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Chapter 8 A lot of people have been guessing at how I'm going to deal with the horcrux in Harry, and though some of you have come close or are on the right track, no one has gotten it yet! So I've decided to offer up a sort of prize, if you will. To anyone who guesses right, I will send you a little sneak preview of the next chapter! I have definitely given some hints throughout the last couple of stories, since I've known how I was going to deal with that horcrux pretty much since I started writing this series.

I'm not going to cap it off at the first person to guess right, because I'll want to give that person recognition, and people will go through the reviews to look for the right answer.

I was going to give whoever got the answer right a sneak peak at the final book, but then I realized that it wouldn't make too much sense out of context, and would probably give a whole lot of stuff away about this story. So everyone get your guesses in!

Disclaimer: not mine The next week, Harry had hardly any time to devote to his extracurricular studies. The first Quidditch match of the season was that weekend, and it was Gryffindor versus Slytherin. While it was true that the game might be a little more civilized without Malfoy and the upper years who had made up the majority of the team the year before, the rivalry between those two Houses was ingrained, and wouldn't change any time soon.

At least now it was more likely to stay friendly and on the Pitch, rather than in the corridors between classes. Harry knew that Theo had had his hands full picking an entirely new team.

He was relieved, but not entirely surprised, that the new Captain had failed to pick Crabbe and Goyle to return to their spots as beaters. The two troll-like boys, however, were less than thrilled. Harry had observed them muttering with Pansy Parkinson and a few seventh years in deserted hallways, which did nothing to set his mind at ease.

He warned Blaise and Daphne to keep an eye on them, but beyond that, there wasn't much he could do. He mentioned his worries to Snape, managing to get the professor alone by staying after class, but Snape just nodded, sighing.

"I've noticed it as well," he admitted, rubbing a hand tiredly across his face as he surreptitiously put up a few privacy wards to keep any unwanted ears from hearing them. "I'm keeping an eye on them," he gave a pointed look at Harry, and the teenager knew that meant Snape was using passive Legilimancy to monitor their thoughts, "But they have to have had at least some minor training in keeping that information from getting into the wrong hands.

Without a more concentrated attack, I won't be able to find out what they're whispering about. Just observe, Potter. If you notice anything, don't keep it to yourself." Harry nodded, and rushed off to catch up to his friends.

XXX Gryffindor dominated the field that Saturday. After forty-five minutes of play, the lions were up 100-10, and the snitch had yet to appear. After a brief time out, Harry decided to switch up his team, to give the reserve members a chance to see some action. He put in Seamus for Dean at beater, and switched Natalie for Demelza. He wanted everyone to be comfortable playing in a real game, and it was better for them to get that experience when they were up by ninety, rather then needing to go in because they were down a player and losing by fifty.

The next hour increased the margin by another seventy points, as Harry switched out his reserves and starters several more times. Finally, Harry decided to put the Slytherins out of their misery, and dropped into a steep dive, catching the snitch and cementing the final score at 350-40.

The red and gold section burst into cheers as the team lowered to the ground. They were soon surrounded by students clapping them on the back, shaking their hands, and congratulating them. After a few minutes, Harry managed to make himself heard above the crowd. "Party in the common room!" he shouted, to an approving roar. The team headed to the locker room, while everyone else made their way back up to the castle. It was an interesting experience, Harry reflected as he changed out of his Quidditch gear, to play a game with Slytherin and not have to worry about foul play.

For the first time, the Slytherin team was entirely friendly. Without Malfoy and his ilk, they were able to play the game the way it should be played.

While Theo Nott wasn't what one would call 'friendly', he wasn't on board with the pureblood supremacist act, and he was able to get along with most people, and the new Slytherin team was built of more open-minded members of the House.

XXX The party that followed lasted well into the evening and early morning, with the entire House celebrating their victory. Harry had cajoled the house elves into supplying enough food to feed the entire school, and he and Ginny took one of the secret passages into Hogsmeade to provide the butterbeer.

Everyone congratulated the new players, pleased with the team they had this year. Harry watched the gathering with a smile, off to the side with his friends.

"It was a good move, putting in the reserves," Hermione commented, taking a sip of her drink. Harry nodded. "I thought it would be good to give them a chance to play. Experience and all that. Better when we're ahead, right?" "Exactly," Ron agreed. "Give them the opportunity to see what a real game's like, so that when we need them for some reason, they won't be completely green. It's good strategy." Harry grinned. "Coming from the master of strategy himself, I'll take that as a great compliment." Ron turned beet red, and took a large swallow of his drink.

Minerva finally had to come up and tell them all to go to bed around three o'clock in the morning, but there was a slight smile on her face as she did so, so they knew she wasn't really mad. XXX Early in the next week, Harry and Ginny were walking a patrol after curfew, talking through their bond as they walked the corridors. I've been thinking about something, Harry said, his mental voice hesitant, something that caught Ginny's interest immediately.

What is it, Harry? she asked curiously. Harry bit his lip. The diary. Ginny froze, remembering her hellish first year. What about it? she asked uncertainly. Harry sighed. I just… I was thinking about what it did.

He saw Ginny flinch, and squeezed her hand reassuringly. What if it was more than just a memory preserved in a book? Ginny frowned, her heart racing slightly. You think Voldemort did something? Harry nodded. The more I think about it, the more I think there was more to that diary than just an old memory.

If it were really a memory, it wouldn't have been able to affect you the way it did. Ginny pursed her lips, thinking about it. It does make sense, she replied slowly. Should we talk to Snape? Harry nodded. I think that would be best. He might have an idea of what kind of magic could have created the diary.

They agreed to speak with the professor soon, and continued on their route. XXX Keeping their promise to themselves, that weekend, Ginny and Harry once more found themselves in Snape's private quarters, speaking with the professor about things they really wished they didn't have to worry about.

Snape listened to their theories or lack thereof, since they really had no idea what it could be beyond just an errant thought with interest. When Harry finished speaking, he frowned thoughtfully. "Your speculation does make a sick sort of sense," he commented. "I know that diary set Albus jumping, but I didn't know why. It looks like you may be following his train of thought." Harry bit his lip. "Do you have any ideas?" he asked curiously.

Snape nodded slightly. "A few thoughts. Nothing concrete. I'll do some research and let you know." The teenagers had to be content with that, and they knew they would be looking into it as well, so they said their goodbyes and headed up to meet their friends. They all spent the day in the Room of Requirement, practicing Occlumency and animagus training, or working on various assignments. Harry practiced his Legilimancy, and wasn't able to get into any of their minds without their consent, which made him happy.

Ginny let him in willingly, and he spent most of the morning exploring her mind. That afternoon, he sent off a letter to Jason Holding, asking him for theories on how someone might go about rebuilding a mind. He thought he was improving with Legilimancy, and he wanted to start thinking about the next step of his plan. Legilimancy was just one part of it; it would take a lot more than a basic grasp of the art to cure someone who had lost their minds to the Cruciatus Curse. XXX A few days later, he received a response, which though helpful, didn't necessarily aide in his research.

Instead, Jason gave him the name of a healer at St. Mungos who specialized in the Cruciatus Curse, and who might have a better idea of how to go about rebuilding the mind, since she knew more about how the curse destroyed it than just about anyone.

The answer he received from the Healer was both thought provoking and hopeful. Dear Mr. Potter, I have been studying the Cruciatus Curse for over twenty years now, and you somehow managed to summarize everything I've been attempting to accomplish in just a few sentences. Most of the wizarding world is under the impression that this curse is irreversible, I believe there may yet be a cure.

The key lies in the damaged mind itself, I believe. It is not simply a matter of learning Legilimancy. The art alone won't be enough to rebuild the mind. That kind of process would take more than the type of knowledge we have today.

However, I do believe you are correct in your train of thought. The solution may very well lie in the art of Legilimancy. But there is more to it than simply being able to see into the damaged mind. We have attempted this before, and there simply seems to be no way to rebuild what has been destroyed. I would very much be interested in speaking with you more about your ideas.

If you have a thought on how to further our progress, I would love to hear them. Healer Jessica Winsby St.

Mungos Harry knew the healer was correct Legilimancy alone wouldn't solve anything. What he needed to do was evolve the art into something more. He briefly considered the idea of writing to Augusta Longbottom to let her know what he was planning, but he tossed it just as quickly as it occurred to him. For the same reason he wasn't telling Neville, he didn't want to tell Augusta. He would hate it if she built up false hope and he just let her down. XXX As the rest of the school attended the Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff Quidditch game on the second to last Saturday of November, Harry and Ginny quietly separated themselves from the crowd and made their way down to the dungeons.

Snape let them in and set up several privacy wards before gesturing for them to take a seat. "I've been doing a lot of quiet research, since you came to me with your theories. When you told me about the diary, some possibilities presented themselves. I wanted to ask a few more questions, but I think I might know what the Dark Lord did." He paused, and looked almost sorry at what he had to do next.

"Miss Weasley, can you tell me about what happened when you wrote in the diary?" Ginny took a deep breath. "It felt almost like he was pulling my soul out of me, using me to come back to life.

Every time I wrote in it, I felt a little less human." Harry took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Snape nodded like that was the answer he expected to hear.

"Have either of you ever heard of a horcrux?" The teenagers shook their heads, and Snape sighed. "I didn't think so. In plain terms, creating a horcrux is one of the most heinous crimes a person can commit.

