A/N Warning for mentions of Death Eater crimes. Nothing explicit, but just so people are aware.

Chapter 25

1 September 1998

Daphne pursed her lips, but otherwise did not show any indication of her displeasure as she climbed the marble steps of Gringotts. It was pouring rain in London and ideally, she would be in her warm, dry office with a hot cup of coffee. Or even better, she could have had a late start to the day, since Harry was busy elsewhere this morning.

Entering Gringotts, she walked up to the first free goblin and handed over the letter she had received that morning. The goblin surveyed the letter and then beckoned her to follow him to one of the numerous meeting rooms at Gringotts.

Caskforge, the account manager for Harry and his vast fortune, was waiting in the meeting room with a grim look on his face. Daphne looked at him sharply as she took a seat and shook her head when he offered her tea.

"Explain," she said calmly, but with a hint of steel.

Caskforge took a breath. "We were notified of a breach of contract," he said, gravely. "One of Lord Peverell's errant ones."

"Nott, I'm guessing, by your lack of surprise," said Daphne, and she didn't bother concealing her displeasure this time around.

Caskforge nodded. "Per the protocol discussed with you and Lord Peverell previously, we have contacted Elder Nott and invited him for a meeting," he said.

"Excellent," said Daphne. "What time is he expected?"

"Noon," said Caskforge.

Daphne checked the time; it was just after nine. She nodded and stood up. "Thank you for informing me," she said. "Lord Peverell and I shall be in attendance at noon."

Caskforge stood as well and bowed. Daphne returned the gesture and left. She was furious, of course, but not entirely surprised. Nott had always been a little slow on the uptake. No matter, she thought.

When the contract was breached, it notified Gringotts so the breach could then be investigated by Harry. If found to be true, then Harry could mete out whatever punishment he deemed fit for the crime. Since they had started dating and Daphne had told Harry a bit more about Nott, Daphne knew that Harry would have no mercy for him this time around.

Well, it was going to be an unpleasant afternoon, she thought as she went to Verdant. At least for Nott.

Hermione finished packing her trunk, and carefully pinned her Head Girl badge to her robes. She made sure Crookshanks was in his carrier, and levitated her luggage downstairs to the front hall of Grimmauld Place. She would need to find a new place once she finished Hogwarts, but she had enjoyed living on her own at Grimmauld Place since Andromeda and Teddy had moved to Black Castle. No doubt Walburga was having a conniption in the afterlife, but Hermione didn't care.

She checked her watch and knew she had twenty minutes to spare. There was a knock on the front door, and she had drawn her wand before she knew it.

To her surprise, she found Viktor on the doorstep when she opened the door.

"Hello," he said, sheepishly.

"Viktor, what are you doing here?" she asked, putting her wand away.

"I knew you were going to Hogwarts today," he said. "I wanted to speak with you."

Hermione nodded and invited him in. He followed her into the living room and they took a seat in the armchairs by the unlit fireplace. Hermione thought he looked rather nervous, and if she were honest, she felt a bit nervous herself.

She and Viktor had reconnected since his arrival in Britain, but apart from dancing at Harry's birthday party, they had mostly been talking and writing letters back and forth. It had felt nice, and so soon after breaking up with Ron, she wasn't in the right mindset to hope for more than that. But she had to admit, seeing Viktor had made her heart skip with excitement in a way it hadn't in a while.

"It has been nice...since I have been back in England," he said. "I was not happy...in Bulgaria." He paused, and Hermione had to marvel at how much better his English had gotten. His accent was still as heavy as ever but his sentence structure had definitely improved. "I do not wish to take a lot of your time. I know you have to leave soon."

Hermione nodded and Viktor took a deep breath. "Would you like to date me?" he asked bluntly.

Hermione's eyes went wide and she vaguely supposed she shouldn't have been so surprised. Viktor was usually so tongue-tied but she knew from experience that he was a very blunt person once he got comfortable with someone.

She realised he was looking at her expectantly for a response, and she cleared her throat. "I'm going to be at Hogwarts," she said, gathering her thoughts. "Won't that be a problem?"

Viktor shook his head. "I can visit you when you have Hogsmeade weekends," he said, clearly having given this some thought. "And you will return for the holidays, yes?"

"Yes," said Hermione. She took a breath and repressed the instinctual urge to start babbling and avoiding the issue. She knew deep down that there was never just "the one". She had no idea if she and Viktor were meant to be but she supposed that there was only one way to find out. Worst case scenario would be that they would end up walking away from one another.

With a small smile, she nodded her acceptance and when a beaming Viktor leaned forward for a kiss, Hermione didn't overthink it for once before she returned the gesture.

Astoria was not entirely surprised when she felt the knock on the wards. She carefully finished tying her Slytherin tie before going downstairs.

Unsurprisingly, Draco was waiting in the foyer and he smiled when he saw her. Astoria's stomach fluttered and she held out her hand as she got closer. Draco took her hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles.

"Good morning, Tori," he greeted, and the soft look in his grey eyes made Astoria feel like she was floating.

"Hi," she said. "I thought we'd said goodbye yesterday."

"We had," he said and let go of her hand to reach into the pocket of his robes. Astoria gasped as he pulled out a small carved wooden box identical to the one that had held the gloves, though this one was about the size of his palm instead. "But I couldn't wait to give you this one."

"A courting gift," murmured Astoria in astonishment. She hadn't expected the next one until the Autumn Equinox, maybe even Yule.

Draco sank into a bow and held out the box. "Heiress Greengrass," he said. "I, Heir Draco Malfoy, of House Malfoy do beseech you to accept my second gift. Hair combs studded with Malfoy pearls."

Astoria curtseyed gracefully before accepting the gift and opening the box. Resting on the bed of velvet was a pair of pearl and gold hair combs shaped like snowdrops.

"It's beautiful," said Astoria, and then curtseyed again. "Thank you, Heir Malfoy. I accept your gift." Draco beamed at her and Astoria smiled back for a moment before looking down at the hair combs again. "Would you…?"

