon. We'll just hang back a bit." Ron sat glaring at his breakfast and Hadrian just gave him some space to work his way through the conflicting emotions he must be feeling. He wants to be mad and throw my offer in my face, but he's frankly desperate to get off and doesn't want to lose this chance. I wonder whether his pride or his libido is going to win out?

"Fine. This had better be worth it." Ron grumbled after a few more minutes of spearing his breakfast onto his fork with unnecessary force.

"I promise it will be. They're a species of nymph." Ron actually gave an amused snort at that. Hadrian grinned at him and loaded up his own plate. As he was tucking in he noticed Harry and Granger making their way towards the table. I wonder how much of an idiot he feels like this morning. He must have heard about me and Ginny by now. Despite Hadrian's eagerness to see Harry distraught over finally realising what he had lost, Harry just sat down and began eating breakfast. Oh well; it'll come in time. This way I have something to look forward to.

Hadrian's attention was drawn by the morning post arriving. A ruffled looking barn owl and a screech owl landed in front of him carrying a letter and today's Prophet respectively. He removed the burdens that were tied to their legs before shooing the birds away from his meal. The letter first Hadrian decided. Unfolding the parchment from its envelope Hadrian started to read.

Hadrian,
How have you been? Pulled any good pranks recently? I'm writing you to tell you that I did what you suggested with regards to our account yesterday. I also managed to convince the goblins to come up with a way to make it legally impossible for Harry to be added to the account again. Between the business of the election and the subsequent upheaval Harry should be quite unable to appeal the decision in time to stop it. Since Harry was already added to the account we had to give him 20% of the vault's contents as a buy-out. As you are of age I had to do the same for you. 2042 galleons have been deposited into an account in your name.
Your mother and I feel that you are old and wise enough to make a choice regarding what to do with this. You may either keep the account and consider it your starting capital going forward or you may deposit it back into the family account and we will support you until such time as you are able to support yourself. We hope that you can make a decision by the end of the Christmas hols, but we'll give you until your graduation if you need the time.
We love you, son and we look forward to seeing you at Christmas.
Dad

Hadrian carefully folded the letter and tucked it into his robes. My own vault? This is unexpected, though in hindsight it really shouldn't be. I'll have to give this matter some careful consideration before I make my decision. Hadrian saw Ron shooting him a curious look but ignored it in favour of looking around at Harry. He found his counterpart sitting with Granger and Iris a little further down the table. Harry was enjoying his breakfast with the two girls, blissfully unaware of the fact that he was now completely cut off from the family account. Merlin, but I hope that I get to see his face when he finds out. I'd bet that it's going to look hilarious.

"So what was the letter about?" Hadrian turned around to find Ron looking at him carefully.

"Just my dad letting me know that I need to start making my own banking decisions now that I'm of-age."

"What brought that on?" Ron asked as his brow furrowed in thought.

"I don't actually need to make any decisions until we graduate. He was just giving me a heads up. I imagine that your dad will do something similar soon." Predictably Ron subsided as he considered this new aspect of growing up. Ron always needs a moment to adjust to a new idea or situation. I'm just glad that he didn't need that much time to adjust to the idea of being single again. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; it was Beaverface after all.

As Ron started eating again, Hadrian unfolded his copy of the Prophet and read the headline.

Shacklebolt Elected in Landslide

So, Kingsley's won the election Hadrian thought to himself. Better him than some Slytherin. I wish there had been a better candidate for us though. This world's Kingsley is a little too close to Harry for comfort. If Harry really does have the kind of political sense I suspect after seeing him run off to the Ministry all the time, this could be very dangerous for us. Dad hasn't done anything wrong in dealing with him, but Harry's disapproving enough of us that facts like that wouldn't matter.

Hadrian briefly skimmed the article on the election. The only interesting point that it mentioned was that there would be an Inaugural Ball. Something that I would have been invited to back home Hadrian thought bitterly. He gave himself a mental shake and flipped on to the really interesting part of the paper: the society section. As expected there was an article about Harry Potter being sighted and having actually given a statement to the press. At least as long was the article on Hadrian and Ginny's first date. Mab's wings, but we look good. The article's not bad either. Some flack aimed at Ginny for choosing another Harry Potter, but nothing we didn't expect.

Hadrian was distracted from his thoughts by a pop and the sudden appearance of a house elf right behind Harry. It handed him a pair of letters and also had one for Granger. That's odd.Harry opened the first letter and groaned before passing it over to Granger who laughed at him after she'd read it too. The other letter produced a grim look on Harry's face; one that Granger copied when she read the letter over his shoulder. Her eyes flicked over to where Hadrian and Ron were sitting. Hadrian was surprised at the anger he saw in her gaze. I wonder what's gotten her riled up this time? Good thing Ron isn't shackled to her anymore. It's not my problem, whatever it is. Far more pressing is what I'm going to tell Ginny that I'm doing today instead of spending time with her.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry was distracted all day by the contents of the letters he'd received that morning. One of them had been a missive from Gringotts to inform him that he'd been booted off of his parents' account. Since he was of age he had received an equal share of its contents. Not that that's the important thing here. I don't like that they've taken this step. At least James was thick enough to put up a legal barrier between our accounts. I wonder how he would feel if he knew that that barrier he requested from the goblins is just a contract between the two of us to not get involved in each other's finances? With this in place I might just give Hermione her wish and let them know that they never had access to all my money in the first place.

In all honesty though, it was the first letter he'd opened that was bothering him more. That letter had been from Kingsley informing him of the election results. That was fine. I'm happy for him. The letter had gone on to inform him of the time and place of the inauguration of the new Minister for Magic and the new Wizengamot. It's annoying that I'm getting dragged into this whole thing, but still not really a problem. Finally the letter had included an invitation to Shack's Inaugural Ball. Did he really have to do that? He knows I hate having to go to these overdone, formal affairs.

If Harry was completely honest with himself he could admit that it wasn't his reluctance towards being trapped at a formal event that was causing his distraction. Plus one. The invitation was for 'Harry Potter plus one guest'. Harry knew what that meant. I'm expected to bring a date. It's going to be even harder to find someone to go with than it was in fourth year, if only because there are fewer people that I would consider taking. I could go stag, but then I'll be stuck dealing with everyone trying to play matchmaker all night.

"Harry, it's time to get everyone back up to the castle." And there is the heart of my conundrum. It's not just that there are fewer people I'd consider taking to a ball, it's that there's one in particular that I want to take and all others pale in comparison. With it only being a month and a half since she broke things off with Ron, I'm not sure that asking her out is the action of a good friend. Besides, she might already have someone else that she wants to go with. It's not like she doesn't have her own invitation. "Harry?"

"Yeah, sorry. You're right, we should be getting everyone back up to the castle." Hermione gave him a measuring look so Harry quickly turned away and started chivying students back up to the school. He could feel her eyes on him for a moment longer before she too started sending sending people back. Once they were sure that there were no more students left in the town Harry and Hermione headed up to the castle themselves with Iris, who had spent the day with them, walking along. The two girls were talking about the election results and the effects it would have on their society. It was a throwaway comment from Iris that gave Harry an idea for her Christmas present.

"It really is a historic moment. I mean do you have any idea how influential the first government after a major socio-political upheaval tends to be?" Iris said with a sparkle in her eyes. "Generations to come will look at the upcoming winter solstice as a defining moment for better or worse." I'll have to talk to Shack about it, but I think I know what I want to get Iris for Christmas.

The girls continued discussing how some of the non-humans that they knew Shack had invited would make people look at this inauguration as the trio ambled up to the school to make sure that no one was straggling on the path up and got there just in time for dinner. As he sat down to eat Harry saw Ron come swaggering in to the Great Hall with Hadrian. The uncharacteristic movement pulled at Harry's attention as much as the fact that the redhead wasn't already at the table despite dinner being served several minutes ago. I wonder what those two got up to today? Something tells me that whatever it was, they shouldn't have been doing it. Not that I can actually do anything without some concrete evidence. Harry decided to put the mystery out of mind for now. I'll keep my eyes open, but I don't have a lot of time to spare on such a vague suspicion of mischief.

That night in the Head's Suite Harry was working on an essay for Professor Kowalski when he heard a chair landing softly next to him from a Levitation Charm. A moment later his best friend was sitting in it and looking at him with intense, brown eyes.

"Something's been bothering you all day." Bugger. How am I going to talk my way out of this? Harry mentally scrambled for something to say, relying on the fact that Hermione hadn't actually asked him a question to cover the silence that had fallen between them. "I already know that it has something to do with Kingsley's letter, just like I know that you're trying to come up with a way to keep from telling me what it is." Double bugger. "Can't we please just talk this out before you end up drunk or potioned and screaming?"

"I don't think it's anywhere near as severe a problem as that."

"But you do think it's a problem." I can tell her that much without mentioning that she's the one I'm talking about, right? Harry doubted that he could really fool Hermione. She's cleverer than I am and much better at understanding people. Perhaps I should just get it over with so she can tell me I'm not welcome at her house over the hols.

"I-... I'm worried that I'm going to be a terrible friend." Harry blurted out his confession, the words tumbling from his lips in rush.

"What on earth could you have found in Kingsley's letter that would make you think that you're going to be a terrible friend?" Hermione asked in bewilderment.

"The invitation to the Ball said 'plus one guest'. I know that it means that we're supposed to bring a date and the only person I can think of that I want to go with is you. With everything that's happened over the past few weeks I feel like I would have to be an insensitive prick to ask you to be my date to this thing. That's not even getting into the gossip you'd have to put up with, and the-"

"Harry." Hermione's voice cut through Harry's rambling with ease even though she hadn't raised it. Her face was arranged in an expression Harry couldn't read and it worried him. "Just ask me." Feeling like he was standing at a precipice Harry took a breath.

"Hermione, will you go to the Inaugural Ball with me?" Hermione raked him with a searching look and Harry fought the urge to flinch away.

"Alright."

"Really?" He felt like something inside him had been washed clean.

"Yes, really."

"Wow." Harry mumbled half to himself. "I promise, Hermione, I'll do my best to make the night as enjoyable as I can. I can't thank you enough for doing this." Hermione smiled at him, but there was something in her eyes that told him she wasn't as comfortable with this arrangement as she was pretending to be. That means it'll be up to me to make sure that I don't do anything that makes her regret this decision. I'll have to talk to Iris. She should be able to warn me about possible pitfalls. Despite his worries about his friend Harry had an honest, happy smile on his face that almost felt like a stranger. Maybe the night won't be a total disaster after all.

Chapter Text

"Hermione!"

"Mum! Dad!" Abandoning the decorum of the Head Girl for the enthusiasm of a daughter, Hermione dropped her trunk and raced forwards to hug her parents. Harry came to a halt beside the forgotten luggage and watched the family reunion with a wistful smile on his face. I'm so happy that she was able to reverse the Memory Charm. No one deserves to lose their parents and especially not Hermione. Harry was also happy that this reunion could take place away from Platform 9 ¾ and the paparazzi infesting it. The worst part of it was that they all seemed to be from Witch Weekly or similar publications. I don't care that Ginny's dating Hadrian now, but that doesn't mean I want to be asked questions about them every time I set a foot outside. The family hug was slowly breaking up and Hermione came over to reclaim her trunk. Her parents followed along behind her.

"Hello, Harry. How was your train ride?" Helen said as she drew Harry in for a hug as well.

"Good afternoon, Helen. The train ride was fine. I wanted to thank you for letting me stay with you this year." Harry did his best not to sound uncomfortable with his host's physical contact. He was immensely grateful when Hermione pulled him out of her mother's hug and back towards herself with a knowing look. Helen's eyes narrowed for a brief moment before she was all smiles again.

"Oh pish, dear. We're happy to have you."

"Quite right." Richard agreed as he stepped forward to shake Harry's hand. "Christmas is a time for togetherness."

"As I understood it Christmas is a time for family." Harry said carefully. "You didn't have to include me."

"Nonsense. The more the merrier." Richard waved him off. "We should get going though. It might be the season of goodwill to all, but that is quickly forgotten when people are stuck in traffic." Harry and Richard picked up the trunks and followed the eagerly chatting women outside. They all piled into the Grangers' car and were soon motoring down the A23 towards Crawley. Hermione spent the majority of the drive catching her parents up on anything that she might not have mentioned in her letters and the rest was her mum doing the same with regards to family and neighbours. Harry couldn't help but notice that no one mentioned Ron's name. He stayed quiet for the most part, only speaking when he was asked a direct question. The trip took them about two hours since Richard avoided the motorways and Harry felt like it might be to draw out the conversation between Hermione and her mother, but kept his suspicion to himself.

When they got to the Grangers' home Harry and Richard carried the trunks inside where Harry took over both pieces of luggage with a Levitation Charm.

"Useful, that." Richard commented as Harry walked up the stairs. Harry shot him an understanding grin. He left the two trunks upstairs and headed back down to find the Grangers in their sitting room. Helen and Richard had taken up one couch leaving a space for Harry next to Hermione on the other which he obligingly took.

"So, do you two have any plans for the holidays?" Helen asked.

"Well, Harry has to inaugurate the government on Tuesday and we're going to a Ball after that, but I don't think we have anything else set in stone." Hermione said pensively. Her parents stared at them at that unexpected answer.

"You have to inaugurate a government?" Richard asked, just to be sure.

"Yeah. Normally the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot would do it, but since the last one had his soul sucked out for High Treason they've asked me to do it." Harry's explanation didn't seem to have helped the Grangers get a better grip on the situation. They shared a look before turning back to the teens.

"Well, okay, I suppose." Helen said, sounding a bit dubious. "Are there any particular Christmas traditions you keep to, Harry?"

"Not really."

"Oh. Did your family not celebrate Christmas?"

"Something like that." A good Christmas is one we leave the Dursleys out of. Something about his laconic answer caused Helen to inspect him like she might find the answers to all her questions written on his face.

"Well, why don't we get dinner started? We can make plans while we eat." Richard suggested into the tense silence. Helen nodded slowly.

"Yes. A good idea." she agreed. "Why don't you two get unpacked?" Harry and Hermione got up from the couch and headed upstairs as Helen had suggested and found the trunks in the hallway where Harry had left them.

"I didn't know what rooms we would be using." Harry defended himself when Hermione looked at him with a question in her eyes.

"We're in here." she said as she levitated her trunk through one of the doors. Harry followed her with his own. He entered what was quite obviously Hermione's room. Any available stretch of wall was hidden behind bookcases. What bits he could see were painted a very light blue. On the hardwood floor next to the bed was a rug that seemed to include every shade of purple known to man. Under the window stood a desk with several framed photos. Harry recognised one of Ron, Hermione and himself at the end of their third year. We look happy. While Harry was examining her room Hermione had drawn her wand and shrunken the bookcases on either side of her bed. With another flick of her wand she expanded the bed so that it would comfortably fit two. A final flick of her wand caused her clothes to fly out of her trunk and hang themselves neatly in her wardrobe.

"There. All done." Hermione spoke with deep satisfaction. Harry just guided his trunk to the foot of the bed. I can just grab what I need as we go. "I love magic. Can you imagine how much effort this would have taken if we'd had to do it by hand?"

"More than you'd care to remember?" Harry responded wryly.

"Smartarse. You're right though." Hermione looked around the room and nodded to herself. "Let's go back downstairs. If Mum doesn't need help in the kitchen, Dad'll be glad for the company." The two teens spent a happy evening chatting with Hermione's parents. The even managed to avoid the topic of their sleeping arrangement until they were getting ready for bed. Harry was already under the covers while Hermione was brushing her teeth. She was just walking out of her en-suite bathroom when Helen came in from the hall.

"Hermione, dear, I was hoping that the two of us could- are the two of you sleeping together?" Hermione's mother stood frozen in the door staring at the two teens in the magically changed room.

"I trust that won't be a problem?" Hermione asked in a tone that was both warning and challenge as she moved herself casually between her mother and Harry.

"Of course not, dear. I just wish you would have told me you'd started dating Harry."

"We're not dating, Helen." Harry told her quietly. "Hermione stays with me at night to help me with my nightmares."

"Harry, you don't have to."

"What nightmares?" Mother and daughter spoke at the same time, both sounding concerned.

"You're already doing so much for me, Hermione. I'm not going to ask you to keep secrets from your parents on top of that. I don't mind if you tell them everything."

"Are you sure?" He nodded slowly, but without a hint of doubt.

"I am. Tell her." Hermione gave Harry a searching look before turning back to her mother and taking a deep breath.

"Harry has a rather severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder, Mum. He wouldn't talk to anyone else about it and he doesn't sleep if I'm not here. He actually put up a Silencing Charm so that I wouldn't hear him screaming himself awake after I broke up with Ron; took me weeks to find out about it and you should have seen the state he was in." Hermione might have started out a bit hesitantly but her annoyance with Harry's Silencing Charm managed to ring through loud and clear.

"You needed your rest!" Harry defended. How can she still make me feel guilty over that? I did the right thing!

"In that case I'm relieved you managed to get him to come along." Helen said, giving Harry a searching look. Oh, come on. I'm not about to fall over or start sobbing my heart out. Helen seemed to have reached the same conclusion and gave a brisk nod. "Well goodnight then." Hermione didn't move until her mother had closed the door behind her and then she let out a massive breath. She stared at the door a moment longer before abruptly turning around and sliding under the covers.

"I meant what I said you know? You didn't have to do that."

"I meant what I said too. There's been enough between you and your parents that I don't want to add to that list."

"Thank you, Harry." Hermione said softly before pressing her lips to his cheek in a goodnight kiss like she did every night. This the best part of my day Harry thought to himself as Hermione burrowed herself into his side to get comfortable. Minutes later they were both asleep, tired from the long day.

:-:-:-:-:

"Oh, welcome home, popkin. We've missed you." Thank Merlin, she decided to hold off on acting like this until we were indoors. The press would have had a field day if she had done that while Gin and I were giving them that 'impromptu' photo shoot.

"It's good to be home, Mum." Hadrian answered while wriggling out of her embrace. "When's Dad coming home?"

"He should be home any minute now, popkin. He told me that he's working on something to get us past the problems he's been facing at work. Those people just refuse accept his abilities."

"He's still a Junior Auror?" Hadrian asked in astonishment. Sure, Dad didn't mention a promotion in his letters, but I thought that it was because it went without saying. What are the Ministry playing at?

"Worse. Even some of the new recruits have been promoted over him."

"What?! What's Dad's plan?"

"He wouldn't tell me. I think he doesn't want to get my hopes up. It's been a bit… trying, not having our usual level of income. If this keeps up, I'll need to get a job as well." Hadrian had to sit down at that announcement. Mum get a job? We were never that poor. The Weasleys were never that poor and they had seven children. Hadrian sat wrestling with his thoughts while Mum put the kettle on. He never even noticed Iris heading up to her room. He spent the next hour sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea with his mother while they waited for Dad to get home. Mum had dinner ready under a warming charm, but she refused to serve it until Dad got home.

When they finally heard an apparition pop outside Hadrian shot up from his chair. A moment later Dad came walking in through the door. He looked tired but not unhappy.

"Dad!"

"Hadrian, you're home. Good to see you, son."

"So how did it go?"

"Your mum told you, huh?"

"It's a Merlin cursed outrage! If anyone can figure out how to do something about it though, I know you can."

"You'd be right." Dad assured him with a grin before turning to Mum. "You'll need to go shopping, love. We will be attending the Inaugural Ball this Tuesday!"

"A ball?! Oh, James, however did you manage that?!" Mum exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with admiration and excitement.

"With great difficulty. I had to get a new broomstick for Johnson's kid, but he put us on the list."

"A broomstick? Wasn't that expensive?"

"Very. The old bastard knew he had me by the bollocks and milked it. It'll be worth it to get some face time with the higher-ups though. HR might be thick as treacle, but I'm sure that we'll have the brass convinced that I should be promoted in half an hour at most. If we're really lucky someone will let something slip about what they did with my old cloak when they seized the house." The invisibility cloak! I can't believe these bastards haven't given it back to Dad yet! That's a Potter heirloom.

"Are you sure we can afford new dress robes if it cost that much?"

"I know it might take a sizeable chunk out of our reserves, but it's all about the impression here, love." I think I see a problem here. Hadrian was reluctant to point out any flaws in Dad's plan but there was so much riding on this that he felt he had to.

"Dad, are you sure you'll be able to get Kingsley to listen to you? I mean, he might have given you the job in the first place, but he's never been a friend. And what will we do if someone else overhears you and decides to go looking for the Potter cloak?

"I've made sure to only ask about the contents of the house in general terms, but even then no one's said anything yet. As for Shacklebolt: he might not be our friend, but I don't think that he's exactly our enemy either. It doesn't really matter either way. Before he was the Minister of a government with emergency powers and could do anything he wanted. Now, he has to listen to a Wizengamot. Those people haven't got a memory of their first meeting with us being an interrogation and can put considerable pressure on him and whoever he names as Director of the DMLE."

"That's brilliant." I never should have doubted that he had all the contingencies covered. Dad looked a little smug at Hadrian's awed whisper. He rightly should.

"Well, I'll be out to Twillfit's first thing tomorrow. Do you need me to pick you up some new robes or will you be wearing your auror dress robes?"

"Pick me up something. I don't need to showcase that I'm a Junior Auror." Dad said, a hint of bitterness creeping into his voice.

"Of course, darling. I'll just get dinner on the table." Mum waved her wand and a parade of dishes floated out of the kitchen and settled on the table. The Potters eagerly dug into the meal before them. Hadrian had almost finished his dinner by the time he realised that the twerp wasn't there. He wouldn't have realised it at all had she not walked into the kitchen looking at a piece of parchment.

"Mum, may I have some money for the Knight Bus? I want to go meet- did you just eat dinner without me?" Hadrian almost sniggered at the shocked look on his sister's face.

"Oh, sorry about that, Iris. We just got a little caught up in the moment. What did you want the money for again?"

"The Knight Bus. I've been invited to Hermione Granger's house for a Christmas gift exchange."

"You want a galleon and nine sickles to go pick up a present?"

"Unless one of you wants to side-along me there and back." Yeah, right. Who'd have time for that on a day when Mum and Dad are going to be busy getting our social status back up to where it should be? Dad seems to be considering it though.

"Hadrian, would you have time to give your sister a lift?"

"Afraid not. Ginny and I were going to go to Diagon to keep the media tantalised. We can't afford to slack off now that they've finally noticed us."

"Good point. Alright, Iris, we'll give you the money." Note to self: invite Ginny to go shopping on Tuesday. "Lily, if you're done eating we should probably review the guest list for the ball so that we won't be caught flat-footed."

"Of course, dear. Iris, there should be enough left so help yourself." Hadrian followed his parents out of the kitchen and headed up the stairs. I have better things to do than watch the twerp eat. I need to send a quick owl to Gin and let her know about our plans for Tuesday.

When Tuesday finally rolled around Hadrian made sure that he was out of the house before his parents could change their minds and force him to play chauffeur to Iris. And for what? To save a galleon and a half? Hadrian almost snorted in derision at the mere thought. He apparated himself down to the Cauldron and chose a table to wait at. He made sure to order a tea service that he could enjoy so it wouldn't look like he was waiting. He and Ginny had agreed that she would be here a few minutes later than he so the press could get in position to witness their touching reunion.

Hadrian had finished about half of his cup of tea when Ginny arrived. She walked in through the door to Diagon and Hadrian was sure that it was because she hadn't wanted to chance floo travel. It wouldn't do for this scene to be marred by a coating of soot. Ginny slid into the chair next to his and pressed a tender kiss to his lips. Off to the side Hadrian could hear the snapping of a camera.

"Good morning." he murmured as Ginny pulled away.

"Morning." she answered just as quietly. "Are we ready to go?"

"Have some tea first. It gives a few less materialistic shots to go with the article."

"But we'll be appropriately materialistic later on?" Ginny asked with a teasing note in her voice as she poured herself some tea.

"Of course." They shared some easy conversation about the ball coming up that evening. Hadrian revealed that his parents would be attending to Ginny's surprise.

"How on earth did they manage that? It's supposed to be one of the most exclusive parties of the year."

"Dad knows a man." Hadrian responded a little jokingly. The fact that there was a return gift involved makes it a bad idea to discuss exactly what happened. Better to create the image that people want to do things for Dad because he is who he is. They should be doing that anyway. I'll tell her the rest when we're in a more private setting.

Once they had finished their tea Hadrian and Ginny headed into the alley. They walked arm in arm past several shops and occasionally they would enter one to idly browse its wares. Hadrian especially enjoyed the way Ginny pulled him into one store while laughing cajolingly. Not only was it PR gold, it was damn alluring. At the end of the day he apparated her home like any properly raised wizard would. In the orchard behind the Burrow the couple stayed out in the cold to steal a private moment.

"So how did your parents really get into the ball?" Ginny asked with her eyes alight with curiosity and what Hadrian hoped was some exhilaration from the day they'd just had.

"Dad had to buy a broomstick for the kid of the bloke who compiled the guest list." Hadrian replied easily. I know that I can trust Gin beyond a shadow of a doubt. "It's a good thing that they got in though. Dad really needs to talk to someone about the plonkers working the HR desk at the DMLE." Ginny was chewing her bottom lip as she thought through the implications of that.

"He thinks that someone's holding him back?"

"It's one possibility. Dad's hoping to resolve it tonight."

"Hadrian, have you considered that this someone might be Harry? If it is, your father's wasting a lot of resources on a gamble that stands no chance of paying off."

"I think Dad's good enough at reading people that he stands a reasonable chance of success. Besides, you know Harry: it's not really his style to pull something like that."

