Harry Crow

What will happen when a goblin-raised Harry arrives at Hogwarts. A Harry who has received training, already knows the prophecy and has no scar. With the backing of the goblin nation and Hogwarts herself. Complete.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8186071/1/Harry-Crow

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60. Birthday Ball Breakout

Bill went upstairs to check on his sister, just to see if she really was alright about tonight. He found her lying on her bed and happily reading a book that appeared to be muggle in origin, her room was also decorated with pictures and souvenirs that she'd clearly accumulated over the summer. Bill was just thinking how much healthier this was for Ginny than her obsession over those stupid boy who lived works of fiction when he was snapped out of his musings by a loud wolf whistle.

"Looking hot there, Bill, are you sure you don't have a date for tonight?"

"...and have her sitting at the same table as mum?"

This had Ginny giggling with laughter. "Mum would be planning the wedding before the first dance was over, smart move, Bill. So why aren't you downstairs getting ready to leave?"

"I wanted to check my favourite sister wasn't too upset about missing the ball this year? Looks like I could have saved myself a trip."

"Oh I knew I wouldn't be able to attend a couple of weeks ago, all the places were sorted when we were in Florida. I am a bit disappointed but you really should have been there last year, I also have an invite to a birthday party in Kingussie tomorrow and then another Merlin Ball to look forward to at the end of September. That really was the best party I'd ever been to, until Ron tried to spoil it by shouting at Parvati for dating a Slytherin. I have a lot of friends in Slytherin so I don't know what his problem is!"

Bill's heart was fit to burst with pride at how well Ginny had turned her situation around. "When did you get so smart?"

"I hang about with smart people, Bill. Harry and the gang are pretty easy-going until it comes to the subject of bigotry, they just won't stand for it. The more I think about it, the more I see they're right to be like that. There's no house or blood bias in Crow's Marauders, that would be an insult to the person the club is named after."

"Ron doesn't give you any hassle about your Slytherin friends does he?"

"Oh he hit the roof when he found out I was going on holiday with some of them. Then Fred and George hit him with a load of pranks, and suddenly Ron didn't really care who I was going on holiday with. Those two have gotten really good, even mum couldn't change Ron back from the things they did to him. She had to threaten both of them with not going to Egypt to get the twins to reverse it."

Bill knew Master Pitslay expected the twins to ace their potions O.W.L. - a year early too! He had a feeling both their parents were going to get a shock from the twins' new attitude, they still played pranks but had gotten a lot more methodical about it.

With a hug from his sister, he headed off to accompany their parents to tonight's awards ball.

-oOoOo-

As the guests of honour were waiting to be called into the ballroom, Molly was busy trying to thank everyone for taking Ginny to Florida - while at the same time asking if they were sure about taking the twins to Egypt. She was describing in great detail what Fred and George had done to Ron at the beginning of the summer, not knowing this just endeared the twins more to the group. The Patil sisters in particular had great trouble containing their laughter.

Molly wasn't laughing when she spotted Draco Malfoy in the company, only Bill's firm hand on her arm prevented a rant. She was quickly led over to a corner where her eldest son had a quiet but firm word with her.

"Lucius Malfoy set the basilisk loose in Hogwarts, not his son. He's in Azkaban paying for that crime, Draco being in this company tells the country that the innocent shouldn't suffer along with the guilty. Three of the girls here were attacked by the basilisk and Parvati was possessed by that diary. If they can accept Draco being here then you have no right to say anything about it. There are others who might and then you'll see how this family operates. They're very like us, mum, what do we do if someone attacks a Weasley?"

This left Molly floundering for words, not something she was used to. She also had to defer to Bill's knowledge of these people, he was the expert here. Arthur had no opportunity to invite Ginny this year, they received two invitations with Bill's coming to him as an Assistant Ambassador. She would try to keep her mouth shut while her eyes and ears remained wide open. This extended family were having such an affect on the Weasleys that Molly really couldn't afford to insult any of them with a tirade. Apart from holidays and education, Ambassador Barchoke had saved Arthur's life and then warded the Burrow. That cut them an immeasurable amount of slack as far as Molly was concerned.