Draco nodded and stepped closer to her as Astoria turned and faced the other way. Her straight, dark hair had been brushed back into a French braid. With a flick of Draco's wand, the intricate braid unravelled until her hair lay in a dark curtain down her back.

Astoria stayed still as she heard him murmur the incantation for the hair styling charm and felt gentle magic lift her hair up and twist it into an updo. She'd need a mirror to see exactly what he'd done but then she felt him lean forward and tuck the hair combs at the back of the updo. Astoria's breath caught and she closed her eyes briefly.

"All done," he whispered and stepped away.

Astoria exhaled heavily before turning back around to face him. As she did, she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror on the nearby wall. Her dark hair had been tied back into a simple chignon, with a few tendrils of hair framing her face and the hair combs neatly tucked into the chignon.

"Thank you," she said, with a small smile. She hesitated for a brief moment but then took a step toward him and raised herself up on tiptoes. He took the hint, thankfully, and met her halfway as their lips touched for the very first time. His lips tasted like tea and strawberry jam, and Astoria let out a quiet sigh when she felt him cup her cheek as they kissed.

Draco was the first to pull away and he rested his forehead on hers for a moment. "We should go," he said.

Astoria nodded, and then took a reluctant step back. "Yes," she agreed.

He grabbed both her hands and kissed her knuckles. "The first Hogsmeade weekend is in two weeks," he said. "I'll see you then."

She smiled widely and nodded. "I look forward to it."

A fair distance away at King's Cross, Isaac was busy ushering his charges onto the train at Platform 9 ¾. Naomi was at the orphanage, organising groups to take the portkeys that Harry had been making painstakingly since 8 that morning.

"Isaac, I think I've forgotten my Charms homework in my room."

"Isaac, I can't find my Ravenclaw tie."

"Isaac, I need to…"

And on and on it went, but to his credit, Isaac managed it well. He always thought Naomi was better at this than him, but by the time she had arrived with the last group of children, Isaac had managed to get the rest squared away.

Naomi shot him a grateful smile as she ushered the four first years onto the train. Before Isaac could help load their luggage, Harry apparated onto the platform, though he was polyjuiced, of course. The only way Isaac knew it was Harry was because Naomi tilted her head toward him in a silent signal.

"I'll give you a hand with the luggage, Isaac," said Harry, and between the two of them, they managed to load Mila, Kai, Jolene and Luca's trunks and various pet cages into their compartment.

Isaac ran an eye over the four young children and was unsurprised to see nerves and excitement on their faces. Jolene was practically vibrating in her seat, speaking at a million miles an hour about the Sorting, while Luca fidgeted with a loose thread on his jumper as he did his best to listen. Kai was staring out of the window impassively but Isaac could see his tense posture that betrayed his nervousness.

Mila was the most collected out of all of them but she too was bouncing her foot restlessly.

"You will all do fine," said Isaac, reassuringly, as they all quietened down and turned to him, even Kai. "You've got the older children at Hogwarts and the rest of us are only a letter away."

"Couldn't have said it better myself," smiled Harry before he turned to the children. "Hogwarts will be your school for the next seven years and your home will always be at the Lily Potter Home. We are all here, whenever you need us. We will see you at Christmas."

There was a beat of silence as Harry let his words sink in. Mila half-sobbed, half-giggled as she threw her arms around Harry and then Isaac and Naomi in quick hugs. Jolene and Luca were quick to follow suit, and Kai reluctantly shook hands with Isaac and Naomi, before giving in and hugging Harry and letting go just as quickly.

The train whistle sounded, and with a final encouraging smile at the children, Isaac, Naomi and Harry alighted the train and went to the platform.

Isaac smiled to himself at the sight of the familiar last minute scramble of goodbyes and farewells, and he waved and smiled, ignoring the slight burning in his eyes.

It would never get easy, he supposed, saying goodbye to his charges. Then he glanced at Harry and Naomi who looked the same way that he felt.

"Guess that's not a bad thing," he murmured to himself as the Hogwarts Express disappeared around the corner.

Harry closed his eyes as he rested his head in Daphne's lap, enjoying the sensation of her running her fingers absently through his hair.

"We have to leave for Gringotts in a bit," murmured Daphne.

"Mm," he agreed, but made no move to get up. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally, since he'd spent the morning making portkeys for the students from the Lily Potter Home to get to King's Cross and then seeing them all off to Hogwarts. Daphne had told him about Nott and the meeting at noon, but all he wanted was to stay right where he was for the foreseeable future.

Daphne seemingly let him get away with it for another five or so minutes, before nudging him gently. He sighed but opened his eyes and sat up. Daphne smirked at him before sitting up from the sofa in her office and going over to the floor-length mirror to fix her robes and hair.

There was a knock on Daphne's office door and as Daphne called for the person to enter, Ayesha Shafiq stepped into the room. She was a year older than them, and had glossy back hair cut into a short pixie cut and was wearing wizard's robes in a striking olive green colour. Even though it was only her first day, Harry had already learned from Daphne that she seemed to prefer wearing traditionally male clothing.

"You asked me to remind you when it was time for Gringotts," she said, looking at both of them.

"Yes, we were just on our way," smiled Daphne.

"How has your first day been?" asked Harry, as he stood as well.

Ayesha smiled. "Busy, but not overwhelming," she said. "I have been mostly organising employee files and creating an organisational system. I still have a bit to go, though."

"We will leave you to it, then," said Harry, as he glanced over at Daphne. "Let's go and deal with Nott, shall we?"

Daphne nodded, and the two of them apparated to Gringotts. Caskforge met them at the doors and led them to a meeting room. Before they could enter though, Caskforge paused and gave them a look.

"Lord Nott has brought legal representation with him," he said.

"Has he now?" asked Daphne, and Harry loved her frosty tone. "Who did he bring?"

"Johanna Inglewood," said Caskforge.

Daphne frowned, as did Harry. "I thought Johanna was a criminal defense lawyer," said Harry.

"She is," said Daphne. She looked a bit concerned, so Harry took her hand and gave it a squeeze before releasing it.