"Maybe, but there are a lot of bootlickers who hope to one day be thanked by him. One of them could be showing some initiative. The important thing for you here is the letter your father sent you two weeks ago."

"What do you mean?"

"If their gamble pays off then nothing changes. If it's indicative of your father turning desperate enough to put the family fortune on the line then you'll need to consider whether you want to do the same with the part of it that's currently under your control."

"I hadn't thought about that." The fact that she did just proves once again what a woman she is. "I'll be giving tonight's results a careful study. After all, I don't want to end up like Harry and have to spend an hour considering each purchase." Ginny gave him a slightly odd look at that but also a slight chuckle. Hadrian pressed a quick kiss to her lips. "I'll owl you about meeting up when I know more." He apparated back home and settled in to wait for his parents, feeling a lot more nervous than he had that morning. I really hope that everything goes the way they want tonight. I wish I knew how it was going.

:-:-:-:-:

"Okay, Harry, I'm here. What's this unique, early Christmas present?" Iris said as the Knight Bus left behind her with a bang.

"Good morning to you too." Harry responded, his excitement at seeing Iris' reaction to his present making him grin uncontrollably. "We'll get to that in a bit. We're just waiting on Hermione." He led his pseudo-sister back into the Grangers' home and Dispelled the Notice-me-not Charm he'd cast on himself so the neighbours wouldn't wonder about the oddly dressed strangers.

"Are you sure this is okay? I mean, you two have to get to the inauguration soon, don't you?"

"We've got time; don't worry." Iris gave him a suspicious look that widened Harry's grin in renewed anticipation. She didn't get to interrogate him further as Hermione chose that moment to make an appearance. She was dressed in stately, elegant robes and her eyes were sparkling with the same mischief as Harry's.

"Good morning, Iris. Are you looking forward to today?"

"I might be if one of you would tell me what's going on." Iris groused.

"Well, let's get going then and you can find out." Harry said as he grabbed Iris' arm. He focused his magic and a moment later they were standing in the Ministry atrium. Hermione popped in next to them before Iris had recovered from the unexpected side-along apparition. When she had she straightened and looked around she turned to Harry with a worried look on her face.

"Harry, what on earth is going on?"

"We're giving you your Christmas present. Come on." Harry started walking with Hermione falling into step beside him leaving Iris to catch up or be left alone. "You remember our last Hogsmeade weekend?" Harry asked when Iris had caught up to the older teens. Her brow furrowed as she thought back.

"I think so." she replied hesitantly, clearly trying to think of where he could be going with this.

"Do you remember how you described the inauguration?"

"I think I probably said it was a historic event."

"You did. It made me think that you might want to witness it up close." Iris froze in her tracks as she tried to process that statement.

"But-... Harry, there is no way for anyone who isn't a member of the press or a participant to get in today."

"Actually, that's not quite true. All the participants are allowed to invite up to two people to watch so that their family can be there for such a significant moment. Shack screwed me into participating, so you get to tag along." Iris jaw was moving but no sound came out. "I hope we're early enough for you to get a good spot in the public gallery." Iris recovered enough to start moving again and she ran to catch up to the other two. When they arrived at the entrance to the public gallery she took the chance to hug Harry and thank him to the visible surprise of the aurors guarding the entrance.

"Thank you, Harry. This is the best Christmas present ever."

"Yeah, yeah. Happy Christmas, Iris." Harry told her with a fond note in his voice despite the words. Once she had disappeared through the door, Harry turned to find Hermione looking at him with a smile and a twinkle in her eye that made him feel a bit embarrassed. "Come on then. Let's get this circus started."

:-:-:-:-:

"...and I will perform the duties of the office of the Minister for Magic to the best of my abilities; on my magic, so do I swear." There was a loud applause as Kingsley Shacklebolt finished taking his oath as Minister for Magic. Harry stepped back from the lectern at which they had been standing together to allow his friend his well deserved time in the spotlight. I'm just grateful that the Wizengamot is inaugurated with a collective oath. This would have been absolutely unbearable if I had had to administer fifty-one separate oaths instead of two. As the applause subsided Harry felt the hand of his best friend slide into his own. A quick look to the side told him that Hermione's eyes were sparkling with her awareness of how historic and momentous an occasion they were a part of. I hope that Iris has a good view from wherever she's sitting. She might just be the only one who is interested in writing an accurate historical account of today. Once everyone was seated, a solemn Shack started his inaugural address.

"Witches, wizards, friends, neighbours and honored guests. Today marks a new beginning for our country. We have seen where hatred, ignorance and corruption would lead us and today we are given an opportunity to stand up and say: 'we are better than this'. Today we are given a chance to build a future for our children, to ensure that we will all prosper and that we need never fear the heel of another dictator's boot. The pain, misery and fear that were visited upon us by Tom Marvolo Riddle and his minions can only be washed away if we come together, determined and optimistic, that future generations will look back at where we stand right now and say: 'that was the time and those were the people that gave us the world we have inherited'. I am determined. I am optimistic. I am ready to take on the challenges of making this world one that I will be proud to pass on to future generations and that they will be proud to receive. I ask all of you to join me in that effort. For it will not be the Minister or the Wizengamot alone who determine where we go from here. It will be all of us together as a people; and I believe that if we move forward together we cannot and will not lose our way. I thank you all for the opportunity to help chart the course ahead and I want to assure you that I will do all that I can to be worthy of the trust you have given me. Thank you all."

The Wizengamot chamber erupted in cheers and applause once again. Shack stood tall behind his lectern, waving to the crowd in acknowledgement of their support. At least there will be someone else in the papers tomorrow. Eventually Shack had to ask the aurors to remove the spectators as the Wizengamot was scheduled to get at least one session in before the Inaugural Ball tonight. Most of the press corps left with them. When Hermione got up to leave as well, Harry caught her wrist.

"No one would complain if you stayed to see your laws confirmed." he murmured to her.

"I don't think that they will get that far today, Harry. I want to go make sure that Kingsley's more controversial guests aren't harassed." She shot Harry a soft smile. "Besides, if they do get to the point where they're going to even debate the laws we wrote, never mind vote on them, then you're still here." That's a lot of trust to place in me, Hermione. Outwardly, Harry just nodded.

"I won't let you down."

"There is no way you could." After the doors had shut behind the last person to leave Shack banged a gavel on the lectern in front of him.

"I hereby call to order this session of the Wizengamot. Before we address any further issues, this body must decide who will chair these meetings as the Chief Warlock. Anyone wishing to speak on the matter please raise your wand." Almost every wand in the room was up in a heartbeat. This is going to be an impossibly long day Harry thought in resignation. One after another the newly elected members of the Wizengamot came down to the centre of the room to address the others. Very few actually spoke about the position of the Chief Warlock for more than a sentence. Most used the opportunity to claim that a desire to change the things they wanted to change about the interim laws was the most important characteristic for the new leader of the Wizengamot. Invariably they ended up simply plugging for those changes and ignoring the matter of the Chief Warlock until Shack banged his gavel. I'm no expert on this, but I feel like at least half of those changes wouldn't help anyone except the person proposing them.

As the session wore on the speeches, and the interruptions, began to get more and more heated. Shack seemed to be spending more and more time banging the gavel in an attempt to restore order and get the Wizengamot back on track towards choosing a new Chief Warlock. Hermione was right: if these idiots can't work together long enough to get this relatively simple decision made, then there's no way her laws are coming up for review today.

"I find it utterly unacceptable that the honourable member would declare himself in favour of house elf rights! We were elected by witches and wizards, we should serve witches and wizards!" one man was booming out. "Surely such a deluded man can not seriously expect to ascend to the office of Chief Warlock?" The man's statements were met with a loud and incomprehensible storm of comments from all sides. As the argument escalated Shack lost control of the chamber and no amount of banging could get the new legislators to calm down. Harry never saw who launched the first spell but in the blink of an eye the political debate had turned into an all out brawl. That's it. I am done with this farce. Placing his wand to his throat Harry cast a Sonorus Charm.

"THAT IS ENOUGH!" Harry's voice thundered out loudly enough to make the chamber shake. The witches and wizards who had been jinxing and hexing indiscriminately a moment before froze like naughty school children caught in the act. "EVERYONE SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!" In the ensuing scramble to obey him Harry cast a silent Disspelling Charm at his throat and made his way down to the floor of the Wizengamot chamber. When he got there he took a moment to look around at the now embarrassed men and women around him. Not one held his gaze for more than an instant.

"What the hell are you people thinking? You were elected by the witches and wizards of Britain to serve as their representatives to the government. If they could see what you were doing just now they would toss the lot of you out on your ears." There was a deafening silence in response that was only broken by the occasional rustling robe of someone shifting uncomfortably. "When Minister Shacklebolt urged everyone to come together and work to heal our world from the hell it was put through by your predecessors you stood and clapped with everyone else. Now you're brawling like a bunch of drunken trolls. I've seen arguments between first years at Hogwarts that weren't as juvenile as that mess just now. Get your heads out of your arses and do the duty you swore you would not three hours ago: work to the greatest benefit of the citizens Magical Britain and Ireland!" Taking a deep breath to calm himself down, Harry whirled around and stalked back up the stairs to sit down next to Shack. The quiet stretched out for a good while longer before Augusta Longbottom rose slowly and raised her wand.

"Madam Longbottom, you have the floor."

"I nominate Harry James Potter for the position of Chief Warlock. From what we just witnessed I feel confident that he has the authority and presence to lead this house."

"Seconded!" cried more than a few voices. What? No!

"Harry, stop." Shack's low, urgent hiss was all that kept Harry from telling the Wizengamot where they could stick their nomination.

"What?" he snapped as quietly as he could.

"Don't throw this in their teeth without thinking about it first."

"What's there to think about? I'm not even a member of the Wizengamot."

"You don't need to be. The Chief Warlock needs to chair the meetings, not debate the issues."

"Shack, I don't want to be a politician."

"You already are simply because of the influence you wield."

"That's no reason to make it official. I know bugger all about running a country. Call Hermione in here and get her to do it. She'd be perfect for a job like this."

"No, she wouldn't. Hermione would make an excellent Minister or Wizengamot member, but she's not got the presence and authority to be Chief Warlock. Harry, please, I'm begging you: consider this seriously for a moment. You saw what they turned into before you got involved. I think that you may be the only person in Magical Britain who could get all of them to listen."

"Damn it, Shack, I don't want to be another Dumbledore!" Harry gritted his teeth as he realised how close he had come to yelling loud enough for everyone to hear. Shack was giving him an understanding look.

"That's what this is really about for you, isn't it?"

"Doesn't matter, I'm not doing it."

"Harry, you aren't Albus. You can learn from his mistakes. I know it's more than we have any right to ask of you, but I just swore an oath to do the best I could for Magical Britain. I can't give up on trying to convince you and still say that I kept to my oath."

"There has to be someone better."

"There isn't. Please, help me. Together we can heal the country. On behalf of the witches and wizards of Britain, I beg you: take the job." Harry was quiet for a moment as he thought it over. How can he ask this of me? A memory of the brawl he had just broken up flashed through his mind. If we let them carry on like that this country is never going to get out of the hole the war put us in. We'd have another Dark Lord in twenty years, if not sooner. Fuck.

"I don't have to get involved in the actual politicking?"

"No. Just keep them from getting too involved in it themselves."

"I want your word that I'm not going to get press-ganged into any other government function."

"I swear it." Harry closed his eyes and sighed as his shoulders slumped.

"I'm quitting the moment someone else can take over, got it?"

"Thank you, Harry. For this alone I would owe you more than I can ever repay."

"Yeah, yeah, now go kick the idiots." Shack stood up from the seat he had taken when Madam Longbottom had set her sights on ending Harry's life as he knew it.

"The nomination of Harry James Potter has been accepted." The whole Wizengamot seemed to release a tensely held breath at the same time. "Are there any members wishing to speak?" Nobody so much as twitched. "Seeing none, I will now ask for a vote. I ask all those in favour of naming Harry James Potter Chief Warlock to raise their wands." Every wand in the room went up and Harry closed his eyes as he felt a heavy weight settle on his shoulders. "All those against." Not as single wand could be seen. "All those abstaining?" Again no one stirred. "Scribe, please present your tally of the votes." A wide-eyed Percy Weasley came up to the lectern and handed Kingsley a slip of parchment. Kingsley made a show of reading it before making his announcement.

"By a unanimous decision, Harry James Potter is named Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot of Magical Great Britain and Ireland." He turned around and held out the gavel to Harry. Harry rose slowly and gingerly took the small wooden mallet from Shack. "Just thank them and close the session. It's getting too late to deal with any real issues anyway." Shack said in a voice pitched low enough that the others in the room wouldn't hear anything. Harry squared his shoulders and stepped up to the lectern.

"Thank you, honourable members of the Wizengamot, for your trust in my abilities. I think that we have had quite enough excitement for one day however and suggest that we save our discussion of the laws for another time. I hereby close this session of the Wizengamot." There was a round of thunderous applause. Harry endured it stony-faced and eventually the noise tapered off. Everyone knew that the day was nowhere near finished and it was nearly dinner time anyway if you were intent on primping for a few hours. That and it probably looks better if they congratulate you at a party where everyone can see it happening.

"Come on. You can recover in my office." Harry turned to look at Shack and nodded wearily. The two men made their way to the Minister's office through some of the less traveled corridors. The excitement of tonight's Ball meant that those corridors were even emptier than usual and they made the trip without being interrupted. When they got to the office Harry collapsed on the couch that was pushed up against the wall. He closed his eyes and let his head drop back. What have I gotten myself into?

Harry could hear the pop of a house elf appearing and the murmur of Shack quietly giving it an order. Another pop told Harry that the elf had left again. He heard Shack moving across the office and sitting down behind his desk. For a few minutes the only sound that filled the room was the soft crinkling of parchment as Shack read some report or other. Maybe if I stay like this the world will go away. Harry's attempt at wishing the world away was rudely interrupted by a loud bang that had him leaping up with his wand out before he fully realised what was going on. Looking around for the threat only revealed Hermione standing in the open doorway looking worried.

"Harry! Are you alright?" Harry took a deep breath and released it in an effort to relax his tense muscles.

"Not sure. I'll let you know." Hermione quickly crossed the room and wrapped her arms around him. The hug worked far better than the deep breath or pretending the world didn't exist to calm him down.

"Good to see you, Hermione." Shack broke into their moment. "I'm heading home to get changed for the ball. You two can use my office for your conversation if you want, but please don't leave me to face the sharks alone." Harry just huffed. After what you just did, you deserve to sweat a little. Hermione shot Harry an odd look before turning to Shack.

"That's alright, Kingsley. We'll just go home and do the same. See you tonight." Hermione pulled Harry out of the office and dragged him to the Minister's private apparition point at the end of the hallway. Holding him tightly, she apparated them back to the guest room in her parents' house. As soon as they landed she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over to the bed with her and pushed him down onto it. When they were seated she gave him a searching look.

"Alright, Harry, what's going on? Kingsley sent me a message saying that you needed me."

"That's because he screwed me over." Harry said in a numb voice.

"How so?"

"He wouldn't let me tell the Wizengamot to sod off."

"That's not screwing you over, Harry, and you know it."

"It is when the result is me becoming the new Chief Warlock." Hermione's jaw dropped at Harry's grumpy reply. She blinked several times and her mouth moved as she tried to get some words out.

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah. I may have yelled at them for acting like little children and then Nev's Gran decided to nominate me for the post. Shack talked me into becoming an ancients cursed politician."

"You're really the Chief Warlock?" Hermione tried again. Yeah, it's not really sinking in on this end yet either. Harry nodded anyway. "Wow." Hermione breathed out sounding awed. "You must be the youngest Chief Warlock in history."

"I don't know about that. I do know that I have no idea what I'm supposed to actually do aside from keep the idiots from embarrassing themselves; if I can."

"We can look up the procedures and protocols that you need to know when we get back to Hogwarts. Right now I think we should get ready for the ball. It wouldn't do for the Chief Warlock to skive off, after all." Harry groaned as Hermione's awed tone made way for a teasing one in that last sentence.

"Don't remind me." Hermione just laughed and pulled him up off the bed.

"Hush. Get changed and I'll meet you downstairs in an hour or so."

"If it's going to take you that long, why am I getting started already?"

"So you can mope and feel sorry for yourself while you do it and get it out of your system." Hermione called over her shoulder with a laugh as she headed over to the room she had used as a child. Harry sighed in frustration, but squared his shoulders. I can afford to break down later. I screwed up a Yule Ball once with Parvati, I refuse to do so with Hermione. Not when she gave me that hesitant look before agreeing to be my date to this thing. Harry looked at his dress robes hanging on the door to the en-suite bathroom and forced himself to start taking off the robes he was wearing. A shower first, I suppose.

Two hours later Harry was sitting in the living room staring into the fire. How can someone who is always so punctual consider this 'an hour or so'? He was just considering going upstairs to ask Hermione what was taking so long when he heard her footsteps moving across the landing upstairs. Harry stood up and went into the hallway to meet her. He was standing at the foot of the stairs when Hermione came into view. Ancients preserve me. She was dressed in a hunter green dress with gold accents that flowed around her like water and clung to her form like it was wet. Her hair was piled on her head with a few strands hanging out artfully. It's curlier than it was at the Yule Ball. That's good. She looks more like Hermione that way. The thought passed through his mind almost unnoticed. Most of Harry's attention was focused solely on the vision descending the stairs in front of him. As she got closer he could discern a slight blush dusting her cheeks. With a jolt he realised that he was staring. Damn it, Potter. Didn't you just swear to make this a good night for her? Get a grip!

"You look amazing, Hermione." he managed, trying to keep any hints of feelings that would cause her discomfort out of his voice.

"Thank you, Harry. You look quite handsome yourself."

"Ready to be gawked at like zoo animals?" Harry asked as he offered her his arm. A slight smile graced Hermione's features and made Harry feel much better about what was to come.

"Let's find out, Chief Warlock." she said impishly. I'm going to murder Shack.

Chapter Text

Harry and Hermione arrived at the ministry and were met by a nervous looking man only a few years older than they. I think there's a good possibility that he was in Melody's year whatever that was.

"M-mr. Potter, Ms. Granger, please follow me." he managed while sketching an awkward bow. He turned around started marching just as awkwardly away from them. Harry and Hermione shared a shrug and followed him. It didn't take Harry long to recognise the route they were taking.

"Is the Inaugural Ball to be in the Minister's office?" he asked curiously.

"No, sir. The Minister asked to see you before the ball." Couldn't have bloody well mentioned it when we left his office, could he? When they reached the Minister's office their guide bowed them in without ever setting a toe inside. Harry and Hermione entered to find Kingsley Shacklebolt talking to a man a few inches shorter than himself, with straw-blond hair. Both of them looked up as the teens walked in.

"What's gone wrong this time, Shack?" Harry asked, unable to keep from sounding tired. He ignored Hermione poking him in the side for his rudeness. I don't care about my manners right now. The government can't be crashing already, can it? I knew I shouldn't have taken this damn job.

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong."

"Then why did your lackey drag us up here?" Shack looked confused for a moment before realisation dawned in his eyes.

"Sorry about that, Harry. I asked Rickard to bring you here this morning and didn't think to change his orders."

"What did you want to talk about then?"

"I wanted to introduce the two of you to Gary before we have to go down and pretend we always have dinner with the press watching." Harry blinked in surprise.

"You're Gary?" he asked the blond man with more interest now that it was clear there wasn't some fresh political hell he was going to be thrown into.

"I am. Gary Rowes, at your service." Gary had a soft, melodic lilt to his voice. Harry stepped forward and gave Gary's hand a firm shake.

"Harry Potter."

"And I'm Hermione Granger. Kingsley's told us all about you."

"Only the good bits, I hope."

"He's told me enough that I know I owe you a 'thank you'." Harry ignored the odd looks he was getting and forged on. "Shack told me that you've been there for him after the war. I can't tell you how much it means to have someone who knows and doesn't hate you. If you've been able to do that for Shack then we all owe you more than you know." Gary had smile on his face and what might have been a tear in his eye.

"Everything I did, I did gladly and with love." he told Harry. His next words were for Hermione though. "You're the one Harry's talking to then?"

"I am." There was a note of pride in Hermione's voice. "You'd not believe how stubborn Harry can be from time to time though or how much it took to get him talking."

"My King's told me some. I was hoping that you and I might compare notes. I don't know what King's like around you lot, but he's got his own stubborn streak and I'm interested any approaches you've tried that've worked."

"Perhaps when the press isn't hanging all over us. Between Harry being there and everyone's first look at the Minister's boyfriend I doubt we'll have a moment to ourselves before we go home."

"Actually, Gary's not here as my boyfriend tonight, but as a representative of the muggle government. I don't want everyone to know how much he means to me until I'm sure there aren't going to be any purists shooting AKs at his back." Gary rolled his eyes, but Harry and Hermione just nodded.

"Fine. Both of you are invited over to our flat after the ball tonight and I'll not hear 'no' from either of you."

"We'd be happy to join you after the ball, Gary. I'm curious about your experiences with Kingsley as well." Hermione said with a smile.

"And what will Shack and I be doing while the pair of you gossip about us?"

"I thought you might organise your government; you know, speak on weighty matters of policy and protocol." Hermione responded sweetly. Harry palmed his face and groaned to great amusement of the others.

"Come on. The other guests should be waiting on us by now." Shack said. "Can't have the Minister and Chief Warlock being late to the party." he added gleefully.

"I'm going to hurt you."

The group made its way down to the Ministry's ballroom together while discussing nothing serious. Harry even found the energy to enthusiastically explain the rules of Quidditch to a rather boggled Gary. At the entrance they were stopped by a flunky who told them that as the Minister and Chief Warlock they were to be announced to the company. It earned him a heart-felt glower from Harry. It was decided that Shack would be announced first despite the order of precedence since everyone was already used to him as Minister whereas this would be the announcement of Harry's new position to most of those present. This would hopefully keep the Minister's entrance from going unnoticed. Harry stood next to Hermione behind Shack and Gary and fought the urge to simply run away.

"The Minister for Magic, the Right Honourable Kingsley Shacklebolt, accompanied by Gary Rowes, representative of Her Majesty's muggle government." Shack and Gary walked out to polite applause. I'd guess the presence of a muggle threw them off a bit.

"The Chief Warlock, the Right Honourable Harry James Potter, accompanied by Ms. Hermione Jane Granger." This time the applause was thunderous. Harry felt Hermione's hand give his arm a squeeze where it lay tucked in his elbow and started walking. They emerged onto a sweeping staircase and the applause endured until they reached the seats with their names floating above the place settings in golden sparks. Even then it took Shack raising his hands, palms out, before the rest of the guests quieted down.

"Welcome!" Shack's deep voice boomed out. "Earlier today we took our first steps as a new government and tonight we come together as friends to celebrate that. I urge you all to keep the season's spirit as you enjoy tonight's meal with others who have pledged themselves to our nation's betterment." The applause that greeted this was as short as the statement itself had been since the plates in front of the diners filled up almost as soon as Shack had finished speaking.

Looking to either side of him, Harry was grateful that he and Hermione were bracketed between Shack and Gary on one side and Minerva and Fenrac on the other.

"I hope you don't mind your position at the table not changing to reflect your new station, Harry." Shack said after he had lowered himself into his chair. "You were already assigned these seats and the Chief Warlock was supposed to sit at my other side."

"You're really milking this thing aren't you?"

"Of course. I figure Hermione will keep you from being too upset."

"Oh, piss off, Minister."

"Language, Mr. Potter." came Minerva's stern tones.

"Sorry, Professor."

"I say, Headmistress, would you care to sit in on the Wizengamot's deliberations? Our new Chief Warlock is quite adept at keeping the members of that house in line, but perhaps we could use someone to keep an eye on him." Shack said, sounding like he was having entirely too much fun.

"I am quite confident in Mr. Potter's abilities, Minister. I would however like to know how one of my students was named to one of the highest offices in the land while he's still in school." The severity of Minerva's voice had increased sharply as she addressed the Minister and her withering glare made it clear she expected him to have a damn good answer for why Harry had been dragged into this.

"Would you believe that it was all voluntary?"

"Don't be asinine, Minister." I've never heard the word 'minister' sound so much like the word 'boy'.

"I thought not. The Wizengamot's debate on who should lead it got a bit out of hand until Harry rather expertly called them to order. After he had reminded them of their duty towards the nation Madam Longbottom nominated him and Harry was unanimously voted into office."

"You lie poorly for a politician. Do you honestly expect me to believe that Mr. Potter would simply accept such a nomination?" The conversation might be taking place over his head like he was a child, but Harry was still sorely tempted to hug Minerva for her belief in him.

"Of course not. I believe it may already be the most significant act of my administration that I managed to convince Harry to accept the nomination rather than give the Wizengamot some colourful advice on what else they might have done with it."

"Hmph. May I trust that your new reliance on my student won't interfere with his education?"

"He has the power to schedule when the Wizengamot meets, so I imagine he should at least make it to the classes he enjoys. Actually you could help us smooth out one obstacle in a way that will save him some time. Is there any way that you would allow a temporary floo connection between the Hogwarts Heads' Suite and the Chief Warlock's office?"

"I shall consider it." Minerva responded stiffly.

"Could the pair of you stop talking over our heads?" It would seem that Hermione had had all she was going to put up with of being treated like a child. "I quite agree with both of you that Harry will make a particularly effective Chief Warlock and I am confident that we will be able to schedule his duties in such a way that they do not interfere with his studies. I am also confident that the two of you will not need to do this for him."

"We will be scheduling?" Gary asked with a smile.