-oOoOo-

The group had three tables tonight, purely because they would have needed a Hogwarts sized one to accommodate all of them. The tables for ten were alongside each other so, while they had to occupy specific seats for the meal, the seating would become fluid once the dancing started.

Neville and Padma led the group into the ballroom tonight and again, the goblin tailors had done them proud. This year though, both were Friends of the Nation and wore their blades with pride. The biggest shock of the night was reserved for the couple who followed them into the ballroom.

Frank and Alice were now officially retired from the Auror Corps but both were still entitled to wear their dress uniforms to formal functions, and functions didn't come any more formal than this. An impressive number of awards were pinned to the breast of their robes, having been added to by Amelia recently who presented the couple with the award for aurors injured in the line of duty.

It was Amelia, seated at the ministry table, who broke the stunned silence by standing and beginning the applause, applause that quickly became thunderous. The Longbottoms were one of the oldest pureblood families in Britain and seeing these two almost back from the dead was certainly something worth applauding.

Smita and Ramrao followed the Longbottoms, the couple had again chosen traditional Indian dress which certainly added colour to the group. Parvati and Blaise were both in clothes designed and produced by the goblins, with a similarly dressed Luna walking beside Augusta in her traditional British robes to complete the first of their tables.

The new Lady Black was on her husband's arm as she led the members of their table into the ballroom. They were followed by their table's other award winner, Tonks, on the arm of Remus. The Hobson and Tonks parents preceded Draco and Pansy to fill the Black family table.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised at the final couple, although the vast majority of those eyebrows' owners agreed with their inclusion. Crow was on record saying only the guilty should be punished, here was a perfect example of what he preached being put into practice. If this group could accept the son of Lucius Malfoy into their company then there was hope for their society yet.

Harry and Hermione led the procession toward their table, with Dan and Emma following on behind. The Goblin Ambassador and his assistant came next, with Arthur and Molly taking up position behind them. Susan and Hannah completed their table, the restriction on numbers meaning neither witch could invite a date. Both thought this was a small price to pay to be here tonight.

When everyone was settled, Minister Fudge rose and made his way toward the small, and as yet unoccupied, bandstand. He stood there for a moment, just looking over the people who had crammed in here to witness tonight's award ceremony. "Last summer, we decided to break with tradition and, as well as making this event less formal, we held the speeches at the beginning of the evening. Since we find ourselves in a similar situation tonight, it appears as if we've started a whole new tradition."

His eyes found Harry's for the next part of his carefully prepared speech. "I stood on this very spot last year, extolling the virtues of a family who fought against the darkness that threatened our country in times past. It would seem some here actually listened to what I said and drew inspiration from my words of wisdom, either that or they just followed Harry!"

The minister making a joke at his own expense earned a laugh and was a good start to the evening. "The six people we're all here to honour tonight stood together against opponents so dark and deadly, their courage defies description. As if having to defeat the biggest basilisk in recorded history wasn't enough of a feat, they also stopped the return of the self-proclaimed dark lord, Voldemort."

Using that name drew some screams from the audience, and not all of them from witches.

"I think you would have to agree, these awards are certainly merited. Please show your appreciation as they come up onto the stage to collect their Orders of Merlin, First Class."

Amelia then approached the stage carrying a silver tray containing their medals as the Minister read the role of honour.

"Neville Longbottom, Padma Patil, Hermione Granger, Lady Henrica Black and Auror Tonks."

Again everyone was up on their feet applauding like crazy, there was also hardly a dry eye at the three guests of honour tables. They had of course discussed the subject of speeches beforehand and Neville found himself elected to give one for the entire group, simply by the process of elimination. They all had an input into the words that would be said tonight, they would simply have more impact being delivered by the eldest son of an old and respected pureblood family.

Neville hated that reasoning, mainly because he knew they were right. It should be the words that were important, more than the blood status of the person who said them. He knew they would have less impact though coming from a Swedish Veela, a British muggle born or an Indian witch. Tonks was a ministry employee and couldn't really court controversy with her job as an auror, so Neville was left to be 'it'.

