Last Time

He was being figuratively pulled apart by his two 'masters' and Severus just wanted the peace and quiet of his own company in a potion lab. He didn't want to keep doing this. He didn't want to be a spy any longer or keep juggling such delicate situations that could easily get him killed if he spoke the wrong word or performed the wrong action. One way or another the war needed to end and there was only one conceivable way that Severus could see that happening now…and it involved the death of the man he'd left sitting at the table behind him.

Chapter Thirty-Eight – The Notts' Christmas Eve Gala

Harry was furious after being informed of Dumbledore's plots with Snape by Kreacher. At least Snape was on their side, as he had come to tell Lucius about Dumbledore's plans the morning after, but that didn't really calm him down any.

But Harry was sick to death of it all. He was almost…almost at the point that he was ready to beg Rodolphus to kill Dumbledore for him. The man was becoming dangerous, he was pretty much unhinged at this point and Harry hated that he was in the middle of it. He wanted to be enjoying his Christmas, the break from his school work and all of his law work and his creature reform. Instead, he was stressed and angry and unhappy and so was Rabastan.

He was furious that Remus had been used against him too. He'd actually gagged a little when Kreacher had told him that Remus was under the influence of potions and that was the only reason that he had 'betrayed' him and Harry felt like an absolute dick for not noticing. He was already planning a way to break Remus free from the potions. The man didn't deserve to be treated like that and Harry's only regret was that he hadn't noticed and had blamed Remus for telling Hermione about his little wobble, but Remus had been drugged up with potions, it hadn't been his fault and Harry felt sick to think that he hadn't realised that Remus wasn't acting as himself. He'd just left Remus to suffer for even longer and he couldn't stand the thought of it.

"I would like to take you for a walk, Harry." Rabastan asked him rather formally.

"I'm really not in the mood, Rabastan."

"That is precisely why I want to take you for a walk, my love. It is Christmas, a time for celebration and I can't bear to see you so upset and angry when you were looking forward to this time of year."

Harry swallowed and he took Rabastan's hand, allowing his fiancé to pull him to his feet. Rabastan was right, he didn't want to be angry or upset, he wanted to enjoy himself. He hoped that a walk with his love would help him calm down and lighten up. He was still angry over Dumbledore's plans and what he had done to Remus, but he couldn't do anything about it at the moment.

Rabastan took him from the house and around the garden, but it wasn't really until they were on their second lap of the considerable grounds of the manor that Harry felt himself relaxing and calming. He pressed up against Rabastan and let go of all the tension in his body.

"I am sorry I've been so sullen recently." Harry said softly.

"Given the circumstances, I believe your behaviour was warranted." Rabastan assured him. "You've found out that someone close to you is being drugged with potions to turn on you, you've found out that Dumbledore had planned to snatch you from the train platform just to try and drug you too, and on top of that, Dumbledore is now planning to drug you at school and force you away from your family…away from me."

Harry sighed. "I just want to enjoy myself. To enjoy the season and your company while I have it, but I'm so stressed, Rabastan. I hate that man for everything he's doing to me, for what he's trying to do to me. I've tried so many times to cut all ties with him, but he won't let me go."

"I'll make him." Rabastan said darkly. "Dolphus and I will take him out."

Harry shook his head. "No, it has to be how I said, Basti. He can't just be assassinated, he's not Scrimgeour. I won't have you or Rodolphus injured or even killed over this. I hate the man, I do and I want him dead, but having your or Rodolphus lose your lives over it is worse. We take him down politically first. We remove him from all spheres of influence and power. We have to strip him of his position of Headmaster next. We need to turn the entire wizarding world against him and make him into a pariah. Then, we have him charged and thrown into Azkaban. We wait a little while to run him down and then we kill him."

Rabastan blew out a breath and nodded. "We will do it your way. I just hate waiting when I know he is targeting you. That he is planning to hurt or even kill you! I cannot stand the thought of it."

Harry smiled and reached out to cup Rabastan's face, pulling his fiancé into a soft kiss.

"We'll deal with it together, my love. For now, let's go back to the house and get some hot chocolate, it's fucking cold out here."

Rabastan laughed, but they held hands as they hurried back into the manor, kicking off thick boots and trying to warm their frozen toes. Harry unwound the thick scarf from around his neck and hung it in the cloakroom by the back door, where his and Rabastan's thick coats also went.

The Christmas Eve gala at the Nott's manor was tomorrow and Christmas was the day after. Harry was ready and he just wanted some fun, a little bit of enjoyment before the real stresses of the new term hit him. He would think more on how to get Dumbledore ousted from his position of Headmaster in the New Year and he would try to break Remus free of the potions controlling him too. Maybe Kreacher could help with that? He would call the house-elf and ask him when he was alone later. Until then he would focus his all on Rabastan and enjoy the celebrations, as he cuddled into his love, a mug of hot chocolate in his red, cold fingers and a gentle hand playing with his hair.


Harry was dressed in beautiful dark purple robes layered over black. He'd refused to wear anything gold, deeming it too ostentatious, instead, he wore a few silver accents and the blue tungsten, platinum, and diamond engagement ring that he loved and was, naturally, his favourite accessory.

The blue ring, instead of clashing with the purple robes, instead brought out the blue hues in the fabric and the robes actually made Harry's black hair look like it had blue hints.

"Don't touch your hair!" Draco shouted from the bathroom.

"Too late!" Harry called back, teasing.

Draco came storming out, to find Harry fixing cufflinks and not playing with his hair, which was still perfectly styled.

"You're an arsehole." Draco insisted.

Harry chuckled. "Rabastan picked these out for me. He has such good taste."

Draco looked at the pair of purple stoned cufflinks. "They actually match your robes, did he buy them special?"

"No, though I'm pretty sure that he has a pair for every occasion and colour combination. He took these ones out of his own trust vault. So, where I thought he had too many pairs at Lestrange manor, he actually has even more because he's storing them in his vault too. He has a proper little collection going." Harry chuckled.

"What are they made from? Those ripples and veins are almost mesmerising."

"It's purple jasper. It's apparently made when blue jasper and red jasper mix or something, Rabastan really can fawn for hours over gemstones, but honestly, he chose well, they match my outfit almost perfectly."

Draco looked at the purple stones, shaped into triangles, that were almost the same colour as Harry's robes, with darker hues at the outside with black veins and spots…they really did match Harry's robes as if they had been crafted especially for this one outfit.

"They really do. I approve." Draco replied.

"Are you ready yet? I thought you wanted to see Theo first?"

"I do and I'm almost ready." Draco told him. "Go and get your shoes on. You're not even dressed yourself."

"I'm not putting them on if you still need to primp for twenty minutes, they're new, they pinch my toes."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Five minutes." He insisted, heading back to the bathroom.

It took Draco seventeen minutes and Harry didn't stop ribbing him for it.

"Alright, Potter, I'm done!" Draco insisted, looking flustered, but finally coming out of the bathroom looking exactly as he did when he walked into it seventeen minutes ago.

"Have you just been snogging yourself in the damn mirror? What did you even change?" Harry demanded.

"Shut up and get your shoes on! Merlin, you're annoying!"

"Not as annoying as you taking seventeen minutes to do nothing!"

"Who the hell would want a little brother?" Draco demanded.

"You will not fight with one another!" Narcissa said angrily as she came into the bedroom from the sitting area. "I thought that you were over all of this nonsense?"

"We're just teasing, Mother." Harry assured her with a crooked grin.

Narcissa eased down, looking at them both. "Teasing?" She asked.

Draco nodded. "We do that sometimes. He's just so annoying."

"You're the aggravating one!" Harry replied. "Mother, he went into the bathroom for seventeen minutes and looked exactly the same when he came back out!"

Narcissa smothered a chuckle. "Put your shoes on, sweetheart." She told him. "Draco, are you ready?"

"I am. I'm waiting on him now!"

"I wasn't putting them on a moment before I needed to, these shoes are new and haven't been broken in yet."

"Like you then." Draco grumbled.

"Was that a virgin joke?" Harry demanded.

"Enough." Narcissa cut in. "Draco, don't tease Harry over that, you know it wasn't his choice to follow the ancient traditions, especially when you didn't yourself but your betrothed has."

Draco's cheeks went a little pink, but he nodded to his mother.

Harry tied his highly shined shoes and squirmed his feet inside them, but there was little room left. They were dragonhide and needed to be worn in before they would fit him properly, but Harry wasn't looking forward to the party and being on his feet all night with brand-new shoes. Unfortunately, he'd tried on his old shoes at Rabastan's behest and found that they were now too small for him from the Ministry party back in August. He was grateful that Rabastan had forced him to try on his shoes beforehand, as the only thing worse than wearing brand-new shoes tonight would have been wearing a pair too small for him.

"I'm done." He declared.

"Let me look at you both." Narcissa said, laying her hands on Draco's shoulders and then looking him over head to toe. She smiled. "Exceptionally handsome, as always." She declared, kissing Draco's pink cheek.

She turned to Harry and did the same, laying her hands on his slim shoulders and looking him over.

"Very handsome, Harry. You both look so elegant tonight. You are getting older and coming into yourselves more. I am so proud of you both."

Harry's cheeks heated along with Draco's and they both stood there, red-cheeked, but for Harry, he was pleased too. He liked hearing that someone, a parental figure, was proud of him.

"Come on, Rabastan is waiting to see you."

That got Harry moving. Rabastan was going to the party tonight and Harry wanted to see his fiancé all dressed up.

He whistled as he caught sight of Rabastan, who immediately turned to look at him.

"You're looking good, love." Harry praised, going to lay his hands all over the pale grey dress robes that brought out Rabastan's blue eyes.

Rabastan chuckled softly, holding Harry with strong hands that didn't even have the hint of a twitch or waver. He was down to just one potion a day now, with an additional potion every other day, and Harry was so pleased and proud of his fiancé and the extraordinary progress he had made since his escape from Azkaban.

"You are very beautiful tonight." Rabastan told him. "Purple suits you, so elegant and regal."

"Regal?" Harry asked, scoffing.

