Revenge is a dish best served...
Acknowledgements - The superior beta work is by none other than Kokopelli. All the members of Alpha Fight Club should get recognition, but that would be breaking the first rule of Fight Club.... Either way, you folks are the best! I'd also like to thank those who commented on the preview scene on DLP and FFA. Special thanks to AnnF for reminding me not to contradict myself, though I hope my answer about why Kreacher's body stayed around and Dobby's disappeared in chapter 26 was acceptable.
Chapter 29 - Payback
Ron found him sitting down by the lake. "Hey mate, long time no see. How have you been?" he asked.
Harry had hoped that the serenity of the lake would help take his mind off the burdens that life was pressing onto him.
He smiled at his friend, "I guess I'm doing better. I didn't want to be in the castle right now."
The Delacours were at Hogwarts, retrieving Fleur's body for transport back to France. The family was understandably upset. Bill was up at the castle, helping with the final details and facing their wrath, but Harry opted to be elsewhere.
Ron snapped his chocolate bar in half and offered it to Harry as he sat down beside him. "Me either. Do you, you know, want to talk about it?"
"No, not particularly," Harry replied, absently munching on the bar.
"Good. I'm rubbish when it comes to that crap," Ron said earnestly.
This triggered a bit of laughter from both of them. The two then sat there in companionable silence eating chocolate.
"So, heard any good jokes lately?" Harry asked
"Did you hear the latest one about the Dark Lord, a goblin and a centaur?"
"You mean the one Justin was talking about?"
"Yeah. You already heard it?"
"Yup. Pretty funny."
"Where's the bride to be?" Ron asked.
"She gave me the afternoon off. I think we were making each other mental. I wish I knew what she sees in me," Harry griped softly.
"Harry, lots of birds have been after you for a long time; they must all see /something/. I don't see any 'who's dating Ron Weasley' pools being run. So, have you two decided who's going to tie your knot at the Handfasting ceremony?"
"I left it up to Susan; which made her angry. Which provided me with yet one more good reason for a trip out to the lake."
Ron scratched his chin. Harry noted that Ron had been doing that a lot since he started to get a little fuzz on it. "After watching my Mum go spare over just about every occasion, I think your problem is that you're not acting like you care enough, you know? Women really dig these things."
"That's the problem Ron! I don't care. I'd just as soon prefer that Susan and I tie the knot ourselves. Then we get word that Scrimgeour wants to do it, but that might offend Dumbledore. Next, Mrs. Abbott dropped a Hippogriff sized hint that she was interested in the job, and then your mum said that she wanted to do it. The papers want to be there and I just want to be married and get on with my life without a circus in attendance."
"All I know is what I see in my family, but it seems to me that families are like a Quidditch team," Ron said seriously.
Harry snorted at such a reference, but Ron waved him off.
"No, let me go with this. Mum is kind of like the Keeper. She's out there directing traffic and trying to shut things down before they get out of hand. Dad is the Seeker, trying to bring home the win, but generally letting Mum run the show. Us kids we're the rest of the team, milling about, causing trouble for our opponents and sometimes ourselves."
"You've lost me," Harry said, looking at him stupidly.
Ron's analogies were built upon a bizarre logic that only he understood and tended to run either towards food or Quidditch. The time when he tried to explain how scholastic achievement was like a chocolate cake to Hermione ranked up there as a classic mindbender.
"Mum and most women like it when us blokes care about the little things. Like say when you came for a visit to just before the World Cup. Did you really care what my room looked like? No, of course not! You just wanted a place to bunk with clean sheets. To make her happy, I cleaned it up the first night when she said you were coming. I would do a little each night and made sure she saw me doing it. In truth, I could've waited until an hour before you came, changed the sheets and shoved all my crap into the closet and you wouldn't have ever noticed. The first night you were there we had your favorite dessert, but the next night, we had mine; even though that night was supposed to be Ginny's night for dessert. When you pay attention to the little things, women translate that as caring about them. So telling Susan that you don't care who ties your knot at the ceremony suddenly means you don't care about the ceremony and that quickly becomes you don't care about her. Bloody impossible reasoning if you ask me. You should talk to dad about it. He really knows how to 'stay involved without getting too involved'. It's how he gets to spend all that time with all those odd Muggle objects he has."
"So how are things between you and Hermione?" Harry asked, pointedly not commenting on Ron's observations, which, to his surprise, made a lot of sense.
"Not so good right now. It's another reason I came out to talk to you. She didn't take that whole thing with Tonks well at all. I can handle the little things just fine, but the big ones are still kicking my arse. I'm out of my depth and I could use some help. I know Susan would probably go spare on me for asking you this, but could you talk to Hermione about things? Please?"
"I'll speak to her sometime." Harry answered half-heartedly looking back at the water.
"She's hurting, Harry. Girls aren't like us. She needs to talk and you're the one she wants to talk to about it. Females are funny like that. They won't belch or fart, so they end up wanting to talk and make us just as miserable as they are; barking mad if you ask me."
"I still don't really want to talk about it," Harry said firmly.
"You know, I read my Uncle Fabian's journal once. He wrote in it during the last war. He said, 'You can't do much about the dead, but mourn them. The only thing you can do after that is to help the living.' I've tried to talk to her, but I just can't find a way to get through to her. She's not going to let it go until she hears it from you. I won't pretend it's easy, but Hermione needs your help."
Harry paused for a moment and Ron realized he might be making some headway. "Ron, I'd probably end up making it worse. I'm no good at talking, let alone to girls. It's sure not helping with Susan right now."
"Yeah, I know. I'm no damn good either, but say this is a Quidditch match. You pull your Beaters off harassing the Chasers and have them terrorize the shit out of the other team's Seeker. Sure you're going to give up some goals, but if your Seeker gets the Snitch you're probably going to win the game."
"Interesting, if I were playing a game, but I'm not."
"Okay, I'll try to pull it out of Quidditch. You go talk to Hermione. You let her vent her feelings and frustrations. You tell her that it wasn't her fault and even if it was you forgive her or at least don't blame her. She feels better and maybe you do too. Then, you go talk to Susan. You tell her that you talked to Hermione. Susan sees that you're helping a friend and that maybe you're trying to work your way out of your own funk. Susan feels better. Tell her that, who ties the knot isn't important. The important thing is the knot gets tied. Even if you don't really feel better, if they feel better the end result is you'll feel better - or at least they'll let up and give you a bit more space - or who knows, maybe we'll both get lucky."
Harry smiled as he mulled it over. "Simple and brilliant. I can probably do that."
