Chapters 3 & 4
"I thought I was grounded," Harry teased his father from where he lounged in his usual chair.
Manuel merely returned the teasing with a glare, "You're not getting out of this that easily, the Clearwater's made it clear in their invitation that your presence would be extremely welcome. The Clearwater's are among are more influential investors and Phillip has had past dealings with the clan. Their daughter knows nothing of this though, and it will fall to you to entertain her during the evening."
"You mean her parents think I would be a good match for Penelope and wish to throw us together in front of society," Harry guessed shrewdly.
Manuel nodded, "that is so, and while I will never force you into a match you do not desire it would not be a bad idea for you to play at the game for a while."
Harry sighed knowing that he wouldn't be getting out of this one, "formal dress? I'm guessing suit and tie instead of dress robes though as at least one of Penelope's parents are muggle, if not both from what I understand."
"The limo will be around in two hours," Manuel dismissed Harry so they could both get ready for the evening ahead, "Dagger Vasile and Dagger Joel will accompany us tonight, but will be relegated out to the gardens for proprieties sake. Should anything happen you are to find them."
Harry understood that his father wasn't necessarily referring to the usual assassination attempts that plagued their lives, but the threat of Sirius Black. Black was an unknown factor with magical connections and was, on all accounts, a threat to Harry. Harry knew his father would have loved to have Bill acting as one of their guards that night so that both on-duty Daggers would possess magic, but Bill would possibly be recognized at the party if spotted and had previously requested some family time for that evening.
"I understand," Harry said formally, falling into the character he would be relying heavily on for the evening, "I shall go get ready and meet you at the front in two hours."
~~ ~~ ~*~
"I'm sorry about this," Penelope said with an embarrassed blush as the two teens stood around sipping at their wine before dinner, "my parents aren't exactly being subtle about their wishes."
Harry let a small grin slip before he regained his composure, he was starting to realize that Penelope might become a very good friend, "no, they aren't, but the question is whether your wishes are similar to theirs."
Harry's bluntness caused Penelope to start slightly before she decided to be honest, "they aren't. I just can't seem to make my parents understand that my interest lies with a wizard whose family isn't very well off. My parents married for a political match, not for love, and can't seem to understand why I don't wish for the same thing. They keep pressing suitors on me at all these gatherings, have been ever since they deemed me old enough to attend."
"I'm glad my father spared me that," Harry muttered thankfully, "and I think you and Percy would be an excellent match. The Weasley family might not be among the wealthy, but they are a close knit family that takes care of its own and Percy has plenty of ambition to make something of himself."
Penelope and Harry continued to talk through dinner, much to her parent's pleasure, most of their talk centering on Hogwarts and Quidditch when they were sure they wouldn't be overheard.
"Is that Madam Pomfrey?" Harry suddenly asked as he caught a glimpse of one of the guests' profiles."
Penelope followed his gaze down the table, "yeah, and the man sitting on her left is David Ackerley, the muggle studies professor. I'm not sure, but I think the two might be an item. Either that, or they come to these parties together since almost all the other guests are muggles."
Harry nodded and turned back to his food, debating quietly with Penelope about the differences between the magical and muggle world until their desert plates were cleared away. The whole party then moved from the Clearwater's dining room into a small ballroom with private alcoves where tÃªte-Ã -tÃªtes could be held. Music was already playing as the two teens entered the room and Harry held out his hand to Penelope in an invitation to dance. There were others their age there that they could have danced with, but Harry didn't know any of them and he was quite comfortable talking with Penny; he also wouldn't admit to the fact that he loved to dance and had heard from his father that Penelope was an excellent dancer herself.
His father had told him true, and Harry found himself relaxing even further as the night wore on and remained incident free; in hindsight that turned out to be a mistake, he should have realized that since Mr. Clearwater had clan connections that there were most likely others there as well and not all would have fond feelings towards the Darkov clan. When he first felt the touch upon his shoulder, Harry thought it was someone trying to cut in on his dance with Penny, it wouldn't have been the first time that night, but then the hand yanked him backwards and he felt the cool metal of a gun at his head. Harry didn't move as he was pulled backwards away from the most immediate press of people, didn't know if someone had cried out the situation, but suddenly the room was dead silent as everything seemed to come to a halt. At least, everything was dead silent until his attacker began to gloat.
"I have your heir, Darkov," the man foolishly baited his father, "what price are you willing to pay for the brat's life?"
