The Choosing

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
Word Count: 30,500
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.

*

Chapter Four

Hermione frowned down at her desk and the box sitting on the corner. She was a little unsure about this final gift. It was the last one before Stage two began. She had been undecided about what to do. Should she get something that built on the previous gifts or should she focus on something that would give a more blatant clue to her identity?

She wasn’t confident that Harry had figured it out yet. What if he didn’t realize who was courting him and didn’t participate in Stage Two? Or worse, if he got a gift that could have been meant for any girl and not specifically for her? She didn’t know if she could take that kind of disappointment.

She didn’t want to cheat and make it obvious or shoot herself in the proverbial foot and make it obscure, but there was a lot riding on whether or not the Sumo would continue past this one gift. She wondered if Daphne was worried as well. Did Pansy know who was courting her? For that matter did Draco know that Neville had figured it out? If not, then Draco was probably panicking, though in that subtle Malfoy way.

Hermione smiled. She had gotten to know the ice prince of Slytherin a little since the War had ended. She had been helping Harry and Draco with their research into Professor Snape’s cure and she knew that it was only a matter of time before they were successful. She wasn’t as invested in the outcome as the two boys, but she had enjoyed the research immensely.

The time she had spent with Draco made her a lot less worried about Neville’s future than she would have probably been without those long hours spent together. Regardless, Neville knew his own mind. That was a lesson that she had also learned in the past several months. The last year of the war had changed them all, in different ways.

Neville had found an inner strength that was clear to see. Knowing both young Lords as she had come to know them both, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised by Neville’s revelation. She had seen with her own eyes how Harry, Draco, and Neville came together, using their families historical power to make changes in the wake of the War.

Draco had been faced with opposition, at first, but as he was backed by Harry, and had followed through on the agreement made, his opposers had reminded silent. With all three young Lords voting together on many items, it was very difficult for others to get things passed.

Hermione wasn’t complaining because some of the other Lord’s voting blocks were trying to pass ridiculous laws. Some people were too extreme in either one camp or another. It was like there was no moderation.

She sighed and brought her attention back to the box. It was specially made to retain specific temperatures for live animals. This one was designed specifically for reptiles. Neville had recommended a quality breeder, and she had gone to look at the snakes herself. She knew that whichever one she chose had to be compatible with Harry’s magic, as well as her own, and it it would be a familiar to Harry, something he would bond with, and use in his Parselmagic.

There were some beautiful breeds there, some that were unusual. The breeder had told her that she had hybrids, some that were only to create unusual color combinations. Others were to incorporate special magics. The one she had eventually settled one was a beauty. A pale blue pit viper, originally from Indonesia. She had chosen it not because of the unusual color, or because of what type of magic it may eventually grow into, but because something about the snake had called to her, and she knew, that this was the snake Harry would bond with.

“You’re staring pretty hard at that box. Is it likely to bite?” Daphne asked as she set her bag down on her bed.

Hermione startled and turned to the other girl. The two had become friends since Neville’s impromptu meeting. She smiled wryly. “It might.”

“Oh?” Daphne was intrigued by that response.

Hermione nodded and moved to open the box carefully. The snake was in a status spell until Harry woke it, but she was still cautious.

Daphne looked inside and her eyes widened. “Is that the final gift for Stage One?”

Hermione nodded.

“It’s perfect.”

“I hope so. I wasn’t sure if I should get something that would more clearly identify me as the Compare´.”

Daphne shook her head. “No. Your other gifts were all about his Forging ability or about the Parselmagic. The Second Stage is all about how they have understood our offerings, and for them to make one of their own. You can’t make it too easy for them.”

Hermione sighed. She knew that was true, but she didn’t want Harry to think some random person had been responsible. She knew that the Forging ability was something he himself hadn’t even realized until she had given him that first gift. He had talked to her about it, all bewildered about the items in the trunk.

She also knew that Parselmagic wasn’t a known practice, at least not anymore. She believed that once, there had been many Parselmouths. Perhaps in other cultures there still were. Those gifts didn’t necessarily point to her either because it wasn’t a secret Harry was a Parselmouth. Anyone who didn’t automatically think the ability to talk to snakes was a dark gift could easily have thought of those gifts, the same as Hermione had. They may not have had her inside knowledge of his abilities or affinity for it, but they could have taken a chance.

Still, she hoped he would know it was her.

“What did you choose for your final declaration?” Hermione asked, trying to get her mind off of her own worry.

“A Bakery. Well, rather, I found several locations that would suit and compiled all the information, reports, neighborhood, foundation, you know the kind of thing you would look into if you were going to buy a building to convert it for commercial use for food service. Once she chooses which one, I’ll buy it and pay for the remodel.”

“Wow.” Hermione nodded. “Do you know what Draco’s doing?”

Daphne shook her head. “No, but if I know him it’s something insanely extravagant and completely over the top.”

Hermione frowned. Draco had already gotten two extremely original gifts. What else could he possibly do that would surpass that?

*

Neville was working in his greenhouse replanting some trees that had grown too big for their previous pots. He had been out in the greenhouse for several hours, but he hadn’t noticed the time passing. That was usually how it happened when he was in the greenhouses or otherwise engaged in some other herbology task.

“Mr. Longbottom.” Pamona Sprout called from the door to the greenhouse.

He looked up, started at the noise.

“It looks like you have a delivery.” She motioned towards the bird that was sitting on the table just outside the greenhouse.

“Thank you, Professor Spout.” He turned towards the tree and took a moment to finish what he was doing and then stood so he could see what Draco had sent him now.

It was time for the final Declaration, but the Falcon was only carrying a single parchment. Maybe it was like the invitation to choose a Bowtruckle and an explanation or instructions and not the gift itself.

He washed and dried his hands and then sat down at the table. As soon as he did, the bird let go of the parchment and then flew away. Clearly, it wasn’t waiting for a response.

Neville hesitated before he opened the parchment, almost afraid of what he would find inside. All of Draco’s gifts so far had been extravagant. Not so much because they were expensive, but because they were personal, and they showed how much though Draco had put into them, and how Much Draco clearly understood about Neville. He knew that was the whole point of the Sumo, but it was still very overwhelming.

Taking a deep breath he unrolled the parchment and began to read. Then he stopped and read it again, not sure he understood what he was reading. It was a proposal. For an ancient and complicated magical ritual wherein the kin of a witch or wizard could reverse magic done, if they had the wand that was used originally, if the caster was dead, and it was truly their intent.

Neville lay his head down on the table and closed his eyes, not wanting to believe it was possible. Even if they could do this ritual, so much time had passed, would it even work?

It didn’t matter. He had to try.

*

Ginevra Weasley was sitting in a corner of the library with two of her dorm-mates, and two eighth-year girls, Lavender Brown and Rina Paveau. Technically they were studying for a theoretical transfiguration exam. Their new Transfiguration professor was even more strict than Headmistress McGonagall. In actuality, Ginny was using the time away from most of the Eighth Year students to complain about the lecture she had received from her Head of House, her father’s older brother, Bilius. He had been livid about whatever Draco Malfoy had told him. She didn’t know what the big deal was. It wasn’t as if anyone was really going to marry that cow, Parkinson. She wasn’t really Malfoy’s sister!

“You need to stop,” Lavender whispered urgently, looking around the room swiftly. Ginny had been complaining for five minutes about her uncle.

Ginny frowned at her. She knew Lavender and Rina were Eighth Year students but Lavender was dating Ron again, so she figured she was safe enough, and Rina had kept mostly to herself since school started, only being part of a group for meals or study sessions.

“What’s the problem?” Ginny asked, lowering her own voice, though she didn’t know why.

“Lord Malfoy is not kidding around, Ginny. If he made it official with your Head of House…” she paused waiting for Ginny to grasp the seriousness but the redhead didn’t seem to catch on. “He will escalate it if anything else happens.”

“I don’t understand why everyone is making such a big deal out of this. Parkinson is the bitch of Slytherin. She’s always been a bitch. She’s probably a slut too. That’s the only way someone would want to Court her. I bet it’s another one of those Foul Snakes just wanting to get back in her knickers, only for free this time.”

A loud thunk startled all five girls. They turned to see Hermione Granger standing at the table behind theirs, closer to the Ancient Runes section of the library. Her wand was out and aiming at the other students before they could even move.

She moved her wand towards the two seventh-years who hadn’t said anything yet, and then towards Lavender and Rina. “A Vow, from all of you, that you will not repeat a single foul word of what Ginevra has just said, on your magic.” She stared at them seriously and when they didn’t move fast enough she snapped “Now. I will obliviate you if I have to.”

Lavender spoke her vow first, then Rina. The two seventh years were quick to follow after that.

Hermione waved them away. “Off with you.”

Lavender hesitated a moment but then just sighed, defeated. She knew in her bones that Ginny was not getting out of this with a simple apology.

Hermione waited until she was certain the girls had left before turning to face Ginny again. “Do you have any idea what you have just done?”

