๐•ธ๐–”๐–“๐–”๐–ˆ๐–๐–—๐–”๐–’๐–Š


Act I - Trials of Summer


Chapter 22 - Boy Meets Girl


Artemis Greengrass was a son of a bitch, but his house-elves cooked a mean steak. Crispy, skinless, stir-fried chicken thighs, swimming in a beautiful flavored homemade teriyaki sauce and coupled with steamed broccoli and rice. Harry had once had some leftover Japanese cuisine that the Dursleys had brought home as part of Dudley's birthday celebration.

That dish had nothing on this.

It was almost enough to forget that the man was all but forcing him to marry his daughter. Yes, heโ€” Harry James Potter: freak extraordinaire and the so-called Golden Boy of Gryffindor โ€”was being offered the hand of a Slytherin princess. Someone who also happened to be distantly related to him.

Stuff like this didn't happen to other people. It was like the laws of the universe had suddenly changed when no one was looking, for no reason beyond the fact that he was involved. It was all part of the Harry Potter luck, the most obscure and destructive kind of luck there was. Walburga Black's no-longer-existent wraith was proof enough of that.

Harry had expected to continue their deeply stirring conversation after the meal, but Sirius had other ideas. Something to do with Lord Black business that he, a son of Black, need not worry about. Initially, Harry had scowled at the idea of his godfather hiding things, but at least he managed to extract a promise that Sirius would come clean once the discussion was over.

As much as he hated to admit it, it really was a Black family matter and not a Potter one. Rebelling would mena disrespect to the Lord of House Black. And more importantly, to the man kind enough to take him in.

That was how Harry Potter found himself loitering along the spacious hallways of the Greengrass home. It reminded him of Hogwarts's large stone walls, but instead of a castle filled with shadowed rooms and sunbeams seeping in through glassy windows, this place was open. Even though he was standing in the heart of the mansion, he felt like he was frolicking in an open lawn as the sounds of birds chirping rang in his ear, warm sunlight kissed his skin, and grass tickled his toes.

Was Sirius really right about Artemis Greengrass? Was this really the home of a Death Eater? Could someone who lived in such an environment seek pleasure in tormenting other people?

Careful Harry, he quickly chastised himself. Appearance is neither proof of character nor competence.

One only needed to look towards Gilderoy Lockhart for proof.

Opening one of the doors at the end of the hall, Harry curiously peeked inside. It was brightly lit, a stark contrast to his own room at Grimmauld Place where there was always a shadow available. The walls were white and engraved with letterings he couldn't begin to comprehend. The floor, surprisingly, was wooden with a thick mat placed over a majority of it.

And in the middle of the room stood a girl, dressed in a pair of white joggers with matching trainers andโ€” is that a sports bra? โ€” in her hands was a smooth, round staff of wood. She was flowing through a clearly practiced routine that had the weapon whirling in an arcing blur around her in all directions. The wound of the weapon cutting the air was a steady hiss, faster than his eyes could follow. The demonstration of perfect control was more than a little impressive.

The mystery girl turned and faced him without stopping her motions. Harry had to admit, she was pretty. Of course, she was nowhere as glamorously lovely as the Patel twins, or exotically beautiful like Cho, and certainly not supernaturally stunning like Fleur Delacour. She was believably pleasant to look at, with high cheekbones, bright blue eyes, and sleek golden tresses that would've fallen over her back were they not tied into a messy bun.

Harry stood transfixed, watching silently as she came to a slow stop in her routine. Eventually, the striking, spinning, and thrusting at empty air all came to a complete close.

"Um, hello," he dumbly said.

"If you want to talk, then grab a bล."

Harry looked around, unsure whether the girl was addressing him. "Errโ€ฆ what?"

"A bล, Potter." She relaxed her posture and shifted the staff to her right hand, raising it to eye-level. Her stance exuded a challenge. "Pick one up or leave. I don't waste my training hours for anyone, not even the Griffyndor Golden Boy."