Harry felt the hand attached to the arm holding him in a headlock fist in his hair as his head was jerked sharply backwards, the gun moving from his temple to just under the right side of his chin. Out of the edge of his vision, Harry could see his father move to the forefront of the hushed crowd, hands out to show he didn't have a gun.
"Let my son go," Manuel's voice was implacable, "and then we will talk. I will not negotiate in a situation where you can end my son's life should your emotions betray you."
"Not happening," Harry could feel the man's head shaking, "I'm not stupid enough to let go of my only bargaining chip."
"Do you really think you're going to make it out of this room alive anyhow," Manuel questioned calmly, and to those who didn't know the mafia leader all that well, it seemed as if he had little regard for his own son's life, "you will die no matter what, but it will be more pleasant for you if my son is safe and alive in my keeping."
"Oh I'll make it out of here," the man seemed to have adopted Manuel's calm, "and I'll be known as the one to bring the mighty Darkov's to their knees. I'll have succeeded where everyone else failed."
Harry was wondering what was taking the Daggers so long to make their move before he realized that the only shot they would safely have with all the people in this room would put a bullet through him as well. Whoever it was that held him captive had planned things out well, yet from the angle his head was tilted Harry could see something his captor hadn't accounted for. Penny was off to his left and had a clear shot at his captor and from her drawn wand he knew she was going to take the shot. The moment he saw Penelope begin to chant her spell, Harry tensed and readied to put in play the reflexes he had honed from childhood in training sessions with Sensei and refined with games of Quidditch. He didn't know what sort of spell Penny was going to use, but he knew the chances of it hitting him as well and also knew that there was a good possibility his captor would reflexively pull the trigger as the spell hit him.
"Stupefy!" Penelope called out, her aim dead on, and Harry flew into action.
The moment Harry heard the spell leave Penny's lips he jammed one foot backwards into his captor's lower right leg while his hands came up to shove the gun away from under his chin even as he threw himself forward. Two gunshots went off, perhaps three, right as Penny's spell hit his captor and Harry rolled into an undignified heap upon the floor with a muffled cry. In mere moments his father was at his side, calling out in his powerful voice for medical attention. It was then that Harry realized that his right cheek was on fire from where the bullet had shot up it, and that hot blood was dripping down his face to stain his father's suit. Harry himself couldn't see the extent of the damage done to his face, but Manuel could see the raw abrasions at his son's jaw line from the gun going off at such close proximity and the slight gouge where a bullet had traveled up his son's gunfire stippled cheek. They were lucky it hadn't been worse, that somehow what should have been a fatal shot had been avoided. Manuel wished the bastard who had dared try and capture his son was still alive so he could torture and kill him again-perhaps even a couple of times.
"I'm a hea-nurse," it was Madam Pomfrey, "Mr. Potter, I had not expected to have to patch you up even before the school year started."
Harry attempted to grin wirily at the mediwitch, but it hurt too much and ended up as more of a grimace than anything else. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Joel and Vasile standing over his captor with guns drawn as one of them kicked the corpse a few times before they finally lowered their weapons. Manuel looked up as they approached, before quickly looking back down as Harry hissed in pain at a particularly sharp poke of Madam Pomfrey's wand.
"He's dead boss," Vasile delivered the report.
Manuel gave a curt nod, he hadn't expected anything else, "Vasile, secure the perimeter and call the car. Joel, you'll stay here with us."
A few minutes after Vasile slipped away, the man Penny had called Professor Ackerley knelt down beside Madam Pomfrey.
"I sealed up the room," he said to her, "the aurors will be here soon to see to the memory modifications. Young Ms. Clearwater is quite upset as well. She's worried over Mr. Potter here, she saw the blood, and she also received a notification about the use of underage wizardry on top of it all. I'm Professor Ackerley by the way, Mr. Potter, I teach muggle studies."
"I'll calm the dear down after I finish up patching up Mr. Potter here," Madam Pomfrey stated briskly, "there's not much I can do, it being a muggle weapon and all, but I can stop the bleeding and stitch it up. I'll also provide you with a salve to help the healing and take away the pain. You're going to scar where the bullet ripped through your cheek, Mr. Potter, there's no helping that."
"Thanks Madam Pomfrey," Harry found it a lot easier to grin up at the strict woman after the salve had been applied, it seemed to have a numbing effect.
"Hmph," her lips seemed to twitch slightly unless Harry was imagining things, "just don't let me see you again before school starts, and even then I don't want to see you. I get enough students to patch up without you making a trip to see me."
