The Choosing – Chapters 1-3

Title: The Choosing
Series: The Hexator Chronicles
Series Order: 1
Author: Kylia
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Alternate Universe; Post-War
Relationship(s): Harry Potter/Hermione Granger; Draco Malfoy
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Character bashing; ancient rituals; Arthurian tie-in
Summary: Hogwarts re-opens after the war to some changes, students both new and old, and the return of an ancient courting rite.
*

Chapter One

Harry frowned as he stared out the window. He could just make out the shape of an owl in flight headed towards the Burrow, another one not too far behind. He sighed. It looked like the time for slacking off was over.

Not that he’d had much time for slacking off. He’d spent every spare minute since the Battle of Hogwarts between helping to rebuild the school, learning what it meant to be Lord Potter and the heir of the House of Black and researching a magical cure for Nagini’s poison.

He was moderately successful on all fronts, but he hadn’t had much time for actual rest. And now it looked like it was going to be time to return to Hogwarts, for one last year. Professor McGonagall, now the headmistress had decided in addition to the regular influx of students, years first through seventh, she was also opening a special enrollment for eighth-year students, that was open to those who didn’t finish their seventh year due to the upheaval of the war.

Harry hadn’t at first made a firm decision about going. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do after Hogwarts. That was really what had decided him in the end. Since he didn’t know what came next, aside from the obvious responsibilities he was already fielding, he didn’t know whether not having finished his Hogwarts education would be important or not.

Hermione was, of course, going back to school. She had her eye on degrees in both muggle and magical law, all the better to know what to change, she said. Ron was going back too because he needed it for Auror training. Harry was no longer interested in that profession. He’d had his fill of hunting down dark wizards, but he could see how much Ron still liked the idea.

A few of their other year-mates were returning as well. A handful from each house, though Professor McGonagall had told him she was thinking of revising some things at Hogwarts, with full support from the school board, so who knows what the next year might look like.

He knew about some of the proposed changes because they’d been brought to his attention. He had a lot of power now. He was an adult, he’d claimed his inheritances, and Sirius was still in France doing Black business there, just as he had been for the past four years. It wasn’t what they had wanted, but given the options, and the state of the British Ministry at the time, it was the smartest choice. Still, that left the Black votes to Harry, until Sirius returned, giving Harry even more power.

Not all the Hogwarts changes were things that needed to be voted on. Some things were decided by the School Board. Harry knew that the war had left a lot of damage in its wake, and the school was only one of the things that would be affected by the changes to come.

“Have you all decided then?”

Harry was distracted from his thoughts by the question and turned to find Ron’s dad staring at them all inquisitively.

Arthur Weasley was watching the three of them, and from the look on his face, he had been watching them for a few minutes. Harry knew each of them had a different expression on their face because they all were approaching the coming year a little differently. Hermione had a look of anticipation on her face, eager to get back to school. Ron, looked determined, not looking forward to school itself but wanted to prove himself. Harry was…not resigned exactly, but he felt as if he was still waiting for something. Though he wasn’t sure what it could be.

Perhaps now with the War over, he could finally find feel like the ground under him was stable.

Harry nodded to Arthur’s question as the three owls swooped in, delivering their burdens and perching on the table, waiting for a snack.

*

Neville Longbottom was halfway finished taking cuttings from an ancient tree before thanking it for the gift when he felt the magic around his greenhouse shift slightly, indicating a visitor. He paused and blessed the tree before releasing his circle and standing, waiting for his visitor to approach.

His grandmother waited a moment outside the Greenhouse, her magic pressing slightly on his wards, requesting entrance. Neville pushed back and opened the wards to allow her in. “Gran?”

“I’m not disturbing you, am I?” Augusta Longbottom asked, looking around the Greenhouse. She did not have Neville’s flair for Herbology but she did enjoy the results. Their Gardens were unrivaled.

“No. I was just finishing.” Neville turned away and began to put his tools away and clean up. It was almost lunchtime.

“Your Hogwarts letter has arrived.” She paused a second. “Are you sure you want to return? You could take your N.E.W.T.S. and register for an advanced Herbology study, or an apprenticeship.”

Neville smiled to himself. This was not the first time his Gran had brought this up. She seemed reluctant to see him return to Hogwarts, after how the last year had gone. She knew things were different now. She was on the School Board and had taken part in the changes that were being made, many of which she had run by him, as he was Lord Longbottom now.

*

“Gran, I’ve told you, I want to return. I have spent the past seven years at Hogwarts, and I don’t want my last year there to be filled with memories of DeathEaters and torture. No, I will return.”

Augusta sighed but nodded once. “Very well. You better come inside and read your letter then.”

“This says we’ll all be in the same dorm,” Hermione said, breaking the silence that had fallen after she had started reading. Harry was hesitant to read his. He wasn’t ready to go back to that part of his life just yet. Everything would be different now. Dumbledore was gone, and Snape was…well not gone, but not at Hogwarts anyway.

“Herm, we’ve always been in Gryffindor together.” Ron pointed out.

“No.” Hermione shook her head, shaking the parchment. “According to this, we won’t be in Gryffindor; in fact, there won’t be a Gryffindor.”

“What?” Ron screeched, grabbing his own letter from the table.

“I told you she was thinking about changing some things.” Harry reminded him.

“This says that something special is going to happen at Hogwarts this year.” Ron read in confusion, “What do you think that means? Do think it’s another tournament, like in Fourth year?”

Harry groaned. “I hope not. I barely survived the last one.”

“Honestly.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not another tournament.” She ran her eyes over the parchment again. “It says here that seventh and eighth years with be able to participate in this special event, but that the whole school will benefit from the new housing arrangements.”

“What does that mean?” Ron asked, again confused.

“It means that she’s broken up the houses,” Harry stated, sure he was right. He had no idea what this special event was, and he wasn’t sure about participating in anything, eighth-year student or not, but he was kind of looking forward to the new housing situation.

A few weeks ago, when he’d run into Professor McGonagall at St. Mungo’s while they were both visiting Severus at the same time, he had told her that he believed the house system was a contributing factor in the War, or at least in the animosity between people during the war. It wasn’t just the issue of Blood Purity that seemed to breed contempt, but ridiculous House Pride, which lasted well past graduation.

McGonagall had looked surprised at first but then her eyes drifted to Severus in his potion-induced sleep state and remembered some of the past rivalries between their respective houses. Perhaps Harry was right. She nodded. “I’ll give it some thought, Harry.”

“Broken up the houses?” Ron asked in astonishment, drawing Harry back into the present. “But, but…what about quidditch?”

They had decided to take the Hogwarts Express, one last time, even though they could all apparate now. Harry was sure that more than just he and Hermione were aware of how to make portkeys. Neville probably learned when he took up his duties as Head of House. Sirius had told Harry once that the head of the family was responsible for ensuring the family members were safe in their travels and sometimes that meant not trusting those arrangements to outsiders. Because of that, there were certain skills that tended to be passed down through family lines that were gained when one reached majority and took on the responsibility of their title. Harry hadn’t completely understood what he meant until he donned his own titles.

There was a kind of family knowledge that settled along with the family magic. It wasn’t noticeable at first. It didn’t come all at once, but eventually, information was just sort of there when needed it. Sometimes he could see that same sense of understanding in Neville, though he supposed it might be true of more than just the two of them. Many of their year mates had reached their majority and would have taken their place in their families, whether that be as Lord, Lady or Heir. Some, of course, had older siblings to fill those roles, but many didn’t. For a moment, Harry wondered how being adults, titled or not, would affect their final year at Hogwarts.

“What are we waiting for?” Ron asked pushing past Harry to get to the front of the line of students walking from the carriages towards the school.

“Hello, Harry.”

Harry turned at the familiar voice and smiled. “Luna.” He reached out and hugged her. “How are you? How’s your father? Did you go on a nice trip before school?”

Luna smiled. “No, not this year. The wrackspurts are still circling his head, and they make him dizzy, so portkey travel wasn’t advised.”

“Of course not.” Hermione smiled at the younger girl.

“But Rolf and his family visited, so that was nice.”

“Did he?” Harry grinned. “What did he bring you?” Harry asked knowing that the other boy had begun courting his friend right after the war had ended.

“Well, Rolf brought a Bowtruckle with him. He said it’s been a part of his family for three generations. His grandfather taught Rolf all about the many things he’d discovered in his travels.” Her eyes had a faraway cast to them, but her lips were smiling softly. “Rolf hopes to join our families together and wants Picket to keep me company while I am at school this year.”

Harry smiled at her and was about to say something when he caught something moving around her hair, near her scarf. He blinked for a second, thinking she had gotten caught up in some plants somewhere before she had boarded the train, but then realized, no, the little green thing was moving. “Ah, Luna-sweet. Your little friend is trying to say hello.” He moved his hand closer to the tiny little thing but didn’t touch it. “Hello, Picket.”

The little creature stared at Harry for a second before turning his attention to something behind him. Suddenly the tiny thing started waving its little stick-like arms up and down and jumping, trying to get higher. Luna laughed. “Hold on.” She brought the creature closer to her face, trying to see what had caught his attention.