He really did not like that nickname.

Harry silently exhaled. A part of him wanted to refuse immediately, but a more sensible part of him pointed out that it was he who had barged into the training room uninvited. He glanced at the wooden rack, which contained several more of those stavesโ€” some were circular while others were squarish, and all of them were crafted out of different kinds of wood โ€”and then glanced back at the girl.

She arched an eyebrow.

Bugger, Harry thought as he grabbed a circular one resembling the one in her hands. It felt heavy and utterly unfamiliar in his hands as he took an awkward stance. Really, what did she expect him to do with this thing? Hit her on the head with one end or the other? At least the Sword of Gryffindor had been less confusingโ€”- all he had to do was hold it by the hilt and shove the pointy bit at the enemy.

"It is called a bล," the girl explained, because his expression was just that easy to read. "Quarterstaff fighters use it in battle."

"Quarterstaff?" He twirled the thing in his hands, quickly catching it as he fumbled. "This is like the long wands those Dumrstrang guys used, isn't it?"

She broke out into laughter. It was warm and genuine. "Long wands, Potter? Those things are called quarterstaves. They're made of oak and are used to cast spells."

"Right. Soโ€ฆ long wands."

The girl pursed her lips, suppressing a smile. "Sure, let's go with that. Quarterstaves are heavy and not suited for light practice. The Japanese bล on the other handโ€ฆ" she trailed off, and began spinning the staff at rapid speeds with just her right hand. Harry watched in awe as she casually switched to her left hand and then back to her right, before slamming one end down upon the mat-covered floor.

Harry let out an appreciative whistle, to which she made a mock bow.

"So that's a bล staff, then?"

"The word bล means 'staff' in Japanese, Potter. Calling it a bล staff is like saying 'staff staff'."

"Ohโ€ฆ" Harry trailed off, feeling incredibly stupid. "Listen, uhโ€ฆ"

"You don't know my name do you?" she flatly asked.

"Of course I know your name," he blatantly lied. She had to be Daphne, right? She seemed to know his name and call him Potter in the same disdainful way Malfoy did. Or was this the younger sister?

"You'd think sharing classes for four long years would be enough butโ€”"

"You're Daphne," he declared, with a confidence he most certainly did not possess.

"Oh?" She arched her brows. "What gave it away?"

"It is the way you say Potter. Though when it comes from a Slytherin blond, it's usually with a free sneer. Should I feel cheated?"

"I don't know," she teased back. "Why don't you pitch yourself against me for a few minutes and find out?"

Harry had zero reasons to accept her challenge, but it definitely sounded interesting. Besides, he was curious what the girl was doing practicing staff-fighting during the summer. As far as he knew, physical exercise wasn't really a thing for wizards. Still, Sirius had a dojo back at Grimmauld and this girl had a training room, so maybe he was just projecting his knowledge of the Weasley family onto others.

Shaking his head, he held the bล staffโ€” bล in front of him with both hands.

Her smile turned a little wicked. "Good boy."

"Says the Slytherin wearing muggle robes and playing with sticks," Harry returned. Now that the awkwardness was past them, he felt more comfortable standing in front of her, slowly moving like two lions circling each other over a dead deer. "Poor Draco would have a heart-attack."

"Draco, is it? I knew there was a forbidden romance hiding there. You hide it well, but Malfoy couldn't. Potter this, Potter that. Why must you torture your darling Draco so much?"

Harry gagged at the thought, eliciting another peal of laughter from her.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you are a Slytherin, right?"

"Don't I look the part?"

"Yeah, I mean, it's justโ€ฆ" He wondered how to say it in the most un-insulting manner. "I've never met a Slytherin that smiled so much."

Daphne raised her chin defiantly. "There are many turns in the Slytherin way, Potter, but I don't expect a Gryffindor to appreciate them. I do not need to be a Pureblood bigot to be proud of my House and lineage."

"Liberal Slytherins," Harry chuckled. "What is the world coming to?"

