The Spoils of War


Story Summary:
Harry kills Lucius Malfoy, Rodolphus LeStrange, and Voldemort and, as Bellatrix LeStrange and Narcissa Malfoy lie in the mud at his feet, proclaims an ancient cry of victory. Little does he realize the impact of claiming the spoils of war.

Chapter 06

Chapter Summary:
Harry kills Lucius Malfoy, Rodolphus Lestrange, and Voldemort and, as Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy lie in the mud at his feet, proclaims an ancient cry of victory. Little does he realize the impact of claiming the spoils of war. NOTE: Not related to my Dance series here on Schnoogle. This Chapter: Bellatrix dreams; Narcissa gets introspective; Hermione frets; and Harry finally gets to have a little fun when friends visit.





Harry awoke to feel pressure on his chest. Belle was sprawled across him, holding him tightly around the middle. He was also surprised to find Narcissa curled up against his other side, her head nestled on his shoulder. He tried to move and felt Cissy stir and Belle tense. Slowly, he brought his free arm up to stroke Belle's hair, and she seemed to calm. He leaned his head up and kissed the side of her head. He heard Belle sigh in contentment and he closed his eyes. He would sleep in today. As he drifted off, his head slowly drooped to the other side and rested gently against Cissy's.

The sun was well up when he woke again, feeling a rustling on the bed. He could feel Cissy was gone already. He opened his eyes to see Belle looking down at him. She reached down and tentatively stroked his cheek.

Unlike before, this time he didn't flinch or pull back. He gave her a small smile. "Time for breakfast."

Belle smiled back. "Yes."

* * *

Breakfast was a quiet affair, just he and Belle enjoying fruit and flaky pastries.

Then he retired to his main office on the ground floor. He pulled out a parchment and began writing a letter that he would never have written two years ago when he was going through it.


I was just thinking of you.

I hope to see you tomorrow.

I also have a problem that hope you can help with. You've studied healing and have talked to some of the MediWizards and Witches at St. Mungo's. Is there a potion or a charm that can help with violent nightmares? Not just dreamless sleep potions. I know how dangerous they can be. Something like stopping the reason for the nightmares.

Or is there something like a Wizarding psychologist or counselor or something like that? I figured if anyone would know or could find out, you would.

I hope your summer is going well.

I miss you.


* * *

Harry heard the knocking on the sitting room door shortly after lunch. "You have a visitor," Cissy announced through the door.

Harry was just getting up when the door flew open and a frantic Hermione burst through, embracing him desperately. "Harry, I'm here for you!" she cried. "Oh, Harry! You should have told me from the start!" Then, she began sobbing on his shoulder.

Harry felt himself melting into her desperate embrace. He had felt himself worn to a frazzle, trying to put some order into his life, understanding his new responsibilities as master of three big estates while being lectured relentlessly by Narcissa, and waiting for the next bombshell to go off in what he now realized was a vain hope for a peaceful life. But just holding Hermione took away all that. She was his anchor in the stormy seas that seemed to surround him.

She stepped back and looked into his eyes, reaching up to stroke his cheek tenderly. "When did they start again? Are they as bad as last time?" she asked with concern.

Harry smiled at her, then blinked in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"The nightmares," she whispered.

The letter. "I'm not the one having nightmares," he said quietly.

Hermione blinked in confusion and stepped back.

"You're ... not?"

Harry took her by the hand and led the confused young woman to a nearby couch. "It's not me," he said as he sat facing her, holding her hands. "It's Belle ... Bellatrix."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "That ... that woman? She's here, too?"

Harry closed his eyes and sighed. Harry nodded sadly. "She and Cis ... Narcissa live here with me. I have to take care of them."

Hermione tilted her head and frowned. "Mrs. Malfoy was there when I flooed in," she said icily. "I didn't see the other one."

Harry snorted. "Not just them. Malfoy ... Draco, is here, too."

Hermione gasped. "What's he doing here?" she demanded.

Harry leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes. "I paid his fine to keep him out of Azkaban."