"I don't see any reason why I shouldn't help Harry if he asks for it."

"And there isn't one." Shack broke in. "I think we've spent enough time talking shop, don't you?"

"Yes!" Harry exclaimed. Anything to get off of the topic of me joining a system I never wanted to be a part of.

"Good. Now how are things going with your family's counterparts?"

"Iris is adjusting well. I think that Professor McGonagall is already salivating at the prospect of having her as a teacher in a few years." There was a huff of indignation at Harry's choice of words, but he noticed that his old teacher didn't try to contradict him. "I couldn't tell you what goes through Hadrian's mind, but he and Ginny seem to be happy together."

"They started dating?"

"Yeah. Guess she really likes at least a version of me. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about that." Shack snorted in dark amusement at Harry's sardonic declaration.

"Fenrac, do you have any news concerning our guests?" Shack asked the goblin who had been following their conversation with great interest. Harry was suddenly beset by a sneaking suspicion that the teasing at his expense had just been part of an overture to the goblins; something to reasure Fenrac that they weren't like the government before the war.

"You know I couldn't possibly breach our clients' confidentiality." Fenrac responded, though there was no heat to his words. "If you want to know about that, I suggest talking to one of the account holders."

"James Potter closed out the family account on the day of the elections." Harry supplied without hesitation. "Because everyone who had access was an account holder we all got an equal share placed into a private account except for Iris who is still underage. Her share was given to her parents in trust. I haven't heard whether Hadrian has returned the money he's received to his family's new account yet. James also had the goblins set up something that will keep me from ever being added to their account again. The contract they came up with actually also legally blocks him from my account, but I'm not sure if he's figured that out yet." Though judging by Fenrac's grin he certainly hasn't.

"That man has an unhealthy fascination with money and banking constructs." Shack mused with a frown. "I'm a little worried that he's going to try and buy influence in the Ministry. He hasn't broken any laws yet, as far as I know, but his behaviour hasn't been an example of morality so far either. Fenrac, do you think you could come in at some point during the next week to go over the banking laws with me? I want to make sure that there aren't any loopholes that we've failed to spot."

"There will always be loopholes, if you can find a sufficiently creative lawyer." Fenrac responded. "I will consult with my superiors about sending a delegation to your office. Expect our owl tomorrow."

"Wonderful!" Gary broke in. "I'm glad that that's settled, but I could swear someone had said 'no talking shop' not ten minutes ago." There was a general chuckle as the Minister for Magic blushed a slightly darker shade of ebony at being caught out. "This is my first visit to the magical world and I'm just dying to ask the lot of you some questions." I can see rather a lot of ways that this could bring us back to 'shop talk' but it should be interesting to see the magical world explained from the other side… ancients, but I sounded like Hermione just now. "I'd like to ask you first, Mr. Fenrac: how is it that the goblins came to be the magical world's bankers?"

"That is a long and bloody tale." Fenrac said. "One that is known to offend most wizards."

"I'm not a wizard and I'll keep these others in line." Gary responded airily. Fenrac gave the man a searching look that didn't seem to bother him one bit. I think I'm starting to understand a little of what drew Shack to this bloke and why he works for the PM. Fenrac must have decided something similar as he started telling them about the Wizarding-Goblin Wars that led to the creation of Gringotts. If Hermione hasn't got this written down for her by the end of the break I'll need to get Iris into a room with Fenrac. I think this may be the second time I've actually been interested in History.

The dinner passed amicably for the small group. They were left mostly alone as everyone knew that they would be able to corner them later, when the state dinner turned into a ball. Harry was doing his best not to think about it, but when the last of the deserts vanished from the plates he had to surrender to the inevitable.

Kingsley asked everyone to stand and once they had the tables and chairs disappeared leaving all the guests standing in a rather odd formation that soon collapsed as everyone moved to mingle with everyone else. A few couples escaped to the dancefloor as the band started playing while the rest of them tried their best to not look like they were queueing up for a chance to talk with Shack or Harry. It was only Hermione at his side that kept Harry from screaming at some of his more self-important well-wishers. Everyone was just ever so happy that he would be leading the Wizengamot and would he have a moment to spare to hear the one proposal that would get the country back on track? If this keeps up I'll end up turning into the next Voldemort myself just to get rid of all these people.

Eventually Hermione pouted uncharacteristically at Harry and begged him to take her onto the dance floor. Harry made a quick and insincere excuse to the umpteenth politician he had been forced to talk to that night. The two teenagers walked out onto the dance floor and slipped their arms around each other as they started to sway.

"Hermione Granger, you are the most wonderful woman I have ever known." Harry murmured gratefully in her ear as they danced.

"I just thought that you might need a rescue." Hermione said just as softly. There was something a little off about her voice, an emotion that Harry couldn't quite identify.

"Is everything alright?"

"It's-… it's just something that I need to work through on my own."

"Ah; that thing that Iris won't let me ask you about. Just know that I'm here for you, no matter what it is." Hermione lowered her head to Harry's shoulder.

"I know, Harry. Thank you." The two friends danced until Hermione mentioned that she was thirsty and they made their way over to the bar to order some refreshments. Hermione ordered them a gillywater and a butterbeer and they stood there catching their breath and cooling down. Harry couldn't help but find the flush on Hermione's neck and cheeks extremely alluring. Damn it, Potter, remember your promise.

"You know, this is a far more enjoyable ball than the last one; and considering that we're surrounded by politicians that's saying something." Harry said lightly winning a smile from Hermione.

"Don't you think you should give the poor politicians a break? You are one now."

"Way to sour the mood there." Hermione just chuckled musically; a sound which to Harry seemed to shoot straight through his chest. Oh yeah, I am all sorts of fucked.

"So, you're here too." a disdainful voice sounded from behind them. Harry looked over his shoulder to find James Potter sneering at him with Lily Potter looking gorgeously vapid on his arm. Oh for pity's sake. And who is that look for? I know that she's smarter than most people here, so if she's putting on a mask like that they're up to something.

"I've been told that skiving off wasn't an option. What's your excuse?"

"Typical. You can't even recognise what this gathering represents and yet you strut around here like you are better then all of us." What is it with arrogant blowhards telling me that I'm strutting?

"I'm curious, Mr. Potter; why is it that you insist on seeking me out? I don't think it's any kind of secret that we don't like each other and yet every time I turn around you and your family are there making a nuisance of yourselves."

"Nuisance? Why, you little brat. It's obvious you weren't raised properly or you would have not only understood our actions, you would have aided us as is your duty." James' words were oddly interspersed with flashes of light. One look was enough to tell Harry what was happening. Oh joy, the press's found us. Guess that's why he was speaking just low enough to not be overheard. He must be hoping that I lose my temper in front of the gossip hounds.

"Come on, Hermione, let's go." he muttered out of the side of his mouth. She nodded minutely and passed him his drink before slipping her hand into his.

"I should have realised that you couldn't face up to a confrontation like a man. Go ahead and hide behind that creature with you." James' snide voice hissed as they passed. "I don't know who you had to loan her out to for your new position, but it was a cheap deal." Harry felt Hermione stiffen next to him and a bone-deep fury flashed through him, begging to be released. Only the conviction that it was exactly what James wanted kept Harry from drawing his wand. He fought down the wordless rage that wanted to take him over. You want a confrontation, arsehole? You've got one!

"You misunderstand, Mr. Potter." Harry said coldly, allowing his voice to carry over to the press who were listening with rapt attention now that they could finally hear part of the conversation. "I have spent the better part of the last few years dealing with people who wished me ill for reasons I didn't understand. Now that that's behind me I am not going to waste my time with a Junior Auror who also wishes me ill for no reason that I can see. I certainly won't stand around while you insult my date, one of the greatest witches this country has ever seen, when you have yet to make any meaningful contribution to our society yourself. Goodbye and I hope that this is the last time we meet." You do not insult Hermione in front of me, you prick. You want a headline? Have fun with whatever this turns into. Harry slipped his arm around Hermione's shoulders and led her past the stunned press before they could recover their wits from hearing such a public reprimand from their new Chief Warlock. Harry was still fuming at the gall of the two Potters when he felt a small tug on his arm.

"Harry, do you realise what you just did?"

"Equated the Potters with Death Eaters in front of a horde of rabid gossip mongers and then rather firmly pointed out that I don't like either of them and called James Potter a useless bastard?"

"Well, yes." Hermione sounded like she still hadn't quite absorbed what happened. "Harry you just destroyed that man's life with three or four sentences."

"He was pushing for a confrontation once he realised the press was there. After what he said I gave him one." Harry got out from between gritted teeth.

"But are you alright with the consequences that you're heaping on that family?"

"Yes. He went well over the line tonight and I'm perfectly fine with any hardship he has to put up with in return. If you're worried about Iris, well, everyone can see that we're friends with her. If need be we can put in a good word for her with anyone whose eyes are just there for decoration." Hermione nodded, confirming Harry's suspicion that he had hit the nail on the head as far as Hermione's concerns about his actions went.

"And that bit about me-... about me being 'one of the greatest witches this country's ever seen'?" Harry saw that Hermione was turning a rather fetching shade of pink as she repeated his comment and her voice had become rather small.

"I'm pretty sure that's just an observable fact, Hermione." he told her with a small smile. "I don't think I ever told you that I had this odd thought that after all you'd done they might erect a statue of you in place of the old one they tore down; one with 'Mother of a Nation' written under it. Maybe I should suggest that to the Wizengamot?" Hermione had frozen on the spot in horror at the idea before Harry's teasing tone made it through to her.

"Harry James Potter!" she scolded even as the corners of her lips were twitching up. "You will do no such thing." Harry just grinned at her.

"Oh, I don't know. I think I may just go find a Wizengamot member right now." Harry said as he turned as if to run away. Hermione lunged forward and grabbed his arm.

"Don't you dare!" she hissed at him, before realising that his snickering meant that he had never been on his way anywhere. She settled for swatting him on the chest. "You lout." she grouched at him. Harry just pulled her into a hug.

"May I make it up to you with a dance?" he asked with his eyes sparkling with mirth.

"Oh, I suppose so." Hermione relented, her own eyes just as full of laughter. Distraction accomplished. Harry thought to himself as he guided Hermione back onto the dancefloor. James' insult is forgotten for now and Hermione's smiling again. This really is a much better ball than the last one. Harry and Hermione danced until they heard the clearing of a throat next to them. Looking up they found Shack and Gary looking like they had just shared the most brilliant joke in the world. I don't want to know.

"Come on, we can officially get out of here without being rude now." Shack told them with a smile. Harry looked at Hermione who nodded.

"Alright, let's go." Harry and Hermione followed Shack and Gary out of the ballroom though the press wouldn't let them go without snapping at least one shot of the four of them together. Honestly that's a cheaper toll than I was expecting to have to pay. When Harry commented on how easily they had gotten away Shack started chuckling.

"It was almost expected that we would leave together at some point, Harry. The Minister and the Chief Warlock leaving together to discuss matters of state makes everyone feel good. I'm pretty sure they usually just go get potted, but like I told you: the pageantry matters in politics."

"We're not going to be discussing 'matters of state' either are we? I'm pretty sure part of the deal was that I don't have to actually get involved in the politicking."

"No matters of state. I promise." Shack said solemnly. Hermione was frowning though.

"What do you mean Harry can stay out of the politicking? Everything he says is going to be taken as a political statement because of his position."

"Yes, and people will take those statements into consideration, but Harry doesn't have to fight to see those viewpoints realised as policy."

"Why do I get the feeling that I just got shanked into politicking anyway?" Harry muttered.

"Because you did. Don't worry though: you're starting out right. With complete and utter disdain for the system and an honest desire to help people. If you can hold on to that then you won't become what you hate." Gary told him cheerfully.

"How do you know?"

"Because it's how King and I both got our starts." As they entered the Minister's office Shack strode over to his desk and picked up a bobblehead bulldog.

"What's that?" Hermione asked aghast.

"Our portkey."

"I was wondering where on earth you got something like that actually."

"Standard present when leaving Number 10." Gary grinned at them. "I think they keep the tradition going at this point so that you remember your time there with more cringing than pride."

"You always were a cynic." Shack admonished. "Come on. You lot know the drill." Once everyone was touching the dubious decoration Shack tapped it with his wand and it whisked them off and landed them in a tastefully done flat. The walls were white, the furniture was black and modern and everything was set up along straight lines to make the splashes of colour provided by what Harry assumed were artworks stand out more.

"Welcome to our humble home." Gary said with a flamboyant bow and a smile on his face. "King, why don't you and Harry do your thing and let Hermione and me gossip about what a pair of stubborn, lovable idiots we've found."

"Oi." Harry exclaimed.

"Just ignore him, Harry. You'll only encourage him." Shack said though there was definite amusement in his voice. Gary meanwhile had taken Hermione by the hand and pulled her out of the room.

"He does realise that Hermione and I aren't together, right?"

"Are you sure you're not?"

"I think I'd have noticed, Shack."

"I'm just saying: do you have any idea how long you two danced while staring into each other's eyes tonight?"

"Um, maybe an hour?"

"Try three."

"So I spent a lot of time dancing with my date. That doesn't mean that we're going out."

"You want to."

"So?" That was obviously not the answer Shack was expecting judging by his rather convincing goldfish imitation. Harry just heaved a sigh. "Shack, I'm well aware of the fact that Hermione is an amazing woman. I also know that she's just getting out of an absolutely miserable break up with our other best friend and I'm not enough of a prick to try and take advantage of that. What she needs right now is her best friend, not another guy drooling over her."

"Well shit." Shack said as he flopped down on the couch. "You're in love with her aren't you?" Harry sat down a little more gently and shrugged his shoulders.

"I think so, but like I said: doesn't matter. It's not what she needs from me right now."

"You're a good friend, Harry, and I'll help you hope that it all works out for the best." Shack sat up a little straighter. "Enough, of that for now. I realised that I still had to give you this." He tossed Harry a golden key which the Seeker snatched out of the air with ease.

"What is it?"

"The key to your new office."

"What?!"

"As Chief Warlock you have an office in the Ministry. You need the little gold thing to get in the door."

"Does the office happen to come with a how-to manual?" Harry groaned as he sank back against the backrest of the couch.

"I'll send you a book on Wizengamot protocol before Christmas, but be warned that it's going to be dry reading."

"Haven't got much choice anymore, do I? I've got the job, so I need to do it."

"And I'm confident that you'll do it well." Shack said calmly as he waved his wand. Two crystal tumblers containing an amber liquid floated over. Shack plucked them out of the air and handed one to Harry who took it hesitantly and sniffed it.

"Whisky?"

"Macallan 18. Gary doesn't approve of Ogden's for some reason."

"Hermione's going to kill me if she finds me drinking whisky."

"I think I can understand that, but it's good for a breaking heart." Oh, what the hell. Harry took a sip and felt the familiar warmth of a strong spirit washing down his throat. The taste was a lot softer than his own Lagavulin though. The two men sat there quietly sipping their drinks and lost in their thoughts until Gary and Hermione returned. Hermione looked distracted as they emerged from whatever room they had hidden away in until she saw the tumbler in Harry's hand. She was at his side in a flash and had a hold of his hand. Her eyes searched his and Harry tried to give her a reassuring smile. He felt her take the tumbler gently from his hand and place it on the table.

"Come on, Harry we should go." she said softly.

"Alright." Harry stood up with Hermione next to him and moved forward to shake Gary's hand. "It was good to finally meet you, Gary."

"I quite agree." As Hermione stepped past Harry to say her own goodbye to Shack's boyfriend he turned to face the Minister himself.

"Shack, is there anything in the office that needs my attention before the new year?"

"A bunch of Christmas cards carrying wishes from people that don't mean them but expect a reply at some point anyway." Harry heaved a sigh.

"I'll have to see if I can get around to that."

"You two didn't actually discuss politics, did you?" Gary asked in faux-dismay.

"Nah, I just gave him the key to the government."

"Hmph. I'll allow it because it's Christmas. And you two really need to come by for dinner some time." Harry mentally shook his head at the antics of the two men and held his hand out to Hermione.

"We'll have to see when we're available. Between school and keeping Shack's government from going under we might be busy though."

"We'll owl you." Hermione overrode Harry. A few more goodbyes and the two teens apparated out of their friends' flat and into the Grangers' house. They landed in the bedrooms that they had gotten changed in and divested themselves of their dress robes. Hermione had enchanted Harry's pajamas to float their way into the guest room where he could pull them on before making his way to the room they had been sharing for the past few days and carefully knocking. When they were both lying in the bed Hermione deviated slightly from their nightly routine.

"Harry?"

"Hmm?"

"I just wanted to thank you for standing up to James without losing your temper like that."

"I couldn't let him just get away with what he said about you, the bastard."

"Actually, most people wou-"

"No." Harry's voice was uncharacteristically hard. "If anything I should have hurt him m-" That's perfect! Not only will it hurt the shitstain, Hermione will get to exact the revenge.

"Harry, is everything alright?"

"Oh yes. I've just decided that I'll give him to you as a graduation gift." Harry declared with satisfaction.

"What are you talking about?"

"When we graduate, you get to tell James that he missed nearly 850'000 galleons when he stole my family's vault." Hermione was quiet for a moment before pressing a far more lingering kiss than usual to the corner of Harry's mouth.

"Thank you, Harry." she sighed contentedly. "That sounds wonderful."

:-:-:-:-:

The next morning in the Potter household the family was trying to work through a collective hangover in the form of the most recent Daily Prophet. The headline was unsurprisingly:

Potter Unanimously Elected Chief Warlock

Despite the article singing the praises of the youngest Chief Warlock in British history, the real blow for the Potters came in the society pages. There wasn't a single mention of Hadrian's carefully constructed day with Ginny. Rather, most of the paper's attention went out to the apparent conflict between the newly arrived James Potter and the son of the original. I think that the headline that really got Dad's goat was 'Junior Auror a Death Eater?'. I don't know how Harry got them to write that but he had to have something to do with it. The press wouldn't accidentally find a layered insult like that on their own.

More importantly: what the hell possessed Dad to do something like this? It's just not like him. Hadrian wasn't sure how to go about asking though, since Dad was in a foul mood because of the papers and Mum was in a foul mood at Dad and letting him know it.

"... and another thing: I have never, never, been asked to leave a ball like that. What on earth were you thinking James?!" Or maybe fate feels like lending a helping hand.

"You saw how far we were getting with the damn Wizengamot. They were treating us like a curiosity because they were too busy being impressed with the little bastard. If we could have made him lose his temper we could have leveraged that to make them see that there was merit to what we were saying. If he had attacked us we could have demanded compensation from the government and won back every knut we spent on this ball in one go."

"So what went wrong, Dad?" Hadrian asked timidly. Dad gusted out a sigh and looked at him before answering.

"I'm still not entirely sure. I waited until the press had spotted him and there was no one else close enough to overhear what I might say and decided to poke him a little. We both know that he doesn't talk to the press so it was unlikely that he'd be able to get the first punch in in a propaganda fight."

"He who slings the first mud has the advantage as the next guy just looks like he's trying to cover for the accusations." Hadrian recited from his lessons.

"Exactly. I goaded him a little, but while he got a bit annoyed, he just decided to walk away from us. As they passed us I picked on his date a bit and for a moment I thought the plan had worked. I had a simple Shield Charm primed, but at the last moment he managed to sit on his temper and simply snarled out that we were like Death Eaters to him. Next thing you know, we're being asked to leave by some snot-nosed little shit who pulled duty that night." Hadrian considered what he'd heard and sighed.

"I hate to say it, Dad, but he used your own axiom against you even if he doesn't know it." Dad looked confused at that statement.

"You said that he compared you to Death Eaters. He threw the first mud." Hadrian could see the understanding dawning on Dad's face.

"You're right. How did I not see that?"

"Because you were drinking despite knowing better!" Mum sneered from the other side of the table.

"And you were sober?! Besides what were you doing to help us get back on top?"

"You know damn well that I was talking to the Head of the Experimental Charms Committee before you dragged me off!" While his parents were arguing Hadrian got up from the table and slipped out of the kitchen. He went up to his room and flopped down on the bed. This is not the way I thought we would be spending the Christmas hols.

:-:-:-:-:

Christmas at the Granger house passed in an easy flow of warmth and good cheer. The day after the Ball, Hermione had been dragged off by her mother while Richard and Harry were told to go do any last minute Christmas shopping they might need or otherwise head down to the pub for a pint. When the men got back Hermione was looking as thoughtful as she had when she returned from her talk with Gary and Helen was looking smugly satisfied. Harry thought it was a slightly odd combination of emotions, but was willing to let it go. I'm not here to interrogate my hosts on every little thing after they've been so understanding of my condition.

Harry had spent Christmas morning with the Grangers and the afternoon with Teddy and Andi. Hermione had come along on that visit and the two of them had a grand time celebrating Christmas with Teddy who was displaying his second sign of magic after his metamorphmagus abilities and making mince pies appear over people's heads and drop on them while shrieking with a baby's laughter. When they got home they still smelt of 'Christmas' according to Richard despite having used several cleaning charms each. Hermione had charged up to take a shower, while Harry enjoyed the idea of 'smelling like Christmas' until Hermione forced him to take a shower as well before she'd get in bed with him.

Over the next week Harry marveled at seeing the way the Granger family interacted up close. There was the occasional argument, but it was rarely heated and always talked out before going to bed.

"Never go to bed angry with each other. You don't know if you'll wake up in the morning." Richard had explained while Hermione and Helen were patching up after a disagreement. That's either good advice or a morbid thought. The Grangers also took Harry on a day trip to London to see the sights. Harry was amazed at sights like the Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace and relieved that despite the presence of a horde of tourists with cameras nobody wanted photos of him except for the Grangers. When New Year's Eve rolled around Harry was honestly feeling a little sad that he would have to leave this family soon. It's easy to understand how Hermione grew up to be who she is when you see the way she acts at home. A snide part of him wondered if he would have had a problem with the Grangers being like the Dursleys if it got him two weeks with Hermione. He shook off the thought as irrelevant and went back to watching telly with Hermione and her family as they waited for the New Year. At midnight they all went outside to watch the fireworks being launched into the air while they sipped on glasses of champagne. Harry, who had seen magical fireworks, was very impressed. I think that George could probably put on a better show if he wanted to, but there's something to be said for a neighbourhood just having fun with it too. Harry was drawn from his consideration of the merits of muggle and magical fireworks by his host's voice.

"I think it's time we turned in. Don't stay up too late you two." Richard said as he slipped his arm around his wife who leant her head against his shoulder. Harry and Hermione just nodded at them and wished them a good night. After her parents had gone into the house, Harry noticed Hermione staring into her glass of champagne. I wonder whether this is one of those things I'm not supposed to bother her about or whether I should talk to her? Harry's decision was made for him when Hermione suddenly looked up and forcefully set her glass down. She strode over to him and grabbed the lapels of the coat she and her mother had gotten him during the long shopping spree earlier in the year. She stared up at him with a fiercely determined gaze. What the-...? I was sure that she hadn't had that much to drink.

"Harry, I need you to answer a question and I need you to promise that you'll answer it honestly." At least she's not slurring. She's not exactly standing solidly on her own two feet either though.

"Okay, Hermione, I promise."

"No going back when you hear the question?"

"No going back." Hermione took a deep breath.

"Was Ron right?" Oh no. Don't tell me that you've believed that nonsense this whole time.

"Of course not, Hermione. I told you: you aren't a nightmare. I think you're perfect the way you are."

"No!" Hermione shook her head so violently that her hair whipped Harry in the face. "That's not-... the other time."

"I'm confused. What other time?"

"When you punched him." What?! Harry felt as if some of the snow surrounding them had been put down his back.

"You saw me punch him? I thought you'd run off." Hermione shook her head again, more softly this time.

"I wanted to but you weren't there so I came back. I heard what you said and I want to know if Ron was right." Some of the fierce determination had bled out of Hermione's expression, leaving her looking vulnerable. "Was he right when he said that you love me?" I hope I don't ruin our friendship over this, Hermione, but I did make you a promise.

"I think he might have been." Harry admitted.

"You love me?" Hermione sounded gobsmacked, as if she had expected him to deny it.

"I-... yes. I do." Harry could see Hermione's eyes searching his. I don't know what you're looking for Hermione, but I have nothing left to hide from you.

"Why?'

"Because you're smart, kind and beautiful. Because I feel happy when you're around; safe even. Because you're the most important person in my life… Because you're the only one who ever saw me and not some image they had come up with by themselves." The last sentence was said in a near whisper. Harry found that he couldn't quite meet Hermione's eyes as the words tumbled from his lips. He felt a hand, smaller than his own, come to rest against his cheek.

"Harry, do you really think that about me?" He could hear an emotion in her voice that he couldn't quite identify. He could only nod in response to her question. "Oh, Harry." He felt her arms come around him in one of the gentlest hugs he could ever remember receiving from Hermione. Harry held onto his best friend hoping this moment could last forever; because I'm not sure what I'll find at the other end of it.

"Harry, you don't know what this means to me." Hermione began speaking while she still clung to him. "Ever since I heard Ron say that, I've been wondering what you were really feeling, what I was really feeling and everything was just this big jumbled mess. When you asked me to the Ball I was scared that I was making the same mistake I had with Ron or that I was using you as a rebound, but to be honest, I couldn't think of anyone else I would have wanted to go with either. Then I talked to Gary and to Mum and I've been talking to Iris and they all told me that you-... that they thought you loved me too and I just-" Hermione cut off her rambling and leant back and Harry could see that her eyes were shining with unshed tears.

