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 08

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. This Chapter: The morning after; Some recognition at last; and the machinations begin.





* * *

Cissy woke up from one of the best nights of sleep she ever experienced. She lay on her side up against Harry. She had her left leg thrown up over his and felt his arm around her shoulder and under her back. She still had her head resting on his shoulder.

Last night had been a revelation. The first time they had made love, and that was what it was_making love, had been an overwhelming emotional experience for her. There seemed to be a sudden, unexpected connection between them that transcended her experience. It had taken them both the better part of a half hour to get over it. Then, with her encouragement, Harry began explore her as she explored him. She carefully coaxed him on what a woman wants, and he began to learn. The result was a slower, very sensual bout of lovemaking. Then, they both started to get playful, tickling, teasing and touching with abandon. Cissy sighed. She'd never made love three times in one night before. And, as awkward as Harry was at the start, she had never had a more satisfying night in her life.

She opened her eyes to see Harry staring at her. She almost laughed at the expression on his face. It was a mix of fear and wonder, anxiety and longing. She gave him a sleepy smile and leaned forward and gave him a tender, chaste kiss. "You were wonderful," she said in his ear.

Harry looked down. "I didn't mean to ..."

Cissy kissed him again and took him into her arms. "Thank you for letting me stay last night."

Harry sighed and gave a weak smile.

Cissy smiled, knowing what he was thinking. "You were wonderful," she repeated, and gave an internal chuckle to see him blush and smile.

"It's ... it's just that ... I never ... before," he stammered.

Cissy stared at him. "What?"

Harry blushed. "Well, I never had much time ... we were so busy ..."

Cissy pressed a hand over his mouth. "You mean last night was your first time?" she asked gently, but unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.

Harry turned his head in embarrassment and gave a small nod.

Cissy simply shook her head in wonder. "Well, you are a quick study. I figured you weren't that experienced, but I thought you had at least had a few broom closet romances at Hogwarts."

Harry continued to blush. "Well, once, last summer, Tonks and I were practicing until late at night and fell asleep on the floor. We kind of woke up groping each other ... but kind of got scared and stopped."

Cissy stared at him, then let out a laugh. "My niece? Nymphadora?"

Harry snorted. "She hates to be called that."

Cissy shook her head. "My sister Andromeda never had a lick of sense. First, she moves out after her sixth year to live with friends. Then she runs off and marries a Muggleborn wizard and disappears. Then names her daughter that." Cissy simply shook her head.

Harry frowned. "Tonks is real nice. I like her."

Cissy had a sudden thought, but let it pass for now. "There must be something wrong with the girls at Hogwarts," she said, shaking her head.

Harry again turned his head. "I wasn't allowed out of Hogwarts for my last two years of school. I couldn't ask anyone out 'cause I couldn't go to Hogsmeade or anything. I snuck out a few times, but you can't ask a girl out when you don't know if you'll even get out yourself."

Cissy frowned. "No girlfriends?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Well, I mostly just hung out. Hermione was usually there with me. And sometimes Ginny--you met her the other day."

Cissy raised her eyebrows. "Ginevra Weasley?"

Harry nodded.

Cissy smiled. "Your first time?" She gave him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Well, we'll have lots of time to practice some more," she whispered into his ear, holding back a chuckle.

Harry leaned back, his eyes wide. "You don't have to ..."

She threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Are you kidding? After last night?" she said with a laugh. "Now lets get washed up. I'm starved."

Harry sat up and, as he leaned over, suddenly jerked his hand up.

"What?" Cissy asked.

Harry frowned and looked back at the mattress. "It's damp," he muttered.

Cissy burst into laughter. "After last night, I'm surprised that the whole bed isn't one big wet spot."

* * *

Harry stared absently at the desk before him. There were notes from admirers, reports from the managers of his mines and estates, requests for appointments and interviews, a few isolated pleas for money, and a letter from Hermione.


I am sorry I missed seeing you on Saturday. My parents wanted me along for a visit to my relatives. It's always a bit dicey to see my cousins. I had to tell them I'm not going to university but will be entering a nursing apprenticeship program, if you can believe that!