Hermione face softened, then suddenly went cold. "She got you to do it, didn't she?"

Harry opened his eyes and gave her a puzzled look. "Who? Narcissa?"

Hermione's eyes narrowed in anger. "You're sleeping with her, aren't you? She's got you wrapped around her finger. I saw that picture of the three of you parading around Diagon Alley in this morning's Daily Prophet."

Harry stared in surprise. But two years of slowly getting closer to Hermione under the pressures of the war had taught him how to deal with such emotional storms. He snorted in mirth and glanced at the rapidly angering girl. "The three of us have only slept together twice," he said. "Not that I got much sleep," he said, smirking.

Hermione brought her hand up to her mouth in shock, her eyes wide in anguish. As she went to get up, Harry lunged forward and grabbed her to keep her from bolting.

"Stop it, Hermione," he said with a chuckle. "I'm teasing you."

It took a few moments of coaxing for Hermione to calm down. She pushed him away and sat on the opposite end of the couch, her arms crossed over her chest. "That's not very funny, Harry Potter!"

Harry sighed. "Actually, what I told you was literally true. I did sleep with Bellatrix and Narcissa last night and a few nights ago. But there was nothing sexual about it. It's why I owled you."

Again, Hermione narrowed her eyes, not quite knowing what to expect. "Explain," she demanded.

Harry told her of Belle's nightmares and her hysterical insistence on Harry and Cissy staying with her overnight.

Hermione's expression went from suspicion to concern to thoughtful. Finally, she looked back at Harry. "Is it any wonder she's having nightmares? Imagine, living with all she's done on your conscience."

Harry looked down and frowned. "It may not just be that," he said quietly. "Cissy said things happened to her before ... I don't know. Cissy can be tough to talk to sometimes, especially if she doesn't want to talk about something."

Hermione blinked in surprise. "Cissy?"

Harry looked up, then shrugged. "Yeah. Cissy and Belle. Why not?"

Hermione leaned back in thought. "Well, I don't know. The Wizarding World isn't very sophisticated about the mind. All the charms and potions treat the symptoms of mental illness, but not the disease. If the symptoms get too bad, they just lock them away in St. Mungo's."

Harry scowled. "Like the Longbottoms or Gilderoy Lockhart."

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. "There's another ward at St. Mungo's. One that no one talks about. It's a sort of mental ward. But it's like something out of the Dante's Inferno. The rich ones get their own rooms and get catered meals. The others...well, the attendants that I saw do their best, but the conditions were barbaric. Little privacy, little protection, little to do. The violent ones are locked up, but there is nothing for the rest. One attendant I met sings and tries to get others to join in. But that's about it."

Harry stared at Hermione. "I ... didn't know."

Hermione was looking at her feet. "That was the last field trip I was allowed to take with Madam Pomfrey during my Magical Healing course. It was unannounced, of course, so we got to see what it was really like without them preparing. I couldn't think for days, I was so upset."

Harry blinked. "That was in April, right? Right after we beat Ravenclaw in Quidditch."

Hermione nodded, her bushy curls bouncing about her head.

Harry closed his eyes. "Ron and I thought you were mad at us or something, the way you wouldn't talk to us."

Hermione just shrugged.

Harry reached out and put his arm around her shoulder and drew her close. "Why didn't you tell us?" he asked softly.

Hermione sighed. "You were so intense at the time, with all that training. And Quidditch was your only release. I didn't want to burden you. I had to decide ... well, if I wanted to go into healing at all after that. At first, I thought maybe I could do something for those poor people. Then I realized I didn't have the strength. I couldn't spend my days down there in hell, then come home and live a happy, normal life. And I felt so guilty ..." she whimpered.

Harry slowly embraced her and rocked her gently "You are a strong, wonderful person, Hermione. You will be a great healer. Just think of all the people you'll make better, whose lives you'll save and enrich."

After a few moments, she won her battle against tears and let Harry's warmth envelop her. It felt good. She let the moment extend out to several minutes before she took a deep breath. Harry reluctantly released her from the embrace.

