Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.R.

AN: This chapter is fresh from my tablet and never saw a beta.

Wednesday, May 5th 1999

Despite the beginning of the award ceremony being scheduled not before the late morning, Daphne and I had another early start on Wednesday, Daphne wanted to get in at least an hour of work at Greengrass Shipping before we had to leave for Hogwarts. She had a quick breakfast while she perused the headlines of the Daily Prophet, then gave me a not so quick kiss goodbye and left the house.

That suited me just fine, I couldn't finish the last preparations for her birthday surprise with Daphne looking over my shoulder.

Monsieur Verny, the son of Grandpa Fleamont's partner and co-founder of Aurora Beauty, had been most accommodating when I contacted him while we still were on the Princess Isabella. He had his assistant book a room for Daphne and me at the hotel where the board meeting would take place; apparently I was not the only member of the board who had to travel to Paris from another country, so it was more convenient to rent conference facilities at a hotel in Paris than have all of us travel to the small town in Burgundy where the headquarters of Aurora Beauty were located. The meeting was tomorrow, Daphne and I would travel to Paris tonight and prolong our stay in Paris for two more nights after the board meeting to celebrate Daphne's birthday, and then return to London on Saturday, just in time for Veterans Ball.

I went back to our bedroom and selected the clothes we'd need for a three night stay in Paris, now thankful for my time on the Princess Isabella and Daphne's tutoring that gave me an idea what she would need. If I'd forgotten something, I was sure my wife wouldn't be averse to a shopping trip in Paris. I called Kreacher to pack everything, a task I still hadn't mastered, and went into my makeshift study to work on my mail I had neglected yesterday.

Two hours later, I was still working when Daphne peeked her head into the room. 'Time to get ready, love.'

I shoved my papers aside and followed her up to our dressing room to change. Unlike on Sunday, today we dressed in colourful, embroidered robes; Daphne selected a cherry-red one, embroidered with white blossoms, while mine was emerald green with silver embroidery around the neck and the hems of the arms.

We Apparated to Hogwarts; we arrived in the midst of a stream of visitors wandering from the gates up to the castle. Since the final confrontation between Voldemort and me had taken place in the Great Hall the Ministry had decided that this was the right place for the award ceremony. Again we got a lot of curious stares, and whenever we passed a group of other attendees, they stuck their heads together and talked in excited whispers.

I gritted my teeth: I didn't like the dark looks some witches gave Daphne.

Daphne wrapped her arm around mine and gave me a light squeeze. 'Ignore them, love, you know by now that people will always talk about you, no matter what you do or don't do.'

I put my free hand on hers. 'I don't care what they talk about me, Daph, it's more that I don't like the way they look at you.'

'Neither do I, but I guess I've got to get used to that. Serves me right for snatching the biggest price on the market from under their noses.'

Her attempt of gallows humour made me snort. 'As if these fan girls ever were a competition! They can't hold a candle to you, love.'

She smiled with contentment and leaned her head against my shoulder for a brief moment.

We had reached the entrance, I held the door open for my wife and stepped into the Entrance Hall behind her.

The cavernous room teemed with wizards and witches, the noise of their animated talk hit me like a wall. I craned my neck and scanned the room for familiar faces.

Beside me, Daphne did the same. She grabbed my hand and pointed towards a tapestry-covered niche to our right. 'There's Hermione.'

My friend discovered us the same moment as I saw her and waved at us.

Hand in hand Daphne and I weaved our way through the crowd. A lot of familiar faces called out greetings to me, among them Oliver Woods and Alicia Spinnet, and Lee Jordan. I smiled and waved back, but didn't stop until we had reached Hermione.

She wasn't alone, Neville stood beside her, one hand placed protectively on the small of her back. Next to them stood Susan Bones and Ernie Macmillan, the Patil twins, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan, and Hannah Abbott. Hermione greeted first me, then Daphne with a hug. My old friends from the D.A. became wide-eyed at the friendly greeting between my wife and my best friend.

I exchanged a handshake and slaps on the shoulders with Neville, then greeted the rest of the group. As soon as that was over I put my arm around Daphne's waist and pulled her close to me. 'I guess you all already know her from classes, but I'd like to introduce my wife, Daphne Potter.'

That had them gape for a moment.

Padma was the first to recover. She gave first Daphne, then me a hug and said, 'My heartfelt congratulations! Well, I knew you were together from that article in the Prophet, but I had no idea you were already married. When did that happen?'

'Not even one week ago, on the last day of the world cruise Daphne and I made together,' I said.

The others also congratulated us. Thank Merlin, nobody showed any hostility or reservations against my wife. Even Seamus, who could be as narrow-minded as Ron in his worst moments, gave me a wink and a whispered, 'You lucky dog, you!' when he shook my hand and slapped me on the shoulder in congratulations.

We hadn't seen each other since the final battle, and of course they were curious about what I had done ever since I had disappeared from the scene a couple of days after the battle.

'I found a place to live and saw a psy… eh, got help from a Muggle healer for some time, to come to grips with everything that had happened, you know?'

They nodded at that, no one uttered surprise at my statement. I guess they all had a faint idea of what I'd been through from watching me from the side lines, and of course they also had their own war stories to tell about the reign of the Carrows and the Battle of Hogwarts, and understood my need for a time out.

'Well, he encouraged me to take a sabbatical, get some distance from everything and find out what I want to do with my life. I decided to treat myself to a cruise around the world. It was a spur of the moment decision, but the best I ever made in my life. If you read the article in the Prophet, you already know that Daphne and I met on board. The rest is history, as they say.' I pulled Daphne towards me and gave her a small kiss.

'You both look blissfully happy,' Susan said.

Daphne and I exchanged a look. 'We are,' we said unison, and burst out laughing at our timing.

The rest of the group chuckled, too.

'If anybody deserves being happy, it's you two, you both have been through more than enough,' Padma said. She gave Daphne a sympathetic smile. 'I heard what happened to your parents. I'm sorry for your loss.'

A shadow flickered across Daphne's face, and she acknowledged Padma's condolences with a bow of her head.

Going by their expressions, the others, except Hermione and Neville, had no idea what had happened to Daphne's parents, but had the good manners to offer their condolences.

An awkward silence ensued, and I let out a breath of relief as someone cleared their throat behind Daphne and me.

We turned around and looked in the smiling faces of Tracey and Nott. Melissa, Matthew and Matt waved at us from behind them. We exchanged hugs and greetings and introduced Melissa, Matthew and Matt to our classmates. Of course they all knew Tracey and Nott, at least by their faces; there probably hadn't been much interaction between the two Slytherins and the rest of the houses during our school days. If they were surprised to see them here, they didn't let on.

As one of three Slytherins of our year to stay in the castle and fight against Voldemort, Nott also had got an invitation to the ceremony and would be awarded with an Order of Merlin. Each recipient could bring two guests, so he had invited Tracey and Matt, while Daphne invited Melissa and Matthew.