"I love you too, Harry. Because you can see someone beautiful and not the nightmare or the ugly little nerd. Because you are always there for me. Because you are the bravest, kindest and most noble person I know." Harry's thoughts were having trouble catching up to this turn of events.

"Really?"

"Really." Harry could feel a grin starting to spread across his lips. She feels the same way. She feels the same way! Harry looked down at the woman in his arms. Her eyes were sparkling and her skin tinged slightly red from the cold and the excitement and she loved him. Harry bent his head forward, lowering his lips to hers but hesitated at the last moment, unsure of whether he was allowed to continue. His dilemma was resolved by Hermione's own lips closing the distance and pressing against his. Their kisses were almost giddy as the tension that had built in their relationship over the last few weeks released itself in one exultant realisation: they loved each other.

When they crawled into bed that night Harry wondered if they might not have disobeyed Richard's earlier admonition to not stay up too late. Then Hermione's lips touched his and he forgot all about her father as for the time being as he returned something that was rather more than a kiss goodnight.

Chapter Text

Hadrian stabbed his breakfast sausage with unusual venom. This year sucks. Technically the year was only a few weeks old and it had a lot of time left to change his opinion on the matter, but so far Hadrian was entirely unsatisfied. It had started with the ride back up to Hogwarts on the Express. There was the usual gaggle of reporters and this time they were even interested in talking to him specifically. Unfortunately every question had been about his family's feud with Harry Potter. Hadrian had done his best to defuse the situation, but even now most people still seemed to be convinced that Harry and the other Potters were just a step away from being at each other's throats.

As if that hadn't been enough Harry had shown up halfway through the interview distracting every reporter there. The paper had been full of photos of him and Beaverface smiling at each other as they boarded the train and helped drooling little firsties with their trunks. Not to mention that only half my interview got published because everyone went haring off after those two and forgot about me. That means that there was an incomplete portrayal of me, of my image. I wish we could have taken the papers to the Wizengamot, but I'm not sure how successful we'd be at getting that lot to agree with a person speaking out against their precious Chief Warlock.

Harry's new job was another thorn in Hadrian's side. With every meeting of the Wizengamot Harry grew more popular with both politicians and the public. 'He's so impartial.' 'He's such a good leader.' 'He really has the best interests of the people in mind at all times.' He's a little rat that's been given way too much power. If the Boy Who Lived was meant to have that kind of political power, I would have had it back home.

Damn it, how did he do it?! He's even managed to rebrand himself faster than should be possible since he's apparently not the 'Boy Who Lived' anymore. The papers had apparently decided that they couldn't get away with calling the Chief Warlock a 'boy' and had gone looking for a new appellation to give Harry. It bothered Hadrian to no end that the name they had come up with was simply 'the Saviour'. That relies so much on the same principals as 'Traveler' that he's basically made that worthless as a brand. He just had to one-up us.

And do the students ignore all this carrying on? Of course not! Suddenly Hogwarts is the most politically aware school in the world. It's like they honestly expect Harry to plop down next to them at dinner and ask their opinion on the country's foreign policy. Like he's going to listen to anyone except Beaverface.

The rumour mill was working overtime trying to determine whether Harry had actually lost his mind and started dating Granger. Oddly enough it was Ron who had allayed Hadrian's worries that he and Ginny had some competition for the title of Top Power Couple.

"Please. Harry and Hermione aren't dating this time anymore than the last twenty-seven times this rumour cropped up. All it ever does is make them uncomfortable." Though Ron's been far more concerned with sneaking out to see those dryads every chance he gets than with paying any attention to what goes on in the real world. To be honest I haven't really noticed any major difference in the way they act. Of course, I didn't really pay a lot of attention to the way they acted before the hols either, but it's not like we're finding them snogging in broom cupboards or anything. The final and most damning piece of evidence against a relationship between those two was the fact that they hadn't been doing anything other than patrolling during the last Hogsmeade weekend. And what kind of self-respecting couple would not go all out for Valentine's Day? Hadrian had been gratified to see that Witch Weekly had published a piece on his and Ginny's date, even if he was a little less happy with the speculation on how Harry had moved on from the relationship that was sprinkled liberally throughout the piece.

Okay, so there is one major upside to the year so far: Ginny. Hadrian's relationship with the youngest Weasley was everything he had imagined it would be. She's smart, funny, and the most beautiful woman in the castle. Not to mention she's still a PR genius and has a way of seeing the things I've missed. Ginny's warning about keeping an eye on Dad's handling of the family fortune as he tried to get them out of the slump they were in had been spot on. I was blinded by my admiration of Dad. I mean, he's still one of the smartest guys I know, but he's definitely gotten desperate and it was Dad himself who said that desperate men make more mistakes. Hadrian's parents had been disappointed by his decision to take the money he had received from the account as starting capital for the rest of his life. Not that the money will really matter once I'm signed to a Quidditch team, but watching Dad blow it in some mad caper to get back on top isn't really a better alternative for it.

Hadrian was drawn from his sulphurous thoughts by a peck on the cheek. He looked to the side and found his girlfriend there. He smiled as he noticed that she was wearing the gold and ruby necklace he had bought for her on Valentine's Day. Her eyes sparkled as she realised where he was looking. That necklace had earnt him quite a few 'thank-yous'. At least I can take pleasure in knowing that Harry is still a virgin. Hell, he's probably never even slept next to a woman before. It would be funny if he did end up dating Beaverface only to find out that she's an absolute prude, like Ron did. These positive thoughts managed to put a smile back on Hadrian's face.

"Looking forward to the match today?" Ginny asked when she saw his smile.

"Meh, it's not even the most important scouting match since we already took care of the snakes and saw the nerds earlier this year. Still, Quidditch is Quidditch and you never know, maybe they'll put on an entertaining spectacle for once."

"Well, if we want to witness that once in a lifetime occurrence we'd better get moving. Where's my brother by the way?"

"No idea. I haven't seen him and his bed was empty this morning."

"What could he possibly be doing that's drawn him away from his one true love?" His several free shags?

"Are you sure that he's not down at the stadium yet?" Hadrian asked in an effort to keep Ginny from prying into matters that were best left alone.

"I suppose it could be possible. He is one of the few people that thinks that every match matters after all." Hadrian grinned winningly at Ginny's admission.

"Let's go find out." With their arms wrapped around each other's waists the couple joined the exodus towards the Quidditch pitch to watch the third game of the Hogwarts season: Slytherin v. Ravenclaw.

:-:-:-:-:

"Okay, I think I've got a good one this time."

"Let's see it then." Harry was giving Iris another Patronus lesson in the Heads' Suite. So far she had managed to produce a formless silver mist, but she was determined to succeed and fully master the spell. Harry stepped back and let her prepare herself to cast her spell.

"Expecto Patronum!" A white mist erupted from Iris' wand and seemed to be struggling to coalesce. Iris let out a gasp and the mist dissipated. "This is useless! I'm never going to get it." she cried out sounding close to tears. Harry came over and gently guided her to the couch. She dropped down onto it and flung her arms across her face.

"You shouldn't put so much pressure on yourself, Iris. We'll just keep working until you get it."

"No! You don't understand. I need to master this spell before my birthday."

"Before your birthday? Are you expecting to wake up to a dementor attack?"

"No, of course not. I turn seventeen this year."

"You do realise that you'll still be allowed to use magic after your birthday too, right?"

"What? No, I want this to be my first legal spell. Don't you remember your first?"

"Not really. I probably Summoned my glasses or something." Iris was gaping at Harry's indifferent attitude to his first legal spell until she shook herself.

"Okay, but with us it's a family tradition that you cast your first legal spell at the breakfast table on your birthday. It's supposed to be a memorable, special moment and a chance to show off a bit. Dad told us that he performed an inanimate to animate transfiguration on a chair and turned it into a labrador. Hadrian did something similar and turned a salt-shaker into a mouse. That was magic that they were months away from starting in school. I want to have something similar and the Patronus would really be something special. I mean, you remember your first Patronus at least, right?"

"Yeah, I do. We told you about it, remember? Down by the lake with Sirius." Iris blinked at that.

"That was a good story, but can we get back to how I'm somehow going to learn this spell by the Easter Holidays?"

"Alright, let's try something different. Do you remember why you're trying to find a happy memory?"

"Because it focuses your emotions and intent for the spell."

"Exactly. When I was learning this, it took me a really long time too."

"You were thirteen."

"Yes, but my life depended on learning it; literally." Harry mentally shook himself. Stay on topic, 'professor'. "That's not important right now. The reason it took me so long to master the spell was that I didn't really have any sufficiently happy memories. Nothing that really made me fill up with a warmth that could counter the effects of a dementor."

"So what did you do?" Harry had to suppress a smile at the look of rapt attention on Iris' face.

"I took something that wasn't a happy memory; not exactly. Whenever I come near a dementor I can hear my parents' murders. It was the only memory I had of their voices though and it was more than I'd ever had to bring me close to them. I used the longing and desire I felt from that to power the spell at first. The emotions don't exactly match the intent, but they were strong enough make up the difference. So perhaps we need to do the same for you: find something that generates an unbelievably powerful, positive emotion in you and try using that."

"Do-... do you still use that memory?"

"No. I've cast the charm enough that I don't need to use any kind of aid to generate the emotions I need. If I do feel the need to use a memory, well…" Harry shrugged with a smile on his face as he remembered his New Year's Eve.

"Damn." Iris whispered in wonder. When Harry quirked an eyebrow at her she blushed. "Whatever it is that must be one powerful memory. You looked happier than I've ever seen you."

"It's very special to me." Harry admitted though he stopped short of telling Iris why that was. Hermione and he hadn't confided in anyone about their New Year's conversation just yet and they had agreed that they wouldn't for a while to come. With the amount of scrutiny their lives were under they were sure that someone would realise what was going on soon enough, but they were both naturally private people and it meant a lot to them to be able to explore their new relationship without the entire wizarding world hanging over their shoulders. It makes it even more special that it's just ours. I'm so glad that Hermione isn't willing to give something this precious up before we've had it to ourselves for a while either. While Harry was lost in thoughts of his secret girlfriend, Iris was sitting next to him working through several different emotions in her mind, looking for one that was sufficiently powerful and positive to use as the spell's focus. Harry could see the moment she had hit upon a likely candidate as her head shot up and a fierce determination was etched on her face. "That looks promising. Give it a shot." Iris stood up from the couch and took a few steps away from it. She took a deep breath and raised her wand.

"Expecto Patronum." she intoned solemnly. The silver mist erupted from her wand and struggled to coalesce again. Just when Harry was about to tell Iris to drop the spell the mist solidified and took on a definite form. For just a split second a majestic, silver lion stood in the common room of the Heads' Suite. Then the spell sputtered out as Iris' energy deserted her and she crumpled in on herself. Harry shot forward and managed to catch her before she collapsed on the floor.

"That was really well done, Iris." he said with pride in his voice. He saw a beaming smile on her face even as her eyes drooped shut and she fell asleep. Bugger, she really overdid it. Hopefully she'll calm down a little now that she's managed a corporeal form. Harry picked the younger teen up in his arms and carried her into the Head Girl's room where he laid her on what had become their spare bed. Harry carefully tucked in the closest thing he'd ever had to a little sister and after a moment's hesitation placed a quick kiss on her forehead. "Sweet dreams." he whispered as he slipped out of the room and closed the door behind him. I guess Iris will be sleeping for a while. Let's see, we have a little over an hour before they start serving dinner, I have my homework done and my girlfriend is off tutoring her Arithmancy group; which leaves paperwork. I hate paperwork. Harry sighed and sat down at his desk. With a wave of his wand he Summoned his briefcase from his room. Among the reasons Harry had initially wanted to turn down his current job he had never listed paperwork. That would bloody well change now. I have to sign off on the minutes, the votes, the passed motions and the attendance sheet. Then I have to go through all the new agenda points that the idiots submit, their bills, requests and letters and the reports that have been sent to the Wizengamot by the various departments. And that's not even counting the letters with requests, abuse and praise from the public.

Harry sighed, opened the briefcase and pulled out the first batch of reports that he needed to work through. There was a session tomorrow night and he had to finalise the agenda and read through half a forest of printed nonsense by then. Why must they always try to get things added at the last minute? If you care about it you should be able to tell me at some point during the week and not on Saturday afternoon. Grumbling to himself, Harry bent to his tasks. He didn't notice how much time passed until he felt a soft pair of hands running along his shoulders, rubbing the knots from them. Harry moaned in pleasure and let the report he was reading drop to the desk.

"Do you have any idea how attractive you look when you're running the country?" a voice murmured in his ear.

"Impressing you is the only reason I haven't quit yet." Harry managed through the enjoyment of Hermione's fingers working out the knots in his muscles.

"Really? Does that mean I could get you to declare a holiday in my honour?"

"If you really want one, I'll stop blocking every idiot who proposes it." The fingers on Harry's shoulders froze.

"They haven't really, have they?"

"Eleven different times so far. Come here you." Harry twisted and wrapped his arms around Hermione's waist, pulling her onto his lap and causing her to laugh and forget about the more idiotic proposals the government could come up with from time to time. He pressed a slow kiss to her lips. "I've missed you. How did your tutoring session go?"

"Well. Quite a few of them actually paid attention." Harry chuckled at Hermione's dry complaint. Despite the fact that most of her students appeared to be there to try and talk to her about anything but Arithmancy, Hermione soldiered on with her study group for the sake of those who were actually there to learn. "What about you? How did Iris do today?"

"Completely and utterly tired herself out. She's sleeping it off in your bed right now." Harry smiled to see that Hermione's eyes flicked to the wrong door first. Looks like I was right and the Head Girl's dorm really is the spare bed. "She did manage a corporeal Patronus though."

"Really? What is it."

"A very impressive lion."

"She must be so happy."

"She was in the few seconds before she passed out."

"I was wondering why you were being so free with your affections when we have a guest." Hermione teased him.

"Because it's been far too long since I had you in my arms."

"Harry, I was only gone for two hours." Harry just kissed her again, reveling in the fact that he was able to do so.

"That's about an hour and fifty-five minutes too long." he told her when he backed off.

"Sure it is." Hermione giggled before relaxing against his chest. "Any of those classified?"

"No, and you know them all anyway. It's the last tranche of your laws coming up for a vote tomorrow." Hermione's hands reached out for the documents and picked up the one Harry had been reading and the top file off what she could apparently recognise as his 'reviewed' pile. Passing Harry's work back to him she settled down to read what the politicians wanted to change to her work. Harry sighed and went back to his job. I have to admit that the job's a lot more enjoyable when I get my very own teddy bear to go with it.

Cuddling with Hermione might have been an enjoyable way to get through his work, but when he was done with his report Harry noticed that his legs had fallen asleep. He gently squeezed Hermione to get her attention.

"Hermione, do you mind if we take this to the couch?"

"Hm? Couch?"

"I'm experiencing some blood-flow issues."

"Oh!" Hermione's eyes widened in realisation. "Oh, Harry I'm sorry. I should have realised."

"Not your fault." Harry said as he stood up wincing. "What's the time anyway?" Hermione cast the Chronometer Charm.

"Dinner's just started."

"I reached a good place to stop, what about you?"

"Two more pages and I'll be done with this one." Harry noticed that 'this one' referred to her second report of the night. I told Shack she'd be better at this than I would.

"You finish up while I go get Iris out of bed then. She needs a square meal before she conks out for the night." Hermione nodded before looking at him with mischief in her eyes. She grabbed his face and caught his lips in a particularly heated kiss.

"Because I won't be able to do that for far too long." she grinned breathlessly up at him when she pulled back. Harry chuckled a bit at having his own words thrown back at him in such a pleasant manner and gave himself a mental shake before heading into the spare room.

"Iris." he said gently as he shook her by the shoulder. "Come on. Time to wake up." Iris remained blissfully asleep. "Iris, I'm going to cast a Water Making Charm on you if you don't wake up. It's time for dinner. Let's go."

"Nnnh. Don' wanna."

"I know, but I'm not giving you a choice. Your body needs energy and for that it needs fuel. You need to eat."

"Lea' me 'lone."

"Last chance to get up before I use Aguamenti."

"Huh? Wait! What?" Iris shot up at that threat. "Not funny, Harry."

"Who's joking? You really do need to go eat something and dinner's just started."

"Can't I just go back to sleep?" Iris complained, half sinking back down already.

"Oh, no you don't." Harry caught her arm and pulled Iris out of the bed. "Come on. Hermione's waiting for us."

"Fine." Iris whined as she let Harry drag her out of the bedroom and into the common room where Hermione was indeed lounging on the couch, waiting for them.

"I've got Sleeping Beauty. I think that means we can go now."

"I think it means you're a doo-doo head." Iris groused. "Hey, Hermione, did Harry tell you about my Patronus? Wait, I'll show- hey!" Iris glared up at Harry who had plucked her wand from her hand incredulously.

"Do you have some kind of obsession with our floor? You are not casting so much as a Levitation Charm until tomorrow."

"I have to agree with Harry, Iris. If you passed out due to magical exhaustion, you really shouldn't be throwing around Patronus Charms."

"Fine. I'll show you tomorrow when the Chief Warlock goes off to work." Harry just poked Iris in the side by way of a response as the trio headed for the portrait hole. As they headed down to dinner Harry told Hermione about the Potter birthday tradition he had learnt about today.

"Do you remember your first legal spell, Hermione?" Iris asked.

"That depends on what you mean." Hermione said evasively. "My birthday is in September, so I was of-age for a while before I got out of school where I could use magic anyway."

"Hmm, the first one you showed your parents then."

"Yes. I don't think I'll ever forget that one." Hermione said sounding enormously guilty. Harry could see Iris winding up to ask about this first spell and grabbed her wrist and shook his head to stop her. Iris frowned at him, but seeing that it was clearly bothering Hermione subsided and stayed quiet.

"So are there any other Potter birthday traditions that I don't know about?" Harry asked to change the subject.

"Um, well, we usually do the watch thing, but I'm not sure if they'll do that for me."

"That's a general wizarding tradition though isn't it, giving someone a watch on their seventeenth?"

"So you do know it."

"Molly and Arthur Weasley gave me mine. It used to belong to Molly's brother Fabian." Harry pulled the watch out of his pocket and showed it to Iris who looked impressed.

"I'll be lucky to get one like that. Mum and Dad don't have a lot of money after what they blew through for the Ball; I'll be lucky to get one at all actually." We'll just have to see about that, won't we?

"Did they honestly spend so much money on their robes that they might not be able to give you a traditional present?!" Hermione's outrage on her friend's behalf had clearly helped push back her conflicted emotions about the Memory Charm she had used in an effort to protect her parents from the war.

"I think it was more the broom they had to buy that bloke's kid to get put on the guest list to be honest." Harry could see the way Hermione's eyes widened at that bit of information and he knew exactly why. That is bribery and James could get in real trouble over that. Looking at Iris though he knew he wasn't going to report it. Well, not right away. Let them get her something for her birthday first. We can always throw the book at him later. Harry could see by the play of emotions on Hermione's face that she had reached a similar conclusion. "Enough about such a depressing matter. Let's talk about how Harry's going to beat the snot out of Hufflepuff next weekend." Iris said with forced cheer. It said something about how eager Hermione was for a change in subject that she was the one who engaged Iris in a discussion about the sport first. You just got a reprieve, James Potter. Use it well.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian was exultant. The match against Hufflepuff was one of the easiest he had ever played. I could take care of this by myself. These duffers can barely even sit on a broom properly.Ginny threw another pass his way and Hadrian did a barrel roll as he threw it towards the left-hand hoop, just to give himself a challenge.

"Goal! Gryffindor lead by 120-10!" Just a few more goals and everyone will see that it doesn't matter anymore whether or not we have Harry on the team. Hadrian eagerly took up his position again to meet the Hufflepuff attack. The yellow-clad Chasers flew at them but Hadrian could read the sense of defeat in the set of their shoulders. One of them telegraphed his move a little too obviously and Hadrian shot forward towards a point he knew the Quaffle would have to pass through. He snatched it out of the air and was through on goal before his opponents could blink. A feint caused the Keeper to dive the wrong way and Hadrian dunked it through the opposite hoop, grabbing the rim for a sharp turn as he did so. He flew back towards Gryffindor's side of the pitch pumping his fist for the benefit of the fans. He took the time to give Ron a high five before he wheeled back into position. Just three more goals.

The Hufflepuffs' next attack actually made it through to Ron, but Gryffindor's Keeper was playing just as well as the Chasers. The Quaffle flew upfield and landed safely in Demelza's hands. She threw a quick pass to Ginny who tucked the Quaffle under her arm and streaked up the pitch. Hadrian raced towards the hoops, keeping his eyes locked on his girlfriend and the prize she was carrying. He saw her look up as she neared the end of the pitch and waved his hand to indicate where she should put the pass so he could finish it off. Ginny was naturally in synch with him and didn't need any further hints. She passed the Quaffle beautifully and Hadrian spared a thought to be impressed with her ability.

Just as he was reaching for the Quaffle he saw another red-clad arm stretching forward out of the corner of his eye. Oh no, you don't. This is my moment to shine. Hadrian forcefully body-checked the challenger out of the way, caught the Quaffle and scored. Because of his earlier manoeuvre he didn't have time to spare doing something flashy before scoring so he elected to keep his celebratory lap dignified. When he got back to Gryffindor's half he found an angry Harry waiting for him.

"What the hell was that, kid? You nearly knocked Demelza off of her broom! We're 130 points up; there's no need to take any risks. Just calm down and see this match out." Hadrian just gave a noncommittal grunt which caused Harry's glare to sharpen. "Pull something like that again and I'll ground you." He bit out before flying back up to resume his search for the Snitch. How did someone with so little competitive spirit ever make it to captain? Chuntering to himself, Hadrian took up position.

As he looked around at the crowd he noticed a face he remembered from back home. That's Marcus Renford! United's chief scout is here today? A fierce determination filled Hadrian. If Renford's here, I'll make sure that he notices me. Puddlemere United's centre-forward Hadrian Potter. It has a nice ring to it. The moment the Hufflepuff Keeper put the Quaffle back into play Hadrian surged forward. The Badger's Chaser line had learnt to fear him and the Quaffle was immediately passed to the player farthest away from him. Thankfully Hadrian wasn't the only brilliant player Gryffindor had. Ginny had anticipated the pass and swooped in to pick the Quaffle out of the air. She dodged a bludger and was clear down the field. She's going to be out of position! Let's go, Potter! Renford's watching! Hadrian saw the exact moment Ginny realised that the Keeper had all her angles covered. Her head came up and she drew her arm back. His vision narrowed and for a moment Hadrian felt like all he could see was the area where he knew the Quaffle would pass through. He dragged an extra burst of speed from his broom. He barely noticed an impact against one of his shoulders as he neared his target. There was a scream that seemed to come from far away and which meant nothing to Hadrian. As he hauled the Quaffle in to his chest he noticed a streak of crimson shooting towards the ground out of the corner of his eye; he ignored it.

As the Quaffle passed through the centre hoop the noise coming from around the pitch crashed back in on Hadrian's awareness. Elation filled him at the sheer volume and he turned to take victory lap. To his shock Hadrian saw that the Gryffindor section of the stands was subdued while the remaining three quarters of the school was loudly cheering. Scanning the pitch revealed the reason: the Hufflepuff Seeker was taking a victory lap with her Snitch-filled fist raised to the sky. Halfway between the Hufflepuff goal hoops and the ground floated a broom with two people in red on it. What?! After all that noise about Harry being a great Seeker he lost to a she-duffer because he wanted to cuddle?!

"Hufflepuff win, 160-140." The announcer's voice was filled with surprise and disbelief. Furious, Hadrian hauled his broom around and shot towards the pair that were slowly drifting to the ground. I'll have his badge for this! A vote of no confidence from the team should force Hagrid to see reason. We should have won this match!

"Harry!" Hadrian saw Harry's head shoot up at his angry shout. The expression on his face almost caused Hadrian to falter; he had never seen anyone look so cold. As he drew closer Hadrian noticed that it was Demelza who was riding double with Harry and had her face buried in his shoulder. He shook off his hesitation and let his anger and indignation fill him once more. "What were you thinking?! We should have-"

"Land." Harry's voice was as cold as his expression and carried a subtle promise of violence if the command wasn't obeyed. Fine. We'll do this on terra firma. Hadrian was standing on the pitch in a matter of seconds, waiting for Harry who had apparently decided to float down. When he finally did land, Harry spent a few minutes reassuring Demelza before he stalked over. Hadrian opened his mouth to give Harry a piece of his mind, but was pre-empted. "Don't bother showing up to practice next week, kid; or ever again for that matter."

"What?" This was not the direction Hadrian had expected the conversation to take.

"You're off the team. I can't use someone who would knock a teammate off their broom to score a goal, especially since that goal was always going to be disallowed for blatching."

"You can't do that! I'm the best player you've got!"