My parents are a little worried as they see me slowly withdrawing from the Muggle world. I keep reassuring them that I will always be there for them as a major part of their lives. But still they worry. Maybe after Friday they will see that magic is not some sort of a weird cult, but a whole vibrant world that is simply hidden from the rest of what they know.

Speaking of Friday, I can't wait to see you there, all dressed up in your finery. I can't believe they are actually recognizing us for all we did to fight Voldemort. I can't believe we will all be awarded Orders of Merlin First class! Like Ron, I already received notice of the deposit of 50,000 Galleon honorarium in my Gringotts account weeks ago. But to actually receive the award in front of everyone! I hope I look all right.

Oh, did you know that there are only 17 people alive now that have been awarded the Order of Merlin First Class? I knew Professor Dumbledore and Alastor Moody had received one, but also Elpias Doge. Now, there will be eight more. I wish Neville had lived. I miss him. His grandmother must be so proud.

Did Ron contact you about whether you needed the two extra tickets for the table of honor? He wants Lavender to sit with him and his parents at the front table, even though she would be sitting at a table just a couple ranks behind us with the other Order of Merlin, Second Class, honorees. You're not bringing anyone, are you?

Well, I will see you on Friday at the awards ceremony. I'm told there will be dinner and dancing afterward. So be sure to bring your dancing shoes. I'll expect at least one dance!

And don't forget, we are expecting you for dinner a my parents on Sunday. I think my parents will have recovered from their encounter with the Wizarding world by then.

Love always,


* * *

Harry sighed. He wasn't looking forward to this ceremony. He was itching to get out of the Manor, having only left for a few brief shopping trips and his forays to the Malfoy and Lestrange Manors.

But being the center of attention at a large, formal Wizarding event was not something he wanted.

He had talked briefly to Narcissa about the event. He knew she wanted to go. And he needed her there with him to make sure he didn't put his elbows in the soup. But what about Belle?

Narcissa had become very quiet when he asked her. Finally, she had looked at him with sad eyes. "You can't bring Belle," she said quietly.

Harry understood. There would be too many people who had suffered at the hands of Death Eaters for Belle to show up. He was especially aware of the fact that Neville's grandmother would be there. She had lost everything, her grandson bravely in the final battle, and earlier, her son and daughter-in-law to catatonia at the hands of Belle herself.

Harry cursed. He wanted to hate Belle. He wanted to scream at her, to drive her from his sight, to consign her to Azkaban forever for what she had done.

But somehow, he couldn't.

The same Bellatrix Lestrange who had tortured the Longbottoms to insanity, who had cast the stunner that knocked Sirius through the Veil of Mystery, who had laughed at and taunted Harry in the Department of Mysteries, was a broken woman, wandering aimlessly through the Manor or haunting the library, barely speaking and rarely meeting his eyes, plagued by nightmares.

When he did talk to her or ride his broom with her, her eyes showed a level of gratitude for the attention and acknowledgement of her existence that chilled him and broke his heart.

She had committed crimes, terrible, terrible crimes. But she was his property, his ward, his responsibility.

Then his thoughts turned back to Cissy, as they had countless times that morning. He didn't know what to make of last night. It had been the most special, most wonderful night of his life. And he wanted more.

He wanted to feel her arms around him again. He wanted to hear her whisper his name, to moan his name, to talk to him intimately in that husky tone as she had last night. He wanted to get up and find her now, to take her in his arms and make love to her. He wanted to touch her. He wanted her to touch him. Would she be there for him tonight? Would she ever be there for him again?

He squeezed his eyes closed in frustration, growling as the paper in his hand crumpled.

* * *

Cissy was idly sorting through her correspondence and pondering several things, most prominently last night. She didn't know what to make of it. She couldn't really be in love with a man twenty years her junior, could she? She knew, though, that, if she were free and twenty years younger, he would be perfect for her. He was everything she thought she was getting in a man before her marriage, only to be devastated by the reality that was Lucius Malfoy. Harry made her feel things she never thought were in her.

But she was thirty-eight and he was ... would be, eighteen on Friday. No, she wouldn't think of such things. She would simply enjoy it.