"Purple is the royal colour, my love." Rabastan told him. "Purple jasper is used to make jewellery for royals. I did tell you that you'd rule the world one day."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm leaving now." He joked.

Rabastan pulled him into his chest tight, as if Harry had moved any sort of muscle towards the fireplace.

They kissed, passionately. Hot and heavy and Harry didn't want to let go, but he was aware that he had eyes on him.

True to previous experience, Lucius cleared his throat pointedly, breaking them apart.

Harry heaved in a breath, looking up into Rabastan's dark blue eyes and he grinned. Covering his movements with his body, Harry slipped a hand down to cup the front of Rabastan, squeezing gently, watching those eyes widen in shock.

"I'll see you soon, my love." He said cheerfully, stepping away and heading for the fireplace with a giggle in his throat. He would pay for that last tease. He, of course, remembered the last time they had played this dangerous game of riling one another up, but they were just eight months away from their wedding now and Harry thought that a bit of teasing was only to be expected at this point.

Harry flooed through first, Draco following close behind. A beautiful woman dressed in a gown of pale jade met them.

"Lady Nott, you look lovely tonight." Harry greeted. "Thank you for inviting us to your home."

Lady Sabelina Nott, née Lawson, was an elderly witch just into her sixties. Her silver hair was done in soft curls, with half of it pulled up into a jewelled clasp and half left to tumble about her lightly lined face. It was a shame that she ruined her beauty as she sneered at Harry as if he were a piece of shit brought in on Draco's shoe.

"The children are up the stairs in Theodore's bedchamber. The seventh door on the right." She said, talking directly to Draco as if Harry wasn't in her home, sullying it with his less than pure blood.

How the hell Theo had turned out to be such a nice, level-headed person with Philip and Sabelina for parents, Harry couldn't begin to fathom.

Draco stormed from the room without even thanking her, and Harry didn't feel the need to either. He was new to pureblood etiquette, but even so, he knew how to behave and what was expected of him, but there was no way he was thanking anyone for being rude to him, he'd follow Draco's lead in that.

"I've always hated her." Draco told him. "She's never here at any other time. She's always in Spain, or Greece, or Italy, but she only ever comes back when she can lord over people, like these gatherings. Theo doesn't much like her either. She gave birth to him and passed him straight over to a nanny to raise and he rarely sees her. He doesn't even call her mother."

Draco knew exactly where Theo's bedroom was, having been here countless times before, though this was Harry's first. He knocked on the seventh door from the right of the staircase and a moment later Theo opened it and smiled to see them.

"How are you both? The bitch didn't chase you off?"

Harry was shocked. Draco had just told him that Theo didn't call Sabelina 'mother', but Harry had no idea that Theo called her 'the bitch' instead. He'd assumed that he called her by her first name.

"She tried to chase Harry off, but I am used to her manner by now."

"Harry, I'm sorry for anything she said or any offence she might have offered you."

"I find those sorts of things amusing more than offensive, Theo." Harry assured him, taking the offered hand and the half-hug. "I wouldn't hold other people's actions against you."

"She is a complete joke." Theo agreed. "I barely know her and from what little I have seen, I don't want to know her."

Luna was sitting in the room with a cup of tea, in a beautiful dress of sunshine yellow that made her blonde hair shine like gold.

"Luna! How are you?" Harry asked joyfully, genuinely pleased to see her.

"Harry." She greeted, hugging him and accepting the kiss on the cheek. "I have something to tell you."

"Oh?" Harry asked questioningly.

"Hermione sent me an owl yesterday. I wanted to rip the letter up, but I thought that you should see it first."

Luna opened the strangely furry bag she was carrying and pulled out a letter, handing it over.

Harry sighed, sitting in the small communal area that Theo had at the end of his room, near the fireplace, and he read the letter through twice, Draco hanging over the back of the chair and reading with him.

Hermione's friendly tone was entirely false throughout the letter. Harry knew exactly what she thought of Luna and her uniqueness, so Harry had to grit his teeth while he read as Hermione tried to insist that she and Luna were similar people, who cared a great deal about him, and how she merely wanted to protect him, and that was where the questions started. Who was the mysterious 'Aceline'? Had Luna ever met her? Had she ever seen any bruises on him? Had Luna ever seen him act as if he were frightened of Draco? And more tellingly, had she heard from him over the break thus far?

"I didn't want to show you so close to Christmas." Luna told him softly. "I showed it to Theo, who told me that I should definitely show it to you, regardless of timing. I just hate the thought that they're still trying to ruin things for you and that it might ruin your Christmas."

"I thought it would be for the best to keep you informed of what they're doing." Theo added.

"I'm not angry with either of you." Harry assured them. "Thank you for showing this to me. It helps fit some puzzle pieces together."

"How so?" Theo asked.

Harry sighed. "I trust you both, Blaise too, when he arrives, but no one else, so what I say here needs to be kept quiet."

Luna nodded immediately and, just a moment behind her, so did Theo.

"Dumbledore has been drugging Remus with potions. He never turned against me, not willingly. I was too busy feeling hurt over the perceived betrayal to realise that he wasn't behaving as himself. But, Dumbledore was planning to abduct me from the train platform…"

Luna gasped and Theo cursed colourfully.

"I know. A busy, crowded place, it might have been easy, but for father being right there as we exited the carriage. He was only a short distance from us and he kept his hand on me throughout. There was no time for Dumbledore to try to snatch me while father was holding onto me."

"It's too dangerous for you at Hogwarts." Theo said angrily. "You can't put yourself in his grasp, Harry."

"I must. I need to graduate. I won't delay my own marriage, or my life, because of him! Father is going to speak to the governors and see if they can't remove him for his harassment of me, using the raid by the Law Enforcers as an excuse. He is harassing me, even at school, so hopefully, I won't need to worry about him next term. But, he clearly has Hermione to do his business for him. I'll have to be wary of her too. She is undeniably intelligent, she has a way of surprising people with her logic and the way she applies it in any given situation. Her solution to a problem may not be the best way, but it is always effective."

No one said anything to contradict him, perhaps understanding that out of all of them, he certainly knew Hermione the best.

"What do you think she might do?" Draco asked.

"Anything that Dumbledore asked her to do." Harry replied. "Which is dangerous in itself as he doesn't care about sacrificing one or two for the continuation of his little plots. He might give her an unauthorised portkey to hand to me. She would come under fire for possession of it, but he would get what he wants, which is me."

His friends all looked alarmed at his words, but they had to stop speaking about it when the door knocked. They shared a look and while Harry folded up the letter and slipped it into the inside pocket of his overrobe, Theo went to greet whoever had arrived.

"Your mother is a horror!" Blaise greeted.

"She is no mother of mine." Theo insisted coldly.

"Birth giver then. I'm surprised she hasn't frozen to death yet, given how cold she is."

"You should have seen how she greeted Harry!" Draco complained.

"Along the lines of 'how dare you bring a halfblood poser into my home?'" Blaise said, rolling his eyes.

"Oh, she implied that." Harry insisted. "But she didn't need to say anything, the horrified look as I stepped onto the carpet was enough."

"As if she even lives here." Theo muttered.

"It's alright, Theo." Harry assured him. "I don't hold family members against people." He was thinking of the Dursleys of course, but he needed to lighten the mood a little. "After all, I have to claim Draco as a brother!"

"Oh, fuck off, Potter!" Draco snapped.

"Draco! There are ladies, present!" Theo said, horrified.

"Yeah, Draco. Blaise's delicate disposition can't handle such language." Harry teased. "Be more considerate of your lover."

Luna started laughing as if she would choke and Theo looked at her nervously, as if she would actually choke, and Harry laughed, even as Blaise pulled him into a rough headlock and pretended to strangle him.

"Not his hair! Not his hair, Blaise!" Draco cried, and of course that made Harry laugh harder.

"Your handiwork, I assume?" Blaise teased, even as he let Harry go.

"Yes." Draco snapped, even as he fussed and fixed a few loose pieces, brushing them back into place.

The door knocked again and they all straightened themselves and sobered a little. Depending on who was on the other side of the door they wouldn't be so friendly with one another in front of them, or show themselves up quite so much.

It was Astoria who had arrived and she squealed happily and went straight for Draco, visibly happy to see him again after a separation of just four days.

"You look very beautiful tonight." Draco praised her, holding her out at arm's length and looking her over, almost exactly how Narcissa had looked at them before they'd come. Harry hid a soft smile at the sweet interaction.

Astoria was wearing peach. A sort of soft, pale orange that was almost a shade of pink also. It looked lovely on her, as did everything.

"I…I thought I would show off a little." She admitted, blushing. "This is a dress that I made for myself."

"You made that?" Harry asked, shocked. "Astoria, it looks like it could have come from a fashion show runway."

"Oh, stop it." She demurred, her cheeks reddening.

"Oh no, Harry's right this time." Blaise agreed. "I never would have known. It complements you perfectly, Astoria. Clothing design is truly your calling."

Astoria let out an embarrassed little giggle.

"Well, as Harry has asked me to make his wedding outfit, I suppose I've gained more confidence in my own abilities."

"Then, I am very glad of my choice to use you and your talents." Harry told her. "I get the perfect outfit to get married in and you gain the confidence you need to realise that you were meant to do this…as Draco was meant to be a hairstylist."

They all laughed, even as Draco went pink.

"Don't diminish me just because I actually cleaned up your rat's nest of a hairstyle, Potter!"

Harry laughed, but the door knocked again. People were arriving thick and fast now and as Crabbe and Goyle joined them, then Millicent Bulstrode straight afterwards, they started mingling more instead of teasing one another. They knew the others, all but Harry had grown up with them since infancy, but they weren't close friends.

Daphne arrived just before they headed downstairs to join the 'adult' party, and she was wearing what seemed to be a two-piece outfit instead of a dress. The top covered her arms to the wrist and to the neck and the skirt was floor length, but it looked as if Daphne had taken a pair of scissors to the middle section, cutting it out entirely.