She looked up at him. "I ... I'm not an expert. I won't even be considered a healer for four years, and won't be considered a Master MediWitch until the full seven-year apprenticeship is finished," she said with a faraway look in her eyes. Then she glanced back at Harry. "But I will read up on what I can about those nightmares. I did some reading when you were having yours, but it sounds like Bella's are more severe."

"Belle," Harry whispered.

Hermione turned and blinked. "Belle."

As she started to get up, Harry jumped up at grab her arm. "You're not leaving already, are you? Stay awhile. I'll give you the grand tour. After all, if your parents are going to come up with any decorating tips, they're going to need a full report."

Hermione giggled and they walked out of the drawing room arm in arm

* * *

Hermione was impressed with the library, of course. It wasn't large, as some estate libraries went, with much of the space devoted not to bookcases, but to shelves of trophies, magical implements that seemed to move of their own accord, and miniature paintings and photographs. Further, the bookcases where spaced apart, leaving room for larger paintings and wall hangings.

But there were plenty of books, including volumes on practical magic that she'd never seen. There also seemed to be a large section on dueling and defense against the Dark Arts and, surprisingly, Wizarding history. Then she saw the healing arts section and, after some playful pleading, was allowed to borrow an armful.

Hermione was shocked when Nandy, one of the Potter family's old house elves, popped by, wearing a miniature version of a Hogwarts robe.

"Don't get upset, Hermione. They're free," Harry said with an anxious look. "I made a deal with them. They would accept clothes not as a sign of rejection, but as a mark of status. Nandy, who works down here and tends the grounds, decided he wanted house robes like the wizards at Hogwarts. Dodi ... she's our cook ... was a little unsure until I told her she could have whatever clothes she wanted. She wanted Hogwarts robes, too, but in pink."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh.

"Wait 'til you see Dobby," Harry said with a smirk.

They ran into Dobby on the second floor, which he had taken as his work domain. Hermione was startled when she found her legs being hugged by a bundle of energy in what looked like a lime-green naval officer's uniform full of heavy gold braid and stars everywhere. "Narcissa drew the line at orange cap with the seven peacock feathers," he said with a laugh.

Finally, she was dazzled by Harry's bedroom, which was glowing warmly as the late afternoon sunlight poured through the open windows. Then, she suddenly blushed. "I better be getting back," she mumbled. "I left mum and dad a note, but they might worry."

Harry reluctantly walked her back to the large fireplace in the entrance hall, where Hermione was met by two of her least favorite people.

"Miss Granger. How interesting to run into you here," Rita Skeeter said in her typically oily voice.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Rita, when did you buzzzzz in," Hermione replied in an icy tone, then glanced over at Narcissa.

"Miss Granger, care to stay for dinner?" Cissy asked.

Hermione glanced back and forth between Harry, Narcissa, and Rita. Then she paused. 'Someone has to protect him from these harpies,' she thought. But she reconsidered. "I'd love to, Mrs. Malfoy, but I promised my parents I would be home for dinner," she said in as civil a tone as she could muster.

* * *

"It's just a social call," Cissy whispered to Harry as they walked into the drawing room ahead of Rita.

Harry was aware that such 'guests' would be visiting from time to time, but he just wasn't ready to play Cissy's games yet.

But he was fascinated by the interaction between the two women. The gossip they traded about the high and mighty was absolutely astonishing, from money, to marriages and affairs, to manipulations at the highest levels.

"And why are these stories never published in the Daily Prophet?" he asked sourly.

Rita gazed at him with a speculative look through her large, round glasses. "A lady, especially one without a protector, could find herself in grave difficulties should she tell such stories in print."

Harry also noted that there were occasional comments back and forth between the two women that he didn't quite understand at first. But slowly, as he watched the two interact, he began to realize that these two women were not friends, and were taking the subtlest of swipes at each other.

He managed to answer a few questions from Rita as innocently as possible, and then the visit was over.