Basically, it is a vessel in which someone hides a portion of their soul. It is an insurance policy, I believe the muggles would say. If the person were to be killed, the horcrux would stop their soul from passing on." "And they would be able to come back," Harry whispered. Snape nodded again, this time more soberly. "I believe the diary may have been one such vessel." "But then, if it was destroyed, wouldn't that solve the problem?" Ginny asked, feeling a little calmer with Harry rubbing small circles on the palm of her hand.

Harry shook his head, knowing what Snape was thinking. "Not if the bastard made more than one." Snape sighed. "The Dark Lord is a megalomaniac.

He's a narcissist. He wouldn't have stopped at just one." "How does one go about making a horcrux?" Ginny asked curiously. She wondered why more people didn't try to use this as a way to stop from dying, though based on what she was hearing, there was probably a good reason for that.

Snape's eyes darkened, and Harry sucked in a breath. "Murder," he breathed. "That's how, isn't it?" Snape nodded, agreeing. "One creates a horcrux by taking a life. There is a ritual involved, but the process includes sending an innocent soul along in place of your own.

It is horrendous, and it does not surprise me that the Dark Lord would choose to employ this safeguard." A heavy silence permeated the air as they processed the information that had been uncovered in that conversation.

Both Snape and Ginny looked strangely at Harry as he let out a snort. "I wonder who cursed you, Professor," he commented. Snape raised an eyebrow, confused. As far as he knew, he hadn't been cursed recently. Harry chuckled, knowing that the professor was thinking literally. "There's this old Chinese curse, pretty well known in the muggle world, that goes 'may you live in interesting times," he explained.

Snape nodded, understanding. "Whoever it was, they had better hope I never catch up to them." Harry and Ginny laughed. "I hope you'll let me get a few shots in as well," Harry said, calming down. "I'm all for a little excitement and adventure, but I could do without the megalomaniac trying to kill me." Ginny rolled her eyes. "I think we all could." After another minute of silence, Harry sighed.

"So we have to find out how many of these horcruxes Voldemort created, where they are, what they are, and that's not even getting into finding them and destroying them." He shook his head. "It sounds like an impossible task, and yet, I can't help but feel hopeful." Snape looked at him like he was crazy, but Ginny nodded thoughtfully.

"For the first time, I feel like this war can be won. You're right, Harry. It sounds incredibly impossible, but we now have an idea of what to do to stop him." Harry grinned at his girlfriend.

"Did you hear what you just said, Gin? We can win." He looked at Snape. "We can win," he repeated, his voice steely and determined, his eyes overly bright. For the first time in almost two decades, Snape actually felt hopeful.

This war under Harry's lead gave him so much more surety than Albus' twinkling eyes and false assurances. In just a few weeks, Harry had come up with a way to beat the Dark Lord, once and for all. No prophecy, no second chances. Just certainty. The Defense professor actually felt himself smiling, as he nodded, his obsidian eyes meeting and holding Harry's bright green gaze.

"We have a chance," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. All three of them felt the immensity of those words settle around them. The responsibility of what they had to do, the knowledge that they held… realistically speaking, they could make or break this war. With what they knew, they could actually end this. Snape coughed. "You should get back to mingle with crowds returning from the match.

I believe it goes without saying that what we've discussed here should not leave this room." Harry bit his lip. "I won't keep secrets from my friends. I was always planning on telling them, I just wanted to run the theory by you first. I think you could be a great asset, with your role in the last war and this one.

But the three of us can't do this alone." He smiled slightly and looked down a few inches into Ginny's comforting gaze. "It took me a long time to realize that I don't have to do everything by myself." He looked back at Snape, his gaze fiery.

"Together, we're stronger." Snape sighed and nodded. "I do understand that, Harry. I just don't want to risk any word of this getting out. Can you imagine what could happen if the Dark Lord were to discover what we know?" Harry winced, but acquiesced.

"If and when we discuss this, I promise we'll employ every privacy ward and charm we can. We've got a room we can use that we can set to not let anyone in without our consent.

Most of us have rock hard Occlumency shields, and the rest are getting there. I think within the next couple of months, they'll be there, and then I'll share everything." "I think we should think about how to utilize everyone best, before we act," Ginny commented idly.

When Harry and Snape looked at her, she elaborated, "It will do no good to give them all this information if we don't know how we're going to go about using it. Each of our friends has their own strengths and weaknesses. We need to be smart about this. Professor Snape is right, if word of this were to leak out, it could be catastrophic." Harry nodded grimly. "Understood. We'll form a plan first. Maybe by the Christmas holidays we'll have a better idea." He stood up, pulling Ginny with him.

"Thank you for hearing us out, Professor. If we come up with any ideas, we'll let you know. But we should get back to the crowds. I think we've outlasted the game at this point." Indeed, they could all hear the muted sounds of voices coming from above them, indicating that the Quidditch match was over and students were returning to the castle. Snape took down the wards and watched as the two teenagers left.

He felt much wearier than he had before their visit, but despite that, he couldn't help but feel like a weight had been lifted. For the first time in over twenty years, they had a chance. XXX Ravenclaw had won the Quidditch match, in what sounded like a very close race, according to Ron, who gave the team Captain a play-by-play account of everything he had missed. As Captain, Harry was grateful, since he got the opportunity to hear a little about the two teams they still had yet to play.

As the castle died down in the aftermath of the Quidditch hype, Hogwarts entered into December, and the last few weeks of the term. Harry and his friends were as busy studying as ever, though Harry and Ginny also spent some time what little time they could discussing their newfound knowledge and their talk with Snape.

Blaise, Luna, and Daphne were getting pretty good with Occlumency, and Harry thought they would probably be as good as they could get by Christmas. He told them all to contact Jason and set up a time where he could test their shields over the holiday break, just to be certain.

His own Legilimancy was getting pretty good as well, and he was becoming very savvy at navigating the mind. Ginny was the only one who really felt comfortable letting him in, but he had learned a bit in his testing of the others. Two weeks before the break, Harry and the others received an invitation to yet another Slughorn party, this one a Christmas get together.

The word was, Slughorn was inviting a few graduated students that he had taught, 'back in the day'. Ginny had had a bit of a 'fan girl' moment, when she had heard the rumor that Gwenog Jones, Captain of the Holyhead Harpies, was going to be there. Harry still wasn't sure, but he agreed to attend, in the spirit of the holiday.

He didn't really have an excuse, after all, since the school would be going into break just a few days later, so there was no pressing need to schedule a Quidditch practice. The same sort of reasoning went for having to study. When Harry told the others that he and Ginny were going, they were quick to accept their invites as well. The big talk of the days leading up to the party was Neville asking Hannah Abbott to go, as his girlfriend.

He and Susan had been one of the well-known couples of last year right up there with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione. The gossip mill had run rampant after their break up, and the fact that Neville was now dating Susan's roommate was a great source of interest. It annoyed all the affected parties, but they tried to ignore it. Susan had squashed down the jealousy she felt when Hannah came into their room squealing about how Neville had asked her to be his girlfriend, and the next day, accepted a date with Theo Nott when he asked her to the party.

XXX When Harry and Ginny arrived in the room Slughorn had set up for the party, he took a moment to look around, impressed despite himself.

The room had been dressed with gold hangings on the windows, gold streamers cascading down from the ceiling, interspersed with shimmering stars. One long table was set up along the far wall, almost groaning at the amount of food on it.

He escorted Ginny back in that direction, nodding at a few friends he saw in the crowd. There were a surprising number of people who were older guests that Slughorn had invited, probably students he had taught once upon a time.

"Harry! Ginny!" the two looked over at the sound of their names, and smiled at Blaise and Luna, who were getting something to drink. Luna was dressed in a set of dress robes that was very… her. They were navy blue and sparkly, with sleeves that draped down and widened at the end, almost hiding her hands from view. It was an empire waist style, and even though Harry probably wouldn't have chosen it for himself, he thought it looked nice on her.

At least she had left her radish earrings in her room. "Hey," Harry greeted as they joined the pair. Blaise nodded. "You look nice, Ginny. Did you guys coordinate or something?" They looked at each other, and chuckled ruefully as they realized that they did indeed match. Ginny was wearing an emerald green dress with just a hint of sparkle on the top when the light hit it.

It cut off abruptly at the knee, and showed off her slim and athletic figure quite well. Harry was wearing black pants with an emerald green button up shirt. Ron and Hermione joined them at that moment, Ron immediately gravitating towards the food, as Harry and Ginny complimented Hermione's dress. It was a lavender color, with ruffles on one side of the skirt that tied up in a little knot at the waist.

As the evening continued to pass, Harry had to admit that he was actually having a good time. Throughout the term, he had kept his word to observe their Potions professor without making any snap judgments. He could see that Slughorn knew what he was talking about in the classroom; he had no issues with the man as a professor. It was the rest of it that he wasn't all that fond of. Slughorn had his favorites, just like Sirius had said. And it clearly showed, in the way he would pay attention to certain members of different classes more than others.

He didn't think the man was bad, or evil. He just wished he wouldn't act so… oh, who was Harry kidding, Slughorn was acting like a Slytherin. There wasn't really anything wrong with that; Harry just wasn't overly fond of the Potions Master's way of going about it. But he was learning to live with it, and while he wouldn't be calling on Slughorn to watch his back in a fight any time soon, he did think the man was worthy of some level of trust; or at least, he didn't think he had to keep an extra eye out for the man.