"You'd know if you ever got your head out of the Weasley coop."

"Haven't you heard?" Harry shot back. "I got a new home this summer."

"And a Lordship to boot. Someone is quickly moving up in our world."

"Though apparently the Minister has issues with it."

"Minister Fudge doesn't just have issues with you Potter," Daphne rolled her eyes. "He practically has volumes and ongoing subscriptions. And yesโ€”" She snapped her bล forward with a sudden thrust, and it was only thanks to his seeker instincts that he barely managed a block, "โ€”I heard about the trial."

"Now you're just being mean," Harry returned, flexing his fingers and wincing from discomfort.

"Don't worry," she replied with a smug smile. "You'll get your chance to show off your quidditch skills against poor little me in no time."

Harry did a double take at that. "You play quidditch?"

She nodded, flipping her hair. "Yeah. I'm on the team now."

And wasn't that interesting. Slythern had been an all-boys Quidditch team since his first year. But Peregrine Derrick and Graham Montague had been sixth years when he'd faced them last, which meant that they now graduated andโ€”

He gave Daphne a quick once-over. "Chaser?"

She nodded, visibly impressed. "What gave it away?"

"Derrick and Montague graduated last year, so that leaves a Chaser and a Beater position empty. You're swift and tough, but not the right build for a beater."

The smile Daphne gave him in response had far too many teeth in it, and her voice turned into a purr. "Careful there, Potter. It almost sounded like you were calling me weak."

"It wasn't an insult," Harry quickly clarified. "It's just, beaters need a lot of muscle mass. I know Fred and George regularly work out just to stay in shape for Quidditch. And they're also a bit moreโ€ฆ playful."

Yeahโ€ฆ playful was the right word. He loved the twins to death, but he'd be the first to admit the two shared a mean streak a mile wide.

"Don't I look playful to you?" Daphne pouted.

"You look like you play rough."

"I'm truly impressed, Potter," she chuckled. "You've got eyes and know how to use them." She regarded him speculatively. "Most boys I've met don't know how to show proper respect."

"You have trouble correcting them?"

Daphne idly spun the staff in her hand with effortless ease. "Is that a serious question?"

"โ€ฆPoint taken," Harry conceded. "Still, that makes things interesting. I'm planning to try for Chaser myself. Maybe we'll get to clash in the air."

Her eyebrows climbed up to her forehead. "What happened to playing Seeker?"

"I thought poor Draco might finally deserve a chance at winning."

"Forbidden romance," she sang with a smile.

Harry simply rolled his eyes. He had to admit, talking to Daphne Greengrass was far easier now that they'd found a common interest. It was why he'd been attracted to Cho Chang in the first place. Speaking of whom, he wondered how the girl would react when seeing him, especially with everything that happened at the end of last year.

Daphne snapped her staff at him again, hitting him in the knuckles. "Hasn't anyone ever told you that it's bad manners to ignore a girl when she's sparring with you?" The sharp tone of her voice went completely against the spark of amusement in her eyes.

Harry slightly narrowed his eyes. Was Daphneโ€ฆ flirting with him?

"Not in those exact words."

"Well, now you know then."

"Right, sorry." Harry gave her an uneasy grin as he racked his mind of what to say next. "So, who's the new Keeper?"

"Millicent Bulstrode."

Bulstrode. He remembered the large girl from second year. She'd fit the Keeper position all right.

"Seems like she has the Harry Potter Seal of Approval," Daphne snorted.

"Jealous much?"

Another snap forward, and now both of his hands were bruised.

"You're violent, woman," he swore. "You think if you bruise me enough, I'll be more likely to say yes to your father or something?"

Daphne openly laughed at that. "He's my father, Potter. I don't have to do anything. Artemis Greengrass always gets his way."

First Malfoy and now her. Just what exactly did the fathers of Slytherin children do to instill such unwavering faith in them? "Is that so?" he asked, keeping his thoughts to himself. "Maybe I'll surprise him."