Harry looked behind him, where the little plant was still trying to reach and laughed. “Of course. Neville, you’ve got an admirer.”

Neville Longbottom blinked as he stepped closer to his friends and then saw the tiny creature and broke out into a wide grin. “A bowtruckle. Wherever did you get him, Luna?”

“Rolf brought him to keep me company when he visited over the summer.” Luna brought Picket back to her hair, and he crawled inside, though he kept sneaking glances at Neville. “We can visit later.” She promised him.

Neville smiled at them before turned to Harry and his other friends. “You ready for this, Lord Potter?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I am if you are, Lord Longbottom.”

Hermione huffed and grabbed both boys and started dragging them forward towards the castle.

Harry always felt a little like he was coming home when he entered Hogwarts, That hadn’t changed over the years, even through the near-death experiences and outcries of a fickle public that had reached him even in these magical halls.

He had a real home now. A small cottage in a wizarding village, where very few were known to wander in. He liked it that way. But Hogwarts would always be home to him in some small way. Though she did look a bit different now. Gone were the House banners, and the four long tables,

In their place were dozens of smaller round tables. They looked like they could hold about ten or eleven students, but it was hard to tell because everyone was standing around staring in shock and confusion.

Harry turned the only one of his friends that might have had inside knowledge. “Did you know about this?”

Neville quirked a smile. “About the dissolving of the Houses? Yes. About this.” He waved his arm to encompass the Great Hall and all the round tables. “No. Gran didn’t give me a lot of details about how the changes were going to be made when I told her I was returning and wanted to be surprised.”

Harry frowned. “I thought she was trying to change your mind?”

“Oh, she was.” Neville agreed, “Right up until I got my Hogwarts letter.”

“Come on, let’s sit down,” Hermione said. “No one else seems to to be brave enough. I guess it’s up to us.” She looked around, trying to decide where to sit, and finally chose a table in the middle.

Harry and Neville followed obediently and several returning seventh and eighth-year students joined them. Harry and Hermione looked around, wondering where the first years were. They had seen Professor Sprout directing them off to the side until the rest of the students entered, just like McGonagall used to do. If there were no more Houses, there wasn’t a need for sorting, so what were they doing out there? Harry did notice that several tables in the front had been left empty, he assumed for the new first years.

“Here they come,” Neville whispered beside him.

Harry turned and noticed that Professor Sprout was bringing the scared eleven-year-olds inside and directly to the tables. Professor McGonagall rose, and the room grew silent, half of the students in anticipation; the others in curiosity.

“Welcome back, for those of you who are returning to Hogwarts. Welcome for the first time to those of you who are new.” She looked not only at the first years but at the tables around the room, noting the new faces in the older years as well. “I know the past few years have been difficult for many of you, as they have been for us here at Hogwarts. We have spent the past few months rebuilding. If you have been a student here before you will find that some things have changed. One of those changes is the House system and how students are sorted.

“This year at Hogwarts, we are sorting students by year, and not by House affiliation. Therefore, all First Years will Dorm together, all Second Years, All Third Years, etcetera. Each year will still have a Head of House, just as before. This new arrangement is primarily because we are re-organizing the class schedules and study sessions. Also because this year, Hogwarts will be participating in a special event.

“As you know, Mabon approaches, and with it the time of The Sumo, or The Choosing. Your Heads of Houses will give you more information this evening, but basically, this is a very special time in a young person’s life wherein we set aside the rivalries of the houses we were placed into and any preconceived notions we may have about our fellow students.” The headmistress looked sternly across the four house tables, as if in warning before beginning to speak again. “Starting tomorrow until Beltane there will be no separation of houses. Any honor will be shared by the entire school. Likewise, bring dishonor into these halls, and all will suffer for it.” McGonagall stared severely at the students once more before allowing a very brief smile to touch her lips. She waved her wand in the air and food appeared along the tables. “Dinner is served.”

*

Ron stared around bleakly at the tapestries. Gone were the colorful tapestries demoting the different Houses. Now there were ones done in different hues, to highlight the different seasons, the largest two focusing on Spring and Summer. He knew it would be more accurate to say that they were celebrating the Wheel of the Year festivals but his family didn’t follow the Old Ways anymore. He wasn’t really sure why. Most of his brothers still did, but they were quiet about it.

There was one particular tapestry that caught his attention it was of a fierce fire-breathing dragon, and not like any dragon he had ever seen before either. None of those that had been brought to Hogwarts during Fourth Year, or any of the ones Charlie talked about in his letters or told stories about or send pictures. There was something older and wiser in its gaze. Next to him stood a man, older than they were now, but only by a few years, and he seemed just as fierce, though he had no weapons, not even a wand. He had his hand reaching out, and his eyes, they burned like fire. Ron had to look away, uncomfortable.

Blaise Zabini watched from a table nearby as Ron shuddered and turned away from the tapestry. He nudged Draco and nodded his head subtly towards the former Gryffindor table. Draco’s eyes followed, and he frowned. “What’s that about?”

“Weasley is afraid of Dragons?” Blaise suggested.

“Or DragonLords.” Draco murmured, his eyes moving back towards the tapestry of Merlin and Kilgharrah at the height of their power. His gaze turned back towards the table again, dismissing Weasley for something more worth his attention.

“Don’t stare, Draco. Subtly is an art, and secrecy is paramount for the first stage. You know that.”

“Perhaps.” Draco turned back to his food. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that this is the first time in a hundred years the Wheel has been displayed so openly at Hogwarts? Or that Merlin has been remembered as more than just an old wizard who aided Avalon in just as many years?

“Well, Dumbledore died not long ago.” Pansy pointed out logically from Draco’s right.

“True.” A girl on Pansy’s other side said with a nod. She had a slight accent that indicated she was from farther east than most of the students at Hogwarts. “My mother wouldn’t let me attend before now.”

“Where did you go before?” Theo asked in curiosity, his eyes leaving his book for a moment.

“Nowhere. I had a tutor. But now that the war is over and the Headmaster is gone, she felt it was safe enough.” She smiled softly, her gaze lingering on Pansy a little longer than the others.

Daphne looked at the girl speculatively and made a mental note to keep an eye on her.

“What do you suppose they’re talking about?” Rina Paveau asked looking across at the Slytherins. Or she guessed former Slytherins. It was going to be weird not being associated with Ravenclaw House anymore. She was still trying to get a handle on what her life was going to be like now. Her parents were gone, and now even Hogwarts was different.

“Don’t worry about them,” Hermione said firmly.

“Seriously, though. What about Quidditch?” Ron asked into the silence once he’d finished his dinner.

“Really, Ron?” Hermione asked, exasperated. “Is that all you think about?”

“Well, that and food, and Chess…sometimes I think about…” he started to trail off when he realized how many girls were at the table.

“And on that note,” Neville said getting up from the table and shaking his head at Ron. “I am going to head up to the dorms. I have a Drosera Capensis that needs settling.”

Minerva McGonagall looked at all the students before her. More had returned than she had anticipated, though not the entire previous years Seventh Year class, She knew some Muggleborn students had returned to the muggle world. Some did every year, regardless of the seven years of magical schooling they received. Some were just not cut out for living full time as a magical person. This year, with the blood War affecting so many, that number would have been higher.

Other students chose not to return, feeling whatever they had learned, despite the stress of their final year was sufficient. A small handful had sought their studies elsewhere, but still the students before her where a sight to behold, and she was so pleased to see several from each of the houses.

She had thought hard on what Harry had said and decided that since she was opening the school up for the Seventh years and those in front of her who had returned for an Eighth year to participate in the Sumo, it was a good time to try a different system.

“I am pleased so many of you have returned to Hogwarts this year.” She smiled slightly at the students. “Since you are technically adults, and some of you have outside responsibilities,” her eyes drifted from Draco Malfoy to Blaise Zabini, over Ian Flagherty and Neville Longbottom. Her eyes found Emeline Talvert and Rina Paveau, whose parents hadn’t survived the war. Daphne Greengrass was holding herself more stiffly than Minerva remembered from years past but she wasn’t as attuned to the former Slytherins as she should probably be. Finally, her eyes found Harry’s. He was looking directly at her, his green eyes clear, without the weight of years past. “I have placed all of you in the same common room.” She continued. “The dorms will be three to a room. I will allow you do decide amongst yourselves how to split yourselves up.” She narrowed her eyes. “Be smart when you make your decisions.”

She started to turn away when Hermione stopped her.

“Professor? Will we have a Head of House?”

Minerva’s eyes softened slightly when she looked at Hermione. “Not specifically, but should you need anything don’t hesitate to come to me as Headmistress, or Professor Flitwick as the Deputy Headmaster. You may also go to any of the seven professor’s who will be responsible for the other seven years.” She looked around at the students once more before focusing on Hermione again. “I will leave you to settle in. Tomorrow morning before breakfast I will return to discuss tonight’s announcement in more detail and what it might mean for those of you who decide to participate.”