Ginny looked at her blankly. Hermione sighed, angry and weary. “Draco will have you removed from school for this, at least. Maybe…I don’t know, but he has the upper hand, Ginny.”

“He can’t…I mean…” Ginny paled. “He can’t have me expelled, can he?”

“Not expelled, no, but he can have you removed from Hogwarts while he and Pansy are here,” Hermione told her honestly.

“But…she’s an orphan.” She sputtered. “She has no family, no standing…”

Hermione stood up. “Harry is an orphan too.” She pointed out.

“Yeah, but he’s Harry Potter,” Ginny said as if that meant something, and maybe to the masses, and to people like Ginny Weasley it did. It never had to Hermione. “Sirius Black is his Godfather!” Ginny said triumphantly as if this too held weight.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “And Pansy’s Godparent’s are Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy.” She knew that wasn’t common knowledge, but it wasn’t hard to find out either if you knew where to look.

Ginny paled further then took a deep breath. “Well, no one has to know about this.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione asked.

“You made the others take a vow, so they can’t tell anyone, and…I won’t tell anyone, so, it’s great. It’s a secret.” Ginny sighed in relief.

“No, it’s not great. It’s not a secret.” She narrowed her eyes on the redhead. “You forgot one person in your secrecy pact. Me.” She turned back towards her books and hefted them up again, walking out of the library. She needed to find Draco.

*

Neville made his way across the hall to the next dorm, the letter Draco had provided still clutched in his hand. He took a deep breath and knocked on the side of the door. He’d borrowed Harry’s map to ensure that both Pansy and Ian were out, but that Draco was in.

He really didn’t want an audience for this, and he was pretty sure when all was said and done, neither would Draco.

Draco opened the door and looked at Neville for a moment before stepping backwards and letting him inside. It wasn’t exactly unusual for them to talk or have dealings with one another, at least not since the end of the war, but since the beginning of the Sumo, that had really only been around each other when in class or in groups.

“Is something wrong?” Draco asked cautiously. He noticed Neville was clutching a piece of parchment, and Harry was usually the one who Neville confided in.

“Wrong? No. But…is this really possible?” Neville asked. He stopped. “Wait, don’t answer that. I’m doing this all wrong.” He opened his robes and pulled out a rolled parchment, whistled once, the note coming out sharp and clear.

The Cooper’s Hawk came flying in Draco’s window and sat on the perch left there for Socrates and allowed Neville to attach the parchment.

Neville rubbed one finger along the Hawk’s head. “Take this to my Compare´.”

The Hawk stared at him for a moment then turned his stare to Draco and looked back at Neville, as if to ask if he was sure.

“Yes, go on.”

The Hawk twitched but then flew the short distance to Draco and lifted his leg out for the other boy to take the parchment.

Draco stared at the bird in bemusement but did as he bid. The bird then looked from one wizard to the other before shaking his head at them both and flying out the window.

He raised an eyebrow at Neville. “You want me to open this now, or…” He motioned towards the parchment Neville was still clutching.

“If you don’t mind? I…it’s not that I don’t believe you, I just…could it really work?” Neville asked plaintively.

Draco smiled sadly. “I believe it will. I found the ritual in my cousin’s library.”

“Luna?” Neville frowned. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing Luna would have in any of her libraries. Though her mother was a Malfoy, so it was possible.

“Sirius Black. Well, he told me where to look in the Black libraries.” Draco admitted.

Neville nodded. That made more sense. The Blacks were a Noble and Ancient family, whose history definitely lingered in the dark and the grey.

“Your letter said that blood kin could do the spell, using the same wand. Do you have the wand?” Neville asked.

Draco nodded. “It was given to my mother after the battle.”

“And you can act as the Blood Kin?” Neville asked again.

“I can, and I will, but the connection will be stronger if you allow my mother to do it. Her connection is closer. Bellatrix was her sister.” Draco reminded softly.

Neville nodded, accepting the truth of that. “Will she? I mean, as you say she was her sister, and…” he shook the parchment again, where Draco had given Neville a breakdown of the ritual so he could decide whether he wanted to make the attempt. “This indicates that part of the spell involves a form of legilimency and searching for the memories of the…assault. I’m sure it’s pretty chaotic in there. And legilimency isn’t exactly an easy craft under the best of circumstances, and these won’t be.”

“My mother is an accomplished legilimens. She was trained as a mind healer before my grandfather made her give it up.” Draco told him. “She offered. Bella wasn’t the sister she remembered since before her marriage to my father.”

Neville nodded, feeling much better. “You can open that now…if you want.” He smiled a little nervously. “It’s actually a couple of things.”

Draco was about to do just that when there was a knock at the door. He was going to ignore it in favor of his Declaration. But whoever was on the other side was pretty insistent.

Neville frowned and moved towards the door. He opened it without asking and stared for a moment. “Hermione?”

The girl stared in shock for a moment. “Neville? Is uh…Draco here? I really need to talk to him.”

Neville moved aside and let her in.

”What’s wrong?” Draco asked in concern. It was clear the former Gryffindor was upset about something.

“I just overheard a conversation between Ginny Weasley and four other girls. Two seventh-years and two eighth-years. It was about Pansy.”

Both boys stiffened. “What exactly was said?” Draco asked, his voice a few degrees cooler than it had been.

Hermione opened her mouth but then shut it. While she had every intention of sharing everything Ginny said with Draco, she wasn’t thrilled with having to repeat it word-for-word.

“Draco, you have a pensieve, don’t you?” Neville asked, seeing Hermione’s reluctance.

“Yes, of course.” He answered moving towards a large wardrobe chest he had against one wall. There was another one in the other corner that probably belonged to Pansy. Draco returned with the pensieve and set it on his desk and motioned towards Hermione.

Once she had extracted the memories and placed them in the bowl, Neville and Draco entered. They both watched the entire memory unfold silently.

Draco’s fists clenched as Ginny implied his sister was a whore as well as a slut. This could not stand. They were in a public place anyone could have overheard her. What if the person who was courting her heard that and believed it, or doubted Pansy’s honor or fidelity?

No. This would end now.

Neville put a hand around Draco’s wrist and squeezed.

“I thank you for your quick actions, Hermione,” Draco said as soon as they had returned from the pensieve.

“I don’t think anyone else was nearby to hear her, but I can’t be sure,” Hermione said.

“I know what needs to be done now,” Draco stated.

“You are going to insist she leaves Hogwarts, right?” Hermione asked.

“She is Probrum.” Neville hissed, outraged on Pansy’s behalf. His grandmother would have never stood for such inappropriate behavior. “Without Honor.”

Draco and Neville looked at each other, each weighing the others resolve. Finally, they both nodded.

“We’ll need to go to Gringotts have it validated. I’ll send my mother a letter so she can prepare to respond to any owls we may receive.” Draco said with weariness. He looked sadly at his letter. “I guess I will have to find out about your mystery present later.”

*

Narcissa Malfoy folded the letter and set it on the table in front of her. She looked across the table at her husband. His face was drawn, but she could read the concern in his eyes. After all these years, he couldn’t hide his worry from her.

“Well?” Lucius asked. He knew that Draco’s future hinged on the outcome of the Sumo.

He may not have chosen this path for his son, but he didn’t doubt his son’s faith in Lady Magic or in the Path he had set himself on. He knew that it was his own actions, and that of his father that set their family onto the course that had nearly destroyed their family. It had only been Draco’s strength at the end that had saved their Legacy from falling to ruin.

“Draco and Heir Weasley have come to a compromise regarding Ginevra.” Narcissa began, knowing it was not what Lucius really wanted to know, but it was important information.

Lucius opened his mouth to ask what he really wanted to know but then closed it. Narcissa was stalling as her own lesson in patience, but it was true that the matter with the Weasley’s was important as well. He may not have understood why Draco chose to seek an end to the mutual animosity, but it was probably best that he had.

“What was this compromise?” He asked instead.

Narcissa smiled slyly. “Ginevra has returned home. Headmistress McGonagall has made arrangements with the girls’ parents for her to have a home study for the courses that are practical. Her mother has agreed to oversee her instruction.” She looked across at her husband. “This was the most expedient solution for her education because Draco declared her Probrum to House Malfoy.”

Lucius sucked in a sharp breath. Even when the original disagreement between the Weasley’s and the Malfoys occurred did the Malfoys name the Weasley’s Without Honor. “That’s extreme. Has something else happened? Since the two instances we were informed about?”

Narcissa pursed her lips, her fingers tightening on the table briefly. “Miss Weasley apparently had a semi-public discussion with four other girls regarding the situation after her Head of House spoke to her. She had some…unpleasant and highly inflammatory things to say about Pansy and her place in our family and in proper society.” Narcissa’s voice was like ice as she spoke.

Anger flared in Lucius’ eyes as he listened to his wife. Pansy had been a member of their family since she was born. They were her Godparents and had a magical tie to her. When her parents were killed when she was only nine months old, they had taken her in and adopted her in blood and magic. She was just as much their child as Draco was.

“These girls that she spoke to, are they going to repeat this nonsense?” He asked in a clipped tone.