He looked down to his beaming parents and proud grandmother, and Neville Longbottom stood tall. "We worked and survived that day as a team, and it was a team decision that I would speak for all of us tonight. The four ladies teamed up on me and decided I was doing it. After remembering that those same four ladies were all Orders of Merlin, First Class, holders, I did the only thing I could and agreed with them." This again drew a fair amount of laughter from the crowd, adding to Neville's confidence.

"Harry said it first back in Hogwarts, we four friends are all so different that our friendship should never work. It does though, not in spite of those differences but because we embrace those differences. We embraced them so much, Harry and I will now one day marry our best friends!"

This drew more laughter, cheers and a few good-natured jeers.

"The seven of us who set off for the chamber were all different, and without those differences I seriously doubt if any of us would have survived. I say seven because the Lady Ravenclaw accompanied us too, and also played a vital role. We have two very good friends with us tonight who would have died in a Hogwarts corridor without the protection the ghosts deliberately provided for them."

There were more than a few in the ballroom whose colour drained to a ghostly tincture with that thought. Neville felt a hand rest on his shoulder and offer a squeeze of support, he turned his head to see Amelia acknowledging what he said was so terrifyingly true.

"Without Lady Black being able to blind the basilisk, we would have been defeated before we even started. Without Auror Tonks and the Lady Ravenclaw keeping watch on the spirit of Tom Riddle, we wouldn't have been able to concentrate fully on dealing with the basilisk. Without Harry and Hermione's goblin blades we wouldn't have been able to eventually bring the beast down - yet without Padma and my wands pulling the basilisk away from them, they wouldn't have been able to escape those deadly jaws for long. I think Hermione's father said it best, if we hadn't all gone down there, we wouldn't have all come back up alive. It took all of our differences working together to achieve a result I still find unbelievable."

Neville had the entire hall hanging on his every word but it was to his parents he looked now. "I've stood here tonight and spoke to you about what can be achieved when we embrace our differences and work together, I'm looking at another wonderful example right in front of me now. By utilising the wide range of knowledge amongst my friends' parents, my own parents were able to walk in here on my thirteenth birthday and see their son be one of a group who received this award. I hope you'll forgive me when I say that means much more to me than the actual award itself."

That the entire ball room was up on its feet and applauding was a fair indication they not only forgave but understood as well.

Cornelius watched Neville step back amongst his fellow award winners to many hugs and congratulations, the minister let the applause die down before stepping forward himself. "I agree wholeheartedly with everything that courageous young wizard just said, and would also like to welcome Frank and Alice Longbottom back amongst us once more. We give thanks to our goblin friends for making this possible, and for inviting healers from St Mungo's to their medical facility inside Gringotts so this remarkable accomplishment may benefit even more people."

That last part had been know by only a select few, it was certainly news that was welcome here tonight. "Now, as the Lady Ravenclaw can't leave Hogwarts Castle, that leaves us with one other member of the team who risked their lives that day to thank - Harry Crow."

While the ministry was well aware it was granting land and a title to a goblin, Cornelius didn't want to rub tonight's guests' noses in it by announcing Centurion Crow. Harry had readily agreed to this compromise, it was a small price to pay for what the Nation was receiving.

"Since most of you would have been here last year, you will of course be aware that this young man is already an Order of Merlin, First Class recipient - an award he proudly has pinned on his jacket tonight. As the acknowledged leader of the group of rescuers, and the most severely injured after the basilisk targeted his blood bonded mate, we at the ministry wanted to show our appreciation for his bravery in a different manner. Please will you welcome on stage, Harry Crow, Baron of Kingussie."

Harry rose to great applause and made his way on stage where the Minister of Magic presented him with that oh so precious scroll of parchment. There would be goblin builders in Kingussie before they returned to Hogwarts in September.

Being conscious of not wanting to upstage Neville's speech, Harry kept it short and simple. That he allowed everyone to see how heartfelt his words were just increased the power behind those words. "I think I said last year that family was everything to me. Thanks to that spirit of cooperation Neville mentioned a moment ago, I have my godfather and godmother here tonight. That members of my family are already considering Kingussie as home might give you some idea of what this award means to me, and for that I simply can't thank you enough."