Speaking of… Slughorn chose that moment to pop up beside Harry, smiling jovially at the group of students standing there. "Harry! So glad you could come!" He reached out and pulled a young woman forward. "I'd like to introduce you to a former student of mine. Gwenog, this is Harry Potter." Gwenog Jones, the Captain of the Holyhead Harpies, smiled tightly, nodding at Harry and looking around at the others.

Slughorn coughed lightly. "Well, I'm sure you two would have a lot in common. You're both such fantastic Quidditch players after all! If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to the other guests. Cheerio!" He disappeared back into the crowd, and Gwenog rolled her eyes. "Sorry about that," she said to Harry. "He means well, he's just a little…" words seemed to fail her, but Harry nodded his understanding.

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"Yeah, he is," he agreed. Gwenog smiled, this time a little more genuinely. "He was right, though, we do have a little in common. I've heard a bit about your Quidditch exploits. You've got some great moves under your belt." Harry blushed slightly, but smiled his thanks.

Next to him, Ginny seemed to be in a state of shock. Her dream was to play for the Holyhead Harpies, and here was the team's Captain, standing right there, talking like one person to another. Harry looked over at his girlfriend, amused by her silence. She wasn't normally so star struck, but he knew that she really wanted to play Quidditch professionally, so he understood her sudden silence.

"This is my girlfriend Ginny," he introduced, nudging the redhead girl slightly. "She's a chaser, and a damn good one at that." Gwenog raised an eyebrow. "It's nice to meet you, Ginny. You like to play?" Ginny coughed and nodded, trying to snap out of it. "Oh yes," she grinned. "I'd love to play professionally." Gwenog tilted her head slightly. "Perhaps I'll have to make a trip out here for a game sometime. If you're any good, I'm sure we'd love to have you." Ginny felt her heart soar.

"I'd appreciate that," she replied. "I know how hard it is to actually get into the game as a pro." Gwenog nodded, agreeing. "It is difficult, but if you've got the talent and the drive, I'm sure you'll make it." Ginny smiled. "Thanks," she blushed. Gwenog glanced around the room. "It was nice to meet you, Harry, Ginny, but I think I've done enough socializing for the night. I'm sure I'll see you again sometime." She shook both their hands before disappearing into the crowd.

Ginny felt hot all of a sudden, and Harry smirked. "Star struck?" he asked impishly. Ginny growled lightly and shoved him playfully. "Shut up," she muttered. "Gwenog Jones is like my idol. You know how much I'd love to play with the Harpies." Harry nodded, putting an arm across her shoulders. "I know, Gin," he soothed. "I was just teasing. She seemed like a nice person." Ginny smiled.

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"Yeah. I hope she does come to see a game sometime. I do have a couple of years though." Harry nodded, and they headed off to get another drink. A while later found Harry and Ginny alone near the refreshment table. Their friends had dispersed to talk with various visiting contacts of Slughorn's. Hermione had introduced herself to a renowned author of Transfiguration textbooks, including the one they were using for the current school year, while Ron dutifully stood by her side, trying to be interested in the conversation as he ate his way through a plate of snacks.

Blaise and Daphne had met a renowned Potions Mistress, and were thoroughly engaged in fascinated conversation, while Luna was talking animatedly about mystical creatures with an older gentleman, and Neville was speaking with a woman about something that appeared quite interesting, if his eager expression was anything to go by, while Hannah listened, seeming to feign interest if Harry judged her polite smile correctly.

Susan had apparently left Theo talking to some of his friends, and decided to join Hermione and Ron, Harry noticed as his observant gaze swept the room once more. Harry and Ginny were content to talk with each other for a while, both feeling tired from all the socializing. Harry looked up at something Ginny said, and then furrowed his brow as he noted an older man helping himself to some food from the table they were standing beside.

He recognized the man from a picture on the back of a book he had read when studying the Wolfsbane potion. He moved forward quickly. "Mr. Belby?" he asked hesitantly. The man looked up, startled, and then his eyes widened almost comically. "Mr. Potter!" Harry nodded sheepishly.

"Yeah. Um, I just wanted to introduce myself. I've done a lot of research on the Wolfsbane potion, and I think you did a great thing inventing it. Thank you." Damocles Belby, the inventor of the Wolfsbane potion, nodded courteously. "It is I who should be thanking you, Mr. Potter. Professor Snape has told me of your improvements, and their success.

Congratulations, it really was quite a feat." Harry blushed, and Ginny smiled, leaning into his side. Belby nodded again. "Have you considered a career in potions development, Mr.

Potter?" Harry shrugged. "Not really," he admitted. "I've got a lot of interests." Belby smiled slightly. "Well, if you ever want to talk ideas and potions, please contact me. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter." Harry grinned and took the hand that Belby offered. "You as well, Mr. Belby." Ginny reached out and drew Harry closer to her, her hand tightening across his waist. Harry looked down into her warm gaze and smiled. Ginny nodded decisively.

"What more confirmation do you need, Harry? A renowned Potions Master just told you how talented you are. You did good, Potter, so embrace it." Harry shook his head slightly, but kept smiling. "Yes, dear." _ _ _ Chapter 9 Disclaimer: not mine The end of term feast took place a few days after Slughorn's party, and for the most part, was full of joyous laughter and much shouting.

The down note occurred as the main course wrapped up and the desserts appeared. Harry's attention was drawn to the three Aurors that appeared in the doorway. He recognized Kingsley and Tonks, and the third he thought was called Dawlish. He frowned and watched as Minerva came down the aisle to meet them. The foursome had a whispered conversation by the door, as more students became aware of their presence. Hermione, Neville, and Ginny were likewise captivated by the scene, though Ron continued to eat with gusto, as normal.

"I hope everything's all right," Ginny murmured anxiously. Harry nodded, biting his lip nervously. Minerva turned away from the Aurors, her gaze catching Harry's for a moment, before she looked up to the Head Table. After another moment, Snape stood up, his brow furrowed as he met Minerva at the Slytherin table. "Oh no," Harry's eyes narrowed as the two professors stopped next to Blaise and Daphne.

Snape gestured for Astoria Greengrass to join her sister, and they held a whispered conversation. It clearly wasn't good news, if the sudden paling of all three students was anything to go by. Hermione's eyes were wide as she looked at the gathering at Slytherin table. Most people were now watching the proceedings with interest. Even Ron had looked up from his plate. Shakily, Blaise stood up, helping Daphne clear the bench as well, and the three students followed their Head of House out of the Hall.

Minerva cleared her throat, and all attention turned to her. "Please return to your meals, everyone." She returned to the Head Table and descended into a whispered conversation with Flitwick. Harry and his friends looked at each other worriedly, not hungry anymore not even Ron.

What they had just seen couldn't be good. Harry was anxious, but he waited until the meal was over before following Minerva to her office, gesturing for his fellow Gryffindors to go on up to the common room ahead of him. Minerva wasn't surprised when barely thirty seconds after she closed her office door, it opened once more.

Harry walked in and closed the door behind him. Minerva sighed, taking a seat at her desk. "I'm not sure I should tell you what's happened," she said before her charge could say anything. Harry bit his lip. "I'm just worried," he replied. "It didn't look like anything good happened." Minerva sighed, knowing that what had happened was Mister Zabini and the Greengrass girls' business.

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But Harry was their friend, and he would probably spend the whole night imagining scenarios. The Transfiguration professor grimaced, leaning forward in her seat. "Kingsley, Tonks, and Dawlish were here to inform the students of an attack on their families." Harry's heart stuttered.

"Is…" He trailed off, but Minerva understood, and shook her head. "Madam Zabini and Lord Greengrass were injured, but help came in time and the two were removed to Saint Mungos. I am sorry to say that Lady Greengrass didn't make it. An Auror who responded to the call for help was also unfortunately killed." Harry almost collapsed into a seat.

"Daphne…" he mumbled, feeling a pressure behind his eyes that threatened tears. He felt for Astoria as well, but he didn't know the younger girl that well. Daphne had told him that Astoria had picked up many of the spells and lessons that she had passed on from their summer training with great speed. But no matter how well or little he knew them, no one should have to go through the pain of losing a parent this way. Minerva smiled sadly. "Mister Zabini and the Greengrass girls have collected their belongings and left for Saint Mungos to see their parents.

I am sure they would appreciate your sympathy, Harry." Harry nodded, sniffing slightly. "If they need anything…" Minerva nodded understandingly. "Lord Greengrass and Madam Zabini might need to spend a few days in the hospital. Perhaps I will suggest that their children spend that time with us? They are more than welcome." Harry smiled.

"Thanks." He paused. "Do you know why they were attacked?" Minerva let out a deep breath. "From what Kingsley said, the Death Eaters were angry that the two families did not support You-Know-Who's cause." Harry muttered a curse. "In other words, two neutral but slightly darker families decided to stay out of the war, and the Death Eaters attacked because their kids are friends with the Boy Who Lived." Minerva shook her head.

"You can't blame yourself, Harry. Like you said, they were neutral. They could have been attacked simply for that." Harry shrugged. "But it must have been clear which direction they were leaning in after Blaise helped me out at the Department of Mysteries last summer." Minerva winced at the reminder.

"Don't blame yourself for the actions of others. That path leads nowhere, and to nothing but pain and self-hatred. Please." She swallowed harshly. "… Voldemort is to blame." Harry's head snapped up as his guardian used the Dark Lord's name. He knew she must be worried about him and what he might do if he blamed himself, because she normally never used the name.