Nott cast a glance around and pulled at the neckline of his robes. 'Merlin, I feel like a fraud,' he muttered under his breath.

His words probably weren't intended for anyone of us to hear, Dean did nevertheless.

'As far as I'm concerned, you've earned the right to be here, Nott,' he said with a tense smile. 'Without you, I'd be dead. Thank you for shielding me from that Cutting Spell. It can't have been easy for you to go against your own father.'

Nott blushed and shrugged his shoulders. 'He always was a right bastard, I couldn't let him continue killing people right and left. You had no wand, so…' His voice trailed off, and he shrugged once more.

Tracey wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him an encouraging squeeze. He turned his head around to kiss the crown of her head, thus missing the respectful glances the others gave him.

'It never occurred to me how hard that conflict of loyalty must have been for the Slytherins,' Hermione said. 'Obviously there were quite a lot who despised Voldemort as much as we did, but joining the fight against him meant they had to fight against their parents or siblings or other close relatives.'

'Right in one,' Nott said with a mirthless chuckle. 'There's a reason why so many of our house left before the battle began.'

A commotion at the entrance interrupted the awkward silence that followed Nott's words, and we turned around.

The Weasleys had arrived en masse: Arthur, with Molly on his arm, Bill and Fleur to their right, and George and Angelina to their left. Behind them stood their four unattached children; Ron and Ginny were flanked by Percy and Charlie.

They didn't take long to discover us in our niche. Arthur gave Daphne and me a polite nod, although he evaded my eyes. His older children and their significant others followed their example. His wife and his two youngest children, however, sent death glares at Daphne and me.

I moved in front of my wife. Beside me, Neville did the same with Hermione.

Arthur pulled at his wife's arm and led her towards the entrance of the Great Hall, and their family followed them, albeit not without another murderous glance from Ron to Hermione and Neville.

'Huh, what was that about?' Dean asked. 'I thought you were best friends with Ron.'

'Not anymore.' I turned back and rubbed my face with the palm of my hand. 'He didn't take it kindly when I broke up with Ginny for a second time a few weeks after the war. He just couldn't understand that the war had done a number on both of us, and that it was impossible for us to pick up where we had left after Dumbledore's funeral. It didn't help at all that Ginny was in denial about our problems, still is, in fact, and didn't take the break-up well. Not to mention that I moved on.' I put my arm around Daphne's waist and pulled her towards me.

Susan and the Patil sisters exchanged a knowing glance.

'I'm not surprised that your relationship didn't survive when the going got tough, she always was a fangirl.' Parvati summed up their silent communication. 'But what about you, Hermione? Did you finally realise what a prat Ronald Weasley is?'

Hermione blushed. 'Something along that line, yes.'

'He doesn't take it well that Hermione and I became closer after their break-up,' Neville said. 'He already tried to pick a fight with me about that when I shopped in Diagon Alley the other day.'

'He always was a jealous git,' Ernie said with pursed lips. He seemed to be about to say more on this topic, but the clang of a gong interrupted him: the award ceremony began in a couple of minutes, and it was about time to take our places.

I drifted into the Great Hall with the crowd, Daphne on my arm.

'Arthur couldn't look straight at you,' she said under the cover of the excited chatter around us. 'Do you think he already talked to his wife and Ginny and they both refused to cooperate?'

My stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch, I had thought Mr Weasley to be embarrassed about our last encounter, but Daphne's reading of his reaction was more likely.

'I hope not.'

We couldn't talk anymore; for the ceremony we had to sit apart: Daphne in the second row, together with the other Hogwarts students who fought in the battle, while my seat was in the first row, on the prominent spot in the middle, with Hermione and Ron to my left and right. Neville sat next to Hermione, and Molly Weasley sat down beside her son, with another scorching look at me. Minister Shacklebolt, some high ranking Ministry staff, and the Hogwarts staff took the remaining seats in the first row.

The visitors sat in tiers erected around the room. Every now and then the flash of a camera went off, and purple smoke wafted through the air.

The ceremony began with a welcome speech from Headmistress McGonagall. After that followed some music, and then Kingsley took the place of McGonagall. I blended him out, the programme eerily reminded me of the memorial service.

Beside me, Ron shifted in his seat. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest, and the constant side glare he sent me was probably meant to make me quiver in my shoes.

I ignored him; he had lost the power to get at me, first over his childish reaction to my break-up with Ginny, and later because of the contemptuous way he'd shrugged off Ginny's attempt to murder Daphne. He'd witnessed with his own eyes how Ginny wronged me and Daphne, yet he sided with his sister, for no other reason than hurt pride and his ingrained prejudice against all things Slytherin. I had reached the end of my rope, as far as I was concerned our friendship was over.

Ron, however, still hadn't cottoned on to that. Did he believe that his boorish behaviour would make me reconsider the errors of my ways? I suppressed a snort; that was most likely. Worst of all, I couldn't blame him for thinking that, it had worked like that in the past, more than once I'd been happy to take him back as soon as he treated me halfway decent.

At least his presence shielded me from Mrs Weasley's death glare.

Kingsley ended his speech, and the audience clapped politely. I joined in, but would have been hard pressed if anyone asked me what he'd talked about.

There was another piece of music during which I let my thoughts drift and wished Daphne was beside me. It took all my willpower not to turn around and search her face in the rows behind me.

At last, the musicians finished their piece and the actual award ceremony began. Mr Diggory climbed on the pulpit and unrolled a parchment.

'Kreacher, a house elf,' he read.

With a soft pop my ancient house elf appeared on the dais, resplendent in a snowy white tablecloth with the Potter and Black crests embroidered on it, and Regulus' locket on a heavy gold chain around his neck.

Mr Diggory's face was stony when he decorated Kreacher's narrow breast with the Order of Merlin, Third Class, in lieu of all Hogwarts house elves, and I remembered the derogatory way he had spoken with Winky on the night of the Quidditch World Cup.

His expression didn't get better when he called Firenze onto the dais, who received the order in the name of all Centaurs who had fought in the battle, and he looked downright annoyed when Hagrid climbed up the few shallow steps and accepted the Order of Merlin for his not-so-little brother. Grwap, who didn't fit through the castle doors, watched the ceremony from outside through the windows and waved at us as we clapped in his honour.

Mr Diggory stepped down the dais, and my eyes followed him to his place in the first row, while I schooled my face into the bland mask Daphne had taught me. It wouldn't do to let on my feelings about his attitude during the ceremony that emphasized all that was wrong with magical society. My victory over Voldemort and in its wake my stance towards the rights of other magical creatures had silenced the oppressors, but they were still there, biding their time. Real change was needed, and soon. I surely had my work cut out for me, most likely for the rest of my life.