This drew loud applause but Harry had something else he wanted to say. "My father taught me to do what is right, rather than what is easy, something he lived up to by risking his own life while saving a young witch and her daughter inside this very building. I would like to dedicate this award to him, because he's my hero."

Harry had added that last bit in himself, only talking with Hermione about its inclusion. It was hard to tell how the ballroom received it, the three tables at the front and those on stage were generating enough noise to compensate for any lack of applause from elsewhere.

They then had to pose for the obligatory photographs before the Minister made sure to shake everyone's hand as they made their way back off the stage.

The six received heroes welcomes as they returned to their tables and family. Barchoke broke with tradition by embracing both his daughter and son. "You all keep talking about bringing down barriers, I thought it was time this one fell too - but only on special occasions!"

Hermione had to wipe the tears from her eyes from witnessing this, knowing how much this gesture meant to both of them.

As they settled down for dinner, Molly attempted to make a joke. "No vials of fake blood this year, Harry?"

"Mrs Weasley, down in the chamber we all saw enough of the real thing to last us a lifetime."

-oOoOo-

On a bleak isle in the middle of the North Sea, blood was also on the mind of Augustus Rookwood. It was time to see if those months and months of effort, pain and sacrifice were actually going to be worth it. Having finished his protection medallion earlier than anticipated, he'd then made a few minor modifications. His last incisor had been sacrificed to bore a hole in the medallion, with more of his long hair being pulled out and threaded through it to allow his precious protection to be worn around his neck. Blood had also been added to this woven hair necklace, any smidgen of extra protection was very welcome. It was now time to see if it and his straw wand worked as well as he hoped.

A simple alohomora was greeted with a click, allowing the death eater to inch open the door and peer along the gloomy corridor. Dementors prefer the dark and the ministry weren't about to spend a Knut on their prisoners' comfort, only eyes that had long become accustomed to the darkness allowed him to see anything at all. He clutched the medallion to his chest as a dementor approached, hoping he would at least have time to force the door shut if the creature reacted to his presence. With Augustus' heart beating loud enough for the dementor to hear it thump, the dark creature glided serenely past, completely uninterested in him. After discovering that both his creations were a success, it was time to put the rest of his scheme into operation.

He wasn't one hundred percent sure where Bellatrix's cell exactly was but found it easily enough, on the same side as his and only three along. He looked through the small barred opening on her door, the faint moonlight filtering through the recessed and heavily barred cell window allowing Augustus the chance to gaze upon his first woman in a decade.

"Bellatrix!"

She sat up on her mattress instantly, a voice coming from where no voice should be certainly grabbed her attention. She may be considered crazy but no one ever called her stupid, Bella may have been startled yet her voice never rose above the whisper her unexpected visitor had used. "Rookwood? What the fuck are you doing out there?"

He then said the words guaranteed to get her full attention and support. "I intend to escape and help our master return, I need your help though..."

That was all Bella needed to hear, she was now at the small barred opening with her face pressed against the bars. "Anything, Rookwood, you know I'll do anything!"

"I think our master made horcruxes, I also think he gave one to you for safekeeping. If you tell me where it is, I'll give you an oath I'll use it to bring our master back."

Even with their faces now mere inches apart her groan of disappointment was barely audible, Bella's distress though was clearly there for Augustus to see. "I can't, it's in our vault at Gringotts and only a Lestrange can enter..."

While he'd been expecting no other answer, he managed to look as disappointed as she was. His entire scheme relied on Bella reaching her own conclusions to take this forward, the route he hoped to guide her on needed to seem like Bella's own idea.

"You got out your cell, can't you get me out too? Two of us would have a much better chance of getting out of this fucking dump together."

"I can get you out of your cell, I can't get you past the dementors. They only leave me alone because of this, it took months to make and required blood bonding to me. I couldn't make another one even if I wanted too, I don't have enough teeth left and the time needed would mean the sea would be far too cold for us to survive in the water."