"If Quidditch were a solo-sport that might even be true. As it is: Quidditch is a team sport and I'm Gryffindor's captain. You're off the team." Hadrian could only gape after Harry as he walked away and slipped an arm around Demelza's shoulders to lead her into the castle. He couldn't get his brain to work in the face of this impossible twist of events. I'll write to Dad. He'll know what to do. Having a goal, however small, allowed Hadrian to start moving again as he trudged into the castle to make his way towards the owlery. He tried to compose the letter he would send in his head as he walked, but was having trouble getting his thoughts to move beyond this is wrong. This can't be happening.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian,
I was outraged to hear that Harry booted you off the team. Normally I would suggest that we take it to the Headmistress or the Board of Governors, but with the current perception of our relationship with Harry I just don't know how effective that's going to be. All I can really recommend is that you keep your skills sharp. Harry may realise just how hard it is to train a new Chaser in the time he has left before the next match. At this point there is still every chance that he'll come crawling back to you if the Cup matters to him at all. All we can do right now is trust to fate.
Your mother wanted me to remind you that we expect you home for the Easter Holidays. Iris is turning seventeen after all and you should be there for that. Do remember to get her a present this year. Your mother also says that you should try to spend some of your recently freed time studying. We don't know if the examiners here will be biased against you because of the news they've been getting.
All the best of luck
Dad

The twerp's birthday? That's all I need. Hadrian was glaring at everyone who came near him as he sat at the Gryffindor table. The news that he had been kicked off the team had spread quickly and, unsurprisingly, nobody was willing to say that Harry was in the wrong. There are even a few blaming me for the loss. Me! As if failed to do my job. The rest of them are just going along with it because it's the Great and Wonderful Saviour who said it was my fault. The result of all this was that the Weasleys were the only ones still speaking to Hadrian. This is ridiculous. If half the team is still on my side then Harry shouldn't be able to get away with booting me off. Dad's probably right that there isn't anyone who's going to go against him with the momentum he's got, but it's a bloody travesty nonetheless. To make matters worse, Harry had given Hadrian's spot to Dean Thomas and having two dormmates on the team meant that there was almost no escaping the reminders of what had been stolen from him.

"So how long do you think it's going to take Harry to get Dean up to speed?" Hadrian asked Ginny.

"Probably not that long actually. He was our reserve Chaser back in my fifth year when Harry was captain too. He probably knows Harry's style as well as anyone in Gryffindor and has some game experience." Hadrian could tell that Ginny was trying to be gentle in breaking this news to him but it was just not news that was capable of being broken gently. So that's it. Harry's got a replacement that he's worked with before and he hates my family enough that we don't have to expect him to show me any leniency.

Unless… Hadrian sat up as the idea hit him. That might work. Timing will be crucial though. He noticed that Ginny was looking slightly oddly at his mood shift and plastered a neutral look on his face.

"Did you think of something, Hadrian?"

"A very small ray of hope that's almost certain to come to nothing considering what the news is printing about my family."

"Want to share?"

"No, it doesn't do to cry over spilt potions." Ginny gave Hadrian a piercing look and he decided to give distracting her a try. "By the way, Dad's letter mentioned something. Can I petition for asylum at the Burrow over the Easter hols?"

"Probably. What are you running from?"

"The twerp's birthday. I'll have to attend breakfast with her, but I'm not going to be able to pretend I give a damn for more than two hours or so. Not if there's the option of spending time with you."

"I'll have to ask Mum but I'm sure you can come over for the day."

"You are my rescuing angel." Hadrian said with a grin that Ginny managed to match. "Now all I need to do is find her a present."

"Any ideas?"

"Yeah, shoot a Puncture Charm at the History section of a Flourish and Blotts owl order catalogue. It hasn't failed me yet."

"Really? Are you serious?"

"Of course. We can go do that now if you want to come along." And get away from all these idiots who can't recognise Quidditch talent when it's standing right in front of them. Hadrian stood up and left the Hall followed by a slightly nonplussed Ginny.

Chapter Text

Hadrian woke up with a feeling of dread. It didn't take long for him to place it. The twerp's birthday. I should be grateful that it got lost in the shuffle last year when we came to this world, but I had seriously hoped that I would be able to give this one a miss. Oh well, at least the gift giving shouldn't take long and that's all Mum really insists that I stay for. Looking on the bright side: she can't try to guilt me into being there for any of the twerp's future birthdays now that she's of age.

Hadrian remembered his own seventeenth birthday fondly. Mum and Dad had given him a watch as was tradition. It had been a gorgeous piece though Hadrian couldn't remember the last time he had worn it. I wonder where I put that thing? Oh well, it'll be somewhere back home. After the gift giving he had raised his wand for his first legal spell as an adult. Dad had been so proud when Hadrian had turned the salt shaker into a mouse. It was one of those moments you don't forget: your first legal spell. Today, on the other hand, is going to be very forgettable.The twerp is just going to do what she always does: underperform as a pale imitation of me.

With a sigh Hadrian got out of bed and got ready for the day. A look out the window told him that it was raining the kind of persistent Scottish rain that could carry on all day. How fitting: even the weather is depressed today. He picked up the book he had gotten as a birthday present for his sister. Good thing I owl-ordered it; the packaging saves me a wrapping job. Hadrian made his way downstairs to the kitchen. He found that his parents and his sister were already sitting there. He dropped his package next to Iris' plate.

"Happy birthday." he grunted out as he took his own seat. With everyone at the table, Mum started serving breakfast. Once his plate was full, Hadrian happily dug in. This had the unfortunate effect of him being the first to finish his meal which left him sitting there waiting for the rest to finish so Iris could open her presents in the presence of her family. I swear she's eating slowly to draw this out. Let's go already, twerp. Some of us have better things to do today than sit here and watch you take half an hour per bite. Finally Iris was finished with her breakfast and she drew their parent's present towards her first. It turned out to be a watch as expected. Hadrian had to bite back a grin when he saw it. It wasn't a gold pocket watch like his had been. This was a clunky little bronze model without a chain that looked like it had been fished from a bin at a goodwill store. Mab's wings, I wouldn't want to be seen with that in public. Iris thanked their parents though and pulled Hadrian's present towards her. She unwrapped it and blinked at it for a moment before looking up at Hadrian.

"Did you realise that you bought me this same book for my fifteenth birthday?" Huh? Really? Well, who cares anyway?

"Well, you weren't able to bring it along from home, now were you? This way you have a copy again."

"Thank you, I suppose." Hadrian could tell from the look in Iris' eyes that she knew he hadn't put any real thought into getting her something.

"Iris, that is not an appropriate tone to take. Remember that it's the thought that counts." Dad scolded her causing Hadrian to once again bite back a grin. That's right, you'll never measure up, twerp. "Now, I wonder if you've chosen your first legal spell already?"

"I have." Iris drew her wand and her face took on a look of deep concentration. If this is some charm to organise her books, I'm out of here. "Expecto Patronum!" A silvery mist erupted from Iris' wand and coalesced into the form of a lion which pounced towards Hadrian. He fell out of his chair as he tried to get away from whatever summoning-gone-wrong it was. When it passed through him Hadrian was left sitting there, stunned.

"Oh, Iris, a corporeal Patronus. I never knew that you were so adept at charms." Mum gushed. Iris was positively beaming at the praise.

"You know what that was?" Hadrian asked his mother, aghast.

"Of course, popkin. That was a marvelous example of the Patronus Charm. It's a defensive charm that's used to drive off Dementors and Lethifolds. Most fully qualified witches and wizards never master it."

"So how'd the twerp learn it then?" All eyes swiveled towards Iris who blushed lightly under the scrutiny.

"Go on, Iris, tell us. Did Professor Flitwick give you extra lessons?" Mum urged with a smile on her face.

"Um, no actually. It was Harry." For a moment you could have heard a pin drop in the Potter's kitchen.

"You mean Hadrian?" Mum asked with a clear expectation in her voice.

"Of course not. He didn't even know what it was."

"So then you must mean that underhanded traitor to our name." Dad hissed out.

"He is not! You should give him a chance, Dad. He's really nice and-"

"Nice?! Nice?! That little shit has done nothing but screw us over since the moment we landed here! He was the one who questioned us under veritaserum. He was the reason we were thrown in jail. I know that he's the reason I was demoted to Junior Auror and that I still get worthless assignments. He's the reason your mother can't get a job with the Ministry. He's sure as hell the reason your brother got kicked off the Quidditch team. And you think he's 'nice'?!"

"He is! He's been nothing but kind to me and he would be to you too if you would stop treating him like a chess piece that needs to do what you say or be eliminated. All that stuff you mentioned isn't his fault; it's yours! You were the one who threatened him. Everyone starts at the bottom when they get a new job and they have to work at it to advance. Anyone would have kicked Hadrian off the team with the way he was acting. That's not Harry's fault. You all need to get used to the fact that no one in this world is just going to hand things to you!" Hadrian knew Iris had gone to far. She was still standing there, her chest heaving with the exertion of her rant, but Dad had gone completely still.

"Get out." Dad's voice carried all the warmth of a winter day at the North Pole. Iris' eyes went wide and her face paled when she heard it.

"Wh-what?"

"Get out. If you would rather side with that poor imitation of your brother than with your family, then you are not welcome here. Get out and don't come back until you've figured out where your loyalties lie." Hadrian could hear the rage bubbling up in Dad's voice as he started to lose his cool. Iris was frozen in place with a horrified expression on her face. All of a sudden Dad burst into movement as he grabbed the watch they had given Iris only minutes ago and hurled it just past her ear and into the wall behind her where it shattered into a hundred pieces. "Get out!" He screamed in her face.

Iris' resolve broke and she spun around and fled the house. It was quiet in the kitchen for a long minute before Dad whirled around and stalked off into the house. A few seconds later Hadrian could hear a door being slammed shut. I think that means that Dad is in his study. The sound seemed to jolt Mum out of whatever trance she was in and she started clearing away the remains of breakfast with shaking hands. I think I'd better get out of here before I get drawn into this mood. Harry slipped out of the kitchen while Mum was busy putting the leftovers back into the fridge and cupboards. He hurried to the living room and lit a fire in the hearth. A quick dash of floo powder turned the flames green and Hadrian's quiet "The Burrow." took him away from a house filled with tension. He emerged from the swirling flames into the familiar surroundings of the Weasley's kitchen.

"Hadrian? You're early. Did something happen?" Hadrian felt a small smile stretch his lips as he looked at the concerned face of his girlfriend.

"You could say that."

:-:-:-:-:

Harry fought to keep from groaning. I have to admit there are days when I wonder if Ron doesn't have the right idea. Studying for exams after fighting a war feels a little… anti-climactic? borderline irrelevant? It definitely feels like I've got the order backwards somewhere. He gave himself a mental shake and refocused on the notes in front of him as he worked on memorising the equations needed to predict ingredient reactions and theoretically develop new potions; which I am never going to do. No. Focus. I may not like the subject, but I like the idea of coasting by on my fame even less.

Harry looked across the common room at the other desk where Hermione was showcasing the proper determination to absorb knowledge. How is it that it took me so long to appreciate that particular trait? Harry didn't realise that he was staring until he heard Hermione clearing her throat and had blink to get his brain working again.

"Really, Harry, that's not going to help you on your N.E.W.T.s."

"Maybe not, but how did you know what I was doing if you weren't looking as well?" Harry grinned as he saw his teasing win a blush from Hermione.

"That's not-... that's not the point here. You should-" Whatever Hermione was going to say was forgotten as the portrait swung open to admit a soaking wet Iris Potter.

"Iris? What on earth happened to you?" Harry exclaimed as he shot up from his seat. He reached her in just a few strides and saw that she was shivering. The real shock was the broken look in her eyes though. "You're not even wearing a coat. You must be freezing." The sodden state of the girl in front of him did nothing to stop Harry from taking her into his arms and rubbing her back in an attempt to warm her up. He hadn't expected his actions to cause her to break down and start sobbing into his chest. "Iris?" Her sobs just intensified.

Harry shot a look over his shoulder at Hermione and managed to gesture to the girl in his arms. Hermione thankfully understood and came up to them to cast a Dessiccating Charm on Iris' clothes and a Warming Charm that left Harry feeling uncomfortably toasty, but which was undeniably a boon for the shivering girl he was trying to comfort. This has to be really bad. Iris has been nothing but calm and rational since I met her. Once Iris' sobs subsided Harry led her to the couch and helped her sit down with Hermione on her other side.

"Iris, can you tell us what's got you so upset?" Hermione asked gently. Iris seemed to crumple in on herself as she whispered out the answer.

"My family threw me out."

"What?! Why?!" Harry felt the outrage swirling in his chest. Haven't they figured out how important family is?! Even if they took it for granted before they were thrown into our world, they have to realise that importance now, don't they?

"Because I learnt the Patronus Charm from you and told them that we should try to get along with you." Harry heard Hermione gasp in dismay at what she was hearing. "Dad said that I couldn't come back until I 'figured out where my loyalties lie'." That fucking bastard!

"Not that that's not an awful thing to say, but are you sure he meant it?" Hermione asked tentatively.

"You didn't see his face when he was yelling at me. He looked like he hated me." Iris told her in a small voice. Harry could feel her shoulders starting to shake again and pulled her closer.

"You know I won't get angry at you if you decide to go back and tell them that they were right and I'm an evil git, right?" Harry asked her trying to keep his voice light. Iris shook her head.

"You're the only one who's ever treated me like I'm not just a burden. I don't want to have to lose that." Silence fell for a moment as the three teens considered that.

"Well, we'll figure out how to deal with that one way or another." Hermione spoke up determinedly. "For now though I think it would help you feel better to take a shower and get into some clothes that weren't dried with magic. I can lend you what you need." Iris gave a nod and the two girls disappeared into the Head Girl's room. Harry heard the shower start up moments before Hermione returned. She sat down on the couch and laid her head on Harry's shoulder.

"I can't imagine what that must have been like; getting thrown out on your birthday. How could they do that to her, Harry?"

"How could pureblood families just abandon their children if they were born without magic?" Harry countered. Hermione shivered.

"It's absolutely beastly. I know no one can choose what family they're born into, but she deserves better."

"I know." Harry felt a hand on his cheek pulling his head around to face Hermione.

"You deserved better too. I can't tell you how proud I am of both of you for turning out the way you did." She kissed him softly on the lips and got a rueful smile in return.

"Thanks, Hermione." Harry turned his gaze to the window and watched the rain run down the glass in rivulets as his thoughts turned to his own experiences with the Dursleys. I'm not sure how I would have felt about them throwing me out. Sure, we didn't get along and I can't remember how often I wished some long lost relative would come and adopt me, but they were the only family I've ever known and I think it would still have hurt if they wouldn't even have been able to tolerate having me in the house. Wait! That's it! Harry shot up as if he had been hit with a Stinging Hex, dislodging Hermione who looked up at him in shock.

"Harry, is something wrong?"

"I think I may just have had an idea. I need to go talk to Shack." With an absent flick of his wand, Harry summoned his cloak from his room and pulled it on.

"What kind of idea, Harry? Maybe I could help."

"I don't want to share it until I know whether it's possible. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. I'll see you in a little bit and we can give Iris a real birthday celebration." He ducked down and gave Hermione a kiss on her lips before throwing some floo powder into the fire. "Ministry of Magic, Chief Warlock's office." As he was whisked away by the green flames Harry caught a glimpse of Hermione still sitting on the couch looking bewildered.

Harry emerged into his office at the Ministry and barely spared it a glance as he headed straight for the door. It was only a short walk to Shack's office from Harry's own. He had to force himself to not simply walk past the man's secretary. It's not an emergency, so I don't think I can get away with ignoring protocol.

"Good morning, Melody. Is the Minister in?" he asked her after letting her get her usual squeak out of her system.

"He is, Chief Warlock. Did you have an appointment?"

"No, I just wanted to ask him something."

"I'll go see if he's available, sir." Melody hurried from her desk and slipped into Shack's office. She emerged a minute later and smiled at Harry. "The Minister will see you now."

"Thank you, Melody." Harry walked into the office and found Shack looking at him expectantly.

"Good morning, Harry. I have to admit that it's unlike you to show up at the Ministry when you don't have some appointment scheduled."

"Surprised me too. I'm not here on Ministry business though."

"I thought not. So what do I owe this visit to?"

"This morning the Potters kicked Iris out."

"That's terrible, but I'm not sure what it is you think I can do about that."

"You've been working with lawyers for a year now, Shack. Point me at one that can figure out a way to set up the adoption of a sibling rather than a child." Shack's eyes widened for a moment.

"You sure about this?" Harry let out a tense breath.

"I am, Shack. I can recognise some of her habits and tendencies. I had the same ones when I was at the Dursleys. During that time I would have given anything for someone to show me that they actually cared; that they wanted me. I don't know if she'll take it, but she deserves the option." Shack gave him a searching look before nodding slowly.

"What the hell. I could use a break anyway. Let's do this."

:-:-:-:-:

"Harry James Potter. Where have you been? You told me you'd be back soon two and a half hours ago."

"Hey, Hermione. Everything took a little longer than I expected." Harry answered cheerfully as he brushed the ashes from his cloak. "If it's been two and a half hours, may I suggest we have a birthday lunch for Iris?"

"Will this lunch include an explanation of what you were doing at the Ministry?" Hermione asked with her arms on her hips and stern look in her eyes. I see. The curiosity must have really been eating at her.

"It will." Harry reassured his girlfriend with a grin. "So, Iris, would you prefer lunch here or in the Great Hall?"

"We could have it here?" Iris asked in wonder.

"Sure. I'll just pop down to the kitchen and make us a picnic basket or something." Harry said with a smile before he was interrupted by a pop behind him.

"Master Harry is not needing to be popping anywhere. We is doing that for him. Would Master like lunch for himself and his missies?"

"Trippy? Were you listening in?"

"We is always listening to Master Harry so we can be doing things he is needing doing." Trippy agreed.

"Oh. Alright then. Yes, we would love some lunch, please." Immediately one of the desks moved to the centre of the room, covered with a familiar tablecloth and settings for three people.

"Master and misses will please be seated. Lunch is being served in three minutes." Trippy said. Once everyone was seated the little elf bowed and popped out.

"Wow. Is that kind of service normal for the Head Students?" Iris asked still looking at the spot Trippy had disappeared from.

"I don't think so. I'm pretty sure they just do it for Harry." Hermione said in a resigned tone of voice before turning to Harry. "Since we're seated and waiting anyway, why don't you tell us what it was that you had to go and talk to Kingsley about so suddenly?"

"An extra present for Iris." Harry could see that Hermione was trying to come up with various things he could give Iris that would require a conversation with the Minister for Magic first. She was jolted from her train of thought by the appearance of food on the table.

"Thank you." Harry called out to the apparently empty air. I'm not sure what to think of the fact that I always have someone listening in. I don't think they've told anyone about my nightmares or what I told Hermione. If they haven't so far I think I don't have to worry about them suddenly changing their minds. Lunch passed pleasantly even if it wasn't exactly a boisterous celebration. When the plates were cleared it was Hermione who cried out:

"Presents!"

"Isn't the birthday girl supposed to be the one who gets excited about that?" Harry asked, barely containing his amusement.

"I'm just trying to set the mood." Hermione muttered with a blush that told Harry even she didn't believe what she was saying. With a grin he waved his wand at their bedroom door and two wrapped packages floated over. Hermione snatched one of them out of the air and held it out to Iris. "Happy birthday!" Nice shift of the conversation there, love. Iris tore the wrapping paper off of her present.

"Oh, Hermione, it's wonderful! I love it." Iris exclaimed as she examined her new book.

"So which book is it?" Harry asked curiously.

"It's not a book, Harry. It's a Never-Ending Notebook." Iris exclaimed excitedly. Harry could only marvel at the similarities between Hermione and Iris' tastes. And I don't think I'm meant to understand either of them.

"It's enchanted with an Author's Assistant Spell. It'll help you when you get stuck, check your work and help you to organise your book. I look forward to reading it when you get it done." Hermione told Iris as she was being hugged in thanks. Okay, I can sort of understand how that might appeal to them. Soon the two girls were looking at him expectantly. Harry picked up his wrapped package first and handed it over to Iris. It was a lot smaller than Hermione's present. He saw a twinkle in Iris' eye before his carefully done wrapping suffered the same fate as Hermione's. Iris eagerly wrenched open the box that she found and froze.

"You told me that you thought your parents wouldn't be able to afford one for you. I hope you don't think that I overstepped any bounds." Iris reached into the box and drew out a watch made of rose-gold and hung from a delicate chain that could double as a necklace. She clutched it to her chest as a tear ran down her cheek. Damn it, she wasn't supposed to cry. "I'm sorry?" Iris shook her head while rubbing at her eyes with the back of her free hand. She stood up from her chair and came around the table to grab Harry in a hug.

"Don't be, Harry. I-... Mum and Dad gave me a watch but Dad threw it against the wall when he threw me out. This… you've given me more than you know." I'm not sure how she'll react to the other gift, but at least I'm even more sure that I need to give it now.

"I do actually have that extra gift for you as well, remember?"

"Harry, I'm not sure if I can accept another gift from you after this."

"Then it's a good thing that this gift doesn't actually come into effect until you want it to, isn't it?" Iris looked almost as curious as Hermione now as to what this mystery gift could be. Harry reached into one of the expanded pockets of his cloak and pulled out a roll of parchment. He handed it over to Iris who gave him a questioning look and unrolled it. She started reading and Harry could see the exact moment the meaning of it hit her. She looked at him with shock on her face. "If it ever gets to be too much, you can sign that and we'll file it at the Ministry. I just wanted you to know that you are wanted."

"What is it?" Hermione asked in a tone that suggested that she was trying not to intrude.

"Adoption papers with my signature on them. If Iris signs that, she'll legally become my little sister." Harry answered quietly while keeping his eyes locked on Iris. "If her family is serious about this idiocy of throwing her out, I'll be her family." Heh. Guess I did jump at the first chance for a family after all, didn't I?

"Harry, this is too much." Iris' voice was barely more than a whisper. "This says that if I accept, you would be responsible for me until I finish school."

"Until you finish your education actually. Your apprenticeship for a Mastery would be included."

"See? That's too much!" Iris voice was getting louder now. "I can't let you sacrifice that much for me."

"Like a rather clever friend of mine told me: you don't get to decide what I'm willing to do for you." Harry said with a smile at Hermione. "If it's the financial aspect you're worried about: don't be. In case you missed it, I already have a job that pays far more than it should." Harry hesitated and looked over at Hermione who realised what he was thinking and gave him a careful nod. It's her graduation present after all, so she gets to decide who we tell.

"Iris, what Harry isn't telling you is that your parents may not have gotten as much of the Potter fortune as they thought they did." Iris was looking completely overwhelmed now.

"How?"

"My account manager sent me a warning the day your dad showed up asking to be added to the account. We decided to let him think he'd gotten what he could so that he wouldn't come after me. I have enough people who want to kill without adding to that list."

"You think Dad would want to kill you?"

"Actually, I'm still not sure, but why take the chance?" Iris seemed well and truly shocked by the idea that her father was considered capable of murder. Eventually her eyes drifted back to the paperwork in her hands.

"I-... I think I want to take one more shot at repairing things with my family." she finally said, carefully rolling up the document. "I don't want you to think that I don't appreciate the offer I do, but…" she trailed off with an uncomfortable shrug.

"Iris, it's fine. I told you: only if it becomes more than you can bear. If you want to use that document as a teddy bear for the rest of your life, that's fine too. It's yours to do with what you want."

"Thank you, Harry." Harry took Iris' hand and gave it an understanding squeeze before grinning at her.

"Now then, it's your seventeenth birthday, so what do you want to do? Apparition tag up and down the country? Turn all the doors in the castle pink? Buy some pigs and give them wings so that everyone has to do whatever they said they would do when pigs fly?"

"Are you being possessed by Snuffles' spirit or something? Stop giving her ludicrous ideas." Hermione scolded him with a smile.

"Oooh, learn to be animagi. That's a good one, Hermione."

"You know, you were a lot more mature about your own seventeenth."

"We were in a war and about to go on a suicide mission." Harry exclaimed grinning like mad. "I think we had 'crazy' well and truly covered on my seventeenth birthday."

"I give up."

"That means I win." Hermione's glare had absolutely no heat to it as Iris' giggles proved that their little performance had accomplished its goal.

"I want to eat a whole tub of ice-cream!" Iris exclaimed suddenly before looking embarrassed at the surprised looks her two friends were giving her.

"Iris, we just had lunch." Hermione said sounding a little unsure about the plan.

"So we'll be having an ice-cream dinner." Harry decided. "What else?"

"Well, it's a little childish, but I was never allowed to join in when Hadrian played Colour Tag with Dad, Uncle Padfoot and Uncle Moony so maybe we could…"

"Of course we can. What's Colour Tag?"

"Um, it's like regular tag, but you use the Colour Change Charm to hit people and well, it always looked so fun and-..." Iris was speaking barely above a mumble but stopped in shock when a spell hit her in the face and turned her entire skin a deep royal blue.

"You're it!" Harry crowed as he dragged a shocked looking Hermione out of the portrait hole. Iris hadn't moved yet when he poked his head back into the Suite. "Did I misunderstand? Aren't you supposed to chase us now?" Iris shook herself and drew her wand with a grin before hurtling after the two Head Students firing off her own charms and filling the hall with her laughter. When the three teenagers entered the Great Hall for dinner that evening they were panting and wearing cheek-splitting smiles.

"Great Maeve! What happened?" asked a shocked Minerva as she surveyed the three technicolour teens in front of her. Hermione and Iris looked a little self-conscious at their Headmistress' exclamation, but Harry forced himself to look unfazed.

"Oh, just a little experiment concerning the recreational applications of the Colour Change Charm." he told her, his grin never fading.

"I seem to recall your father performing the same experiment at some point. Please tell me that the misses have been cleaned up."

"All taken care of, Professor."

"Very well. May I ask what brought about this… experiment?"

"Just fulfilling a birthday wish, ma'am." Minerva's eyes landed on Iris Potter and stayed there.

"Considering the fact that you went home for the Easter Holiday, and I find you here in this state, would I be correct in assuming that it is your birthday wish that's being fulfilled, Ms. Potter?"

"Um, yes, Professor." Iris answered while looking at the ground.

