Chapter 3

Dumbledore studied Hermione. He seemed genuinely amused.

He read through the contracts and shrugged. They didn't have access to a blood quill, so they offered him a cup, a knife, and a quill. He cut, dripped, dipped and signed, just as if it was of no great import.

He signed but there were no lights, no flames of righteousness, or tolls of doom. The Headmaster healed the cut he had made in his thumb and smiled at Hermione.

She smiled back.

"Well.." she drawled, "..now that the Second Blood War is over.."

"Clever, my dear, always you are so very clever. As you have clearly shown, not all magical contracts are valid."

Harry felt his temper stir.

But somehow I just had to compete in the damned Tri-Wizard. Because doing exactly what your enemy wants is the very cleverest thing to do.. I'M SUCH AN IDIOT!

Dumbledore shrugged again, his voice was soft, contemplative, when he continued.

"I did wonder if the corruption contract might take effect but, alas, we are not so fortunate. Those entering into a contract must have the authority to do so. I cannot bind Tom Riddle or the Ministry."

He stroked his beard.

"I do, however, have the authority to enter a contract on your behalf. Your parents ceded that authority to me when they enrolled you in my school."

It was Dan's turn to smile.

"No. We did no such thing. We granted you the right to make necessary decisions concerning her health and safety while boarding at your school. We did not make her a citizen of 'Magical Britannia'. We did not revoke our parental rights and responsibilities. She is our most loved daughter, our responsibility. You have grossly exceeded your remit. As proof, she refused that damned betrothal without consequence. You tried to make a contract you had no authority to make. Her 'betrothal' is void."

The Headmaster folded his hands together.

If she had accepted, if she had merely read the thing, if she had taken it in hand, she would have been bound. Has she ever refused to read? Her binding would have in turn bound the Malfoys and taken a large part of Riddle's funding out of the game. The one time she won't do as she is told.. There is still a chance, a small chance..

"The power of Ms. Granger's betrothal does not rest only in the magic of the contract. There is also the will of our society to see it done and to punish it's lapse. Magical society will never treat with Ms. Granger should she abandon her responsibility. Should Voldemort succeed in suborning the Ministry, it's resources will come into play."

While Dan looked ready to deck a senior citizen, Ron guffawed. Everyone looked at him and he shrugged.

"Sorry.. If Voldemort suborns the Ministry it's resources will come into play no matter any betrothal contract whatsoever. Anyway, Tonks' mum would probably disagree with you about magical society's reaction, sir. She might even like a word with you. Gran Weasley might as well." Ron finished.

For just a second the Headmaster looked worried. Any daughter of Black was raised to be formidable, Andromeda and Cedrella not least among them. He quickly shrugged it off and smiled, ignoring the collective Weasley snickering.

"The Tonks family has never enjoyed the influence it should. The Weasley family is wonderful, a true bastion of the Light, despite the decimation of the Weasley fortune as a result of Cedrella and Septimus following their hearts."

Hermione butted in on what would no doubt be a stirring evocation spun of half truths and innuendo.

"I understand, sir. I'm already at the bottom of magical society for being a muggleborn. I will suffer even more as the muggleborn who refused a pureblood betrothal. You, sir, need to understand something."

"As a result of your ludicrous attempt I no longer care. Not at all. I do not care about the Ministry that supports your contract. I do not care about 'magical society' not treating with me. And I especially do not care about you. You were, and are, perfectly willing to hand me to Voldemort by way of that ferret in return for a chance to blunt the Malfoy's influence and fortune. I am not your soldier or your slave. I will NEVER surrender my free will to anyone. Nothing will change that."

Hermione slid another parchment to Dumbledore. "My letter of resignation from Hogwarts. You are a pimp, sir, but I am not your whore. I won't be associated with you."

Harry slid the last parchment to the old man, "And mine."

Dull, rust colored signatures, the parchments had obviously been signed in blood, Hermione's family with their neat cursive. Harry's wild chicken scratch was the only signature on his.

Predictably, Molly erupted; "NO! The worst possible thing you could do is abandon your education!"

The Headmaster sighed and rubbed his forehead while Arthur murmured to Molly. Nothing good could come of a Molly rant, not at the moment.

"Education is important", Emma acknowledged, "and education is available without Hogwarts."