Headmistress McGonagall took Mr Diggory's place on the dais. She'd now call in alphabetical order first the Aurors who fought in the battle, then the inhabitants of Hogsmeade, followed by siblings and parents of current students, former students who had come to our aid, and at last the Hogwarts students who had stayed for the battle.

The group was huge, so I leaned back and braced myself for a long time of waiting until it was my turn and the ordeal was over.

I knew no one in the group of Aurors, however, a short pain jolted through me when Headmistress McGonagall called Tonk's name, and Mrs Tonks walked to the front to receive the order awarded to her only child posthumously.

There were a few familiar names and faces among the inhabitants of Hogsmeade: the owners of Honeyduke's and Zonko's, and of course Madam Rosmerta, still as voluptuous as I remembered her. She got quite the rousing acclamation by the male part of the audience, and reacted to that with a flirtatious wink and a coquettish sway of her hips.

After that came the members of the Order of the Phoenix, except Mrs Weasley, who'd be awarded an Order of Merlin Second Class for ridding the world of Bellatrix Lestrange. I clapped for each member who stepped up onto the dais, and couldn't help another painful jolt at Remus' name, and once again a heartbroken Andromeda Tonks walked to the front.

The parents and former students were next. Again, I recognised a lot of familiar names. The parents of the Patil twins had joined the fight, as had Hannah Abbott's father, and Tom, the barkeep of the Leaky Cauldron, who turned out to be her grandfather. One Marie-Madeleine Zabini was the last one in this group, and I had to employ all the good manners Daphne had taught me not to stare at the infamous black widow. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, except my wife, of course. Then again, she had to stand out from the masses to lure so many unsuspecting males into her net, hadn't she?

Among the former students who had joined the fight were Roger Davis and my old flame Cho from Ravenclaw, a couple of Hufflepuffs whose faces looked vaguely familiar, and of course the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team: Angelina, Oliver, Alicia, Katie and George, not to forget Lee Jordan.

There was another heart-wrenching moment when George accepted the medal in honour of his dead twin, and the members of our former team and Lee gathered around him and comforted him.

I thought McGonagall was going to call the names of the students still at Hogwarts next, and started when she called out, 'Bode, Alan,' followed by 'Pucey, Adam,' and 'Vaisey, Gideon'.

The three former members of the Slytherin Quidditch team walked to the front and climbed up the dais, followed by a lot of whispers from the spectators. It was obvious that at least nobody who went to Hogwarts during the last seven years had expected a former Slytherin to join the fight against Voldemort. However, those three had always been the only decent members of their team, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised, not after what Hermione had said about loyalty conflicts before the ceremony.

The other spectators seemed to have come to the same conclusions, and the three former Slytherins got a handsome applause when Headmistress McGonagall presented them with the Order of Merlin, Third Class, pinned to the lapels of their robes. I joined the applause; Ron, however, crossed his arms firmly over his chest and glowered at them. 'Bloody slimy snakes!' he muttered under his breath.

That didn't bode well for his likely reaction to when Daphne's name would be called in a couple of minutes. Under the cover of the long sleeves of my robes I slipped my wand into my hand, I'd better be prepared for anything, there was no way Ron would take the revelation of my marriage to Daphne in stride.

Headmistress McGonagall called at first the names of the Gryffindor students. Ginny was among them; I avoided her glance and clapped loudly for my year mates Parvati, Lavender, Seamus and Dean. However, my heart fell when Headmistress McGonagall called Dennis Creevey to the front to accept the award for his dead brother.

The group of Hufflepuffs followed, and after them the Ravenclaws, with sweet, dear Luna.

The spectators became restless after that, apparently they expected Headmistress McGonagall to walk back to her seat and leave the spotlight to Kingsley to award the last four orders.

Headmistress McGonagall cleared her throat and gave the spectators a stern glance over the rim of her spectacles. The restlessness quietened down, although there were some soft chuckles.

'Nott, Theodore,' she read, and then, 'Potter, Daphne.'

'What?!' Ron's outburst was drowned out by the surprised exclamations in the audience, as was Zabini's name. He whirled around to me, his face a deep shade of red that clashed with his hair. 'You married that slut? Are…'

My wand was out and pressed against his chin within the blink of an eye. 'Not. One. Word, Ron. I won't allow you to badmouth my wife, and you'd better think twice before trying anything that would meet my… displeasure,' I said with a calm I certainly didn't feel that moment. Everything in me screamed to teach that moron a lesson here and now, but of course that would disrupt the festivities, and Daphne would have my hide for that, even though Ron was the one who had started it. Alas, the injustices of the world!

He stared down at the wand at his chin, almost cross-eyed, and I had to bite on the insides of my cheeks to prevent myself from snorting. His eyes flickered up to mine, he averted his glance immediately, but there must have been something in the way I glared at him that told him I meant business, for he blanched, his shoulders slumped, and he sunk back in his chair.

I slipped my wand back into its holder and turned my attention towards the dais. Daphne stood in front of Headmistress McGonagall, flanked by her housemates. I knew my wife had worried over this moment ever since she got the invitation to the ceremony, but you wouldn't know it by the proud way she held herself, or the confident smile she gave Headmistress McGonagall when she shook her hand.

The three turned towards the audience to present their orders. Albeit there were still many in the audience discussing the surprise revelation of Daphne's and my marriage, they also got a handsome applause.

The only person who mattered to me that moment was my wife. Our eyes met, and the big smile on my face became even broader.

Daphne left the dais between her housemates and walked back to her place in the row behind me. The moment she passed me, she turned her head and blew me a kiss, which led to some chuckles from Hermione and Neville, and a disgusted snort from Ron.

Headmistress McGonagall also left the dais, at last, and Kingsley stood up and straightened his robes. He walked up to the dais and turned to the audience.

'It is my honour and my pleasure to award the Order of Merlin, Second Class, to Miss Hermione Jean Granger, Mrs Molly Weasley, Mr Neville Harfang Longbottom, and Mr Ronald Bilius Weasley for their services to our magical community during the fight against the dark wizard who styled himself Lord Voldemort, and his minions.'

A general shudder went through the spectators at the mentioning of Voldemort's name. Kingsley ignored them and motioned the four recipients to join him on the dais.

I leaned forward and grinned at Neville. 'Harfang, really? I don't blame you that you kept that from us.'

'Shut up, Potter,' Neville murmured, red-faced, and helped a giggling Hermione to get up.

The four went to the dais under the applause of everyone in the Great Hall. However, when they lined up in front of Kingsley, it became apparent that not everything was well between them: Mrs Weasley and Ron kept a visible distance to Hermione and Neville, and the glaring side glances they threw at them when Kingsley pinned the order to Hermione's and Neville's robes could have brought water to the boil in an instant.

Hermione and Neville were sensible enough to ignore them and turned to the audience to present their orders and thank them for the applause. Hermione's hand grabbed for Neville's, and she leaned towards him and kissed his cheek.