"Maybe you'll be surprised."

"'Surprised' is my middle name," Harry replied. He was actually enjoying this back-and-forth banter.

The blonde blinked, before letting out a soft giggle. "Does your team even have a Chaser position empty?"

"I am Harry Potter," he haughtily declared.

"No need to wear out your name, Potter," she snorted.

The response wasโ€ฆ a breath of fresh air, honestly. It seemed like she didn't buy into the whole Boy-Who-Lived crap much. Then again, he'd never really talked to any Slytherin save for Malfoy and his cronies.

And Parkinson. Though she was practically a crony too.

"I know for a fact that Alicia's trying out for the Holyhead Harpies, so there might be a spot empty. If nothing else, I'll be a reserve Chaser and keep my job as Seeker."

Daphne frowned. "I thought you loved that role."

Yeah, so did I.

In truth, he did enjoy being a Seeker, but that was also the only role he'd ever been offered. There had never been a choice involved. Not for him. Never for him.

"I guess I grew out of it. Besides, seekers need a smaller build," Harry shrugged, offering a half-hearted thrust of his bล. Daphne parried easily and countered with a hard beat that came so fast it nearly took the weapon out of his hand. "Damn!"

Daphne grinned. "Oho, big strong man, are you?"

Harry grinned. "All I'm saying is that I'm not the runt I used to be. I'll let Ginny have a go at it this time around. She's had her eye on my position since coming to Hogwarts."

"But she left it alone for her Prince Charming?"

He held back a groan. "Does everyone at Hogwarts know about her crush?"

"Try Wizarding Britain, Potter. Hell, even Filch probably knows by now. Weaselette isn't exactly what you would call subtle."

"Unlike you?"

Daphne beamed.


Artemis 'The Shark' Greengrass did not look like the sort to invite a person for lunch and attempt to murder them. The security team outside had reinforced a Don Corleone feel, especially with the rules of Hospitality in effect. Lily had once made the Marauders watch the moving picture with her, and at the time, it had Sirius wondering whether the director had exchanged notes with Arcturus Black.

"Sirius Black," Artemis began without any sort of preamble. "I believe you know what I want to discuss?"

Sirius beamed at him. For some reason, smiling always seemed to annoy people more than actually insulting them. Or maybe he just had an annoying smile. Who could say for certain?

"I know you've made a study of the contract and have come to an opinion. I also believe you know what I'm after."

"The Black Library," Sirius replied. "I heard about Malfoy's pathetic attempt to give it away. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that is a priceless Black family asset that I cannot give up."

"That's what the goblins told me," Artemis nodded, not even the least bit off-put by his words or attitude. "But my daughter's life is on the line. I simply cannot take no for an answer."

Sirius stared at him. Hard. This was going a bit differently than he'd expected. When Fleur Delacour had come to him to go through the contract, he'd seen it as a power-grabbing maneuver made by two ambitious purebloods. The fact that Artemis Greengrass had tried to derail and divert Harry with the news of the Greengrass bloodline curse hadn't painted a pretty picture of the man.

But nowโ€ฆ

"You think Sagittarius Black used a spell from the Family Grimoire to curse the Greengrasses."

Artemis silently frowned, as if carefully considering what to say. "It's the possibility with the greatest likelihood. I have divested family funds to contact shamans from Africa, indigenous natives of America, to the tribes in India. All for nothing," he spat. "Not a single person could think of any existing spell that could have done what Sagittarius did. I then funded the creation of purifying rituals to counter the curse, to no effect. The only thing that comes even remotely close to resisting its power is the Greengrass Family Magic."

Sirius frowned. "You believe the curse was fueled by the Black Family Magic."

"That is my current hypothesis," the man nodded, "which is why I need the aid of the Library to find a cure."

"The Black Charter forbids anyone not of the Black name from so much as entering the Inner Sanctum of the Library. To try to force your way through would evoke the ire of the Lar of the House. Not to mention, nothing from the Inner Sanctum can be taken out."