Harry had gone back and fetched the map, promising Susan he would be back in a bit to sort out the Handfasting details with her. The smile on her face told him that he'd done /something /right. Hermione was out on the grounds, just off the path from the castle to the Owlery. He found her passed out on a picnic blanket with six empty beer bottles and two Muggle romance novels strewn on the grass next to her. He banished the empty bottles and ran through the details of how to perform a sobering charm. The whole situation reminded him vaguely of stumbling on Winky when she'd been surrounded by butterbeer bottles.
"Hermione! Wake up!"
No response. He took a calming breath and tapped his wand on her temple twice and muttered the incantation. The wand still felt a little uncomfortable in his hands. Tomorrow, he was starting back up with Professor Flitwick again. Harry knew there was only one way to get past it, which was getting busy again. He recalled that the reason Flitwick gave up dueling was that he had accidentally killed someone. Perhaps speaking to him would be helpful.
"Rise and shine Hermione!" Harry watched as the girl opened her eyes, no doubt feeling a bit groggy. He waited for her to start to come to. Her eyes opened wide as she looked at him first and then at the empty cardboard container.
"Oh Harry, I uh..."
"Don't worry. I understand. You probably need to be more careful though. Is my sobering charm working?"
"Yes it is. What are you doing here?" Hermione asked massaging her temples.
"Looking for you. Had to use the map to find you."
She looked at him, appearing to be embarrassed. "I put a notice-me-not charm on the blanket and sat inside the magical field. If you hadn't specifically been looking for me, you probably wouldn't have found me. So, what can I do for you, now that you've found me?"
"You've been trying to talk to me for the last few days. I wasn't ready to listen. I think I'm ready now, if you still want to? I'm sorry I pretty much stormed away from you, but I wasn't ready. It was still too fresh."
Harry paused, waiting for some kind of reaction from her. A moment of silence passed and he decided to continue on, "Also, as Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, I am here to apologize on my family's behalf for comments made to you by Tonks the other night and by myself earlier in the summer. Ron reminded me how much you're hurting."
"You don't have to apologize to me, Harry." Hermione turned away from him quickly. Although he couldn't see them, he knew that tears were brimming in her eyes. "Ron doesn't know what he is talking about."
"Ron knows more than he lets on, and yes, I do need to apologize. Early in the summer, I was angry at you for not telling me about my end-of-the-line clause and I was pretty hard on you. We mostly left it alone and pretended it never happened. That lingered until we had our little blow up when Remus was teaching me how to Apparate. We were able to put that behind us, but then the other night happened. Tonks went over the line, worse than my line about you not coming to help fight the Dementors. It got under your skin more than it should have, partly because of how bad I've been treating you this summer."
"But, the ward map..."
Harry interrupted her. "It's not your fault any more than it's mine! You were used - you believed the adults in our lives knew what they were doing. It just so happens that a number of people were snookered by Snivelus. Mapping the wards should have been safe; after all, the Fidelius charm prevented you from identifying the house. Snape set you up. If I follow your logic, I'm responsible for every murder committed by Riddle since the tournament. Weren't you the first one trying to tell me that it wasn't my fault Sirius died?"
"Yes, but that's circular logic, Harry."
"Well there you go. Listen, you want to admit you screwed up, fine. You screwed up; Bill screwed up. I screwed up. Vance, Jones, Delacour, Podmore and Diggle all screwed up. And, as if I give a shit, Snape screwed up too! You, me, Bill and hopefully Vance - we get to learn from our mistakes and figure out how not to do it again."
Harry put his arms around Hermione, which was all it took for her to spin around and start crying into his chest. He pulled her in tight and let her sob. It was there he came to a realization of how right Bill was when he had told him that for the most part Harry's generation wasn't ready to fight this war. /'Hermione is a great witch. She will be a fantastic one in the years to come, but she isn't prepared for her mistakes costing people their lives.' /Up to this point the only thing that happened when she made a mistake was earning something less than full marks and now she was learning the harsh lesson that less that full marks wasn't the worst thing that could happen in real life.
Sadly, the rest of his generation reared in the Wizarding World was even less likely to be able to handle it. Their parents fed them stories of how the 'great Harry Potter' stopped the evil wizard and made the world safe forever and ever. They coddled their offspring and allowed themselves to believe the lie that it wouldn't happen again. They were paying for their stupidity now.
He gave her a couple of minutes, letting her soak the shirt he was wearing before stepping back and bringing his hands up to her shoulder. "There, feel a bit better? If not, Ron is warming up another one of his analogies. It goes something like, 'Forgiving yourself is a lot like two Beaters fighting over a chocolate Ã©clair.' - or something like that - I wasn't paying too much attention; if you want, I can go get him."
Hermione pulled a tissue from her pockets and wiped her face while giving a slight laugh. "No please. Anything but that!" she said, putting the back of her hand to her forehead dramatically. "So, Harry, how are you doing?"
"I suppose this is the part where I say 'just fine' and then you don't believe me. So let's skip it. I'm angry and frustrated. I feel like lashing out for no reason. I'm beginning to wonder if there is a limit to the amount of things the Room of Requirement will let me destroy. I'll be okay eventually. I have to be."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"How much have you been drinking lately?" He watched her sag and wondered if she was going to get angry.
For a moment, it looked like Hermione would pass it off as just a rare occurrence. To her credit she pursed her lips and admitted what is happening, "Too much, way too much. I need to cut back."
"Once school starts, you and Ron are going to need to run the DA. I'll still be around, but we both know how busy I'm going to be. Just because we're not spending nearly as much time together doesn't mean we're not still best mates. Besides, eventually, with a double end-of-the-line situation, Susan and I are going to have a baby. That baby will need a good witch for a Godmother. Not too many obvious candidates for the job; heavy drinkers aren't likely to make the cut. I also need you to start looking into ways of protecting the as-of-yet hypothetical baby Potter. I need someone really clever to look outside the norm. They'd probably be expecting what Mum did, so you need to get creative."
He was crushed into another hug. Giving her a task to make her feel more productive was the best medicine for Hermione Granger; it was how she coped. She needed something to focus her skills on. Harry contemplated telling her straight out about the baby, but it was too early. Most pregnancies in both the Muggle and magical world weren't announced until the end of the first trimester. Both he and Susan were convinced that the magic surrounding the end-of-the-line clauses would ensure that the baby was carried full term, but they agreed to keep it silent for now. Instead, he decided to lay the groundwork and he had another idea that was more immediate.
"Hermione, do you think you could help me with something today, right now?"
"Of course, Harry. Anything. What do you have in mind?"
"I wanted to go down and see the House Elves. Dobby didn't really get any kind of ceremony, but I wanted them to know that he was a true hero. Would you mind coming with me?"