Loud catcalls and whistles from the audience followed, and a rather red-faced Hermione walked back to her seat hand in hand with a strutting Neville.

I covered my mouth with my hand to hide my grin.

'And now,' Kingsley said. He couldn't go on, thunderous applause set in. Kingsley moved his lips, but no word could be heard over the noise. At last, he gave up and motioned me to join him on the dais.

I got up and walked towards Kingsley; the applause seemed to become louder with every step I made. Heat rushed into my face, by the time I joined Kingsley on the dais my face probably resembled a tomato, it was so hot.

Kingsley had to wait another minute until the applause had died down enough that he could be heard.

'Harry,' Kingsley said. 'There are no adequate words in this world to thank you for what you've done for all of us. You not once left the path you had chosen for yourself, not even in the face of the defamations and ridicule hurled at you when you proclaimed that Voldemort was back. It didn't stop at that, you were exposed to an attempt to get you kissed by Dementors, and to an unlawful trial that was meant to send you to Azkaban for the rest of your life. When that didn't work, your adversaries tortured you.'

A gasp went through the audience; Umbridge's sick games weren't general knowledge yet, it would come out into the open during her trial because of her transgressions as chairwoman of the Muggleborn Registration Committee.

'You didn't break down, you fought, and you came out of the trials put in your way, hardened and with an even stronger resolve to do what was right. You were barely fifteen back then, that you preserved your determination should have enlightened everyone of the kind of man you were going to become.'

Kingsley took a deep breath, and when he spoke again, his voice quivered. 'I was friends with your father, we played together on the Gryffindor house team for five years, and I also knew your mother. Your parents were among the bravest people I knew, but you outshine them, Harry. I like to imagine they know the sacrifices you made for our world, sacrifices we never can pay back, and that they look down on you this moment and see what a wonderful man you have become.'

I clenched my jaw against the pain in my throat at Kingsley's words.

Kingsley turned towards the jewelry case that hovered beside him and picked up the order.

'Harry, it is a honour and a pleasure to award you the Order of Merlin, First Class, for your fight against Voldemort and his minions.'

He fastened the order to my robes, then grabbed me by the shoulders and drew me into a bear hug to the thunderous applause of everyone in the Great Hall. When I emerged, rather ruffled and even hotter in the face, if that was possible, we shook hands, and then I turned around to thank the spectators.

Everyone in the room stood on their feet, they clapped, trampled, whooped and whistled, and the lump in my throat grew bigger by the second until my view became blurry. I gulped and blinked, and my sight cleared. They showed no sign to calm down, so I just nodded in thanks and waved at them and let my eyes swerve across the room to single out those who had helped me on my way.

There were the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix, Hagrid, my first friend in the magical world, Hestia, Daedalus Diggle, and a few others I had seen at Grimmauld Place, but whose names I didn't remember. I looked at them, one after the other, and gave them a silent nod of thanks. From there, my eyes wandered to my teachers at Hogwarts, grim, but caring Headmistress McGonagall, jolly Professor Flitwick, and the warm-hearted Professor Sprout. They had done their best to educate me, give me a solid ground to stand on in my adult life, even though I in my ignorance and in my unconscious attempt not to alienate Ron, the lazy bum, hadn't taken as much advantage of the education offered to me as I should have done. It was, perhaps, one of the biggest regrets I had, but thankfully not one that couldn't be mended anymore.

I sought out my friends next, and those I had thought to be close to me. Arthur Weasley beamed at me, and so did his four older sons and Fleur. I waved at them, and my eyes turned to Ginny, who stood next to Luna. She clapped, but going by the vitriolic look she gave me, it was only not to stand out. Luna, on the other hand, gave me a sweet smile that warmed my heart, and I smiled back at her.

Neville and Hermione looked up at me, faces beaming, and when they realised I looked at them, Neville gave me a thumbs up and whooped. I laughed and shook my head, the laughter got stuck in my throat, however, when I caught a glimpse of Ron and Mrs Weasley.

They didn't clap, and they most definitely didn't whoop. Ron was his usual sulking self. Mrs Weasley's expression… Ginny's look had been vitriolic, but what I saw on her mother's face went beyond that.

I shivered, despite the warm May morning, and it took all my self-restraint not to bolt for the door to escape the scorching fury in her eyes. What by everything that was holy had become of the warm-hearted, loving woman I once knew?

I turned my gaze away, unable to face that unbridled hatred any longer, and my eyes searched for Daphne.

She stood in the second row, between Nott and Zabini, and she smiled at me in that special way I loved so much.

A tension I hadn't known that was there left my body, I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. This ceremony today marked the end of a chapter of my life. It had been a very dark chapter, I had suffered more losses than anyone of my young age should have, I had been ridiculed, abused and tortured, and had faced a certain death more times than I cared to admit. And yet I had survived, against all odds I had emerged victorious from the many deathly perils put in my way. Today's ceremony was the acknowledgement of my sacrifices, a testament that it was truly over, and I was free to move on.

And move on I would, together with the wonderful woman who was beaming up at me and mouthed, 'I love you.' Together, we would have the family we both longed for, and we would work together to bring the much needed change to magical society.

At last, the applause died down.

'Thank you,' I said. My voice sounded thick, it was hard to talk around the lump in my throat. 'You all know I was not alone in this fight, I couldn't have done it without your support.' My voice cracked at the last word, and once again my sight became blurry. 'Thank you,' I whispered, fled from the dais, and hurried back to my seat.

Hermione met me halfway and wrapped me in a fierce hug. When she let go of me, both of our faces were wet. We looked at each other with a tense smile, there were no words needed, we both knew how much I had depended on her during the last seven years, and that it was only due to her forethought and quick thinking that I survived the last year of the war.

An angry huff to our side brought us back to the here and now, and we turned our heads.

Ron glared up at us from under furrowed eyebrows, his arms crossed.

I let go of Hermione, turned towards him, and held out my hand. 'Thank you, Ron, for everything. You know I wouldn't have made it without you.'

The glare didn't wane, for a moment I thought he'd push away my hand. Then his bellingarent posture relaxed somewhat, he still frowned, but he accepted my hand. We exchanged the shortest of handshakes, and I sat down.

Another piece of music concluded the award ceremony. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, thankful for the short reprieve to get my feelings back under control before the official lunch for the recipients would begin.

I drifted out of the Great Hall next to Hermione and Neville among the throng of many other people. Daphne waited for me in the Entrance Hall, she stood near one of the magnificent tapestries that adorned the room, together with Tracey and Nott, and pretended not to notice the many stares directed at her that varied from simple curiosity to downright hate. You had to know her as well as I did to notice the relief in her eyes when I turned up. She linked arms with me as soon as I caught up with her.

'That bad?' I whispered in her ear as I bent down to kiss her cheek in greeting.