"Let's see what this is about," said Harry, straightening his posture as Caskforge opened the door to the meeting room.

Sure enough, when they entered the room, Nott was sitting on a sofa with Johanna next to him. Sitting on Nott's other side was an unfamiliar girl with beautiful dark skin, dressed in scarlet silk robes.

All three of them stood as they entered, and Nott gave a curt bow toward Harry, which almost made him stumble with surprise. Harry glanced at Daphne, whose eyes had narrowed, though her face betrayed no obvious emotion.

"Elder Potter, Madam Greengrass," greeted Johanna. "I have been retained by Elder Nott for this matter."

"And who is Elder Nott's companion?" asked Daphne, as she and Harry sat down.

Johanna glanced at Nott, who nodded. "That is part of the reason why I have been retained," she said, as they all took a seat as well. "Elder Nott realised he may have inadvertently breached his contract with Elder Potter."

"Oh?" asked Daphne, and Harry felt his own eyebrows climb higher in disbelief.

Nott cleared his throat. "Allow me to introduce Lady Karina Nott. My wife," he said, indicating the dark-skinned woman next to him.

"Wife?" asked Daphne, in shock.

"As of last evening, yes," said Johanna, handing over a sealed scroll of parchment.

Caskforge accepted it and examined the seal before nodding, which confirmed that it was genuine. Caskforge broke the seal and unfurled the scroll of parchment.

"Betrothal contract and bonding documents, confirming the marriage and bonding of Theodore Xavier Nott and Karina Annamarie Devereaux on 31 August 1998," said Caskforge.

Harry glanced at Daphne, who met his gaze with an equally confused and exasperated look.

"I see," said Daphne, finally, holding out her hand. Caskforge hurriedly handed her the documents and her cool blue eyes read through them quickly before she looked at Nott with a frosty gaze. "Of course, the contract only notifies Elder Potter of the breach, not if a specific clause of the contract was breached."

Nott looked back at her impassively but there was a hint of smug arrogance in his pale eyes that made Harry want to punch him in the teeth.

"The contract my client signed with Elder Potter, while having several specific clauses, also had the standard clauses regarding matters of marriage and inheritance," said Johanna. "As his lord and master, Elder Nott had no authority to marry Lady Karina without Elder Potter's express consent. A genuine oversight on my client's part."

"I'm sure," said Daphne, handing the paperwork back to Johanna, who accepted it with a nod. "How did Elder Nott's marriage come about anyway?"

"My father and Karina's mother were old friends," said Nott, and he took Karina's hand. "Karina's mother is in ill health and without her, Karina would have no one. I am the last of my line, unless I wish the Nott title to end up in the hands of my cousins. It was a necessity for me to marry as quickly as possible and endeavour to produce an heir."

Judging by the way Daphne's jaw tightened, that was an acceptable reason for the hurried nuptials.

"Give us a moment," said Harry.

Caskforge stood up immediately, and led Nott, his wife, and Johanna out of the meeting room. Harry waited until the doors were shut to turn to Daphne.

"Well?" he asked.

"I think Nott's a little snake who has found a loophole," said Daphne, eyes spitting pure fury. "But the bonding contract is genuine. He really did marry that poor girl."

"Could she be potioned?" asked Harry.

Daphne shook her head. "If he had just married her, I would have thought so. But they are bonded. Bonding won't work if both parties do not give full and proper consent," she said. "Johanna was right; the contracts had the specific things we needed but I also kept the standard ones. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would not have permitted any marriages or bloodlines that he didn't approve of." She looked frustrated. "I should have been more careful."

Harry reached over and grabbed her hand. "Daph, we've been through this," he said, patiently. "I know you demand perfection from yourself, but you can't be omniscient."

Daphne frowned but nodded. "I know," she sighed. "I don't trust it, though."

"You wouldn't be you if you did," said Harry, with a sly grin. When her frown deepened, he pulled her in and placed a hot kiss on her lips, swallowing her protest with a smug chuckle.

"We're working," she said, pulling away, her cheeks flushed pink.

"Apparently," he laughed and kissed her fingers before sitting back.

Daphne shot him an annoyed look which was ruined by the pretty blush on her face. Something clicked in Harry's brain as he watched her tense posture relax slightly and she straightened her robes and tucked a strand of hair that had escaped her careful updo behind her ear. Clearing her throat, Daphne stood up and went to the door to let the others back in. Hiding his grin, Harry schooled his expression back into a neutral one.

Once everyone was seated again, Daphne cleared her throat. "This seems to be in order," she said, and glanced at Harry, who nodded once in confirmation. "Elder Potter instructs that he is happy to write off this breach as a genuine mistake."

"Excellent," smiled Johanna. "Unless there is anything else…?"

"No," said Harry, dismissing them. With another curt bow, Nott left with his wife and his lawyer.

Harry glanced at Daphne, who was frowning again. He knew that no matter what he said, Daphne would still obsess over this mistake.

"You should head home for some rest," said Daphne, looking at him. "You still look tired."

He was indeed tired, and he smiled softly. "Alright," he said, a plan already forming in his head. "Are you going back to work?"

"Yes," she said. "I want to see how Tristan and Ayesha are settling in, and since the Death Eater trials start tomorrow, I want to make sure that everything is squared away during our absence."

Harry nodded, as Caskforge returned, presumably having seen the others out. "Thank you for your time, Caskforge," said Harry, as he and Daphne took their leave as well.

Outside Gringotts, Daphne returned to Verdant and Harry apparated to Potter Hall. He knew the Nott thing would weigh on her for the rest of the day, perhaps even longer. Which is why he had a plan.

But first, he needed a nap.

At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Mila walked behind Luca as they followed the fifth year prefect, Nicola Jackson, to the West Tower. Nicola was one of the children at the Lily Potter Home, and Mila had secretly hoped she would be sorted in Ravenclaw, just so she could have Nicola as the prefect. Nicola was a no-nonsense sort of girl who liked to read and Mila admired her immensely.