He attempted a smile, and nodded. "I'll try not to," he assured her. Minerva noted the way he said 'try', and sighed softly. She was grateful that he was being honest with her, not automatically giving her the answer he thought she wanted to hear. But she really hoped he wouldn't go on a downward spiral, thinking that he was to blame for his friends' parents' predicament.

"You should get some sleep," she said, standing up and moving around the desk to give him a reassuring hug. "The train leaves right after breakfast tomorrow." Harry nodded, returning the hug gratefully, before he left the office.

XXX When he returned to the common room, Harry found his friends waiting for him in a secluded corner. In a hushed whisper, Harry told them what had happened. Hermione inhaled sharply, her hand flying to her mouth, tears in her eyes. "Oh no, that's horrible!" she gasped. Harry nodded grimly. "I think it's because Blaise and Daphne are friends with me." Ginny slapped him on the arm. "Harry James Potter, it is not your fault!" she growled.

Harry winced and nodded. "I know," he pacified. "I can't help feeling a little guilty, but I'd rather blame the idiots who actually did it." Ginny grinned and kissed his cheek. "Good boy." Ron and Neville snorted, and Hermione let out a small smile. Growing serious, Neville asked, "Do they need anything? Is there anything we can do?" Harry shrugged sadly. "From what Aunt Minerva told me, Madam Zabini and Lord Greengrass will be in the hospital for a few days.

She's going to offer for Blaise, Daphne, and Astoria to stay with us until their parents are released. I think the best thing is to keep them occupied. Especially Astoria, she's only fourteen. Maybe they'd like to take some frustration out on a few test dummies." Neville nodded. "That could probably be arranged. Do you know which Death Eaters were involved?" Harry knew he was on the lookout for any sightings of Bellatrix Lestrange, ever since the woman had escaped with her master last June.

He shook his head regretfully. "Sorry, but either Kingsley didn't tell her, or she didn't tell me." Ron sighed. "We should get some sleep. The train leaves tomorrow morning." They all nodded their agreement, only now noticing the way the common room had emptied out around them, indicating the late time. Harry gave Ginny a kiss, and Ron said good night to Hermione, before they all headed up to their dorms.

XXX The train ride was fortunately quiet the next day. Aurors were patrolling the corridors, and put an end to any incidents that cropped up. Word of what had happened at Greengrass Manor and the Zabini Estate had gotten out, and rumors were running wild, especially since none of the students in question had been seen since the Aurors had escorted them from the Great Hall the night before.

A few students had stopped by Harry's compartment to ask him, but he wouldn't give out any information. The only reason he had told his friends was because they cared about Blaise and Daphne as well, and they would have been told the details as soon as the next meeting of their circle took place most likely that evening or the next day.

When the train pulled into Kings Cross, Harry and his friends disembarked to find a contingent of Aurors waiting for them. He was relieved to see Kingsley and Tonks there, but wasn't too keen on the other three people he didn't know. Standing next to them were Molly, Remus, and Augusta. Molly smiled tightly, her eyes continuously glancing around the platform, looking for threats.

"How was your term, dears?" she asked distractedly. They all mumbled positives, and Molly's expression turned serious. "Right, let's head to the Floo access. No dallying now, and stick close together. Luna, you're coming home with us, your father will pick you up later this evening." "Where's Sirius?" Harry asked as they made their way to the barrier between Platform Nine and Three Quarters and the muggle side of Kings Cross.

Remus bit his lip, looking around. "He had to take care of some business," he replied quietly. "He'll tell you more later, and he sends his apologies for not being able to pick you up." Harry nodded, as the group started going through the barrier. "It's fine," he shrugged. "I just wanted to make sure he was all right." Remus smiled tiredly. "The attack on Madam Zabini and the Greengrasses has stirred up a bit of fuss, both in the government and the community.

Sirius has been busy with various members of the Wizengamot, as well as giving some support to the Aurors who are investigating the incident." He saw Harry's worry, and reached out, resting a hand on the teen's shoulder. "He's fine," he reassured his pseudo nephew. Harry nodded shakily. "Yeah," he muttered, as they reached the Floo access and started going through, heading for their homes. Once all the teenagers were through, Augusta went.

Molly and Remus turned to the Aurors, expressions of gratitude and worry on their faces. "Thank you for your help," Molly said.

"Please tell Amelia that the children are all safe and sound, and we will see her soon." Kingsley nodded austerely. "Will do. You two should head on through, and then we'll get back to the DMLE." Molly smiled, and went through, followed by Remus. XXX Harry was relieved when Sirius came home in time for dinner that evening. Remus had taken Tonks out for dinner, and Amelia and Susan were eating at their home, so it was just Harry, Minerva, and Sirius.

Over the meal, the Black Lord told them what had been going on in his day. "We've talked a lot about the Wizengamot, Harry, so you understand there are basically three factions right now." Harry nodded. They had had a lot of lessons on government, and what would be expected of him when he became the Lord Potter.

"There are usually at least two front runners, who are the face of the different factions, and then the other Lords and Ladies follow those leaders. Right now, there's those who follow Dumbledore, those who follow Voldemort, and those who back you." Sirius inclined his head, setting his fork down. "I would call the faction that I belong to the neutral group. We don't see Albus as the new Merlin, and we don't think Voldemort's got the right idea.

Most of those who have given me their support were neutral in the last war, or they leaned to the light side but did not actively fight.

Druella Zabini and Cyrus Greengrass both spoke with me to lend their support soon after my innocence was proven several years ago. Since then, I have spent a good deal of time with them, and they have shared some concerns over potential Death Eaters not taking kindly to their lack of support.

We were in the process of upgrading their wards, and those bastards picked the exact right time to hit. There was a period of roughly two hours where the wards were down, and they struck." Sirius shook his head, grimacing. "They had to have an inside source to tell them when, but we don't know who.

And none of the Death Eaters that were caught in the attacks were high enough up to give us anything of use." Harry sighed, wishing they had more, but knowing that those working the case were doing the best they could.

Minerva set down her napkin. "I have already extended an invitation for Blaise, Daphne, and Astoria to spend the next few days here, until their parents are well enough to leave. Madam Zabini and Lord Greengrass were most grateful, and accepted the assistance. I will be picking them up from the hospital shortly." Harry nodded. "I'll have Tippy prepare a few rooms for them." He stood up and left the room. XXX When Harry entered the sitting room an hour later, he was just in time to see Minerva step out of the Floo, followed quickly by Blaise, Daphne, and Astoria, all still wearing their Hogwarts uniforms.

Harry smiled, trying to look reassuring. "Hey, guys," he greeted. Minerva smiled at him and left them alone, knowing they were probably more comfortable with Harry, rather than their Transfiguration professor.

Blaise jerked his head in a facsimile of a greeting, but the two girls didn't reply. Their faces clearly showed their shock Harry wasn't sure if grief had kicked in yet.

He bit his lip. "We set up a few rooms for you, right next to mine, so if you need anything, I'm here. Are you hungry? Have you eaten dinner yet?" Blaise nodded. "Yeah, at the hospital." Harry returned the nod. "Come on, I'll show you your rooms." They headed up the stairs. "Do you have your things?" Again, Blaise was the one to respond. "Professor McGonagall shrunk them for us." Harry nodded again, and gestured for them to show him the shrunken luggage.

After they did so, he pulled out his wand and unshrunk all three trunks. "Won't you get in trouble?" Astoria asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Her gaze was focused on the trunks, though; she hadn't actually looked at him since she had arrived.

Harry shook his head, putting his wand back in its holster. "Just a little secret these two already know," he replied, whispering conspiratorially. "The wards block any magic used here. Just so you know." He winked, and was pleased when the ghost of a smile made its way across her face. After showing all three their rooms, Harry gestured down the hall.

"The bathroom's the third door down. The kitchen's all the way on the ground floor and through the double doors, if you get hungry." He gave the directions for Astoria's benefit, since Blaise and Daphne had spent a good deal of time here the previous summer and knew where most things were located in the Castle.

He looked at the three teenagers in front of him, noting their suddenly anxious expressions, and he sighed. "I have a better idea. Why don't you all change into pajamas and come to my room. We'll have a sleepover." Astoria perked up a little, grateful for the chance to not be alone, and disappeared into the room Harry had pointed out for her.

Blaise and Daphne considered for another moment, before they nodded and went to go change. Harry headed to his room, and pulled his blankets off the bed, moving them over to the sitting area that his suite had. He set up some pillows, stripping the sofa and chairs that were there, moving everything to the floor, before he changed into pajamas.

When the others joined him, they all made themselves comfortable on the floor, cocooning themselves in the blankets. Talk was sporadic for a few minutes, before Harry suggested they get some sleep. He knew it wasn't likely they would actually get much rest, but they should try.

XXX Harry wasn't sure at first what had woken him. By the view from the window, it wasn't yet dawn, so why had he been pulled from slumber? A soft sniffling drew his attention, and Harry raised himself up slightly, looking for its source. Astoria was curled up in a corner, her knees drawn to her chest and her head buried in her arms. Her shoulders were shaking slightly, and Harry knew she was crying. Without another thought, he got up quietly, hoping that his movements didn't rouse Blaise and Daphne, still sleeping next to him.

Astoria flinched slightly when Harry sat next to her, but didn't raise her head. Harry settled himself, but didn't speak, hoping that the younger girl would come to him. A few minutes later, Astoria sniffed and looked over at her host.