'You have no idea!' she replied in a low voice and melted against me. 'All those witches,' - she motioned with her hand across the crowded room - 'they act as if I stole something that belonged to them. I'm glad you came out of the Great Hall at last, Merlin knows what they would've done to me had you dawdled much longer.' She gave an exaggerated shudder and moved even closer towards me.

That I believed easily. The stares Daphne got from narrowed eyes as she marked her territory were mean enough to make a grown wizard quiver in his shoes. Yet I laughed. 'Oh, I'm sure you could've dealt with them, love. I'd say I returned to you just in time, Merlin knows what you would've done to the poor fangirls, had they vexed you some more.'

She tilted her head back and grinned up at me. 'You know me too well, beloved husband.'

The invitation in her eyes was unmistakable, so I bent down once more and kissed her on the lips.

Beside us, Neville made a gagging sound. 'Oi, get a room!'

I raised my head and winked at my wife. 'Good idea.'

Of course she poked her elbow in my side for my cheek. 'Behave,' she mouthed, and her cheeks took on an adorable shade of pink.

I grinned and left it at that. Daphne on my arm, I walked out of the castle and down the lawn that sloped down to the Black Lake. Neville, Hermione, Tracey and Nott followed us.

The reception, followed by a lunch, would take place in a big, white tent halfway between the castle and the Black Lake. The moment our group entered the crowded tent, another round of applause flared up. Again, heat shot into my face. Hermione and Neville didn't fare much better, going by their flushed faces, and Tracey and Nott did their best to melt into the background.

Headmistress McGonagall took mercy on us. She signalled an elf clad in a pristine tea towel with the Hogwarts crest embroidered on it, and asked to bring us some elven champagne. Her eyebrows shot up as Hermione refused the champagne and asked for orange juice, but she didn't comment. Instead, she raised her own glass at us with one of her rare smiles that also included the former Slytherins.

'To my brave students. You have no idea how proud I am of you.'

We all murmured an awkward thanks and drank. Headmistress McGonagall left us after that to welcome the Weasley clan, and we were left to our own devices. Even though I had my back turned to them, the hairs at the nape of my neck stood up from the hatred Mrs Weasley and her two youngest children emanated.

Hermione seemed to feel it, too; her eyes flitted anywhere but towards the Weasley clan, and she turned the stem of her glass in her hands over and over again.

Daphne tugged at my arm. 'Come on, let's mingle, I think I saw Melissa, Matthew and Matt over there.'

I let out a deep breath and allowed her to lead me away. The other four followed us. Soon, the crowds closed behind us and obscured us from the view of the Weasleys.

We didn't get very far, everyone seemed to want to greet us, give Daphne and me their congratulations, or just wanted to have their few moments in the glory of their heros. We talked to Professors Flitwick and Sprout, and Hestia, and a lot of people I never saw before, and at one point Bill and Fleur made their way through the crowd to talk to us. Although their behaviour was warm and friendly, their smiles were strained and they took their leave at the first possible moment.

'I'm afraid your assessment of Mrs Weasley's reaction was correct,' I said to my wife under the cover of the noise of the room.

Daphne sighed and gave my arm an encouraging squeeze. 'We'll deal with her, however, now is neither the time nor the place for that.'

At last we made it to the corner where Melissa, Matthew and Matt stood. Their warm greetings and heartfelt congratulations that included Hermione and Neville did a lot to distract us from Molly Weasley and any speculations about what she might be up to.

A few minutes later the silvery sound of a bell called us to sit down at the lunch table. Melissa, Matthew, Matt, Tracey and Nott had a table at the back of the room, together with Gideon Vaisey and his parents.

I wish we could have joined them, however, as the recipients of the highest honours Hermione, Neville, and I had to sit at the Minister's table, together with Daphne,,of course, and Mr and Mrs Weasley and Ron, who had chosen Ginny as his escort. Neither Hermione and Neville nor Daphne and I were looking forward to an hour under the glares of the three hostile Weasleys. At least the seating arrangement separated us, although the round table made sure we all had a view of each other.

Kingsley had placed Hermione and Mrs Weasley to his left and right side, Neville sat next to Hermione; he had drawn the short straw with Ginny by his other side. Mr Weasley sat on Ginny's left; hopefully that would prevent her from lashing out at Daphne, who sat between Mr Weasley and me. Hestia followed, with Ron at her other side, who sat next to his mother, thus closing the ring.

As the hostess of the festive lunch Headmistress McGonagall made another speech and brought out a toast to the "Heroes of Hogwarts", as she called those who had fought in the battle.

I turned in my seat to listen to her, while I tried to keep Ron, his mother and his sister in my sight from the corner of my eye. All three glared at Daphne, and my stomach sunk. How were the chances that we'd make it through lunch without an ugly scene? Polite manners might force them to be silent through Headmistress McGonagall's speech, but that reprieve would be over as soon as the general chatter started.

Behind my back, Daphne made a surreptitious move under the cover of the tablecloth.

My first instinct was to turn around and find out what she was doing. However, that would have brought her the attention she obviously tried to avoid, and she wouldn't be happy with me.

I frowned, to what was my wife up to? Her temper was much calmer than that of the three Weasleys, so it was unlikely she'd thrown a hex at them. No, it was more likely she'd prepared something to defend herself, should Mrs Weasley, Ron and Ginny get funny ideas. I gave an inward shudder. Daphne might claim she was pants at Defence, but I'd seen with my own eyes how fast and accurate she was with a wand, and how powerful and creative her spellcasting was. The Weasleys were in for a nasty surprise should they try anything.

Yet I loosened my own wand in its holder so it would be on the ready at an instant, should need be. I'd be damned if I let those three do anything to my wife.

I had no time to dwell on that thought, Headmistress McGonagall's speech came to an end, and the first course appeared in front of us. Animated chatter flared up all across the room as the reception guests tackled their lunch.

With a deep breath I picked up my spoon to eat my soup and prepared myself for some scathing remarks from Ron, Ginny, and their mother.

They never came.

Even though the three sent withering looks at Hermione, me and especially Daphne, the they didn't utter a single disparaging remark. In fact, they didn't talk at all.

I exchanged a side glance with Daphne. She had the bland face I remembered so well from our school years, yet there was more than a hint of smugness in her eyes as she looked at me. So, my loving wife was the driving force behind the unexpected muteness of the three Weasleys? Well, I'd be the last one to complain, at least they wouldn't spoil our lunch this way, although I couldn't wait to find out how she had neutralised the obnoxious threesome.

Mr Weasley also didn't seem to be inclined to smalltalk, his answers to Daphne's attempts of a conversation were monosyllabic at best, and he sat slumped in his chair like a man who bore a load too heavy to carry. At last, my wife gave up and joined the conversation between Kingsley, Hestia, Hermione, Neville and me. We all did our best to ignore our quiet lunch companions, although the glares Ron, Ginny and their mother sent at us made it hard to pretend everything was alright, while Mr Weasley's despondence laid itself on our mood like a shroud.