Hermione seemed relieved, though a little bewildered at the idea that they wouldn’t have a head of house themselves, and that they got to choose their own roommates. It was odd, but she supposed it made a strange kind of sense. They were adults.

She was also curious about the announcement. She had studied several different types of Courting that had been popular in the Wizarding world in the past. The one Professor McGonagall had mentioned, The Sumo, originated during Merlin’s time and hadn’t been in favor in several generations, though it had been popular during the Founders time.

She turned towards her year-mates. “Let’s figure out who’s staying where.”

The dorm placement went a lot faster and with fewer arguments than she had anticipated. Maybe the war had changed everyone in positive ways as well as the more obvious ones. She ended up sharing with Daphne Greengrass and former Ravenclaw, Rina Paveau. Harry had Neville and Blaise Zabini. Ron was rooming with Seamus and former Hufflepuff Louis Streetwater. Hannah Abbot was sharing with Susan Bones and Lavender Brown, while Theo Nott was with Jeremy Broadhurst and Ian Flagherty. The only surprise was Draco Malfoy’s roommates were Terry Boot and Pansy Parkinson. They were the only ones to cross the gender line, but Hermione wasn’t too surprised. She had heard once Draco and Pansy had grown up together and were siblings by magic. She wasn’t sure how true it was, but she had never seen anything romantic between them, so she thought it was possible.

When everyone had made their decision, their trunks had been moved into the appropriate rooms by the house-elves, leaving the group of them to wonder what this new arrangement might mean for the year.

“What do you know about this…this ritual?” Hannah Abbott asked quietly, her question was aimed at Hermione, but she looked around at the whole group.

“The Sumo.” Hermione corrected. “I have read about it. It hasn’t been in practice for many years.”

Seamus Finnegan cut his eyes to Malfoy and Zabini before turning back to his fellow Gryffindors. “Is this a Pureblood thing?”

“No,” Hermione said firmly, knowing from what she had read that back in Merlin’s time blood purity wasn’t an issue. Though back then, things had been different, magic had been different.

“Merlin wasn’t a Pureblood,” Draco said softly. “If such a thing existed at the time. He was a gift to Magic, to be sure, but things were different then.” He paused for a second. “The Choosing is an old courting rite, designed to show Lady Magic that we see binding our lives and magic together as sacred as she does.”

Hermione noticed several people looking thoughtful, but others looked confused. “We should get some sleep. I’m sure Headmistress McGonagall will explain everything in the morning.”

There was some grumbling but eventually, everyone separated and went to their various dorms.

*

Blaise Zabini walked into the dorm he would be sharing with Potter and Longbottom only to find Longbottom sitting on the floor, crooning to some plant. His eyes moved around the room and widened. One corner of the room was covered, floor to ceiling in plants. He wasn’t sure, but he even thought there was a tree in there somewhere. It was weird because he’s pretty sure Longbottom didn’t pack all that in his school trunk and carry it on the Express. There was a window near that corner of the room, and one plant had branches reaching outside. It was all very strange.

“Um…they’ll be out of here tomorrow,” Neville said sheepishly noticing Blaise’s expression. “Well, most of them. I’m going to take them down to one of the greenhouses. Professor Sprout set me up with my own space this year.”

“Sure.” Blaise nodded and motioned towards his bed. “Goodnight.”

“Right.” Neville nodded and set his Drosera Capensis down where it would be most comfortable for the evening and made his way towards Harry who looked like he might need some help.

Harry stared at the trunk on his bed and shook his head. This can’t be happening. He closed the trunk lid and then reopened it and stared at it some more in bewilderment. He closed his eyes, opened them again. The item was still there.

“Harry?” Neville asked coming to stand next to him, his hands feeling empty now that he had put his Magical Drosera Capensis to bed. He nudged Harry again.

Harry very carefully took a box out of his trunk. And showed it to Neville.

Neville blinked at him a little in confusion. He recognized the box. He had seen it before. Harry had taken it out of his vault, once. It was engraved with the Peverell crest and was an old family heirloom.

“After the Battle, I snapped the Elder Wand,” Harry said softly. “Do you remember?”

Neville nodded, though he knew Harry wasn’t looking at him, his eyes were still focused on the box.

“I decided that it was too powerful. I snapped the wand and decided to lock it away in my vault. I put the Resurrection Stone and my Invisibility Cloak away too. It just seemed like a bad idea, carrying any of them around, you know?”

“Harry,” Neville said softly.

“I went to Gringotts last week.” Harry continued as if Neville hadn’t spoken. “I checked. The box was still in my vault. They were still inside. All three of the Hallows.” He finally turned to face Neville, his eyes a little wide. “How did it get here? How is the Wand in one piece?”

Neville looked inside the box and saw that Harry was right the wand was in one piece instead of the two pieces it had been in the last time he’d seen it. “Harry.” He paused a second. “You told me that when you collected all three of them, that made you the Master of Death.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you can just…walk away from. You can’t just pack the Hallows in a box and ignore it. It isn’t going to be that easy. You probably have a responsibility to the Hallows now.”

Harry’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I know but, I don’t want to be the Master of Death. What does that even mean?”

“I dunno. But I figure that maybe you should stop trying to forget about them. They are part of your family legacy.”

“Maybe,” Harry said, not sure if he agreed or not.

The following morning the Headmistress met all the Eighth-year students bright and early to give them a primer on the Sumo. She couldn’t tell them everything, or really much. Each Courtship was unique, however, the stages did have some general guidelines and the first two had specific rules, so she could start with that.

“The first thing you must understand about the Sumo,” Headmistress McGonagall began severely, “is that it is not like other Courting Rituals you have heard of or other betrothal Rites that have come after it. It is a sacred pact between you and Lady Magic wherein you vow on your magic that your intentions are true and you can enter into the rite freely without Priori Receptum.”

“What does that mean?” Hannah asked in a whisper.

“It means, Ms. Abbot, that you cannot make such a vow if you have prior commitments. For example, if you are already betrothed, or if your parents made a marriage contract for you when you were a child.” McGonagall looked around at all the students. “Think very carefully before you enter into such a pact with Lady Magic. Not only are you making a vow on your magic, which could have disastrous repercussions if you are not being truthful, but once you make this vow, and it is accepted, you enter the First Stage of the Sumo.”

“Professor, I read that the First stage is in Secret, and only one person may participate at a time,” Hermione stated sitting up a little straighter.

McGonagall nodded. “The first stage is anonymous, and you may only court one person at any given time. Furthermore, the person you court may not Court anyone else, nor may they be Courted by a second party until the end of the second stage.” she gazed around at each student to see if they understood the gravity of such a decision. “Therefore, you are not only committing yourself, but you are also effectively trapping your intended.”

“But only until the Second Stage, right?” Susan Bones asked.

“What is the Second Stage?” Ron asked. He wasn’t planning on participating but he was curious.

“That is when the Chosen have to make their own pact with Magic and show that they have been paying attention. That they understand everything they have been shown and gifted by their anonymous suitor. They must then make their own choice.”

“How long does the First Stage last?” Padma asked with a determined look in her eye. Her sister was gripping her hand tightly.

“It begins on Mabon and ends on the next New Moon.”

McGonagall looked at her students and noticed that several of them were still confused, some seemed bewildered but indifferent, though she did notice quite a few that seemed interested and determined. The former Slytherins were, of course, hard to read. She was a little surprised to note that Hermione Granger was also a bit hard to read just then. Certainly, the girl looked interested, just as she was with any new topic, but it was hard to tell if she wanted to participate or if she just wanted to learn about something new that she hadn’t studied. There was much about the Sumo that couldn’t be explained. Those that participated just had to experience it in their own way, if they so choose. She could only provide them with very basic information.

“Ms. Pince has opened up a portion of the Restricted Section in the library, previously inaccessible, that has material on the Sumo, and other Courting Rites, if you’d like to learn more about it, and the different stages. For now, get ready for breakfast. I will pass out schedules then.

“Where’s Mione?” Ron asked halfway through breakfast when he noted their friend was not where he swore she had been sitting at the start.

Neville laughed. “Are you kidding? As soon as McGonagall passed around our schedules, she and Ian took off for the library.”

“Already? Class hasn’t even started yet.” Ron whined. “What could she possibly have to research?” He paused a second. “Which one is Ian again?”

“The guy with the brogue and the scruffy face who was in Ravenclaw? You remember he’s the one you saw talking to Bill a few weeks ago.” Ginny piped up from the next table over, where she was sitting.

“Oh, right. He wanted to know about Curse breaking and warding and stuff.” He shook his head as if he no longer mattered. “Anyway, what does Mione need to research before class has even started?” he whined.

“The Sumo, silly,” Luna said dreamily as she walked by, her fingers trailing over Harry and Neville, but missing Ron completely as she walked towards another table. Picket climbed out of her hair and stared longingly at Neville as they passed.

Harry snorted. “That little guy really likes you. Do you have any Bowtruckles at home?”

Neville shook his head. “No, they’re not really plants. I mean they are, but, they’re living beings you know? And you don’t just buy them. It’s sort of like choosing a familiar or something. For a Bowtruckle to root, it has to trust you, and get a feel for your family magic, and…” He trailed off, not sure he was explaining it right.