Harry's profile was calm, as he sat completely relaxed, his knees bent and his arms resting on them. He wasn't looking at her directly, but she imagined he was observing her out of the corner of his eye. "I miss my mum," she whispered, tears filling her eyes. Harry nodded sympathetically.

"Me too," he admitted, his voice just as quiet. Astoria looked at him sharply, and Harry sighed. "I wish I knew what to say to make it better, Astoria. I really do. But the truth is, I don't think that hurt ever goes away." Astoria's crying started anew, and Harry reached over, resting a hand over hers, squeezing gently.

"I barely remember my parents, but even when I thought they were drunks who died in a car crash " Astoria gasped, and Harry grimaced. "Long story. Anyway, the point is, even when I didn't know who they were, who I was, I still missed them. There was a hole in my heart that could never be filled, because my parents weren't there to hug me, to tell me they loved me, to cheer me on at Quidditch or to praise me for my grades, to ground me for having a girl in my room " Astoria giggled, and Harry smiled.

"I never got to have that awkward talk with my dad about girls. Sirius is great, but it's still something I should have shared with my dad. I wonder if he would have told me to go for it when I felt ready, or if I should wait. I never got to experience what having real parents is like. My aunt and uncle hated me, and even though Sirius and Aunt Minerva are wonderful, they're not my mum and dad.

And by the time they took over guardianship for me, I really wasn't a child anymore, no matter how much I wish otherwise." Harry sighed. "I wish I could tell you how to make the hurt disappear. I wish I could tell you that some day, you won't miss her so much. I wish I could tell you that it gets better.

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But I can't, because I don't think it will. I think the best I can do is tell you that it will get easier." Astoria swallowed, willing her tears to stop as she leaned into his side, taking comfort in his steady presence. Harry reached out and drew her closer, his arm snaking across her shoulders. After a few minutes, he felt Astoria's breath even out, and he knew she had fallen back asleep.

He himself dropped off shortly after, and when he woke again, the sun was rising above the Quidditch pitch, and Blaise and Daphne were stirring. He nudged Astoria, and the younger girl groaned, opening her eyes and blinking blearily as she looked around, slightly confused at the position she found herself in. Harry smiled.

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"Why don't you use my bathroom. Take a shower, whatever else you need. Flick will make sure you have a change of clothes ready by the time you're done," he referred to the house elf that normally saw to his needs at the Castle. Astoria nodded and stood up shakily, her legs a little wobbly after hours spent in the same position.

Blaise and Daphne were awake now, and Harry made his way over to them, starting to collect the blankets and pillows. "You guys should get dressed. Breakfast will probably be ready by the time you're done." They nodded, and went back to the rooms they had been given to find a change of clothes.

XXX Most of the morning was spent quietly, with the teenagers spending some time just relaxing after a hard term. Apparently, the healers had told them that they should spend the day away from the hospital, and their parents had agreed, not wanting them to be depressed by the surroundings. By mid morning, they found themselves in the library, Astoria working on some school assignments, while Blaise, Daphne, and Harry had found a few books to lose themselves in, wanting an escape from the harsh realities of life around them.

Harry looked up, startled, when Daphne sat next to him on the loveseat he occupied. Blaise was curled up in a chair nearby, and Astoria had claimed a table, with books and parchment spread out around her. Harry had smiled at the similarities to Hermione, but then, Astoria was one of the best students in her year, so he figured it only made sense.

Daphne looked uncomfortable, as she played with the book in her hands. "Thank you," she blurted out suddenly, her voice quiet so as not to attract the attention of the others.

Harry furrowed his brow. "For what?" he asked curiously.

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Daphne shrugged. "For letting us stay here… and thank you for what you said to Astoria last night." Harry blushed. "I didn't know you were awake," he admitted. "I just wanted to help her, but I don't know if what I said was comforting." Daphne nodded. "I think it was. I think both of us would have slapped you if you had said that everything was going to be all right.

Our mother's dead." She said it so bluntly, that Harry winced. "It's not going to be all right. So thank you for not trying to sugar coat anything." Harry smiled slightly. "Any time." Daphne smirked lightly.

"Yeah, I know I can always count on you to be honest. It's a quality I really admire in you, Harry." Harry looked embarrassed, and after a moment, Daphne's expression turned serious. "Do you really think we'll feel that hole our whole lives?" Harry sighed, rubbing his chest absentmindedly. "Yeah, I do," he said truthfully. "Some days will probably be worse than others… birthdays, holidays, anniversaries… Now that I'm older and I understand more, and even remember my mum's death, I think a lot about future events.

How my mum won't be there to help Ginny shop for a wedding dress, how my dad won't be there to stand next to me and crack jokes as I tear up watching Ginny walk down the aisle. I won't get to tease him as he sobs unabashedly while holding his first grandchild. My children will never know their grandparents. I missed out on so much, and it hurts. What I told Astoria was true, Daph. That feeling will probably never go away." "How do you deal with it?" Daphne asked, close to crying herself.

Harry took a deep breath. "By remembering what I have now. Two guardians who love me, an adoptive family who accepted me right from the start and always looked out for me.

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More adoptive siblings than I know what to do with. I don't have my own family, but I made one, and that's gone a long way in lessening the pain. I think, even if I had grown up with Sirius and Remus, and I had always known who I was, who my parents were, why they weren't with me… I would still feel like something was missing. They were a part of me, and that didn't go away when they died." He sighed again. "Daphne, your mum will always be a part of you and Astoria.

It will hurt, there will be days when you just want to curl up and forget the world. The important thing is to remember that that feeling won't last forever. It will get easier. And don't forget her. I barely knew my parents, and I worry about the things I don't know.

Sirius has been good at sharing stories, but it hurts that I don't know things. Not the big stuff, but the little things. What was my mum's favorite food? What was my dad's favorite color? You had time to learn those things, Daphne, so while it sucks, just try and be thankful for the time you had.

And if you find yourself forgetting, just look in a mirror. Look at Astoria. Your mother is a part of you, and that will never change." Daphne had tears running down her cheeks by the end of Harry's speech, but she was smiling slightly as she leaned over and hugged him, before muttering an excuse and leaving the room, ostensibly to find a bathroom to clean herself up.

Harry swallowed tightly, and turned his head back to his book, rubbing a hand over his face to try and lessen the burning in his eyes. He had never really dredged up all those feelings before. Sure, he and Sirius had commiserated over stories of his parents, but he had never gone so deep, telling someone about all his regrets and all the pain from not having his parents with him.

He loved living with Sirius and Aunt Minerva, especially when he could compare it to Vernon and Petunia, but even though they were great, they couldn't replace his parents. Not that they ever tried to, which he did appreciate.

He knew the Greengrasses would be facing some difficult times ahead. It would be hard for Daphne and Astoria, to go through all the things that they should share with their mum, and not have her there.

When they needed to talk about boys, who would they turn to? When they got married, who would help them plan the wedding? When they had their first child, who would reassure them that they didn't need to go to the hospital for every little kick the baby made?

And that wasn't even getting into what Cyrus Greengrass was facing. He was now a single father with two teenaged girls. In the blink of an eye, their whole lives had changed. Harry wondered if there were any females in his life that could help out whenever Daphne and Astoria needed someone to talk to. He hoped so. In the blink of an eye, their whole lives had changed, and Harry knew he would do whatever he could to help them, but he couldn't do everything.

The Greengrasses would need to figure a lot of things out, but Harry vowed to himself to be there for them, however and whenever they needed. _ _ _ Chapter 10 Disclaimer: don't own Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Susan, Neville, and Luna Flooed over after lunch, and they all settled in the library with their friends, catching up on school assignments and the like.

Though they didn't say anything, just the fact that they were there and supporting Blaise, Daphne, and Astoria really meant a lot to the trio.

The adults had decided to give the kids some time to rest, especially given the attacks on the Greengrasses and Madam Zabini. Sirius pulled Harry aside and told him there would be a meeting that evening.

Harry bit his lip as he glanced over at his friends. "We can set Astoria up with a movie after dinner, to keep her occupied." Sirius nodded. "Sounds like a good plan. How's the others' Occlumency coming? I know they were good enough over the summer, but not quite perfect." Harry nodded. "I told them to set up a time with Jason over the break, just to make sure, but I'm pretty sure they're at the same level as the rest of us." He shrugged. "Of course, I could just be failing at Legilimancy, and they're really awful." Sirius snorted.

"Somehow I doubt that's the case." He sighed. "How are they doing?" his voice softened as he looked over at the group of students working at several tables around the room. Harry sighed, his gaze also shifting over to his friends.

"I think they really appreciated the mini sleepover we had last night. Blaise won't say it, but he's worried about his mum. Madam Zabini's not exactly young, but from what you said, she's doing just fine. It's Daphne and Astoria I'm more worried about. They miss their mum." Sirius nodded. "That's only natural.

Just be the good friend you are, and be there for them. If they want or need something, be there. Talk to them, or just listen." Harry nodded his agreement. It was no less than he was already planning. Sirius cleared his throat to get the attention of the rest of the group. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes, so you guys should think about packing up." They all nodded, and put their books and parchment in order, before heading to the dining room.

When the meal was over, Harry gestured for his classmates, along with Ginny and Luna, to stay put, while he led Astoria up to the Entertainment Suite. He showed her the movies, and how to operate the VHS player, and suggested a few good films she might enjoy, before he returned to the rest of the group.