“I do not believe so.” Narcissa shook her head, tapping her finger against the letter. “The conversation was overheard by Miss Granger and she impressed upon the four students that they would be better served by keeping better company.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware Miss Granger was that close with either Draco or Pansy.”

Narcissa tapped the letter again. “She’s quite close to Lords Longbottom and Potter.” Narcissa took a second letter from an inner pocket and lay it on the table beside the first. “Luna has also informed me that the Houses of Potter and Longbottom have been joined in Alliance and blessed by Lady Magic.”

Lucius sat back in surprise. It wasn’t so much the fact that Potter and Longbottom were Allied that shocked him. They were both significant Lords and wielded their Seats in the Wizengamot with Authority, but if Draco’s suit was successful, then that power would also be joined to the Malfoy family through Draco’s magical union with Lord Longbottom. He had witnessed the results of their combined will on local matters as they pressed their own agenda and subverted the more extreme of the opposing members of the Wizengamot.

“Continue,” Lucius said, more calmly, knowing that if the compromise was not resolved to Narcissa’s satisfaction, she would not be sitting idly by.

Narcissa nodded. “Ginevra’s choices were limited. She could not remain at Hogwarts, as Draco’s proclamation was witnessed and validated by Gringotts as appropriate and just for her transgressions. Beauxbatons would not take her in, considering her situation. Though late in the year, there is a chance she could have transferred to the Americas or another Magical School, however, I doubt Molly Weasley would allow any of her children so far away.”

Lucius snorted indelicately but said nothing.

“Regardless, she will not be a bother to either of our children any further.” Narcissa smiled. Her son had taken care of this matter swiftly, just as she had known he would.

“Perhaps.” Lucius hesitated. “Is she, or any of the Weasleys for that matter, aware of the full measure of such a sanction? This not only affects her schooling. She cannot approach a Malfoy, or Malfoy-aligned person, home or business. She cannot seek aid or counsel, regardless of circumstance. She may not have any dealings with us, or our allies, for any reason, directly or indirectly, In Magical Britain or outside of it. This sanction is permanent, immutable until her Magic has left her and rejoined with her Family’s Ancestral pool after she passes on.”

“The Goblins would have notified her Head of House of all the restrictions when the Sanction was validated, to include any allied Houses,” Narcissa said.

“Hmm.” He took a drink of his tea to give him a moment to ponder the situation. On the surface, it would seem as though Draco had acted rashly, however, the details to Pansy’s place within the Malfoy family had never been common knowledge. It was known she lived with the Malfoys, and most people assumed she was some sort of Ward if they ever gave her place any thought at all. Pansy’s mother had been one of Narcissa’s second cousins so it hadn’t been unusual for them to take her in. However, they had kept their adoption of her quiet. The circumstances of her parent’s death was unusual, and never quite resolved. Lucius had felt, at the time, it was best to handle the matter privately.

Perhaps their strict adherence to privacy and pureblood protocols might have given the wrong impression of Pansy’s place in their family. That didn’t mean that it was okay for someone to disrespect Pansy, her birth parents, or what it meant to be a woman of character. No. Though the punishment was severe, it was fair. Ginevra Weasley was not prevented from getting an education or having a career or a husband, she just couldn’t seek any of those things from the Malfoys or their Allies.

“What of Stage Two?” Lucius asked, satisfied that the earlier matter was dealt with sufficiently.

“Draco’s gift is even now in the lake, attempting to draw Ceto’s favor. I have no doubt when Draco is informed, he will be pleased.”

“Hmm.” Lucius murmured, slightly surprised. This Rite had surprised him at several turns but he could agree that both of his children seemed to be doing well for themselves. “Pansy?”

“Has arranged specialized lessons in using different mediums and the differences between magical works and muggle,” Narcissa smiled. It took Pansy’s eye for detail to figure out the ideal gift.

“Daphne won’t want to be separated for a long period, especially if Lady Magic blesses them.” Lucius pointed out.

“Pansy considered that. The art school is the same one she was looking at that offers the advanced baking and pastry making program.”

“Excellent. Now, about this spell,” Lucius peered at his wife. “It’s dangerous, Narcissa. These kinds of mind magics require finesse and precision.”

“Do not lecture me on the art of legilimency, Lucius Abraxus Malfoy.” Narcissa snapped cooly. “I am the best suited. I am the closest blood relative, aside from Andie, and I spent more time with Bella.”

“Cissa.” Lucius looked at his wife. “You’ll have to navigate through the Longbottom’s fractured minds and locate the memories of what your sister did to them. You’ll have to relive that memory in order to piece back what Bella destroyed.”

“I know,” Narcissa whispered. She placed her hand across his on the table. “Would you rather our Dragon make the attempt instead? He is good, Luce, but, he hasn’t the experience.”

“Seeing Neville’s parents in such a state will be hard for him.” Lucius agreed. “Very well, but we will not rush this.”

Narcissa smiled at her husband. “Of course not.” She stood up. “Let’s go see if Ceta is still playing hard to get.”

Lucius chuckled and followed his wife out.

Chapter Five

Hermione was trying to study one of the books Harry had let her borrow, but for the first time in, well ever, she just couldn’t concentrate. There was this sense of tension just out of reach. She felt like it was just outside of her awareness, but close enough she could sense something off.

She wondered if it was anything to do with what had happened earlier in the day. The vows she’d made those girls take. They’d resonated in her core in an odd way like she was holding them, but not for herself.

It made sense. She had made them on Pansy’s behalf. On behalf of House Malfoy, which, if she understood the interaction earlier was well on its way to being forever tied to House Longbottom. House Longbottom was already aligned with Houses Potter and Black. She felt herself a part of that as well. She wasn’t sure how, or even when it had changed or altered, or why it was she could recognize the difference when just a few days ago she couldn’t. But now, she could feel the power of Harry’s legacy as it joined with her own magic.

She assumed that meant that Harry did recognize the gifts as being from her, and had accepted her Declaration, even though she hadn’t seen an official response yet.

She could wait.

Harry Potter frowned as he looked inside the box. “Is it safe in there?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes. It’s heat regulated, just like for a reptile. You can put a status spell on it after you close it, so it won’t hatch. I would do it, but it would be better if only your magical signature was recognized.”

“How do you know what it’ll look like once hatched? I mean, the color?” Harry asked. He personally didn’t care, but Hermione had been so drawn to the birds when they had come over the summer to research Severus’ cure. She still wasn’t very comfortable around either of Draco’s parents but had spent some time outside around their habitat, when she could. He didn’t want Hermione to be disappointed in this one, even though, according to Narcissa, it had practically chosen Hermione.

“My mother has been breeding Magical Merak’s longer than I have been alive,” Draco reassured.

Harry nodded. “Okay. Thank you.” He closed the lid and fastened it tightly before drawing out his other wand and sealing it in a powerful stasis spell.

Draco raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Harry lifted the box and began to move towards the door. He hesitated for a second. “Draco? I know it’s not necessary, but I want you to know that I agree and support the sanction.”

Draco smiled slightly. “Thank you.” He watched as Harry took his gift and walked away. He wondered, if only for a moment, what their world would look like by the time their own children were ready for school.

Ron found Hermione in the Great Hall. She was standing in front of that creepy tapestry of Merlin and the dragon. There was something about that tapestry that disturbed him.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Ron said as he got closer. They were alone in the Hall, but he didn’t want to make a scene, just in case there was some student out wandering around like they used to do. This conversation really should be as private as he could make it.

He really should ask Hermione to go somewhere else, but, he felt comfortable here. No matter how different the Great Hall looked now, with its new round tables and its strange tapestries, he could still remember all those meals shared with Harry and Hermione and his other Gryffindor housemates. The years at Hogwarts may have been littered with frequent terror, but there had been good times too. Now, his sister had turned this last year into an embarrassment.

“You found me,” Hermione said as she turned around. She watched Ron for a long moment. Her old friend was obviously thinking deep thoughts, but for once she wasn’t sure what exactly had his focus.

“This tapestry is kind of creepy,” Ron said, not for the first time. “It feels like the dragon is watching me.”

Hermione smiled to herself, not surprised by Ron’s confession. He had always been a little uncomfortable around Harry when the subject of his Parseltongue was mentioned. Considering what Hermione had learned about the origins of Parselmagic in the book Harry had given her from the Peverell library for one of her restoration projects, she was not at all surprised that Ron was bothered by the tapestry of Merlin and Kilgharrah.

“My sister’s has been called home.” Ron finally said, moving to sit at a nearby table.

Hermione nodded. “I had a feeling that might happen. I warned Ginny it was a possibility.”

Ron stared at the table for a moment before looking up at her. “Lavender told me that Ginny did something else. She didn’t say what.” He clarified when Hermione frowned. “She told me she took a vow not to discuss it…that you made her and some other girls take a vow…” He trailed off, confused.