"Mother bought her dress for her, to try and keep her decent." Astoria whispered to him, Draco, Luna, and Blaise as Theo greeted Daphne stiffly and she pulled her head away as he went to give her a simple kiss on the cheek, as was the standard Pureblood greeting. "She hated it, refused to wear it, and even said that she would wear a dress she had already worn before, but father had emptied her wardrobe while she was at Hogwarts. She had to wear the dress that mother bought her or not come at all and she absolutely refused to miss a gathering like this, so she cut up her own dress to make that."

"Well, she has none of your skill, Astoria." Harry told her.

Astoria giggled softly. "No, none. There are a hundred things I could have done to make the dress suit her more, but she knew that I wouldn't do it for her so she didn't ask me."

"I'm surprised she didn't just cut off the sleeves and the hem." Harry said casually.

"Mother was one step ahead of her, Harry." Astoria said with another giggle. "The sleeves, bodice, and the skirt are all charmed to be rip and cut proof, the only part that Daphne could cut was the midriff, because honestly, who would cut a dress in half like that? But this is Daphne now, she has to be showing some skin or she won't feel appreciated." Astoria said cattily.

"It's a consequence of how she gained her identity." Blaise whispered back. "She's slept around so much that she just doesn't know what to do if she doesn't."

"I find that incredibly sad." Harry said.

"We've all tried, Harry." Astoria told him. "As her sister, I tried more than most, but she doesn't care. She enjoys sex and the attention it gives her too much. She scoffs at me for still being a virgin, a mere child in her eyes still playing with my dollies, but she will certainly not appreciate anything that you try to say to her. She sees you as the same. Just a virgin who doesn't know what they're missing. She won't listen to anything we try to tell her because she believes that, as virgins, we can't have opinions on sex as we've never had it."

That was even worse. Daphne seemed to be in complete self-destruct and she wouldn't listen to anyone else.

"Maybe she needs professional help?" Harry offered. "Have your parents tried a mind healer?"

"Oh yes." Astoria replied, surprising him. "There's nothing wrong with her. There is no underlying trauma to explain why she is like this, she truly just enjoys being this way, Harry. Believe me, my parents have done all they can for Daphne, but she doesn't want to change, she enjoys being a whore and sleeping with anyone and everyone. She was barely back from Hogwarts before she took one of father's business friends to her bed to punish father for taking her dresses."

Harry was shocked to hear Astoria claim her sister as such, but looking at Daphne, in the ruined dress, merely because she wanted to show some skin, he couldn't refute Astoria's claim. Using sex to punish her own father seemed drastic. There must have been some sort of underlying trauma to make her behave that way, regardless that a trained mind healer hadn't found anything obvious…or perhaps it was a way for Daphne to gain the attention of a father who had never wanted kids? A father who was publically cold to his oldest daughter and favoured the younger yet had allegedly called them both 'snivelling brats' when asked about them when they were children. Perhaps the public favouring of Astoria was a recent development because of Daphne's behaviour, but still, there was no denying that her behaviour was gaining her all sorts of attention, including from her father, even if it was bad attention she was getting something from it, though Harry doubted it was truly what she wanted or needed.

"She needn't have bothered cutting it." Blaise said. "Everyone here knows her by name and reputation, she could be wearing an oversized sack and she would still be everyone's whore. She must have her eye on someone in particular tonight, though, to go to such lengths."

Astoria's grin was almost evil. As was the dainty laugh.

"Oh, she has high hopes of bedding Marcus tonight." Astoria told them, shaking her head. "Even I know that she'll fail. It's a terrible idea to even approach him, but Daphne always wants what she can't have…or someone she hasn't had before and that's not very many."

Harry scoffed. "She has no chance. Marcus has found someone he actually loves."

"She doesn't understand love, Harry, only sex." Astoria pointed out.

Harry felt sorry for Daphne all over again. He couldn't imagine never being in love.

"She thinks that Marcus will have sex with her despite being in love?" Luna asked curiously.

"I remember she once told me that sex was just sex." Harry said with a frown. "She didn't understand that sex and intimacy can mean more to some people."

"She won't see anything wrong with it." Astoria agreed. "She gets what she wants, Marcus has a bit of sexual relief despite his engagement, no harm done."

Harry shook his head. "Disgusting."

They stopped their conversation when an angry Theo came back over to them.

"Tell me you're leaving her soon." Harry pleaded.

Theo gave him a stubborn look, then smirked. "Sooner than you know." He replied.

"Truly?" Astoria asked. "I would have liked you as a brother-in-law, Theo, but I know how she treats you. No one deserves that."

"I truly am. I'm done." He said, his voice harsh. He took a calming breath. "We should head down." He told everyone, raising his voice to be heard over the small, light conversations.

Harry stayed with Blaise, Draco, and Astoria until they reached the ballroom. It was large, with a tasteful colour scheme, though not really festive. The sparse decorations were a pale, icy blue and white, but everything else was just boring. There wasn't even a single Christmas tree in the room. In fact, there was nothing in the room and the closer he looked the worse it got. It was just a colour scheme and a few banners on the walls. There was nothing to show that it was Christmas, no sign that this was a celebration of any kind, just…just ice blue floors and walls, with a white ceiling to mimic some sort of icy cavern. It was starting to make Harry feel cold just standing there.

Harry veered off the moment he saw Rabastan, crossing the room with eyes for no one else, and of course his fiancé noticed and smirked, opening his arms to accept Harry into them.

"You look even better from across this boring, plain room." Harry told him.

Rodolphus snorted a laugh at his criticism, but it wasn't until Harry heard an indignant huff that he realised that the Lestranges were actually standing with Philip Nott, their host for the evening.

"And just what is wrong with the ballroom that you feel justified in criticising it?" The man demanded of him.

"You could have at least decorated it. You are supposed to be hosting a party, after all." Harry sniped. "It's completely empty but for people."

Harry could feel the rumble of Rabastan's suppressed laughter through his chest.

"Are you an interior decorator now as well?" Philip demanded.

"Clearly a better one than you and your lady wife."

Rabastan actually laughed at that, and so did Rodolphus, leaving Philip Nott red-faced and humiliated, unwilling to say anything against the Lestranges…or too afraid. That hadn't been Harry's initial goal for tonight, given that he hadn't realised the man was standing right there when he'd commented on the ballroom, but honestly, with this man at least, he didn't care about offending him.

"Come, Harry, let me get you a drink." Rabastan insisted. "Our hosts have graciously laid out refreshments for us, if nothing else."

It was Harry's turn to laugh this time, as he took Rabastan's arm and allowed himself to be pulled to the side of the room serving as an impromptu bar.

"I assume you didn't realise he was there?" Rabastan asked him, grinning, even as he picked up two glasses of wine.

"Of course not." Harry said with a smile. "I only had eyes for you, looking gorgeous in those dress robes that I want to rip off of you."

Rabastan's gaze was heated as he looked over Harry's own purple robes and the black suit underneath.

"The feeling is mutual, my love."

"I don't think father would approve of me drinking wine, though."

"You are seventeen, he allows you and Draco a small glass on occasion."

Harry couldn't defend against that, as it was true, so Harry took the glass and told himself it would be his only alcoholic drink tonight. He didn't like losing his awareness around such people, some of whom were 'frenemies' and would insult him from behind a friendly mask and false praise, and some of whom were outright enemies, like Corban Yaxley and Rhadamanthus, who would both be here tonight and wouldn't bother hiding their hate behind a mask or their threats behind sugared words.

Instead, he looked Rabastan over once again, as if he didn't already have his fiancé's image imprinted in his mind.

Rabastan was looking better than ever now that he was almost done with his potion's regime. Him and Rodolphus both. Rabastan's hair was thick and glossy once more, his skin smooth and plump. His body looked strong and he was standing upright. Nothing trembled or twitched or moved without purpose.

Rabastan noticed his rather glazed look and he bent to capture his mouth in a heated kiss. They broke apart gasping for breath.

"We're not going to be trusted to be alone now, are we?" Harry said with a groan.

"No." Rabastan agreed. "It's already been remarked upon that we are touching too much, kissing too often. I believe your mother is the wall between us, the last one standing."

"She wants what is best for me. She wants me to graduate before I focus on married life and babies. I can understand it when applying the same thought to our future children. I would want them to at least finish their schooling before marrying and having children too."

"It is frustrating, however, when all I want is to see these beautiful robes on the floor and your naked body in my bed."

"That can be arranged." Harry purred softly. "You're just not allowed to touch me."

Rabastan growled lowly in the back of his throat and he pulled Harry in closer to his body.

"We'll get into trouble." Harry warned.

"I don't care." Rabastan assured him. "You're worth it and more."

Harry snuggled in tighter himself at hearing that, purposefully rubbing his lower body against Rabastan, who clearly regretted allowing this as his teeth clenched and he had to close his eyes for a moment.

"You're a damn, fucking tease." Rabastan declared.

Harry laughed happily. "I love you too. Eight months, Rabastan, that's all."

"I am counting down every single day until you are my husband." Rabastan assured him.

Harry pressed closer, angling for a kiss, but a hand was shoved into his face and pushed him backwards.

"Enough in public." Rodolphus told them. "People are staring at you both."

Harry was discreetly yanked off of Rabastan and pulled a few steps away by large, powerful hands. Rabastan glared at his brother.

"Do not manhandle him, Rodolphus!"

"Then stop frotting against one another in a public hall."

"But, Dolphus, it makes me feel all tingly." Harry teased.

"You are disgusting and abhorrent." Rodolphus told him, making Harry laugh, but Rabastan was less amused.

"Do not call him names!"

"Do you want to disgrace him?" Rodolphus demanded.

Rabastan shifted agitatedly, but said nothing.

"That is what I thought!" Rodolphus hissed at his younger brother. "Protect Harry's reputation even if you care nothing for your own."

"Rodolphus, you don't need to gatekeep my virtue." Harry insisted. "I would not upset my mother by having sex before marriage, given that she's so insistent upon it."

"Good, now go and play with your little friends while I take Rabastan to cool off for a bit."

"I don't need to cool off." Rabastan snapped.

"Your erection is showing through your trousers." Rodolphus told him unrelentingly, with no hint of embarrassment or shame.