Molly blinked and settled a bit. "She's your daughter but you've no right to involve Harry!"

Harry frowned as he said, "Harry is involving Harry. This is my decision."

After a moment the Headmaster folded Hermione's letter and tucked it into his robe.

"Though it saddens me to accept your resignation, Ms. Granger, it seems I must."

Harry didn't believe that for a minute.

He's not even a little bit 'saddened'. He's cutting his losses. He won't have to expend resources protecting a non functional asset.

Albus folded his hands atop Harry's letter and spent a moment in thought.

The old man was not used to having something he planned detonate so spectacularly. Often, he needed to tweak his plans, to make course adjustments to accommodate shifting circumstances, but the flat out abject failure of a plan was not something that happened.

The betrothal was a failure.

An old man's mistakes. I've made an old man's mistakes. I underestimated the enmity between Granger and Malfoy, judging it a mere schoolyard squabble and her too mature to hold him in such violent disregard. I compounded that mistake by underestimating the degree to which they have been alienated by pureblood bigotry. I vastly overestimated their commitment to magical institutions and completely ignored their commitment to muggle standards. She has devoted hours to ending house elf 'enslavement'. Of course she would do no less for herself.

Harry, never a model of patience, pushed the confrontation forward.

"I have left Privet Drive. Their safety is now your responsibility."

Albus said, "They will accept you back provided there is no further disobedience from you. You are to do as they say."

He'll find out soon enough that Vernon required a substantial 'stipend' to allow Harry's return.

Then, Harry toed off one of his battered trainers, leaned on the table and tugged off a sock.

"Kreacher!"

That particular bit of elvish nastiness joined them in the kitchen.

"Blood traitor calls poor Kreacher and Kreacher must obey. What does the blood traitor want, Kreacher wonders?"

"I have seldom been so disappointed," the old man informed Harry.

The proximate cause of his disappointment was unclear as Harry had given him, was giving him, a plethora of reasons. Harry thought Dumbledore might be telling the whole unvarnished truth for once.

Albus continued, "Kreacher is as wizards have made him. I very much doubt your parents would approve."

Harry made some sort of involuntary noise, a sort of snarl. He was steadily sidestepping away from Hermione's poking as he snapped back at the Headmaster, "Kreacher is sentient. 'Choosing what is right over what is easy' is the duty of elves as well as children and Headmasters."

Hurricane Hermione froze. She had been keeping right after Harry, poking the hell out of his shoulder while telling him in no uncertain terms just how horrible he was when Harry had the audacity to point out that Kreacher did indeed have free will.

Harry turned to her, knocking her arm away with an irritated swipe.

"I get that Kreacher has been abused, Hermione. That's wrong and sad but he betrayed us. And stop poking me!"

Kreacher hovered, still smug and satisfied, still greedily eyeing Harry's sock.

Ron's voice was low when he chimed in. "Grandmum might could use an elf, Harry. She was a Black. Mrs. Tonks was a Black as well. Don't know if they'd care much about the Order's secrets but it's not freeing the little sod."

Harry shrugged and nodded, "That's an idea."

Harry ignored Dumbledore's objection as well as Kreacher's wail of dismay and Hurricane Hermione's downgrading to a tropical depression to ask Ron.

"Will you floo your gran and Mrs. Tonks to see if either wants a traitorous elf?"

Ron shrugged. "Can't mate. Well.. I could floo them but I can't give them the secret can I?"

"What secret, Ron? The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is no longer at 12 Grimmauld Place."

The Headmaster cast a silencing charm over Kreacher's area. No one could think with that caterwauling going on and he needed to think.

The damned Prophecy! His withdrawal from magical society makes his sacrifice for that society very unlikely indeed. I need time to consider how best to keep him with us.

The Headmaster stifled his frustration.

The prophecy will resolve, Albus reminded himself, Harry must die for Riddle to become mortal. The prize, though, is not Riddle's death, it is Lily's protection. If the Light is to gain that protection Harry must be a willing sacrifice for us as his mother was for him. The protection will grant victory over not only Tom but over the Dark for the foreseeable future. The Light triumphant.

And I've very nearly buggered it..

He cleared his throat into the near silence.

"Perhaps it would be for the best if I assumed responsibility for Kreacher. He could do us a mischief given the opportunity."