As the two women exchanged air kisses, Rita stepped back for a moment. "I must say again, Cissy, how well you are bearing up. You must tell me what you are using. The bee pollen potion?" she said with a nasty edge to her voice. "No," she said with a dramatic pause. Then her eyes glanced back at Harry, before returning to meet Cissy's with a knowing look. "No. Must be something else," she said with a barely concealed smirk.

With that, Rita flooed out.

Once Rita was gone, Cissy's face hardened. "That old cow," she hissed.

Harry blinked. "I thought you went to school with her," Harry said with all the tact of a naïve seventeen-year-old.

"She was several years ahead of me at Hogwarts," Cissy growled through clenched teeth.

Harry noted Cissy's tone and tensed. "Why even have her over?"

Cissy frowned. "She can be useful. You have no idea how useful."

* * *

Rita's catty comments had made more of an impact than Cissy cared to admit. She walked silently down the corridor, unable to sleep. She had spent nearly an hour at her vanity table, staring at her mirror, cataloging all the imperfections she could find, and she believed that there were myriads, despite the mirror's constant reassurances.

It was quiet tonight, and should remain so. It was Belle's night to take the dreamless sleep potion and she should have a peaceful rest.

As she approached Potter's bedroom, she heard something. Stealing up to his door, she listened.

She could hear a vague, rhythmic shifting of his mattress, then a slow sigh. Then quiet. She peeked through the door and saw Harry's form shift after a few moments, then saw him drop what appeared to be some tissues into the garbage bin next to his bed. She knew what he was doing. After all, she had an adolescent son.

Narcissa silently made her way back to her bedroom an closed the door.

As she lay in bed, she felt a tear slowly make its way down her cheek. She felt an odd, unfocused anger. An anger that Harry was doubtless thinking of the Granger girl just now.

And not her.

* * *

The next day was a Saturday. Visiting day at the asylum, also known as Potter Manor.

The huge fireplace in the entrance hall suddenly flared green and out stepped Ron holding a broom.

Harry burst into happy laughter.

"Well, mate. What do you think?" Ron exclaimed.

Harry walked over and gave his best friend a quick hug, which was interrupted by a second flare from the fireplace, then a third. Harry blinked to see Lavender Brown step out, then Ginny Weasley.

Ginny ran up to give Harry a hug before stepping back and looking around the large and beautiful entrance hall with wide eyes. "Wow!" she exclaimed.

Lavender was a little more restrained. "Hi, Harry," she said with a shy smile. "Ron said I could come."

Harry smiled at her and gave her a quick hug, winking at Ron over his her shoulder. "I'm glad you came. Now where's Hermione?"

Ron shrugged. "She said she would be by on her own. She had to do something first. One of these days she'll get her parents' fireplace connected to the floo system. Now she's gotta apparate to Diagon Alley, then floo in from the Leaky Cauldron."

Harry gave a quick frown. "Well, come on, then."

Ron blinked, then grinned. "Wait!" He did a quick pirouette. "What do you think?"

Harry again burst into laughter. Ron was wearing dragonhide boots and a pair of dragonhide trousers under his short, summer-weigh robe. Then Harry noticed him twirling a broom that looked familiar.

"Whoa," Harry exclaimed with a smile. "Is that a Firebolt?" he exclaimed. Then he chuckled. "I must have been too dazzled by all that dragon hide to notice."

Ginny groaned, but Lavender smiled and blushed. "I think he looks sexy in it."

Everyone burst into laughter at that comment.

"Well, come on," Harry said as he led them into the drawing room.

* * *

Harry couldn't keep the smile off his face. Ron was beside himself, talking about how he had received the 50,000 Galleon honorarium for his Order of Merlin, First Class. His mum had made him put most of it in a new vault at Gringotts, but agreed he should have 5,000 Galleons to spend on himself. " 'But mind you, it's got to last you for the rest of the year', she tells me," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "The first thing I did was rush down to Quality Quidditch Supplies and buy this Firebolt and a complete servicing kit. Bloody hell, can this thing fly," Ron exclaimed.