Bella was staring at the medallion like a starving child would look through a baker's shop window, here was something far more precious than any Order of Merlin. "I'm more than ready to bleed to get out of here, what if I chewed a couple of my fingers off? You could sit in your cell and rub them into the stone, would that work quickly enough?"

"I honestly don't know but my best guess would be no. The medallion is blood bound to me and might not accept another..." His pause had Bella instantly coming back at him, just as he planned.

"What? You've thought of something, haven't you?"

"I had an idea, it's a crazy one though..."

"You want crazy then you came to the right fucking place, I can certainly do crazy so tell me."

This was the part that could blow upon his face but Augustus ploughed ahead. "The stone is blood bound to me, it will also offer the same protection to anyone blood bonded to me..."

Augustus just left that hanging, it wasn't hanging there for long before Bella snatched at the bait. "What have I got to do?"

"We cut the palm of our hands, say a few words and then consummate the bond..."

"You mean I get fucked too?" Bella's hand was instantly through the bars.

Augustus had also sharpened one edge of the medallion for this very purpose, he cut both their palms before clasping her dainty hand in his calloused shovel of a mitt. "I am yours, and you are mine."

Bella repeated the words and a glow appeared around their joined hands. They glowed past their wrists surprising Augustus, he assumed that their joint desire to get out of here and join their master would at least be enough to heal their hands - he didn't expect any more than that. Bella's healed hand was withdrawn back into her cell and this was now the moment of truth for Augustus.

The runes on the medallion were made to protect two people, providing one of them was him. His greatest wish was to have sex with a willing woman that didn't have to be potioned or under the influence of the imperius, for that woman to be Bellatrix Lestrange he was willing to risk his very life. He also knew he was certainly taking his life into his hands entering that door, it could be so worth it though.

He entered her cell to find Bella had discarded her threadbare robe and was lying on her straw mattress, there was no underwear anywhere in sight.

"Aw, is my little baby shy? Come and let Bella look after you. Don't you dawdle now, we have things to do and other places to be."

Augustus needed no further invitation.

-oOoOo-

"If Auror Tonks is free tomorrow night, I have an invitation to a joint birthday party and no date."

Tonks was loving the banter she shared with Remus, their week in Florida had allowed their relationship to develop to the point where they were both very comfortable joking with each other. Neither was prepared just yet to put a label on exactly what there relationship was but both were happy where they were at the moment.

"Since I've already been invited by the young ladies organising the event, it shouldn't be too much of an imposition to turn upon the arm of Professor Lupin. You're actually a very good dancer..."

This put a smile on his face as a long forgotten memory was dragged to the surface. "Harry's grandmother said all young wizards needed to know how to dance. She taught me, James and Sirius."

"You were really close, weren't you?"

"We were like brothers, like family. That's why both Sirius and I understand Harry's drive for family, I thought I lost all of mine on the one night."

"Everything keeps returning to that one night and no one knows what really happened."

Remus then surprised the hell out of the auror. "Harry does, he remembers word for word what happened that night. Sirius told me one evening a bottle of firewhiskey took a hammering, said it was the most heartbreaking thing he'd ever heard. Two grown men sat and cried that evening, we both blamed it on the firewhiskey and we were both lying."

Tonks just held him closer as they danced, thinking she had a good man here.

-oOoOo-

To an outsider watching these two convicts rut like animals amongst the squalor of Bella's cell, they would rightly be disgusted. The couple though were both benefiting from their fornication so weren't exactly courting public opinion on their sexual activities.

As Augustus was experiencing a wonderful afterglow, Bella was cooing softly in his ear and running her hand lovingly through his now sparse hair. "Oh, that's my big strong wizard, Bella will look after you. Now you've given me one wand, it's time to hand over the other."

This shocked Augustus but Bella just continued with her soothing ministrations. "As we are now blood bonded, that wand should recognise me too. You my clever man are the brains here but when it comes to wands I think you'll agree I'm the expert."

In all his calculations, here was one Augustus had not thought of. "Oh my poor baby, don't you worry your pretty little head - Bella will take good care of both your wands. I've just had the best sex for over a decade, I would hate to have to kill the person who just gave me that pleasure."