"Not as long as he has any tie to me. You'd get up to some sort of fuckery."

Harry took two quick steps sideways while ducking to avoid being slapped upside the head and still felt the wind of Hermione's near miss.

"And don't you dare hit me, Hermione! I don't hit you, show me the same respect!"

Harry had controlled himself, he had bottled his anger, he hadn't screamed his rage at whoever was closest as he so very much wanted to. He'd been reasonable. That was ending. His fist crashed onto the table, his voice was low and fierce.

"The Fidelius is broken, Dumbledore. Cast it again and make Hermione secret keeper then get the Order out of my house. You are not welcome. Your Order is not welcome. Find someplace else to meet."

Harry glared at the Headmaster though he spoke to Molly next.

"Mrs. Weasley, I need my vault key."

Though Harry didn't notice the Headmaster's wince, Dan did.

Molly fussed with her apron, not wanting to make things worse but unwilling to go against what she thought right.

"Harry, you need to think about what you are doing."

Harry huffed and started to turn away. Molly wasn't one to accept dismissal from a boy.

"Listen to me! Albus may have underestimated your reaction to Hermione's betrothal but he is worthy of respect and you WILL mind your manners!"

Having laid down The Law, she ignored the not at all cowed boy and ruffled herself, settling her feathers. Her voice was soft, entreating, when she continued.

"It's clear you don't trust Albus but you can trust Arthur and me. You can. We only want the best for you."

First things first.. When I take up the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith I am making uttering 'for the best' a capital offense.

"Dumbledore, I'd love the protection of the Fidelius. Trying to keep Bellatrix out of this house sounds like something we'd bugger up without that protection. If my safety is of any concern you will cast the charm with Hermione as secret keeper."

Albus had more to say on topics he considered relevant and no fifteen year old boy was going command anything like obedience from the Leader of the Light.

"We must work together. If you make that impossible, you make Tom's victory inevitable."

Harry snorted, a bitter, a sarcastic sort of teenage snort.

"Right now you can work with me by casting the charm and getting the hell out of my house!"

The old man shook his head at the bull headed certainty of youth.

"The Order will stand watch to provide what security is possible outside of the current protections. I shall allow you a few days to think this matter through then we will meet again. Civility is always to be admired."

He left the room.

Stubborn old fuck! He'd rather see Bellatrix in here than give in? No wonder we can't win.

"Mrs. Weasley, I need my vault key."

"Harry, dear..", she shook her head, worried and determined, "I wouldn't feel right if I stood by while you did something.. unwise."

Harry just held out his hand and didn't say anything. Molly nearly bounced in frustration but, in the end, gave him the key. She hadn't the standing to keep it even if she knew that it was the height of foolishness to give a child unbridled access to a fortune.

They heard the floo then the sound of laughter. Ron's voice came booming down the hallway.

"Oi! Gran's here you lot! And Mrs. Tonks!"

Naturally, Ron's yelling caused the damned drapes to open and Walburga began another aria. Mrs. Tonks and Ron's Gran were neither impressed nor intimidated if their raucous laughter was any indication.

Of course, Walburga called for Kreacher and Kreacher obeyed the call. That left a furious scrum as everyone scrambled for a good seat.

Dan shut the kitchen door behind the last of them then turned to Emma to ask the most pressing question of the day. "Is there any booze in this place?"

For years afterwards the twins would do impressions of Harry being rigorously formal while being introduced to their Gran. Harry did his very best but it was hard to be taken seriously when wearing only one shoe, holding a tatty old sock in one hand and a squirming screeching Kreacher in the other.

The mass of them migrated to the library, probably due to Hermione's influence, and relative order was restored.

Cedrella was as good looking as all the Blacks. She had their cool gray eyes and classic features, her skin was mildly wrinkled and her hair iron gray. She wasn't old, but not young either, she was that indeterminate age that witches seem to stay forever, like McGonagall. Andromeda was just entering the age of matron, the age Cedrella couldn't expect to enjoy for much longer, with the same cool gray eyes and aristocratic features though her hair just beginning to gray.

It took a few minutes for the ladies to be seated and fussed over and another minute to introduce Harry and Hermione.

"Kreacher, get us tea please."