Hermione sighed. “Ron, I know your family doesn’t practice the Old ways, and we’ve never really talked about it, what with the war and everything, but the Sumo is based in some pretty ancient magic. Pansy being courted the way she is, it’s serious. I read about the tradition. What Ginny said to her was more than rude or inappropriate.” She paused a second. “In ancient times, a Lord from an Ancient House could duel someone for besmirching his sister’s honor in such a way. Since Ginny is a girl and not quite of age, that means someone else would have to duel in her place. Ordinarily that someone could be Bill because he is the Heir. However, as the incidents occurred at school, you, as her older brother, and an adult, are basically responsible for her, while she is away from the Family’s protection, it would then fall to you.”

“But, that isn’t done anymore, right?” Ron asked, sort of appalled. He and Draco were the same age, but he was not kidding himself that he could win in a duel, even if he had Harry helping him.

“No, but it’s still legal,” Hermione admitted. “Draco has worked hard to end the enmity between your families, Ron. He isn’t happy about this. I hope you know that.”

Ron nodded. He did know that. He couldn’t say he liked Malfoy any more now than he had before, but he did recognize that Draco was not his father, and Draco had made efforts, since the end of the war, to change the way his family were seen, or not so much how others saw them, as how they used their power. Because they still had power. Malfoys had been a part of British Wizarding society as long as there’d been a British Wizarding society. They’d helped to shape some things, for both good and ill. Just because the last few generations had made some bad decisions, didn’t undo what contributions the family had made to the Wizarding world at large.

“I know. I warned Ginny too. But she just…” He hesitated a second, not sure if he should tell Hermione this part.  “This courting thing really got to her, I think.”

Hermione frowned. “Oh? She didn’t seem upset when the Headmistress made the announcement at the welcoming feast.”

“I know. I think she just, well. She never said anything, but I think maybe she was hoping…maybe Harry.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry told me that he told her that it wasn’t going to happen.”

“Yeah, but I think the whole romanticism of the Courting ritual got to her. And Mom was telling her, before we left for school, that men don’t know what they want so he could still change his mind.”

Hermione groaned. She liked Molly, she did, but sometimes she made things more difficult for her children than they needed to be. “So she wanted to court Harry?”

Ron shook his head. “No, I think she was hoping he would court her, but then, your first gift arrived, and she realized someone else was courting him.”

Hermione nodded. “According to the rules, Harry couldn’t court anyone while he was being courted.” She paused. “Wait, you knew that was from me?”

Ron rolled his eyes this time. “I may be thick, but you guys are my best friends. Who else knows Harry so well? Knows him better than himself even?”

Hermione smiled to herself. “You don’t mind?”

Ron shook his head. “No, it makes sense, really. You guys just fit. And it’s because of that, that I really came to ask about the vow you made Lavender and the others take.”

Hermione thought for a long minute, wondering if she would be revealing any confidences if she told him. “I can tell you, but part of it isn’t my story, so you’ll have to take a vow yourself.” she cautioned him.

Ron thought about that for a moment. Did he really want to know more than he already did? Was he curious? Yes, but more than that, he wanted to have some kind of footing at the Weasley family meeting. Even if he couldn’t reveal any specific information he gained, at least he could have a firmer understanding of how things ended up how and where they did.

“Okay.” He took his vow and watched as Hermione cast a strong silencing spell around their table. “Harry and Neville have aligned their magical Houses.” Hermione started.

Ron nodded. This wasn’t news. It wasn’t exactly public knowledge either, but he didn’t think too many people who had seen them in action at the Wizengamot would be surprised either. “Harry told me about that.”

“Right, well what Harry probably didn’t tell you was that through Neville, he is now aligned with House Malfoy, or soon will be. As will I. It was for this reason, I acted on Pansy’s behalf. She is a Malfoy.”

Ron frowned. “Okay, now you lost me. How did Harry and Neville’s alliance involve the Malfoy’s?”

Hermione stared at him for a second but then just shook her head. “Draco is courting Neville, and as of earlier today, Neville returned the interest. It is inevitable that they will be matched, probably blessed by Lady Magic as well.”

Ron’s eyes widened. Ooh boy, when his sister screwed up, she did it right. “So, you made the girls take a vow, to protect Pansy. Because you knew that you’re all aligned, or you will be. Potter-Black, Longbottom, Malfoy, and whoever it is that’s chosen Pansy.” he held up a hand, that was one piece of information he didn’t need to know. “No, I don’t need to know. And unlike my sister, I realize that her Compare´ is just as serious as you and…Draco, apparently.” He shook his head, trying to wrap his head around Draco being the one behind all of Neville’s gifts. That was…actually not that surprising now that he thought about it.

“Can you tell me what to expect at this meeting my Uncle has called?” Ron asked finally.

Hermione thought about the moment earlier when Neville declared Ginny Probrum. “I will say that the consequences may seem extreme, however, they are just, given her actions. Also, they affect her only, not the rest of the family.”

Ron grunted, wishing she had given him more, but understood, now more than he had earlier, that she was in a complicated situation. “Okay. Thanks. I’ll probably stay home for the weekend and come back to school on Monday.”

Hermione nodded and reached across to give him a hug. She watched him as he left the room and she hoped that the rest of the family took the news as well.

*

Harry looked at the final piece of his gift. He wasn’t sure if he had gotten the right things. He had tried to speak to who Hermione was as a person as well as a witch. He wanted to get something that would be compatible with her interests. He had also read that there was a tradition when receiving a gift of a familiar or other magical creature, that it should be reciprocated in kind.

The pit viper Hermione had found for him was exotic and of singular intelligence. He wanted to find her something she would find just as interesting. She may not be able to communicate with the Merak, but Harry was sure she would be pleased, nonetheless.

He also had to appeal to her academic soul and after some thought, and some research of his own, Harry believed he had found something that would please her. Hermione had an interest in restoring old books, caring for the pages and bindings. This had not surprised Harry at all when she had asked him if she could work on some of the older tombs in one of his libraries and she explained why. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for someone as well read as Hermione to become interested in.

Harry had learned that the techniques for restoring such books in the muggle world and the wizarding world were somewhat different, though there was some crossover. He had found an introductory course into the art of bookbinding and restoring in the wizarding world that he thought Hermione would be interested in.

He also used some of the raw materials she had provided in that first gift to create something special for her, to match that hair clip. Maybe now that her secret was out she’d actually wear it.

Harry hoped his gifts showed her that he understood what she had been trying to show him and that he accepted and was ready to move forward.

Now he just had to wait for whatever happened next.

*

Neville watched as Draco formed his part of the circle, Air, and Water. He then sat and waited while Neville completed his part, calling forth Earth and Fire. Their magic wove its way through the circle, combining and joining in ways it hadn’t before when kept separate.

Neville sat in the circle, facing his Compare´´. He placed his hands gently on top of Draco’s, his finger’s grasping Draco’s slender wrist as the former Slytherin did the same to him. Neville could sense Nanto circling the space in an uneven fashion, using the rough mineral stones he had placed around the circle, to represent earth, as stepping stones for his movement, hopping from one to the next.

Gaia also moved silently around them, though in a more cautious manner. Neville knew she was due to drop her eggs soon, so he was almost surprised to see her, but she had been with them during this Rite the whole time, so it was only fitting.

Draco squeezed his wrist once to draw Neville’s attention and then said. “Lady Magic, we summon you forth, on tonight of all nights, so you may witness our pledge and our offering.”

“Earth,” Neville said solemnly settling some bark and Kavew root in the center of the circle between the two of them.

“Air.” Draco set a crystal bell into their circle, a slight breeze moving through the air.

“Fire.” Neville set a candle between them and watched as it flickered.

“Water.” Draco set a stone bowl filled will clear water next to Neville’s candle.

“Spirit.” Both intoned together. Their hands twisted around each other’s wrists until their hands were palm to palm. The magic thrummed between them.

“Child of Earth and Fire, do you accept the Tarrah, as your Compare´ has created for you?” A voice whispered in the air.

“I do,” Neville stated clearly, his eyes locked on Draco’s.

“Do you believe in the promises he has made you, by showing you who he is and how well he understands who you are?”

“I do.” He repeated.

“And do you, Child of Water and Air accept the Ra’at that your Compare´´ has bestowed upon you and your House?”

“I do,” Draco answered, his tone clear and crisp.

“Your vow is true.” the voice said from everywhere at once. “Your match is true.”

Neville and Draco looked at one another as the wind began to move fast, strong enough to blow out the candle and cause the crystal bell to chime. The earth beneath them trembled slightly before all was silent. They heard one last whisper on the wind before they were truly alone.

“So mote it be.”

*

Pansy shuddered slightly as she felt the change in her family magic. She looked across the clearing to where Daphne was meditating. She could see her fingers twitch and she knew she had felt the shift as well. Daphne had only been part of the Malfoy family for an hour so she probably couldn’t recognize the shift for exactly what it was; the addition of a new magic. Strong, elemental magic.