Augustus suddenly felt the sharpened edge of his medallion caressing his throat, he immediately agreed with his new mate. This shockingly earned him a kiss, no woman had ever willingly kissed him before. "I knew you were a clever one, now let's get on with what has to be done."

Watching as she pulled what passed for a robe over her head, he offered a warning. "I don't know how much magic that wand can take..." He was again cut off by a kiss on his ravaged mouth.

"You do very good work, this wand is better than you think it is so just trust me."

Watching as this witch seemed to change character from moment to moment was both terrifying and electrifying at the same time, seeing Bella with a wand in her hand was just downright scary though.

They held onto the braided hair necklace that was attached to the medallion and crept out into the corridor, Bella headed straight for a specific cell and Augustus had no option but to follow.

"Roddie, you there, my baby?"

"Where the fuck else would I be, you crazy bitch. How did you get out of your cell?"

As Rodolphus pressed his face into the bars in order to see what was happening, Bella's new wand cast a low powered cutting curse at his neck. While the curse may have been low powered, it was cast from mere inches away and with a surgeon's precision. Rodolphus Lestrange found his jugular sliced open and, despite clutching his throat with both hands, his lifeblood was spurting between his fingers and splattering all over his cell.

"Consider this the end of our marriage, you lousy bastard, you'll never cheat on me again with that poncey brother of yours. I want your last dying thoughts to be that I've found a better man to replace you and your precious brother is next on my list."

Bella moved to the next cell, almost daring Augustus to say something - he wisely didn't. She opened the cell door to find Rabastan curled in the furthest away corner, crying while physically shaking with fear. "You're not worth a curse, you piece of shit!"

Rabastan's shuddering was now more in relief, after hearing those words and watching the crazy bitch leave, that was until he noticed she'd left the cell door wide open. The death that then came calling was tall, dark but in no way could a dementor be considered handsome.

"Fucking arranged marriage to hide the fact they'd been screwing each other since they were both at Hogwarts, then people have the nerve to blame me for not providing an heir! I wanted to torture both those bastards to death years ago but our master had some use for them, too fucking bad! I will gladly suffer our master's displeasure for killing both those pieces of shit after we bring him back. I have one other marriage needing ended before we leave this fucking dump for good..."

Hearing the cell door opening was a shock that woke the sleeping wizard, that shock was nothing though in comparison to the terrifying nightmare of recognising the person who just entered his cell.

"Hello Lucius, surprised to see me? I told you I would make you pay for destroying one of our master's most precious possessions, I'm here to make my sister a widow too!"

He found himself being dragged off his mattress by the hair and his last conscious thought was 'where the hell did Bella get her hands on a wand'. As Malfoy blood pumped from his jugular to form a pool on the cell floor, Bella dipped her fingers in the warm liquid and began to write a message on the wall.

Augustus had just watched his new mate kill her husband and both her brothers-in-law, all in the space of a few minutes. He didn't think this witch could possibly turn him on any more than he was now. As there were now three of them, though one occupant was dead, crammed into this tiny cell and he had to stay close to his mate because of the medallion, when Bella bent down for more blood she couldn't help but notice just how turned on he was.

"Owww, my big strong man likes his little lady taking care of business. We'll take care of that later and then have a midnight swim together, how romantic is that for our first night as mates!"

"Bella, what are you doing?"

"Showing this arse's blood is good for something. I intend to leave a message here that will have the ministry shitting themselves. Potter will die at the hands of our master!"

"We don't have a lot of time, nor would it be a good idea to tell them exactly what we're up to." The flash of temper behind her eyes had Augustus fearing he was about to join Malfoy bleeding on the floor, she caught herself though and pushed her body suggestively back into his groin as she bent for more Malfoy blood.

"That's why you're the brains, lover, and I look after the wands. A few seconds and I'll be finished here."

They left the cell hand in hand, with the protection medallion clasped between their joined palms. Behind them, only the cooling body of Lucius Malfoy bore testament to the bloody writing on the wall.