"And we have one more to get to today, so we really should get to our seats." Harry said cheerfully as he pulled Iris along while shooting Hermione a quick look. Hermione nodded and stayed behind for a whispered conversation with their former Head of House. Harry noticed that by the time Hermione had joined them Minerva was doing her best to hide her understanding of what had caused her two Head Students to act out like this. She'd be doing a better job of that if she'd stop shooting us those tearful looks. When the plates filled for dinner the only thing that could be found at the Gryffindor table was ice-cream in every imaginable flavour, which caused quite a few looks to come their way from the other students who had stayed behind. Harry stood up and clapped his hands.

"Ahem. Everyone is invited to Iris Potter's birthday dinner, which as you can all see, will consist entirely of ice cream."

"All of it?" one wide-eyed Slytherin first year asked.

"Well almost all of it. It's a birthday, so we also need a cake!" As soon as Harry finished speaking a large chocolate cake with seventeen candles appeared in front of Iris. "Happy Birthday!" Several of the younger students were over in a flash to join in this fantastic new dinner idea and Hagrid wasn't far behind them. The rest of the hall ate their own dinners and didn't join the festivities until it was time for dessert. Throughout it all Iris looked a little overwhelmed as if she couldn't quite believe this was happening. As the three friends walked back up to the Heads' Suite she finally snapped.

"Ouch. What was that for?" Harry asked as Iris swatted him on the shoulder.

"For that stunt you pulled in the Great Hall."

"I thought you wanted that?"

"Well, yes, but did you have to make it so embarrassing?"

"Yep. I read the 'Big Brother Handbook' and realised that from now on I have to be overprotective and embarrassing. How am I doing?" Iris shook her head with a smile before giving him a sideways hug.

"Best big brother I ever had." she sighed contentedly.

Chapter Text

Harry and Hermione had agreed to let Iris spend the rest of the Easter Holidays in the Head Girl's room. This of course meant that they had to reveal where Hermione was spending her nights and what had been a secret between two was now shared between three. The night the hidden couple told her, Iris had squealed in delight and hugged the two of them over and over. It had turned into something of a habit where Iris would look over at her friends, grin and then hug them uncontrollably.

"Consider it practice for when we tell Mum." Hermione had told Harry with an amused twist to her mouth after one such hugging attack.

"She's going to be touching us for a week isn't she?"

"That's a slightly uncomfortable way to phrase it, but essentially yes." When the other students returned from their holidays some of them noticed that Hadrian Potter seemed to have gained even more disdain for his sister and took every opportunity to glare at her when they were in sight of each other. Quite a few more noticed that Harry Potter seemed upset with his counterpart and could occasionally be seen throwing a truly impressive, baleful look at him that had Hadrian finding excuses to leave whatever room they were in.

All in all the rumours weren't earthshaking enough to hold the students' attention for long, especially considering that the exams were looming on the horizon. That suited Harry just fine. He wasn't going to let Hadrian try to intimidate Iris, but he was grateful that for once he was able to do something without a pile of gawkers breathing down his neck.

After a long discussion on the matter with her friends, Iris had decided that she would use the next Hogsmeade weekend to try and talk things out with her parents. Apparently James Potter never took weekend duty, preferring to spend that time promenading with his wife. Seriously? That's his reason? No wonder he can't get a promotion. I wonder if it's even possible to get someone that deluded to see sense? I suppose I'll just have to make sure that I'm somewhere close by, just in case. I'll have to take some time to plan it all out so that I don't screw things up for her. At least it's still three weeks away.

Harry and Hermione had also had a discussion of their own about whether they could put off telling Shack about the methods James Potter had used to gain access to the Inaugural Ball so that Iris wouldn't have to deal with an enraged father when she tried to reconcile with her family. In the end they had decided that Harry at least had a duty to keep the Ministry as honest and free of corruption as possible. They would just have to do their best to shield Iris from the fallout. Harry had sent Shack what they knew in a secure envelope from his office. Predictably there was going to be an investigation first. Much as this would normally have annoyed Harry, even he had to admit that a second-hand account of something the suspect's daughter said wasn't any kind of evidence that the Ministry could really use and, as Shack had pointed out, corruption takes two and he was eager to weed out the other half of the exchange out as well. All in all it left Harry feeling a little useless to have to wait for things to happen. Almost makes you wish for the good old days when we'd go find some stupid nonsense to get caught up in. Shaking off his morbid thoughts he tried to get back to his lunch.

"Um, Harry?" He looked up to find Ginny standing in front of him. "I'm sorry, but have you seen Ron?"

"Ron? No, he's not been hanging around us much since-..." he trailed of as he shot a glance in Hermione's direction whose face had taken on a slightly darker cast. "Why are you looking for him?"

"I've not seen him all day. Harry, he's missed every meal today and yesterday, he missed the Slytherin/Ravenclaw match a few weeks ago too. Something's going on with him and I'm worried." Harry heaved a sigh as he thought through his options. No matter how angry Hermione is at him for what he pulled, he's still a student and we're still the Heads.

"Alright. I'll go look for him. If he's off doing something innocuous I'm going to let him though."

"Thank you, Harry." Ginny said uncharacteristically quietly. Harry nodded and stood up from the table. He noticed Hermione doing the same as she hurried out of the Great Hall after him. He slowed his pace so she could catch up with him.

"I can't believe Ronald running off like that." he heard her mutter as she caught up with him. "Must he always be so immature?" You know, I do believe she may actually be worried about him. Harry carefully hid the amused smile that this caused. He turned his steps towards their suite, knowing that Hermione's first thoughts would have been of the map too after using it to patrol the castle for an entire year. The two of them entered their room together and Harry took the map from its place in the nightstand.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good." Though I think I've been lying a lot when using that phrase this year. Rather than search the sprawling map by hand, Harry simply placed the tip of his wand on the parchment and said: "Ron Weasley." Parchment shifted, scrolled and rustled under his wand until the map came to a rest with Ron's dot under Harry's wand.

"The Forbidden Forest?! What does he think he's doing?!" Hermione shrieked as she saw where Ron was walking.

"No idea, but I'm going to find out. You warn Minerva and Pomfrey."

"Harry, you can't seriously be thinking of going into the Forest?"

"Actually, I thought that I'd go over it." Harry said as he picked up his Firebolt. Hermione looked torn for a moment before she surged forward and pressed a demanding kiss to his lips.

"You had better not put yourself in danger, Harry Potter." she told him in a tone that brooked no argument.

"I won't. I have something to come back to here." Harry placed a quick kiss of his own to her lips before throwing the window open and launching himself out. He soared towards the Forbidden Forest, angling his broom so he would be taking the shortest route to Ron. He's taken a fairly straight line into the Forest anyway. On his Firebolt it only took Harry minutes to catch up to Ron who had a considerable head start on him. He found the redhead stumbling through the trees like a drunk man. Harry landed right in front of him.

"Ron! What's going on? You've got Ginny in a right state." Ron didn't respond and just shambled past Harry without even acknowledging that he was there. Harry took a few quick paces to get ahead of him again. "Ron?" Ron's eyes were glazed over and vacant. Shit. He is not in his right mind. "Ron, let's go. You need to go see Pomfrey." When Ron shambled by him Harry grabbed his arm and tried to pull him to a standstill. The reaction was unexpected. Ron's fist came up faster than any movement Harry had seen him make so far and crashed into the side of Harry's face. Harry had taken worse unexpected punches and was only rocked back. He could feel Ron's arm being wrenched out of his grasp as his grip had loosened in his surprise. Looking back at Ron, Harry saw that he was shambling on at the same pace he had been and looked completely docile once again. Something is very wrong here and I'm not waiting to find out what. Harry drew his wand and sent a silent Stunner at Ron's back. The redhead collapsed to the ground without a sound as the spell hit him. Sorry about that, mate. I really can't leave you out here though. Harry let his broom hover in front of him and used a Sticking Charm and a Levitation Charm to lay Ron over the handle and make sure that he wouldn't fall off. Looking around one last time for any clue as to what could have made Ron act the way he had and seeing nothing, Harry took off. He managed to fly his broom and it's unwieldy cargo to the front doors of the castle where he found a small delegation waiting for him. Hermione, Ginny, Minerva and Pomfrey were expected. What surprised him was that Hadrian had come out and was standing with his arm supportively around Ginny. I suppose the kid must really care for her if he got his head out of his arse long enough to notice that she was worried.

That's not fair, Potter. No one is exclusively dickish, no matter how much of an effort Hadrian and James have put in to convince you otherwise. Harry managed to land carefully in front of Madam Pomfrey.

"I found him stumbling through the woods. He didn't look like he knew what was going on and when I tried to stop him he took a swing at me before continuing on as if he didn't know I was there, so I Stunned him." Harry quickly explained to Madam Pomfrey while canceling the Sticking Charm and helping the unconscious body to slip carefully to the ground. "I think that something must be affecting his mind, because his eyes were glazed and there was no sense to the way he was acting."

"I'll see what I can do, Potter." Pomfrey promised as she levitated Ron onto a conjured stretcher. "You come up too. I want that bruise looked at." What bruise? As Ron was floated into the castle, followed by Pomfrey, Ginny and Hadrian, Hermione came up to Harry and gently placed her fingers on his cheekbone with a worried expression. The sting from the contact at least told Harry what bruise Pomfrey had been referring to.

"Come on, Harry. You've done your duty, now let's get you taken care of." she said quietly. And find out what on earth is wrong with Ron Harry filled in what she left unspoken.

"Yes, well done, Mr. Potter. Fifteen points to Gryffindor for decisive action." Minerva added before turning to walk into the castle. Harry ignored the points as most of the older students had been doing all year. It's hard to think that the House Cup is important compared to things like peace and being alive I suppose. Instead he and Hermione made their way up to the Hospital Wing. No point in trying to avoid it; Pomfrey will just hunt me down if I don't go and there is no directer way of finding out what happened to Ron.

When they got to the Hospital Wing they found Madam Pomfrey working with what looked like an advanced potions kit while Ginny was standing a few steps back in Hadrian's arms. Harry and Hermione sat down a few beds away and waited for the matron to finish whatever she was doing. When Pomfrey finally straightened up Ginny could no longer contain herself.

"What's wrong with Ron? Can you cure him?" She sounded close to tears.

"Mr. Weasley is suffering from a massive overdose of dryad sap." Madam Pomfrey replied sounding absolutely flummoxed. "I have no idea how that much can have gotten into his system, but I think we can all be grateful that Mr. Potter found him when he did. As for curing him, well we can purge the stuff from his body, but it is highly addictive. He's likely to try and get more if he has a source or he'll go into withdrawal."

"He was heading into the Forbidden Forest in a pretty straight line. Do you think that he might have gotten caught by some dryads in there?" Harry asked quietly. Causing several faces to snap around to him as they realised that he was there.

"It's not impossible, but how would he have been exposed to the sap in the first place?" Madam Pomfrey asked in confusion. Everyone was quiet as they contemplated the question until the school's Healer shook herself. "However it happened we will have to make sure that he does not come into contact with that particular substance again." Ginny nodded determinedly and Harry noticed that even Hermione had given an affirmative little nod. Guess we really have been through too much to drop him completely.

:-:-:-:-:

You fucking idiot! Hadrian had to rage at his best mate in the confines of his own mind since he didn't want to upset his girlfriend. I don't really want to find out what she'd do to me if she found out that I was the one who introduced him to that grove. Still, I'd never even heard of anyone getting a sap overdose before. Cormac told me that it was a secret passed on through a long line of Gryffindors who had become men before their peers and couldn't take the stifling school atmosphere. He was pretty damn clear on the effects of having sex with dryads too: no diseases, no pregnancies that you'll ever hear about and no one ever finds out. Of course I never thought of this.

Hadrian was in the library with Ginny as well as Harry and Beaverface looking up whatever they could on dryad sap. It was plain as day, right there in the book in front of him:

Dryad sap is the discharge collected from a dryad after an act of sexual stimulation. It has a powerful effect on the human libido. Dryad sap is harmless if applied to the skin, however when ingested it is a highly addictive substance. Wizards have been known to go mad and waste away in dryad groves if they ingest too much of the sap. It is theorised that the dryads' sap evolved this characteristic to ensure a steady supply of suitors to relieve their needs. Dryad sap is useful in potions with an aphrodisiac nature.

The stupid git must have gone down on them. Who does that?! They're dryads! You're not building a relationship with them, you don't need to keep them happy. They're nypmhs; they fuck!Hadrian was having a hard time not groaning out loud in frustration. He decided to try and distract himself the only way he could.

"Harry, what are you going to do about the team if Ron doesn't recover in time for the match against Ravenclaw?" Harry's head came up and Hadrian found those creepy eyes inspecting him closely.

"You're not getting the Keeper spot."

"I don't want it. I'm a Chaser; I put the Quaffle through the hoops, I don't keep it out." And I've already worked out how I'm going to be playing. "I just wanted to know." Harry gave him another look and shrugged as he turned back to the book he was reading.

"I'd probably just put Nolton in. He did well in the trials and came a close second to Ron. For now though I'm going to assume that Ron will be playing. I'd rather have him where I can keep my eye on him during a match anyway." Hadrian hated the watery, thankful look that Ginny was shooting her ex-boyfriend, even if he was already too absorbed in his reading to notice it. Fucker. If I didn't need you to keep the team intact then I'd make sure you couldn't play either.

They kept researching until dinner, but didn't find anything that they didn't already know. As they walked to the Great Hall, Harry said something that made Hadrian's blood run cold.

"At least when Ron wakes up after the purging he'll be able to tell us how and when all this started. I still can't understand how he knew where to go."

"Do you think he might have started searching the Forest when his addiction first started?" Ginny asked.

"It's possible. Like I said, we'll find out when he wakes up tomorrow." The group kept discussing their friend and brother's health, but Hadrian was suddenly very aware of a problem that he needed to deal with. If he wakes up and his first words are: 'Hadrian got me into it', I'm fucked. It wouldn't even matter whether it was true or not, not with this lot. Ginny might even decide to dump me.

No! I can't let that happen. I'll have to take care of it once everyone's asleep, even the damn Heads. His plan in place, Hadrian spent the rest of the evening comforting his girlfriend. Just before she went to bed she pressed a lingering kiss to his lips.

"Thank you, Hadrian. You really are as wonderful as I always knew Harry Potter could be." Hadrian couldn't help but grin as he watched her go up the stairs to the girls' dorms. I already knew it, but it's good to have it confirmed: I am the pinnacle of what Harry Potter can be. He went up to his own dorm and cast an Alarm Charm on himself before laying down for a few hours sleep.

Hours later Hadrian was woken by a sudden shock. He was confused for only a moment before he remembered his mission for the night. He quickly pulled on his robe and slippers before grabbing his wand and hurrying out the door under Disillusionment and Silencing Charms. Hadrian carefully made his way through the dark corridors until he was standing outside the doors to the Hospital Wing. He took a moment to prepare an excuse for why he was there, just in case, before slipping in and sneaking over to Ron's bed. He canceled the Silencing Charm and pointed his wand at the sleeping ginger.

"Sorry about this, mate: obliviate." As soon as he'd cast the Memory Charm Hadrian reapplied his Silencing Charm and crept out of the Hospital Wing. Hadrian managed to make his way back to the Fat Lady without being caught. As he was walking up the stairs to his bed he fought to quash the guilt he felt over what he had just done. I had to do it. If Ron hadn't been such an idiot my relationship with Ginny wouldn't be on the line and he could have kept fucking dryads 'til he dropped if he wanted to. Still grumbling to himself, Hadrian crawled back into bed and closed his eyes to get some more sleep before he had to be up in the morning to comfort Ginny over Ron's monumental stupidity.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry and Hermione had chosen to eat their breakfast early so that they could head up to the Hospital Wing to visit their friend. After watching Hermione fret about what could have happened for a night Harry was sure that this was going to be Ron's best chance at repairing their friendship. I hope you realise that, mate. As soon as they had finished their meals the couple left the Great Hall and made their way upstairs in silence. When they got to the Hospital Wing they found Ron sitting up in bed talking with Madam Pomfrey.

"Ron!" Hermione ran over and threw her arms around their friend before abruptly drawing back. "How dare you scare us like that, you inconsiderate berk!" Ron was obviously struggling to keep up with Hermione's mercurial reactions.

"Um, yeah, good to see you too, Herms."

"Don't call me that! You are such an insensitive clod!" Hermione yelled before whirling around and storming out of the Hospital Wing. Ron sat blinking in her wake. Harry came up to the bed deciding that Hermione's strange behaviour would keep for now.

"Hey, mate. How are you feeling?"

"I feel alright. More to the point I have no idea what I'm doing here."

"You don't remember walking out into the Forbidden Forest last night?" Ron just shook his head.

"How about feeling unaccountably randy?"

"You're getting to be as strange as Herms is, you know that?"

"Just answer the question, Ron."

"Well, I don't know that I'd call it 'unaccountable'. I'm a red-blooded wizard."

"How about before last night? The amount of dryad sap in your system could mean that it got there over a long period of time." Ron just shook his head.

"Mate, I think I'd know if I'd gotten a dryad to… you know."

"Do you remember what you were doing during the Ravenclaw/Slytherin match?"

"I missed it?"

"You did."

"Bugger. You sure they didn't just bore us to sleep?" Harry just shot his mate a look. "Alright already. Sheesh, can't even crack a joke anymore."

"Right." This isn't getting me anywhere. Should I call in the aurors? No, that's Minerva's purview. "Watch your food and drink and if you do start feeling anything strange, let us know; and spare me the predictable joke." Ron's mouth closed from what Harry was sure would have been a comment along the lines of being flattered, but not interested. He paused for a moment before adding. "I need to get to class, but it's good to see you looking healthy, Ron."

"I understand. I-... thanks for stopping by, Harry. I know we've not been as close this year as we used to be."

"Yeah. Maybe we could get a Butterbeer during the next Hogsmeade visit?"

"Yeah, um, sure." Well, well, there might just be something we can salvage from this friendship.

"Good. I really do need to go though."

"Yeah, yeah, go be a good little Head Boy. I'll just have to suffer sitting here with no classes to go to." Ron said as stretched back on his bed. Harry made sure to Banish a pillow at him as he was walking out the door. Ron's muffled grunt put a smile on Harry's face as he went in search of Hermione. Predictably she was already at their desk in Professor Kowalski's classroom. As he sat down beside her she lifted an eyebrow in question.

"He doesn't remember anything that would indicate that he was taking dryad sap."

"Nothing?"

"He mentioned that he didn't think that he was 'unaccountably' randy, despite consuming such a powerful aphrodisiac. Madam Pomfrey can follow up on that line of questioning." Hermione was quiet for a moment.

"So what do you think about it?"

"I warned him to watch his food and drink. If he was slipped the dryad sap by someone trying to do him harm they may try again, possibly with something more… direct." Hermione looked shocked at the idea for only a second before she gave a grim nod. That means that we're going to have to check our own food as well, even if I think that the elves would be keeping an eye on us. "Alternatively, if he's lying to us he'll probably slip up sooner or later. We agreed to meet for a Butterbeer over the next Hogsmeade weekend, so I should know if his story stays consistent after that." Harry felt Hermione's lips touch his cheek softly.

"I'm impressed." she murmured in his ear sending a shiver down his spine.

"Um, want to tell me why you acted like you did in there?" Harry asked as he tried to get his rising hormones under control.

"If he's not dying, I'm not done being mad at him." Hermione said primly causing Harry to chuckle. He would have continued the conversation, but their classmates chose that moment to come streaming in. He squeezed her hand instead and got a smile in return. It's almost like any other school year: our friend nearly dies and we have to go to class as if nothing has happened.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian could feel worry gnawing at his gut as he stood in line with the others waiting for the carriages down to Hogsmeade. I wonder what Dad wants to talk about? His letter made it seem important; more so because he didn't even come out and say what this is about. Hadrian had taken his father seriously and asked Ginny if she would mind meeting up later. Ginny hadn't made a fuss and had in fact been downright eager to spend some time with her brother. Damn it, I had no choice. Whenever he was reminded that he was the reason that Ron didn't know why he felt pulled to the Forbidden Forest, Hadrian felt a wave of guilt wash over him. Even though it's his own damn fault I had to do what I did. At least he was at the match last week. Not that I think Harry was going to let him be anywhere else. That bastard's finally making himself useful.

Harry and Hermione had already dragged Ron back from the edge of the Forest twice. He hadn't gone in yet but was staring wistfully into the trees. However they're keeping an eye on him, it's working. On the way down to Hogsmeade Hadrian found himself in a carriage with the two Weasleys. Ginny had stopped openly fussing over Ron last week, but she was still very much keeping an eye on him. Ron himself seemed to be enjoying the attention he was getting from his friends and sister. I'd be going absolutely barmy if Iris was hanging around all the time. Then again, she's less of a sister and more of an accidental addition to the family. Some days I still wonder if Mum and Dad were tricked into adopting her or something.

Iris herself was thankfully spending almost all her time with Harry and Hermione. Let them put up with her for a while. They'll realise she's annoying soon enough and then she might even figure out what Dad was trying to tell her: the grass isn't greener somewhere else and she should be happy that her family at least is willing to put up with her. Once they got to Hogsmeade, Hadrian wished his two friends a good time and headed off to his parents' home on one of the side streets in the residential quarter of Hogsmeade where the students didn't go.

"Hadrian, good, you're here." Dad said as he opened the door. "Come in."

"What's all this about, Dad? Your letter made it sound urgent."

"We have a problem and we wanted you to join us for a quick brainstorm. You've had some good ideas since we came here and I'm interested in your take on the matter." Hadrian swelled up with pride as Dad led him through to the kitchen. Once they had a pot of tea on the table Dad told him what they were doing there. "The problem we have is that I am being tried for Bribery next week."

"What?!"

"Apparently that gift I gave Johnson is illegal because of some new laws from those Granger Reforms. Johnson's on trial for Corruption."

"Should have known that this'd be Beaverface's fault somehow. What kind of punishment can they give you?"

"A fine probably. Our lawyer says that incarceration is unlikely for a first offence. I could also lose my job over this, but that would not be part of the sentence, just Robbards getting prissy."

"Hmph. Not like they ever appreciated you properly in that place. Who do we have on our side in the Wizengamot?"

"The trial's not going to be in front of the Wizengamot. They have 'courts' here."

"What the-? Granger again?"

"Apparently there is something wrong with the most respected members of our society deciding whether a man is guilty of a crime or not. If the trial goes south then I'd be able to appeal to them though."

"Hmm, it might be just as well that you have to go to the courts, Dad. Harry rules the Wizengamot. He'd see you convicted for sure."

"Wouldn't he have to recuse himself?" Mum asked. "He's not made any kind of secret of how he feels about this family. Surely they can't expect him to be fair in his judgement?"

"If that's the case, Dad might be better off in front of the Wizengamot. They wouldn't be able to convict Dad without convicting themselves; I'll eat my Nimbus if they've never done something similar." Hadrian mused.

"Excellent. We have a plan, even if it is a backup plan. Any thoughts on this court though?"

"Sorry, Dad, but I really don't have any idea how they work. If you're being charged with Bribery though I don't think talking to whoever makes the decision will help unless you know that, like the Wizengamot, they have done the same. Normally I'd suggest using the press to paint this trial as the unfair persecution of an outsider, but I don't know how reliably they'll write the story up. The best I could do is head into town and hope that the usual bunch ask about it, if they've even heard about it yet." Dad nodded in grim understanding. "Is there anything you can use from those law books they gave us when we got here?"

"No." Mum replied. "I checked once we heard that your father was going to be brought up on charges, but there aren't any extenuating circumstances that we qualify for. In fact they may be even harder on us given that we were told to read them when we got here."

"How is it fair that we're supposed to know all of their laws off by heart despite none of the people who live here having to do the same?" Hadrian grumbled.

"That may be, but the prosecutor is going to say that we were warned and he's going to have a point." Dad said. "I agree that no one should be expected to actually slog through a law book, let alone a law book written by teenagers, but whoever's going to be judging me is still likely to hold me to that unreasonable standard." Hadrian opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by a knock on the door.

"Hang on a minute. I'll just send whoever it is on their way and then we can continue this." Dad got up and headed for the front door. A moment later Hadrian heard him growl "What are you doing here?" He shot up from the table and hurried into the hall just behind Mum. Dad was standing tall in the doorway and just past him Hadrian could see Iris. Ha, I knew it! The little twerp had to realise at some point that we're the best option for a failure like her.

"I-I wanted to talk to you, Dad."

"Have you decided to be a part of this family again?" Dad asked in a hard voice.

"I want to be, but I also want to stay friends with Harry."

"That's not an option."

"Why not? He's really nice, he helps anyone who'll just ask for it. He's just reacting to your attacks on him."

"The hell he is. We came here and were treated like criminals because of him. Did your precious, little traitor tell you that he's got me charged with some nonsensical crimes? Of course not! He's just using you to divide this family. He probably thinks of you as some kind of hostage in case we get too powerful!"

"No! He's never asked for anything in return. He's protected me from people who tried to bully me, even when it was Hadrian. He'd be a wonderful part of our family, one you could really be proud of. If you'd just take the time to get to know him instead of assuming that everything that goes wrong is his fault then you'd see that. Dad, please." Hadrian would have gone after the little bint for that if he hadn't seen the way Dad stiffened at her words.