Mila was also glad that both her and Luca had ended up in Ravenclaw together. Jolene had gone to Gryffindor and, to Mila's surprise, Kai had ended up in Hufflepuff. Kai had looked shocked, and each time that Mila had glanced toward him during the Welcoming Feast, he had been frowning at his plate and avoiding conversation with everyone at the table.

Luca's breath hitched and Mila glanced at him in concern as did Nicola, but he smiled reassuringly at them. The climb up the stairs must have tired him out, not to mention the long train journey. Mila herself was finding her own breathing getting laboured.

"Here we are," said Nicola, stopping in front of a door with an eagle-shaped bronze knocker.

The knocker sprang to life, much to Mila's surprise, before speaking: "The more of this there is, the less you see."

Nicola looked at the first years expectantly.

"Darkness," answered Luca.

"Correct," said the eagle and the door swung open.

Mila's eyes were wide with wonder. Answering a riddle to get into the Ravenclaw tower sounded like so much fun. Her eyes widened even further when she saw the beautiful circular common room with wide-arched windows and blue and bronze silks hanging over them. The carpet was a gorgeous midnight blue patterned with stars that were reflected in the domed ceiling overhead.

The common room was dotted with various tables, chairs and bookcases, upholstered in blue and bronze and at the far end from the entrance was the marble statue of a statuesque woman with long hair.

"This is our founder," said Nicola, as she led them toward the statue. "Rowena Ravenclaw was also the architect of Hogwarts and as you can see, she certainly favoured us."

Mila giggled, as did some of the others. There was a door next to the statue and Nicola indicated it with a wave.

"The dormitories are through here," she said. "Boys to the right, girls to the left. It's signposted and your luggage ought to be waiting. Get going now. Classes start tomorrow and you want to get plenty of rest before the term begins."

Wishing Nicola and Luca goodnight, Mila followed the five other first year girls to the dormitories.

The girls' dormitory was two-storeyed and Mila's bed was by one of the arched windows, overlooking the lake. Her trunk and Swordstorm's cage was waiting neatly at the foot of the bed for her, and Swordstorm hooted at her in greeting when he saw her.

"'Lo, Swordstorm," she said. "I'll take you up to the Owlery tomorrow, alright?"

Swordstorm hooted once again, as if to agree. Mila quickly unpacked her trunk, placing her clothes in the dresser next to her bed, and her books and school supplies in the bookcase and chest of drawers. The other girls made small talk as they unpacked, but Mila mostly listened, feeling a bit shy. Soon enough though, all six girls were tucked into their respective beds, as the lanterns dimmed to nothing.

Mila heard the whistling wind which echoed around the dorms and like her favourite lullaby, the sound lulled Mila to sleep.

Daphne glanced at the time and frowned. They had foregone their usual end-of-day GSC meeting that day and would have a long meeting the next morning instead. Daphne was the only one at Verdant, both Tristan and Ayesha having left at 5.30. Both had hit the ground running right away, and Daphne was already feeling less anxious about leaving Verdant in their care over the next few weeks while the Death Eater trials would be occurring.

Truthfully, Daphne had finished everything she needed to get done, but instead of heading to Potter Hall for dinner, she was currently procrastinating. Her misstep with Nott kept playing over and over in her head. While it may very well have been Nott's marriage that triggered the breach, Daphne knew it was no guarantee.

And then there was his new bride. While she may not have been potioned, Daphne knew that you could coerce someone without any magic at all. Nott Snr didn't have any friends, the nasty man that he was. Daphne had no idea what Nott was holding over the girl to make her marry and bond with him.

With a sigh, Daphne stood up and stretched her arms. With Astoria back at Hogwarts, she wouldn't entirely mind spending more time at Potter Hall, but she knew Harry would sense her anxious mood, which in turn would worry him.

Just as she was debating whether to send Harry a message that she was going to Greengrass Manor for the night, the fireplace blazed to life and Harry stepped into her office.

"Thought I might still find you here," he said, casting the charm to banish the soot from his robes. He was still wearing the formal grey robes from before but he had unbuttoned it so that they hung open over his black trousers and light grey shirt.

Daphne smiled, but even she knew it wouldn't have reached her eyes. "What are you doing back here?" she asked.

Harry chuckled but didn't say anything else as he walked up toward her. He cast a quick look at her desk and smiled.

"What?" asked Daphne, but then Harry simply swept away the files she had been working on, with a wave of his wand. "Harry, that…" Daphne stopped when she realised that Harry hadn't stopped advancing toward her, and now she was caught between him and her recently cleared desk.

"Daph," he said, softly, and cupped her cheek.

Daphne felt her face flush, but she closed her eyes and leaned in instinctively. Harry kissed her gently, easing her back so that she was sitting on top of the desk. His other hand went to her hair, and Daphne's eyes flew open when she felt him pull out her poisoned pin from her hair. She tried to protest but Harry just deepened the kiss and she vaguely heard the pin being tossed onto the hardwood floor behind Harry.

Her hair unfurled slowly, helped along by Harry's fingers combing through it. Daphne held onto the collar of his shirt as she began to feel lightheaded with the need to breathe.

Harry pulled away and rested his forehead on hers. "Alright?"

Daphne nodded, trying to catch her breath. "What brought this on?" she asked.

He smirked, emerald eyes flashing at her in amusement as he leaned back slightly. "I'm testing a theory," he said. He kissed her again before she could ask him anything further, and to Daphne's surprise, she felt him move the hand from her cheek to the top button of her robes. "Do you want me to stop?" he murmured against her lips.

Daphne considered it for a moment, but then shook her head. Harry smiled and unbuttoned the top of her robes, deft fingers continuing down the row of buttons until the last one on top of her waist. The robe fell open and Harry helped ease it off her shoulders and arms, and onto the desk behind her. She was wearing a high-collared white blouse and a light turquoise skirt underneath the robe. It was the usual attire Harry saw her in after work, but Daphne couldn't help but flush when she saw the way his gaze moved down her body.

"What theory are you testing exactly?" she managed to ask.

