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"So Dean's not just a half-blood, he's actually our cousin," said Hermione to Harry as they watched Meghan and Natalie chattering excitedly at Dean himself, who was leaning against the wall looking somewhat stunned. "Isn't that amazing, that he has been all this time and we never knew it?"

"How could we?" Harry shaped a large rectangle with his hands. "The family tapestries usually don't show…"

"Informal children," said Hermione firmly. "And no, they don't, because they were designed to show lines of inheritance and alliances." She smiled slightly. "Rather like goblin clans, as Aunt Amy described them."

"True," Harry agreed. "But formal or not, the lineage spell came up positive. Dean's blood dad was Regulus Black."

"Which makes him Pearl's first cousin, and second for me and Fox." Hermione gazed into the distance for a moment. "I wonder how it happened. It wasn't anything bad, or Mrs. Thomas wouldn't have asked Padfoot about the resemblance she saw, not the way she did…"

Harry let his thoughts rove back in time, through the stories he'd heard, the pictures he'd seen, the bits and pieces his godfather occasionally let slip about his pureblood past. "Probably he was trying to prove to himself Padfoot was wrong about Muggles," he said, imagining a slender, dark-haired wizard in ill-fitting jeans and jumper, creeping out the back door of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, torn between fear and excitement as he made his first venture into the uncharted territory of a world without magic. "And instead, he found out he was the one who was wrong, and had been the whole time."

"And he tried to push it away, forget about it, but it kept drawing him back." Hermione smiled a little. "She kept drawing him back. Suzanna Cullimore, as she was then. And the more he tried to tell himself she didn't matter, the more she really did."

"Until she turned up pregnant, and he realized he'd put both of them in terrible danger if any of the Death Eaters ever found out." Harry's mind painted Ginny and himself into a similar situation, and an echo of the bone-freezing terror Regulus must have felt shot through his limbs. "Or his mother, for that matter. After Padfoot ran off, and with the war heating up the way it was, she might have decided any heir was better than none, especially if she could get a chance to 'purify' the baby and raise it herself…"

Hermione shuddered. "So instead of letting that happen, he left her. Cut off ties with her, sent her money anonymously—probably as much as he thought he could get out of the family vault without his parents noticing, or he might have had a vault of his own he could tap—but never saw her again. Never knew if he had a son or a daughter, even."

"I'd have to check, but it's possible he died before Dean was born," Harry reminded her. "Depends on when that business with Kreacher and the locket happened. Speaking of which, and changing the subject completely, can you go ask Moony if we can stay here tonight and den? Ginny's working on her parents and Neville's mum, and you know Luna's dad."

"As long as he knows where she is, and that she'll be more or less all right, he wouldn't mind if she wanted to spend the night at the bottom of the lake." Hermione laughed. "What's going on? Anything bad?"

"Not exactly." Harry looked sidelong at her. "Are you up for a little Marauding with Fox next month?" Casually, he curved his fingers and brought his two hands together, signing a cage around empty air. "We got an answer we'd been waiting for."

"I see." Hermione nodded slowly. "I think we could handle that."

"Great." Harry bumped shoulders with her, then drifted off into the happy, slightly drunk atmosphere of Lee and Maya's wedding reception.

Lee did a great job of getting everything together. And the ceremony was just right for the two of them. Short but not rushed, one or two of the pureblood touches because Maya did come from that tradition, and a fireworks display by Fred and George to celebrate their first kiss as husband and wife. Plus the exploding cake, but that was a dummy, they had the real one in the back still. Good thing, too, Lee looked about ready to blow them up…

Mostly, though, today was just a celebration of Lee and Maya making that promise to each other. "I'll be there for you, in the good times and the bad ones. I'll take care of you, no matter what happens to either of us."

He smiled, snagging a fresh cup of non-alcoholic punch on his way out of the dining area, towards Sanctuary's main cave.

I guess you could almost say the Pack's all married to each other. Except that would take it back towards what Cho thought about it, and that's just messed up. But we've made those same kinds of promises to each other. We changed them around a little, to mean a whole family instead of a couple, and then a group of friends for the Pride, but promises are where we began. And they've always been important to us…

His mind swam backwards in time, to the immediate aftermath of the Triwizard Tournament's third task.

"We'll get through this, Harry," Letha said, holding out her hand. Harry took it. "I won't make any promises I can't keep, like swearing that we'll all make it, but we will get through this. And we will win."