Manuel helped Harry to his feet as he thanked Madam Pomfrey as well and Harry noticed Penny standing worriedly a few feet away. Signaling his father with a slight touch upon Manuel's arm, Harry slipped away over to the girl who was clutching a crumpled piece of parchment. He was ready to pass out, but Darkov's didn't faint in public, didn't faint at all actually, and Penelope deserved his thanks.
"Thanks Penny," he dared hug the girl knowing that it was what he would have done to Blaise in the same situation, "things would have been a hell of a lot worse if you hadn't acted."
Penny smiled wanly, "I'm glad you're okay, but I'm scared. The aurors just arrived to do the memory modifications, but what about me. I broke the law and used magic in front of the muggles, and I'm still underage for another month."
"Relax," Harry reassured her, "it was a life or death situation, they can't condemn you for that. There are exceptions for emergency cases. Don't worry about it. Now come on, let's go talk with the aurors and set things straight. I know your parents will be there and we can get my dad, Madam Pomfrey, and Professor Ackerley to back up our story. It'll be alright."
It was a good hour later before things were straightened out, the body taken away, and the memories of the muggles modified. By that time Harry was ready to drop. His adrenaline had long been spent from the encounter and his cheek was starting to throb again beneath the bandaging and salve. They had to wait until Joel's memory was modified though, before they could make their getaway to the limo Vasile had waiting. As Harry stumbled out to the limo, he could have sworn he saw a pair of eyes gleaming out at him from a bush, but then the door closed behind him and Harry put it from his mind and fell into a fitful sleep on the ride home.
"You can't ban me from going to Diagon Alley," Harry protested to his father, "you yourself said I wasn't grounded anymore and promised the other week I would be allowed to go."
"That was before the attack last week," Manuel stated calmly, "and before you made headlines in the wizarding world. I'm just glad those aurors didn't pay any attention to the Darkov name and discover that we're a mafia family, passing the whole attack off as you being the boy-who-lived."
"He was a muggle, no one seeking revenge for him will be likely to show up in Diagon Alley," Harry tried to reason, "and you know I can take care of myself. Given another minute for either Joel or Vasile to get into place and I could have freed myself without worry of someone else getting hurt. Besides, like you said, the wizarding world thinks it nothing more than some wacko trying to get money by attacking the boy-who-lived."
"And what about this Sirius Black, a convict convicted of murder who escaped from a supposedly inescapable magic prison? The chances are too high that he's after you."
"Even Trevor said it's not likely Black will show his face in Diagon Alley, which is being patrolled by aurors, and we'll have Vasile and Nara with us," Harry said, "besides, I've already made plans to meet with the Weasley's and Penny outside of Gringotts and am not going to renege. Please let me go."
"For someone who wasn't interested in being matched with Miss Clearwater," Manuel suddenly teased, giving in to the teen that had basically been confined to the grounds all summer because of the danger and being under restriction, "you certainly seem to keep in touch with her quite a lot since the dinner. And here I thought Blaise would have been the one to become my daughter-in-law."
"Dad," Harry groaned, blushing, "Penny's just a friend, one that happened to help save my life when she could have gotten in major trouble for it. Besides, she's interested in Percy and Blaise is like a sister to me, a partner in crime."
Manuel just smirked and Harry decided to flee-uh, leave-the room before his dad came up with any other farfetched ideas. Trevor walked into the study right as Harry decided a tactical retreat was in order and watched the young heir leave with amusement shining in his eyes.
"What did you do to the poor boy now, Manuel?" Trevor shook his head in mock consternation as he turned to face his friend.
"Me?" Manuel held up his hands, palms out, in a gesture of innocence, "I didn't do a damn thing."
"Why don't I believe that," Trevor muttered, before turning to the matter that had brought him there, "we're all set. Albus has agreed to our proposal to allow Vasile and Nara to accompany Harry and Blaise to Hogwarts as bodyguards because of the backing I received from the Board of Governors. It seems they will not be the only new security measure at Hogwarts this year, though he would not tell me what the other measures were. I do take it that he is not happy about whatever it is though."
Manuel sighed, "I wish we had more witches and wizarding allies. Harry and Blaise seem so exposed when in the magical world."
"I'm working on it," Trevor assured Manuel, "but it's hard to track down these people when they don't want to be found. I do have another lead to follow and will be gone for the next week. I should be back in time to accompany you all to King's Cross on the first. I'll be leaving within the hour."
Manuel nodded his acceptance. He knew he could command Trevor to stay at the Manor or to resume teaching at Hogwarts this year and that the man would obey, but he wouldn't. Their friendship ran deeper than that. He just hoped that Trevor wasn't getting in over his head as he set about trying to gather back together what he called his Old Crowd. He also wished Trevor could have waited to take off until after the trip to Diagon Alley that afternoon.