She turned back to the parchments she had received over night. Her eyebrows rose. A reminder of the Order of Merlin award ceremony in a few days. She was desperate to go. But she knew there was no way Belle could go. She was a notorious Death Eater. If Belle were to show up, there would be a scene, maybe even a brawl. What was worse, Old Lady Longbottom would be there. Cissy knew Belle could never face the mother of the man she had helped destroy, and whose grandson was murdered by Death Eaters at the Battle of Murdick's Hill, as it was now being called. Cissy didn't think Belle could handle it. Not now. Maybe not ever.

She was so preoccupied that she didn't hear the door of the library open. She was startled to see Belle slip into the chair next to the desk Cissy had claimed as her own. "Morning," she said quietly.

Belle simply nodded, her head lowered. "I saw you with Harry this morning," she whispered.

Cissy sighed. "Yes, we slept together last night."

Belle took a deep breath. "You looked so beautiful together."

"Are you all right, Belle?"

Belle lowered her head. "Do you love him?" she whispered.

Cissy sat there, staring off into space for several moments. "He's younger than Draco," she said vaguely.

Belle continued to look down. "But do you love him?"

Cissy heaved a great sigh. "I don't know. Yes, I ... I don't know." She closed her eyes in an attempt to focus her thoughts.

Belle was now breathing heavily. "Does he love you?"

Cissy's eyes opened. "Oh lord, I don't know," she said in anxiety. Again, she closed her eyes, lowering her head. "I think he needs me. Maybe needs us ..."

Belle's eyes rose as she peered out from under the dark hair that fell across her forehead. "Do you think..." she said, then paused. She drew a deep breath. "... he could ever care for me ... forgive me?"

Cissy looked up at her sister. "He cares for you," she said softly, reaching across the small writing desk to grasp her sister's hand.

Belle simply hung her head, tears tracing down her cheek.

"Talk to him," Cissy said softly.

Belle looked up at her sister through blood-shot eyes. "I can't."

Cissy gave Belle's hand a squeeze. "Given time, I'm sure he'll forgive you."

Belle heaved a great sigh. "Even if he does," she said in the tiniest of voices. "He'll never ... you wouldn't ... share him."

Cissy suddenly drew back and leaned her head against the top of the tall chair, closing her eyes for a few moments. "Eventually, I'll have to," she finally said in an absent voice, the stray thought that passed through her mind this morning coming back to her.

Belle glanced up at her sister, a curious look on her face. "Why?"

Cissy sighed and looked through sad, half-closed eyes at Belle. After a moment's pause, she spoke the words she dreaded. "Because he's going to need something that neither of us can give him."

Belle gave her sister a curious look. "What?"

"An heir."

* * *

Harry had spent the better part of two hours on his broom after dinner, flying haphazardly around, lost in thought.

'Would she come to me tonight?' he kept thinking over and over again.

When it got too dark to fly, he made his way to his private office upstairs floor to check through the mounds of books on the dark arts that he had retrieved from the Malfoy and Lestrange estates that were too controversial to be put downstairs in the library or in his main office. He picked one up. A private printing of a 16th Century monograph on the use of human bone in potions and rituals. He shivered. Then he heard the chime of the clock on one of the bookshelves. Ten o'clock. Not too early to go to his bed.

He slowly padded down the corridor, past Belle's bedroom, to his own room at the front corner of the Manor. He cast a glance down the next corridor toward Cissy's bedroom. Was she there? Would she come to him tonight? He frowned and turned to enter his room when he heard her softly call his name.

She came to him with a determined stride. "Belle went to bed early," she whispered. "So I decided to wait for you up here."

* * *

They were nearly naked, kissing each other with a passionate intensity, when they heard the moan, and then the cry.

Harry grimaced. 'No!' he thought angrily. 'Not now!'

Cissy lowered her head and sighed. Slowly, she rose, wearing only her knickers. She wandered over to Harry's closet and grabbed a light dressing gown and tossed it to him. Then she found another and donned it and began walking out of the room.

Harry angrily grabbed his dressing gown and his wand and stalked out of the room behind her.

When he got there, he saw Belle curled up in the fetal position, shivering and whimpering. He didn't know what her other nightmares were, but this he could readily identify as one of her Azkaban nightmares. They were the least violent but, in many ways, the most disturbing. Even after she would awaken, she would continue to shiver for nearly an hour afterwards.

Cissy had already gotten into the bed and had begun embracing Belle and rubbing her back soothingly.