Harry smiled half-heartedly. "Promise?"

"That, I promise. We will win." Letha pressed his hand and released it.

"And we will," Harry murmured aloud, blinking back to the present as a gleam of sunshine began to show ahead of him. "We just have to get rid of a few little things first."

I killed the diary, and Dumbledore took care of the ring. We've got the locket, even if we can't get it open to kill it yet, and we'll have the cup in another month. He stepped out of the tunnel and squinted against the glare, shielding his eyes with a hand. Wonder if we could do something with the two of them to have them kill each other? Or maybe make one of them tell the other one to open up, if it only answers to Voldemort? Or—

The hand which had been providing shade to his face was perfectly situated to smack himself on the forehead.

"Slytherin's locket, being used by the Heir of Slytherin," he muttered, stepping out of the direct sunlight. "Who'd already been into the Chamber of Secrets, and who'd want to make sure nobody else could open up his pretty toy to get at the prize inside it. What else would he use to seal it shut except the language only his family can speak?"

One little problem with that. Harry grinned Wolfishly, thinking of snake-slides and stories in the Forest after dark. Not that we're going to tell him so. Except maybe right before the very end, if we're certain he can't get away…

Nebulous, enjoyable thoughts of shock and horror chasing each other across Voldemort's parchment-colored face slipped away as Harry's eyes finally adjusted to the brighter light in Sanctuary's main area, revealing that he was not alone. Two people stood face to face across the cavern beneath the Slytherin-crested pillar, hands clasped at chest level between them, gazing into one another's eyes and talking in quiet, earnest tones.

One was Amanda Smythe. The other was Draco.

Merlin's blood, what do they think they're doing? It'll destroy the year if Luna sees them now—I have to stop them—

But before Harry could get more than three steps towards them, Draco leaned in, kissed Amanda's cheek once, and released her hands, turning away. His eyes, as he looked around Sanctuary with an expression of curiosity which struck Harry as odd for someone who'd helped build the place, almost seemed to be glowing—

Wait a second.

Harry reached up to the sidepiece of his glasses and brushed his finger along it. His color vision faded, replaced by a world traced out in black and silver. His hands, when he glanced down, glowed with the warmth of his life—the grass was radiant where the sun had been shining on it, gradually dulling beyond the edges of the active beams of light—

And both Draco and Amanda had an extra shimmer hanging about them, an aura which extended beyond the boundaries of their bodies.

What in the world—

Draco closed his eyes and bowed his head, exhaling a long breath. The nimbus surrounding him faded and shrank as he did so. By the time he looked up again, it was gone.

All right. Even for us, this is getting weird. Harry tapped his finger twice against his earpiece, returning his glasses to their usual task of correcting his vision, and started across the cavern once more, producing what he hoped was a normal-looking smile. "Afternoon, Amanda," he said when he was close enough to speak without shouting. "What did you think of the wedding?"

"Oh, it was lovely." Amanda glanced up at the Gryffindor crest, still glowing slightly, though the sun was now closer to illuminating her own House's blue and bronze instead. "I was just telling Draco how nice I thought it was that Sanctuary is close enough to finished that they could have it here—were you looking for him?"

"Yes, actually. Sorry to steal him."

"No, it's all right." Amanda curtsied gracefully to both of them. "I have somewhere else I need to be myself. Thank you for your time, Draco. I'll see both of you after holidays, I'm sure, to finish everything up here." She shook her head in wonder, gazing about her. "I never thought my little idea could turn into something so big."

Draco raised an eyebrow at Harry. Her idea? he mouthed.

Hold on, Harry signaled, watching Amanda walk away, headed back to the dining area. Just let her get out of earshot…

"Why? She knows it was her idea." Draco stepped in closer, looking narrowly at Harry. "Even if I didn't."

"You were still acting weird about her when we started this place," Harry defended himself. "Then, by the time you got your head on straight, I forgot you didn't know. And while we're on the topic, what were you just doing out here?" He waved his hand towards the spot where he'd seen Draco and Amanda standing. "If it's going to mess with the year—"

"It isn't, and I wasn't finished with what I was saying." Draco's voice had gone very cold, into his most controlled tones. "On the subject of things you weren't bothering to tell me. When were you planning on letting me know what happened to me the day we found this place?"

The day we—

Harry swore under his breath as Draco's meaning hit home to him.