It seemed like an eternity until lunch came to an end. Hermione, Neville, Daphne and I took our leave at the first opportunity, and we all let out a deep breath as soon as we had left the tent.

Hermione grimaced. 'That was awful, wasn't it?'

'Yeah.' I turned to my wife. 'What did you do to the three unbearable Weasleys?'

Her eyebrows shot up in an expression of fake innocence. 'Why'd you think I did something to them?'

'Because I can look behind your bland society face, Mrs Potter, and I noticed you did something behind my back during Headmistress McGonagall's speech.' I put my arm around her. 'Spill the beans, what did you do to them?'

She laughed and snuggled against me. 'Well, I might have pulled out my wand under the cover of the tablecloth and cast a strong Silencing Charm at them while everyone listened to Headmistress McGonagall's speech. I also might have followed up that charm with a strong Compulsion Charm that made them want to keep quiet.'

Neville and I roared with laughter at that, while Hermione gasped.

'You didn't!'

'You bet I did.' Daphne smiled, yet there was a malicious gleam in her eyes. There was no doubt my sometimes ruthless wife was rather pleased with herself.

I bent down and kissed her cheek. 'Well done, love.'

Hermione gave up any pretense of being scandalised and joined our laughter.

'Let's take a walk around the lake,' she suggested as we'd calmed down. 'I think we'd all like to clear our heads.'

Daphne, Neville, and I agreed, and soon we ambled down the familiar path to the lake. We were not the only ones who'd opted for a walk after the festivities, and Daphne and I once again were the target of curious stares.

In an attempt to distract myself from the obnoxious people around us I concentrated on Hermione and Neville, who walked a few yards in front of Daphne and me. Had Hermione already come to a decision about Neville's offer of a marriage contract?

She'd taken Neville's arm and walked closely beside him. Closer than to a mere friend? It was hard to tell, Hermione was a very affectionate witch, she never held back towards those she considered her close friends. Neville certainly belonged in this category, and they had become even closer ever since Hermione's break-up with Ron and the discovery of her pregnancy.

Was she falling in love with him?

Well, Hermione trusted Neville and depended on him in a way she'd never depended on Ron or me. The looks she'd given him during our talk down by the lake… She'd never looked at Ron like this, with so much trust and affection. I had no idea what had drawn her to Ron. The contrast, perhaps; you'd hardly find two people as opposite of each other as Ron and Hermione. Yet, while opposite traits could complement each other, there had to be at least some common ground. Ron and Hermione never had that, they'd always been on different levels, emotionally as well as intellectually, with Hermione being way ahead of Ron.

Was it differently with Neville? At least they seemed to connect on an emotional level, if the way Neville took care of Hermione and her turning towards him was anything to go by. But was that enough? Even more important, did my best friend know her own feelings?

I knew her well enough to know that she'd never consent to Neville's offer if her feelings weren't engaged, she just didn't have it in her to take advantage of a friend, no matter what that refusal would cost her. If the magical world would shun her for being a mother out of wedlock, she'd rather return to the Muggle world than to take the easy way out Neville offered her.

A jolt went through me, anything but that. Hermione and I had just reconciled after Ron's unreasonable demand that she'd take his side in his fight with me, and I couldn't bear to lose the woman who'd become like a sister to me once again. True, for Daphne and me it would be easier than for most witches and wizards to keep in contact with Hermione even if she lived in the Muggle world. Yet, it wouldn't be the same. Worse yet, it would slowly kill my best friend. She'd embraced the magical world with everything she had, depriving her of her magical being would be like amputating an arm and a leg.

Daphne turned her head towards me. 'You're awfully quiet, Harry.'

Behind Hermione's and Neville's back I cast a silent Muffliato around us and told my wife about my apprehensions.

She squeezed my arm when I finished. 'I think you're worrying too much, love. Hermione might not let on how she feels, but her actions are telling. She grabbed his hand and kissed him in front of the public. I'd say that's an announcement of her feelings, if there ever was one.'

The pressure around my chest lessened somewhat at her words, and I gave a short laugh. 'Is that so? You're right, that never occured to me.'

'You're a male, of course it wouldn't occur to you,' Daphne said as if that explained everything.

'Yeah, I see what you mean, but is that enough for her to agree to Neville's offer? She's a Gryffindor, after all, she wouldn't want to take advantage of Neville.'

'She was rather pensive when I left her after our talk the other day and didn't refuse the idea of a marriage contract with Neville straight away anymore,' Daphne said. 'Give her time, love, there's a lot she has to deal with right now, her break-up with Ron and the knowledge she was tricked into that relationship, the pregnancy that resulted from that… If I were in her shoes I'd feel abused and tainted, and a new relationship would be the farthest thing on my mind, no matter how thankful I'd be for the comfort and help of my friends.'

'So you think Neville is just a friend to her?'

'I didn't say that. I can see the similarity between Hermione's situation and mine when you took me in. I was also hurting and in need of a friend and comfort, and you were there for me, no strings attached. Falling in love with you was the last thing on my mind, and yet, when the worst was behind me, I realised I somehow had.'

'Then let's hope history will repeat itself,' I said with a deep sigh.

We returned home in the afternoon and still had a couple of hours on our hands until we had to take the evening train to Paris. Since the conference would take place at a Muggle hotel, I'd decided we'd better arrive by Muggle transportation and had booked seats on the Eurostar* for Daphne and me.

'What do you think about a trip to Gringotts to get the construction plans of Grenian House?' I asked my wife.

She nodded. 'That's a good idea.'

We changed into Muggle suits and open business robes, then Apparated from the garden of Grimmauld Square towards the side alley near the Leaky Cauldron. A Notice Me Not Charm, cast on both of us, made sure we got to Gringotts without being accosted by the adoring wizarding public.

The Greengrass vault was deep down in the bowels of Gringotts. Daphne clung to my arm and groaned more than once during the stomach-turning cart-ride down there. When we came to a stop in front of the vault, she looked rather green and needed a few moments to recover.

The goblin who'd brought us to the vault opened it with a huge golden key and stepped aside to let us pass.

The Greengrass vault was different from my former trust vault at Gringotts. Instead of piles of Galleons, Sickles and Knuts it contained a couple of filing cabinets, a few bookcases and trunks, and a lot of furniture and paintings that were covered with heavy canvas. In the background there was a huge empty space that contained a small heap of Sickles and Knuts each, and a much smaller heap of Galleons, visible proof that the last war had wrecked havoc on the wealth of the Greengrass family.

Daphne went to one of the filing cabinets, opened a drawer, and went through the dozens of rolls of parchment kept there. Her search came up empty, she closed the drawer and opened another one that held at least twice as much rolls of parchment.

'Ah, gotcha!' She turned around and waved a roll of parchment at me.