Harry gave her a look, but Cissy simply motioned with her eyes for him to get on the other side and embrace Belle from the back.

Grudgingly, Harry got into the bed and began to reassure Belle.

After nearly a half hour, Harry realized that Belle's shivering had stopped and she was asleep. He glanced over her in the light of the single candle, only to see Cissy on the opposite side, sound asleep.

Harry turned on his back. He was furious. He didn't know how he thought about Belle. But at the moment, he absolutely hated her.

* * *

"So how often has she had these nightmares again?"

Harry frowned. "At the start, it was three or four times a week," he said quietly, then paused in thought. "Now, maybe once or twice a week."

Poppy Pomfrey frowned and nodded. "And you had people from St. Mungo's in?"

Harry grimaced. "A woman named O'Brien a couple weeks ago, then a man named Singleton last week."

Pomfrey snorted. "O'Brien is a fool. She's a senior MediWitch, but she has absolutely no sensitivity at all. She probably made matters worse. And Singleton is under her. He probably was terrified he'd say something to contradict old Maggie, and was probably useless. What did they say?"

Harry fiddled with a quill on his desk in his private office as he faced his old friend and nemesis from Hogwarts. "O'Brien said Belle was singularly uncooperative and that she doubtless was feeling the well-deserved guilt for all her crimes. She gave me a supply of dreamless sleep potion and a small booklet about it use. Singleton was even less helpful. He said Belle should be locked up in the mental ward at St. Mungo's."

Pomfrey shook her head in annoyance.

Harry nodded. "I've heard about how they treat people in those wards from Hermione. I will not send Belle away," he stated flatly.

Pomfrey clucked in sympathy. "Well, Bellatrix was a spirited girl when she was at Hogwarts. Something of a troublemaker at times, unlike her sister. Her parents were domineering, and Hogwarts was like a refuge to her. But once she left and married Rodolphus, it was like she disappeared off the face of the Earth. The next I heard, she was a Death Eater. Then she was captured and sent to Azkaban. You probably know more about the rest of her history than I do. It took a lot of us by surprise how she ended up. I would have thought she was more like her sister Andromeda than any of those who ended up in the Dark Lord's service."

Harry stared at the old healer in surprise. "Did she talk to you?"

Poppy frowned. "No. She talked about how she was now being punished for her crimes, that she was doing her penance. And that you and Narcissa were taking care of her. And that she really cared for both of you and how sorry she was for being a burden. She really cares for you, Harry."

Harry lowered his head. "We try to take care of her when she's having really rough nightmares. We try to comfort her. That's all."

Pomfrey nodded. "You are probably doing more for her than all the healers in St. Mungo's could ... or would," she said, reaching out to pat Harry's hand. "Just keep talking to her. Try to get her to open up to you. Maybe if you find out exactly what's troubling her beyond the obvious and try to understand it, you can help her through this. Help her put it behind her," she said softly. "For your sake as much as hers."

Harry just shrugged. "I hate to leave her alone tomorrow night. But I just couldn't take her along. It would be too much. She would probably be subjected to all sorts of abuse and disrupt the ceremony."

Pomfrey gave a sad smile. "She'll do all right, I think." Then she gave Harry a speculative smile. "So you're bringing along Narcissa? That should be interesting."

Harry frowned. "I hate these things. Narcissa knows what to do and will keep me out of trouble. Why?"

Poppy gave Harry a speculative smile. "You've read the papers. Well, there has been some speculation in the Wizarding World about how you are 'punishing' the 'notorious Black Sisters.' Most of it salacious, I should warn you. Whips and chains and that sort of thing feature prominently in some of the more idle gossip," she said with a smile.

Harry simply growled.

Poppy burst into laughter, the first time Harry had even seen her laugh. "Having met both Bellatrix and Narcissa, I must say they hide their scars well."

Harry rolled his eyes.

"I will see you at the awards ceremony," Pomfrey said as she rose.

* * *

Harry fretted as he looked in the mirror. He felt like the high wraparound collar of his formal shirt and the white silk bow tie were nearly strangling him. He went to tug on his collar again, but Belle's hand stopped him.

"I've loosened it twice already," she said in exasperation. "Leave it alone."