"I beg your pardon, shouldn't I be the one saying that?" Draco had his shoulders up, his eyes very narrow. "After finding out you didn't consider it important to tell me that I was, however temporarily and benignly, damn well possessed the first time I walked in here?"

"I didn't—" Harry began angrily, then bit his tongue. Duty to Pride came before personal pride, and as much as he hated to admit it, in this case, Draco had the right of it.

"I'm sorry," he said instead. "You're right. We did ask Luna, and she said it wasn't anything to be worried about, but we still should have told you about it."

"Yes, you should," Draco agreed, but the tension was bleeding out of his shoulders. "I would have been a little more prepared in that case, when this voice popped into my head out of nowhere just a bit ago and asked if he could please borrow my body—again."

Harry winced. "Oops."

"Oops, he says," remarked Draco to the pillar beside them. "The intelligent and incisive nature of the Chosen One who shall someday battle Lord Voldemort is beyond comprehension."

"Oh, piss off." Harry punched Draco in the shoulder. "Like you never 'forgot' to tell me anything. Let's see here, something about a vision?"

"Hey, if it was a vision of your grave, I would've told you about it," Draco shot back. "Seeing as it was mine, I didn't think you needed to know right off!"

"And you ended up sitting on it for nine months! Don't you think that's a little—" Harry stopped, frowning. "Are we really standing here and fighting about this?"

Draco glanced at the grass under their feet. "Would you prefer we be sitting down?"

"No thanks. Let's save that for den-night. Which, by the way, we're having tonight. Here."

"We are? Since when?"

"Since a few hours ago when Ginny and I went up to Dumbledore's office and heard a story."

"Ah, I see." Draco nodded. "And den is the only proper place for a really good story. What's yours about?"

"Treasures." Harry placed the tips of his fingers together again. "How they're guarded. And how they're not. You willing to try the impossible sometime next month?"

"Why not?" Draco's eyes lit momentarily with high glee. "Like father, like son. Fathers, plural, I should say."

Harry laughed, thinking of one of the most eagerly requested den-night stories when they'd both been young, that of a pair of canines out for a nighttime swim in a frigid ocean, the full moon beaming down from overhead. "What about yours?" he asked, starting towards the dining area, Draco keeping pace with him. "Is it anything we should know about?"

"Maybe?" Draco shrugged. "I didn't catch much of it, to be honest with you. But I'll give you what I can."

"Sounds good."


Once the Pride's den was underway, Neville lifted a hand in response to Ginny's call for stories. "Just a general warning," he said. "A couple of the girls from the artillery wanted me to know Romilda Vane's been seen hanging around with some of the nastier Slytherins."

"Vane?" Ron asked, frowning. "Oh, right, that girl you had to chuck out of the DA over that Love Potion deal. Who was she trying to get with that, anyway?"

"We caught her before she made it that far, so we really don't know," said Ginny. "But my guess would be either Draco or Harry. I can't fault her taste, but her methods…" She shuddered, hugging her arms tightly around herself.

"Did she really think she'd get away with it?" Hermione wondered. "As closely as we all stick together? One of us was bound to notice something wasn't right."

"Besides, forced love isn't really love at all," Meghan said with certainty. "It doesn't make you stronger or better or happier to have it, so it isn't real."

"Depends on how you define happiness, and reality." Draco tapped Meghan on the nose with half a biscuit, then yanked his hand back without his treat. "Brat."

Meghan grinned unrepentantly around her mouthful of crumbs.

"It's all to do with people and things," said Luna, tracing figure eights on the surface of her cocoa with a peppermint. "We know each other as people, so what makes us happy is to see each other happy. Romilda Vane doesn't really know Harry—and you were right, it was Harry," she added to Ginny. "But she doesn't know him any more than Cho Chang ever did. Less, really. Cho might have learned how to know him, she was starting to try, but she made a silly mistake because she thinks the wrong things about deep magic. And Romilda…"

Luna's hand stilled, and the peppermint slipped from her fingers to disappear into the depths of the cocoa. "What did she want, Miss Romilda Vane?" she murmured like a chant. "The envious glances, the glory and fame. She was caught at her game, and her catching brought shame. Now the new-wed nymph weeps in the month of her name…"

Harry felt a chill run down his spine. New-wed has got to be Lee and Maya, and "nymph" has been Maya before, but what do they have to do with any of this? They're DA, yes, but they've got their own Pride, and they're nothing to do with us other than our being friendly and both part of the year. What would Romilda Vane be trying that would make Maya cry?