"Even if it is the Lord himself?" Artemis probed.

"Doubly so. Part of being a Lord is to ensure the Charter's stipulations are held. Failing to do so would have grave consequences." Sirius paused. "This was what kept Voldemort from having access to the Library."

Theoretically, draining the House's wardstone would severely weaken the enchantment and the power of the Lar, allowing an intruder to get into the Sanctum and rob it. The incident between Harry and the doxies had created a similar setting. But he didn't need to tell Greengrass any of that.

Artemis's smile faltered. "I thought it was because Arcturus Black never sold out."

"It's more than just selling out, Greengrass. There are provisions in the Charter that even a Lord may not break. Not without extreme repercussions. I'm almost positive the Greengrass Charter has at least something similar set up."

The Regent shrugged. "If there is, I am not privy to its existence. The rights of a Regent are far more limited in that regard."

Sirius tilted his head slightly but said nothing.

"Still, that didn't seem to stop Lucius Malfoy from agreeing to the deal."

And that was the crux of the matter. Lucius Malfoy was the Regent, and as such, was not bound to the limitations of such a contract, especially since it would be Draco who would be the Lord and thus the one to deal with possible repercussions. Perhaps the wily fox had something else in mind, or perhaps he'd been intending to take the Black fortune away and leave the family's name to wither away penniless. Narcissa may be a proud Black, but with Voldemort in the horizon and the little blonde ponce bending backwards to imitate his father, he wasn't sure how much Narcissa could have swayed her husband or her son from taking that approach.

"I wouldn't trust Lucius Malfoy to keep a chicken alive for a week, let alone ensure the prestige of the Black heritage," Sirius calmly responded. "However, things have changed, and Draco Malfoy is no longer the Heir Presumptive. I am the Lord now, and Narcissa and her ilk are forever cut off from the Black name."

"Yes, I heard about that mess," Artemis said. "A rather ruthless approach from a man sorted into Gryffindor."

The two silently sipped their tea for a moment.

"Mister Black," he offered, "given the new alterations, I do not believe you would want to marry my thirteen-year-old daughter and invite public scorn?"

"I wouldn't, just as you yourself wouldn't want to be the father who sold off his little girl to a middle-aged man for some books."

That erased the pleasant expression from the man's face. "Noโ€ฆ" he growled. "I wouldn't."

"Then the path ahead of us is clear," Sirius spread his hands. "You don't want to ruin your daughter's life, and I don't wish to be known as a pedophile. Let us promise to be excellent to one another, and simply nullify the contract."

"I paid five hundred thousand galleons to set the contract."

"To Lucius Malfoy, not me." Sirius lazily locked gazes with him. "And I find it odd that it was all about your daughter's life and the Greengrass lineage earlier, yet now you are haggling over money."

Artemis narrowed his eyes at him. "As I've said, I believe in the power of leverage. Harry Potter must marry my eldest and secure a strong bond between two users of the Greengrass Family Magic. A coalition between Houses Potter, Black, and Greengrass would be a powerful thing, especially in the dark times that lie ahead of us."

He was talking about Voldemort. The biggest pain in the arse there was.

But it was also the most obvious one.

"Perhaps I misheard you, Mister Greengrass. Or are you insinuating that Voldemort is more powerful than the combined might of House Black and House Potter?"

"House Black and House Potter are limited to two individuals. Two people cannot win a war, Mister Black."

"Who said anything about winning? I, for one, am all for leaving Britain to settle somewhere abroad with my godson. France seems lovely. Britain can go to the dogs for all I care."

"And your godson's feelings about that areโ€”"

"Irrelevant to this discussion," Sirius waspishly retorted.

Artemis raised his hands in peace. "I am trying to establish a positive working relationship here, Mister Black. You made Harry Potter a son of House Black. If he marries Daphne, then as a daughter-in-law to House Black, Daphne should be allowed into the Library. It solves all of our problems."