"Ronald Weasley, watch your language," Lavender cried.

It was all Harry could do not to fall off the couch in laughter and the familiar rebuke from an unexpected source.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "You should see him," she groaned. "He hasn't been off that thing for more than ten minutes at a stretch since he got it."

Ron snorted. "Well, you can get one, too, you know." He turned to Harry. "She got an Order of Merlin, Second Class. That's worth 10,000 Galleons and 1,000 Galleons a year for life."

Lavender smiled at the three. "Parvati and I got Third Class. That's 5,000 Galleons, but no annuity. Maybe I'll open up a shop with it."

Ron nodded enthusiastically. "I'm going to put some money into Fred and George's operation. Maybe Lavender and I can have shops next to each other in Arthur's Square in Devon. I never realized the Wizarding community there was so big. Maybe I could buy a nice house there. I guess I can finally afford one, especially if the shop there works out."

Harry was having the best time he'd had in a long time.

Then he heard a familiar swoosh and turned to the door. Moments later, Hermione appeared with a disconcerted look on her face, accompanied by Belle. Hermione dashed in to hug everybody, but Belle hovered uncertainly by the door.

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Hey, everyone. This is Belle Black," he said in a formal tone. "Belle, these are my friends, Ron and Ginny Weasley, Lavender Brown, and Hermione Granger."

"Pleased to meet you," Belle said, giving a shy, uncertain smile and nodding her head before leaving.

The group shared a stunned silence for a moment before Ginny turned to Harry. "That's Bellatrix Lestrange," she hissed. "What's she doing here? You let her live here with you?"

Harry gave a sad nod.

Ron frowned. "Ginny's right, mate. Why not just stuff her in one of those other places you own and be done with her."

Hermione was shifting uncomfortably and seemed to want to say something, but bit it off.

Finally, Harry leaned back a closed his eyes. "Look, Dumbledore explained about the spell I cast. I own them now. That makes them my responsibility, right? But he also said that the spell is like a test of my character. I could beat them or kill them or lock them away somewhere where they'd be miserable for the rest of their lives. I'd be done with them, but I'd lose my soul or something. Or I could take care of them, and save my soul. Well, I figured if I can keep my soul in spite of Voldemort, this should be a piece of cake," he said in exasperation.

"Yeah, but you didn't have to live with You-Know-Who ... Voldemort," Ron said in sympathy.

Ginny snorted and gave Harry a sidelong glance. "Yes, and Harry didn't have to put up with Voldemort walking around at night it sexy nighties, either," she said with an evil smirk.

Hermione gasped. "Ginny!" she exclaimed.

Ron suddenly burst into laughter, rolling around on the couch. "Oh, my eyes! My eyes!"

* * *

Later, the group decided to go out to explore the grounds and do some flying. Harry managed to find a old Comet Chaser One, a dated but fast broom, for Ginny. Lavender and Hermione decided to tour the gardens and greenhouses at the Manor.

As soon as the group got outside, they realized they weren't alone.

"Bloody hell, is that Malfoy?" Ron exclaimed.

Harry looked up and saw both Draco and Belle flying about aimlessly. He sighed. "Yeah, I had to pay his fine or he would have ended up in Azkaban."

Ron grabbed Harry's shoulder and spun him around. "Why? If anyone deserved Azkaban, it was that bloody ferret."

Harry shook his head. "That's what I thought. But his mum, well, she got all hysterical. So I did it for her."

Ron snorted. "I wouldn't spend a knut for that prick. I don't care who got hysterical."

Harry lowered his head. "I couldn't do that to his mum."

Ron gave another angry snort.

Harry shook his head. "Look, it's like you and Percy. Your family is still mad at Percy for being such a prat, right? But what would happen if suddenly Percy got arrested and thrown into Azkaban, and I was the only one able to get him out? What would you think of me if I said, 'Percy's a prat and I don't care if he rots there.' You'd all hate me, right?"