A table over, the explanation made perfect sense, and it sparked a slew of new ideas to form in a young Lords mind.

“Uh oh, What’s that look for?” Pansy nudged Blaise. “I don’t like it when he looks like that.”

Blaise just continued to smirk. He had an idea of his own.

Chapter Two

The first few weeks of school were spent getting back into the swing of classes, homework, meals, and life at Hogwarts. Things were a little different with the housing situation being what it was. Some students had to learn to get along in ways that hadn’t before. Old House rivalries occasionally popped up, but the older students were trying to set a good example for the young years, and the first years were unfamiliar with how things had been done before, even if they had heard stories from parents or older siblings.

Headmistress McGonagall had all the Eighth year students take mock NEWT exams so they could better evaluate where they were, academically and which areas each student needed to focus on during this final year in order to graduate and move on to whatever field they chose.

Hermione had a full class load, and was spending every spare moment she had in the library, which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that she wasn’t alone. She had started an impromptu study group that consisted of her, Ian Flagherty, Daphne Greengrass, Susan Bones, Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, and Rina Paveau. Others would sometimes sit in, depending on what their own schedules or needs would allow, but it was almost always the seven of them. Hermione found it refreshing, and a good omen for the future that so many students that had been previously sorted into different Houses, could set that aside and get along and study together amicably.

Ron took his school work a little more seriously than he had in the past, but not enough to study with Hermione. He was still strangely obsessed with Quidditch and how the new teams were organized, not that the House system was no longer a contributing factor. He tried to explain it to Hermione once, but she tuned him out after fifteen minutes.

Harry and Neville were busy in their own classes as well as having to take occasional time away from school for Lordship duties. Draco Malfoy was also gone on occasion, as well as a small handful of other students. It made Hermione realize that even though they were still in school, technically, they were adults, and many of them had taken up the responsibilities that their families and Houses required of them.

She had seen evidence of this in the past several months since the end of the war with Harry taking his titles seriously. He’d been in meetings at Gringott’s and elsewhere. He’d been working with Draco Malfoy on a cure to Nagini’s poisoning of Professor Snape. He’d been in meetings with Kingsley regarding Sirius’ return to England.  Technically, Sirius hadn’t been barred from returning to England sooner, not after he had proven his innocence. However, they had made the decision that while the war was imminent, and then later, ongoing, that it would be better for Sirius to remain where he was.

Hermione knew Harry hadn’t made any sort of firm decision about what he wanted to do after Hogwarts, but as far as she could tell he was already doing it. It may not be what he envisioned for his future, or what he wanted, but for now it way it was what was needed, and as usual, he was doing what was needed.

Perhaps she just needed to show him that.

There was an air of excitement in the Great Hall the morning of Mabon. Even the younger years were excited to see if anything was about to happen. The whole school had been buzzing the past few weeks about the Courting Rite and what might happen and who might be participating.

The sixth years were observing cautiously to see how it turned out because next year it would be them participating. During the first few weeks of school, some of the seventh and eighth years took advantage of the section of the library that had been opened up for them to do research of the various Courting Rituals. It was hard to tell which students were planning to participate in the Sumo, or which were hoping to be courted.

Halfway through breakfast, the sound of wings drew everyone’s attention away from their food. There were several very large birds of prey flying into the Great Hall. Each one was carrying a carefully wrapped bundle of fabric. They looked similar in size and shape, though it was clear they were made from different material.

The students watched curiously as one bundle was dropped in front of Neville Longbottom, another in front of Harry Potter, a third went to Pansy Parkinson. Ian Flagherty and Hannah Abbott. Another group came in a few minutes later, bringing bundles to Seventh-year students at other tables.

Neville stared at the carefully wrapped bundle of fabric in bewilderment. The green ribbon wound around the bundle several times and looked as though it had been harvested, literally, from the earth, though the way it was wound and tied was precise and well-practiced if Neville were any judge. Still, he was surprised. McGonagall had made that announcement the first night at dinner, and then she’d come and talked to them, but Neville hadn’t expected to be involved in any courting procedures himself. At most he thought he might watch from the sidelines as Harry muddled his way through courting Hermione or tried to let Ginny down. But this was…unexpected.

“Um…I don’t get it.” Harry’s confusion broke through Neville’s surprise, and he turned to find his friend staring at his own bundle of fabric.

Harry’s bundle was wrapped in some sort of shimmering fabric that Neville had never seen before and it was tied with something that could only loosely be called a ribbon. It was silver and black, and if he wasn’t wrong, made from scales. Snake scales. Neville turned and raised an eyebrow across the table. Ron was gaping at the gift, but Hermione met his eyes briefly. She turned back to the book she had been reading as if none of it concerned her and Neville smiled to himself.

“Huh,” Ron said in surprise. As he moved a bit closer to see. He was careful not to touch.

“Huh?” Harry repeated, clearly still confused by Ron’s surprise. “It’s very shiny.” He said finally.

“You’re being courted,” Ginny said in confusion as she approached their table.

Harry looked up at her. “Yeah.” He nodded. He thought that was kind of obvious, but wasn’t sure what else to say.

“No…I mean. You’re being courted…you’re not courting someone else. Someone is courting you.” Ginny pointed out, waving her hands around, still sort of surprised by that.

Harry stared at her. He wasn’t sure what she was getting at. Was she upset that he wasn’t courting her? He had thought they’d worked all that out already, but maybe she had still hoped…

“You mean because according to the Sumo rules you cannot both court someone and be the recipient of a Courting declaration during the same Sumo period.” Hermione recited without looking up from her book.

Harry looked over at his friend then over at Ginny and saw that Ginny had nodded. Oh. Okay. He hadn’t actually thought about courting anyone. Well, maybe for a few minutes when McGonagall had first explained, but then he decided that the only person he would have wanted to court would have found such a practice antiquated and too traditionalist.

He picked up his bundle carefully and put it inside his bag, being careful not to damage it before turning back to Neville. He felt like now would be a good time to adjust his glasses, if for no other reason than to give his hands something to do. However, he hadn’t worn glasses since the end of the war when Hermione had found that spell in Sirius’ library and decided that his vision was no longer a weakness they could afford.

Harry had had to perform the incantation on the item Hermione used as a focus object because the original spell was in Parseltongue and called for it to be cast with Parselmagic, something Harry had only learned was a real thing in the last days of the war. The incantation required a witch or wizards focus point. Usually, their wand, be bathed in Parselmagic for several hours before casting. Harry wasn’t sure about soaking either his own or Hermione’s wand in Parselmagic, not when they might need them at any moment to battle Voldemort or his forces. Hermione had decided that she could use something else as a focus point. The book was clear the item didn’t need to be a wand, just material with living essence, like some of the things wands were fashioned from, or even stone or crystal if it could be found and resonated with our core. Hermione had found something that called to her, and Harry had let his magic guide him. It had been the first time he had really felt in-tune with his magic like that. It was similar to how he had felt when casting the Patronus, but not exactly.

For the Patronus charm, he had needed a connection to a happy memory, and inevitably it was taken back to a time when his parents were still alive and he was happy. This, this was different, it was a connection to his magic in the now, a presence he hadn was waiting for him until he had reached out for it. When Hermione had taken the stone, bathed in Parselmagic and cast her incantation on his eyes, he felt her intent in the words more than he had when others had cast on him. He wasn’t sure if that was an effect of the spell, the object he had effectively created for Hermione, or some combination of the two. Either way, it worked. His vision was healed, though they didn’t tell anyone at first.

At the time they had only been thinking of keeping one step ahead of the Dark. They hadn’t meant to keep it from Ron and his family too, but it just sort of slipped Harry’s mind. When it finally did come up, Ron had assumed Harry had his eyes fixed at St. Mungo’s, finally, and Harry felt…protective of what he and Hermione had done and didn’t want to share it, or explain it, so he let him continue believing that lie.

“Who do you think it’s from?” Ron asked cautiously.

“It could be anyone, right?” Ginny stated, taking a quick look around the room to see if anyone was paying specific attention.

“Not anyone,” Hermione answered.

“Only seventh-years can participate.” A transfer student who was sitting a few seats over reminded everyone.

“And eighth years.” Blaise Zabini lifted a hand and motioned toward himself and the two other eighth-year students that were sitting with him, Draco Malfoy and Ian Flagherty.

“Don’t forget the Sumo isn’t limited to those at Hogwarts.” Ian pointed out, reminding everyone that while it didn’t mean anything anymore, Ian was still very much a Ravenclaw.

That was true.  Wizards and witches outside of school could participate, though Neville wasn’t sure how many actually would.

He stood up, not wanting to draw attention but feeling as if this could just go around in circles forever if they let it. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll be late if we don’t go now.” He picked up his own gift gingerly and placed it in his bag next to the seeds he was going to plant later when he had a free period and get into the space Professor Sprout had set aside for him.

His friends all began getting their stuff and moving out of the Great Hall towards where their first class of the day was located.