"So you think that this traitor is somehow better than your own brother?" Dad's voice came out in a furious hiss. "Fine. You've made your choice. You are cast from this family. Find shelter where you may; from this day forth you are no longer a Potter." Mab's wings. I never thought she'd push Dad that far Hadrian thought as he felt a cold shiver travel down his spine as the idea of not having his family flashed through his mind. He could see Iris staring up at Dad in shocked horror. Oh, you stupid, little twerp. What did you think was going to happen when you came here? Iris still hadn't moved and Dad suddenly ripped his wand from its holster. "Get out of here, you little brat!" Hadrian saw Dad raise his wand and take a threatening step forward. Iris stumbled back and fell flat on her arse before trying to scramble back on all fours. Dad had frozen in a slightly odd position. What is he doing? Is he trying to run Iris off by looking like he's about to curse her? There are more comfortable and impressive poses for that and Dad should know them.

"You know, I really hate people who threaten children." came an unwelcome, familiar voice from outside. Harry Potter came strolling into view with his wand casually pointed at Dad.

"You! What are you doing here?!" Hadrian cried out as he drew his own wand. Why is Dad just standing there? Unless-... "Finite Incantatem!" Dad slumped out of his pose as the Disspelling Charm hit.

"I'm just here to keep an eye on Iris. I didn't really think you'd be so thick as to attack your own daughter though." Harry was standing between Dad and Iris now.

"She's not my daughter any more than you are my son." Dad spat out. "You may have mine and Lily's blood, but you betray it with every action you take."

"Glad to hear it." Harry said cheerfully as if he wasn't facing off against a fully trained auror. "Are you unhurt, Iris?" Harry asked though he kept his eyes and his wand trained on Dad. Not a complete idiot then. Hadrian noticed that Iris had crawled back to her feet and seemed to have given Harry some kind of signal that they couldn't see. "Good. Let's get out of here then."

"Finally, you're doing what you're supposed to." Dad sneered at them. Harry just shot him a look; a look that Hadrian had become very familiar with since the Easter hols. Those green eyes blazing with power and a glare that told you quite clearly that death was coming for you if you didn't find a hole to crawl into to get away from that gaze. Even Dad took a step back from that glare and before he had recovered Harry and Iris were already walking down the street.

"Come on. We have planning to do." Dad said in a normal voice, but Hadrian saw his hand trembling as he closed the door.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry walked down the street with his arm around Iris. She was quiet and he could feel her shoulders shaking. That can't have been easy for her. I'll have to see about filing those papers as soon as possible after she signs them. Everyone should have a family. When they got close to the town centre Harry drew them to a stop and brought Iris around to face him with his hands on her shoulders.

"Do you want me to take you back up to the castle, Iris?" he asked gently. He got a shrug in return. I'm going to take that as a 'yes', if only because I think that you could do with a cup of tea and some privacy. "I just need a quick word with Hermione to let her know where we're going." Harry turned to walk away and felt Iris step up close enough that their sides were touching. As they went in search of Hermione, Harry felt a hand slip into his. If she's going to be my little sister, I'm going to go ahead and say she gets to do that. The sense of reluctance that Harry would normally feel touching other people was being overrun by this is really happening. I'm really going to have a family. It felt good to be walking down the street, holding his little sister's hand and Harry wished that the events leading up to this moment hadn't included Iris' birth family trying to stamp out every sense of self-worth she had.

"You were right." Iris spoke up suddenly.

"Pardon?"

"On the Express; you were right."

"What do you mean?" Harry was honestly lost as to when he and Iris had last had a disagreement.

"When I first asked you to teach me the Patronus Charm you told me that it wouldn't make them love me. That if they didn't love me without it, they wouldn't love me with it." Harry could hear the sobs hiding behind Iris' voice.

"I didn't want to be." Harry admitted quietly. "It's something you have to live through before you really understand it I suspect." Harry pulled on Iris' hand to bring her to a standstill and tilted her head up so she was looking him in the eyes. "I remember what it was like trying to make Aunt Petunia love me. I don't think anything can replace your parents and I don't know what it's worth, but I love you, little sister." Iris looked up at him for half a heartbeat before she threw her arms around him and started sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. Harry just wrapped his arms around her and held her while she rode out the storm of her emotions. I love you, little sister, and from now on I'm going to make sure that nothing hurts you ever again. I'll end anyone who even tries. Once Iris had recovered her composure somewhat the two Potters continued on their way. They found Hermione patrolling the main street. As soon as she saw them she came running over.

"Iris, what happened? Are you alright?"

"I will be, Hermione." Iris tried to reassure her. "Harry was there for me. I think I have some paperwork to do though."

"You mean…?" When Iris nodded with a watery smile Hermione pulled her into a hug. "Oh that is wonderful news! I mean, um, I could use some help keeping your brother in check." Hermione tried to reign in her excitement for Iris' sake, but the younger girl was already chuckling.

"Don't worry about it, Hermione. It feels kind of good to be so wanted." Iris admitted quietly.

"I thought I'd take Iris up to the castle." Harry said quietly to Hermione whose face furrowed in consternation.

"But what about Ron? You were going to meet him for a Butterbeer."

"I think he'll understand if I have to give it a miss to take care of my little sister."

"I can take her." Hermione offered. When Harry raised a questioning eyebrow Hermione huffed out an annoyed breath. "I really want to know whether we have to worried about some plot to take us out or whether Ron's just too embarrassed to admit that he did something stupid."

"Iris?" Harry asked.

"I don't mind spending some time with Hermione so that the two of you can get the information you need to be able to sleep at night." I haven't had a problem with that since Hermione and I started sleeping in the same bed; well, not much of one… I don't wake up screaming more than once a fortnight anymore at least.

"Alright then. I'll see you when I get back to the castle." The girls waved goodbye and Harry turned his steps toward the Three Broomsticks to meet up with Ron. This had better be worth the time I could be spending with my family.

As it turned out, Ron didn't change his story even a little. When the time came for everyone to head back up to the castle Harry was grateful that Ginny was there to drag her brother along so that Harry could do his job. Thankfully, this late in the year the students had become accustomed to what was expected of them and Harry had no trouble getting everyone back up to the castle. He wasted no time in getting to the Heads' Suite, confident that he would find his two favourite girls there. Sure enough he found the pair of them sitting on the couch giggling over a pot of tea. At least Iris seems a little happier than she was down in Hogsmeade.

"Telling tales about me?" Harry asked as he came up behind Hermione and pressed a kiss to her cheek.

"Of course. It's not a real family is Iris doesn't know some embarrassing stories about you." Hermione grinned up at him.

"Um, Harry?" When Harry looked up he saw Iris holding out a rolled up piece of parchment. "I signed it. When do you think we could make it official?"

"Depends on whether you want us to file it together or if you would like me to do it quickly."

"What's the difference?"

"If you want to come along, I'll ask Minerva for a special dispensation to let you leave the grounds and we'll have to see if she grants it. If you don't I'll just pop into the office right now and file the paperwork." Iris considered it for a moment before pressing the scroll into Harry's hands.

"Do it now."

"You sure?"

"Yes. I don't want to delay being your sister just so I can watch them take a piece of parchment from us. We can commemorate it when the adoption goes through."

"In that case: if you ladies will excuse me for a moment?" Harry walked over to the fireplace and with a last smile at his girlfriend and his sister threw the floo powder into the flames and called out "Ministry of Magic, Chief Warlock's office." As the swirl of green fire took him away Harry couldn't help but feel that life was looking up.

Chapter Text

Hadrian was sitting at the Gryffindor table keeping his ears strained for the conversation that would soon take place on his girlfriend's other side. Harry had just sent the two Beaters to look for Dean Thomas who had not shown up to breakfast yet. Hadrian was so on edge that he almost twitched when he saw the two boys running back into the Great Hall with pale faces.

"Harry, it's terrible! Dean's in the Hospital Wing!"

"What?! What happened?"

"He broke his leg and an arm when he tripped and fell down the stairs as he was coming down to breakfast. Pomfrey says he has to stay in bed for the rest of the day." Harry let out a wordless growl of frustration. Come on, you prick. You know what you have to do. When Harry's eyes swung around to him they were filled with suspicion.

"I don't suppose you know something about this?"

"What?! I was with Ginny the whole morning. When would I have had the time to do anything to Dean?" Last night, when I jinxed his Quidditch robes with a Targeting Charm and again this morning when I set a Tripping Jinx keyed to that charm on one of the steps. The Marauders learnt early on how to have their pranks go off exactly where they intended if they were given enough prep-time. Now get your suspicious arse in gear and give me the spot.

"He's right, Harry." Ginny was saying. "He's been with me all morning. If someone tripped Dean on purpose, it wasn't Hadrian." Harry nodded but Hadrian could see that he didn't believe a word of it. He could also see that Harry was struggling with what to do about the sudden hole in his team.

"Fine." Harry gusted out. "Hadrian, get dressed. You'll take the open spot." Yes!

"Be right back, sweetie." Hadrian said to Ginny while dropping a quick kiss to her cheek as he got up. Hurrying out of the hall Hadrian had to keep himself from skipping in self-satisfied joy. Hah! I'll show them all why they should never have cut me from the team. I'll show Renford that I should be signed to the United and I'll show the entire wizarding world the future of Quidditch lies with me. Maybe I can even use this as a springboard to bigger and better things. I remember the plan back home: play Quidditch for a few years, join the aurors, become Director of the DMLE at thirty-five, destroy You Know Who like the prophecy foretold and be elected Minister by forty-five. Maybe there is a chance to do something similar here? No, focus on getting noticed today. The rest can always come later.

It didn't take Hadrian long to get changed as his Quidditch gear was already laid out on his bed behind his hangings in preparation for this moment. Once he was changed he grabbed his Nimbus and ran back downstairs. He met the rest of the team coming out of the Great Hall and joined them as they trooped down to the locker room. Hadrian went to sit on one of the benches while the rest got changed but was stopped by Harry's voice.

"Hadrian, could I see you in here a moment?"

"Sure." What could you possibly want? As far as you know I have an alibi for what happened this morning. Hadrian stepped into the captain's office and watched Harry shut the door behind them. "So what's this-"

"I called you in here to make sure that there are no misunderstandings." Harry's voice was cold as he interrupted Hadrian. "If I see even a hint of you endangering the others with your play I will ground then and there. I don't care if we have to play with only two Chasers or even if we have to forfeit. Do you understand me?"

"Tell the others to up their game. You can't seriously expect me to hold back because of inferior teammates!" This was the wrong thing to say. Hadrian found himself shoved up against the wall of the office with Harry's glaring eyes only a few inches from his.

"Did I mumble, kid? This is your only warning; take it to heart." Hadrian dropped to the ground hard as the force pushing him up against the wall suddenly disappeared when Harry stepped away. "If you aren't good enough to adapt to your teammates, then maybe you shouldn't be here." Harry bit out before walking out to the general area of the changing rooms. Hadrian discovered that his breathing was coming in shallow, rapid pants. Fuck! Bastard! He fought to regain control of himself. Don't let him distract you. Just fly your own match. 'Good enough to fly worse'. That doesn't even make sense. It's going to be a fine line between performing and not giving Harry an excuse to persecute me because of his hatred for the family. Wrestling down his roiling emotions Hadrian stood up and straightened his robes. He took a deep breath to centre himself and followed Harry out to join the others. Ginny gave him a worried look as he sat down next to her that made him wish for a mirror. Either she's getting better at reading me or I'm not masking my emotions properly. Hadrian gave his girlfriend's hand a quick squeeze to reassure her and ostensibly turned his attention to Harry's prematch speech.

"Alright, I think you all know what we have to do. After Slytherin's win over Hufflepuff two weeks ago it's on us to beat the Eagles. Remember that we need to win by more than 180 points to take the Cup. Chasers, that means that we're going to be relying on you to get us a good lead. Beaters, I want their players hiding under the stands to get away from the storm you're throwing at them. Ron, let's go out with a bang. Everyone keep calm and do what we practiced and we will win this and give Hagrid his first Quidditch Cup. If you need more motivation, just imagine the Slytherins' faces when they find out it's going to be kept in his cabin for a year." There was a laughing cheer from the team at that. "Alright, let's go then!"

They streamed from the dressing room and launched themselves out over the pitch. As he soared through a warm-up lap Hadrian scanned the crowd. There! He's here again. Marcus Renford was sitting next to Professor Sinistra in the teachers' section. Alright: professional Quidditch career, here I come. Hadrian took up his position while Harry was shaking hands with the nerds' captain. He almost felt like he was vibrating on his broom from holding back his desire to get this match under way. The moment Hooch blew her whistle he was already shooting forward and had the Quaffle tucked under his arm before any of the other Chasers could even get close to it leaving them to trail after him as he raced towards the Ravenclaw hoops. A curving throw took it past the Keeper and opened the score to Gryffindor's advantage. Ha-ha! Take that! Hadrian flew back to the Gryffindor half of the pitch pumping his fist in the air to the cheers of his housemates. He made sure that his path took him past Renford so that the scout could get a better look at the man who had just scored.

The Ravenclaw Keeper put the Quaffle back in play and the match really got underway. Unlike the match against Hufflepuff, the Ravenclaw Chasers were actually able to keep up with Hadrian and the girls. The Gryffindor Chasers were having trouble pulling ahead far enough that Harry could go after the Snitch. Every time they did manage to stretch their lead to thirty points Ravenclaw would find a way to put themselves back in the match. Hadrian was both exhilarated that he was getting more time to showcase his ability for the scouts and annoyed that they weren't dominating the match yet. This is what you get with Harry being allowed to set the tactics. How are we supposed to win if I'm shackled to the level of the others? Ginny could match me, so that just means that Demelza really isn't good enough to play with us.

A loud gasp alerted Hadrian to the fact that Harry had gone into an almost vertical dive. You idiot! If you catch the Snitch now, the snakes win the cup! The Ravenclaw Seeker was desperately giving chase as the two rocketed towards the ground. Great. Now we're fucked whether he catches it or not. Hadrian watched in disbelief as the Ravenclaw Seeker was able to catch up to a Firebolt. When the two Seekers were just feet from the ground Harry managed to pull his broom up and fly off into the sky again while the Ravenclaw Seeker ploughed himself into the pitch. What the fuck?! That was a Wronski Feint! No one except Krum has been able to pull that off since Josef Wronski himself!

"Ouch! That has to hurt, even with the Cushioning Charms on the pitch. Potter decides to give his last performance some extra shine with his trademark Wronski Feint!" Trademark?! He's pulled one off before?! Hadrian noticed Harry have a quick word with Ginny while Madam Pomfrey was working on the unsteady looking Seeker on the ground. A moment later his girlfriend came flying over.

"They're going to be off balance. We need to run up the score while we have the advantage. The moment Hooch blows her whistle we're going after that Quaffle the way you did at the beginning of the match." Hadrian nodded his understanding, still in shock from the realisation that Harry was capable of pulling off one of the most difficult and dangerous manoeuvres in Quidditch. He watched as the Ravenclaw Seeker tried to mount his broom again, only to have it confiscated, by the school's matron. The Ravenclaw captain flew over to the stands to beg one of his housemates to take the injured player's place. And the match won't be stopped while he's getting his broom and changing. Ginny's right; we have to take this chance to wrap this match up. I need to make sure that I take advantage of the moment so that Renford is appropriately impressed.

As one of the Ravenclaws could be seen running to the castle from the stands, Madam Hooch flew back up to the height of the players with the Quaffle in her hands. With a sharp blast on her whistle she threw it up in the air only to see Ginny snatching it away before it had traveled more than a yard or two. The Gryffindor Chasers' rapid attack took the Ravenclaw players entirely off guard. Despite the fact that Seekers didn't actually participate in the match much until the Snitch was seen, the shock of seeing one of their own flattened had thrown off the other players' game. By the time the reserve Seeker was running back onto the pitch the score was 210-140 in Gryffindor's favour. The new kid threw his leg over his broom and launched himself up in the air to a loud cheer from his teammates. He wasn't up twenty feet before he was almost rocked off his broom by the air currents following Harry Potter as he dove towards the ground. Why would he bother with another feint before the nerd's even in the air, unless…

A massive roar rose from the red and gold clad supporters as Harry rose slowly holding the Golden Snitch in his raised fist.

"We won!" The loud cry was Hadrian's only warning before Ginny slammed into him and was thoroughly kissing him. The stands were emptying onto the pitch below them and by the time the two Chasers came up for air there was a churning mass of celebrating students below them. They grinned at each other and joined the rest of the team in drifting down to join their housemates. They were caught up in a swirling mass of backslaps, hugs and cheers as Gryffindor celebrated the Cup in time-honored fashion. After a while the crowd parted before Professor McGonagall who came over carrying the large silver cup. The players were all pushed into the centre as a hush fell over the crowd in anticipation of what was about to happen.

"Mr. Potter, I see that you are still performing at the levels I knew you would back in your first year. Congratulations to you and your team." McGonagall said as she handed the Cup to Gryffindor's captain. Harry raised it into the air to absolutely deafening cheers before passing it on to Ron who spent a good deal longer waving it about. Every member of the team was given a chance to heft their prize into the air and Hadrian savoured the moment when it came to him. As he lifted it up he saw a sight that almost made him want to jump for joy: Marcus Renford was waiting on the edge of the crowd and watching the players with a small smile. Yes! That makes this victory even more worth it. Hadrian passed the cup on to Demelza and started rehearsing what he would say to the United's chief scout. When the Cup made its way back to Harry he stepped over to Hagrid and pressed the thing into the surprised half-giant's hands.

"Wha' am I s'pposed t' do with this, 'Arry?"

"Traditionally the Cup stays in the office of the winning House's Head, Professor Hagrid. I hope you'll be able to find some space for it in your cabin." Hagrid's dumbfounded look combined with Harry's clearly teasing tone had the already ecstatic Gryffindors in stitches and more than a few promised visits next year to come and see their Head of House and the Cup. Hadrian let them all carry on as he could see his future approaching.

As the press of students shifted so it was centred around Hagrid the team and their best friends were given a moment to themselves. Harry had the twerp and Beaverface hanging off of him happily congratulating him while Hadrian and Ginny listened to Ron's breathless recap of the match with indulgent grins. This slight breather had also given Renford the chance to approach the team.

"A well-played match, Mr. Potter." he said in deep calm voice. "Congratulations on your victory."

"Thank you." Hadrian said swelling with pride. Renford blinked at him in surprise.

"Oh. I had quite forgotten that there were three members of the Potter family present. I do apologise."

"Two." Hadrian corrected, a sick feeling beginning to gather in his gut. "Iris was kicked out of the family a few weeks ago."

"True; since I adopted her as my little sister there are now two Potters. She might not be a part of your family anymore, kid, but that only means she's more a member of the Potter family than you are." Harry said calmly. What?! Is he even allowed to do that?

"An honourable action, Mr. Potter." Renford nodded approvingly. "I have been following your career on the Hogwarts pitch with interest since you were put on the team in your first year. My interests were only reinforced by the stories our Keeper has told me of you. Have you ever considered playing professionally?"

"And who is your Keeper?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"Oh dear, I haven't introduced myself, have I? Marcus Renford, chief scout for Puddlemere United."

"Puddlemere? Ollie put you up to this, didn't he?" Harry asked with a laugh as Hadrian's gut gave a painful twist. This can't be happening. You can't give my contract with the United to this uninspired hack. "I entertained the idea when I was younger Mr. Renford, but I don't think I could give you my full commitment when I already have a job. Combining that with my schoolwork is already a challenge that I'm eager to see end."

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised to hear that, Mr. Potter." Renford said. "The way you flew today, I would expect you to receive several more offers before you graduate. I know Edric was hoping to see you in the League. I think he has dreams of taking you to the World Cup in a few years."

"Edric Vosper, the England Manager?" gasped Ginny.

"The very same, Miss Weasley. I find myself in the unfortunate position that by my agreement with the school I may not talk to anyone not in their seventh year about recruitment, but I can be patient for a year longer. As for your brother, well, Ragmar's been absolutely insufferable with his bragging all year and I hope he sends you the contract soon." Renford said with a laugh as Ron's jaw dropped open at having all his dreams laid out before him in a moment. Hadrian watched as his best mate was laughingly congratulated by the rest of the team, including Harry. Even Granger found it in herself to hug her ex-boyfriend. Hadrian himself was unable to speak. He turned it down. Renford offered him a position with the United and that bastard turned it down.

"Hadrian?" Ginny's concerned question brought Hadrian back to the here and now and with a poisonous look at Harry he whirled around and stalked off before he started cursing everyone there. Behind him he could hear Ginny calling for him to wait as she gave chase, but he was too caught up in needing to get away from this universe laughing at him. Neither Hadrian nor Ginny made it up to the party in the Gryffindor common room that night.

:-:-:-:-:

Harry looked down the agenda for the day as he let the members of the Wizengamot greet each other on the floor. Just my luck that Hermione managed to get a judicial branch installed and everyone still insisted that the Wizengamot be the appeals court. Well, let's get this mess over with. Harry banged his gavel to get the attention of the rest of the people in the room.

"Members, please take your seats." He watched as they all filed into the benches while trying to look as dignified as possible. Bloody peacocks. "First on the docket today are two appealed cases. Sergeant-at-arms, please show the first accused into the chamber." As the wizard nodded and stepped outside the familiar chair equipped with chains rose from the floor. The Sergeant-at-arms came back in with a man who reminded Harry uncomfortably of Pettigrew. He had the same scurrying gait and nervous twitches. Behind them came a third man wearing an impeccable set of black robes. That must be his lawyer. Looks expensive. That doesn't really give the impression that you've never accepted a bribe.

"You are Mr. Emmett Johnson of 35 Watford Road in Croxley Green?"

"I-I am, sir."

"And you are aware that if you are found guilty by this body your sentence may be increased or commuted as the College of Magistrates sees fit?"

"Y-yes, sir."

"Mr. Johnson stands accused of Corruption. The prosecution may now present its case." What followed was a very polite argument between two lawyers on whether or not Mr. Johnson had accepted a broom in return for supplying an invitation to the Minister's Inaugural Ball and whether he deserved to be punished if he had. In the end, the Wizengamot upheld the court's ruling that the man had to pay a fine of ten times the value of the bribe he had accepted. He's lucky that there is a chance for him to pay off his fine by letting the Ministry garnish his pay. He'll be forced to scale back his expenditures, but at least he won't have to sell his house or something drastic like that. I just feel bad for the kid if he has to sell the broom to make up some of the difference. Johnson was given a warning that if he was ever found guilty of something similar he would face a much higher fine and a very public sacking. It went unsaid that that would probably result in the man never being hired again. As Johnson scuttled from the chamber Harry closed his eyes and tried to center himself for the next case.

"Sergeant-at-arms, please bring in the next accused." There was a murmur among the members on the benches as James Potter was led into the court.

"You are Mr. James Charlus Potter of 27 Barnaby Lane in Hogsmeade?"

"You know damn well who I am and I demand that you recuse yourself from the trial as your animosity towards my family is well known." James declared haughtily. Harry resisted the urge to sigh out loud.

"Since I am not sitting in judgement over you, that's not in order right now."

"Don't you cast the deciding vote if the Wizengamot finds itself locked in a tie?"

"I do, but I vote according to Speaker Denison's Rule."

"What?" This had clearly not been the answer James had been expecting.

"Given your ignorance of all things muggle I will explain as simply as I can. Speaker Denison's Rule states that I must vote in favour of more debate where possible. If that is not possible I must vote for the status quo. So you see, Mr. Potter, if I must cast a vote, I must cast it to acquit you. Now if we are quite done with these interruptions: do you understand that if you are found guilty by this body your sentence may be increased or commuted as the College of Magistrates sees fit?"

"I do."

"Mr. Potter, I notice that you did not bring any legal counsel. Would you like us to appoint you someone?"

"That won't be necessary." Well, that superior little note is back in his voice. He must really think he has a hand to play here.

"Very well. Mr. Potter stands accused of Bribery. The prosecution may now present its case." The lawyer for the prosecution told almost the same story as he had for Johnson's case. And why shouldn't he? It worked last time didn't it? When it was James' turn to speak Harry couldn't keep from being especially interested in what he might say.

"Honourable members of the Wizengamot, you are asked to sit in judgement over me, but for what? A friend did me a favour and helped me take my wife out for a special occasion. I returned the favour by picking out a suitable broom for his son, since I have experience with both playing Quidditch and having a son who does the same. Will the Wizengamot convict me of friendship? Shall I teach my son that he must not reach out his hand to his fellow wizards?" James sat down looking smug. That's it?! 'We're friends'?

"Mr. Potter, I am so sorry. We didn't realise that you were simply friends with Mr. Johnson." The lawyer for the prosecution said, sounding positively eager. "Just out of curiosity, what is the name of the young man for whom you bought the broomstick?"

"What?" James looked taken aback that he was being questioned on his story at all. Well, what were you expecting? Idiot.

"It's a simple question, Mr. Potter. What is the name of Mr. Johnson's son? If you are friendly enough with the man that you would buy his son a broom then surely you know the young man? You at least acquainted yourself with the lad's flying ability before choosing the appropriate broom, did you not?" James was floundering for answer. "Could it be, Mr. Potter, that you have no idea of the answer because your only interaction with Mr. Johnson since coming here has been your transaction with him?"

"Now see here, our actions were perfectly normal for two colleagues." James blustered.

"Really? You must tell us of these other colleagues engaged in such activities. It seems I will be a busy man for the foreseeable future." The lawyer's voice had turned decidedly mocking.

"Well what does it matter?!" James exploded. "Each and every member of this chamber has done the same! It's how things have always been done and if you convict me, you must also convict yourselves!" Ancients' blood, he's just another entitled pureblood. How has he missed that that is exactly the mentality that everyone wants stamped out? Harry noticed that one of the wizards of the Wizengamot had stood up and raised his wand.

"Mr. MacMillan, you have a question?"