"Of course. That's a wonderful idea!" Hermione said in an excited tone that reminded Harry of more innocent times. Suddenly, she stopped with a look of discovery on her face. "Harry, we're not talking about a hypothetical baby are we?"
"You're a clever girl, Hermione. Draw your own conclusions, but please, keep them to yourself."
Neville's audible grunts continued with each and every crunch he did. Uncle Darius continued to stress the notion that physical strength was linked to magical strength. Someone else was in the Room of Requirement, so he worked out in one of the Charms classrooms. He would do fifty crunches, followed by a set of twenty-five pushups. He would do this for ten minutes and then take a ten minute break. It was exhausting and punishing. He asked about using weights, but Uncle said that toning what he had was more productive than building additional muscle for now. Then he told him that agility and endurance mattered far more than sheer physical strength.
"Hey. Need someone to hold your feet so you don't move around so much?"
Neville came up to see Ginny Weasley's face standing in his line of vision. He'd been aware of her watching him for a few minutes, probably trying to decide whether or not to approach him. It may have been Neville's imagination, but Ginny's eyes seemed to dart around the room more than they used to. He was angry at himself for lashing out at Ginny after what had happened to Luna. Much like Hermione, she had been careless with information and it had been costly. Like pruning a plant, handling information should be done with extreme caution. Neville understood this now. He wondered why Ginny was here. They hadn't spoken since he had chewed her out.
"Thanks, I appreciate it," he said.
The lithe, young witch knelt on his feet to hold them in place. Much better.
"So, you're trying to get in shape now?"
"Yeah, better physical conditioning; I want to be in better shape next time I run into any Death Eaters. Uncle says that it will help strengthen me magically.
"Mind if I join you? I talked to the Nurse and she said that it might speed my recovery and I won't get my wand back for a month. My options are limited to working out, Potions, Herbology and Ancient Runes. I can only take so much of them and I need to feel like I'm doing something!" Neville noted how her voice rose in pitch as she spoke. He had lost count, but decided to switch after five more crunches.
"Sure join on in. We'll switch to pushups in a second. There!"
He helped her adjust her arms to the right position and watched her through the first five, as Neville started in on his next set. "How are you getting by?"
"I still feel like I'm the incredible-fucking-up Ginny Weasley, but hey, what can you do? With all the recent drama, my stupidity seems to have faded into the background, but it's still there. I feel it every time someone stares at me. Everyone keeps saying it will be fine. My magic will come back strong as ever. What if they're wrong? What if the shakes never go away? What if I never get better? Shit! I can't even get angry right, because they have me on calming draughts to prevent accidental magic!"
Neville didn't say anything. He did wonder what her outburst would've been like without the calming draughts. After a time, he finally replied, "I was harder on you than I should have been."
"Thanks. It's just that I've been feeling like Miss Expendable lately; use me and toss me aside." She huffed, squeezing out a few more pushups. She turned over and he held her feet still. "Doesn't matter if it's the bad guys or the good guys. I'm beginning to think there really isn't much of a difference. Fucking Chelsea and Hannah screw around with Azkaban level magical crimes get away with a slap on the wrist! Draco's dad gave me that damn diary and nothing happened to him at all; Draco struts around here all these years and nothing happens, Snape - same damn thing. At least a few of those bastards are dead now. I'm telling you - justice isn't just blind; it's deaf and dumb too!"
Neville cocked his head and looked at her. "After they got my family and Luna I felt the same way. You know what Uncle Darius said to me? He said 'What do you want and what are you willing to do to get it?' I didn't understand, but then it hit me. Uncle Darius, when he was human, was one of the best Aurors in England. He could have been another Mad-Eye. Hell, he was better at dueling than Dumbledore before he got turned into a Vampire. He lost it all, but he clawed his way back. He told me that there is no justice. If you wait for the Universe, karma, or someone else to take care of your problems for you, you're going to be waiting for a long time. The only one that is going to solve your problems is you. So ask yourself Ginny, 'What do you want and what are you willing to do to get it?'"
Ginny had stopped and was staring at him. "I don't know what I want. What did you finally decide?"
"I decided 'No more.' I'm not going to be a doormat anymore! Someone curses me, there's going to be payback. Someone treats me like crap, payback. I'm not putting up with this rubbish anymore. People will learn that they've got to stop messing with me."
The girl in front of him had a thoughtful look on her face. "That sounds like a good plan."
They continued working out and talking when they took their breaks. He had more endurance than she did. She promised to come back tomorrow. Minutes later he noticed a pair of boots enter his field of vision. He looked up to see the face of his Uncle.
"What did the girl want?"
"Payback, sir. She just doesn't know it yet."
"Help her to learn. It is always useful to have allies with mutual interests. Never fully trust an ally or endanger yourself to help an ally, but if you can provide assistance without risk, then allies can be useful."
"I believe that I am starting to understand..."
Neville felt the icy hands on his shoulders. With inhuman speed, he was snatched into the air and held like a rag doll looking into the angry but dead eyes of Coedus. "No! You do not understand. Maybe one day you will truly begin to understand. You have hate and anger. They are enough for now. When you know blind fury and primal rage ... when you know those, then you will begin to understand. Until then, do not presume that you truly understand!"
Neville fought to quench his fear. Fear was weakness! He would not show fear! Clenching his jaws he brought his eyes to meet his Uncle's gaze.
Coedus set Neville down. "You are learning. Go outside and run laps on the pitch. In two hours we will be able to use the room. Come back then."
"Yes sir!" Neville gave a curt nod of his head and gathered his water bottle and stuffed it into his bag.
The vampire watched his great-great-great nephew hurry down the corridor and allowed a thin smile to cross his lips.
"Draco, I've missed you!" Pansy crooned. "With father in jail things have been so miserable." She smothered him into a hug. The Caruthers' family gathering was a tradition for all the Slytherins.
"Please Pansy, not here. I need to pay my respect to the Baron and his wife." Draco said extricating himself from her grasp.
"Mother is here. Would you like to go greet her?" Her voice dropped to a whisper, "Have you heard from your Mother?"
"I should pay my respects to the host and hostess first, but I will be happy to see your mother after that. I haven't heard from my mother and don't expect to. She elected to - " Draco smiled as he processed Pansy's desperation. With his mother nullifying their betrothal contract and fleeing the country, they were probably angling to see if he knew this fact.
Draco eased his way around her and moved into the parlor.
"Hello, Draco. I was worried you wouldn't be here." Melissa Caruthers smiled at him. Although she was barely five feet tall, she carried herself with an air of confidence. "Father has asked to meet you in the library; he wishes to speak with you in private."