Harry glanced at the figure in the mirror. "Listen, Belle, I'm sorry we can't take you along. I'll make it up to you."

Belle gave him a wistful look. "It's all right, Harry," she said softly. "I understand. I'll be fine. At least you're bringing Cissy. She always enjoyed these things more than I did."

Harry lowered his eyes and nodded. Then he glanced back at Belle. "Where is she?"

Belle gave him a mischievous smile. "She'll be ready soon." She then helped him into his formal black frock coat and black silk robes.

Harry frowned. "A little tight, aren't they?"

Belle smiled. "They are charmed to be that way, without constricting your movements. You look wonderful."

Harry grumped. "We're going to be late. We're probably late already."

"No we're not," came a voice from his doorway.

Harry turned to see Cissy in a light traveling cloak with a hood. "Why the cloak?"

Cissy smiled. "The better to make an entrance," she said with a devious smile. "Listen, everyone will be there early except for the Order of Merlin awardees and those who have received it in the past. Each will be announced as we enter. You will be the last. I'll make sure of it. Now come along."

Harry shook his head and grabbed the formal invitation Cissy held. "Portus," he exclaimed and they were gone.

* * *

Harry landed unsteadily in a small anteroom with Cissy by his side. He was surprised to see she now had the hood of her cloak up. "Wait here," she said quietly and slipped out of the room.

In a few moments, she slipped back in. "It's all arranged."

Harry blinked in confusion. "What's all arranged?"

Suddenly, Hermione appeared in the doorway with a look of panic on her face. "Harry! You're finally here! They've already started bringing us out!"

Harry stared at the fretting girl. She looked beautiful, in a full formal gown and robes in a pale blue, her hair pinned up with a few loose curls framing her face. "Wow, Hermione," he said as he stared. "You look wonderful."

Hermione suddenly stopped in mid-tirade to blush. "Do you really think so?"

Harry gave her a warm smile and kissed her cheek. "Beautiful," he whispered.

Then a black-clad functionary appeared in the anteroom. "Headmaster Dumbledore just left. You are next, Miss Granger," he droned. "Ah, Mr. Potter," he said more brightly. "You will be last, just after Mr. Weasley and party."

Hermione gave Harry a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek before running off to see her parents, who looked somewhat bemused in their formal robes.

Cissy, still in her hooded cloak, took Harry's arm and escorted him into a larger waiting room in time to see Hermione and her parents escorted out the door and down a corridor toward the main entrance to what must be the grand ballroom of the Avalon Hotel, the most prestigious and expensive in the Wizarding World.

Ron was almost immediately at him, giving him a rough and uncertain hug before backing off. "Gawd, Harry. Where've you been? I could have used some help here. Do I look all right? Lavender says I look fine, but I feel like I'm going to my own funeral."

Harry laughed. Ron looked almost dignified in his formal robes of deep forest green. Suddenly, Lavender was by his side. "Hi, Harry," she exclaimed. "Thank you for letting me use one of your invitations." She then turned to her boyfriend. "Let's go Ron. It's time."

The functionary in black rounded up Ron, along with Lavender and Arthur and Molly Weasley, and escorted them down the corridor.

Harry, along with Cissy, followed the group at a discrete distance.

Harry watched them pass through a large, ornate gilded archway and heard three thumps. "Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley and guests, Mr. Arthur Weasley, Mrs. Molly Prewett Weasley, and Miss Lavender Brown," a stentorian voice announced.

Harry heard polite applause coming from the room within. He did not see Cissy give a nod to the first functionary who, in turn, nodded to the Master at Arms making the introductions.

Suddenly, Harry felt a hand at his back firmly guiding him to the archway. He saw the Master at Arms, resplendent in formal black robes with gild trim, lift a heavy staff and thump it down three times.

"Mr. Harry James Potter ..." the Master at Arms announced, then paused as Harry looked down at the ballroom ten steps below. It was crowded with over a thousand witches and wizards, all in their finest formalwear, standing and looking at him.

Suddenly, the applause started.

Harry wanted to glance around in a panic, or maybe run for his life. But Cissy had insisted he stand there and take it like a man.

The applause lasted nearly 30 seconds before it began to die down a little.

Suddenly, the Master at Arms audibly cleared his throat. "...and guest, Miss Narcissa Black."