Harry looked, he had to look, and Dolphus was right and Harry laughed happily at the visible reaction he'd caused in Rabastan.

"Oh wow, Basti, really?" Harry giggled. "I think Dolphus is right and you need to cool off a little before I get my hands on that."

Rodolphus rolled his eyes and shoved Harry away, with enough force that Harry almost lost his footing. Rabastan went to catch him, but Rodolphus took his shoulders and marched him out of the doors and into the garden. Harry was left laughing, feeling a little flushed because of Rabastan's reaction to him, but he was happy and pleased, feeling powerful and sexy.

He swapped his empty wine glass for sparkling grape juice, just so Lucius and Narcissa wouldn't fret, before he walked around, doing the needed mingling that was expected of him as Lord Potter-Black.

He needlessly introduced himself to people who already knew him and received introductions from people he already knew, but there were those he didn't know, which is why this song and dance was necessary. Younger children who hadn't been old enough to come last year, distant relatives who were in the country this year around, etcetera etcetera.

He eventually found Marcus in the crowd, who was standing with a petite woman wearing dress robes of ocean blue and an undersuit of sea green. She looked like some sort of ocean goddess. She wasn't wearing heels of any sort, but flat dress shoes made of green dragonhide and she wore no make-up and no jewellery save for the engagement ring on her finger, which was very plain with no stones. Harry liked her on sight, then he always did feel more drawn to the unique people in life. Those who happily went against the crowd and didn't care, like Luna and the supposed Eleanor Fawley, who hated flowers and jewellery, had short-cut hair, and would boldly come to a pureblood party wearing dress robes and a suit instead of a gown.

"Marcus." Harry called out happily, already thrusting out his hand.

Marcus shook his hand, gripping it strongly.

"Harry, I hope you are well? I would like to introduce you to my fiancée, Eleanor."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Eleanor." Harry told her genuinely, because there truly weren't that many people able or willing to put up with Marcus Flint of all people. Harry took a risk and he offered her his hand to shake, instead of holding his hand out for hers so that he could kiss her knuckles.

The two of them shook hands amicably, but those brown eyes lit up with visible pleasure at his actions and Harry knew that he had gotten this, at least, right.

"Likewise, Lord Potter-Black."

"Oh, just Harry, please." He insisted. "I only ask the stuck-up snobs to call me by my title."

"I am liking you more and more." Eleanor chuckled.

"I'm glad. I see Marcus as an annoying friend I can't get rid of, so I hope to get closer to you as well."

"You're the annoying one, Potter." Marcus grunted, glaring at him.

"That is Lord Potter-Black to you, you annoying, snobby arsehole."

Eleanor laughed loudly, uncaring that she drew scandalised looks from those within earshot for her loud, 'unladylike' show of humour.

"So, this is how you treat me now your tutoring sessions are at an end and you no longer need me?" Marcus asked.

Harry laughed and slipped in quickly to give Marcus a hug before darting back again, as Marcus was more likely to hit him than even Rodolphus was.

"You know I am only joking. And I would like to tell you that I scored the highest marks in the class on the mock Ancient Runes exam we did just before term broke up."

"Highest in the class?" Marcus asked, looking at him as if warning him not to lie to him.

"The highest in the class." Harry reiterated with a nod. "While being the newest to the subject, I will add. I even scored higher than Draco and Hermione too."

Marcus laughed happily, looking smug, but Eleanor was trying not to look confused.

"Hermione was my former best friend, a muggleborn witch, but she prides herself on being smarter than everyone else and taking all the top spots in every subject." Harry whispered to her, guessing correctly that she knew who Draco was and that it was Hermione's name that was confusing her. "Taking any top spot from her in any subject is not easy."

"And you managed to do this for Ancient Runes?" Eleanor asked him.

Harry nodded again, grinning. "She was absolutely furious about it too. Her face was a brilliant red when Professor Babbling revealed the results that she had come second to me."

"You can do graduate-level work, I would have been disappointed if you hadn't beaten everyone in your class." Marcus told him.

Marcus' attention was dragged away by someone else calling his name, leaving Harry with Eleanor.

"So, you are the one that Marcus almost chose over me." She said consideringly. "I can see the appeal. We have near the same body shape and size and you are soft and pretty in an almost girlish way."

Harry blinked in confusion.

"I assure you that there was never anything between me and Marcus. There was just no spark. We are friends, Eleanor. He was my tutor and we saw one another as nothing more than friends. We did attempt to take a walk together to see if there was anything between us, but there wasn't. I suspect I am the wrong gender for Marcus' tastes, regardless of how I look, and I was upset that my own betrothed was being pig-headed and trying to push me away, which is the only reason that I agreed to take that walk with Marcus in the first place."

Eleanor scrutinised him, then smiled. "I apologise if my tone was accusational, I have that issue sometimes, I meant nothing by it, only that you and I are alike on the surface and I can see why Marcus tried to court you, even if I am glad that he failed."

She wasn't wrong. They both had short, dark hair. They were both small and slender and lithely muscled. He did not agree at all that he was girlish, but with no make-up on to alter her natural face, Eleanor did look just…entirely human and he could see their similar colouring. Harry gave her a smirk and she smirked right back.

"I think I'm going to like you, Eleanor." Harry declared, slipping his arm in hers, but reversed of how he usually did, so that she was essentially escorting him, which she seemed to really like. Harry could guess that not even Marcus gave her this sort of power in public, but Harry didn't mind. He was used to it as he'd been taught to allow Rabastan to hold his arm like this, but his fiancé didn't mind if Harry accidentally took the 'lead' so to say as Harry was the lord of two ancient, powerful houses, and Rabastan was only an heir to one and as such, Harry's standing was actually higher than his own.

"I already like you." She declared, taking him over to the drinks and Harry allowed her to serve him, instead of serving her. He didn't care for such things, given he hadn't been raised from birth in these circles and wasn't indoctrinated into the social lifestyle, and it seemed to bother her to be treated in a typical ladylike way. He didn't mind stepping back from the formalities to allow her to have a comfortable night.

"So, I've always been curious, what is Marcus like at home? Is he as foul-mouthed and impatient as he portrays in public?" Harry asked curiously, his arm still through hers and letting her decide where they went, ignoring the tongue-clicking and tutting from people they passed for their improper etiquette.

Eleanor chuckled. "He's quieter at home. I'm sure he shouts himself hoarse while at work, but at home, he can relax without anyone judging him. I don't mind watching him in public, pulling up that mask and using his sharp tongue to cut into anyone who crosses him, or me." She said with a grin. "But I prefer it when it's just us at home, when he can take off his mask and relax. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how soft and sweet he can be when it's just us."

"No, I can see it." Harry said. "I'm used to seeing through people's masks and there were moments when he was soft and patient with me during our tutoring. Small moments, very few and far in between." He added with a giggle.

"You didn't get on his nerves like most people do." She nodded. "He told me about you when I asked when he first told me he was tutoring you in runes. He's never tutored anyone before and I was curious as to why he'd agreed to spend his time tutoring you when he's really not a people person, as I'm sure you've noticed." Here the two of them shared a look and a knowing grin. "I wanted to know what made you so different and he said that you didn't whine or complain, not even when he corrected you over and over. He said that you didn't expect him to do your work for you or to just give you the answers and that, instead, you worked them out for yourself. He was impressed with how diligent you were and how much you actually wanted to learn from him and how you focused to work out the things he was trying to teach you and how you always had your work completed and ready when he came back to see you. I am sure he was more patient with you because of that."

Harry smiled. "He's a really good teacher if you can ignore that he has zero people skills."

Eleanor laughed again in her way that received glares and scandalised looks from those around them, but Harry just smiled and took a drink of the grape juice she'd given him.

They wandered around, just chatting like old friends, and Harry was truly enjoying himself, feeling as if he had made a real friend in Eleanor.

Rabastan caught up with him, Rodolphus not far behind, and Harry gave a pointed look to Rabastan's trousers. His fiancé didn't blush, he didn't glare, but his eyes narrowed in warning while Harry gave him a cheeky smile.

"Here you are, your mother is worried, Harry. She hasn't seen you at the party at all."

"Eleanor, I would like to introduce you to my fiancé, Rabastan, and his brother, Rodolphus. My love, this is Eleanor Fawley, fiancée of Marcus Flint."

Rabastan eased down just ever so slightly and Harry gave him a smile…as if he'd leave Rabastan for a woman.

"It is a pleasure to meet you." Rabastan replied courteously.

"Likewise. Harry has spoken a lot about you." Eleanor said, then her mouth twisted into a smirk. "Something about going to your bed and finding your brother in it?"

Harry laughed. "Well, they are very close. They've even come to find me together." Harry teased.

"Harry!" Rodolphus snapped.

Harry laughed. "I tried to sneak into bed with my fiancé, but these two had switched beds! Can you believe that, Eleanor? Can you believe they didn't trust me?"

"Seems to me that they were right not to trust you." Eleanor pointed out. Harry gave her a wink.

"I dislike the ancient traditions." Harry told her. "I'm not even allowed to hold my own fiancé's hand unless we have a chaperone! How ridiculous is that?"

"Oh, I couldn't do it. Some of my favourite parts of Marcus are revealed in bed."

Harry was startled into laughing loudly and Eleanor joined him, the both of them being glared and sneered at for not showing proper decorum at a social gathering.

Marcus followed the laughter and found them both, and he was actually smiling, not smirking, not sneering, but smiling. Harry was glad that he'd found someone he could be truly happy with.

"Rabastan. Rodolphus." He greeted with a nod.

"I hear that Eleanor's favourite parts of you are in the bedroom." Harry told Marcus, giggling.

"I would hope so." Marcus replied with a smirk.

Eleanor dropped Harry's arm and went to Marcus, cuddling in. Harry went for Rabastan, but he also felt Rodolphus' hand in his hair…Draco would kill him.

"Oh, I really like him." Eleanor told Marcus. "We should keep him."

"He already has his own threesome." Marcus told her, nodding to Harry between the two brothers, both of them touching him, and Harry grinned.