Harry smiled, and to her surprise, knelt onto the floor. At the same time, both his hands gripped her thighs and he pulled her right to the edge of the desk. Daphne squeaked in surprise and had to brace herself with her hands on top of the desk.

"Is this okay?" asked Harry, looking up at her with a serious expression.

Daphne stared at him, cheeks turning pink. She was a virgin, not an idiot, so she knew what he was asking. The fact that he looked so serious told her clearly that he would stop the moment she felt uncomfortable.

She nodded once, and Harry moved his hands down her legs, easing them over his shoulders before diving his head under her skirt.

Daphne shivered violently at the sensation of his warm breath between her thighs and her arms buckled, making her drop to her elbows.

"Tell me to stop, if you don't want me to," said Harry.

Daphne's affirmative hum was all the encouragement Harry needed. She felt him taking her underwear off, but at the first touch of his tongue between her legs, all thoughts seemed to vanish from her head, as a cry of pure delight escaped her mouth. She vaguely supposed she should have been embarrassed; this was hardly the way for the head of a Sacred Twenty Eight family to act. But whatever Harry was doing was too good for any of those thoughts to intrude and Daphne closed her eyes and surrendered herself to the sensation of Harry touching her in a way no one had ever done in her life.

A haze of pleasure overcame her as a strange tightness grew in the pit of her belly. Daphne could hear a low moaning sound and it took her a second to realise that it was her making that sound. She was too far gone to be embarrassed though and as the tightness in her belly grew, another loud cry escaped her mouth and an overwhelming sense of pleasure followed by a rush of satisfaction washed over her. Her elbows gave way as she lay down flat on her back on the desk, trying to catch her breath.

She heard Harry stand, and when she opened her eyes, his face radiated nothing but smugness and an undercurrent of arousal. He brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers before straightening back up.

"I'll see you back at home," he said. "Minnie has made Irish stew."

Daphne made a noise of agreement, still too out of it to say anything. Harry was almost to the fireplace when she sat up quickly and glanced around.

"Harry James Potter!" she thundered, face going red. "Where in Merlin's name is my underwear?"

Harry winked at her outrageously and his laughter echoed in the wake behind him as he disappeared through the fire.

2 September 1998

Lavinia drank a vial of the morning sickness potion, grimacing at the bitter taste. Her stomach roiled in protest but held steady. She swallowed down a glass of water and took a breath.

It was 6 am and it was too bloody early to be up, but the baby in her belly had apparently missed the memo on that one. It also happened to be a big day for Lavinia, and she'd slept poorly the night before due to nerves.

Knowing she wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, she climbed out of bed and made her way to the bathroom to start getting ready.

An hour and a half later, she and Nicholas apparated to Diagon Alley and made their way to the GSC HQ.

They were almost half an hour early but Maribeth greeted them with a broad smile and ushered them into a meeting room where they were joined by Fleur and Draco in a few minutes.

"Sorry for being early," said Lavinia.

"Not at all. We all have a busy day ahead so we've had an early start as well," said Draco. "So, what's your checklist for the day?"

Lavinia obligingly unfurled the scroll of parchment that Nicholas handed her. "Nicholas and I will head over soon to oversee the last bit of preparations. The management is double checking the reservations for tonight's opening dinner as well as guests who are planning on staying overnight. The staff is doing a final run through starting at midday. Then, barring any disasters, doors can open at 6.00 pm."

Draco nodded and Lavinia put away the list. It was opening day for the Prisma Hotel, renamed the Prism Plaza. There was a dinner hosted in the main dining room starting at six thirty with various guests and press in attendance. After dinner, there was live music and drinks at the rooftop bar. All of the attendees had also been offered a complimentary night of stay at the Prism Plaza.

The launch day idea had been Lavinia's, and she and Nicholas had planned it meticulously. The event had been advertised almost immediately after they had accepted the offer from GSC, and had been sold out within the week. Everyone was eager to see the previously disgraced Prisma Hotel as the brand new Prism Plaza. Lavinia also suspected that most of them were curious in and of itself because of all the rumours about the old hotel under its previous management.

Either way, the 100 galleon a plate dinner and complimentary night of stay had been sold out.

"We will let you go then," said Fleur. "Draco is on-call if any disasters happen."

Lavinia nodded as she and Nicholas stood up. With a bright smile, they headed toward Platinum Alley.

Daphne reviewed the last of the candidates on her list and pursed her lips. She was due at the Wizengamot any moment but she wanted Ayesha to have contacted the people on her shortlist in the meantime. Emerald Teacups was weeks away from opening and Daphne was yet to hire the staff.

There was a knock on the door and Ayesha entered a moment later.

"You're running late," she reminded her.

"I know," sighed Daphne. "Call the ones in that pile," she said, finally. "They're all starting to look the same."

Ayesha laughed but picked up the pile of resumes from Daphne's desk. "I'll start scheduling them in."

"Thanks, Ayesha," smiled Daphne, as she tidied her desk and prepared to leave.

Ayesha returned to the front desk and Daphne checked her appearance before ducking in briefly into Tristan's office. He was in the middle of preparing neat little piles of documents on the floor and he smiled sheepishly when he saw Daphne.

"Don't mind me, I just visualise things better when they are all in front of me," he said. "I am organising them according to each arm of the GSC. Then I'm going through and auditing everything we have to make sure we are all covered on our internal processes."

"Thanks, Tristan," she nodded gratefully. "I should be done around 4 and I'll stop by the office for a bit before the end of the day meeting."

"I'll see you then," he smiled and returned to what he was doing.

Daphne went outside of Verdant and disapparated, arriving in the Atrium at the Ministry. It was the usual hustle and bustle of early morning rush but Daphne hurried over to the courtrooms, dodging and weaving through the crowd expertly. She barely made it to her seat as the doors banged closed, signalling that the Wizengamot was being called into session. The courtroom was filled to the brim since it was open to the press and the public for the trials.

"You okay?" asked Harry, as she subtly tried to catch her breath.

She nodded. "I need ten more hours in the day," she said, adjusting her robes primly.