Ginny cleared her throat. "I guess you're right," she said in a small voice.

"Bugger," Ron muttered. "Lets just fly."

* * *

As soon as the three were airborne, Draco quickly disappeared angrily back into the Manor. Belle, however, continued run through various maneuvers and Quidditch moves that showed she was good on a broom. But mostly, she seemed to fly aimlessly, sometimes hovering and looking over in the direction of Harry, Ron and Ginny.

Harry and Ron flew wildly all over the spacious grounds. Ron, Harry could see, was reveling in the speed and power of his new Firebolt and let his friend take the lead in most of their aerobatics.

Finally winded, Ron flew high and Harry joined him.

Harry snorted. "What are we wearing these ridiculous robes for? I'm sweltering."

Ron gave a barking laugh. The breeze a couple hundred feet above the ground was okay, what little there was. He leaned back and quickly shrugged off his robe and let it drop below.

Harry grinned and did the same. "And these stupid wizard blouses!" Harry hated the traditional Wizarding wrap-collar shirts Narcissa insisted he wear whenever he was receiving guests. Harry reached around to the button on the back of his neck and unfastened it, unwrapping the collar. Then he unbuttoned the light cotton blouse and took it off, and watched it flutter in the light breeze down to the grounds below.

Ron grinned at his friend. "Okay, but if I lose this, you're buying me a new one. It cost a ten Galleons," he said as he took off his shirt and tossed it away.

Harry had to laugh at the tee-shirt Ron was wearing underneath his shirt. It showed an angry looking beater in Chudley Cannons orange charging forward with a bludger booming out of the end of his broom-like a cannon.

Harry smiled. Ron was tall, but he was no longer lanky, having grown into his frame. He had broad shoulders from all the flying he had done over the years as well as the physical training he had done with Harry over the past year. It suited him, Harry thought.

Harry, on the other hand, was still smaller, just touching upon five foot, ten inches. But with his sleeveless white tee-shirt, he presented the picture of compact power, with more a gymnast's frame than that of a more bulky athlete.

The two sat, flush-faced, in companionable silence for a while, content at looking at the vast spread of Potter Manor. Behind the Manor house were a couple greenhouses, some out buildings, and an expanse of open field. Then there was farmland surrounding open area being tended to by tenant farmers.

"All this yours?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded.

Ron returned the nod. "And there's more?"

Harry nodded again. "About 8,000 acres here. Plus about 70,000 acres scattered around the U.K. and Ireland. Seven towns. Several mines. Some businesses. Some stuff in America, in South Africa," he said without emotion. "It's all too much."

Ron simply shook his head. "You know, I used to be jealous of you. Not that I wouldn't mind a little more gold. But, you know? I think I've got what I need."

Harry pursed his lips. "And you know you earned it all. All this--it just fell into my lap."

Ron sighed. "You deserve something, after all you went through, all the stuff you told me about ... and other stuff I heard about ..."

Harry's head jerked up.

Ron gave him a sad smile. "Yes, I heard about what really happened to you with the Muggles. Old Mrs. Figg was just talking one night over at Grimmauld Place one night about what a clumsy boy you were growing up, always with cuts and bruises and stuff. Got me mad. I told her you were the least clumsy person I ever knew. She got real quiet for a long time, like she was thinking of stuff. Then she started crying. Said she should have known it wasn't you falling or roughhousing that made them bruises and such." Ron stared with sympathy at his friend. "Don't hold it against her, mate. She's just a dotty old woman who didn't know any better." Ron looked off in the distance. "Don't worry. I never told anyone. But it sure made me appreciate my mum and dad a whole lot more after that," he said absently.

Harry just gave a sad nod. After a few moments, he sighed. "If I ever have kids, I'm going to do everything I can to take care of them. I'll never let anything hurt them. I'm never going to let anyone turn me into a Dursley."

The two continued to hover for several minutes in silence. Then, a puff of breeze swept over them. "Feels good," Harry said, closing his eyes and enjoying the relief from the heat.