She had never considered it before, but Neville was probably stronger in the elements that her brother was weakest in. Together they would probably be quite the powerhouse. If father had needed any convincing, that shift in family magic probably would have done the job for Draco. However, the one area that Lucius had not disappointed was in how he approached the art of acquiring a spouse, and Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, did consider finding a suitable mate an art form, and the criteria did not necessarily have anything to do with one’s blood status nor bank vault. The Wizarding world would probably be quite shocked by what Lucius found important when choosing a spouse.

Pansy let her eyes watch her own mate and smiled softly. The Greengrasses were an old family, but not as old as the Malfoys. However, it was Daphne’s own sensitivity to ambient magic and her daily meditation regimen that made her more attuned to her magical core. It’s what made her able to focus on her art in a way that Pansy found captivating. That ability had the side effect of making her inclusion into the family magic a little rougher than she had expected.

Daphne released a deep breath suddenly and opened her eyes. She looked around and focused on Pansy. “What was that?”

“That power burst running through the family magic?” Pansy asked with a quirk of her lips. “That was Draco and Neville.”

Daphne’s eyes widened. “Wow. That was intense.” She stood up and walked toward Pansy. “That definitely felt like they were Blessed by the Lady.”

“You think?” Pansy grinned. “My brother definitely chose well.”

“You didn’t do too bad yourself,” Daphne said softly taking Pansy’s hand. “I can’t wait to get you into my studio.

*

Hermione took a deep breath as she set the supplies out in front of her. She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous. She had read about the ritual so many times she could probably recite the words verbatim, but she didn’t want to mess this up somehow.

“You okay?” Harry asked softly, watching her closely.

Hermione nodded and was about to say something when she felt something rush through her. It felt odd. Like power and electricity. She could smell earth and water, even feel heat, as if a bonfire were burning in front of her, but she couldn’t pinpoint where any of it was coming from. Then as suddenly as it had come, it had settled.

Harry smiled. “That’s fantastic.”

Hermione smiled back, though her brow quirked a little as she asked. “What was that, exactly?”

Harry looked at Hermione in surprise. “Did you feel it too?” He had been rehearsing the ritual words in his head so he didn’t forget something important.

Hermione nodded. “I felt something strange once before, but this was different, stronger.”

Harry nodded. “Family magic is a living thing.” He said softly as he picked up her hand. “It gets stronger with each generation. Families with specific magical traits will find that as the years pass those traits get stronger in the later generations because of the well of family magic. Our situation is unique.” Harry said softly, using his other hand to motion between the two of them.

“How so?” Hermione asked. She set the bowl of rock salt in front of her, next to the feather she had brought. She thought it was a bit of irony that she had chosen to use a feather from one of the Malfoy birds before Harry had delivered his gift to her. Now it’s seemed fitting.

“Neville and I are connected, magically. Now that he is connected to House Malfoy, I am as well, through Neville. However, even without Neville, Draco is already a part of my family magic because he is a Black by blood. Our connections are woven even tighter, and given the way things have turned out, I think it’s as it’s meant to be. At least that’s what Luna would say.

Hermione smiled. She didn’t have much patience for divination or destiny, but she didn’t doubt Luna’s gifts. She had seen them too often yield results.

Harry let her hand go and turned to his portion of the elements. He placed a candle and a small chalice filled halfway with water into the circle.

The couple looked nervously at each other and began to speak the ritual words.

“Lady Magic, we summon you to witness this night, our pledge to you and an offering.” Hermione began.

“Earth,” Harry said quietly, as he set a piece of stone into the circle.

“Air.” Hermione intoned as she set a single feather down. A slight breeze wafted around them.

“Fire.” Harry placed a candle between them and watched the flame as it flickered.

“Water.” Hermine placed a curved dish made of seashell into the space between them.

“Spirit.” They spoke together, their voices rising together, their hands coming together and intertwining. Magic thrummed between them like a living thing.

“Master of Death, do you accept the Tarrah as your Compare´ has created for you?” a voice a clear as crystal sang through the trees.

Harry paused at the title but then nodded. “I do.

“Do you have faith in the promises she has made you by showing you how much she understands about who and what you are?”

“I do,” Harry said again, voice slightly stronger this time.

“And do you, Mistress of the lost art of the knowledge seekers, do you accept the gift your Compare´ has bestowed upon you?”

Hermione frowned in confusion for a moment but then squeezed Harry’s hands. “I do.”

“Your vow is true.” The crystal voice said, a sound like a bell ringing. “Your match is true.”

The wind picked up as Hermione and Harry stared at one another and the candle winked out.

“So mote it be.”

*

Sirius Black felt the shift in the family magic and stopped mid-sentence. Mason Delviny blinked at him, nonplussed. His solicitor had been listening attentively for the last fifteen minutes as Sirius explained what he wanted done with several of the Muggle businesses he owned. Sirius shook off the feeling of the family magic shifting and expanding and returned to his explanation.

“We’ve begun the process to close down these two properties per your request. The property in Wiltshire should be ready for warding by the end of the week.” Delviny said as soon as Sirius was finished.

Sirius nodded as he reviewed the document the wizard handed him. Before the other man could begin discussing the next matter on his agenda the door to his left was opened and a young wizard entered with a stack of parchment. He spoke to Delviny quietly for a moment before handing the stack off and leaving again.

Delviny took a look through the stack before turning back to Sirius. “These were just delivered by special messenger. It seems congratulations are in order, Lord Black.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow.

“Your heir has entered into a magical marriage, blessed by the Lady. I’m sure you’re no doubt aware that the British Ministry of Magic tries to ignore such matters, however, they are quite legal, and as such are recognized by the International Confederation of Wizards, as well as the Welsh Ministry.”

Sirius nodded. “I was aware Harry was in a courting period. He was participating in the Sumo ritual.

Delviny looked back at the parchment. “Yes. Their match was blessed by the Lady.” He pulled out another piece of parchment and slid it across the table. “Were you aware that your heir had entered into a Hexator Alliance?”

Sirius leaned back in his chair. “I was aware he aligned our Houses with House Longbottom,” Sirius said slowly.

Delviny nodded. “Yes. His marriage also aligns him with his wife’s House.”

Sirius frowned. “He was being courted by Hermione Granger, wasn’t he? At least that’s what I thought.”

“Correct.”

“But she’s a muggleborn. She doesn’t have a House.”

Delviny tapped a finger on the parchment. “No. Her lineage is masked. She would have to go to the Bank and do a heredity test, but she does have magical ancestors. From the strength of the Hexator, it’s most likely an old line, perhaps one thought extinct.”

Sirius let out a breath. “Okay. What are the other Houses?”

“Malfoy and Greengrass,” Delviny said handing the document over which showed a diagram of the Hexator.

Sirius stared at the diagram for a long minute before making a decision. “Make arrangements with the ICW. Tell them I’ve changed my mind and have decided to take their assignment after all.”

*

William Weasley arrived at his uncle’s house an hour before the meeting was due to start. He had spent several hours the day before discussing the situation with his uncle so they were clear on the situation and the various options open to them, which admittedly were few before they had the family meeting. Bill knew that his parents were not going to be happy with Draco’s judgment, and what it meant for Ginevra’s options. However she had been warned, and she chose not to listen.

“Am I late?”

Bill looked up as his brother Charlie entered the parlor of his uncle’s house. He looked slightly frazzled but better dressed than usual. Considering he spent most of his time around fire-breathing dragons, that made sense. He clearly came prepared for the business at hand.

“No. We have an hour before the rest of the family arrives.”

Charlie nodded and set down on Bill’s right. Bill handed him half the stalk of parchment he’d received from Gringotts. Charlie began reading through it quickly. He’d been given an overview of the situation by Floo, but he hadn’t gotten any of the specific details.

“Ah, Charles, you’ve arrived. Excellent.” Bilius smiled tiredly at his younger brothers oldest sons as he came into the room. It took him longer than he’d like to make his way around and to the head of the table. He sank into the seat at William’s left and breathed heavily. His personal elf popped in and handed over two potions, which he took without issue. “It won’t be long now, my boys.” He whispered roughly once he could breathe and speak at the same time.

Charlie raised an eyebrow at Bill, clearly surprised to see their uncle’s condition worsened to this degree. He had known that Bilius was ill. When Bill had been named his heir, he’d named Charlie a secondary should something happen to Bill. He knew that Bill was going to keep him as heir until he had his own children, but he wasn’t aware that their uncle was so close to death.

Bill shook his head at his brother’s raised eyebrow. “Do have any questions?”

Charlie returned his gaze to the parchment and sighed. “If I understood this correctly. Ginny insulted Pansy Parkinson, who is by all counts a member of the Malfoy family, in blood and magic, on two separate occasions, in front of witnesses, including her brother, the Lord of the House, and her Compare´ in the Sumo ritual?” He looked up at his brother and then his eyes moved to Uncle Bilius who just looked weighted down by grief and weary by life. His eyes moved back to Bill.

“Yes. It was not known, at that time that her Compare´ was present, as the first incident was during the initial delivery of the Tarrah, but it was probable.”

“For the love of Kilgharrah!” Charlie hissed.