POTTER WILL DIE!

-oOoOo-

Harry thought Hermione was going to kill him so he escaped by asking Emma to dance. They had no sooner started when Harry was looking for advice. "I can't understand why she's so angry..."

"It's your first ever function at Kingussie, Harry, Hermione just wants it to be special."

"All I need is Hermione there, that will make it special for me. She's been fretting over this party for days, it's all she can talk about. I thought she would like me inviting the Minister of Magic to the party."

Emma couldn't help but smile at his naivety, she loved the occasional glimpses of Harry as a young man growing up - and not a centurion. "When she calms down, she will. At the moment Hermione will be checking over everything in her head to make sure it's perfect for tomorrow. Aren't you the one whose always saying someone's birthday is their most special day?"

"So, asking the Minister was a bad thing?"

"No, Harry, you did right. It just raises the profile of the event and Hermione will put more pressure on herself to get everything right. Imagine if your director was coming..."

"...but he is!"

This was certainly news to Emma. "Oh shit! Does Hermione know that?"

Her question had Harry thinking for a moment, providing its own answer to Emma before he replied. "I'm not sure, father only told me earlier on tonight. It's a great honour for the Director to attend your birthday celebrations...and Hermione will put even more pressure on herself! I'm an idiot, I should have told her at once and said what I was thinking before asking the Minister. Every time I think I'm getting the hang of this, something else comes along and shows me I'm not."

Emma thought Harry was beating himself up over nothing and tried to show him that. "Does Hermione know all the do's and don'ts of Goblin culture, Harry?"

"She's learning all the time but it's only been two years, even Hermione couldn't learn all there is to know in that time..."

She could see the penny had dropped and Emma pressed home her advantage. "You say goblins are a simple people but it will take Hermione longer to master your culture, a perfectly understandable conclusion. Why should you then think you could possibly achieve mastery for both muggle and magical societies in the same amount of time."

By the time the dance ended, Harry had his plan of action worked out. "I'll ask father if there is anything special we need to do for the Director attending, and then I'll have all the information for Hermione before I tell her. Thanks, mum." This was punctuated by a kiss on the cheek as Harry returned Emma to her seat.

Anyone who witnessed that byplay was saying nothing about it. If they hadn't watched Dolores Umbridge's demise at last year's ball they had at least heard what happened, they had also heard Harry say that to him family was everything. There would be not one word said against the muggle he just called mum, and only a total idiot would actually consider attacking the woman.

The 'mum' in question was just delighted to be able to fill that coveted role for her children, she was having to be a tad unconventional but that didn't bother Emma in the slightest. Her two teenagers might have a whole different set of relationship issues they needed guidance on - arranging a birthday party that would now include two national leaders sprang immediately to mind - but Emma knew their final destination would be a happy marriage. All she needed to do was offer guidance and steer them around the myriad of obstacles that kept appearing in their path. The course of true love was certainly not a smooth one but Emma was sure these two would find their way to that destination eventually.

-oOoOo-

Augustus struggled to guide Bella from her preferred path, finally convincing her that taking on the guards with only one home made straw wand between them was an unnecessary and unacceptable risk. Both had many years experience of the guards' routines in the high security wing. With no more than six guards watching the entire prison at night, and none of them patrolling, they knew their escape wouldn't be discovered until their morning rounds. Augustus was finally able to make Bella see that they needed those precious hours to get off the island undetected, rather than take the risk of a guard being able to raise the alarm before they could kill all of them.

Both could hear the guards inside a small building near the side gate they planned to exit from. It sounded like the guards were playing some sort of card game and money was changing hands, more importantly they weren't paying any attention to what was happening outside that room. Bella held her nerve as they waited in the shadows for a diversion, a loud exchange that signalled there were winners and losers was their opportunity and she cast alohomora at the door. There was now so much cursing and swearing going on in the guardhouse though, the pair could probably have tap danced their way to freedom and not been noticed.

They headed down the existing path to the shore, not daring to cast a lumos to light their way. Having got this far, the final part of Augustus' plan called for a quick check of the shore for a piece of washed up debris that would float and then hope the wand would be able to handle a warming spell before they took to the water - Bella had other ideas.