He nodded at her and followed her into the library. "Are you still a prefect?" she asked.
Draco nodded in response.
"Good. I'm Head Girl this year and I'll need people I can count on. I'll send a house elf in to bring you some refreshments and let father know that you are here. It's good to see you. Come find me later." With that the petite brunette spun and walked out of the room.
Draco settled into a leather chair and accepted a drink and sandwiches from the house elf. Ten minutes later Baron Caruthers entered. Draco immediately rose from his seat to greet the powerful man, while wondering what could warrant a private meeting. The Baron was a tall and imposing man, who had once been a professional Beater in his youth.
"I'm sorry to have kept you Draco. It took a few moments to excuse myself. We have been worried about you."
"Have you heard from my father?"
"That is part of the reason I wanted to speak with you," he said, his expression turning grave. "He was slain in the service of our Lord. Please accept my condolences."
The world swirled around Draco for a minute. His father had always been a dominant force in his life. In many ways Draco's actions and thoughts had always been driven by what Lucius Malfoy would think of them. The sudden emptiness was tangible; sadness tinged with pain. In the midst of this pain, however, in the recesses of his mind there were the stirrings of anticipation. The notion that he was finally free from his father's expectations would not dawn on him just yet, but it eventually would.
The Baron offered him another drink and waited a polite minute to allow Draco to come to grips with his loss. "I apologize for questioning you at a time like this, but have you had any contact with your mother? Her unexpected departure caused many problems for our cause."
Draco shook his head still digesting the news that his father was gone. He wasn't sure how he felt. It wouldn't occur to him for a time how deftly the Baron had used the information. Had he known his mother's whereabouts it is doubtful that he would have been able to effectively lie. "No. She sent me away on vacation before I heard news that Lord Black had voided her marriage. How did father die?"
"I am not privy to the details. I can make inquiries, if you wish."
Draco doubted the answer. The man made his living brokering sensitive information. Draco simmered knowing that he hadn't 'earned' that information yet.
"I want revenge." It was very true, but it also opened the door to find out what the Baron was really after.
"Understandable. Lucius was an extraordinary man. His loss is a tragic blow to all of England. Others struggle to replace the skills he offered. We have similar hopes for you in the future."
"What would you have me do?"
"I will send my instructions through my daughter. We will have various tasks for you to perform. Mostly, we require information. Regrettably, I can not offer you the Mark. Dumbledore is using an outbreak of illness in Ireland as an excuse for requiring health inspections at Hogwarts this year. We are fighting it, but lack the necessary influence with the Board of Governors to block this tactic."
Draco maintained his guarded expression. He was fairly certain of the answer, but he needed to ask anyway, "Who is Lord Black?"
The Baron studied Draco for a moment before answering. "Harry Potter. He voided your mother's marriage at her request. You will need to tread carefully with Potter. He has..."
"He has crossed me for the last time!" Draco shouted.
"Control yourself, Malfoy! As I was saying, Potter has the Minister and Dumbledore's full backing. He also survived an attack led by Snape; Snape and others did not survive. Choose your battles wisely."
News of his mentor's death was more stunning than learning that his father was dead. He and the Potion's Master had shared a mutual loathing of Harry Potter that had only grown over the years. Most of Draco's early schemes to get Potter in trouble were at Snape's urging, although after the infamous 'dueling club incident' in second year, Draco concluded that he was being manipulated and used. He'd vowed to let Snape fight his own private war. That lasted only until the end of that year, when his father had been ousted from the Board of Governors. A few caustic words from Potter and his degenerate sidekick and Draco's hatred flared to new heights.
Draco returned his attention to Baron Horatio Caruthers. "You are correct, sir. I will choose my battle carefully, but mark my words, in time, I will exact my vengeance on him!"
The Baron nodded. "I understand your desires. Make your plans, but do not act upon them without my authorization. If it pleases our Lord to allow you to strike, you will be so instructed. Until that time, you will make no moves unless I say so. Do I make myself clear?"
Draco felt the heat of the man's words and rose to the challenge they presented, "I am not beholden to you, Baron. I am the Malfoy."
"I will forgive your impudence; I suppose I must spell it out for you. You are the sole surviving member of the senior line, yes? In a few years, you will take control of the family from your Uncle Tiberius, yes? If you should disappear before then, your Uncle's line becomes senior and he does not have to relinquish power, does he? So ask yourself Draco, 'Who will protect me from my scheming Uncle? Who should I ally myself with to make sure I remain untouchable?' Answer these questions before you proclaim your independence before the world."
The news was sobering. His mother had shared a similar concern with him when he had arrived home from school after his father had been imprisoned and she had taken over responsibilities for the Malfoy clan in his stead. "How would you go about that?"
"Your betrothal to the Parkinson girl has been nullified by your mother; rumor has it that you are going to reinstate it. Do not do so; I will make it known that you are among those in consideration for my daughter's hand. Perhaps you will even impress me enough to be the one I choose for her. A male offspring from the two of you would be well positioned in terms of blood and lineage. Do as you are instructed and you will retain my favor and protection. Act rashly and you will suffer the consequences. Do we have an understanding?"
Draco nodded and shook hands with the man in front of him. The pact between the Malfoys and the Parkinsons was based on a debt his grandfather owed to the patriarch of Pansy's family. Both men were now dead and there was no further reason to honor that arrangement and every reason to consider this one.
The ceremony was much larger than he had wanted, filling the Great Hall. The specifics of just what was supposed to happen blurred and Harry did his level best to do his part. What was important and worth focusing on was the sense of happiness coming from Susan. It might be the attraction enhanced by the bond, it could be the secret knowledge that she was carrying his child. Either way, Susan never looked more beautiful to him at that moment. The fact she stuck with him simply amazed him, despite so many reasons for calling it off - including, in Harry's opinion, common sense. Despite all of this, she had just pledged herself to him 'without reservation.' Hearing the conviction in her voice had a profound effect on Harry and he pulled her into a kiss prior to saying his pledge in return. Her expression of devotion to him demanded an immediate response.
Susan couldn't hide the laughter in her voice as she whispered in his year, "You're supposed say your line and let the Minister tie our knot first, but I'm glad you feel that way about me."
They broke their embrace to the collective laughter of the assembled crowd. Harry struggled through his lines and his voice sounded slightly strained as he recited his pledge.
He felt the lump in his throat and hoped that his usually light complexion hadn't turned deathly pale as Rufus Scrimgeour officially tied the bow to signify their Handfasting. In the end, Scrimgeour as officiant had been the least objectionable of the choices available to the two of them.