"There's a meeting tonight, so if you're up for it, we should head up." They all nodded, and left the dining room. When they reached the library, they settled down to wait for the adults. They came in groups over the next ten minutes, giving greetings to the teenagers, and condolences to Blaise and Daphne. Andromeda and Ted arrived just a step behind their daughter and Remus, and a few minutes later, Bill and Fleur entered, followed by Fred and George.

Minerva and Sirius came in still deep in conversation with Molly and Arthur right behind them. Augusta arrived not long after that, and Snape slipped in just as the meeting was about to start. Once Minerva saw that they were all there, she started the meeting by informing those who weren't aware, of the attack that had taken place a few days earlier.

"Mister Zabini, Miss Greengrass, we are so sorry for what your families are going through," Minerva' voice was compassionate as she looked at her students.

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They both nodded and the professor continued. "Four Death Eaters were arrested, though none of them were high enough to really be of much use. They've all been sentenced to prison time." She took a deep breath. "It is believed that the leader of the attack on the Greengrasses was Camden Avery. Unfortunately, he escaped before he could be apprehended." "He's the one that killed my mum, wasn't he," Daphne asked, though it sounded like more of a statement then a question.

Minerva looked at her and nodded regretfully. "The Aurors think so. None of the others had the Killing Curse on their wands when Priori Incantatum was performed." Daphne looked like she was trying not to show how upset she was. Minerva shared a look with Sirius. "Amelia and Kingsley are staying late at the Ministry tonight to try and work through the details on the attack, that's why they aren't here." From there, the meeting turned to other updates.

The Weasley twins showed the group a few of their newer inventions, including a prototype they were working on that, if they could work out a few kinks, would act as a sort of blanket stunner. Harry was very intrigued, since it could potentially knock out anywhere from two to upwards of ten people at a time. "That's brilliant, guys," he said as they finished their demonstration.

"Let us know when you get it to work." Fred nodded, grinning. "We think this might be just the jumping off point. Once we get the idea to work, we can create devices that send out an area disarm, or maybe a cutting curse. We just have to figure out the details." Hermione was examining the prototype. "These look remarkably similar to muggle grenades. And the way you pull this here," she gestured to the small pin at the top, "and throw them, it's exactly the way muggles use grenades." George nodded eagerly.

"Exactly. We modeled them after the muggle grenades. We call them magi-grenades." He shrugged. "Not the most original name, but it works." Sirius smiled. "It's an ingenious idea, guys. This could come in really handy. Let us know if you need any help with anything." The twins nodded, understanding; a few months earlier, Sirius had signed on as another silent partner to Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes. They had formalized both partnership and Harry's, so that he and Harry would each receive ten percent of the profits in exchange for their monetary backing.

"How are the listening devices coming?" Harry asked curiously. They hadn't heard anything since the summer. The twins shared a rueful look, before George spoke. "We're a little stalled on getting them to work without active magic powering them, but we'll keep working on it." Harry nodded, and they moved on. The next issue they discussed was the new prison Amelia was spearheading. "The prisoners will be transferred from Azkaban on the First.

Amelia has put a lot of time and effort into this, and the new location is Unplottable, with layers of wards that the Goblins contributed to, thanks to our resident Gringotts employees." He smiled at Bill and Fleur, who nodded their thanks at the recognition. It had taken several days of negotiations, but the Goblins were paid well for their troubles, and they understood that assisting the Ministry in locking up Death Eaters was in their best interests.

Sirius' expression turned somber. "There will be a short window of time where the wards on Azkaban will be down, while the prisoners are transferred.

We're keeping this operation under wraps for now, for that reason. We don't want any word of this getting out, because if the enemy knew that this was happening, they could use it to stage a breakout." "How many people know?" Harry asked. Sirius bit his lip. "A few Aurors. Amelia. Us. Those who will be involved in the transportation will be told the night it happens, to lessen the chance of it getting out." They all nodded, and moved on.

As the meeting came to a close, Sirius coughed lightly, drawing all the attention to him. "Amelia was supposed to be here, but as you know, she got caught up at work, so I'll just make the announcement." He paused for a moment, and smirked when several people rolled their eyes exasperatedly. "We've decided that we're going to get married on New Years Eve." A few people looked startled.

"Isn't the Minister's wedding going to be a huge deal?" Andromeda asked, raising an eyebrow. Sirius shrugged. "Exactly why we'd rather do it here, in private. We don't want the press or any other unwelcome gatecrashers attending.

You're all invited, but that's it. Neither of us really has a large family." "I like the idea of a small wedding," Susan commented. "It's much more intimate." "Yes," Sirius nodded. "We don't want people showing up just because it's the Minister's wedding. We'll send out announcements and all that later. We're not trying to hide it or anything; I don't think that would be possible, considering who we are.

We just want to be able to enjoy it with those we care about, without having to be diplomats." "Understandable," Minerva said. "Who will be performing the ceremony?" Sirius glanced at Augusta. "We were hoping you would be willing, Augusta," he asked hesitantly. The Longbottom dowager looked startled.

"I'd be delighted, Sirius. It would be my honor." There were several people who could perform wedding ceremonies. Clergy members, the Minister, the Headmaster, and judges. The members of the Wizengamot were considered judges in the wizarding world, and so, Augusta could legally perform the ceremony.

Sirius and Amelia had thought it would be nice to be married by a friend, and that wasn't even getting into the hassle it would be to find someone they could trust to allow access to McGonagall Castle. The meeting broke up shortly after that, as it was getting late. Minerva and Sirius disappeared towards the kitchens as people started heading towards the Floo, talking about menus and decorations; their direction indicated they would be talking to the house elves about making sure everything was perfect on the Thirty-First.

The adults left first, and the teenagers stuck around for a little while longer, talking, since they still had some time before they needed to get to bed. "When do you think your parents will be released from Saint Mungos?" Ron asked, looking at Blaise and Daphne. The two Slytherins glanced at each other, as Hermione dug an elbow into her boyfriend's side for his lack of tact.

Ron winced, but still seemed to expect an answer. "The Healer told me mum could probably come home day after tomorrow," Blaise said softly, some of his worry seeping into his voice.

Daphne sniffed lightly. "Dad will probably be released by Christmas Eve." Ginny reached over and squeezed the older girl's hand gently. "I'm so sorry, Daphne. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask." Daphne nodded, smiling tightly.

Harry coughed. "I'm going to go see how Astoria's doing. It's getting pretty late, she should probably get to bed soon." They all nodded and said goodbye, though Ginny stood up as he made his way out of the room. "I'll come with you. Ron, tell mum I'll be home in a few minutes." The couple made their way up to the Entertainment Suite, talking through their bond.

We really need to get a look at some of the books in the Black library, Harry commented, pushing open a door. Ginny looked over at him and raised an eyebrow.

You think? She was only being slightly sarcastic. Harry nodded mentally, glancing at her sidelong. If any library were to have information on horcruxes, I think that would be it. Sirius is always going on about how dark his family is. We might be able to find something that could help us.

Ginny sighed as they reached their destination. We'll have to plan carefully.

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We can't just disappear for the whole day. Someone is bound to find out, and we can't really answer their questions, can we? Harry shrugged. We've already had this conversation with Snape. We can't do this alone, Gin. We'll need help. I know, Ginny shot back. But now isn't the best time. When we're back at school, we'll tell them what we know. But if we tell them we're looking through the Black library, they'll want to come, and then it won't be a simple operation, will it? How are we supposed to keep it a secret if six of us, or more, are sneaking off to Grimmauld Place?

Harry sighed in defeat, and sat down next to Astoria. "Hey," he smiled. "How'd you like the movie?" Astoria looked over at him and grinned. "This is amazing!" she gushed. "It's so fascinating. Muggles really created this? There are so many to choose from, and it's so much more stimulating than listening to the wireless.

Are they still creating new stories?" Harry chuckled. "Whoa there, calm down Astoria. You're just as bad as Ginny." Both girls blushed. "Yes, movies are still being made. When they first come out, people go to cinemas to watch them on a bigger screen. Maybe next summer we can all go see one.

I took Ginny summer before last, and she loved it." "Right up until the Dementors attacked," Ginny snorted. Harry shrugged. "Yeah, until that. Anyway," he stood up, offering a hand to his girlfriend. "It's getting late, we should all get to bed now." Astoria nodded.

"Can I watch another movie tomorrow?" she asked as she stood as well. Harry smiled. "I'm sure that can be arranged." He sent Astoria on up to her room, and walked Ginny to the Floo.

He gave her a quick kiss good night, before she stepped through, and he went upstairs. Daphne was waiting for him in his room. She smiled softly at him as he entered, and before he even realized what was going on, she was hugging him tightly.

"Thank you," she whispered. Harry's arms moved around her waist, and he felt almost like he was the only thing keeping her on her feet, as she began to sob softly into his shoulder. "Thank you for taking care of us, and for being there for Astoria.

Thank you for everything you've done." Harry felt himself tear up slightly as he hugged her back. "You're welcome, Daph," he replied. "I'm always here for you." Daphne sniffed and pulled back, giving him a watery smile before she headed back to her room.

Harry watched her leave, perplexed, before shrugging and changing into his pajamas. XXX Over the next few days, Blaise, Daphne, and Astoria spent the mornings at Saint Mungos, before returning to McGonagall Castle in the afternoon.