"What you need is to relax a bit more," whispered Harry and her face flamed red as she remembered how he had helped her relax the evening before. She heard his quiet chuckle and shot him a halfhearted glare as the Chief Warlock stood up.

"Good morning, valued members of the Wizengamot," he greeted. "Today is the first day for what will be known as the Riddle trials. They are named after the wizard Thomas Marvolo Riddle, whom the accused have been allegedly associated with and in doing so, have committed crimes of a grievous nature. For ease of reference, I will reiterate what has been previously agreed by way of procedure."

He unfurled a scroll of parchment and cleared his throat. "The trials will run from 9.00 am until 4.00 pm on each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. All members or a third party appropriately nominated by the member, must be in attendance for each of the trials. The accused shall be under the influence of veritaserum for the duration of the trial. The verdict has to be reached at the conclusion of every trial, however, sentencing shall be reserved for a later date. Are there any questions?"

No one spoke up and the Chief Warlock nodded once. "Then, we will take appearances."

He sat down as Gawain Robards stood up. He had a grim look on his face and his voice was steady when he spoke. "Head Auror Gawain Robards for the prosecution, Chief Warlock," he said.

"Thank you, Head Auror," said the Chief Warlock as Robards sat back down.

The man on the other end of the table stood up. He was in his mid forties with salt and pepper hair and a long beard, dressed in modest black robes. "Mason Doratti," he said, in a slightly hoarse voice. "For the accused, Mr Ioan Mulciber."

"Thank you, Mr Doratti," said the Chief Warlock, looking at him like he was dirt beneath his shoe. "Bring the accused in."

Ioan Mulciber was brought into the courtroom in a cage. While he didn't bear the haggard look of someone exposed to dementors, he didn't look like someone who suited prison well. He was wearing drab grey robes and was clean shaven with neatly shorn hair. The robes had short sleeves, and he was holding his left arm deliberately turned in, presumably to hide his Dark Mark.

Daphne vaguely remembered Harry telling her that the new Azkaban wards, while not as soul draining as dementors, were still quite harsh on prisoners, especially with their magic bound.

Sure enough, a rune crafted silver bracelet adorned his right wrist, glowing purple briefly from time to time, confirming that the runes were suppressing his magic.

Mulciber's charges were read out by Robards, and Daphne fought to keep her face neutral. The charges included various uses of the Unforgivable Curses, assault, rape and escaping Azkaban.

"And how does the accused plead?" asked the Chief Warlock, after all the charges had been read.

"Not guilty," said Mulciber's lawyer.

Abercrombie sighed. "Very well, bring in the potioneers," he said.

Two potioneers, one chosen by the prosecution and one chosen by the defence entered the chamber. They both assessed the vial of Veritaserum held out by Robards, before nodding shortly. An Auror then took the vial and fed the potion to Mulciber, who grimaced but swallowed it. As the familiar blank expression fell on his face, Robards stood up with a sheaf of parchment in his hands.

"State your full name and date of birth for the records," said Robards.

"Ioan William Mulciber, 5 April 1960," he answered, monotonously.

Robards took a deep breath. "Have you ever cast an Unforgivable Curse?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Which one?" asked Robards.

"All of them," said Mulciber, without hesitation.

"When did you first cast the Imperius Curse?" asked Robards.

"In my fourth year at Hogwarts," said Mulciber.

There was a slight hiss in the chamber as people looked horrified, but Robards continued with a neutral expression on his face.

"Tell us what happened," he said.

As Mulciber nodded and launched into the story of how he had imperiused a Muggleborn student to defile her, Daphne clenched her fists and swallowed back her revulsion. The questions continued as Robards walked Mulciber through his entire history, including him taking the Dark Mark and his role in supporting the Dark Lord in the First and Second Wizarding Wars. They had to take frequent breaks for the Veritaserum to be readministered, but by the time it was half past three, Robards seemed to have reached the end of his questions.

Taking a breath, Robards drank some water from his goblet and looked at Mulciber's lawyer. "Your witness," he said.

The defense lawyer looked like he was about to throw up.

"Mr Doratti," prompted the Chief Warlock, when he didn't move. "Do you wish to question the accused?"

"N-no, Chief Warlock," he stammered out.

Abercrombie nodded. "Very well, then we will move on," he said. "Head Auror, make your closing statement."

Robards stood up and gave a short bow. "Honoured members of the Wizengamot, there is not much else I wish to say. The accused has admitted to many more crimes than he was charged with and a conviction on even one of those charges is enough to secure him a lifetime of imprisonment in Azkaban. However, I implore you all to remember that the accused was previously imprisoned in Azkaban at the end of the First Wizarding War, and yet he continued his heinous crimes upon escaping Azkaban during the Second Wizarding War. He has demonstrated no remorse for his actions, and has admitted in his responses today that he does not regret his crimes. With that, I implore you to give consideration to a greater punishment than imprisonment." He paused and took a breath. "I ask that the accused be sentenced to death."

There was a collective gasp in the room and the Chief Warlock had to call for silence. Robards bowed and sat down, seemingly well aware of the bombshell he had dropped. Daphne glanced at Harry, whose mouth was set in a grim line but something told her that he was not opposed to Robards' suggestion. Daphne remembered that one of the students attacked by Mulciber had been Mary Macdonald, a friend of Lily Potter's.

"Head Auror Robards," hissed the Chief Warlock. "The Wizengamot has not awarded the death penalty since 1874."

"With respect, Chief Warlock, the prosecution will be seeking the same penalty for anyone found guilty during the Riddle Trials," said Robards. "Besides, the last execution in 1874 was for the torture and murder of five children. The accused has admitted to much, much more than that. I would say the punishment fits the crime."

Abercrombie pursed his lips, but Elder Fawley spoke up. "We are getting ahead of ourselves," he said. "The accused's guilt is yet to be determined, and as the Chief Warlock said at the beginning of the trial, sentencing is a question for another day."

The Chief Warlock nodded immediately. "Exactly," he said. "Mr Doratti, your closing?"