Molly huffed, stood, and bustled toward the kitchen which fit exactly into Harry's very cunning plan.

The Molly Weasley Noise Protocol is in effect! And I'm busted by everyone in the room, so my very devious plan was not all that cunning..

Harry laid out his agenda as tea was served. He ground his teeth while Kreacher and Molly bickered back and forth and Hermione amended the agenda.

He really really hated all the yelling that seemed inevitable when in Grimmauld Place. The usual Weasley chaos piled on top of the day's massive drama made it a red letter day for headaches.

Cedrella returned her cup to the saucer in that particular way that called for silence. Harry was impressed when she got it.

Her voice was like syrup; sweet, languid, golden.

"May I ask why Walburga's portrait is allowed to terrorize all and sundry?"

Harry shrugged, "We can't figure out how to get it down or keep the drapes shut. Dumbledore tried, even he couldn't manage it."

"Did he?"

Harry was sure she didn't think good old Albus had given it his all.

She nodded, her eyes glittered in amusement as she spoke to Kreacher.

"Kreacher, I require a goblin blade."

"Kreacher is not obeying blood traitor shame of Noble House of Black, no he isn't!"

Harry scrubbed at his aching forehead. I will have some peace in here soon or I will burn this fucker to the ground..

"Kreacher, get Madame Weasley what she asks."

Kreacher popped away, popped back, and didn't quite attempt to stab Cedrella.

Tall, trim, willowy, she rose like a dancer, in perfect balance. She floated out of the library, humming, looking incongruous only due to the huge carving knife she held.

One delicate hand opened the drapes, the other thrust the knife right between Walburga's eyes. Stabbed her in mid yap. And shut her up.

Harry fought the urge to genuflect.

A goblin blade takes in what makes it stronger.

Cedrella proceeded to cut the portrait free of it's frame. She drifted back into the library, thoroughly ignoring both the adulation of her minions and Kreacher's wailing. She tossed the ripped canvas onto the fire. She twirled the knife like a gunslinger does a pistol, a blur of razor sharp steel, and lunged again. Fully half of the twelve inch blade was buried an oak table.

"A daughter of Black is taught knives first. Wands second. I very much doubt Albus tried his best."

Ron looked at Harry then Hermione and cocked an eyebrow while feeling all sorts of superior. There was no doubt; Augusta Longbottom, Minerva McGonagall, they were mere acolytes to this one, The Lady You Don't Mess With At All.

Andromeda took a sip of her tea and murmured, "Well done Auntie. I believe there is the matter of disowning and a traitorous house elf."

Harry nodded, "Yeah, err, Yes. I am Sirius' heir, so I guess that makes me Heir Apparent to the House of Black. I'd like to offer your reinstatement into umm.. our house?"

He gave a tremulous sort of sigh, "I have no business being in charge of the House of Black. Madam Weasley, Madam Tonks either of you are much more suited to the task. How do we make that happen should either of you be willing?

"Young man, I could hear the capital letters when you spoke. You aren't the sort to need a Height to Wuther on are you?"

"Errm.. No. Not at all actually. It's just.. that was amazing so I'm a bit impressed.. a lot impressed.. and.."

He tapered off into silence and huffed. Hermione and Ron grinned in anticipation. The real Harry was coming out to play.

"Look, Sirius made me his heir. The Black family is not anything I care about expect for Sirius, so, in his honor, if I have the power, I'm throwing the monsters out and letting the good ones back in. Kreacher didn't kill Sirius, but he did betray his confidence and lie to me. And he's an asshole."

Harry dodged the attempt at a head slap from Ginny. The other ladies made their displeasure clear without violence though Hermione quivered fighting the urge.

"If the Black family or Kreacher mean anything to you just tell me how to arrange things and I will."

Andromeda's voice was crisper than Cedrella's, and even lower, both warm and sharp.

"You can't disown or reinstate anyone until you come of age and submit the appropriate forms to the Ministry. Sirius would have done so except for his criminal status and that pesky kiss on sight order."

She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"What you have inherited is Sirius' personal estate; his belongings, his vault, this house. As Heir you can go to Gringotts and close off all access to the family vaults which would end my sisters stipends. You can order closed any Black property. I suggest you do both those things for both your families."

"Are there Potter vaults and properties?" Why didn't I ever check?