“What kind of bird was that?” Ginny asked in curiosity as she watched Pansy Parkinson clutch her wrapped bundle tightly and tried to imagine who would be courting her.

“Harpy Eagle,” Ian answered from just behind Ginny as Hermione had opened her mouth to reply. The former Gryffindor looked behind her at the former Ravenclaw and grinned. They were on their way to class, but the halls had thinned out so it wasn’t as crowded as it sometimes got.

Ginny ignored their byplay and focused on her question. “A Harpy Eagle for the Harpy of Slytherin? That’s fitting, I guess. But it doesn’t seem very appropriate for a Courting gift.”

Hermione clutched her book to her chest in horror at Ginny’s words and was about to scold her when she realized that several people had stopped walking. Pansy, who was still ahead of them, turned, and just smirked at Ginny, though her eyes had darkened some in irritation. She was clearly planning to ignore her. Daphne, who had been a step behind Pansy, turned around, looking outraged, and like she might have had something to say about Ginny’s poor choice of words. However, before either Daphne or Hermine could take Ginny to task, a wave of energy pushed through the crowd, moving directly for Ginny, pushing her slightly off balance, not far just enough to cause her to lose her equilibrium and fall.

Draco Malfoy stood over the girl, eyes cold. “If you ever insult my sister again, Miss Weasley, you will be explaining yourself to your Head of House. And he will be dealing with me. You won’t like the results.” He stared at her for a moment, ensuring she understood his meaning and then left, his school robes following behind him.

Hermione looked down and Ginny and shook her head. “Come on. You’ll be late to class.”

Neville waited until he was alone in his private greenhouse to have his freakout. He set his books down and just sort of collapsed next to the adolescent tree he was coaxing into new soil.

Someone had a delivered a Tarah to him. Someone had a Cooper’s Hawk deliver a Tarah to him. What the…no, just…no. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then again, letting the scent of the soil and the greenhouses natural scent calm him.

“Okay, I can do this.” He turned to his bag and carefully lifted out the bundle of fabric. He started to unwrap the Tarah when the smell of Brahma leaves and earth and the wild living scent magic and life and power hit him and he stopped. He couldn’t do this. He knew, without unwrapping the Tarrah any further what he would find. He didn’t know where it had come from or how his suitor had found it, or…or any of the million questions that were clamoring for attention in his brain right now, all he knew right that second was he could not do this.

But…he couldn’t not do this either.

“Oh Merlin,” He whispered, “I can’t do this.”

A soft hand touched his shoulder, and he startled, his body jerking slightly. When he saw Luna looking at him in that way she had, her eyes slightly unfocused he slumped, relieved it was only her, but still more than halfway ready to panic.

“It’s okay, Neville.” She whispered softly as she sat down next to him, not worrying about the dirt she was sure to get on her school uniform.

“It’s really not.” He whispered.

“Have you opened it? She asked.

“No. I don’t need to.” He sighed.

Luna just watched him, her eyes steady on him. After a minute she moved her hair aside so Picket could climb out from underneath.

Neville saw the little Bowtruckle and smiled. “Hi.” He lifted his right hand out so the little guy could climb into his palm.

He sat there for a moment just watching the little creature move around his palm.

“Neville,” Luna spoke softly. She waited for him to look at her again before she spoke again. “The first gift is supposed to be a Declaration.” She reached out and touched his left hand, the one still clutching the Tarah. She was careful to only touch his fingers and not the fabric.

“The Tarah is made in ritual. The pledges made before Lady Magic are woven into this fabric and are more than mere words. What they choose to wrap inside is not just a gift, Neville. It is meant to show that from the very start, they see who you are.”

Neville stared at the bowtruckle as he climbed around his fingers, thinking. “What if I’m not ready to be seen?”

Luna watched him for a moment before she stood up. “You can watch Picket for me, can’t you. I have Care of Magical Creatures and he likes it here.”

Neville nodded absently as Luna walked out of his greenhouse. His eyes turned back to his Tarah and his focused on the fabric. He moved Picket to his shoulder so both hands would be free and he gently untied the green ribbon. The familiar scents from earlier came back to him. Brahma leaves, and now he could also smell sea water. He knew what he would find inside, but he was still slightly surprised when he completely opened the bundle and saw the blue Brahma leaves lying there. They were fragrant, smelling earthy and wild, all on their own, but he knew the Brahma leaves were just protection for something far more precious.

Taking a deep breath he lifted one of the blue leaves and looked underneath. There, lying sandwiched between the two Brahma leaves was a semi-circular row of Ventila Spores

*

Draco stared at the potion for a moment, watching as it turned first yellow and then blue and finally settled on orange. “Hmm.” He jotted down some more notes before turning towards his visitor.

“How are you liking the new dorm situation, Cousin?” He asked softly.

Luna smiled mischievously at him “Better than some.” She moved through his lab aimlessly. She found a kind of comfort in potions labs, the smells of herbs and the mixing of different ingredients often reminded her of her mother and how her clothes would sometimes smell strangely.

“My old housemates seem to be taking it as an experiment. Some others are having issues here and there. The younger years, I think will adjust the fastest.”

Draco nodded. He waited silently for his cousin to get to her true purpose. She always had one, even if it was sometimes hard to decipher. His father said his Aunt Pandora had been like that as well, though he didn’t remember her well.

“You’ll want to send an owl to Rolf soon and set a meeting up.” She said quietly, moving towards the far end of the room, where he kept his live ingredients habitating. “Picket thinks next week will be the right time for uprooting.”

Draco stared at her for a long moment, not sure exactly what she was telling him, but having a vague enough idea to go along with her. “I’ll send Socrates to him today.”

Luna nodded once then sighed. “Your overture made quite the impression.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“He was a little surprised.” She said crouching down to look at the tiny little mice that were running around in a small glass terrarium. “You use these little fellas in potions?”

“No, those are feeders, for Gaia,” Draco said turning back to his potion.

Luna turned to her cousin surprised. “She’s here, in the castle? I thought you left her in the Manor during the year?”

Draco sighed as he dropped a single drop of some shiny luminescent liquid into his potion and it changed colors again. After he made another notation on his parchment, he turned back to Luna.

“I do, but she’s been…twitchy of late. I’m not sure what’s wrong with her. And Ceto is also not herself.” Draco admitted.

Luna’s eyes widened. ‘You didn’t bring Ceto with you?” She looked around the room as if she could see the water boa hiding in the room somewhere.

“Of course not.” Draco scoffed. “Still, she was unhappy when I left.”

“Hmm.” Luna thought. “Perhaps, Harry can talk to them, see if anything is bothering them.”

“The thought had occurred to me.” Draco agreed.

He and Harry got along a lot better these days. They had been working together to find a cure for Severus, plus they did tend to run into each other a lot when dealing in matters of business and the Ministry. Once the dust had settled and Draco’s actions, late though may have been, in aiding Harry, had been clarified, his name was cleared.

Harry had come to him and told him that the new Minister had given him permission to present an option on the table for the Malfoys to escape dishonor. Draco would have to take control of the family, become its head, and reign in whatever loose cannon there may be within. Since it was his father’s actions which had put them in such a bad situation, Draco did not feel bad for ousting him as Head of House.

The months since then had been trying, and he and his father did not agree on a great many things, but his father had come to understand that Draco was not a child any longer, nor could he be cowed, and if he wanted to remain within the safety of the family magics, he had best follow his rules.

His mother just looked at him fondly like he had done something amazing, though Draco wasn’t sure what exactly, so he didn’t ask.

“Now, back to my gift,” Draco focused on his cousin again. “Did he not like it?” he asked hesitantly. He was sure his gift would have been the perfect thing to show not only how serious he was about this, but how much he understood about who Neville was at his core.

“It was perfect,” Luna reassured. “I just don’t think he was expecting, well…you. Or anyone really. You know the Longbottoms follow the Old Ways, so he knows what this Rite is all about, but I don’t think he expected to be chosen, and then he was. And that bird…Draco where did you find him?”

Draco smirked. “Well, you know the choice of messenger is just as important as the gift itself.”

Luna nodded and then kissed his cheek. “Don’t forget to owl Rolf.”

He watched her leave his lab and wondered what Neville was really thinking about his first gift.

Harry meanwhile was sitting in their dorm room looking at an odd assortment of things. When he had unwrapped the fabric, he’d found a circular trunk that had been shrunk. Once it was re-sized, and he opened it, he wasn’t really sure what to make of the contents. There were several different kinds of wood. Just rough blocks of it, like it had just been sawed off of a tree. Then there were a few pieces of different kinds of metal. Some odds and ends pieces like feathers and shells, and things he couldn’t identify. Finally, there were several stones, in various sizes and shapes. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think they were the individual ingredients that went into making a staff or a wand or something similar, but he had no idea, why someone would give them to him.

“Uh…you a forger?” Blaise asked curiously as he walked into the room. He took off his school robe and sat on his bed. He looked into the corner, and noticed and yes, most Neville’s plants were in fact gone. There was one, the weird skinny tree, that was still there, but he figured he wouldn’t quibble about it.