"We'll warn them tomorrow there might be trouble coming," Ginny murmured into his ear, making him jump slightly. "Lee and Maya, that is."

"Here's hoping there's something they can do," Harry returned, then cleared his throat, bringing everyone's attention to him. "So I suppose you're wondering why I've called you all here tonight…"

Kunora's story was fairly simple to retell, though Harry set aside one or two of the pickier details for deeper discussion with Draco and Hermione later. Neville nearly sprayed crumbs across the Den when Ginny revealed her guess as to the identity of the vault they'd be plundering, and spent a great deal of the next several minutes exchanging sidelong, gleeful grins with Meghan. Clearly he was in favor of anything which would have unpleasant repercussions for the Lestranges.

"But that doesn't really make sense," Draco objected once the story had been told over in its entirety and the Pride was working its way back through the fine points. "Neenie and I are blood-bonded, yes, but it can't be the same kind of blood-bond the goblins have. Theirs is sure to have all sorts of little bits and pieces ours doesn't—hell, for all we know, our bond has a trapdoor clause in it somewhere! It could go off tomorrow and we'd never know until it happened!"

"Don't you think the Pack-parents would have checked it over for anything like that before letting us keep it, Fox?" Hermione held out her hand, palm down, regarding her skin and the fine scattering of brown hair along her wrist. "And I don't think Malfoy was planning that far ahead, not when he bonded us. He thought he would be able to keep hold of us long enough to do anything else he wanted, so the only flourish he put on the actual bond was the freezing of our appearances, because anything else would have interfered with your being able to 'take back your rightful magic'." She sneered the last few words with a scornful expression worthy of the man himself.

"This is true." Draco wove his fingers through a runic pattern in the air. "He'd have wanted that channel as open between us as possible, because he wasn't planning on letting the bond go on very long…" He trailed off, still sketching invisible signs. "Though some bonds go on a lot longer than intended," he said quietly. "Like Salazar Slytherin's curse on his younger son."

Luna tilted her head curiously, but her posture showed no signs of worry or fear, and the Warriors, taking their cues from their Seer, redisposed themselves to listen.

"He'd thought, Salazar had, that his curse would kill off the line of his unworthy child within a few generations." Apparently tiring of his unseen doodling, Draco drew his wand and began to draw in lines of flame instead. Harry discreetly twitched a finger of his own, stipulating that the fire remain under control. Every so often, Draco lost his concentration on his magic when he was doing something else, like telling a story, at the same time. "But Alexander and his wife, and their surviving child and her husband, were more clever than he had reckoned with, and passed along instructions and talismans to ensure the survival of their blood. So the line, even cursed as it was, continued naturally into the days of the first King James. Not a bad run, considering."

"Loyalty," Hermione murmured under her breath, watching the runes as they flowed from the tip of her twin's wand. "Memory. Sorrow. Dedication…"

"But even there, the story of the younger line of Slytherin and the magical House of Beauvoi doesn't end." Draco twirled his wand three times, and the lines of the runes spun together, forming a line drawing Harry recognized. The life-size stone carving of the serpent's daughter lay in state atop her stone sarcophagus, exactly as he'd seen it the first day he and his Pridemates had discovered Sanctuary. "For one soul was torn by grief and guilt, and found an anchor in this world until such wrongs should be righted. And another soul knew what the first soul had done, and refused to leave such a beloved one here alone."

Harry sucked in a breath. Torn by grief—found an anchor—

"A Horcrux," Ginny said softly. "An accidental Horcrux, the sort that isn't evil. And someone who chose to stay behind as a revenant, until the person with the Horcrux healed their soul."

"But…" Meghan looked reluctant to speak up, which was unusual for her. "Salazar's curse on Alex killed people," she said when several heads turned in her direction. "That means it can't be fixed, because you can't transfer a fatal curse. Doesn't it?"

"You cannot transfer such a curse, no." Luna reached out her hand to the fiery drawing, making Harry glad he'd already safeguarded it. "Not as other curses may be transferred. But all curses can be changed. And for a fatal curse, that is done by turning it. Sending it back to its caster, in all the power with which it was originally laid." The golden firelight caught the blue tint of her eyes, making them appear momentarily as green as Harry's own. "When the way to so turn a curse was discovered, that was the most joyful day these two souls had ever known."