"I wish to use my Right to Reply, Chief Warlock. I resent the accusation that this body engages in corruption. Stamping out such practices has been among our chief endeavours in the short time that we have had since the end of the war. A war, I remind the defendant, that was caused in no small part by 'how things were always done'." MacMillan sat down to loud calls of "Hear, hear!" and a thunderous rapping of knuckles on the wood. Harry banged his gavel loudly.

"Order!" Let's hope that that's woken him up to his situation. "Mr. MacMillan your comment is noted."

"So you recusing yourself was not in order, but you're going to let that comment stand?" James sneered up at Harry.

"You did accuse Mr. MacMillan and every other member of this house of corruption and we allow for the Right to Reply when a member's honour is directly impugned. He had the right to speak. Did you have anything to add to your defence?" James stood fuming in the centre of the Wizengamot.

"Who are you to subvert the ways of our forefathers like this?! I demand to be tried under real laws!" This time Nev's Gran rose and lifted her wand in the air.

"Do you have a question, Madam Longbottom?"

"Indeed, Chief Warlock. I wish to ask the defendant to which laws he is referring."

"Mr. Potter, do you wish to answer?"

"Laws written by real wizards, not children." Harry barely suppressed a growl. You really need to stop going after Hermione, you shitstain.

"Is the defendant aware that the laws he is being tried under were deliberated on and passed by this duly elected house?" Madam Longbottom asked without waiting for Harry to recognise her. "Or is he perhaps implying that I am a schoolgirl?"

"The defendant sees you all submitting to a mere brat!" James snarled. The entire Wizengamot gasped in outrage and looked up at Harry.

"Since you have decided to take the time to insult this body, despite an earlier reprimand, I am forced to conclude that you rest your defence before you face additional charges. Oh, and I would suggest that if the defendant doesn't agree with the laws of the land he take his chances with a djinn and ask it to take him back to where he came from." Harry said coldly and calmly. "I ask the Wizengamot to vote as their wisdom and magic dictate on the guilt of the accused. All those in favour of acquittal?" No one moved, though quite a few were glaring down at James. "All those in favour of conviction?" A forest of wands rose into the air. Asking if there were any abstentions was a mere formality before Harry asked the scribe to present the tally to the dais.

"Mr. Potter, after hearing your case the Wizengamot has unanimously found you guilty as charged. The College of Magistrates will decide your sentence."

"Why you little shit! I'll-" Whatever threat James had intended to hurl at Harry was lost as a Silencing Charm hit him.

"Thank you, Sergeant." Harry said with a tired smile. The man gave him a solemn nod in return. Harry noticed a wizard standing with his wand raised.

"Mr. Ogden?"

"Will you be pressing charges against this reprobate for his words here today?" Ogden asked with a glare at the silently fuming James.

"No, Mr. Ogden, I don't intend to give him the satisfaction. I shall treat him as I would a child throwing a tantrum: I will ignore him." Which should actually hurt him more. "If any member here feels that this man's words should be met with legal action, they are of course free to pursue it." Nev's Gran stood and raised her wand.

"Madam Longbottom?"

"I wish to express my agreement with the Chief Warlock. Any use of our time would be better than listening to this man's bile. I believe that would still be true if we decided to play a few games of wizard's chess." There was a storm of chuckling as Madam Longbottom sat back down. That laughter sounds less like amusement than derision. Oh, you stupid, arrogant ponce. What did you think was going to happen when you came here like this? A throat being cleared brought Harry back to the present and he saw the Chief Magistrate looking up at him expectantly.

"Has the College of Magistrates reached a decision?"

"We have, Chief Warlock. Given the lack of remorse for his actions and the lack of respect for the law in general that the defendant has demonstrated we feel that the punishment laid down by the court was too light. We sentence the defendant to pay a fine of twenty times the value of the bribe he payed to Mr. Johnson. This money will be garnished from his salary if he cannot pay it in full. We warn the defendant that if he refuses to cooperate that his superiors may feel the need to take additional action and that the government has the power to garnish his pay even if he leaves the Ministry's employ." Bugger. A doubling of his sentence. He really should have just stayed home today. I'll have to check what it cost him to buy that broom, but I think that this could put an end to any money plans he had. Especially given what Iris has told us about them spending all that money on the Ball. Harry watched, outwardly impassive, as a silently railing James Potter was led out of the Wizengamot chamber.

"Now that that's over with, let's move on to the next-... Madam Longbottom?" Nev's Gran was once again standing up straight with her wand in the air.

"I wish to commend the Chief Warlock on maintaining his composure in the face of such a belligerent character. I do not believe that any of us could have performed as admirably in his position and am more confident than ever that we have elected the right man for the job. I also wish to warn him that whatever he may call it, his self-imposed restrictions are more likely to become known as Warlock Potter's Rule in the common parlance." It will now! Why can't you people ever leave well enough alone?! The rest of the chamber had burst out into another round of "Hear, Hear!" and knocking on the benches in front of them. Harry forced himself to just nod.

"Thank you, Madam Longbottom. Your comment is noted and appreciated. I believe we should move on to matters of governance now though. First is a proposal by the Honourable Griselda Marchbanks." The session passed as most of them did after the excitement of the trials and the members fell into their usual bickering. When Harry closed the session he endured their congratulations on his performance before heading back to his office and collapsing in his chair. Ancients' blood, what a day. I think I need to spend some time with Hermione to remind myself that not everyone is a raging idiot or a politician. Motivated by that thought Harry filed all his documents from the day's session as quickly as he could so that they could be processed by the appropriate departments before being returned to him as a never-ending stream of paperwork. As soon as he had put the last piece of parchment into the appropriate tray and collected the paperwork already waiting for him in his briefcase Harry practically dove for the floo powder.

"Hogwarts, Heads' Suite." Stumbling out of the fireplace in his and Hermione's common room he saw her looking up from her studies.

"Harry, are you alright? You look exhausted." she said worriedly as she stood up. Harry dropped his briefcase, crossed the room in two strides and had Hermione wrapped up in a massive hug before she could respond.

"People are idiots." he muttered into her shoulder. It meant more to him than he could ever say that Hermione's only response was to wrap her arms around him and run her fingers through his hair. They stayed like that for several minutes as the tension leaked out of Harry before he drew back and captured her lips in a tender kiss. "Thank you, love. I don't know what I would do without you." he whispered with a smile as he stared into her eyes.

"Let's not find out." Hermione whispered back. "Do you want to go to bed early today?" Have you abandon your studying you mean? I'm not so far gone that I'm going to take that from you.

"Nah, I should probably get some studying in." Harry said revelling in the sparkle that brought to Hermione's eyes. She didn't say anything but pressed another soft kiss to his lips. Feeling a lot better than he had only ten minutes ago Harry went into their room to collect his books. He sat down at the unoccupied desk and pulled out his Potions notes. From running the country back to studying for my exams. I'll be glad when this whiplash lifestyle is finally over with.

:-:-:-:-:

14'000 galleons? Hadrian remembered the Prophet article again in disbelief. They fined him 14'000 galleons? How the hell could they do that to Dad?! We must have been wrong: Harry has the Wizengamot in his pocket and he got them to attack us for him. The article had praised Harry for his impartiality in the trial and his efforts to protect someone he clearly didn't like much. Dad meanwhile was painted as a raving lunatic who had insulted the Wizengamot and the Chief Warlock enough that he could have been charged with several other offences had they not decided to treat him like the sorry, little man-child that he was and chosen to ignore him. Dad's fucked if he ever wants another job or a favour. After the whole mess with Harry telling the world that he thought we were as bad as Death Eaters this is going to be the final nail in the coffin.

Thank Merlin that Ginny convinced me to keep the money from the dissolution of the family vault. I'm up some 2000 galleons from where I would be otherwise. Actually, I should check what the balance is some time. Shaking himself Hadrian tried to focus on the last review lesson they were having with Professor Kowalski. It'll be fine. I have Ginny; I have some money in the bank; all in all I'm the Potter with the best prospects right now.

Chapter Text

In the weeks leading up to the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams Harry felt the strangeness of being back in school like he hadn't since the beginning of the year. He and Hermione were furiously studying for their exams during every free moment they had. They were frequently joined by Iris who was studying for her O.W.L.s and determined to make Harry proud of her. The two older teens were free with their help when she asked for it and she returned the favour by quizzing them when they asked for it, something Hermione did far more often than Harry.

The entire castle was now aware of the fact that Iris' family had thrown her out and Harry had adopted her. It had even prompted a letter to the other students' parents from Minerva that explained that Iris' situation was a special one and that expelling their children from the family was in no way likely to get them adopted by Harry.

A day before the exams started Harry felt Hermione tense up beside him and looked up to see the WEA examiners coming into the Great Hall. Oh dear. Did they have to make an entrance? Now Hermione's going to be getting so worked up that she won't be able to study anymore. Wonder if it would help to point that out? I can always try it if she really does lose control. Who knows? She's surprised me more than a few times this year. That night in the Head Suite, Harry was called into action just as he had anticipated. Hermione was pacing nervously through the common room with a book hovering in front of her face. That's a way to combine worrying and studying I suppose. Despite being impressed by Hermione's ability, Harry stepped into her path and caught both the book and her waist.

"Harry! What do you think you're doing?"

"Getting you to stop for a moment. You know that stressing yourself out isn't conducive to actually remembering what's on those pages. You are taking a break."

"Harry, this isn't funny! The exams start tomorrow!"

"If they start tomorrow, then you are either prepared or not. Do you doubt that you're prepared?"

"I could be more prepared." Hermione muttered without meeting Harry's eyes.

"Hermione, I love you, but that was a steaming pile of horseshit." Hermione looked at Harry in shock. "The best thing you can do now to prepare is to relax and get a good night's sleep. Come on." Harry dragged Hermione over to the couch and pulled her down onto it with him.

"Are we going to get a good night's rest on the couch?" Hermione asked archly.

"Of course not. We're just going to sit here until you relax a bit and then we're going to bed." Harry lit a fire in the hearth and threw up a cooling charm around it. "Now why don't you stare into the flames for a while and calm down?" It took over an hour and many kisses before Hermione had calmed down enough that Harry couldn't feel the muscles of her neck standing out like pieces of wood. She was curled up into his side and Harry was feeling very relaxed himself with her there. Next time she asks if we can go to bed I think I'll say yes. Hermione hadn't asked him that question for a good twenty minutes though.

"Harry?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

"Always." Hermione stretched up to press a kiss to his lips.

"I think I'm ready to go to bed now."

"Alright." The next morning Harry and Hermione attended their exams after wishing Iris good luck with hers. That evening they reviewed for the next day until surprisingly it was Hermione who called an end to the session and dragged Harry to the couch where she cuddled up against him and lit a fire with her wand.

"I've never slept as well before an exam as I did last night." she muttered defensively at Harry's confused look. With a smile he slipped his arms around her and pulled her close as he enjoyed what would become their ritual for as long as the exams lasted.

They had a few days after the exams ended when they could just relax while they waited for their results. Unlike with the O.W.L.s they would get their N.E.W.T. scores as they boarded the train. As Harry, Hermione and Iris were sitting by the lake enjoying their last days together at school there was only one thing bothering Harry: his little sister was looking particularly concerned with something and he had no idea what the problem might be.

"Iris? Is there something on your mind?"

"Huh? Oh, um, it's not important."

"Iris, we're family now. If I can do something to help you I will. Just tell me what's wrong."

"It's just-... are you sure that you'll have enough room for me wherever you're going to be staying? I mean, I wouldn't want to impose on the Grangers and crowd their house with another guest." Harry and Hermione shared a look and burst out into chuckles.

"Iris, I think I forgot to let you in on a little Secret." Harry looked around theatrically for potential eavesdroppers before stage whispering: "Harry Potter lives at Number 12 Grimmauld Place." Iris' eyes widened as she heard that.

"You have a house under the Fidelius Charm? I suppose that it explains why the goblins couldn't tell D- James about it."

"Not just any house: the Black family's old house. I have more than enough space for you and Hermione to live with me and turn the rest of the rooms into a library to rival Hogwarts'." Hermione gasped out loud and went glassy eyed at that idea. "Down, girl." Harry murmured in her ear when he saw the state she was in. Hermione blushed when she realised that she'd been caught, before swatting Harry in chest and laughing.

"You did that on purpose, you lout." Harry was too busy laughing along with her to answer her for a while. When he did get his breath back he sat back up and gave Iris a gentle shoulder bump.

"Don't worry too much, Iris. That's my job now. You just sit there and worry about whether or not you got an Exceeds Expectations to mar those perfect Outstandings." Leaning closer he once again stage whispered. "Hermione did." Harry scrambled up and started running as he could already hear Hermione's indignant sputtering.

"Harry James Potter!"

"You told her embarrassing stories first!" Harry called over his shoulder and then dove for the grass to dodge the Colour Changing Charm that came whizzing at his head. "Ha! Missed!"

"Come on, Iris! Your brother needs to be taught a lesson."

"Hey, two on one is unfair." Harry called out even as he was already running away from the girls with a grin stretched across his face. This is a much better way to spend the afternoon than watching the girls worry.

:-:-:-:-:

Hadrian stepped down off of the Express and joined the other milling students as he looked for his parents. When he found them his mother immediately grabbed him in a hug.

"Oh, popkin I'm so proud of you." she gushed.

"Muuum." he whined as he tried to shake her off.

"I don't think she can help it, son. This is a proud moment." Dad said with a laugh in his voice. "Renford get back to you about that starting position yet?"

"No. The only offer on the table is from the Wanderers." Hadrian left it unsaid that as one of the bottom sides in the league they were particularly desperate for talent. The money they were offering was actually pretty good all things considered, but Hadrian was hoping for a better team that would allow him to collect larger bonuses for winning the league or even just reaching the Europa League.

"Well, at least you've got one job offer." Dad said bracingly. "You can always find yourself at the centre of a bidding war if you really show the league what you're made of." Horseshit. Just a year ago you would have realised that the other teams have enough ability in their sides that they can afford to worry about politics. Hadrian barely restrained a sigh. That's not fair. Mum and Dad are going to be living on the edge of poverty for years to come because of what the Wizengamot did to them. As the Potters were crossing the platform towards the floos so they could get to their home in Hogsmeade they ran into Beaverface and the two traitors.

"Mr. Potter!" Granger called out. Can't you bugger off? This was supposed to be a special day for me.

"What do you want, girl?" Dad asked imperiously.

"I wanted to talk to you about that contract you set up between yourself and Harry."

"Contract?"

"The one that keeps you from making any claim to each other's accounts." That was a contract? And Harry signed it?!

"Oh? Are you hoping I'll add that pair of traitors back to the Potter account? Forget it, missy. You'll just have to put up with having picked the losing side."

"If you say so. I'm actually here because Harry gave me a wonderful graduation gift. You see, I get to be the one to point out that it also means that you've renounced any claim to anything that's Harry's." Granger said in sweet voice. Hadrian could feel something hanging over their heads, but wasn't sure what it was yet. "I also get to tell you that when you tried to steal Harry's account he already knew what you were trying to do and he moved most of the Potter fortune into a private account; 850'000 galleons wasn't it, Harry?" What?! Hadrian felt numb as he tried to process that.

"It was a little less than that at the time, but with my Chief Warlock's salary, I've managed to add to the balance so it's a little higher now." Harry answered with fond amusement dancing in his eyes as he looked at Granger. That's nearly four times as much as we had before we came here.

"Oh, of course. Thank you, Harry. Anyway as you can see, while you were being venal, materialistic, little rats all Harry ever felt for you was pity. You really are a bit of an embarrassment to the Potter name after all." Hadrian felt a strange cold seeping into his bones as Granger's eyes swept over his family. She let out a contented sigh and pressed a kiss to Harry's lips. "Thank you, Harry. Their faces are every bit as priceless as I'd hoped." Iris was just watching the whole thing quietly. She's part of Harry's family. She has access to all that wealth. The horror that was coiling in his gut snaked up his spine causing a shiver. He looked over at Mum and Dad to see how they were taking the news and saw that their faces had turned grey and were frozen in expressions of horror. Looking back at the other three, Hadrian saw they were walking away already. He could just make out Granger's voice drifting back to them. "I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that Harry could have paid their fine sixty times over?" Next to Hadrian, Dad sank to his knees, his eyes empty and staring as the shocks became too much to handle. Hadrian barely noticed his trunk handle slipping from his numb fingers. He also didn't notice the trunk popping open. The first hint he had that something was wrong was three jets of light blue mist hitting him and his parents in the face.

Thankfully some of the people on the platform saw it happen and managed to transport the family to St. Mungo's where the staff and most of the people present had a good laugh at the nonsense the the Traveling Potters were spewing out. They didn't stop them until Hadrian and James had to be sedated when they started badmouthing Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. According to the Healers, sedation was the only way to ensure that the family would not be torn apart by an angry mob. When the Potters awoke the next day they found a hospital bill and several mocking headlines added to their woes. They made their way back to Hogsmeade with their faces burning with the shame of their treatment. That night, instead of the party they had planned to celebrate Hadrian's graduation the Potter family went quietly to bed. None of them had spoken voluntarily since that girl had torn their world view apart and Hadrian was grateful that someone had apparently already come up with a cure for endless babbling.

:-:-:-:-:

Four Years Later

Hadrian leant against a dirty, back-alley wall and took a drag of his cigarette. Madame Bernier had only given him a five minute break. Some bastards just have all the luck. Harry for instance. Everyone just gives him anything he asks for and what do I get? Fuck all!

A few days after the incident on Platform 9 ¾ Ginny had come to Hadrian with tears in her eyes, slapped him and broken up with him. Apparently in the course of his ramblings he'd admitted to Memory Charming Ron so that his involvement in the dryad affair wouldn't become known as well as pranking Harry with a Babbling Bomb and breaking Dean's leg to get into the final Quidditch match of the year. The Healers had called the Weasleys in, just in case, and confirmed Hadrian's ramblings. Ginny had refused to listen to Hadrian's explanations of why he had had no choice and had simply walked out on him. So much for the perfect woman. First sign of trouble and she leaves me. On top of that Beaverface's courts just had to slap a fine on me for what I did. It's not like an Obliviation hurts anyone or anything I did was permanent.

The hospital bill had drained the last of Hadrian's funds in his account, leaving him unable to pay that fine, and when he had approached the Wanderers about accepting their offer they told him that it had been rescinded. Apparently he wasn't worth the negative press the club would get. As if they know more about handling the press than I do. Unfortunately Hadrian's name was mud everywhere. It had taken him months to find even this job and he was still paying off the debts he had incurred while he was unemployed. And it's not like this job has a decent salary or any benefits. I think that the only reason I got it is that no one else wanted it.

It was supposed to be so easy. With no You Know Who here I was supposed to have an easier time following the plan from back home. I would build up my popularity playing Quidditch, then the auror department when I retired from the sport, then Director of the DMLE and then Minister. Given that Dad still hasn't received a promotion in the years he's been working there, I have to assume that I would be given the same treatment. That alone would have delayed my career, but they had to make Harry the damn Chief Warlock. Harry's appointment had generated an upswell of support for him in the Ministry and it still hadn't settled down. With Harry as Chief Warlock and Kingsley Shacklebolt as Minister many wizards were speaking of a political golden age. There had never been so much trust in the people leading the country as there was currently. The upcoming elections were expected to see both men retaining their positions. And it's not even like he needed the income with all the money he managed to steal from us. Meanwhile we're fucked because everyone knows that Harry's 'feuding' with the rest of our family. Could it be that the twerp saw this coming? It seems so ridiculous, but she's the only one of us who's been able to come out on top in this new world. Well, if you call a History of Magic apprenticeship 'on top'. The only future she really has is being Binns' successor. That's depressing any way you look at it.

Almost as depressing as the fact that Mum and Dad are still struggling to get by. Mum said that they've been able to pay back about a third of the fine since I finished Hogwarts, but it's still going to take years more to pay all of it. Even then their savings will never be anywhere near what we used to have back home. The thought reminded Hadrian depressingly of the job he had to get back to. He tossed his cigarette on the ground and ground it out under his boot. He walked back inside through the steel door with the peeling paint.

"I said five minutes, Plotter!" And there is that delightful nickname that everyone insists on using. When the story about why Ginny had dumped Hadrian had reached the media, they had also uncovered Dad's efforts to keep the family financially healthy and added it on to the stories about Dad's fine and his argument with Harry at Shacklebolt's Inaugural Ball. The result had been a one-word headline that had become the family's de facto name: Plotters!

"Sorry, Madame Bernier." Hadrian managed to grit out. You miserable hag. If I didn't have creditors breathing down my neck I'd have hexed you already.

"Yes, well, Star's finished with her client. Go clean the room."

"Yes, Madame Bernier." Is there any job more demeaning than being the janitor at a Knockturn Alley brothel? I thought I'd at least get a go with some of the girls once in a while, but noooo, none of them will even come near me unless I pay and even that's not enough sometimes. Hadrian picked up his bag of cleaning supplies and climbed the stairs to where the girls had their rooms. He opened the door to Star's room and recoiled from the stench. Oh fuck; not this fetish again. As soon as I can find another lamp with a djinn I'm going to take my chances. I'll even invite Mum and Dad along. In the past four years Hadrian hadn't seen hide nor hair of any lamps that might potentially contain a djinn, but he kept looking through the shops around his workplace and squirreling away what money he could. Hadrian looked at the room around him with a grimace and cleaned what he could with his wand. Some things even magic couldn't clean though and that was why Madame Bernier had hired a cleaner. I just can't catch a break.

:-:-:-:-:

A loud thumping at the door of Number 12 Grimmauld Place pulled Harry out of his slumber. Just my luck. We can't even be home for a full day before someone needs something. Pressing a soft kiss to his new wife's shoulder Harry slipped out of bed and pulled on a dressing gown and a pair of slippers. He hurried down the stairs determined to get the door and give their visitor a piece of his mind before anyone else needed to wake up. Grumbling to himself he yanked the door open and was immediately grabbed by a flying body.

"Harry! You're back!"

"Iris? What the hell are you doing here at the arse crack of dawn? And keep it down; Hermione's still sleeping."

"Sorry. I'm just happy to see you again; and it's not like it's that early. It's ten o'clock, lazy bones."

"Not in Manaus it isn't." Harry groused.

"Welcome back to Britain." Iris grinned in response.

"Fine, fine. Would you like some tea?"

"And stories! I want to hear all about what my big brother and my new sister got up to on their honeymoon."

"If you need me to tell you, you're too young to know."

"Eww! Get your mind out of the gutter, Harry. I know you did more than just shag Hermione all day long."

"Well, I wouldn't have minded."

"I would." came Hermione's still sleepy voice from the stairs. "You wore me out a few times as is. I'm not sure I could have handled more."

"Hermione!" Hermione was also treated to an enthusiastic hug from her sister-in-law. Harry just shook his head and made his way into the kitchen to put the kettle on. The two girls came in and by the sound of it Hermione was already giving an in depth account of their five week honeymoon through South America. Harry left her to it, more than a little familiar with the futility of trying to derail Hermione in full lecture mode. Surprisingly when he set the teapot and the cups on the table for the girls she actually broke off her tale to give him a deep kiss.

"Good morning, love."

"Good morning to you too." Harry murmured, briefly forgetting that they had company.

"I'm starting to doubt my earlier certainty that the two of you made it out of your bedroom." Iris teased to remind them of her presence. Harry was just too contented to feel any kind of sting from his little sister's jibe.

"Would you two like some breakfast?" he asked instead. Hermione and Iris both agreed causing Harry to cock an eyebrow at the younger woman. "Not that early, huh?"

"Shut it. You should be happy that I was so excited to see you." Iris retorted with an embarrassed look on her face. Chuckling, Harry turned on the oven to warm it up and started pulling out the things he would need to get breakfast started. Thank the ancients for preservation charms. Half an hour later, Harry was setting warm rolls, various cold cuts, fruits and glasses of orange juice on the table. As he joined his sister and his wife for breakfast Harry let himself get drawn into the discussion of all the magical sites they'd visited on their trip. The girls were on their second pot of tea and Harry on his third cup of coffee when the conversation started turning to news from their circle of friends.

"I heard that Ginny has started sending out the invitations for her own wedding to Michael Corner. She's determined to 'show you how it's supposed to be done'." Harry and Hermione had not wanted a massively overdone wedding, despite Mrs. Weasley's urging. It wasn't to their taste and there were quite simply not that many people that they thought of as friends. In the end there had only been twenty guests and both had been happy with that.

"Well, we'll see her soon enough then I suppose." Hermione said in a matter of fact tone. "How is your apprenticeship coming along?" The two women were soon wrapped up in a serious discussion about some historical detail. It couldn't really capture Harry's attention and as his mind wandered it seemed it couldn't help but throw up more interesting thoughts like the way Hermione looked lying naked on their bed. He was drawn back into the conversation by a question that had nothing to do with history.

"Have the Potters been giving you any trouble, Iris?"

"James and Lily still haven't spoken to me since Harry adopted me. Hadrian only shoots me snide comments when we run into each other in the street."

"That's about what we expected isn't it? As long as they aren't bothering you, I'd suggest we just let them be." Harry couldn't find it in himself to care too much what Hadrian and his parents were doing. I have everything I could ask for right here. He looked at the picture of their wedding day which Hermione had hung on the wall right before they left on their honeymoon. Okay, I have the most important things here. I suppose I do hope that everyone in that picture stays happy and healthy. Harry was pulled out of his thoughts by his wife's lips on his cheek.

"What are you thinking about so deeply?" she asked him. As he looked into her doe brown eyes only one answer came to him.

"I am one lucky man to have all I do."

 


The End