Harry then glanced over to his red-haired companion, who cast him a sly look.

"So, are you taking care of your property?" he asked with a cautious smirk.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Don't start that again."

Ron gave out a barking laugh. "You're not? Wasn't that spell something like a permanent Imperious curse? Don' they have to do whatever you want?"

Harry sighed. "Not really. I mean, I'm like their master, and I could order them to do stuff. But that doesn't mean they would like it. I mean, they're human beings! And rape is still rape, no matter who you do it to."

Ron frowned. "I didn't mean it like that. Well, I didn't really think about it in those terms. I just thought that Malfoy's mum was always considered so beautiful if you like the 'ice queen' type. And I was surprised that Lestrange was really pretty. And she's a lot smaller than I thought. I kept thinking she was like another Millicent Bulstrode or something."

Harry shrugged. "She's a little taller than Hermione. Almost as tall as Cissy."

Ron raised his eyebrows. "You mean Mrs. Malfoy?"

Harry nodded. "She comes up to here on me," Harry said, motioning about at his eye level. "Belle comes up to about here," motioning about nose level."

Ron shook his head. "That's not very big. And she looks kind of thin. I thought she's be so much bigger and uglier. Like, isn't she a murderer or something?"

Harry lowered his head. "Cissy ... Narcissa says the only one she ever killed was Sirius, and she didn't plan on that. She wanted to punish him, but not kill him. Don't ask me why. But she did do some other terrible things. Like she was there when Neville's parents were tortured. And I think she did some other really bad stuff."

Ron lowered his head at the mention of Neville's name. They'd all become good friends over the past couple years. Finally, he shrugged. "I guess if I had been in your position, I might have taken advantage of it. At least until recently."

Harry looked up in curiosity.

Ron blushed. Finally, he took a deep breath. "Look, I really like Lavender. Maybe ... more than that. I don't know. Mum let me have 5,000 Galleons to spend on whatever I want. I spent a little over a thousand Galleons on the broom and stuff. And maybe another thousand on clothes. But the some of the rest I'm saving. Maybe for a ring ..."

Harry gave his friend a surprised smile. "An engagement ring?"

Ron shrugged. "Look, I've known her for seven years. I liked her in sixth year, but never got the courage to ask her out. Then ... well you know. We've been dating for a while. And, well, recently, its gotten more serious. I think I love her," he said in a sudden rush.

Harry smiled broadly and clapped his friend on the shoulder, causing both their brooms to wobble. "That's great!" he exclaimed.

Ron lowered his head, his face flushed in relief that Harry wasn't going to tease him. "I do, you know."

The two hovered there for a while longer.

Finally, Ron looked up. "What about Hermione?" he asked.

Harry turned to look at his friend in confusion. "Hermione?"

Ron nodded. "She really likes you. And I can tell, you like her. So, why not do something about it? Maybe you two will end up like Lavender and me."

Harry sighed. "Things are kind of complicated, right now."

Ron shook his head. "Things are always complicated for you, Harry. If you use that as an excuse, you'll never have anybody."

* * *

Harry, Ron and Ginny had been on the ground for less than a minute before Lavender ran up and grabbed Ron.

"Ron, Mrs. Malfoy ... Narcissa, has lots of great ideas about the dress shop. She even knows of one in Arthur's Square where the owner may be retiring soon and might be willing to sell. I could work there for a while to get experience, then we ... I mean, I could buy it and have my own shop!"

Suddenly, she stopped. "Ron Weasley! Where's you shirt and robe!" Soon, Ron found himself dragged away by Lavender to look for his clothes ... privately.

Ginny simply shook her head and eyed Harry's body appreciatively. "So what did you two boys talk about up there for all that time?" she said with a speculative grin.

Harry gave her a shrug. "Just stuff," he said noncommittally.

Ginny turned to Hermione with a wink. "Boy stuff, no doubt."

Harry rolled his eyes.