"What is it?" Neville asked quietly. "How is it done?"

"I…don't know." Luna blinked. "How very strange. I was sure I knew, and now, suddenly, I don't."

"The secret lies within your name," Draco murmured. "It lies within my name. And if you can find the truth in the names, you will help to bring about our name, the name we bore together." He shook himself slightly and vanished his lines of fire. "That's what he said, down in Sanctuary. The person who was borrowing my body, who called me 'little cousin' when he asked me for permission. And he was talking to the person he's been waiting for all this time. The person who made that accidental Horcrux. The serpent's daughter, who is not evil."

"Alex's daughter. Amanda." Ginny frowned. "Wait, doesn't that mean 'love'? From the Latin?"

"Yes, it does—" Hermione drew a sharp breath. "And so does Dafydd! It's the Welsh form of David, and that's from the Bible, from Hebrew, but it means the same thing, 'beloved one'! And the name they shared, Beauvoi, that comes from French, it means 'see the beauty' or 'see the good'…"

"So the secret and the truth in the names is love, and it can let us see beauty and goodness." Absently, Harry ran his fingers along his forehead. "Which is nice and all, but doesn't really tell us how to turn a fatal curse."

"Maybe Amanda knows," Meghan suggested. "We probably don't have to, not unless she asks us for help."

Ron coughed diffidently. "All right, I know this is going to sound terrible," he said when most of the Pride turned to look at him. "But didn't their bloodline die out a few hundred years ago, Dafydd and Amanda's, I mean? Even if Amanda Smythe is something to do with Alex's daughter, friendly possession or what have you, her body's not the same. She's a Muggleborn, no Slytherin blood at all. The curse wouldn't be able to hurt her. Does it really matter what happens to it?"

"It might." Neville was sitting very still, but his eyes were bright. "Salazar Slytherin cast the curse, but he's dead now. So who would it be turned back to, if it were turned? Who do you give anything back to, if the person who gave it to you is dead?"

"To their heirs," said Hermione. "The ones who deserve it, anyway—"

An instant later, everyone was trying to talk at once.


"Told you so," said one of the inhabitants of the picture frame in the green bedroom to the other, smugly. "Pay up."

"No fair," Alex grumbled, reaching into his pocket. "You cheat."

Slender fingers accepted the gold coin and flicked it nimbly into the air before catching and pocketing it. "And still, you married me."

"Mostly to piss off my dad."

One red eyebrow arched. "Mostly?"

"Somewhat to piss off my dad," Alex qualified. "Mostly because I wanted to. And you wanted me to." He sighed, listening to the jubilant cacophony from the main room. "Going to be a rough few months for them, isn't it?"

"They'll survive it." Sorrow shadowed hazel eyes for a moment. "Most of them."

"Yeah." Alex slid an arm around his wife and held her gently against his side. "I know."


"So, Uncle Sirius." Aletha laughed as Sirius made a face in her direction. "I know, I know, it sounds odd. But you're going to have to face it sooner or later."

"I'm not having trouble facing it." Sirius glared at Aletha's raised eyebrow. "I'm not! It's just…"

"Strange to think that one of the students you taught, this boy who's been sleeping in the same room as our two for going on six years now, was your brother's son all along and you never knew it?" At Sirius's grudging nod, Aletha went on. "It is strange. But we know it now, and we can do what's right. Whatever that might be."

"Which is what's got me." Sirius shook his head, less in negation than in bafflement. "What is right in this case? I don't want to go dragging Dean into some big inheritance issue, that'd be stupid all around, but he deserves something from…" He waved his hand aimlessly in the air, conveying the sense of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, the various vaults at Gringotts which belonged to the Black family, and the rest of the possessions accumulated by a pureblood house and line over several centuries of inheritance. "All of this."

"Has he asked?" Aletha said delicately. "Because the feeling I get from him is that he's rather overwhelmed by all of this. That he'd be just as happy if it went away. It's not that he objects to knowing his father's identity, but I think he's worried about what people may now expect from him. People like us. Like you."

"Like me?" Sirius snorted. "Not likely. That's what I ran away from, thank you very much! I'm not about to shove some poor kid back into…" He stopped. "Except I am, aren't I? Talking about what he deserves, what he ought to have. What I think he ought to have, never bothering to consult him. I should be asking what he wants, or if he even wants anything. For all I know, he wants this to go away. How can I even be sure he wanted to know in the first place?"