"Yes, while condemning my godson to a life partner he did not choose."

Artemis's next words came out cold. "Careful, Sirius Black. One might assume you are calling my eldest daughter, the Lady of House Greengrass, inferior."

"Go touch grass, Greengrass," Sirius snapped. "I'm simply against the idea of using my godson as a scapegoat just to keep myself out of this mess. Gringotts offered me something similar with Astoria's situation, and I immediately rejected it then. I will not take away his ability to choose."

"And when he does finally choose?"

"Then he has my blessings for a happy union."

Artemis paused. "And what if I wish for Daphne to be married, not to Harry Potter, to Harry Black?"

Sirius inhaled. "You meanโ€”"

"The Wizengamot Charter allows for official separation of bloodlines through marriage. To my knowledge, Harry Potter is a son of Black, is he not? Thus, by extension, a woman can marry into the Black family through him. It would soothe my heart knowing that Daphne would have access to the Library, if not myself, while also allowing your godson to marry the love of his life, whoever the lucky witch might be."

Sirius flinched. Artemis Greengrass had, inadvertently, brushed against a very delicate topic. An option that he himself had been guiltily weighing in the deepest trenches of his mind. It was something that Harry didn't need to know about.

Not at the moment, at least.

"You'd settle for your daughter to live the life as a second-wife, knowing she'd never beโ€”"

Artemis threw his head back and laughed. "Come now, Sirius. Either you think I'm a fool, or you don't understand your own godson. A second wife? Do you really think Harry Potter is the kind to differentiate between people like that? I have studied the boy over the years. I know him better than he knows himself. And if he marries Daphne, he would never take another."

Artemis didn't even bat an eyelash as he said the words. "It's a simple solution," the man continued, "unless there is something else about this betrothal that makes you hesitate?"

"The other issue," Sirius began slowly, "is that for all your attempts to convince me you're one of the hounds and not the wolves, you deal with the likes of Malfoy far too much for me to trust you."

"Fair enough," Artemis shrugged. "I've stated my terms, and I think they are satisfactory. Tell me yours."

Sirius remembered how Fleur Delacour had presented it to him.

"Revoke the contract, stating discrepancies under the Special Circumstances provision of Clause 11 in Gringotts Policies. Admit, in front of Gringotts, that Lucius Malfoy played you like a fiddle. Demand compensation from the man and break the contract. Your little girl goes free and the Black Charter is not disobeyed. In return, I am willing to dedicate considerable resources to find a counter to this bloodline curse."

"Lucius promised Astoria's marriage to the Lord or the Heir Apparent, whichever was applicable. As of the present, you are the Lord, and there is no Lord Apparent in the picture. There is no discrepancy."

"But there is no harm done in a verification," Sirius retorted, a smile reforming on his face. "After all, House Greengrass is giving away eleven percent of its revenue. Surely something like this warrants a confirmatory check. As the Arbiter, Lucius will be forced to comply since he holds vested interest in the matter."

Artemis choked up in laughter. "Hoh! I didn't think you'd be so cruel, Sirius Black."

If Sirius didn't know better, he could've sworn that was a compliment. "I'm merely throwing out suggestions. I've found myself to be in situations that require flexible processing as of late."

After a long, tension-filled pause, the Greengrass patriarch gave him a polite nod. "You make a formidable Lord Black." This time, he felt both complimented and insulted all at once.

"Here are my terms," Sirius stated. "You open the contract up for negotiation. Lucius plays the arbiter. It will be amusing to see him dictate terms to me, especially when they go against the Black Charter."

"You can't force him to do anything, Black. I know about the contract between you and him. Lucius Malfoy gets to keep every knut he's attained during his period as Regent of House Black."

"Oh I know," Sirius replied, his eyes brightening. "But I'm not asking for a return of finances, am I?"

Artemis stared at him for several tense seconds, before he burst into guttural laughter.


Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.


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