The defense lawyer stood up and mumbled about how Mulciber regretted his actions and deserved mercy but the prosecution's case had been ironclad. Daphne glanced at the public gallery and knew that more than one person in there would gladly carry out the death penalty themselves, after hearing everything that Mulciber had done.

After about five minutes of mumbling his way through his closing statement, Doratti sat down shakily.

"Very well," said Abercrombie. "We will now take a vote. All those in favour of acquittal, please raise your wands."

Not a single wand went up, and the Chief Warlock nodded grimly before hitting the gavel once. "Ioan William Mulciber, the Wizengamot finds you guilty of all charges." A loud cheer broke out from the gallery and Abercrombie had to hit the gavel a few more times to get them to be silent. "You will return to Azkaban, and your sentencing hearing shall be listed four weeks from today."

The last bit of Veritaserum had left Mulciber, and as the verdict was delivered, he slumped in his seat, too defeated to even attempt to plead his innocence. As his cage was led away, Abercrombie declared the trial to be at an end, and Daphne wished for nothing more than a glass of brandy and her bed.

Harry stood in front of the mirror in his chambers at Potter Hall, adjusting the bowtie on his wizarding tuxedo absently. He was exhausted after the Mulciber trial but he had to put an appearance in for the Prism Plaza launch. He dearly wished he could take Daphne with him, but the GSC team had collectively shot down that suggestion, noting it would start rumours too early on if he showed up with her on his arm. Instead, Harry was meeting Isaiah and Neville for dinner, to discuss the upcoming Quidditch season and how the new team was coming together.

He sensed a minor disturbance in the wards but relaxed when he realised that it was Daphne. Finishing up, he went downstairs to find her in the kitchen with Minnie who was pouring her a glass of wine.

"Hey, you," she said, when she saw him. "You look great."

He smiled and planted a deep kiss on her mouth. "Thanks, my girlfriend picked out the outfit," he laughed.

"She has good taste," laughed Daphne.

He laughed as well and kissed her again. "I really don't want to go to this thing," he murmured, placing one more kiss on her lips before backing away.

Daphne smiled at him as she held out her untouched glass of wine to him. "It will be fine," she said. "It's dinner and mingling with some people, and then you can come home."

He took a sip of wine and nodded. "What are your plans for tonight?" he asked.

"Honestly, I just feel like going to bed," she said, drinking from the same glass of wine. "I will probably have an early night."

Harry brushed his fingers down her cheek, marvelling at the porcelain-like soft skin. "Can you stay here tonight?" he asked.

Daphne's eyes went wide and he didn't blame her. They hadn't spent a night together, not since he'd fallen asleep at Greengrass Manor, but even then, it hadn't exactly been a night together. Their physical relationship had been progressing but the most they'd done was the evening before in her office.

"Just to sleep," he clarified, when she didn't say anything. "We know we said we would take things slow."

Daphne chuckled and nodded. "Sure," she said.

Harry grinned and kissed her again, wishing more than ever he didn't have to leave. Daphne seemed to sense his reluctance to leave so she was the first one to pull away.

"Go on," she said. "The faster you leave, the faster you can come back."

He sighed. "Fine," he said. "Look after your mistress, Minnie. I will be home soon."

As Minnie chimed affirmatively, Harry smiled softly at the emotional look on Daphne's face and disappeared through the fire, arriving in the foyer of the Prism Plaza.

Lavinia had given them a final tour two days ago, so Harry was not surprised at the newly renovated interior but he was still just as awed. The foyer looked majestic, and was full of bustling people, and various staff in white and gold uniforms. Harry brushed the soot off his robes and made his way to the reception desk, nodding at various people he recognised.

"Good evening, Mr Potter," said the young Scottish woman at the reception desk. "The other guests at your table are already here, so Benny will show you to them," she added, indicating one of the staff nearby who jumped to attention.

"Thank you," said Harry, and followed Benny up the stairs and into the large banquet hall. The hall was set with little tables, some of them for as big as ten people, while there were plenty of intimate two person tables as well. Harry was led to the table where Neville, Isaiah, and Isaiah's wife, Shelley, were sitting.

Harry greeted the two men with a hand shake and placed a polite peck on the back of Shelley's hand.

"I'm sorry for being late," he said, as they all sat back down.

"Not at all, Neville was just telling us about the Mulciber trial," said Isaiah.

"Dreadful business, the Evening Prophet's report was most upsetting," said Shelley.

"They reported the truth," said Neville. "If anything, they summarised the extent of his deeds."

Shelley looked horrified and Isaiah cleared his throat. "Well, shall we get started with some drinks?"

As if on cue, the entrees were brought out by the numerous staff to the guests at each of the tables. Grilled satay prawns were served alongside a glass of chilled Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, and they turned to lighter topics at the table, as they talked about the renovation of the Prism Plaza and how wonderful it all looked. Harry ate his food, interjecting briefly when he was addressed directly. The food was delicious, and as the first course was finished and the second course of heirloom tomato salad was brought out, the topic turned to Quidditch.

"The first match is four weeks away," said Isaiah, taking a hearty sip of the mint water that had been served alongside the salad.

"How's Viktor fitting in with the team?" asked Neville.

"Really well," answered Isaiah. "He is a professional and his personality is non confrontational. The others were a bit intimidated at first because of his reputation, but they are starting to come around. Camille and her team are helping them work together, and their spirits are at an all-time high which is always a good thing going into a season."

"Of course the biggest news in the League is the return of the Banchory Bangers," said Harry.

The news had been met with shock last week by the GSC. Banchory Bangers had been a Scottish team that had been forced to disband in 1814 for flouting regulations. Then, last week, the Blackwood Conglomerate had announced they had received permission from the Department of Magical Games and Sports to reassemble the team. The news had been met with wariness since the Blackwood Conglomerate was American, however, a lot of the old loyal supporters had been getting very excited.