"Maybe he didn't, but his mother did, and she deserved that knowledge." Aletha laid her hand atop her husband's, smiling when he looked up at her. "And I don't think Dean will take it quite as badly as all that. But I also doubt he'll want any kind of significant inheritance. He strikes me, from what Harry and Draco say about him, as a very self-reliant young man, the sort who'd want to make his own way in the world no matter whose son he was. Now, if there were some way that we could give him something which would make his mother's life easier, help the rest of his family, that I think he might accept." She sighed. "The only question is…"

"How do we do that without offending him just as badly, or making it look like we don't trust him?" Sirius finished for her. "How do we even do it at all? I mean, not to be rude, but she's a Muggle. Most of what we've got, she couldn't use. And anything she could, Dean can get her himself—"

"I know that look," said Aletha when several seconds had passed without Sirius completing his sentence. "You've thought of something."

"Haven't I just." Sirius grinned broadly. "And the best part is, for a change, it's going to make absolutely everyone happy. As long as we can pull it off, that is…"


Since when did I get elected the one who talks to house-elves? Harry sat back on his heels, regarding the door behind which Kreacher denned. I know, I know, Kreacher doesn't consider me family because I'm not closely related to the Blacks—one of these days, we really have to look up what kind of cousin my dad was to them, he has to have been something, all the purebloods are—but I'm also not a Muggleborn or, strictly speaking, a blood traitor, because you have to start out as a pureblood to be one.

The only other member of Pack or Pride who shakes out like that is Moony, and he's got his own problems. He hid a snicker. Like the furry little one Danger helps him with every month…

All of which was a very long way to say that out of all the people who had some right to call number twelve, Grimmauld Place, their home, he, Harry Potter, was the most likely to be able to talk sensibly to Kreacher, and to receive sensible answers.

Not to mention, I've got something up my sleeve that even Padfoot doesn't know about. I'm glad I thought to check it with Dumbledore before we left Hogwarts yesterday.

But to use his special bargaining chip, he would have to get Kreacher to the table. And that required beginning.

Pressing his hand against his pendants for strength, he leaned forward and knocked on the door.

"Coming, yes, Kreacher is coming," came the mumbled response, and the door swung open, revealing the wrinkled, scowling house-elf in his tattered tea towel kilt. "Harry Potter," he said, narrowing his eyes in Harry's direction. "What does the godson of Kreacher's master want with Kreacher today?"

"I want to tell you about a boy I know," Harry said, being careful to keep his voice even. "One of my Housemates, at Hogwarts. His name's Dean, Dean Thomas, and he always thought he was a Muggleborn. His mum and stepfather are Muggles, and so are his sisters. With me so far?"

Kreacher nodded slowly, his eyes searching Harry's face as though he were waiting for the catch to the story.

Smart of him. Here it comes. "Only the other day, Dean found out he's not a Muggleborn after all. His father, his birth father, was a wizard. A pureblood wizard."

Harry paused, counting silently. He'd reached six when Kreacher sucked air between his teeth. "No," the old house-elf breathed. "No. Kreacher's Master Regulus would not—he did not—"

"He probably didn't mean to, but he did." Harry settled himself more comfortably on the floor. "And whether he meant to or not, Dean's his son. Blood to the Blacks. Regulus wanted you to protect the family, didn't he?"

"Protect the true family!" Kreacher hissed. "The proper family! Not—not—" His mouth worked venomously, as though his prohibitions against saying certain words aloud only caused him to think them more rudely than ever. Still, hidden under the floods of horror and disbelief in his scent, Harry was catching a whiff of interest.

"You'd have a fresh start, with Dean," he remarked when Kreacher had subsided into half-audible muttering. "If you cleaned up a little, and learned to keep from insulting the rest of his family, I think he'd like you."

"Kreacher does not want to keep from insulting Muggles," grumbled Kreacher, but half-heartedly. "Kreacher's mistress always said—"

"Kreacher's mistress is dead now," Harry interrupted, suddenly very tired of this. "That's if you mean Mrs. Black, Walburga, and I think you do. Letha and Meghan are your mistresses now, and Tonks would be after that. And none of them are any more than half-blood."