She frowned at him, "Of course! There is the Godric's Hollow house at the least. Your grandparents had a very nice house as well didn't they Cedrella?"

"Umm.." Cedrella nodded, "Did you know, Andi, I met Septimus there, at a summer fete." She leaned forward, inviting them all into her confidence, nearly whispering when she continued, "I said fete but I meant a loud drunken hilarious day with vast amounts of food, much too much Quidditch, and a bit of dancing. He flew very well, did Septimus. I do miss Charlus and Dorea."

She sat back, the memory of past joy morphing into present pain, "They said it was dragonpox. It wasn't. It was those damn Death Eaters. They'd have come for my family but the Malfoys had already gotten our gold over a broken betrothal and they thought us harmless."

She beamed around at her grandchildren. "Look at you lot, Molly's given me seven of you, all strong and keen. The world will know the Weasleys when this is done."

Molly was tucked into a corner, trying to avoid notice while she cried, but Harry looked for her especially. He remembered Molly's boggart, how it switched from her children to her twin brothers to Arthur and even to him. The memory was painful and deeply comforting and he'd been much too hard on her.

Fabulous and Giddy, that's what Sirius called her twin brothers.. She's a huge part of my magical world, always trumpeting about respect, hard work and good behavior. It's all about keeping us good, keeping us close and safeā€¦ She could do it a bit more quietly and still make her point.

The Weasleys called a halt to their mutual admiration once they realized it was scaring Molly. Harry shuffled his feet and shrugged.

"Now about that elf. I can't make him bond to anyone if I free him. I can't have him around. Harry eyed Hermione and had a good idea.

"I won't hurt him much less kill him. What can I do? I know there's a choice I'm not seeing."

Hermione, naturally, had the answer. Harry was pretty certain she knew the answer all along.

"Dose him with the Draught of Living Death. He won't be hurt. He won't be plotting and he won't tell our secrets. I can try to brew it but it's notoriously difficult so it may take a few tries. And.."

She had the strangest look on her face, a look he'd never seen before.

"Could you ask him to wear something clean, something with more coverage than that loincloth? It's disgusting. Complete coverage would be best.."

Harry blinked in shock at his latest discovery.

The female of the species is telepathically linked. They synchronize shudder. Gred and Forge oscillate in exact opposition. All of which makes perfect sense. Somehow.

It didn't happen often, and truth be told it might not be happening right that second, but once in a while Harry had A Great Idea.

"So.. sure! We need ingredients for a bucket full of that and the same for Veritiserum. Because I'm thinking getting real answers out of him before he goes sleepytime would be smart. And I'm thinking the Ferret could do with a nice long nap once we ring the little shit dry. And while we're at it, his mom, his dad and any of their playmates we can catch. Stun, portkey, dose, dose, sleepytime! Hurray!"

He was in the same room as Gred and Forge, the same room as veterans of the first Blood War, as Cedrella and Andromeda, as Hermione.

During the course of a full and frank discussion his idea was proven to have quite a few holes in it. Probably the biggest reveal was that the restriction on underage magic worked on the location where the magic was cast rather than on a personal identification of the person casting. Which made sense to Harry. After all, Dobby got him busted even though he hadn't done the deed. The Weasley kids were, rightfully in Harry's opinion, aghast. Mrs. Weasley was both miffed at losing her advantage and completely unapologetic.

"The law," she informed them, "relies on parental supervision, on responsible adults ensuring the Right Thing Is Done!"

The kids tried the old whinge about the rest of the kids are doing it. That excuse was quickly taken out back and summarily executed.

"I've enough on my plate keeping you hooligans in order without adding magic into the mix! Stop your fussing, a little hard work never did anyone harm!"

Harry left the Weasleys to pick over their mutual emotional baggage and huddled up with Hermione who was quizzing Andromeda and Cedrella. The Ladies Black were very helpful in sussing out the protections of Grimmauld Place and were able to make useful guesses about how to find the controls and adjust them. Cedrella even managed to dredge a few coherent answers out of Kreacher.

Cedrella's lecture concerning Black safety protocols was enlightening. The Black protections were aimed not only at the outside world but also at family which underlined all the reasons Harry thought 'our world' should be taken out back to die next to the 'rest of the kids are doing it' excuse Molly had just slaughtered. As Cedrella said; 'wouldn't you move heaven and earth to keep Bellatrix out?'