As the ceremony ended, they were faced with a slew of well-wishers. Hugs, handshakes, and kisses ensued. Finally they were led to a table for the feast. Harry found it difficult to eat with his left hand instead of his right.
"Susan, when do we take the knot off? I don't think we ever covered that."
"Traditionally the knot isn't untied until we've consummated things," Susan replied, flashing a brilliant smile. "Why? Tired of being tied down after only a few minutes?"
"No, it's just difficult to eat with my left hand instead of my right."
She grinned impishly at him as she used the fork in her free right hand to spear some potatoes. "/I'm/ not having any difficulties. Shall we slip out right now and come back with the knot off? That'd start people talking?"
"Oh no! I've married a scarlet woman!" Harry replied with mock severity.
"If by scarlet you mean red headed and happy, then yes, you did" Susan skewered some meat and offered it to Harry.
The meal ended, which let the party begin in earnest. After the traditional first dance, Susan led Harry off to their quarters, ignoring the catcalls.
Before the ceremony, Harry had thought that making love to Susan Potter would be pretty much the same as making love to Susan Bones.
In her intensity, she surprised him.
In the aftermath, as they lay next to each other, Susan carefully retied the knot and placed it into a decorative box on the nightstand, next to the bed.
"I guess I don't have to listen to the 'jump my bones' joke anymore?" Susan said smiling at him.
"I thought you liked being 'my Bones," Harry quipped.
"Susan Potter sounds much better," she replied.
Harry pulled her back down beside him. "Should we get dressed and head back out there?"
"No, how about we stay here for awhile. I don't think there are any betting pools on how quickly we return to the party."
"I kind of wish there was one; it would mean that Fred was getting better."
Susan placed her index finger on his lips. "Shh. Let's not talk about that today. For one day, let's forget about the war and everything else. Tomorrow, we can worry about all that."
"Just think, we get to do this all over again for the official wedding ceremony at Christmas."
"No, this was just the warm-up; wait until you see what I've planned for that!"
Eventually, the newlyweds made their way back to the party. Harry shared a few more dances with Susan before they separated and mingled with the guests. He danced with Hermione, Angelina and Mandy Brockelhurst before excusing himself for a drink. He sat in the empty chair next to Bill Weasley. They hadn't spoken since that fateful night at Grimmauld Place.
"Congratulations Harry. Nice ceremony; I was happy to be a witness."
"Mending; Madame Pomfrey brought in a couple of specialists. They pumped her full of potions to flush the mind-controlling draughts out of her system. Yesterday was the first time I saw a hint of the old Emmy Vance and not the psycho that she'd been turned into. She's got a long recovery ahead of her. How about you? Are you okay?"
"I'm better, entirely thanks to Susan. I should have been here when Fleur's parents came."
"No. You didn't need any part of that. They were a bunch of angry, foreign pricks looking to blame someone without trying to understand the facts first. I had to remind them that the late Ms. Beaucourt was one of theirs to shut them up."
"The papers say Riddle killed her rather horribly for her failure." Harry said swirling the punch in his cup.
"The papers did say that."
"It wasn't him was it? He's lost too many people lately to go on a killing spree; he's too smart. He'd have done her like Flint if that were the case." Harry said, referring to how Riddle had sent Marcus Flint into Gringotts the morning of the 'Bank Massacre.'
Bill looked at Harry warily. "Seems like she owed a debt and someone came to collect. Me? I'm going to go see if Ginny wants a turn on the dance floor. For tonight, we should be happy that no one we know is fighting for their life." Bill chugged the last of his drink and slammed the glass on the table before standing and moving quickly towards his sister.
Harry had all of one minute alone with his thoughts to ponder Bill's words, before both Dumbledore and Scrimgeour descended on him.
Wandless and bleeding from the gash in his back, Charlie Weasley stumbled through the vineyard in Southern Greece. The darkness helped, or maybe it merely prolonged his agony. He needed to get clear of whomever was holding the Apparition wards in place. The men were chasing him. What he wouldn't give for a broom right now.
He prayed that Cissy had made it to safety. They had made it this far without running into trouble. It must have been that damn Goblin at the bank. He was too suspicious! They had barely made it out of their rented villa when they ran into a gang of bounty hunters hurling curses at them.
A cutting hex passed over his shoulder as he dived into another row. His pursuers obviously didn't care if he was dead or not. An exploding curse disintegrated the shrubbery and sent him flying through the air. He landed hard and the blow caused his vision to blur. Someone was right in front of him. He saw a burst of green light.
"Congratulations Harry," Scrimgeour said unctuously.
"Thank you Minister. I'm glad you could find time to officiate."
"It was my pleasure. I was just speaking to Albus and he informed me that you weren't planning on taking the train to school tomorrow."
"We're already here. It seems a bit odd."
"I'll be honest with you Harry. I need you on that train. I'll keep the media circus to a dull roar, but the public hasn't seen you in awhile. You'll have Miss Tonks as your assigned bodyguard for the year and the Headmaster will have several of his staff riding as well. Ten Aurors will be flying air cover. Two squads from the Auror reserves will be on station in Hogsmeade."
"That's nice, Minister, but putting me on that train paints a big target and puts everyone riding the train at risk. I don't like it, not for me, not for Susan." Harry scanned the crowd and saw his bride dancing with Fred Weasley.
Dumbledore interrupted. "Harry in this case, I am inclined to agree with the Minister. The train would be a target with or without you. If there is trouble, I'd rather you be there to help protect those in need. Both Filius and Minerva will be there, as will Pomona and Charles Vector. In these troubled times a show of solidarity is more important than ever. I also encourage you to look at it from the view of the average student. He or she would most likely be reassured knowing that you are among them."
"I'll do it, but Susan doesn't have to go." Harry responded firmly.
"I'll leave that option open. Have you discussed this with her?"
"No, not yet."
"Then allow me to offer a bit of marital advice. Allow her to make the decision. It will prevent your first quarrel," Dumbledore said with a slight twinkle in his eyes, a twinkle that had been absent since the death of his brother. "I would also recommend practicing the line, 'You were right, dear and I'm sorry.' The more convincing you can make it sound the better off you will be."
Harry sighed knowing how Susan would react if he issued an ultimatum. He would have to talk to her and convince her that it wasn't worth the risk. "I'll take your advice and speak with her."
Scrimgeour laughed. "That's the spirit! Best remember that for the future, it'll make married life more enjoyable, trust me. The next thing you'll want to do is get yourself a spare blanket for when she steals all the covers." The laughter stopped as he saw one of his least favorite women approaching.