I turned to leave the vault.

'Wait, Harry, we're not done yet.'

I stopped and looked at my wife from under raised eyebrows.

She motioned towards the covered furniture. 'While we're here, we might as well look if we find something to furnish the empty rooms at Grimmauld Place. I remember Mum told me that she'd replaced all the furniture at Grenian House after my grandmother' death and put it into the vault. Maybe there's something here we both like.'

'Good idea.' I pulled out my wand and cast a silent Levitation Charm to remove the canvas from the furniture.

Daphne took over from there, folded the heavy sheets and Levitated them into a corner of the vault with a few precice flicks of her wand.

'That was about time!' a female voice said.

A few others, male and female, agreed with that statement.

'My ancestors, I suppose.' Daphne stated the obvious.

'Well, we'll also need something to decorate the walls, so we might as well take a few portraits of your ancestors with us. As long as they aren't too obnoxious, of course.'

My wife poked into my side with a sharp elbow. 'I resent that, Potter,' she said and winked at me.

Together, we walked through the furniture on display. We found a double desk with matching bookcases, chairs and lamps we both liked.

'That will go up to our joint study,' Daphne said, and I nodded.

'What about these for the dining room? I like the design and the colours.' I pointed at a delightful set of dainty, yet graceful chairs and tables made of a warm, reddish wood. The seats of the chairs were upholstered and covered with a stripped fabric in hues of soft blue and cream.

'That's cherry wood, and the furniture is done in the Regency style,' my sophisticated wife said and stepped beside me to have a closer look. 'My grandmother had good taste, and so have you, love.'

'Are you implying my taste in furniture is not to your liking, dear?' a female voice that sounded eerily similar to Daphne's said from behind the table and chairs.

Daphne gasped and clasped her mouth with her hand. With eyes round and wide she stepped forward on unsteady feet.

I took her by the elbow to keep her from falling and guided her around the furniture in our way.

She stopped in front of the portrait of a man and a woman and sunk down on her knees.

The woman in the portrait looked like an older version of Daphne, she stood arm in arm with a man with dark blonde hair next to a sparking fountain in front of an impressive limestone manor. I'd seen her face before, although she'd already been dead then.

Daphne reached out with her hand and touched the painted face of her mother ever so tenderly with her fingertips.

'Mum!' she whispered, then moved her fingertips to the face of the man. 'Father!'

Tears spilled down her cheek, yet a blinding smile appeared on her face. The last time I'd seen her smiling like this was on our wedding day.

'How can that be? You never told me you'd commissioned a magical portrait. I thought all pictures of you were destroyed when -' Her voice broke, and she shook her head, unable to go on.

Mrs Greengrass pulled her head back, and a small frown appeared between her eyebrows. 'Darling, it was in our wills. You surely must have heard it when they were read to you.'

Daphne gave a shrug with her shoulder. 'I wasn't in the state to listen closely when Father's will was read to me. Your will… I didn't yet have an opportunity to hear it.'

The frown on Mrs Greengrass' face deepened.

'That can't be possible. I woke up quite a while ago, and your mother a couple of months later. While it is difficult to gauge time down here and in my state, in my estimation I have to be dead for at least a year, and your mother for about four or five months. Why did you never come to get us, daughter?' Mr Greengrass said.

Daphne shrunk under his accusing stare.

It was time for me to step in. Father-in-law or not, I wouldn't allow anyone to harass my wife, especially not a mere portrait I could silence anytime with a flick of my wand.

I put my hand on her shoulder, gave her a light squeeze, and said, 'As you pointed out correctly, Mr Greengrass, it's hard to gauge the passing of time down here. It's also hard to come by information if you're wrapped up in canvas and stashed away in a vault hundreds of feet below London. While I admit that you and your wife have a right to know what happened, I won't let you talk like this to my wife without knowing a thing of what has happened to her since you died. She's been through too much during the last year.'

Mr Greengrass' mouth slacked. 'Your… what?' The colour shot into his face. This time I was the recipient of his hard stare. 'You're both much too young to get married. Don't tell me you got my daughter into trouble!'

I didn't bother to hide my eyeroll. Purebloods! I pulled out my wand to silence him and give him a piece of my mind afterwards.

Daphne's hand on my arm held me back. 'Harry, please.'

I looked down in her pleading eyes, and my belligerence was nipped in the bud. How could I squabble with the portrait of her father when she begged me not to?

'Sorry, love,' I said.

Mrs Greengrass gave her husband a slap on the arm.

Now I knew where Daphne had learned that habit.

'Cyrus Greengrass, will you stop your insinuations? As if our daughter would ever be so dumb as having sex without the proper precautions. I taught her better than that.'

Her husband actually reddened at her blunt words.

Daphne, however, grinned. 'Thanks for your vote of confidence, Mum.' She scowled at her father. 'While Harry and I are looking forward to having children one day, we're not yet ready for that. Maybe you'd better listen to what happened ever since you woke up here before you make more assumptions like that.'

'Sorry, princess,' Mr Greengrass said.

His voice sounded rather sheepish, and I bit on the insides of my cheek to prevent myself from laughing out loud. That wouldn't have done me any favour with Mr Greengrass; for Daphne's sake I wanted to make a good impression on the man.

Daphne made herself comfortable in front of her parent's portrait, obviously ready to tell them about her last year, although her face showed a trace of uneasiness and dread.

I sat down beside her, crossed my legs, and put my arm around her shoulders. 'Why don't you let me tell your parents about last year? After all, you told Neville about the chamber so I didn't have to tell that horrible story.'

'Will you? Thank you, love, I don't know if I'm up to telling my parents about what happened to them yet.'

'Maybe you should start with introducing yourself, young man,' Mr Greengrass said. 'Although there is something familiar about you. Have we met before?'

'Hardly. You've probably seen my picture plastered all over Diagon Alley. My name is Harry Potter.'

Both Greengrasses gasped at that.

'You are… But how can that be? You're a wanted criminal.' Mr Greengrass stammered, although I had to give it to him that he drew air quotes around the word "criminal".

'Was,' I corrected him. 'They stopped hunting me when I finished off Voldemort.'

Mr Greengrass and his wife both jumped at the name. Mrs Greengrass was the first to recover. 'I think you have a lot to explain, Mr Potter.'

I smiled at her. 'Call me Harry, please.' Then I launched into Daphne's and my story.

Over an hour later I was still talking. My throat was dry, and my voice was becoming scratchy. At least I was nearing the end of my tale.

'Daphne and I got married on board of the Princess Isabella not even a week ago. We're currently living in my house on Grimmauld Place in London until we have rebuild Grenian House. Actually, we came down here today to get the original construction plans of the house, when Daphne had the idea to look for furniture we could use at Grimmauld Place.'

The Greengrasses had become very quiet over my story. Now they exchanged a long look.