Ginny chuckled, then frowned a bit. "You know, Belle is a pretty good flyer. We could have used her this past year."

Harry frowned. "We won the Cup."

Ginny shrugged. "I talked to her for a little while up there. It was really weird, talking to a Death Eater. But she seemed all right."

Hermione was looking back and forth between Harry and Ginny in consternation. "But she could be dangerous," she finally exclaimed.

Ginny turned and shrugged. "She explained that Harry keeps her wand when she doesn't need it. She says she doesn't mind, that Harry takes care of her." Then Ginny turned to Harry with a sly grin and arched eyebrow. "Are you taking care of her, Harry?"

Harry exhaled slowly and audibly. "I am not having sex with either Cissy or Belle, okay?" he exclaimed in exasperation.

Ginny gave a theatrical shrug. "I believe you. Of course, with no other outlet, I don't see why you shouldn't. I'm sure Belle wouldn't mind," she said, giving Hermione a surreptitious glance.

Hermione's face was now flushed in anger. "Harry! I need to talk with you. Alone!" she announced, grabbing his arm and dragging him away to the library.

Slamming the door, she pushed him over to a formal couch.

Once Harry recovered from the manhandling, he looked up to see Hermione standing there, hands on her hips, glaring. "First of all, Lavender and I ran into Narcissa while wandering around the grounds. Once Lavender was through with gabbing about frills and fashion and financing, I got Narcissa alone. From what I can gather, Bellatrix has been through some terrible experiences. That's why she has nightmares. So don't you listen to Ginny. Abusing that woman's affections would be the worst thing you could do to her, even if she was an evil Death Eater."

Hermione was breathing hard, now, staring at Harry. It took her a few moments to calm down. Finally, she sat down across from Harry.

"I also did some preliminary reading about Wizarding psychology. And I've come to the basic conclusion that my initial take was correct. The Wizarding World doesn't know how to confront mental illness. They treat the symptoms, not the cause. Dreamless sleep potions. Calming draughts. Pepper-up potions. All that does not help the patient in the long run. As for counseling, some MediWitches or Wizards apparently are effective in helping patients by listening and suggesting behaviors that do help. But there are no guidelines or set therapies that I could find. It's really medieval!"

Harry nodded. "So what can I do?"

Hermione frowned. "I don't know. I'm not an expert or a therapist. Some say that a patient should be gently led to confront what happened to them and learn to deal with it, to put it behind them. And one should ensure that the patient live in a caring, supportive environment."

Harry gave her a hopeful look.

Hermione frowned. "I don't know, Harry. I'm out of my depth here. Maybe I'll ask Madam Pomfrey."

He closed his eyes in disappointment.

* * *

Just outside the door, Cissy frowned. She was still trying to understand why the Granger girl was taking such an interest in Belle. 'Why would she want to help us?' Cissy thought in confusion. 'After all, we're here with her ... love?'

Cissy's thoughts were interrupted as she heard to two begin to make their way to the door. She stepped back and made like she was doing something other than eavesdropping. Harry and Hermione stepped out of the library with preoccupied looks.

It was all Cissy could do to keep from gasping as she watched Harry, his sweaty sleeveless tee-shirt clinging to his chest. And those ridiculous snug Muggle jeans he insisted on buying and wearing-well, they didn't look so ridiculous now.

Cissy quickly walked into the sitting room and cast a chilling charm. Somehow, it felt like temperature in the room had climbed twenty degrees.

Author notes: I apologize for the delay in getting this chapter up. I went away for a fun weekend and, on my return, everything went to hell. My laptop had a system crash, and I lost my edits for this chapter. [Fortunately, I had my original on my desktop PC as well as on backup disks.] I then got sick, a persistent if relatively mild cold that just sort of drained my ambition. And I am entering a busy time at work on top of all that. [My, aren’t I full of excuses.]

I really appreciate your reviews. One note about something that keeps coming up in reviews from forgetful readers: Neville was killed in the final battle. So there will be no confrontation between him and Bellatrix, or him and Harry over Bellatrix.