“A what?” Harry asked, confused.

“Someone who can create magical objects from the raw materials.” he motioned towards what his courter had gifted him with.

Harry was about to say no, but then he remembered that time at the Grimmauld Place when they needed this bowl for something Hermione was trying to explain, but they were stuck in one of the bedrooms and didn’t want to go downstairs because there were entirely too many Order members down there. He had searched through the junk in the room and found what looked like old silverware. He hadn’t been sure what it was doing in a desk drawer, but he ended up turning it into the bowl they needed. Ron and Hermione had thought he just transfigured something, but that wasn’t it. He had literally shaped the silverware into the bowl. Then there was the time hunting Horcruxes with the Parselmagic. He also remembered doing something similar once when helping Draco with Severus’ Potion.

“Maybe.” He mumbled. He wasn’t sure how anyone would know about that though. He didn’t even know about that. Though he had just remembered a handful of times he’d done it, so I guess other people could have too.

“Then that’s a fitting gift,” Blaise said approvingly.

Harry looked over at the former Slytherin searchingly. “Did you know about this…Sumo before this year?”

Blaise nodded. “We follow the old ways.”

“What does that mean, exactly?” Harry asked, trying not to show his frustration. He really, really hated the fact that he had been a part of the Wizarding World for almost a decade now, but since he spent most of that time, either trying to stay alive, or, hidden away, or at Hogwarts, only learning what other people thought he should know, he was still frightfully uninformed.

In the past several months, he’d learned a lot about what being a Lord meant and about his Wizengamot seats and his Magical House and being the Heir to a second Magical House, but none of that covered the Old Ways, except for in the vaguest of terms.

Blaise looked at Lord Potter for a minute before nodding to himself. “The Sumo came about during Merlin’s time. It was how Arthur acknowledged that Magic had a place in Avalon, and his subjects could honor Lady Magic by participating in the Rite.”

“Did Arthur participate in the Rite?” Harry asked curiously.

Blaise blinked at him, surprised. “You don’t know? He was the first to Court someone in this fashion. He was not magical himself, though he was born through magical means; but his intended was the most Magical of all of those in Avalon.”

“Merlin.” Harry breathed as the truth suddenly came to him.

“Yes. Merlin was the last of the Dragonlords, and a friend to Arthur,” Blaise looked at him curiously “They say that Merlin still waits for Arthur to return to him one day.”

“The once and future king,” Harry mumbled.

Blaise nodded. “But, that’s not what you wanted to know.”

“The Birds this morning, they were…different.”

“That’s also part of the Rite. The Tarah, that’s the first gift you received,” Blaise nodded towards Harry’s assortment, “is delivered by a special bird, chosen for a particular reason, by whoever is courting you. That same bird will be delivering all the gifts from this point forward. The hope is that a bond is formed between you, through the bird. The point is not to tame the bird, or form a familiar bond, but to utilize it and its uniqueness to share some of your own individuality.”

Harry thought about that. He guessed it made a strange kind of sense. “Thanks.”

Blaise nodded. “Sure.” He grabbed a few of his things and left the room again, wondering if all of the recipients of the Tarah were as confused and bewildered as Harry Potter seemed to be.

Chapter Three

The study group that afternoon was filled with more curious eyes and nosy questions than was probably proper, but there was nothing technically against the rules for anyone to ask about gifts received, nor for the courted individuals to answer, or in fact show off their booty, as one muggleborn seventh year proclaimed his gift.

So long as the Tarah itself, the fabric packaging and ribbon, were only touched by the intended recipient, the gift inside could be shared with others, or sequestered away, as they saw fit. It was their Declaration, and therefore, their choice.

Ian Flagherty arrived at study group with a miniaturized triangular chest which seemed to have several intricate locking mechanisms, each designed differently and with completely different methods of unlocking. Hermione stared at the oddly shaped box for several minutes trying to figure out its purpose before deciding that it would take more time than she probably had to devote to it.

“Why so many locks?” Ron asked curiously. If whatever was inside was that valuable, certainly, there was a better way to keep it safe.

“I like puzzles,” Ian admitted.

“What was inside?” Lavender asked curiously.

Ian grinned. “Nothing.”

Ron and Lavender frowned, confused, but Hermione looked intrigued and Harry smiled. Hannah Abbot looked bewildered, but she had seemed a little bewildered about the whole concept of the Sumo, so no one was really taking offense. Her best friend Susan was immersed in a large book on the Healing Arts throughout the World. Hermione guessed that she wanted to be a Healer. It wasn’t as unique as some of the other gifts she’d seen, but Susan seemed to like it, so that was the important thing.

“What’s that?” Parvati asked curiously as Pansy sat down at the table, a box held underneath her books.

“I didn’t have a chance to drop this off in our room before coming here.” Pansy shrugged. Getting her books out to study.

“Yes, but what is it?” Rina asks curiously.

Pansy turned to her brother, who was sitting across the table from her and raised an eyebrow, silently asking if she should share her unusual gift. Draco raised one back, reminding her that as usual, the decision was hers. She sighed and shrugged. It wasn’t really a secret, it was just, unusual, especially for a Pureblood woman of standing.

She opened the box and removed a few of the items. One, a star-shaped pan that came in two pieces. There were several other pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes. Draco lifted one of the smaller pieces for examination. It was high quality, able to withstand high temperatures and charmed not to stain or warp.

He was impressed. Not only had his sisters suitor chosen items that appealed to her future goals and her secret passion, but clearly the fact that her suitor even knew about that secret passion was evidence of their suitability.

The Patil twins looked at the gifts in confusion. Parvati opened her mouth as if she was going to say, or perhaps ask something, but then closed it, evidently deciding it wasn’t proper. If only everyone in the vicinity had the same manners.

“I don’t get it.” A confused voice said from the next table where a group of seventh-years was studying.

Draco raised an eyebrow at Eleanora McTavish. She had been in Ravenclaw with his cousin and was also a pureblood. If what he knew about the McTavish’s was true, it was unlikely she had ever stepped foot inside a kitchen before.

A snort came from the spot next to Eleanora. “They’re for baking, but what I don’t get is why her suitor would get her something meant for a House-elf.” Ginny Weasley said in confusion. Pansy had stilled at her words but Ginny didn’t seem to notice. “First, they use that ridiculous bird, and now the gift is something a servant would use? Are you sure, the courting is real? Maybe they’re having you on or something.” She eyed Pansy in doubt.

“Ginny!” Ron snapped just as a wandless silencing hex hit Ginny full force in the face.

Because it was wandless, it was hard to tell who had sent it, unless one knew how to recognize the feel of a specific person’s magic. There were several at the table who did, but none of them were especially interested in tattling.

“Suddenly, I’ve decided that I’d rather study alone,” Pansy said as she stood up from the table, gathered her gifts back into the box, shrunk it and moved to leave. Just before she passed the seventh years, she stopped. “Let me know when the meeting has been scheduled, brother.”

Draco nodded, “Of course.”

Ron slumped in his seat and sighed. Hermione watched him sadly, but she didn’t try to cheer him up or tell him that everything would work out. She had learned enough about how things were done in the Wizarding World, especially where matters of honor and respect were concerned, to try to placate him. She had learned that the infamous feud between the Malfoy’s and the Weasley’s began over a matter of honor and disrespect, which was finally being addressed. This latest faux pas had the possibility of unraveling all of Bill and Draco’s hard work.

Draco stood from his seat and nodded once to Harry and then to Blaise and Neville. “It seems I have some family business to attend to.”

Once Draco was out of the library, Neville turned to the youngest Weasley and stared at her for a long moment before removing his hex. “You are very, very lucky I am not in charge of the House you have just insulted for the second time in a single day, Ginevra.”

Ginny opened her mouth to protest but then snapped it shut, realizing that everyone was looking at her with either shock, anger or outrage. It was probably better if she waited and plead her case after everyone had cooled down. It couldn’t be that big of a deal. It was only Pansy. What could she possibly do? She was an orphan, her parents killed during the first war with Voldemort. While it was true she had grown up in the Malfoy’s home, she wasn’t really a Malfoy. She probably didn’t even have a dowry.

Bill Weasley met Draco in a private conference room at Gringotts. The two had a good working relationship due to the many hours Bill had spent helping Draco work on his Manor’s wards and somewhat questionable history. It was due to this friendly relationship that the ire between the Malfoy’s and the Weasley’s had begun to thaw. Bill was the Heir to his uncle’s lordship because his uncle had never had children of his own and his grandfather had disapproved of Molly, therefore Arthur could not inherit the title. Bill’s position as the heir and Draco’s position as Lord enabled them to put the old feud to rest.

Recent events, however, may put that in jeopardy.

“This isn’t a social visit, is it?” Bill asked. He didn’t think so. Bonebreaker, one of the Goblins in charge of the Malfoy accounts, had contacted him and told him he was being summoned to a meeting with Lord Malfoy, immediately.

“Ginevra has insulted my House. Twice.” Draco said quietly. “The first time, I let it pass with a warning, but the second time, I cannot allow it to continue.”