After they gathered large pieces of driftwood, she directed Augustus to lay them out in a crude shape. He then got to watch a master at work as Bella coaxed every last particle of magic through the wand he had so lovingly created. Before it finally and inevitably fell apart, Bella had managed to configure the driftwood into a very rudimentary canoe.

"If I'd used the sharp edge of that medallion to kill Malfoy, I might have been able to squeeze a couple of paddles out of the wand too. Don't worry, baby, we'll still get our romantic swim as I couldn't put enough magic into this to make it permanent. Now we need to find something we can use as paddles."

In his wildest dreams Augustus never thought he would leave Azkaban in a boat with Bellatrix Lestrange sitting between his legs. Since they would both rather paddle than swim, they were pushing their craft as hard as they could through the water in a roughly westerly direction. Neither was in good physical shape but both had wills of iron that were ignoring the pain signals from long unused muscles. The lungfuls of air Augustus' body was demanding for these unaccustomed exertions smelled and tasted wonderful. There was a hint of freedom in the air, add in Bella's aroma from mere inches away and mix with the salty spray to form quite an intoxicating concoction. Of course Bella could feel his reaction as their paddling rhythm had her continually brushing against him.

"I know it's hard,my poor baby, but you'll need to save it. We wouldn't just rock the boat, we'd sink it! With the Dark Lord as my master and you as my mate, things are finally looking up for little Bella."

As far as Augustus was concerned, that was a bit of an understatement - his life had just taken a spectacular upturn. Not only was he free, Bellatrix Lestrange was now his very willing mate. He only had one more thing to accomplish tonight, and that should happen naturally when their canoe reverted back to its components.

The protection medallion was back around his neck and entering the water should dissolve the hair held together by blood necklace - sending the medallion safely to the sea bed. Since it would only work against the dementors whilst he was inside Azkaban or the ministry itself, Augustus no longer had any use for it. It would have been a nice souvenir to keep of what he considered to be his greatest ever achievement, it was also damning evidence against him and needed to be consigned to the bottom of the sea. He didn't know if Bella had enough knowledge of runes to be able to decipher that she'd been tricked into bonding with him, their master certainly did though. After watching what she did to those three former family members tonight, without even a flicker of remorse, he certainly didn't want Bella's anger to ever be focused in his direction.

Every hour their little craft held together did wonders for their chances of eventually making landfall. Their arms might be dead by then but they should be able to hold onto a piece of their transfigured canoe and use their legs to kick for shore. Before he tried his wand and medallion, Augustus didn't know if he would see tomorrow. Now he was beginning to allow himself to look forward to it - those thoughts certainly kept his makeshift paddle pushing them through the water.

-oOoOo-

Hermione couldn't wait until tomorrow, she sneaked into Harry's room to find him lying in bed but still awake.

"Hermione, what are you doing here? Our parents will go nuts if they find you in my room at this time of morning." He got out of bed just in case they were discovered, both of them on his bed would certainly be harder to explain.

"I wanted to apologise for earlier. I can get so hung up on the details I forget what's important - you!" She put her arms around him as they shared a loving kiss.

Harry was very aware Hermione was wearing thin summer pyjamas and no bra as she held him close. "I also wanted to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday - Happy Birthday, Harry!"

This was followed by another kiss that left both of them gasping for breath.

"Wow, Hermione, this is already my best birthday ever!"

"So, am I forgiven then?"

Harry kissed her gently and held his mate close, running his hands through Hermione's hair - terrified to let them wander anywhere else. "I told you we would argue because we're both strong-willed and downright stubborn. As long as we remember that I am yours and you are mine - always - then we'll be fine. I just love your way of apologising, though I hope you save that method just for me..."

This earned a slight giggle from his mate. "Now get out of here before those pyjamas drive me crazy, I've seen your dad fire a shotgun and have no wish to be a target."

She of course couldn't leave without the application of another birthday kiss, sending a very happy Harry back to bed and looking forward to tomorrow.

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