"Oh ho, I can see the headlines now. 'Minister advises Potter on secrets to a long marriage.' Not my best headline, but it'll do. So, how about a dance with the groom?" Rita Skeeter asked.
"Hello, Rita. I see you made it." Harry said as she pulled him to his feet and led him away. Harry wasn't sure whether he had traded the frying pan for the fire.
"Yes, positively wonderful ceremony. It'll be the talk of the country tomorrow. I don't suppose while you're out here you'd mind a few quick questions? I'll throw a few soft Quaffles your way today. It's a fluff piece after all."
Harry wondered just how long this song would last, as she began asking him questions.
The jet of green light slammed into the large man towering above Charlie, causing the man to topple. Charlie scrambled and dove for the wand clutched in the dead man's hand. Prying it loose, he turned to face his pursuers knowing that if this was his day to die, he would die on his feet, like a man.
When he looked up, he saw a flurry of spells being exchanged between two men and a platinum haired angel of death. Momentarily he was awed at her grace and skill. Recovering his wits, he sent a detonation curse at the ground in front of the nearest man, spraying him with dirt and rocks. Two seconds later a killing curse struck the dazed man, ending his life.
Charlie was already casting stunners and cutters at the last opponent. He shielded himself against a nasty bone crusher. The raw strength of the spell sent him staggering backwards. Charlie knew he was weak from the blood loss, but Narcissa needed him! He sent a cutter and two reductors at the man dueling furiously with the woman who'd become so entrenched in his life. One of his spells caught the man in the head, killing him. It had been a lucky shot, but much of Charlie's life had been built on his good luck.
He ambled over to the woman, still scanning the darkness for more enemies. As he closed he could see that she was bleeding from a cut on her leg and there was an ugly bruise on her arm. "I thought I told you to run for it," he said gruffly.
"Charles, you're adorable, but you're a bit of an idiot at times. I'm not Bella, but I am a Black. Perhaps those seeking to harm us have forgotten this and need a reminder. You play by the rules; I make my own rules. Now, turn and let me fix your back and then we'll find the person doing the wards, I want some answers."
"You came back for me?" Charlie asked as he felt the wound closing on his back. He drank the blood replenishing potion she forced into his hand.
"I've grown accustomed to your company; besides, it takes so long to break in a new man, I've put far too much effort into training you already. Well, you're a frightful mess, but I don't think anything's permanently broken," She answered as her free hand squeezed his bum. "Everything seems to be in working order. Come on, let's go."
"Wotcher, Harry. You going to ask me to dance?"
Harry looked at Tonks; her hair was limp and lifeless. "We need to talk."
Her eyes flashed red, reminding Harry momentarily of Voldemort. "Is this where you tell me I've been acting like a bitch ever since Azkaban and that I need to pull myself together? Save it! I've already heard it, several times in fact."
Harry's expression hardened, "Good, then I can skip it and get to the part where I tell you that Scrimgeour still thinks you're my bodyguard. Up until now, I haven't been too concerned with the people in the castle with the notable exception of the Abbotts. That all changes tomorrow - when this place fills up with students. I need to know right here, right now if I can trust you with Susan's life. If I can't, then I've got to go get someone else I can depend on. I got you this assignment to give you time to get your head back on straight. Your session channeling Bella for Hermione the other night says you're not there yet."
"Yeah, I heard about it. The only reason I haven't gotten a replacement already is you're a friend and you're family. Times up Dora, I'm not covering for you anymore. Come find me when you decide if you're still up for it."
Harry walked off, leaving Tonks staring at him, completely gob smacked.
"Harry's worried about you. I am too." Susan said, taking a seat after finishing her dance with Fred.
He didn't meet her gaze, choosing to look over at the band. "I'm getting by. It's hard. Every time I look into a mirror, I see /him/."
"I know. We've all lost someone this summer. You and I don't know each other that well, but if you ever want someone to talk to, I'll make the time."
Fred turned and looked straight at her. "Thanks. Everyone looks at me like I'm going to snap. What do they expect me to do, start cracking jokes like nothing happened?"
"No, not right away, but if you don't start cracking jokes sometime, George will never forgive you. He wouldn't want you to do this to yourself."
"Problem is, I don't even know how to start."
"Are you going to reopen the shop?"
"No, Professor Dumbledore is going to give me some space that his brother had out in Hogsmeade and will let me run an Owl-order service. Angie and Alicia are doing the catalog. It goes to the printers this week. Mostly, we're going to be doing the shield hats and cloaks that are on backorder first."
"Here comes Harry. Harry, get over here! Obeying your woman starts now!" Susan shouted, drawing more than a few laughs. She whispered in his ear. Harry looked appalled.
"No! Sorry. Not going to happen."
"Then I'll do it."
"You can't. Think about it!" His eyes conveyed a sense of urgency to Susan.
"Then I guess you're going to have to do it. The band is playing it next."
Fred looked confused, but filed the exchange away for further consideration. Two minutes until he heard the unmistakable beginning to the most dreaded of all wedding songs. Susan pressed a Canary Cream into both their hands with an evil smirk on her face. For even in the magical world there was no escape from 'The Chicken Dance'.
"I can't believe I'm agreeing to this. Ready to humiliate ourselves Fred for a good cause?" Harry said popping the treat into his mouth.
For the first time since his brother's funeral, Fred allowed a mischievous smile to cross his face as he swallowed the treat.
Much to the assembled gatherings delight, Susan Potter led everyone in a rousing rendition of the Chicken Dance, flanked by two giant canaries.
Dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and trousers, Lord Voldemort surveyed the room in front of him as he tied the black work apron around his waist and pulled on the rubber gloves. The bubblehead charm kept the putrid odors from his sensitive nostrils. Necromancy on a large scale was considered by most Wizards to be completely disgusting work. He relished the work, however; somewhere along the way, people developed the insane idea that he was incapable of doing hard work. Cunning, guile and raging ambition can only get a wizard so far. Often the only solution to a problem was actual labor. The sands of time consumed and discarded wizards and witches who forgot that simple fact.
The remains of his Necrodragon, several acromantulas, the three-headed dog, and the young Norwegian Ridgeback filled the warehouse. He appreciated the irony of Hagrid using the Dragon hatched from the egg he had given to the half-breed against him. Odder still was the presence of the very same Cerberus, which was the whole reason for his deception of Hagrid in the first place.
One of the dog's heads was completely useless. He used a severing charm to remove it. With a bit of inspiration, he removed an Acromantula head. It would add a certain aspect of terror that was tangible. He toyed with the idea of removing all four legs and replacing them with ones from the spiders, but it seemed excessive, given the fact that the creature's legs were still intact. Additionally, it would take far too much time and magic to graft the incompatible muscle and bone structure together. It would take away from recreating his Necrodragon.