At the GSC, the wariness was even higher since they knew Kei and Miria Blackwood had already started snooping around the GSC. Draco and Fleur had proceeded with Miria Blackwood's plans for the Muggle fashion store in Diagon Alley, and there had already been not-so-subtle questions asked by Miria about the GSC. Draco and Fleur remained tightlipped, of course, and they had all come to the conclusion that the Blackwood Conglomerate was looking to expand into Britain, now that Voldemort was no longer a threat. The Blackwood Conglomerate then acquiring the Banchory Bangers further cemented this.

Isaiah shook his head. "I still can't believe it," he said. "I thought it was April 1st when I saw the headline."

"Do we know anything about their current team?" asked Neville.

"Yes, they're a mix of national and international players," said Isaiah. "They will start at the bottom of the league, of course, and are up against the Ballycastle Bats first."

"That will be telling," said Harry, as Isaiah nodded. "The Bats are first in the League. Not to mention, it will be the first match of the season."

"At least it will even up the numbers," said Shelley. "It was always tiresome to have thirteen teams in the League. The matchups were a nightmare to figure out, if nothing else."

Harry was spared having to respond as the main course of tamarind beef was brought out. It was paired with a delicious glass of Shiraz, and the talking at the table all but ceased as everyone tucked in. The main course was then followed by a strawberry crumb cake and a glass of sherry for dessert, and Harry was feeling very full and tired by the end of it. He glanced subtly at the time and saw that it was well after eight.

"Looking to escape?" asked Neville, in a low voice.

"You have no idea," chuckled Harry.

"Pretty sure I do," said Neville. "I do want to see the rooftop bar though."

"One drink," said Harry, as Neville nodded.

As the last of the dessert was cleared away, the guests proceeded in groups to the rooftop bar. Isaiah and Shelley begged off and instead went to their room. The rooftop bar looked amazing with strung up lanterns and an enchanting view of magical London. Harry got himself a lime soda, not really wanting to keep drinking. Neville, on the other hand, ordered a gin and tonic, and the two were soon accosted by various people wanting a word.

Harry spoke to Elder Macdougal and his wife, who were thrilled with the new Prism Plaza. He then ran into Marian Giles from Witch Weekly and Barnabas Cuffe from the Daily Prophet, with a pair of young reporters in tow who were taking dutiful notes, so Harry knew they could expect reports in the press the next day. Neville retired for the evening and went down to his room, and Harry was about to return to Potter Hall when he heard his name.

He turned around to see a man in his early thirties with caramel brown hair and sharp hazel eyes, dressed in an expensively tailored Muggle tuxedo. On his arm was a short woman with curly black hair and blue eyes, dressed stylishly in flapper-like fashion, feathery accessories included.

"Mr Potter, it is an honour," said the man, and his American accent made Harry blink. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kei Blackwood and this is my lovely wife, Miria."

Harry blinked again before smiling politely. "Of course, you revived the Banchory Bangers," he said, holding out his hand.

Kei Blackwood's thin smile widened as he shook his hand. "Yes," he said. "I have been told you own a Quidditch team yourself."

"Partly own," corrected Harry. "And yes, the Puddlemere United."

"Ranked second in the League currently, correct?" asked Kei. "Wonderful, wonderful."

Harry smiled, wondering what their game was. "Well, it is very nice to meet you both," he said. "But I'm afraid I was just on my way out."

"Of course, we don't want to hold you up," said Miria, in a chiming bell-like voice. "It was very nice to meet you."

"Although, before we let you go, could we perhaps ask a favour?" asked Kei.

Harry looked at him questioningly. "What kind of a favour?"

Kei's smile widened. "We would love for you to join us for dinner some time," he said. "You must be a busy man, and I don't wish to brag but so am I, but we could find a mutual time that would work for us."

Harry's mind raced and he forced himself to smile. "Certainly," he said. "The food here today impressed me, so how about dinner this Saturday at seven?"

"That sounds perfect," gushed Miria. "Doesn't it, my love?"

Kei smiled down at her briefly before looking at Harry. "That does indeed work," he said. "Thank you, Mr Potter."

"Harry," he said.

"Harry," nodded Kei. "We will see you soon."

Harry smiled, meeting Kei's gaze firmly. "I look forward to it."

Potter Hall was quiet when Harry returned, which was not surprising considering it was almost ten. Daphne had been looking ready for bed when he'd left so he wouldn't have been surprised if she'd had an early night like she'd said. The lights were dimmed low along the foyer and the hallways, as Harry made his way toward his chambers.

He opened the doors to his bedroom quietly, though they still creaked. A sliver of moonlight cascaded from the gap in the curtains and illuminated a fast asleep Daphne in his bed. Feeling his chest get tight with emotion, he softly closed the doors behind himself and tiptoed over to her side of the bed. Whether intentionally or not, she had chosen the right side of the bed which was perfect. She was on her back, and the covers were pulled up to her shoulders, showing the top of a light blue silk shirt with short sleeves that she was wearing. Her hair was loose, the silver pin sitting in a tray on her bedside table, along with her Greengrass family ring.

Daphne breathed steadily, looking peaceful as can be, her hair looking almost silver in the moonlight. Smiling at her, Harry went to the bathroom and changed out of his robes and into grey pyjama pants and a worn red Gryffindor t-shirt. Tiptoeing back into the bedroom, he went over to his side of the bed and took off his glasses before climbing in slowly.

Daphne stirred a little as he got into bed, and her eyes opened sleepily.

"Sorry," whispered Harry. "I was trying not to wake you."

She shook her head with a smile and turned onto her side so she could snuggle into his arms. Harry smiled broadly as he wrapped his arms around her, jumping only slightly when she threw a leg over his hip as well, thoroughly cuddled into his embrace. Who knew the ice queen was such a cuddler, he thought briefly. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, well aware that her breathing had already evened out and she had gone back to sleep.

He would have to talk to her about tonight. About the success of the Prism Plaza, about the upcoming Quidditch season, about Kei and Miria Blackwood. About the Riddle trials, about the Horcruxes. About thousands of other things they were doing and that they still needed to do.

But tonight, Harry just held Daphne close and shut his eyes. Because he knew that they had time for all of those things and more.

It was only the beginning, after all.

A/N Story will continue in Part II: Panacea.