~~ ~~ ~*~
"Penny," Harry called, waving the girl over to where he stood upon the steps of Gringotts bank, "over here."
"Hey Harry," the seventh year called out as she came over, "you're looking better. You didn't scar up too badly from the other night, but it's still really red looking. It is better, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Harry smiled briefly and gestured to the glaring girl at his side, "this is Blaise, as you already know. We're still waiting for the Weasley's to show up, but they should be here soon."
Penny smiled at Blaise, seemingly not aware that the other girl was suddenly viewing her as a trespasser upon her territory, "hi Blaise, it's nice to actually meet you. Harry spoke highly of you during the dinner the other night; he told me how close you two are, it must be great."
Or perhaps Penny did know how Blaise was feeling, Harry thought, she was going out of her way to reassure Blaise that she knew her order in the scheme of friendship. Perhaps this would work out after all. He genuinely wanted to be friends with Penny, but he and Blaise had been a duo for so long that he had been a little worried on how things would work out. The twins had been easy to work into the scheme of things, they were so light-hearted and fellow pranksters; the rest of the Weasley's had just sort of fallen in with them even though they didn't interact as much with Ron, Ginny, Percy, or Charlie. Bill fell into a category all his own, both friend and protector.
"Oi!" A cry came from off to their left, "there they are."
Before they could prepare themselves, Harry and Blaise found themselves being caught up by the twins who twirled each of them around and just generally acted as if they hadn't seen each other in forever. The twins had finally seemed to regain their old spirit and were acting out just as much as ever. Harry was just glad that Vasile and Nara knew the twins by sight even though they had never actually met, it could have been awkward if not.
Harry slipped free of Fred's hold and grinned at the Gryffindor beater while Blaise struggle in George's hold, obviously not wanting to use any hurtful tactics to free herself, "you act as if you haven't seen us all summer."
But Fred wasn't really paying all that much attention to what Harry was saying, "what happened to your face, mate?"
George stopped fooling around with Blaise as the others looked closer at Harry's cheek where it was starting to scar over. Belatedly Harry realized that they wouldn't have known what had happened since they had stopped reading the paper since their father's death kept making the news.
"Yeah mate," George echoed, "what'd you get into a fight with."
"I got shot at," Harry said with a shrug, knowing that with the Weasley's the truth was better than some fictional story; they had seen the Manor, had met and pranked many of the Guards.
Percy frowned, "what kind of spell would leave a wound like that?"
Harry almost laughed, even after spending time in the muggle world, most of the Weasley's still thought in terms of magic first and foremost, "it wasn't a spell, it was a gun."
His answered spurned a lot of questions which lead to Harry and Penny having to give an accounting of what had happened at the dinner party before any of the others were satisfied. Harry and Blaise also found themselves trying to explain how a gun worked. The Weasley's had seen guns before, but only Bill knew how to use one or had ever seen one used, and Harry finally promised that someone would give them a demonstration later so that they could get on with their shopping. More questions would have probably followed, but Vasile decided to show himself just then.
"We really should get on with the shopping, sir," Vasile said, addressing Harry formally, "your father does want you all home by dinner after all."
"Alright," Harry agreed, glad the questions had been stopped temporarily, "we should probably hit the robe shop first and then we can split up and do whatever."
Everyone agreed with the plan and the twins moved so that one of them was on either side of Vasile.
"Hello my good man," Fred began.
"We don't believe we've met," George continued.
"Fred, George," Harry decided to interrupt, "you don't want to mess around with Vasile. Come to think of it, you don't want to mess with Nara either. Prank them, and I can guarantee they'll find some way to make you regret it."
"Nara?" the twins coursed together.
"Boo!" Nara growled lowly in Fred's ear, causing him to jump and turn.
Nara had slipped from the shadows and stood there confidently, a wolfish smirk of amusement on her face. The twins shared a glance and Harry knew they wouldn't be trying to prank the two Daggers anytime soon. They also looked at Blaise like she was insane when the girl walked up to Nara and linked their arms together. Harry would have done the same, Nara was like a big sister to both him and Blaise, but knew Nara would want at least one arm completely unencumbered and so refrained. Instead he gallantly offered his arm to Penny, much to Percy's consternation, and the group set off. Bill brought up the rear, the big brother watching over the rest of the group, but Harry knew it was really to keep an extra eye out for attacks.
~~ ~~ ~*~