In silence he toiled, suturing the spider head to the empty socket. Magic would be quicker, but potion-soaked sinew lasted far longer and required less upkeep. In the next warehouse to this, his minions were working to replenish his stockpile of Inferii, including the bodies of all the werewolves who would finally join his ranks, though not as they might have planned. Perhaps a few of his minions were capable of this level of reanimation, but he wanted to ensure it was done right the first time. Besides, he didn't get where he was by sitting in a chair and ordering people about. He was Lord Voldemort. He created Dark Artifacts. He performed rituals others shunned out of fear and misguided morality! It was good to get his hands dirty again.
Going toe to toe with the Ministry and the Order had been costly, very costly. Antonin's flow of recruits had slowed and Penny had barely gotten started.
'When allies cannot be found, they must be made. I will scale back operations to restock my arsenal. Potter seems to be fixated on the significance of Halloween, perhaps I should send an army of the dead for this year's anniversary? At current production levels and including the eighty already in service, I should have almost five hundred by then. I can use the French Vampires to lead the army. The giants have promised a dozen warriors? They should be here soon. Bodies might be a problem? I'll put Peter on it. He'll keep us supplied with cadavers. He's an efficient little bugger.'
Voldemort's musings were interrupted by the door sliding open. Peter began to gag. "Milord," the short and pudgy man rasped, "My strike team has returned. I have the pictures. As you anticipated, we encountered no resistance. The wards were impressive, but Mr. Castillo's team did the job for free. Apparently, they have taken an active dislike for William Weasley after he announced their association with our side."
Voldemort floated the pictures in front of him, inspecting them with a critical eye. The flaming wreckage of the Burrow and Peter's smiling face were in several of them. He selected the one with the structure mostly ablaze, the final collapse, and the initial one with Peter starting the fire and doing a little jig. His voice was muffled by the charm as Peter strained to hear. "These three, Peter. Send them to Potter with my letter on my desk. Afterwards, I need you to start looking at ways to increase our supplies of dead bodies and speak with Severus' old contacts about acquiring more of the ingredients required for Inferii." Voldemort handed him the stack of pictures and filled a painter's tray with the first stage elixir. For a normal Inferius, a tiny brush would be used to inscribe complex runes. The Acro-mutt required a larger brush. His wand weaved a simple pattern and the hair on the corpse fell away. It would be reattached later, but by someone else. The Dragon would be more challenging, as some of the scales would need to be carefully removed and then reattached after the runes have been applied.
Peter acknowledged him and left the warehouse before he was overcome by the smell once more. He Apparated back to Headquarters and scurried to the Master's private quarters. Unable to resist, he read the letter sitting on the desk.
I would like to extend my congratulations to you and your lovely bride on this joyous occasion. As I have been busy with many things, I have been unable to get out and get a proper gift for you. Instead I asked Peter to go do something nice for the two of you. I must say I am pleased with the result. He certainly has a passion doesn't he?
As a bonus, you will find that they have cursed the land. For seven years, nothing will grow in the soil of that property. Just a special treat for dear Arthur and Molly to let them know I am thinking of them as well.
Prophecy or no prophecy, I will catch up to you eventually. In the meantime, live your life wondering how I will strike at you next, and just what you will lose. You're never far from my thoughts.
Harry had survived the chaos on the platform, just how, he was not exactly sure. '/Dull roar indeed, Minister?'/ He wasn't pleased that Susan had elected to come. His protests sounded feeble when he voiced them, but at least she'd consented to wearher body armor. Their row last night had been a minor one. She reminded him that she wasn't fragile and made of glass. Harry had simply pointed at her cane.
"Look Harry, if you go and I don't, what are you going to tell everyone who asks 'where's Susan?' People will start talking."
"I'll tell them you're not feeling well."
"After a whole bunch of people saw me laughing and dancing at the party last night? The paper would have a field day with that. They'll say I must have had too much booze and I must be a slag and a lush! Speaking of which, you almost blew it in front of Fred! The only way we're going to keep this secret is to act as normal as possible. Locking me up, in a room, in a tower, is only normal if I am named Rapunzel and my hair isn't that long yet. Harry, I understand you feel like I need more protection, but you're just going overboard."
Coming back to the present, he knew she was right. He was overreacting. So, they compromised. She agreed to take every precaution that he would take himself; so they both had their body armor on, both carried two wands, and two emergency Portkeys. Harry realized that he wouldn't win, so he settled for not losing.
He was pleased that Tonks was here. Not an hour after he put his foot down at the party, she'd walked across the room to Hermione and apologized to her.
They talked for a moment before she announced that was going to speak with the Minister and Headmaster concerning the final details for security tomorrow and gave Susan a hug to welcome her to the family. Harry hoped Tonks was turning a corner. The only thing missing from the Tonks of old was her pink hair and the fact that she hadn't tripped over something on her way to see the Minister.
Dumbledore had intercepted Riddle's 'present' and checked it. Molly had left the room in tears at the loss of the Burrow. Arthur merely looked at the pictures and sighed, saying that it is the people that make the home and not a building on a piece of land. Harry immediately offered him the use of any of the Black properties. Arthur thanked him, but then informed him that Dumbledore had already granted use of Aberforth's property in Hogsmeade for the coming year.
Harry felt like he was on parade again with the constant stream of people passing by the cabin and looking at him. He was genuinely happy to see some people; Lavender and Colin were among the first to stop by. Lavender had arranged to take morning only classes and was complained about having to train a new group of Floo operators for her shift. They stayed only a few minutes before she headed off to find a compartment to sleep in. Hermione and Ron were doing prefect patrols. The uneasy truce between Hermione and Tonks might explain her distance. He was pleased to spend a bit of time with Susan's friends, who were all chomping at the bit to see her. He didn't know Megan or Wayne very well and Ernie was more tolerable than usual. Either someone had said something, or maturity had caught up with the boy. He learned that Susan had an alarming number of fans among the second years Hufflepuffs. They called her the 'den mother.' Marietta actually dragged Cho in to say hello. He sensed a slight feeling of anxiety coming from Susan at Cho's presence. It disappeared as Susan's Occlumency engaged. He didn't mention it. Cho begged off for her prefect rounds but Marietta stayed for a time to visit.
As he suspected despite Rita's reassurance, the picture of 'the Chicken Dance' graced the cover of the Daily Prophet. The headline 'Potter Fowls Things Up' was followed by an unusually cheeky story. Susan forced him to autograph several copies for the crowd of second years.