Ron, Ginny, and Susan came over most days, but Hermione had gone on vacation with her parents for a few days. As she didn't want to be gone for Christmas, they agreed to a short trip to Northern France, and would return late Christmas Eve. Neville was spending some time fixing up one of his greenhouses, but he did come a few times.

Three days after the vacation started, Madam Zabini was released from the hospital, and Blaise went home, after thanking Harry for his hospitality. "You're welcome here any time," Harry said as they stood by the Floo. Blaise nodded. "Thanks, Harry.

And thanks, Professor, for letting me stay," he said to Minerva, who was also in the room. Minerva smiled. "It was my pleasure, Mister Zabini. And as Harry said, you are welcome any time." Daphne gave her friend and fellow Prefect a hug. "We'll see you later?" she asked hesitantly, and Blaise knew that she was still worried about her father, and grieving over her mother, which was why her insecure side was coming out. "Of course," he assured her. "I'll come by tomorrow afternoon." Once Blaise was gone, the teenagers went upstairs to watch a movie.

Astoria was captivated by the moving images, and though her interest was more toned down, Daphne also found the concept fascinating.

They had worked their way through all three Die Hard movies, two different James Bond films, Mary Poppins, and Cinderella, all in the last few days alone. Harry found it rather amusing, but he understood; as purebloods, they were unused to the kind of technology that muggles had.

The days continued to pass in a similar vein, as Christmas drew closer. On Christmas Eve, Cyrus Greengrass was released from the hospital, and though weak, he was able to go home. He thanked Minerva graciously for her assistance and for looking after his daughters, before the three of them headed back to Greengrass Manor. Astoria gave Harry a hug, thanking him for everything, before Daphne gave her own goodbye. "I'll see you soon," she said.

"Happy Christmas, Harry." Harry smiled. "Happy Christmas. And if you need anything, just ask." The two girls stepped through the Floo, and Cyrus held out his hand to Harry. "Thank you, Mister Potter, for being such a good friend to my girls," the Greengrass Lord said.

Harry nodded, returning the handshake. "I'm glad you're all right, Lord Greengrass." Cyrus shook his head. "Please, it's Cyrus. We are all comrades, are we not?" Harry nodded again. They were on the same side, and Cyrus' words indicated that he was more willing to come off the bench than he had been before the attack.

From Sirius' dealings with his faction of the Wizengamot, he knew that the Greengrasses were leaning more to the neutral side of the light. They wouldn't support Voldemort, but they weren't too willing to fight, either. Perhaps being attacked had changed Cyrus' mind. Once the Greengrasses had left, Harry went upstairs to prepare his room. The adults had given in to their children's pleading, and allowed them to have a sleepover that night, before they all joined them at the Castle the next morning.

The Ron and Ginny arrived first, followed by Neville, then Susan, then Hermione. They spent most of the evening watching Bambi, and even Ron was crying by the end of the movie. After that, they headed up to Harry's room, where he had made a space for them by moving the chairs and sofa in his sitting area to the side, and spreading out blankets and pillows.

They dropped off quickly, eager for the next morning. XXX Ron woke the rest of them up at eight o'clock sharp. "Wake up you lot!" he shouted.

"Presents!" Harry rolled his eyes and shared an exasperated look with Hermione. "Is he sixteen or six?" Harry asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Hermione smiled, and Ginny moaned. "Five more minutes," she grumbled. Harry sighed and bent over, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"Sorry love, I don't think he'll give us that," he said contritely. Ginny groaned and sat up, making her way to Harry's en suite. They spent a few minutes waking themselves up, brushing their teeth and taking care of other necessities, before they headed downstairs to join the adults. Tonks was already snuggled into Remus' side on the loveseat as they entered the room. Sirius and Amelia walked in just behind the teenagers; Sirius had moved into the Bones Estate permanently after Harry and the others returned to Hogwarts in September.

Augusta arrived just a few minutes after Sirius and Amelia, followed quickly by Molly, Arthur, Bill, Fleur, and the twins. There were 'Happy Christmases' given all around, as they settled in to open their presents. Harry opened up several new movies and games from Remus, before Minerva pushed hers and Sirius' present towards him. Harry gasped as he pulled the wrapping paper off, to reveal the newest broom not yet on the market, the Firebolt Mark 2. It was scheduled for release next month.

He looked up at his guardian, his eyes wide. "How…" Sirius smiled. "One of the Black investments includes stock in the Firebolt Company. I was able to get this prototype, and it is personalized, if you'll take a look." Indeed, on the shaft was his surname, written in gold lettering.

Harry shook his head. "You didn't have to…" Minerva sighed. "That is the basis for a gift, Harry. It's not something you have to get someone. We wanted to get this for you. It is a better broom than the one you currently own. The Firebolt company has done a good job of perfecting their model with this release." Harry considered for a moment, before he grinned, rubbing a finger across the gleaming wood.

"Thank you, so much," he said, beaming at his guardians. She was right that the Firebolt Mark 2 was better than the original Firebolt, though of course, the original was no slouch. The second version was said to have improved a few minor issues that Harry had noted when he flew his Firebolt, such as the slight shaking that occurred when one flew over one hundred and ten kilometers per hour.

In addition, the footrests were more stable, and there were several more layers of cushioning charms added for extra comfort. An owl flew through the window at that moment, interrupting them. It landed on Ron's shoulder, and the redhead took the note clutched in its talons, confused. Written on the piece of parchment was 'Happy Christmas, from Harry and Ginny.' He looked up at his best friend and sister.

"What?" he asked, confused. The two smiled. "We teamed up," Harry explained. "We figured you'd like your own pet, since, you know…" Ron clenched his teeth at the reminder of his old pet Scabbers.

Damn rat. He forced himself to let it go and smiled. "Thanks you two. He's wicked." Ginny gave her brother a hug. "He's a screech owl, and he doesn't have a name, so make sure you pick the right one." As if agreeing with her, the owl let out a loud hoot, its yellow eyes observing the room intelligently. They chuckled, and the owl took off, flying to a nearby perch where it settled.

Ron studied the regal bird for a few moments, before he turned to Hermione. "What's the name of that god of the wind? You were reading a book on mythology this summer, what was he called?" Hermione looked thoughtful.

"What religion? Greek, Roman, Egyptian " Ron shrugged. "I dunno. It started with a Z, I think." Hermione nodded. "Zephyrus? He was the Greek god of the west wind." Ron nodded eagerly.

"That's it!" He turned back to the owl, who was regarding him carefully. "How do you like Zephyrus? Zeph for short." The owl seemed to consider for a moment, before he gave an approving hoot and flew out the window. "I like it," Ginny commented.

They all nodded and returned to their gifts. Harry unwrapped the traditional box of candy from Ron, the Weasley sweater this year in a soft gray with a green 'H' on the front and a fruitcake from Molly and Arthur, a book on warding from Bill and Fleur, a book on dragons from Charlie, and some homemade joke products from Fred and George.

Susan chuckled as she opened the gift Harry had given her a book on the history of the DMLE. When he looked over, she smiled.

"Open my present next," she suggested. Harry did so, and then laughed at finding out that she and Amelia had given him the same book. "Great minds think alike?" he asked, grinning cheekily. Susan threw a wad of wrapping paper at him, and continued opening gifts. Hermione's book on martial arts looked to be a very interesting read.

"I thought you might be able to work it into some defense training," his fellow Prefect said, nodding at the book. "It covers several different styles, so it should be useful." Harry smiled.

"Thanks, Hermione. This looks great." Hermione beamed at him, having just opened the book on Arithmancy that Harry had given her. "Thank you so much, Harry, I've been wanting to read this for ages!" Harry's smile widened, and he nodded. Ginny gasped as she opened the velvet box with the tag from Harry.

"Oh, Harry, this is gorgeous!" she gushed, immediately taking the necklace out to put it on. It was white gold, with an infinity symbol made of diamonds. Harry's smiled softened, and he looked at her with pure love in his gaze. "I chose the infinity symbol because that's how long we'll be together," he said softly as he helped her put it on.

Molly watched tearfully, though she was smiling at her daughter and… son-in-law. It was a strange concept, but she could clearly see the love they held for each other. It made her so proud, and slightly sad, to see. Her daughter was no longer a child. She had grown into a beautiful woman, inside and out. "Fascinating," Arthur commented, holding up the package of batteries Harry had given him. "These are what muggles use to power their eckletronic devices, correct?" Harry chuckled, looking over at the Weasley patriarch.

"Some devices run off batteries, rather then electricity, yes," he explained. Molly shook her head fondly, and proceeded to thank Harry for the set of knitting needles and selection of yarn he had given her. "Thanks, mate!" Fred and George shouted across the room, pouring over the muggle prank book Harry had gifted them. Harry nodded at them, and pulled another gift towards him.

It was from Snape, surprisingly, and consisted of a book on lycanthropy. He raised an eyebrow, flipping through a few pages. It appeared to include history, theory, and recent developments. This would come in handy in his research. The next gift was a combined present from Blaise and Daphne, and was another book he wondered if he really came across as such an avid reader to his friends, but at least they chose interesting reads.

This book was on renowned DMLE heads it consisted of five biographies on what were considered to be the best heads in recent history. Flipping through the front few pages, Harry was startled to see his grandfather, Charlus Potter, listed as one of the subjects in the book.