"Having a pair of brothers is more exciting." He assured the two, laughing when Rodolphus' hand tightened in his hair. "They know each other so well!"

"Harry!" Rabastan chastised, shocked.

Harry winked and said his goodbyes, letting Rabastan pull him off towards his parents, who hadn't seen him since the gala began.

"So, this is what you talk about when left to your own devices?" Rodolphus demanded.

"It's just teasing, Dolphus. No one who heard would believe it."

"You shouldn't discuss such private business with others, my love." Rabastan told him carefully.

"Eleanor started it, Basti, I was just playing along. I didn't give away any family secrets or anything that could be used against us."

"Good." Rodolphus said shortly, his hand on Harry's shoulder, Rabastan's at his lower back…truly, it was almost like he was in a relationship with them both. He pushed those naughty thoughts away.

"Harry, darling. Where have you been?"

"He has been making friends." Rabastan assured Narcissa, as Harry went to her and allowed her to fuss over him.

"Eleanor Fawley." Harry elaborated. "She is an absolute riot."

"I have been hearing her laugh all over the hall." Xerxes commented, in a backwards way that on the surface seemed to be a compliment, but was actually criticism. "I assume the other voice blending with hers was yours?"

"She is incredibly funny." Harry said with a wide grin. "Plus, I liked all the sneers and glares we got for it. There's nothing better than ruffling the feathers of stuck-up old people."

Xerxes heard Harry's own backwards comment loud and clear and he gave Harry a smile and a wink.

"But, you are alright, sweetheart?" Narcissa asked him.

"Yes, Mother. I've not had any run-ins yet…unless you count both older Notts." He added.

"I had heard about your comments to Lord Philip." She said with a smile. "I have to agree with you on the decorations." She said, whispering to him.

"Or lack thereof." Harry replied, then giggled.

"You are in very good humour, Harry." Lucius complained. "How much wine have you had?"

"One glass, Father. Nothing but grape juice since."

He handed his glass to Lucius, who took a sip to check and then nodded approvingly.

"So you are just very happy?"

"Oh, very happy." Harry insisted, turning to grin at Rabastan, who clenched his jaw to keep himself from squirming as Harry kept reminding him about his earlier condition.

"I am pleased that you are enjoying yourself." Narcissa told him. "Especially given your recent mood. I want you to be happy. Though, you mentioned you'd had a run-in with Sabelina as well?"

"Besides the fact that I hate her because of her treatment of Theo? Yeah, she sneered at me for daring to step onto her ugly carpet and sully her house with my halfblood person."

"Pay no mind to her or any comment she made to or about you, sweetheart. She had hoped to never become a mother." Narcissa told him. "She was forty-six when she had Theodore, after thirty years of marriage and no previous pregnancies. We truly believed one of the two to be incapable of having children. There are those in the circles who admire how quickly she threw her son to the side to carry on doing what she pleased. I have never been one of them." Narcissa assured him, laying a hand on Harry's cheek and pulling him in gently to press a kiss to his forehead.

Harry snuggled in like a much younger child, allowing Narcissa to cradle him, but he had always been denied this in his life, so he didn't care where he was when it was offered, he would seize it with both hands.

"You are such an affectionate boy. I sometimes wish Draco would allow me this comfort as well, but he is his father's son." She said the last glaring at Lucius. "But I am at least pleased that one of my sons is not embarrassed by the affection of his mother."

"Never." Harry declared firmly, tucking his head further into Narcissa's neck.

"Narcissa, I haven't yet had a chance to greet you." The unwelcome voice of Sabelina broke into their moment. "Thank you so much for coming."

Sabelina appeared from the side and she seemed to startle to see Narcissa holding a seventeen-year-old Harry in her arms. Harry didn't move and Narcissa didn't let him go. Neither of them were discomforted or embarrassed by their position.

Sabelina was with a few other ladies, and some of them looked jealous and longingly at Narcissa, the same as the ladies had at the Ministry party when Harry had merely kissed his mother's cheek in public. The public cuddle was seemingly amplifying those feelings of want and jealousy. Narcissa noticed if her sudden move to stroke a piece of his hair from his face was any indication.

"I wouldn't have missed it." Narcissa replied with a sharp smile. "Allow me to introduce my younger son, Harry."

"Yes, the famous Lord Potter-Black." Sabelina said, just barely holding back the sneer. "I had heard that you'd adopted him. I confess I don't understand the notion behind taking in an unrelated burden."

"Of course you can't." Narcissa replied promptly. "How could you understand it, Sabelina dear, when you birthed your own son into the arms of hired help?"

Harry had to clench his jaw to keep from laughing, but he was sure that his lips twitched, just slightly, at the shocked look on Lady Nott's face.

"I gave my husband an heir, that is all that was expected of me. You already had an heir, so why bother taking in another, Narcissa dear? Though, I suppose you took him in at an age close to manhood so there was less to do."

"My only wish is that I had known to do so sooner." Narcissa replied firmly. "I would have lovingly raised my Harry from infancy if only I had known he'd needed me."

That prompted Harry to snuggle in closer and Narcissa's hand went back to his hair, stroking through it soothingly.

"Is he such a babe to be coddled in such a way in public?" Desdemona Yaxley, Lord Corban's poisonous wife, asked, her voice light, pitched curiously, but her eyes were sharp and spiteful.

"My son is a sweet, affectionate boy when he is with me. He feels no need to be stern or aloof at a celebratory gathering, this is not the Wizengamot, Mona. Why would my Harry behave as if it were?"

"Can he not speak?" A large, brutish woman who reminded Harry of Aunt Marge asked. She could only be a Bulstrode…or one of Lucan Selwyn's daughters, which coincidentally was almost the same, as their mother had been a Bulstrode.

"Of course I can speak." Harry cut in smoothly. "But why would I bother interrupting when my mother is doing such a wonderful job of putting you all back into your places by herself? I am rather enjoying the performance."

The scandalised looks on the ladies' faces was worth every word and Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep a straight face.

"I knew that you were not one of us!" Sabelina hissed at him. "You can pretend to be a pureblood all you wish, but your weak blood shows itself at every turn."

"Insult my family again and I will wipe out the entire of yours." Xerxes said darkly, stepping forward and laying a hand on Harry's shoulder, showing clearly that it was Harry he was claiming as family.

There was a very good reason that the Lestranges were feared. There was a reason that Sabelina, and the women with her, paled, their complexions taking on the colour of curdled milk as Xerxes issued his very real threat, especially with Rodolphus looming menacingly just behind his grandfather and known to be unstable and violently inclined.

"I…I would like you all to leave." Sabelina told them, rather bravely in Harry's opinion, though her voice wavered.

"Oh, we're not going anywhere." Rodolphus told her darkly. "No one has that sort of power over the Lestrange family."

"My family and I will also not be leaving. Not at your behest as I believe that I've been here more times than you have in the last decade." Lucius put in smoothly.

Harry bit his cheek harder, as Sabelina trembled, but turned and hurried off, probably to find her husband, her little gaggle of ladies following closely behind her.

"I would like to reiterate that we do not see you as a burden, Harry." Lucius told him. "I know how words can cut into you deeply given your upbringing. We do not all think as Sabelina Nott does."

"Absolutely not." Narcissa replied savagely, tugging Harry tighter into her body. "You are loved and cared for, my sweet son. I do not want you taking anything that horror of a woman said as any sort of truth."

"I won't." Harry assured her, but it felt so nice to have his place reaffirmed in such a way. He hoped that one day there would come a time when he wouldn't need it, and those doubts wouldn't try to claw a place into him, but everything was still too new for that to be today, so he happily accepted the affirmation and allowed it to make him feel happy and buoyant.

"I love you too." Harry whispered to Narcissa and he could feel her smiling. She pulled away from him, but she kissed his forehead and then chided him towards Rabastan and Harry went willingly, burrowing into Rabastan instead of his mother.

"Now that the dramatics are over…" Lucius trailed off. "Have you had any other issues tonight, Harry?"

"None, though Marcus will have some later. Daphne is intent on bedding him tonight. I've literally just met her tonight but I know that Eleanor will happily behead her for it."

"Rabastan had a run-in with her too where she tried the same." Rodolphus told him.

Harry's body went cold and he turned to stare at his fiancé.

"Were you going to tell me?" He demanded.

"I was, just not here where you could easily reach her to curse her." Rabastan assured him. "I was going to wait until we got home."

Rabastan gave a vicious glare to his older brother, before turning back to Harry, his face softening.

"Nothing would have ever come of it, Harry. I would never disrespect you by paying even the slightest attention to anyone else, let alone Daphne Greengrass. Rodolphus only told you because he would find it very amusing to watch the two of you fighting."

"It couldn't even be called a fight as Harry would utterly decimate her." Rodolphus said, sounding much too happy and pleased at the thought.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'll say it again, Dolphus, you need some hobbies!" Harry turned back to Rabastan. "Did she touch you?"

"She tried, my love." Rabastan told him honestly. "I grabbed her wrists to stop her and told her not to touch me."

"He did." Rodolphus insisted.

"Did she just come out and ask you to go to bed with her?"

"Pretty much." Rodolphus said with disgust.

"She didn't recognise me at first." Rabastan told him. "She asked who I was and she looked shocked when I told her my name, but I saw the look of malice in her greedy eyes, I knew then that she was going to try to hurt you. She tried to insinuate that she could show me a 'good time' to help me out as you weren't allowed to." Rabastan said, his mouth pulling into a sneer. "I told her exactly what I thought of that idea, and her, and told her that I loved you and that I would wait until we were married. I only barely restrained myself from giving her a slap, especially as she tried to actually touch me."

Harry gave a satisfied smile, possessively laying his hands over Rabastan, knowing that he was the only one with permission to touch his fiancé in such a way.

"You're a very good-looking man." Harry told him. "I don't blame everyone for wanting you, but I'll kill them, and you, if you dared do anything."

"I wouldn't want to do anything with anyone else." Rabastan assured him and Harry finally settled.