Indeed he would. Indeed he was.

The next few days were a whirlwind of magic and yelling and a gradual change to Grimmauld Place. The amount of cleaning six determined magicals could manage was impressive, the fight the old house gave them was even more so.

The kitchen shone, the hallway was brightly lit, the old fusty wallpaper had come down. The oak flooring gleamed like molten honey, the walls were a soft butter yellow with glistening white trim. Most of the silver snake fixtures were changed, transfigured into brass lions, eagles, badgers and hippogriffs. At Cedrella's suggestion, they destroyed all the magical paintings in the house. Harry was sure it was a good suggestion judging by how pissed Kreacher got.

Hermione was on her third attempt making the Draught of Living Death and she was running low on sloth brains. She should have know better but she said it anyway.

"Harry, I need more brains."

"You do? No. That's impossible."

"Harry!"

"OI! Ron! Does Hermione need more brains?"

Ron had been fighting with a very sneaky spot of grease that absolutely refused to be cleaned. He was more than ready for a diversion.

"Not the right question Harry. The Right Question is; are more brains possible? How much more than an infinite amount would be more?"

They hunkered into the pose Rodin made famous with The Thinker and ignored her fussing until she pushed them over.

After consulting with the other two Harry gave Kreacher very explicit instructions.

Kreacher was back in minutes. He was brainless.

"Why didn't you get the brains, Kreacher?"

"Half blood master told Kreacher to do impossible. Kreacher couldn't."

Harry expected to hear the shop was out of stock, or closed. He didn't expect to hear he hadn't enough gold to make the purchase.

"WHAT?"

Kreacher shrugged, bouncing and as cheery as Harry had ever seen him. "Stupid half blood Master hasn't enough gold. Poor Master let blood traitors have his key. Kreacher returns poor Master's key to empty vault."

Smirking, Kreacher dropped the key at Harry's feet.

Hermione moved beside him on his left. Her hand was cool and firm on the nape of his neck. He realized he was shaking.

"Mrs. Weasley would never steal from you. Never."

Harry nodded. His voice was more a croak than proper English.

"Right."

She felt some of the tension leave him. He was still taut as a bowstring but he wasn't quivering any longer. She massaged the corded muscle, her voice conversational.

"I suspect when we investigate we will find Kreacher and Dumbledore at the root of it, Kreacher paying ridiculous prices for our supplies, and Dumbledore.. I don't know. Some sanctimonious twaddle. I also suspect there is an ambush waiting for you should you go near the bank. Isn't that right Kreacher?"

"Kreacher is not knowing."

Harry hadn't a doubt looking at the elf's gloating sneering face that Kreacher was ready to die, would die happily, warmed by the thought of fucking him over.

I will not be Dudley. I will not hurt those weaker, who can't defend themselves. I won't, no matter how fucking much I'd love to.

"Kreacher, I order you to tell me how you are communicating with my enemies."

Smirking, Kreacher pulled Sirius' mirror from his pillowcase. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione grit her teeth. The mirror was blank, just a mirror.

Harry charged to the floo, tossed in some powder and screamed for Amelia Bones. Seconds later he was screeching at her.

"I have a good lead that Bellatrix is in Diagon Alley right now. She won't be for long. Don't send idiots!"

He cut the call and immediately made another, "Remus! Just listen! Bellatrix is in Diagon Alley right now. Don't you go without full backup and an escape plan!"

He made the final call, "Dumbledore! Get to Diagon Alley right now, Bellatrix is waiting to ambush me at Gringotts. Go alone!"

He stood and handed Hermione his wand.

"Stay where you are Kreacher. Don't move. How else do you communicate with my enemies?"

A piece of parchment joined the mirror. Hermione grunted.

She's likely thought of four charms that would work. I can't do this, the little fucker is smarter than I am.

"Kreacher you will answer any question Miss Hermione asks you truthfully, completely and respectfully. That is an order."

Ron held up his hand to stop Harry. He concentrated then cast, slowly, deliberately. One of the heavy leather wing back chairs shifted into a mannequin that looked like Snape.

"Hit that."

So Harry did.