Bill’s lips twitched, but he didn’t say anything further. Charlie returned his eyes to the parchment. “There was a third incident.”

Bill sighed. “Lord Malfoy was not present for that one. However, the future Lady Potter was. She took matters into her own hands and made everyone present take a vow not to repeat what Ginevra said and then went to inform Lord Malfoy.”

“And this…what the Goblins have written here, this is what Ginevra said?” Charlie asked incredulously. You don’t call a peer of the realm a whore, or imply it in any way.

Bill grimaced. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Charlie took a deep breath. “Okay. I agree. The probrum is just and fair.” He sighed. “Mom and dad won’t see it that way.”

“Your parents have no say,” Bilius said. His voice was weakened but there was a line of steel running through it which reminded both young men of the man he was in his youth. “I understand that they will wish to find a way around this. I understand that you will both be put in the unenviable position of having to both stand for our House, and face your parents and siblings, but this must be done.”

“We understand.” Both brothers agreed after sharing a look.

“Good. Now, the family should be here soon. Take a moment to prepare. We must present a united front.”  Bilius looked at them both. His blue eyes showing how serious he was, no matter his weakened condition.

*

Hogwarts resumed as usual after the eventful weekend. Ron Weasley returned to school and found himself back in classes and for the first time in a long while he was thinking before speaking. The family meeting had been as unpleasant as he had thought it might be, given what Hermione had warned him about. He had a better understanding of the situation than his own parents, but he was bound by Hermione’s vow not to speak of it. They knew what Ginny had done, and what Draco’s response was, but they weren’t informed for some of the specific details of the events themselves such as who had witnessed each incident, and who had told the Malfoys, for any incident they were not present for. The alliance between the houses was not common knowledge at the present time, nor was it something the Goblins would have divulged. Neither was the matches that resulted from the Sumo ritual, successfully completed. Therefore, Ron’s parents were hoping to get Harry’s aid and influence with the Malfoys in overturning the decision regarding Ginny’s future.

Ron knew that wasn’t likely to happen, but he wasn’t in a position to explain that to his parents. He could, however to the next best thing, prepare his friends for the siege that would no doubt be coming.

He took a deep breath and knocked on Harry and Neville’s door.

The door was opened by Draco, who raised a blond eyebrow at him but stepped back to let him enter.

Ron wasn’t thrilled to see Malfoy there, but it was probably best to get it out to everyone at once. “Is your sister here too? She might want to hear what I have to say as well.”

Draco raised an eyebrow and then turned to Harry.

“Hermione is in the library.” He pulled out a piece of parchment and wrote a quick note and handed it off to Draco. Draco handed it to Socrates, who was perched on the branch on Neville’s tree. Harry had learned pretty quickly that Socrates was a very particular bird. He flew out the window and disappeared from sight. Harry turned back to Ron. “What’s this about?”

“It’s about my parents, and…well the thing with Ginny,” Ron admitted.

Harry exchanged a look with Neville and then with Draco before they all turned to look at Ron.

“We’ll wait for the girls,” Neville said firmly, moving towards his plants.

They didn’t have to wait long. Draco had barely ordered afternoon tea for everyone when the door opened and Pansy, Hermione, and Daphne Greengrass entered.

Ron’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of the third girl. He wasn’t sure why he was surprised. The Greengrasses were an old pureblood family. It made sense that they would want to align themselves to the Malfoys.

“What’s going on, Draco?” Daphne asked when she saw Ron.

“Let’s sit,” Hermione said moving towards the small table in the room. It could fit five so Daphne and Pansy remained standing.

Draco raised an eyebrow at the redhead. “The floor is yours, Weasley.”

 

“Uh, thanks.” He turned to the girls. Greengrass was frowning at him, but Parkinson just looked impassive. “Uh, I wanted to apologize for my sister’s behavior.”

 

Pansy blinked at him and then pursed her lips. “Her actions are her own. You are not responsible for them. But, thank you.” She nodded once and stepped back.

Ron nodded, feeling slightly relieved and sat at the table. “Our family had a meeting yesterday, about Ginny’s situation, being declared probrum, and what it means for her future.” He looked down at the table and cleared his throat and then looked back at his year mates. “My older brothers and our Head of House explained the restrictions to us, so my parents, and my sister are aware of the stipulations.”

 

“But?” Neville asked leaning forward.

“My parents want a chance to see if they can change your mind.” He looked at Draco when he said it, his fingers drumming lightly on the tabletop.

“How do they expect to do that?” Draco drawled.

Ron’s gaze went to Harry and then back to the table.

“I see.” Draco raised an eyebrow at Neville.

“Are they aware of the alliances between our Houses?” Neville asked softly.

“No,” Ron admitted. “They don’t follow the Old Ways. It is unlikely they would be able to sense the resonance between you. As no formal announcements have been made, they haven’t learned of it in a more traditional way.”

Draco smirked. “A more traditional way? What is more traditional than to follow the path of the Lady?”

Ron flushed. “I just wanted you…all of you, to be aware of what might happen next.”

Neville looked to Harry and then to Draco before nodding to each in turn. “We appreciate you bringing this to our attention, Ron. If your parents do seek a way around Ginevra’s sanction, we will clarify the situation for them.”

Ron blinked. There had been a weight to Neville’s words he hadn’t expected. Abruptly he nodded and stood up. “Thanks.” Suddenly he wanted out of that room. He was more than a little relieved that no one in his family was likely to marry into that combined seat of power, nor would he be likely to have to deal with them in any political way, since Bill was his uncle’s heir.

Maybe being just an Auror was perfectly okay.

 

Chapter Six

The eighth-year students who had become part of Hermione’s study group were installed in a couple of library tables towards the back, near where the arithromancy books were kept. They had been working for several hours on various assignments, books being shared between them and help freely offered when needed.

McGonagall hated to interrupt, but she’d had word of an emergency session of the Wizengamot, and three of the sitting members were at the table. She stepped closer and waited. It only took a moment for someone to notice her.

“Headmistress.” Rina Paveau squeaked.

Several of the other students stopped what they were doing and looked up at her. Minerva smiled fondly when she noted both Hermione and lan Flagherty continued writing notes. Daphne Greengrass nudged Hermione slightly under the table while Blaise Zabini gently took the quill from lan’s fingers.

“Now, that I have your attention,” Minerva nodded to everyone. I wanted to tell you how pleased I am that so many of you return to school this year, despite other responsibilities.” Her eyes focused on those students who had responsibilities outside of Hogwarts. “Lords Longbottom, Malfoy, and Potter, if you’d come with me please.”

Hermione took Harry’s books while Pansy took Neville and Draco’s as the three boys left the table and followed the headmistress.

“I wonder what that’s about,” Susan asked absently as she returned to her book.

“They’ve called an emergency session of the Wizengamot.” Ian Flagherty offered as he took his quill back from Blaise. “My grandmother warned me last night it was a possibility.” He went back to his note-taking.

Hannah frowned. “Why would she warn you?” She looked at Susan for help. Susan always understood a lot more about the politics in their society than Hannah ever did. She knew Ian’s grandmother was the Chief Witch of the Wizengamot, but that didn’t really explain why she would warn Ian about a meeting. Ian didn’t hold any Seats, that she knew of. Though he was being courted, so maybe his Compare´ did, whoever that had been?

“What happens here in Britain can affect the wider world, Ms. Abbot. Therefore, the rulings of the Wizengamot can affect the business of the International Confederation of Wizards. Everyone should pay attention, but especially those who have a vested interest in the ICW, as do my family. We represent the Italian ministry there.”

Hannah blinked. “Uh, why are you going to school here if your family is based in Italy?”

Blaise rolled his eyes. “My father was Armand Shafiq. It was his wish that I attend school here, at Hogwarts. My mother acquiesced.”

Ian continued his notes but placed his free hand on Blaise’s arm to calm his ire. Blaise didn’t speak of his father often, certainly not among mixed company. He looked up at the former Hufflepuff. “Have you decided what’s next after Hogwarts?”

Hannah looked down before smiling tentatively. “I’m going to study magical watches and clocks abroad. My father has gotten an apprenticeship for me if I do well on my international NEWTS.”

Ian smiled. “Fantastic. Congratulations.” He turned to the others at the table. “What about the rest of you?”

As the rest of the year-mates began to share their future plans, Blaise relaxed. He knew he was a little twitchy about his parents. He always had been, but no one but his closest friends knew the truth about what had happened to his father. His mother’s reputation as a Black Widow was something that had been unplanned but served her, so she let it continue. She was no killer, not in the way people believed. Still, he would be happy to return home.

*

“This two-thousandth, three-hundred and twelfth session of the Wizengamot is now in session.” Catrine Cornwall-Flagherty stated as she looked out at the assembled Lords and Ladies. She turned to her left. “I realize this session was called for specific business but is there anything from the last session that should be addressed first?”

“We have one matter that should be addressed from the last session. The matter of the re-warding schedule.  There have been some issues that have come up regarding some of the stores. Also, it looks like St Mungos is going to take a few days longer than anticipated.”