Daphne could try for Rabastan all she wanted. She could try for Marcus, but Harry knew that neither man was interested. She didn't understand why they weren't interested in sex with her because she didn't understand what it was to love anyone but herself. Those who were truly in love, like Rabastan and Marcus, they wouldn't even think of straying. Though if Daphne actually tried to touch his love, however, that was a different matter entirely and he'd use every curse he'd ever learned on her.


The party was winding down as nine O'clock approached. Unlike the New Year's party, which went on until gone midnight, this party wasn't going to go much past ten and it was considered very rude, an utter social faux pas, if a guest did remain past that stipulated finish time. Now was about the time when guests were starting to think about saying their goodnights and heading off, and it was at this moment that Theo made his move.

"Could I have everyone's attention for a moment?" He called out, his voice enhanced with a charm.

He immediately had everyone's attention, as toasts or announcements weren't usual at these sorts of gatherings unless there was big news to be shared and everyone was suddenly very interested in what Theo had to say.

Harry had been mingling, avoiding the prominent form of Rhadamanthus easily enough, extracting himself from another run-in with Corban Yaxley, but now he eagerly moved forward a little, just so that he could see Theo better. There was a little raised dais of sorts, not very big, but it was almost like a stage against the back wall, opposite the tables filled with drinks and nibbles.

"Theodore, what are you doing?" Sabelina's voice cut through the gentle murmuring. She sounded embarrassed and it made Harry grin to think that Theo was taking a small revenge against her as well.

"I would just like to make an announcement." Theo said, not even looking at her. "I have decided to do this now, as I would like to share my news with all."

The murmuring increased, everyone wondering what this might be about. Harry craned his head, cursing that he was still rather short, trying to find Daphne in the crowd. She was actually rather close to the dais, staring at Theo in horror as those around the hall also stared at her. She usually liked being the centre of attention, but not when it was Theo who was offering it.

"Maybe it is a pregnancy announcement?" An elderly woman whispered to her friend just behind Harry. "Merlin knows that Greengrass girl has taken every man in this hall to bed at least twice. It only takes one accident."

"I wonder if they know who the actual father is." The other woman laughed.

"These past few months I have never been more in love." Theo called out loudly, ignoring his hovering parents who tried to look like they knew what this announcement was about and not like they had been excluded from the news like everyone else.

Everyone in the hall either looked at Daphne or looked at Theo as if he were stupid.

"Poor boy, imagine actually loving a woman like that?" The elderly woman complained. "I wonder if it was a knock to the head?"

"Perhaps a love potion?" Her companion offered.

"I have been so very happy and I know that I have found the woman I want to spend my life with."

"Definitely a knock to the head."

Harry tried to ignore the women behind him as he shuffled further forward, wondering what the hell Theo was doing. He had pulled out a very expensive-looking black box and Harry's heart was thumping in his chest. Had Daphne managed to slip him a love potion? But no, she looked horrified, just as surprised by this spur of the moment announcement as everyone else.

Theo opened the box to show the most beautiful ring. It just screamed wealth and extravagance and Harry could see the glitter of it even as far back as he was standing. It was a custom, unique piece, with odd colours and even what seemed to be a centaur-shaped gemstone on the band.

Daphne was staring at the ring with greedy eyes, probably wondering how much she could sell it for, and it took every ounce of willpower Harry had to keep himself standing still and not march over to her and slap that look off her face. Harry decided that Rabastan should have hit her after all as she shifted closer to the dais, her back straight and her cut-up dress showing off her flat, toned belly.

"I would like to ask my love to join me, so that I might have the huge honour of asking her to marry me and become my wife."

Daphne was smiling as she went to stand up on the dais, but Harry wasn't the only one to gasp in shock as another woman also stepped up onto the dais…it was Luna!

Harry was grinning so widely, as Daphne stared in shock, confusion, and a dawning horror as Theo didn't even look at her, but instead held his hand out to Luna and bent to kiss her cheek.

He went down onto one knee before her, presenting Luna with the engagement ring.

"Lady Luna Lovegood, will you do me the huge honour of becoming my wife and making me the happiest man in the world?" Theo asked.

"I will." Luna replied and she too was smiling widely.

Theo stood and took the ring from the silk-lined box, sliding it gently, lovingly onto Luna's finger. It was a perfect fit.

Harry laughed. He couldn't help it and he laughed hard. He wasn't the only one, but there was a little smattering of applause too and Harry joined them enthusiastically.

Daphne looked like she had been bludgeoned between the eyes. She was still standing on the dais, frozen in shock as Theo hugged Luna and bent to kiss her softly on the mouth.

"This is without my permission!" Philip Nott had finally found his voice and he had gone a brilliant red colour.

"I am seventeen." Theo said calmly. "I am my own man."

"I will disown you!" Philip raged, not calming in the slightest as Sabelina laid a hand on his arm, her embarrassment clear and Harry read her lips clearly enough as she begged her husband 'not here'.

"If you are stupid enough to disown your only child and see the end of your family line, then that is on you. My fiancée's father, Xenophilius, passed over the Lovegood lordship himself, but he is more than happy for me to take it over in his place. I am not so proud of my birth name that I would refuse to take on my wife's name when it has been offered to me. I am willing to do just about anything for the love of my Luna and these last few months, trying to hide our relationship, our love, have been some of the most difficult of my life."

Harry couldn't wipe the grin from his face. Theo had played this perfectly and he had his father backed into a tight corner, and it was getting tighter by the moment. Theo was Lord Philip's only child, he didn't even have a daughter to pass the lordship and family name to. He only had the one sibling himself, a sister, Theodosia, who was married to Lord Mark Flint, whose only child was Marcus. Marcus, and the huge gamble of him maybe producing a younger son for the Nott lordship, was Philip's only hope of continuing his line if he did disown Theo.

"I have other options!" Philip was saying desperately. "My sister had a son! Marcus is a better man than you, if he permits, his younger son could claim the Nott name and lordship!"

"That won't be happening." Marcus' strong, loud voice cut in and Harry's cackle could only be described as purely evil. "My children will be born Flints and they will not be claiming any impoverished titles to drag our house down to your level."

Philip was left red-faced and stuttering as his only other option was abolished before his eyes, in public no less. No lord, no pureblooded family, ever wanted to be the very last of their long, noble histories. To be forever known as the one who had ended such prestige and tradition. Philip had a choice, accept his only child and his chosen spouse or be the end of House Nott.

Harry watched with growing amusement as Philip warred with himself. As his mouth opened and closed with no words. Sabelina looked so embarrassed that Harry was surprised that her magic didn't just react to her emotions and open the floor for her to sink through.

"I have made my choice. I might never be a Nott again, but I can be a Lovegood and that is fair trade in my eyes to be with the woman I love." Theo told his parents loudly, his arm wrapped tightly around Luna.

Philip Nott trembled to hear his only son all but disowning himself. Theo had left him no choice at all and he would have to accept that Luna would be Theo's wife, and she would not come with any sort of dowry as it hadn't been agreed upon beforehand. There was no contract here, only love.

"This is Potter's fault." Philip suddenly sneered and Harry inhaled deeply as he was now the centre of attention as those who knew where he'd been stood turned to look at him.

"That is Lord Potter-Black to you." Harry said firmly, trying to calm down the immediate surge of adrenaline at suddenly being thrust into this argument when he truthfully hadn't been expecting it.

"You are always meddling!" Philip raged. "In the Wizengamot, with the ancient laws and traditions, with the Parkinson's betrothal, and now with my own family!"

"Harry had no part in my decision. He didn't even know what I was planning to do. Luna and I told no one about our intention to marry." Theo cut in angrily.

"You only met that girl through him!" Philip hissed, and yeah, that was true enough.

Harry had joined the pureblood circles, and Luna, being the only friend who had stayed beside him through the massive upheaval he'd been through, had come with him. It was his fault that Luna and Theo had been properly introduced. It was his fault that they had started spending so much time together and apparently got to know one another well enough to actually fall in love. There was no argument he could use against that.

"In my opinion, they make a very lovely, strong couple." Harry put in, instead of arguing about introducing them.

"No one asked you for your opinion!" Philip raged, taking a threatening step towards him.

"You have also embarrassed my house today." Another voice cut in.

Harry turned to his left and stared at Lord Harvey Greengrass…Daphne's father. Of course he would be upset with Theo ditching Daphne. Where Lord Philip was counting on Theo marrying Daphne for the dowry involved, Lord Harvey knew that his daughter and her behaviour had damaged her reputation and her marriageability. He had been counting on Theo marrying Daphne to still give her a respectable match despite her proclivities and he'd believed, before this, that he was the one who'd had Lord Philip bent over a barrel, only for Theo to slip the chains that bound him and seize that power for himself.

A hand touched his arm and Harry relaxed just slightly as he smelt the familiar cologne that Rabastan preferred. His fiancé said nothing, but his presence alone was very reassuring. Harry wasn't alone in this fight. Rabastan had his back.

"I think the standing of your house was ruined long before I came along." Harry insisted to Lord Harvey. "Your only saving grace is that Astoria is also your daughter and truly, if any girls were ever complete opposites, it is Daphne and Astoria."

"Tread carefully, Harry." Rabastan whispered, just barely.

"I am of the opinion that you are blaming my son as a convenient target, Harvey." Lucius' smooth, silky voice cut in as he stepped forward and stood beside him, an arm thrown out in front of Harry's body, a clear sign of protection. "The behaviour of your older daughter is well known by all in this room and she started long before I ever adopted Harry as my own. Continue to harass my son over decisions made by you and your daughter and you will find that both of your daughters end up with broken contracts by the end of the night."

Harry swallowed at that threat, as he knew how very much Draco and Astoria were coming to love one another, but Harry was hoping that it was an empty threat. The very last thing that Lord Harvey wanted right now was two daughters he couldn't marry off. He had no sons. He didn't like the children he did have and he hadn't wanted them, but he had had them for the sake of his family, his house, after the sudden death of his older brother, Dara. His only hope of carrying on the Greengrass family and bloodline was to marry Daphne and Astoria well and he'd thought he had done as such. Daphne's contract was now in tatters, he couldn't afford the same for Astoria.