That was probably why Blaise and Daphne had given him this book. He had gotten them each a book of their own, on subjects they were interested in Blaise, he had given a book on Curse Breaking, and Daphne, an autobiography of a renowned Potions Mistress. He was glad that he had managed to send out an owl order for a present for Astoria, since she would probably feel left out if he didn't give her something, after they had gotten to know each other better at the start of the holiday.

He had given her a stationary set, complete with quills, ink, and a nice carrying case that doubled as a surface to write on. It could be turned into a sort of lap desk, so that she could write in bed if she wanted to. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat as he opened the present from Neville and Augusta. It was a photo album that contained many pictures of their parents, from their school days, through Alice and Lily's pregnancies, and even a few of baby Harry and Neville playing together.

"Thanks, Neville," Harry said softly, causing the other boy to look up from the Herbology book Harry had given him. "This is amazing." Neville nodded simply.

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No words were necessary. He understood. Harry saved Ginny's gift for last. He furrowed his brow as the paper came off to reveal the back of a photo frame. He felt himself tear up all over again, as he turned the frame over to reveal a wedding announcement. Ginny reached over and rested her hand on top of his. "I found their wedding announcement in a copy of an old Daily Prophet in the library," she explained.

"I copied it and enlarged it. Do you like it?" Harry didn't say anything, but the kiss he gave her indicated that he loved it. Sirius reached over and examined the announcement. "I remember taking this photo," he commented. "I must have taken twenty before they finally decided they had gotten it right." Remus nodded.

"Lily kept saying her eyes were closed, or she wasn't smiling enough." "Or she was smiling too much," Sirius chuckled. "And if it wasn't that, it was James whose eyes were closed, or the flash from the camera must have reflected off his glasses, or he wasn't looking right at the camera, or he was looking right at the camera.

She wanted it to be perfect." "She always felt a little inferior," Remus said softly. "She was a muggleborn, marrying the heir to an Ancient and Noble House. She felt like she wasn't good enough." Sirius raised an eyebrow. "James didn't care about any of that." Remus shrugged. "I know he didn't, but people talk. Lily knew what they were thinking. She and James loved each other, but unfortunately, the Potters were and are in the public eye.

People feel like they have a say in your life when you live like that. It doesn't matter whether or not they should, it's how they feel." Sirius stared. "Where did all this come from?" he asked, amazed. Remus threw a crumpled up piece of wrapping paper at him. "I'm the smart one, remember?" Sirius growled and threw the paper back. Everyone chuckled at their antics, before getting back to the diminishing pile of gifts in front of them.

Harry settled back, and Ginny curled into his side. They were done opening presents, and so were content to watch their family and friends. Harry looked over at the witch leaning against him. You know, I suddenly find myself the owner of two top of the line brooms, he commented idly. Ginny glanced up and raised an eyebrow. Yes… you think you can ride them both at the same time?

she asked archly. Harry shook his head slightly. "Not at all," he murmured. "But I just so happen to have a wonderful wife who is an unparalleled chaser, and could make use of the second broom." "What?" Ginny yelped, sitting up quickly. Everyone looked over at them, confused and startled. Ginny blushed, embarrassed. "Sorry," she muttered. Molly frowned. "Is everything all right, dear?" she asked, concerned. Harry smiled.

"Everything's fine," he reassured everyone. "I was just commenting on how I now have two Firebolts, and as a chaser, Ginny could certainly use a top of the line broom." After a moment's shock, Ron grinned. "Can you imagine how the team's going to be with two Firebolts?! No one else will stand a chance!" Molly continued to frown.

"Harry dear, I understand, but you've already gotten Ginny a wonderful broom, there's no need to " Harry shook his head, cutting her off. "Molly, if Ginny doesn't ride it, it's just going to collect dust in a broomshed.

A broom like that deserves better." He turned to Sirius. "Sirius, you're the one who got me the broom. Is it all right if I give it to Ginny?" Sirius grinned. "It's your broom, Harry. It's up to you." Harry beamed and looked at Ginny. "Well?" Ginny didn't say anything, but the way she launched herself at her boyfriend and tackled him in a huge hug, kissing him passionately, pretty much said she accepted the gift.

Everyone laughed and smiled, and when they all settled down a few minutes later, Tonks reached for her last present. It had a little note saying 'open last' on it, and she removed the ribbon, confused as to why she had to wait for this one.

Remus shifted slightly away, getting ready; he knew what was inside, of course it was from him, after all. Tonks removed the paper, to reveal a small jewelry box. Furrowing her brow, she flipped up the lid and promptly screamed, her hair going from pink to purple and back.

She looked up to find Remus kneeling in front of her, a nervous expression on his face. "Nymphadora Tonks," he ignored the annoyance on her face as he used her full name, "Will you marry me?" Tonks beamed and threw her arms around his neck.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" she shrieked, as they toppled over onto the floor. Around the room, everyone was laughing and clapping as Remus sat up, pulling Tonks with him. His grin could have lit the room, as he pulled the box out of his fiancée's hand and took the ring out, slipping it onto her finger. They accepted congratulations, before Minerva suggested they get cleaned up and ready for lunch, which would be served shortly.

XXX The day passed by quietly, with the teens disappearing to watch movies and play video games, while the adults spent some time with Amelia and Sirius, talking about the wedding, and any other lighthearted topics nothing war related. They just wanted to relax today. In the Entertainments Suite, the group broke up to different activities; towards the late afternoon, the boys all ended up playing video games, with much shouting at the telly, while the girls drifted off to the opposite corner with several magazines.

Hermione frowned when she noticed that Susan's attention was elsewhere. "What's going on, Sue?" she asked quietly, setting down the copy of Witch Weekly that she had been reading. Susan looked over, startled. "Huh?" she asked distractedly. Ginny looked over as well, her attention drawn from the edition of the Quibbler she had been reading.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You seem much more interested in a certain sixth year Gryffindor than you are in that magazine." Susan sighed, looking down at her lap.

"It's so stupid," she muttered. When neither of her friends seemed to be willing to accept that response, she groaned. "We broke up. We agreed that it was all right if we saw other people. But why did he have to choose one of my best friends?" Hermione and Ginny shared a knowing look, before Ginny leaned forward. "Are you sure you're not upset because you still have feelings for him?" Susan glared at her, but then her expression softened and she nodded dejectedly.

"We broke up because neither of us felt ready for long term commitment. We're not you and Harry, Ginny." Ginny blushed lightly, but didn't speak. "I knew he would probably go out with other people, I just didn't expect to feel like this." Hermione nodded knowingly. "Susan, you care about Neville. You said it yourself, you didn't break up because you stopped having feelings for each other; you just weren't ready. Did you think you were moving too fast?" Susan nodded, depressed.

"I care for him, so much. But we're just teenagers! We're not supposed to be in love, love, like that." Ginny shrugged. "Everyone moves at different paces." Susan rolled her eyes. "You and Harry are soul bonded, Ginny. You were meant for each other from the start.

I can't compete with that." "You're not supposed to," Ginny argued. "You're supposed to muddle along and figure it out at your own pace. When it's right for you, it will happen. I believe that." Hermione nodded, agreeing. "Harry and Ginny aren't normal, Susan. The rest of us can't hope to match up to them. Even Ron and I have disagreements. I'm trying so hard to get him to grow up more, but it's slow going." Ginny snorted. "Good luck. I've been working on him for fifteen years, and I still can't see any improvement." They all laughed, quieting when the boys looked over at them.

When no answer was forthcoming though, they turned back to their game. Harry shot Ginny a knowing look, and she shrugged. Hermione caught the gesture, and narrowed her eyes. "Does Harry know what we're talking about right now?" Susan looked mortified, and Ginny nodded ruefully.

"Don't worry, he won't say anything to anyone. It's hard to keep secrets from him though." Susan groaned, and Hermione looked intrigued, but didn't ask any more questions, thankfully. She really had changed a lot in the last couple of years; she no longer felt the need to question anything and everything. She was wiling to step back and let people come to her when they were ready, without pushing. Ginny pursed her lips. "It's not just that he's dating, though. You questioned why he had to choose one of your best friends.

You wouldn't be having as much trouble if it wasn't Hannah, would you." Susan nodded, resigned. "Hannah and I have been friends since before Hogwarts. We backed off a little over the last couple of years, and I guess that's mostly on me, since I've been hanging out with you guys more, but we're still good friends. And she didn't even ask me if it was all right, before she said yes." Hermione and Ginny made sympathetic sounds. "That's on Hannah," Ginny said softly.

"She should have asked. But you and Neville were broken up. If you want to get back together, you need to tell him." "I don't want to break them up or put Neville in an uncomfortable position," Susan argued. "I'll be fine." Ginny smiled knowingly. "You're in love with him, Sue. Don't worry, he likes you too. You're going to get back together, just be patient." Susan raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment, as Ron chose that moment to yell out, "Oi!

What're you girls talking about? Don't you want a turn?" Hermione rolled her eyes, but moved over to join her boyfriend. Ginny and Susan followed, and the rest of the afternoon was spent playing games, before they put in a movie. When Sirius came up to get them for dinner, he smiled softly at finding the teenagers all asleep, curled up on the sofa and floor in front of the telly, as the credits to the movie they had been watching rolled.

He decided to let them sleep, since they had already had their larger meal at lunchtime, and dinner would just be soup and sandwiches.

Besides, they looked so cute asleep like that he just couldn't wake them up. He did manage to retrieve his camera and snap a picture without waking any of them, before he headed down to join the adults for dinner.

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