Bill sighed. “What exactly has she done?” He was almost afraid to ask.

Draco motioned towards the pensieve set up on the shelf behind them that Bill hadn’t noticed. “I’ve provided my memories of the events.”

Bill and entered the pensieve and Draco waited patiently for him to return. Once he did, the older man just looked weary.

“I don’t want to cause strife between our Houses again. That serves no one. However, I will not tolerate your sister’s blatant disregard for propriety.”

Bill understood that it wasn’t just that Ginny had insulted Pansy. That had probably happened before, considering the rivalry between the two former houses. But this was about more than that. This was about the Sumo and what it meant, and how Ginny was disrespecting this and the blessings of Lady Magic.

This could partially be blamed on his family and their distancing themselves from the Old Ways. Their parents didn’t seem to have the same beliefs as many, and therefore Ginny probably didn’t give it the respect it deserved.

“I will speak to my uncle,” Bill told him, knowing that his parents had no say in this situation. Not only didn’t they seem to have any control over their daughter, but in matters of the House, they held no power.

Draco nodded. “If it happens again, I will have to take further action that will have consequences she won’t like.”

It wasn’t until much later, when Harry and Neville were alone in their room that the exotic birds made a return visit with two more bundles. Each bird went directly for the correct wizard, set down their burden and waited patiently.

“What are they waiting for?” Harry asked cautiously, eyeing the new gift in trepidation. After the original present, he was afraid of what he might learn about himself that he didn’t know but apparently some anonymous stranger did.

“Either for a reply to their Declaration or for you to tell them to leave,” Neville said moving over to the corner of the room where all the plants had been on that first night. The leafy tree with the thin branches was still in the corner, its leaves stretching out the window the birds had flown through. Neville opened a small box and pulled out a rolled up parchment and a small pouch and returned to the Hawk. He fastened the pouch carefully. “You be careful with these.”

The hawk blinked at him once and allowed the scroll to be fastened as well.

Harry watched in amusement as he lifted a small square object from inside his trunk. He transfigured a piece of parchment into a piece of fabric and tied it around the object and fastened it to the falcon’s leg and then pet the colorful plumage. “There you go. Take it to her.”

After both birds were gone, Neville raised an eyebrow in inquiry. Harry shrugged. “I was going to make a snitch,” he admitted, “but then I thought unless she’s someone like Ginny or Katie or Angelina, that might not go over so well.”

“So,” Neville prodded, realizing the square object was a box of some kind and the real item was inside, “what did you make?”

Harry shrugged. “Nothing fancy. Just a hair clip, with a butterfly. Girls like stuff like that. At least I think they do.” He frowned, wondering if he was wrong about that. He really only had Hermione to go by. He had spent a fair amount of time around Ginny, but she was actually more like her brothers than like a girl, he thought.

“And you know your Compare´ is a girl?” Neville asked.

“My what?”

“Your Compare´.” Neville answered. “Your Magic-Blessed Match. The person who is courting you.”

“Oh, yeah.” Harry nodded. “The magic the Tarah was wrapped in felt…feminine.” He looked questioningly at Neville not sure if he was using the word correctly.

Neville nodded. “So, you could tell it was a girl, but not who it was?”

“There was something…familiar in the magic, but it felt blunted somehow,” Harry admitted.

Neville nodded. “That makes sense. There was probably some sort of masking to block you from recognizing her magical signature, especially if she’s someone who has performed magic with you or near you.” The gift Neville had received had not had any such protective magics on it, but Neville wasn’t sure whether that was because his own gift was alive, or because his suitor felt that Neville wouldn’t recognize his magical signature, or if he just wasn’t concerned whether he did or not.

Harry was about to ask Neville what he had given his own suitor when his attention was drawn by a hissing noise from the corner of the room. He focused and realized there was a movement among the leaves in the tree.

“Leave her be.” Neville said quietly before Harry could move closer. “though you could ask her if she’s comfortable.”

Harry did step closer then and saw the snake wrapped around a branch and over several leaves. It was hard to tell, the way it was coiled around the branch and leaves, but he thought it was probably about sixty centimeters and it was the same shade of green as the tree, so blended almost seamlessly into the leaves. He hissed a greeting at her and then did as Neville asked.

“She says she’s quite comfortable,” Harry said dutifully. He wasn’t entirely certain that he could tell Neville the rest, as she had plainly informed Harry that she was nesting, and came to keep an eye on her dragon’s mate. He had had plenty of confusing conversations with snakes. Sometimes their interpretation of humans and other species were confusing, but Harry was going to guess that there were very few who could qualify as her dragon. It didn’t take Hermione levels of brilliance to figure out that Draco Malfoy was courting his quiet friend.

Neville nodded. “Good. Gaia will be nesting soon, so she needs to have somewhere she feels safe.”

Harry blinked, unsure for a second. “You know her name?”

“Yes, and who she belongs to.” Neville hesitated for a second and then took out his wand. He looked at Harry and said. “I would like to formally align our Houses.”

Harry stared at him for a long moment and then nodded. The idea wasn’t startling, but the timing seemed odd. He took out his own wand.

Neville hesitated for a second. “You understand that by aligning your Houses to mine, we will stand together, in times of war and peace, comfort and strife?”

Harry nodded firmly. “We will stand together.”

Neville took him at his word and they each made their own vows of honor and alliance. There was a bright flash of blue-tinted light indicating the vow was blessed by the Lady. Both young men could feel the vow seal all the way through their magical core as if it was a solid tangible thing.

*

“Well?” Pansy asked in irritation as she brushed her hair in front of her vanity.

“I spoke to Bill. He’s going to talk to Lord Weasley.” Draco sighed as he leaned back on his bed. His owl, Socrates was sitting on his perch, watching him, no doubt waiting for his response to the missive he’d brought him just a few minutes ago.

“What’s that about?” Pansy asked, looking at him through the mirror.

“Oh, I owled Rolf, like Luna suggested, and he’s sending me an invitation for Neville to go to the estate and see if he can bond with a Bowtruckle; a bunch of seedlings just re-rooted, or whatever from their parent.”

Pansy smiled. “That’s lovely.”

Draco hummed. “Perhaps. Maybe I’m focusing too much on the obvious.”

Pansy put her brush down and turned around so she was fully facing him. “It’s still early. You have weeks yet before he needs to make his own Declaration. You can focus on other things after this one. I’m sure he’ll love it.”

Draco nodded. “And what of your suitor?”

Pansy blushed slightly but said nothing else.

“Very well. Moving on. As to this Weasley business,” he continued. There was a sudden shudder that ran through him and he shivered.

“Draco?” Pansy asked moving closer. That was the oddest sensation. She had felt something, but it was almost like an echo, as opposed to something solid and real.

“I’m fine.” Draco shook his head. “If we are not satisfied with their response, we’ll make it impossible for her to do whatever it is she wants to do after Hogwarts. Ruin her marriage options, career choices, whatever. We will see it done.”

Pansy smirked. They may not be evil, but it was still a mistake to cross them.

*

Hermione was doing some last-minute revising in her bed when the oddest sensation came over her. It was like a magical wave that crested, and then it was gone. It wasn’t painful or anything, just…startling.

She looked around the room, wondering if she was the only one to feel it, but her two roommates were both asleep. Putting it out of her thoughts, she went back to her studying.

*

Sirius Black was no longer one for overreaction. In his youth, he had been excitable, and his days as a Hit Wizard had not tempered him overly much. However, his years in Azkaban had nearly taken the fight right out of him. If it hadn’t been for the very real and ongoing danger his godson was in, he would have probably given up.

After his lucky escape in Harry’s third year, Dumbledore had tried to get him to lie low and stay hidden while he tried to pull some strings from behind the scenes to get Sirius’ name cleared. Dumbledore had wanted him to join his Order of the Phoenix and give them a safe place to meet. Dumbledore had wanted Sirius to leave Harry ignorant to his station in life and his Lordship.

Sirius had done something else.

Oh, he had given them their safe meeting place. It was a dreadful place in London with a horrible portrait of his mother, and an ancient House Elf. He had not joined the Order, nor had he stayed in England, or kept himself hidden and quiet.

Instead, he had gone to one of the fortified Black properties in Wales. It wasn’t too far if Harry needed him, but it was distinctly out of the reach of the British Ministries reach. While there was some confusion amongst the muggles regarding countries within the UK, in the Magical world, things were different.

The Welsh had strong beliefs when it came to the Old Ways and their Magical System showed their unity with the land. It was a refreshing change for the strife and separation that one so often found in magical Britain.

The Blacks had ancestry in Wales dating further back than their ancestry in England. Because of this, Sirius was able to enter a Welsh branch of Gringott’s and request an audience with a TruthSeeker Goblin. It was no easy matter, but Wizards, as a rule, did not request audiences with TruthSeekers. In fact, due to their innate ability to read the truth from lie, and other various evasion tactics, wizards tended to avoid them. The fact that a Wizard was seeking one out did intrigue them.