At last, Mr Greengrass cleared his throat. 'Thank you for taking care of our daughter that well, Harry. I don't want to imagine what would have become of her, all alone, and those damned Aurors harassing her for being a Slytherin.'

'It was my pleasure, sir.' I pulled Daphne closer towards me and kissed her cheek. 'It was the best decision I ever made, since it brought me more happiness than I thought was possible.'

'Well said, Harry.' Mrs Greengrass smiled at me. 'What are your next plans?'

I looked at my wristwatch. It was already later than I thought. 'I'm going to take Daphne with me to Paris tonight. I have to attend to a meeting there tomorrow, and we'll be staying for another two nights to celebrate Daphne's birthday and return just in time for the Veterans Ball.'

'We will what?' My wife screamed with delight, threw her arms around me, and kissed me soundly. 'Thank you, love, you're the best.'

Her parents chuckled at that. 'Go, and have fun in Paris.' Miss Greengrass made a shooing motion at us. 'We'll have all the time in the world to talk when you return.' She shot me a grin. 'Assuming you want to have a portrait of your inlaws in your house, Harry. I wouldn't be surprised if you had second thoughts about that, after the way my husband behaved to you.'

'Really, Isabella!' her husband said, although his cheeks turned a deeper colour.

We laughed and took our leave, but not without promising them that we'd take their portrait out of the vault the day after the ball.

On our way back to Grimmauld Place I pondered Mrs Greengrass' words. There was no way I'd deny Daphne the joy of having the magical painting of her parents around to which she could talk whenever she missed them. Merlin knew how many times I had wished my parents had left me a magical painting to talk to instead of all the gold. Yet I didn't want their portrait in our personal quarters, either, I wasn't keen on Daphne's parents watching our life together twenty-four/seven. Maybe we could make room for the portrait on the wall next to Grandpa Fleamont's portrait, the old rascal would love the company, and Potter family pride would drive him to keep Mr Greengrass in check, should he continue to be distrustful of me.

Kreacher waited for us, our luggage at the ready. We shrugged out of our robes, and I pointed my wand at the two trolley cases Kreacher had packed for us, shrank them, and put them into the pocket of my suit trousers.

Daphne put he hand on my arm. 'Wait, Harry, I have to make sure I have everything I'll need for our stay.'

'No time for that, love, we have to catch the train. I'm sure Kreacher thought of everything, and if not, I suppose a shopping trip in Paris is in order.'

She gave me a blinding smile and a peck on my cheek. 'Have I told you lately that I love you?'

'Not for the last hour, no.'

We laughed and left the house. I Apparated us to the side alley near the Leaky Cauldron. From there we took a taxi to St Pancras. Despite my apprehensions of being late, we still had some time to kill, due to the fact that the train was late. I'd splurged on business class tickets that allowed us to enter the exclusive lounge at St Pancras, and Daphne and I headed straight to the cocktail bar where we treated us to a glass of champagne.

At last, the train arrived, and we boarded.

The seats were spacious and very comfortable, and Daphne snuggled up to me with a contented sigh. Our tickets included a three course meal, and we feasted on an excellent roast with a glass of wine as we reached the tunnel that crossed the Channel.

It was already dark when we arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, a little more than two hours after our departure from London, and climbed into the waiting taxi that brought us to our hotel. On our way through the brightly lit city Daphne pointed out the sights she remembered from the visits with her mother, and my eyes became huge when we passed the Arc de Triomphe.

At last, we reached The Peninsula Paris. It turned out that Monsieur Verny had booked a rooftop garden suite for us, and we took the elevator to the sixth floor and followed the page boy through a somewhat contorted corridor into a spacious living and dining room that also had an impressive desk.

The page boy motioned towards the desk. 'There is a letter for you, Mr Potter, that has been delivered an hour ago.'

I stopped at the desk to read my letter, while Daphne and the page boy walked deeper into the suite. I sat down, ripped the envelope open, and read a rather long-winded letter from Monsieur Verny. He asked me to meet him early the next morning before the actual meeting would start, and listed about half a dozen of topics he wanted my input on.

I sighed, folded the letter, and put it into the inner pocket of my suit jacket. As if I had the experience to give advice to the man who'd led Aurora for the last twenty years, although I appreciated the gesture.

The page boy had left the suite, and Daphne had wandered off to explore our accommodations. I got up from my seat and walked towards the door behind which my wife had disappeared.

It led into an elegant dressing room, with lots of floor length mirrors, a huge dressing table, and space for a wardrobe multiple times as big as the few garments Daphne and I had brought with us. Our suitcases stood in the middle of the room, forgotten. It seemed my wife had other things on her mind than to unpack or call the butler to do that task for her.

'Harry, you've got to see this!'

Daphne's voice sounded rather far away, as if she was somewhere above me. I followed the sound of her voice into the empty bedroom and from there into a small foyer from where an open double glass door led to a staircase to the rooftop.


'Up here,' her voice wafted down to me, so I climbed up the stairs.

When I reached the top, my eyes fell on the illuminated Eiffel Tower right in front of me, although some distance away.


Daphne stood at the railing of the rooftop terrace, her back towards me. At the sound of my voice she turned around, pushed herself off the railing, and rushed towards me, a huge smile on her face. She threw her arms around my neck. 'Thank you, Harry, this is the best birthday present ever.'

Her happiness warmed my heart, although I wasn't inclined to claim all the laurels. 'You have to thank Monsieur Verny. I wrote him about my plans for your birthday and asked him to book a room for us, and he came up with this.'

'It's marvellous.' She turned in my arms to have another look at the Eiffel Tower.

I put my chin on her shoulder, breathed in her familiar fragrance, and held her close.

At last, she turned her head. There was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

What now? I held my breath and braced myself for another of Daphne's surprises.

The mischievous sparkle intensified. 'You haven't seen the best yet, love.'

'That is?' I raised an eyebrow at her.

Instead of an answer, she motioned with her left hand towards a corner of the rooftop terrace.

Secluded from prying eyes, yet with a full view of the famous landmark of Paris, stood a jacuzzi.

Daphne turned in my arms, and her slender fingers fumbled with the knot of my tie.

The corners of my mouth turned up in a broad smile as I bent down to kiss my wife. It seemed as if I was going to enjoy this birthday surprise as much as Daphne did.


I'm sorry to tell you that this story is on hiatus for an undetermined time. With everything going on in our world right now I find it hard to write a story about a Harry and a Daphne who obviously have no big problems and enjoy everything life has to offer, especially travelling. While I know it is necessary and support the decisions of my government, I find the restrictions on my personal freedom hard to bear, so I'm not in the mood to continue this story right now. Thankfully I had detailed notes for the last chapter that helped me finish what I had started.

Don't worry, the story is not abandoned, I will continue working on it as soon as things and my mood lighten up. Until then I'll entertain myself with developing another murder mystery, I feel like killing off a character. ;)