Catrine reviewed the parchment in front of her with the schedule on it.  “I see no issue with the proposed changes.” She set it aside and looked back around the room.

“Now, that that is settled, what is this new business that required the calling of an emergency session?” Catrine Cornwall-Flagherty peered down at the audience. “William Weasley.” She looked at the young man. “I understand your uncle left very explicit instructions regarding the Lordship for your House.”

William stood up. “Yes, ma’am. He was very clear on the line of succession. We have had everything validated through the Goblins.”

“Very well.” Catrine nodded. “Take your Seat among us.” She watched as William went to the long-dormant Seat of the House of Weasley and stood before the Seal, hand placed atop the raised symbol of the magical crest. There was a flair of magic and a <> of their family totem and then everything was still. Catrine smiled. It had been several years since the Weasley’s had taken their rightful place in the Wizengamot. The Lord of the House hadn’t had enough magical power to take the Seat, and he hadn’t designated someone else in the family as his proxy, who was magically powerful, so it had lain dormant for too long. “Welcome, Lord Weasley. Now, I don’t imagine your addition to the Wizengamot was the sole reason for this meeting.”

“No, Chief Witch. We wish to bring up the matter of a member of our House being named Probrum by another member of this Body.”

There was dead silence in the room. No one moved for a moment, as if afraid that acknowledging the statement would somehow make it visible and contagious.

“I see,” Catrine stated peering down at Lord Weasley. She leaned back in her chair. “Continue.”

“Ginevra Molly Weasley was named Probrum by House Malfoy. Gringotts has confirmed and validated the accusation as justified.”

The sound of a small bell drew Catrine’s attention, and she nodded. “Lord Longbottom. You have the floor.”

“House Longbottom joined Hose Malfoy in their accusation.”

“As did House Greengrass.” Stated Desmond Greengrass as his Seal lit up.

 

Catrine eyed Lord Greengrass and then Lord Longbottom before turning to Lord Malfoy. “Lord Malfoy, do you have anything to add?”

Lord Malfoy pursed his lips before speaking. “As Lord Weasley has stated, we took the matter to the Horde for validation. They ruled it justified. Lord Weasley agreed, as did Lord Bilius Weasley. We are satisfied and have no desire to have a return to the unpleasant relationship of the past with House Weasley.”

“Very well. This body will consider the matter settled.” Catrine looked around at the assembled Lords and Ladies.

Due to the nature of this session being an emergency meeting it was closed and there were no general audience members, no reporters. Only those that were required for the business at hand. She eyed the few Lords that she thought might have issue with the matter at hand. Lord Potter looked completely relaxed and not unhappy at all. She knew he was close to Lord Longbottom and had become closer with Lord Malfoy since the end of the war. It was doubtful that Lord Potter had been kept in the dark about the situation with Miss Weasley, whatever it had been.

“The second order of business is the transfer of Proxy for the House of Black.”

Catrine turned to Lord Potter who had held the Proxy for the House of Black since the end of the war. He smiled briefly and turned to his left, where the House of Black booth sat. The obscuring veil lifted and revealed Sirius Black sitting in the customary seat.

“Lord Black has returned to take up the mantle of Lord Black.” Lord Potter said unnecessarily as Sirius Black stood and placed his palm over the Seal with the Black Crest. His family totem roared as his magic was accepted and he sat down again.

“Welcome back, Lord Black.” Catrine nodded and then returned her attention to Ogden.

“The final order of business is the matter of our representation in the panel at the International Confederation of Wizards. They are requesting two representatives for the next session.”

Catrine immediately turned to Lord Black with a contemplative look.

“I nominate Lord Black.” Dominique Zabini said once she was recognized.

Catrine considered her grandson’s mother-in-law. She knew Lady Zabini was only the proxy for the Shafiq seats until her son took up the mantle. She was actually a representative of the Italian Ministry on the ICW.

“Seconded.” Desmond Greengrass said.

Catrine looked around the room, curious about who else they might send. “Lord Longbottom?”

“I nominate Lord Weasley.” Lord Longbottom stated firmly.

“Seconded.” Lord Malfoy added before anyone else could make a comment for or against.

“Very well. Motion carried. Lords Black and Weasley will represent the British Ministry at the ICW for the next term. Is there any further business that won’t wait until the next regularly scheduled session?”

When no one said anything, Catrine nodded. “That concludes the end of this session.”

Harry, Neville, and Draco separated from Sirius, who grinned at his godson and said he had an appointment before disappearing out a side door, leaving the three Hogwarts students to look at each other.

They waited for many of the other Lords to depart knowing there was probably going to be reporters out there wanting to know why there was an emergency meeting called.

Before they could make it to the door someone had pushed their way inside. An auror acting as security looked to them with a raised brow asking silently if they should remove them. Neville shook his head, whispering to Draco. “Better than at Hogwarts.”

“Agreed, but we’re to meet my parents after lunch. We asked Lady Cornwall-Flagherty to keep the meeting brief. Let’s not keep the healers waiting.”

As one, the three Lords met Molly Weasley. The witch had pushed her way into the room and had her eyes focused on Harry and was ignoring the other two as if they didn’t exist.

Harry frowned. “Mrs. Weasley.” He nodded at her, trying not to be rude. Things had been awkward since the end of the war. She hadn’t quite gotten over the fact that he and Ginny didn’t get back together, and she didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions he had made.

She didn’t like that he had spoken on the Malfoy’s behalf, or that he was working with Draco to find a cure for Severus. She really didn’t like the fact that he’d taken control of his Lordship and his seats in the Wizengamot as she felt he was too young for such responsibility.

Harry mostly ignored her advice and did what he thought should be done. He was long past doing what other people wanted.

“Harry.” Molly stepped closer to Harry. “I wanted to talk to you.” Her eyes flicked to Neville and Draco briefly before returning to Harry. “Alone.”

Harry turned to his friends for a second before nodding to them. “Go on. I’ll be fine. Good luck.”

Draco dipped his chin once and Neville looked at Harry a moment longer in concern before following his husband out of the chamber.

Harry turned back to Molly. “Follow me.” He moved towards a door in the back hidden behind the area where the Chief Witch sat. There was a small antechamber back there for small conferences. It would do for whatever Mrs. Weasley had to say.

Once Harry had led Mrs. Weasley inside and closed the door behind her, he took a seat at the small table. He stared at her for a moment, waiting for her to say something; when she didn’t speak right away, he sighed. “Mrs. Weasley, you wanted to speak to me?”

“Harry.” She began and then took a breath. “It’s about Ginny.” She paused again. “What happened? You were like one of my own, and then…after the war…I don’t know.”

Harry frowned. “Mrs. Weasley, Molly, if this is about Ginny and…I thought you understood that wasn’t meant to be. We never should have dated at all. I was confused, and Ginny was…star-struck. I told you we weren’t going to get back together, but Molly, that doesn’t have to mean an end to our friendship.”

Molly watched him for a long moment. She finally nodded. “I really wanted to talk to you about what happened at Hogwarts with Ginny, and what the Goblins told us. Can you speak to the Malfoy’s?”

Harry ignored the pursing of her lips as she said Malfoy but shook his head. “Molly. There is nothing I can do. The decision has been made. Neville and Draco made the decision together as is their right. Draco is the Head of House, and you must understand it is his duty to see to the protection of every member. Ginny was out of line in her treatment of Pansy. She was warned on multiple occasions and ignored the warnings. The Horde reviewed the matter and validated the judgment as justified.”

“It was just some silly insults. Nothing damaging. What they’ve done will ruin her life!” Molly shrieked.

“It wasn’t just some insults.” Harry protested. “It was potentially very damaging. Pansy was in the middle of a courting ritual. If her suitor had taken Ginny’s word’s seriously it would have had very serious repercussions.”

Molly rolled her eyes and Harry was tempted to walk away because it was clear she was taking the situation about a seriously as Ginny had.

“Courting ritual!” Molly sneered. “Ridiculous. That ancient rite was outlawed generations ago, and good riddance to such antiquated practices!”

Harry stood. He’d heard enough. “Mrs. Weasley. I understand that you and your husband to not follow the old ways. However, that doesn’t give you the right to disregard those of us that do. I think that I have said all I plan to regarding Ginny’s situation. I can’t help her. Even if I could, I’m not sure would. I stand with Lords Longbottom and Malfoy in this. Good day.”

*

Lord Longbottom led the small group to the private room his parents had been occupying for the past two years. He had convinced his grandmother that moving them from St. Mungo’s might be in his parents best interest. It hadn’t vastly improved their condition, but there had been some very minor improvements to their quality of life.

Neville had been willing to accept any kind of increase to the quality of their lives. He hadn’t anticipated there was any cause to hope for more. Until Draco and his ridiculous, over-the-top gifts. Even now, knowing Mrs. Malfoy was going to try a complicated spell, he was trying not to hope, because that sort of pressure wasn’t fair to her and it wasn’t fair to Draco, and it wasn’t fair to himself either.