Harry calmed a little as he came to the conclusion that Lucius held all of the power and he watched that realisation wash over Harvey Greengrass as well. He said nothing, but he stepped back and averted his gaze. He did not want to lose Astoria's match to the Malfoy family.

"I have no such concerns!" Lord Philip raged, glaring at Harvey for backing down, before turning that heated gaze onto Harry.

"Remember who you are going against if you do this, Nott." Rodolphus threatened, striding out of the crowd to come and stand on Harry's other side. "It's not just Harry you are threatening, not even just the Malfoys, but the Lestranges as well. Your son has made his choice, it was nothing to do with Harry. Sort out your own business instead of blaming others who are unrelated to it."

Xerxes also stepped out of the crowd, coming to stand by Harry, just behind Lucius. A united front against a threat.

Philip Nott trembled, but he was staring at Xerxes, perhaps knowing that he was the bigger threat. Rodolphus, even Rabastan, could be violent brutes if the situation called for it, they had proved as such in their torturing of the Longbottoms and their assassination of Rufus Scrimgeour, but Xerxes was one of Voldemort's most loyal followers. One of his only remaining childhood friends who had known him as Tom Riddle. Xerxes had been by Voldemort's side all of those years and he was the only one trusted enough to stand at the Dark Lord's back. He had given his loyalty, his power and wealth, even his son and grandsons to Voldemort's cause. If Xerxes was unhappy, and Voldemort found out why, it would be nothing to the monster to murder Philip Nott, a lesser man, one who wasn't as influential or valuable to Voldemort, just to put Xerxes' peace at ease.

Of course, Harry also had a deal with Voldemort. He just so happened to be one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. The monster had others, true, but Harry was also being used to keep the Lestranges happy, as a reward for their unending years of loyalty. Harry didn't mind as he truly loved Rabastan, but he knew that at the beginning that hadn't been the case. That hadn't been why he'd been offered to the Lestranges to carry on their bloodline as he hadn't loved Rabastan back then. He'd had to work to love the man. They'd both needed to work at their relationship to get where they were now.

"He has meddled in things that weren't his concern!" Philip tried.

"Harry had no knowledge of what your son was planning to do." Lucius answered. "In this, he is innocent."

"He still introduced them together!"

"Be that as it may, he didn't force them to fall in love, nor did he force them to enter an engagement." Lucius said with a bite of warning this time. "If you dare try to harm my son, I will make you regret it."

"As will I." Rabastan spoke for the first time, his voice so low and dangerous that it made Harry's spine stiffen reflexively.

"This isn't about Harry!" Theo cut in angrily. "This is a celebration of my engagement to Luna. You cannot stop this now." Theo told his father. "You don't have a hold over me anymore and I will be marrying for love, not money!"

"You are such an embarrassment." Sabelina cried at her son.

"I'm sorry, who are you?" Theo asked. "Do I know you? I don't recognise you so I don't see how you have any sort of opinion on me or my life choices."

There was a titter in the crowd and Harry snorted in amusement.

"I am your mother!" Sabelina said viciously, her cheeks a full bloom of embarrassed red.

"Someone hand this woman a dictionary, I don't believe she understands the definition of the word 'mother' and requires some help."

Harry's laugh was more pronounced and Philip's gaze went straight back to him, but there was nothing he could do while Harry was in the arms of Rabastan, with his family around him.

He had made more enemies now…or rather Theo had made some enemies for him, but Harry didn't care. Theo had taken control of his life and his future and Harry was so happy for him and Luna. He could deal with two more enemies for the sake of his friend's happiness.

Philip seemed to be at the end of his fraying patience.

"All of you, get out of my home!" He snapped at his guests, shouting at them in a complete loss of control and composure, the ultimate faux pas for a pureblood.

There were grumbles, but the party had mostly been a flop anyway. The drinks had been good, the nibbles had been expensive and quality, though nothing special, but the decoration had left a lot to be desired and the music had been flat and nothing that could be danced to.

"Come, Harry." Lucius told him.

"A moment. I want to make sure that Luna and Theo will be safe." Harry said, dodging the hands on him and going for the dais.

Theo stepped down, his arm around Luna to keep her safe.

"Congratulations." Harry said first and foremost.

"Thank you." Luna said, beaming brightly. "It really has been so very hard to keep it from you. I had wanted to tell you straight away, but we wanted you to be able to deny all knowledge of it if asked."

Harry smiled at how happy Luna seemed.

"I wouldn't have cared. These old men hate me anyway, we might as well give them a reason."

"I am so sorry that you got blamed for this." Theo told him sincerely.

"I'm not. Theo, I don't care. I'm just so happy for you both. I'm pleased that you've taken control and gotten yourself out of that situation and taken control of your own future."

"It was thanks to you." Theo told him. "You gave me the nudge I needed. The safety net I needed, even though I ended up not needing it at all in the end, but it helped to put my mind at ease at the time, so that I could take those first few baby steps in taking control for myself. I can never thank you enough, Harry. I am so happy with Luna, I never thought my life could turn out like this."

Harry and Theo hugged, then Harry turned to hug Luna.

"Will you both be safe?" He asked. "It doesn't feel right to leave you both here with them."

Harry sent a worried look to the pacing, visibly furious Philip and the humiliated Sabelina who was trying to hide herself away from prying eyes by turning away from the leaving guests.

Logically, he knew that not everyone was like the Dursleys. That some people weren't predisposed to violence, but he didn't want to take that chance with the people he truly cared about with such visible signs of anger and hate.

"We are going to Luna's for Christmas." Theo assured him.

"Will you ease my mind and leave with me?" Harry asked.

Theo gave him a sad look, likely knowing that Harry was alluding to his past abuse, and he nodded.

"Come, Luna, your father will be waiting for us."

"Where are you going?!" Philip raged at his son as he walked away from him.

"I am going to my fiancée's home for Christmas." Theo told his father. "Once you have calmed down and made your decision, send me an owl, but not before."

"You will stay and fix this mess that you've made!"

"I see no mess." Theo replied. "I have made my decision and I will not be changing my mind. I will be marrying Luna. I don't need your blessing or your family name anymore. The decision on what happens next depends on you, disown me or don't, it doesn't matter. I can be Lord Lovegood as well as I can be Lord Nott, but whether I take on just the one title, or both, depends on you, I honestly don't care either way."

Philip looked ready to start throwing curses and very suddenly Harry found himself wrapped in Rabastan's arms.

Harry was led out quickly, Theo and Luna beside him, while Rodolphus and Xerxes stayed behind, protecting their backs, just in case Philip was feeling rather suicidal and tried cursing Harry, or Theo, or Luna.

Harry made sure to see his friends off safely first, promising to catch up at a later time. Harry was then chided through the floo to Malfoy Manor, wondering if he was going to get his own lecture despite the fact that he hadn't actually done anything…this time.

He went to find Draco and Narcissa, who were both in the parlour. Draco was pacing, looking angry and fit to burst.

"Did you know?!" Draco demanded as soon as he came into the room.

"No, I didn't." Harry replied calmly, trying to lower the aggression in the room. "You heard Theo, he didn't tell anyone what he was planning, Draco. I had no idea what he was going to do. I didn't even know that he and Luna were dating."

"Father threatened to break my betrothal to Astoria over this!" Draco spat. "If you knew…if I found out that you knew…!"

"You know, I'm getting pretty fucking sick of being blamed for things I haven't done and have no control over!" Harry raged right back.

"Stop your bickering at once!" Lucius commanded, striding into the parlour with the three Lestranges.

"I will not give up Astoria!" Draco said angrily.

"You won't have to, now apologise to your brother!"

Draco was pink-cheeked from anger and grinding his teeth together, his hands clenching into fists.

"Draco, none of this is Harry's fault." Narcissa told him calmly. "You need to apologise for your accusations."

"I apologise for blaming you, Harry." Draco told him.

"I understand that your harsh words came from the fear of losing Astoria." Harry replied calmly, even though he was hurt and trying to keep his own emotions in check so that he didn't explode and make everything worse. Who said that he wasn't learning?

Draco nodded tightly, then turned furious eyes onto Lucius.

"I knew that Harvey would back down, Draco." Lucius told him.

"No, you took the risk that he would!" Draco snapped. "He could have called your bluff and broken our contract!"

"He could have, but he didn't."

"Not yet." Draco replied, starting his pacing again.

"Daphne is now without a betrothal. She has no marriage prospects, who would marry her with her reputation?" Lucius asked, also making a visible effort to remain calm. "There are those who call Astoria's reputation into question because of her sister, a simple test would prove her innocence." Lucius added when Draco opened his mouth to vehemently defend his betrothed. "But, there are those who don't want to be associated with the Greengrass family because of Daphne's behaviour, Draco."

A hand on his arm startled Harry away from the conversation in front of him for a moment and he settled back into Rabastan, whose arms wrapped around him, comforting him.

"When Daphne first started…shall we say bed hopping to remain polite? I truly thought to cut all ties with the Greengrass family." Lucius carried on. "I wanted no part of that behaviour staining my own family through association, despite that it was Daphne, and not Astoria, who was the guilty party. I warned Harvey that I would break the betrothal between you and Astoria if he didn't stop Daphne and he rushed to comply, though clearly he failed and I kept letting it slide as you got closer to Astoria. I want you to be happy, Draco, of course, but I will not stand idle as a lesser man threatens one of my children! Your own brother."

Draco sent a furtive look to Harry, before looking back to Lucius, calming now that everything was being explained and likely feeling guilty for his earlier outburst.

"I hold all of the power in your contract and Harvey knows it. Daphne is unmarriable now that Theodore has disposed of her. Absolutely no one will want her as a wife or a mother to their child. A suitor can be expected to overlook a certain amount of activity, teenagers are wilful and hormonal and sometimes get carried away, this can be excused easily enough, but not to the degree that Daphne has conducted herself. Harvey's only hope of continuing his family line is through Astoria now. He would never dare to break the contract between our families because, right now, Astoria still has a good match to a family of higher standing than her own. Who else would Harvey match her to if not the Malfoys? A lesser branch of the Carrows? The Selwyns? No, that isn't good enough in his eyes for the continuation of his bloodline, you are the only choice for Astoria he has left and he will dance to my command in order to keep that contract safe."