This rare ability did, however, grant them certain rights, when it came to certifying information before the ICW, as to how events may have transpired, even when evidence was sparse. The ICW was satisfied that Sirius was innocent of the crimes the British Ministry had accused him of and cleared him of all charges. They did charge him with his prison escape, but commuted the sentence, as he had already spent more than enough time in prison.

By the time his legal issues had been straightened out, Voldemort had already been resurrected, and Sirius and Harry decided that it was better for him to stay in Wales. He had spent the past few years handling things in secret from Wales, while Harry did what he needed to do. He helped where he could and was a sounding board when that was all he could do.

Now though, the War was finally over, and things were changing. Slowly, but they were changing.

Sirius was surprised when Harry told him about the revival of the Sumo. He had learned about the ritual at his grandfather’s knee and at one time had found the practice enchanting. Then he had grown and seen friends and family, and even enemies die for an asinine cause. He wasn’t sure if he believed in that kind of magic for himself anymore, but for Harry…he still had hope for Harry.

And apparently so did the Lady, if his godson’s bewilderment was anything to go by. He hoped his Compare´ continued to use such wisdom.

However, the Sumo was not what was troubling him now. There had been a disturbance in the family magic earlier, a strong one. It felt like a union bond forming, almost, but not exactly. It was similar to what had been felt in the family magics when Regulus had been bonded as a child in a marriage contract. At the time, the oaths spoken were of alliance and support, and Sirius had felt as though he was gaining a brother, magically speaking.

This felt similar but yet different. It wasn’t a child’s marriage contract taking hold, nor was it a simple matter of alliance. This…this was something else.

Perhaps it might be time to return to England, at last.

On Behalf of your Compare´

You are respectfully invited to

Scamander Sanctuary

To facilitate the bonding process

Neville re-read the parchment again. He had read it three times already, but he still wasn’t sure he had read it correctly.

“What do you think, girl?” Neville murmured as he moved towards the tree and ran a finger down the few scales Neville could see of Gaia’s back.

“Who’re talking to?” Blaise asked as he set a round box on his bed and waved his wand at it, whispering a spell.

“Gaia,” Neville answered absently, mind still on the invitation. He wasn’t sure what to do, honestly. This gift was almost better than the first one, and he wasn’t even sure how that was possible.

Blaise’s head snapped up. “Did you say Gaia?”

Neville nodded. “Yeah.” He motioned towards the tree and stepped aside to Blaise could have a better look.

The Italian’s eyes widened a bit. “Uh, that’s a pit viper. You know that, right Neville?” He asked cautiously.

“I know.” Neville didn’t roll his eyes, but he really wanted to. “She won’t hurt me.”

“Pit Vipers are venomous,” Blaise told him, ignoring for the moment his assertion.

Neville narrowed his eyes. “Just because I didn’t spend the last seven years in Slytherin doesn’t mean I don’t know my way around reptiles.”

“Okay, Okay.” Blaise raised his hand to ward off any more anger. Neville may have been one of the quieter former Gryffindor’s but he was also the one who took out Voldemort’s snake with the Sword of Gryffindor, so he wasn’t going to underestimate him. “Just, where did you learn about snakes?”

Neville raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to get a mastery in Herbology.” He said slowly. “I spend a lot of time in the greenhouses, and outdoors in general. Plants aren’t the only living things you need to be knowledgeable about.”

Blaise nodded and turned back towards the tree and its single occupant, remembering Neville had called her by name. “You called her Gaia? Did Potter tell you her name? Is that how you know she won’t bite you?”

Neville smirked.

“You know who’s snake she is, don’t you?” Blaise asked, knowing it was true.

“I do.” Neville nodded. “But you’re not going to tell him I know.”

Blaise’s lips twisted. “Why not?”

Neville moved past Blaise to the bed, where the round box was sitting. “Because I can get Goblin-grade training ward-stones, which, if I am not mistaken, is something Ian will need to practice with if he is to have any hope of passing the apprenticeship exams. Having an in with a Master Warder or Curse-breaker will not be enough.”

Blaise eyed the former Gryffindor shrewdly. He had never questioned Draco’s intent to Court Neville Longbottom. Draco knew his own mind and once he had made it up, there was no swaying him from his decision; however, he had wondered how someone as quiet and unassuming as Longbottom would fare with as forceful a personality as Draco. How would he survive among the Malfoys? He no longer had any doubts that they truly were a magic-blessed match.

“I agree to your terms,” Blaise said finally.

Neville nodded and turned back towards his invitation. Now how to handle this?

Hermione sat in front of the mirror debating with herself. Harry had sent a lovely hair clip, practically humming with his magic. Once she had touched it, the magic had retreated, satisfied that the right recipient had received the gift. However, she was unsure if she should wear it. She wanted to, she almost felt a need to but also felt that it was too early to reveal herself.

Sighing to herself, she placed the hair clip away and put on one that Luna had given her for her birthday instead.

There was a knock at the door and Hermione looked up as Daphne went to answer the door. She came back with Neville. He looked serious. Not that he wasn’t always somewhat serious, but right now he had that look on his face that Ron described as his Lord Longbottom expression.

“I can go.” Daphne offered.

“Uh, no, this actually may affect you as well,” Neville stated. He looked around. “Is Rina here too? This doesn’t concern her. If she’s around, we can go somewhere else…”

“She left to go see some of her friends,” Hermione said.

Neville nodded. He looked from one girl to the other. This was going to be awkward. “I’m going to have to ask for a vow, that nothing learned here is repeated or revealed until those involved wish it.”

Hermione blinked. She looked at Daphne. She had never had any problems with the other girl, even before this year. “Okay.”

Daphne nodded her agreement and the two witches took out their wands.

“I vow that nothing I discover regarding anyone in this room, nor the Compare´s of those in this room may be revealed without the express permission of all six parties.”

Both girls looked at each other in shock but repeated his words. A flash of light enveloped the room for a moment and then they were left staring at one another.

“Okay. I’m curious.” Daphne broke the silence. “I’m assuming this has something to do with the Sumo?”

“Not exactly.” Neville hedged. “Well, only insofar as we are all participating in the Rite.” He looked at each girl in turn, daring them to deny it.

Hermione nodded and Daphne agreed.

Daphne snorted then, “Well, as neither Hermione nor I have received gifts, it’s also apparent we’re the ones doing the courting.”

“And that brings me to the real reason I’m here,” Neville said. “The situation between Ginevra Weasley and House Malfoy.”

Hermione frowned. “Okay. I was following you until then. I understand that she was insulting. More than insulting really and Draco was well within his rights to put a stop to it. But what does that have to do with us?”

Neville raised an eyebrow in Daphne’s direction asking if she wanted to take the lead on that. The former Slytherin sighed.

“I’m courting Pansy.” She said.

“And Draco’s courting me.” Nevile offered.

Hermione blinked, surprised. “Oh…well that’s…how did you figure it out? Do you think Harry has figured it out?”

“No. He knows it’s a girl, and your magic felt familiar, but, you masked it well enough that he couldn’t actually recognize it.” Neville admitted.

She nodded. “Good.”

“As for Draco, he’s not as subtle as he thinks he is. Plus, his gifts are a little insane. Things only a Malfoy would think are acceptable.” He smiled ruefully.

“You’re going to accept his suit?” Daphne asked.

“Of course he is,” Hermione smirked. “Did you see the way he hexed Ginny the other day? Already acting on behalf of your future family.” She frowned. “Okay, so I get why the situation with Ginny effects the two of you, but why am I involved?”

“Harry and I have officially aligned our Houses,” Neville told her seriously. “I wanted to warn you because I don’t know how this is going to end. If Ginny’s Head of House will take her in Hand, or if it will escalate, but if it gets to a worst-case scenario, there could be ramifications for the entire Weasley family, Ron included.”

“If Harry accepts my suit, I will be a part of his House.” Hermione realized.

“Houses,” Daphne corrected quietly. “And if they aligned formally, then that means that you would be aligned with Longbottom and Malfoy and possibly, distantly with Greengrass as well, hence why I am here.”

“But it won’t come to that, right? The whole Weasley family suffering for her mistake?” Hermione hated to think that things could end like that. Harry had told her that Bill and Draco were working to put the old feud to bed. She didn’t want this ridiculous mess to make things bitter again.

“Draco won’t let it come to that,” Neville said confidently. “But, maybe you can talk to Ron, without giving him all the information. He seemed to understand that what she said was inappropriate.”

Hermione nodded. “He’s trying to learn from his mistakes.”

Neville nodded. “Okay, well I better get back. I have some correspondence to get to before bed.”

Hermione watched him go and turned towards Daphne. “So, Pansy likes to bake?”

Daphne grinned. “She wants to open a Bakery. It’s something of a passion of hers, but so far she’s just baked for Narcissa’s events. Most people think either the elves do the baking or a caterer comes in.”

Hermione smiled. She wondered, idly, if there was a lot of difference between the muggle world and the magical world when it came to cooking and baking. It might be something to discuss with Pansy.

*

Chapters 4-6

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Kylia

Dedicated pantser, who has a fondness for the underappreciated unicorn in every fandom....and a few of the appreciated ones.

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