Kreacher yowled, clapping his hands over his pointed ears. "Why must Harry Potter torment Kreacher so? Why must Harry Potter tell Kreacher such awful things—"

"Because they're true," Harry snapped back, "and hiding under the water tank and denying them won't make them go away! You can stay under there if you like, but it's not going to change anything. The world's different than it used to be, Kreacher, and you can either waste your time moaning over that or you can learn to live with it, come out of there, and do what your Master Regulus ordered you to do. Protect his family, take care of them. All his family, even the ones he never got to see."

"But…" Kreacher was wavering visibly, teetering back and forth on his feet. "But Kreacher failed his Master Regulus, Kreacher did not destroy the locket which took Master Regulus's life, Kreacher is a bad house-elf and does not deserve to meet his Master Regulus's son…"

Harry grinned to himself. Got him. "What if you got the chance to do that?" he suggested. "Destroy the locket, I mean. We're pretty sure we know how to get it open now."

He was treated to a wide-eyed, incredulous house-elf stare. "To…to destroy…" Kreacher faltered, his breath coming faster. Harry had to fight to keep from wincing at the multitude of rancid odors now reaching his nose. "Harry Potter knows how this can be done?"

"I think so. Not entirely positive, but it's worth having a go." Harry met Kreacher's eyes levelly. "And I thought you deserved first refusal on killing it if we do manage. Once that's done…" He shrugged, carefully casual. "Dean's kind of curious about his father. Padfoot knows a few stories, but you'd know more. And he and his family might be in a lot of danger if Voldemort ever gets to the Ministry. Dean's a strong fighter, but he'd have a hard time protecting all of them by himself. Doesn't mean he wouldn't try, though. They're his family. But he could well get killed trying, if he didn't have any help."

"Master Regulus's son, killed." Kreacher was rocking back and forth again, shaking his head in time with his body's movements. "Killed protecting the family…killed like his father…but no, not like his father, for Kreacher could help his Master's son, where Kreacher was ordered not to help his Master…"

Sliding one hand behind his back, Harry shot a thumbs-up in the direction of the door, where he knew Ginny was watching. The word would, he was sure, be passed back quickly along the Pride relay. Operation Creature Comfort looked like it was going to be a success.

Now if I'm just right about how to get the damned locket open!


"I didn't think I'd miss him, but I might," Meghan said to Neville as they sat together in the music room, Meghan picking out a melody on the piano, Neville strumming chords on his guitar to fit. "Not the way you'd miss Tapper, if he went away. Tapper likes you, he likes your family. Kreacher's never liked me. But it'll still be strange not to have him here, if he ends up going to live with Dean's family."

"That's assuming this works," said Neville absently. "I know it looks like it will, but nothing's certain yet." He tightened one of his tuning pegs slightly. "And speaking of Tapper, did I tell you he's got a girlfriend?"

"No, you didn't!" Meghan bounced in place. "Neville, that's wonderful! Who is it?"

"Her name's Brilly. She works at the Pepper Pot." Neville looked up at Meghan. "Technically, she's a free elf, but if you asked her, she'd tell you she's just waiting for her little Master Theo to finish at Hogwarts…"

Then he had to catch Meghan's shoulder, to keep her from falling off the piano bench with laughter.

"We're…we're going to be…" she choked out when she could get her breath. "We're going to be house-elf in-laws with Nott!"

At this way of putting it, Neville had to laugh as well.

Because if we forget how to enjoy something funny when it comes along, what are we even fighting for?

Not that I'll mind helping to kill the cup once Draco and Hermione steal it, or the snake or the brooch, once we find them. Or fighting Death Eaters if they try to get into Hogwarts. Or even figuring out how to help Amanda Smythe turn that curse back onto Voldemort, if she'll let us.

But that's business. This is pleasure.

"Do you think we should ask them to name their first elflets after us?" he suggested with a smile, setting Meghan off again.

There's room in life for both of them.

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Author Notes:

Well, that turned out a bit fluffier than anticipated. Still, I hope there was enough plot to keep everybody happy. Next chapter will most likely start the robbery of Gringotts, unless I'm missing anything that needs to come first…let me know, and Happy Easter, everybody!

Fun news on the originals front! I've co-authored a little anthology of short fantasy, with two stories by me and two by my colleague Elizabeth Conall. It's called A Dinner of Herbs: Tales from Scarborough Fair and is currently available on Amazon for $2.99 in e-book or $6.99 in print. Check it out if you get a chance!

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