"You don't think he would marry her to Lord Selwyn?" Draco asked worriedly.

"He might hate children in general, he might never have wanted any, but there is no denying that Astoria is the favourite out of the two. Daphne has brought him nothing but stress and grief. Astoria is gentle and obedient and she is still pure despite her sister's influence. He would not be needlessly cruel to his favourite daughter who has always done as asked and remained completely pure on top of that. Harvey might hate bending to my will, but his only option is to keep your contract, Draco. I couldn't allow him to disrespect my family by threatening Harry in a room full of people, lest they get the idea to do the same. My need to protect my son outweighed the risk of possibly breaking your betrothal, but I was confident that Harvey would back down and he did."

"I had no idea what Theo was going to do. I didn't even know that he and Luna were together." Harry told Draco seriously. "Theo told me as we were leaving that he didn't tell me about it because he wanted me to be able to deny all knowledge of it for just this reason. I wouldn't want to split up you and Astoria, you know I wouldn't."

"I know." Draco said quietly. "I just can't stand the thought of losing her. I love her."

"Harvey backed down, Draco. You haven't lost Astoria." Lucius said calmly, but Harry understood Draco's fretting.

He wouldn't have been happy if anyone had tried to mess around in his engagement to Rabastan either, but for once, he wasn't the one to blame for it. He'd had no clue what Theo was planning, nor that Harvey Greengrass would publically side with Philip Nott and call him out for something he hadn't done. Harry was incredibly thankful that Harvey had backed down, though, because he did not want to be at odds with Draco again, nor see him and Astoria torn apart by feuding fathers.

"Let us sit down and have some tea." Narcissa said, but her tone was hard, just daring the men in her life to argue against her wishes…none of them did. None of them would dare.

Harry sat beside Rabastan, cuddling in close and allowing his fiancé to comfort him. It worked wonderfully well too, as those big, strong hands caressed through his hair and down his back as Narcissa called Pimsey to serve them all tea.

Harry tried not to show how affected he was by this recent bust-up, but it still hurt to constantly be targeted in such a way. He just wanted peace, was that so much to ask for?


Harry was woken up just half an hour after he'd fallen asleep and he was groggy and tired as he tried to make sense of what was happening, hoping that it wasn't Kreacher with more plots via Dumbledore.

He was incredibly surprised to find Draco leaning over him, kneeling on the side of the bed.

"What's happened?" Harry asked groggily, groping the bedside table for his glasses.

Draco sighed and reached over, taking the glasses and offering them to him.

Harry slid them on, to find Draco in his pyjamas, a robe pulled over and tied tightly against the cold night air.

"I couldn't sleep." Draco told him quietly, almost shyly.

"So you decided that the best thing to do was come and wake me up as well?" Harry demanded, sitting up against his headboard.

"As you are the reason I can't sleep, yes!" Draco hissed at him, before sighing and throwing a hand through his blonde hair.

"If this is about what happened earlier…!" Harry trailed off angrily as he was interrupted.

"It is about what happened earlier!" Draco confirmed. "What else would it be about?!"

"You woke me up, on Christmas Day, to go over this yet again?" Harry demanded. "I told you already that I didn't know about it!"

"I'm trying to apologise!" Draco cut in.

"You are?"

"Yes!"

"You fucking suck at it." Harry said as he crossed his arms and glared at his brother.

Draco blew out a breath. "Look, I can't fucking sleep thinking about what happened earlier and I'm trying to say I'm sorry!"

"Maybe actually giving me a proper apology instead of just declaring your intention to give one would work better for you?" Harry insisted.

Draco sighed. "I am sorry, Harry." He said sincerely. "I really am. Things got out of hand and I was terrified that I was going to lose Astoria and I know you were the one to encourage Theo to ditch Daphne. Regardless of that, I should never have blamed you and I am sorry for that."

"You really hurt me, you know?" Harry said softly. "I can't stand the fact that every little thing that goes wrong just automatically gets turned around onto me. I don't want to be constantly blamed for everything that happens. I can't see into the future, that's why I ditched Divination, because I sucked at it, but how was I supposed to know that encouraging Theo to stand up for himself, to put his happiness first, would have any sort of effect on your betrothal to Astoria?"

"I didn't mean to hurt you." Draco said, moving to sit beside him against the headboard. "I was lashing out, even at father! I'm surprised he didn't punish me for the tone I took with him."

"It is Christmas." Harry said with a small smile.

Draco laughed. "Oh, he's punished me before on Christmas Day. I was maybe seven and unduly ungrateful towards a horrid gift I'd received from my grandmother, Druella. I could have perhaps shown some courtesy to her face, I realise that now that I'm older, but at the time I couldn't act as well as I can now and I couldn't hide my disappointment and horror. Father punished me by sitting me in the corner of the room for an hour, still there and watching the festivities, but excluded from them."

"What the hell did she give to you?" Harry asked.

Draco blushed. "A matching scarf, hat, and mittens set, but not only were they a horrid puke green colour, but the mittens were too big and the hat too small and I had to wind the scarf so many times around my neck so it wouldn't trail on the floor it felt like a noose and I looked utterly ridiculous. After our guests had left, mother allowed me to throw them into the fire declaring that no child of hers would be seen dead in such clothing."

Harry laughed and the remaining tension between them dissolved.

"What's the worst gift you've ever had?" Draco asked gently, aware that it would bring up terrible memories of abuse for him.

Harry hummed in consideration as he thought about it. "My uncle once gave me a pair of his old socks." He said quietly. "They were mustard yellow and full of holes, and miles too big for me too, not that I ever wore them, mind you. They also once gave me a coat hanger."

"I'm sorry for the way I treated you before you were adopted. I had no idea your home life was so bad. I don't think anyone did until father adopted you. You hid it well, Potter."

Harry smiled humourlessly. "No, I didn't. The signs were all there if anyone cared to look, they just didn't care. People saw what they wanted to see and I was left to suffer for it. Those few I told did nothing about it, which made it worse. Do you know how demoralising it is to finally find the courage to tell someone about the abuse you're going through only for them to turn around and do absolutely nothing about it? It made me feel as if I was worthless…that I was just a nothing and not worth anyone's care. I sunk further into myself and kept the abuse to myself. After all, if those I had told didn't care and did nothing, why should I waste my breath mentioning it?"

"I'm sorry I added to it." Draco said.

Harry gave him a smile. "You might be older than me, but the gap between us is only two months, Draco. You were a kid too, what could you have done?"

"Father could have adopted you sooner."

Harry smiled grimly. "Before Voldemort's return, and our formal truce, that probably wouldn't have been the best environment for me. No, I have to look forward now, towards the future. I need to finally lay the past to rest and seek justice from all of those who hurt me."

"You mean Dumbledore?"

"I mean all of them, Draco. Dumbledore, the Dursleys, those in the Ministry and the newspapers who made the choice to hurt me. I can't forget about it and I can't just ignore it, so in order to finally heal and move on, I have to face them one last time and get justice for myself."

"I'm proud of you, you know? You really are a part of the Malfoy family and believe me, none of us would ever let something like that slide."

Harry smiled softly and knocked his shoulder into Draco's.

Draco refused to let him pull back and instead threw an arm around him, keeping him in place and after a moment of faux fighting in which Harry tried to get away, he gave in and rested against Draco, sighing happily.

"I really hope that you and Astoria get to stay together and get married and are happy." Harry said.

"We will be. I've calmed down and I realise that father was correct. He held all of the power, not Harvey Greengrass. He backed down, right there in the hall, in front of everyone. No one, especially not a lord, would have ever done as such as a ruse. Instead, he realised that he'd overstepped and he was publically recognising that father held all of the power. He had no choice after father challenged him. I would never have wanted you to be threatened, Harry. Not by anyone, I was just terrified over losing Astoria."

"I understand." Harry assured him.

They stayed where they were, sitting against the headboard and leaning into one another.

"I noticed that Rabastan was very quick to back you up." Draco said with a teasing smile. "I'm sure that if anyone had dared challenge you to a public duel then he would have relished the chance to be your second."

"Oh, I'm sure he would have. He likely would have just jumped in front of me and taken the duel himself and Rodolphus would have been his second." Harry laughed, joking.

"I like seeing how protective he is of you. You deserve that."

Harry hummed and smiled. "He's getting better every day now. He's down to one daily potion and one every other day. Given that at one point he was on, I believe, seventeen potions a day, that's amazing. He's strong and handsome, but more than that, he's almost completely healthy and I'm so happy for him."

"I noticed that he seemed steadier. That his hands didn't shake anymore and his muscles didn't jump out of his control."

"He's almost completely healthy again, as he should be. He's come such a long way. It's been almost two years since the breakout of Azkaban and both Rabastan and Rodolphus have come so far since then. Two long years, but it's almost over and it had been so worth it. I'm proud of the both of them."

He and Draco stayed against the headboard, talking softly into the morning. They were both tired, but this was their deepest conversation to date. They broke any remaining barriers between them and shared more than they ever had before with one another…like true brothers.

When it was almost four in the morning, they were both exhausted and Draco fell asleep first, leaning against Harry's side.

Unwilling to wake Draco up, Harry settled himself and tipped his head slightly to the side, resting against Draco and he closed his eyes. It was Christmas morning and this heart-to-heart did truly seem to be like a Christmas miracle to Harry. He and Draco had made up, Theo had taken his revenge and left Daphne in the dirt with no prospects for the future, Draco and Astoria were secure and so were he and Rabastan, who hadn't hesitated to stand at Harry's back just in case things turned ugly, but had allowed Harry to take the lead without cutting in or stopping him.

Harry fell asleep, exhausted but so very happy. They would likely be woken up too early because of the festivities and they would pay for their very late night, but for Harry, he didn't care. He would have stayed awake all night just talking to Draco and reconnecting with his brother if that was what it took to put the events of last night behind them. He felt lighter than air as he finally managed to settle enough in their awkward position to get some much-needed sleep.