Neville paused in front of their door and turned to the Healer Fausten who had walked with them.

“I gave them the sleeping draught as we discussed. It’s a mild dose, so if they are in too much discomfort, they may wake.”

“It will not be painful for them.” Narcissa Malfoy assured.

The healer nodded. “Very well.” She left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Narcissa set a satchel on a table and pulled out a box. She opened the box gingerly and stared inside a sorrowful look on her face. Taking a deep breath she took the wand inside out. There was a small breeze as Narcissa’s magic interacted with the wand’s core.

Narcissa turned away from her audience and faced Frank Longbottom. “To restore my sister’s honor.” She whispered as she began to cast.

*

Sirius Black walked through the Department of Magical Law Enforcement towards the head auror’s office and ignored the people he passed as they stopped and stared. He knew it must be a shock to see him in the flesh, as he hadn’t appeared in Brittan in several years, handling everything from Gringotts, and the Black residence in Wales.

He stepped up to where the office was located and passed several of the aurors desks. Some were empty, some had a few people going through books or parchment, or sending or receiving into-office messages. Most of them ignored him until he bypassed the desk in front of the head-aurors and went straight into the office.

“Excuse me! You can’t go in there!” A young man tried to stop him.

Sirius turned to face the man after he had entered the office. The man looked young, barely out of Hogwarts, and kind of weedy. He was tall and skinny, pale skin, a face full of freckles. He might have mistaken him for a Weasley except for the hazel eyes and the light blond hair. A Malfoy cousin maybe? Or some other distant relation. That hair was sort of unmistakable. Both Draco and Luna had it.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “I can’t? Why not?”

The boy huffed. “That is the Head Auror’s office!” He snapped as if it was obvious.

Sirius grinned. “Oh, is that right? We’re in luck then, because I’m the new Head Auror.”

Narcissa stepped away from Alice and nearly collapsed. Lucius caught her and lead her to a chair. He handed her a glass of water and a vial of Pepper-Up before turning to his son and Neville. Neville was standing between his parent’s beds, with a hand reaching out to both, but not touching either of them.

“Draco,” Neville whispered.

“I know,” Draco said. “Let me get the healer so he can check them over.” He squeezed Neville’s wrist before letting go and slipping out into the hall.

After a moment Draco returned with the healer who nodded to the Malfoy’s and then approached Frank. He ran his wand over the still sleeping form and cast several diagnostic spells. He spent several moments scanning over his head but eventually, he stepped back and looked back to the elder Malfoys. He looked as if he was going to say something but then turned away and moved towards Alice.

The healer repeated his scans on Alice, lingering on her brain scans as well. Eventually, he took a step away from both beds. As far as I can tell they have recovered. I’ve never seen anything like it.” He turned to Lady Malfoy. “Would you be willing to share the spell? Perhaps we could use it on others.”

Narcissa and Lucius exchanged a glance and then looked to Draco. It was Draco who spoke. “You understand that the spell my mother performed was very difficult and required not only great magical strength but inner strength as well?” When the healer nodded he continued, “In addition, the spell must be cast using the same want that was used to curse the victim, and by a blood relative of the purse who did the cursing. Therefore, it won’t be something that could work for every case.”

“I understand, Lord Malfoy, but if it could reverse even one case, it would be worth it.” The healer said.

Draco nodded. “Very well. We will ensure the spell is made available.” He turned to look at the Longbottoms. “Now, as for your current patients.”

“They should wake from the draught within the next fifteen minutes. I would like to keep them here in the clinic a day or two, but if everything is going well, they can then be released. Though most of their condition was mental damage caused by the Cruciatus curse, it did limit their activity and their interaction with others, so I recommend that they ease into interacting with the world again. I am also going to recommend a mind healer. We have a few on staff that specialize in patients who have been in long-term convalesce, and therefore away from the world, or their families for long periods of time. Further, I recommend a short period of physical therapy to them used to physical activity again.”

Narcissa stood, having regained her strength. “Thank you. Please provide your recommendations Healer Fausten, so that we may ensure they are followed precisely. We will discuss the matter of the mind healer with Lord and Lady Longbottom when they are up to such discussions.”

Healer Fausten nodded and departed.

Neville was still standing there, between his parent’s beds, staring at them, like he was afraid if he looked away they would disappear, or this would turn out to be some horrible joke. He turned slowly to face Draco’s parents. His body was only partially turned so he could still keep a partial eye on his parents, but he focused on Narcissa.

“I, uh, I don’t know how to thank you. This is…everything. Even if it doesn’t work, or…” he stopped and blew out a breath. “Just, thank you.”

Narcissa smiled softly. “Neville. You are family. Our Dragon chose you, and he chose wisely. It was my honor to be able to bring some of what you lost back to you. Especially so because in doing so, I have restored a small fraction of the honor Bella too easily tossed aside with her madness.”

Neville swallowed thickly and nodded before turning back to face his parents fully. He noticed that they had begun to stir. His father started to open his eyes and look around in confusion, like he wasn’t sure where he was. He turned his head and spotted Alice. “Alice?”

Alice opened her eyes and turned towards the sound. She spotted Frank and started to smiled, but then she realized there were three four people in the room with her. Two of them she recognized, though they looked older than the last time she’d seen them.

“What? Where are we?” She asked, looking around the room.

“Mom? Dad?” Nevile asked tremulously, stepping forward.

Frank and Alice exchanged a look and blinked at the young man. There was something familiar about him. He looked…a little like Frank’s cousin Phillip, but his eyes were not the same. There were green like…her own. “Neville?”

Alice asked, feeling ridiculous. This young man couldn’t be her Neville he was just a baby, but she couldn’t deny those eyes.

The man took a couple of steps closer to her. He grasped her arm and gave her a partial hug and then just sort of sagged. Alice looked over his head and exchanged a look with Frank, who was watching with a bewildered but sad expression.

“We have a lot to talk about.” Lucius said softly.

Alice looked over at the man in confusion. Her eyes moved over to Narcissa and to the young man standing just at the foot of her bed. If this was truly her son, then that must be Draco. What had happened? They had apparently lost a lot of time.

“It appears we do, Lucius. Can you explain what has happened? Where we are and why we don’t remember anything?” Frank Longbottom looked from Alice to the Malfoys, his voice weak, but growing stronger.

“Where’s mother?” Alice asked, wondering where Frank’s mother was. She hoped nothing had happened to her.

The young man in her arms sat up slightly. “Gran is…I didn’t tell her what we were doing, just in case…well I didn’t want to get her hopes up.” He whispered.

“What exactly did you do, Neville?” Frank asked. He waited for the boy to look at him. “You are Neville, right? Our son? You were barely a boy of fifteen months the last time I remember seeing you, yet here you are…a man.” He took a closer look at his son. “You’ve taken on the Lordship and is that a bonding band?”

Neville turned to Draco, who held out his hand. “Mom, dad, this is Draco Malfoy. We completed the Sumo ritual and were blessed by Lady Magic.”

Alice sucked in a breath. She looked over at her husband and then to Narcissa, who was smiling.

“What is the last thing you remember?” Lucius asked as he brought a chair closer to Frank’s bed.

*

Hermione entered her new room and stopped just inside the door. There had been a bit of room swapping going on after the Beltane Festival and the official end to the Sumo. Pansy had moved into Hermione’s room with Daphne, while Hermione had taken Blaise’s spot in Harry’s room, technically. Blaise had moved into Ian’s room, and Neville and all his plants had moved into Draco’s room.

Harry and Hermione now shared their room with Theo Nott, which was fine with Hermione. He was quiet and spent far more time in the library than anyone who hadn’t been formerly part of Ravenclaw or Hermione herself.

Just now the room was empty, except for Harry, who was trying to meditate or reach a place where he could feel the magic in the air. He had tried to explain it to her, how he could almost sense the energies, and how they tied back to individual people and things. It helped him get a grasp on exactly what his forger ability was really doing.

She wasn’t convinced he truly understood it either, but she let him figure it out in his own way. She watched as the stones he had set in front of him started to levitate. Aithusa started to move around the room, her unusual scales glinting the dim lighting. Harry hissed something to his familiar, and she stopped for a moment and then hissed something back before continuing to circle, her tongue flicking out to taste the air.

There was a noise by the window and Hermione turned to see Ares looking around the room. His tail feathers were folded over his back but he was watching Aithusa circle the room like he was afraid she would get lost or injure herself, which Hermione found amusing.

Ares

 

Hermione smiled at their familiars. She felt at peace for the first time in a long time. The war was over, they were almost finished with the final year at Hogwarts, and while that was sad, they still had much in front of them. They still had much to do, and now they had the time to do it.

With their friends and allies, they would make the world a better place. Anyone who wasn’t ready for that, better either get ready or get over it because change was coming. She could feel it.

The End

Kylia

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

3 Comments:

  1. What a lovely story! I enjoyed the Sumo rites and how the gifts draw the pairs even further together…

  2. This was just lovely, thanks so much!

  3. Lovely. I enjoyed this very much. It is a very sweet rite you have described.

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