Somehow, the train ride to Hogwarts had lost its sense of grandeur for Harry. No longer did it hold the promise of something better. There would be no Quidditch for him this year. While others went to Hogsmeade, he would be working in the Room of Requirements with Flitwick, Tonks, Dumbledore and a host of others. The other students would concern themselves with learning something that might impress the professors. Harry, on the other hand, would be worried about Flitwick injuring him if he wasn't paying complete attention.
Along the way, Harry drifted off to sleep. He awoke to the sound of Tonks' voice. "You are not welcome here, Draco. Leave now." When he opened his eyes, he saw that Susan had her wand out, but pointed towards the ceiling. Tonks was far less diplomatic; hers was leveled at Draco's head. Crabbe and Goyle stood in the hallway.
"I was just stopping by to pay my respects to the war hero, cousin. As you can see my hand is nowhere near my wand." His voice was sickly sweet.
Harry took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "Malfoy, while I'm touched that you want to continue your tradition of taunting me on the first day of school, I just don't have time for you this year. You're strictly amateur hour; don't try to play with the big wizards, you'll only get hurt. Why don't you sit this year out?"
"What a splendid idea,Potter, you have so much going for you right now - fame, support of the Minister, money, even a pretty little bird to warm your nest at night. I think I will just sit back - so I can watch it all get taken from you. Unless you planning on beating the Dark Lord with your clever dancing moves?"
Harry was impressed to hear Susan growl in anger. "You know, that's the second funniest thing I've heard this summer, Malfoy. Do you want to know what the funniest thing was? Right after I freed your mother from your late father so she could run off with Ron's brother, do you know what she told me? She said that after she found out she was pregnant with a girl, Lucius made her take potions to make sure you were a boy. But to this day, I'm not entirely sure they worked." He watched Malfoy's anger flare, and then quickly subside. As quickly as he had come, Draco turned and left.
It took a minute for Susan and Tonks to stop laughing. "Did she really say that to you?"
"No, I'll have to live with telling a lie, but it could have happened and that will really hit him where it hurts; especially after I tell Lavender and Pavarti."
The words came before Susan could stop herself, "Harry! You shouldn't."
"He's had years of spreading filth about me. Time for a bit of payback. I reckon it will be all over the school by the end of the week."
"For the last time Goyle: it's not true!" Draco hissed. "I have to go check in with the Head Girl for the prefect meeting." He stalked off, leaving his two thugs in the compartment.
"What do you think, Vinny? I think we should tell Blaise. Draco's always giving him shit about having a girl's name?"
"It's funny as hell, if you ask me. Maybe he could be Head Girl next year? I'm gonna go find my little sister. Mum told me to keep her out of trouble."
"Mind getting Lady Malfoy's order from the trolley? I'm going to see if I can chat up Tracey or Daphne." Both shared another laugh at Draco's expense. Crabbe left and he watched the countryside roll by for a few minutes before sliding open the compartment and lumbered down the hall.
Ten minutes and two rather rude rejections from both the Davis and Greengrass, the insufferable bints, Goyle meandered down the corridor. He had missed the trolley while trying to make some headway with Daphne, but he cracked a smile as he spied his favorite target standing in the line for the loo.
"Neville Lardbottom. How the bloody hell are you doing?"
The pathetic loser had lost a bit of his baby fat. He might actually present a challenge, but Greg saw the fear in his quarry's eyes.
'No he's still a pushover. Like always.'
Neville stepped out of line and started walking. "Leave me alone, Goyle."
Greg followed. He expected the feeble twit to duck into a crowded compartment, but the boy kept heading farther back. A smile crossed his face knowing that there was nothing but baggage cars now.
"Look just leave -- Go away." Lardbottom whined. They had run out of cars.
"I don't want any trouble with you."
The words brought back some of Greg's favorite memories involved hassling Lardbottom after Hogsmeade weekends. Fatboy had a sweet tooth and was always good for a chocolate frog or two.
His mark tried to squeeze past him. Greg put his palm into Neville's chest and pushed him easily back into the side of the baggage car. "What did you get from the trolley, Lardbottom?"
"Right, let me see! Now!"
Greg wasn't really hungry at least for candy. He was just enjoying being cruel. It made him feel alive. He watched in amusement as the bumbling boy reached into his pockets and pulled out some candies. He snatched them out of Neville's hand. "Thanks, Lardbottom. I think I'll enjoy these. Well this one must be new. I think I'll have this one first." Greg popped the brown one in his mouth. It had a liquid center that tasted kind of like milkweed, of all things. He gagged like it was a bad Bernie Bott's bean.
"Why you little ..." Greg got out the first three words before he felt a burning sensation in his throat and neck. What was happening to him? The little shit who gave this to him was still standing there.
"What's the matter, Goyle? Didn't taste good, did it? I used a syringe and sucked the cherry filling out. Do you know what I put in there? Distilled gillyweed extract. It's not really as effective as the whole plant. The gills will only last fifteen minutes and you don't get the webbed feet and claws. Oh is something wrong, Goyle? Did you forget to take a deep breath? It's going to be hard to hold your breath for fifteen minutes isn't it? My, oh my you're already looking a bit blue around the gills."
Goyle staggered backward and stuck his wand to his neck, apparently trying to conjure some water. Only a croaking sound came out and his wand sputtered a few drips of water.
"Oh part of the whole gill thing mucks with the vocal chords so you can speak under water. Sorry, I forgot to mention it. You know, if you worked more on wordless magic, you might not be in this big of a jam?" Neville said casually. His feigned meekness was gone. Goyle sank to the ground, his hands gesturing for Neville to help him. "Your parents are Death Eaters, Goyle. They might have even been part of the group that came and killed my family and burnt our house to the ground. I figured you'd be up to your old games this year, but I didn't expect to get you so soon, lucky me. You're the first, but you won't be the last. Lots of your friends are going to have little accidents this year. ."
Neville kept a casual distance as he pulled several pieces of Droobles from his other pocket and began chewing them. Three minutes passed before the gills ceased rising. Neville didn't feel bad. He waited another minute and pulled the large wad of gum out of his mouth and stuffed it down Goyle's throat. He dropped the wrappers next to the body and headed back, hoping that too many people hadn't gotten into the line for the loo. He laughed at his little joke. Most people joked that Crabbe and Goyle couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. He would need to wait a few days before making that joke. It's not polite to speak ill of the dead, but for Goyle he'd make an exception.
Author's notes - This one took a long time. Real life was one issue, the other was how to adjust the tone of the story from summer to school time and what it means for Harry, Susan and the rest. There were several rewrites and altered scenes involved. For full discussion come visit my threads on Darklordpotter and Fanficauthors.