In kung-fu movies training dummys are as fragile as eggs. Powerful warriors chop them into tiny bits while jauntily quipping or shouting something fearsome.

Harry was not a buff fearsome warrior. He was a specky weedy undersize git who screeched like a girl as he wailed on the dummy, all knobby elbows and furious delicate shoulder blades. There was no chopping into tiny bits. There were tears and snot dribbling and a furious flushed face. In seconds there were gasping panting breaths that weren't sobs and after what seemed a long time to Harry, the return of something like control.

He'd never dared to do anything like it.

Hitting something around Vernon would have been Not Good. Actually, any display of emotion other than proper fearful obedience was Not Good.

Then he got to Hogwarts and they wanted The Boy-Who-Lived. That loser was a stoic, heroic, manly little chap who would never screech and cry and batter ineffectually. But that's what they wanted and he did so want someone to feel something positive about him. So he tried to give it to them.

Hermione mostly, but Ron as well, got to see the real Harry. Snape certainly knew the real Harry, he'd rummaged in his mind often enough. Dumbledore had all but built him, installing all the buttons in just the right places. Almost always the real Harry didn't think much of himself.

Head down, looking at no one, Harry slunk out of the room. Hermione returned to questing Kreacher, her quavering voice fading as he made his way toward a shower.

Diagon Alley

It wasn't as bad as the Ministry.

He'd been leaning on the counter, engaged in a wee bit of haggling over a proper wand holster, the same model Aurors used. Ollivander liked a good haggle and Neville, being a proper country lad, was just the boy to give him a run.

He saw Harry from the corner of his eye, looking right pissed and charging up the Alley towards the bank.

"Fine, Mr. Ollivander, that seems fair."

He really wanted to show off his purchases, his new cherry wand and the nifty holster. Harry was almost always kind, he'd be properly impressed and maybe they could waste an hour at Fortesque's once Harry worked out whatever had him in a fit.

Neville forced himself to buckle the holster properly then fussed over his robe getting it just so.

He'll like the quick launch feature.

Something heavy, some very very strong spell settled over the area around Gringotts. Neville watched as Harry froze, his wand out, backing toward cover, his eyes darting around.

Neville crouched as low as he could while still being able to watch the street. Harry was closing on Madame Malkin's Robes when she stepped out of a tiny passage right next to Ollivanders. He could hear her clothes rustle as she moved, all grace and madness.

"Wee baby Potter, we meet again, yeah? You've been a bad boy little Harry, you'll have to come with me."

She sauntered towards Harry, her hips swaying, seductive and prowling. She didn't like hearing Professor Lupin roar as he charged up the street at her, all courage and no sense. She was by far the better fighter but she wasn't good enough to ignore him.

She angled to keep both Harry and the Professor in view.

"Now!"

Bellatrix had a horrible screechy voice, a voice for madness, for cruelty and mocking sensuality. Two Death Eaters emerged from hiding, one on each side of the Alley. They were positioned to put Harry's support in a crossfire but had to retreat as four Aurors on brooms broke their disillusionment to rain curses on their hiding spots.

Bella swung her wand towards Harry, she wanted payment for the counter ambush. She really didn't expect the Perfectus Totalus a disillusioned Proudfoot hit her with. He was on a broom, just a couple of feet over her head.

The idiot crowed his success.

Bella still had her wand in her hand, she was more than capable of casting an adequate Finite silently followed by a really stellar Bombarda. Proudfoot was vaporized into a rain of blood and bits that coated yards of the Alley.

She shivered and cooed then clambered to her feet.

Harry was no part of a gentleman, allowing her to recover. Harry brought the hammer.

"REDUCTO!"

She nearly evaded it, normally she would have skipped aside with a giggle, but Bella had just been petrified then gifted with a massive orgasm so she was a bit unsteady.

Harry caught her on the hip and she went down hard, screaming.

Neville stepped from Ollivander's. Harry was panting, his wand on Bella. Lestrange was hard hit, bleeding badly, one leg nearly severed. She was flopping, trying to shift herself to curse Harry before she was done.

She's not hurting anyone else.

The young Gryffindor brought his wand up, clean and sure, and he cast, just like Harry taught him. His voice was firm, his aim was spot on. His Reducto removed a section of Bella's chest large enough to toss a cricket ball through.

Then he began to puke.