The crowd, who had continued to applaud, now took on a slightly shocked aspect as Cissy joined Harry in the archway. As she stood there, her arm looped in Harry's, she was absolutely devastating. She was wearing a gossamer thin black formal silk robe and a simple but elegant black formal dress that set off her light blond hair perfectly

Many people had remembered Narcissa Malfoy at such affairs on Lucius's arm, dressed in as expensive robes and gowns as could be obtained. Yet to see her there, her head held high, in something so simple, yet so very perfect for her, was a shock and a revelation. She was beautiful.

As Harry and Cissy made their way down the stairs and down the main aisle following another functionary leading them to their table, the applause slowly gave way to murmurs and stares. Cissy ignored it all and gave Harry's arm a reassuring squeeze.

As they reached the table of honor at the front left of the hall, Harry was relieved to see the familiar faces of Hermione, Ron and Lavender, as well as Mr. & Mrs. Weasley and Hermione's parents.

He also noticed with interest Neville's grandmother, along with another elderly woman who he could not identify.

Hermione immediately grabbed Harry's arm. Once Harry saw that Cissy was seated, he sat down next to Hermione, "I didn't know you were bringing her," she whispered in Harry's ear.

Harry shrugged as he nodded to the others at the table, then frowned at Ron's smirk and wink. "She's been to a million of these things. I knew she'd help me through this."

Hermione scowled, but Harry squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.

They turned their attention to the dais, where Cornelius Fudge was acting as Master of Ceremonies. There were several other Ministry officials up there, along with Professor Dumbledore.

Harry surveyed the room.

"Former Merlin winners are at the front tables next to us," Cissy whispered. "The other new awardees are at the table across the aisle," she explained.

Fudge, of course, was in his element, making a speech about bravery, dedication, and devotion to the highest Wizarding ideals. Then he read off the twenty names of the winners of the Order of Merlin third class. Harry was happy to hear the names of many of the members of his Defense Association, along with Madam Pomfrey. Then he heard the fourteen names of the Merlin, Second Class, awardees, and shed a silent tear when he heard the names of Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst, and Wayne Hopkins, along with Peter Nimms and Robert Paquin from Slytherin, all Hogwarts students who he had taught and who died in the final battle. And he was surprised to hear Professor Flitwick and Alastor Moody also received the award, along with Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood.

Finally, Fudge read the names of each individual to come up to receive their Order or Merlin, First Class. First were three Aurors, who Harry knew were actually Unspeakables. These three had rescued Hermione, Ron, and Luna, who were close to being overwhelmed after holding off nearly two dozen Death Eaters to allow Harry to make a his final breakthrough to defeat Voldemort. Unfortunately, they were too late for Neville, who had been instrumental in freeing Harry to make his charge. Then Albus Dumbledore, for coordinating the final battle, leading the war against Voldemort, and casting the final anti-apparation spell with Flitwick and Moody that pinned down the Death Eaters.

Then it was Hermione's turn. She received polite applause, but Harry could see certain tables sitting on their hands. Then Ron, who received thunderous applause from a few tables in the back, as well as hooting and cheering from several red-headed siblings scattered around the hall.

Then Neville's name was announced. Harry was the first to rise to applaud, tears in his eyes, as Matilda Longbottom slowly made her way to the podium to receive her late grandson's award.

Finally, Harry's name was announced. He slowly and sadly rose and made his way up to receive his award. When he got there, Fudge grabbed his hand and shook for nearly 30 seconds as flashbulbs popped relentlessly. Fudge then turned Harry around and affixed the medal around his neck. The medal was a simple gold disk with a shield quartered in Red, Green, Blue and Yellow with a Black 'M' imposed on top.

Harry was desperate to return to his table, but Fudge again grabbed his hand and shook it for a prolonged few moments. Then Fudge stopped. "I think everyone would like to hear a few worlds from the wizard who saved us all."

Harry sighed as the crowd applauded. Cissy had warned him about this and coached him just to thank everyone politely.

Harry closed his eyes and sighed. Feeling Fudge suddenly cast another sonorous charm, Harry slowly cast his eyes around the room. "I'd like to thank everyone who helped the side of light in this war ..." then he paused. "I've been told that the last twenty-six wizards and witches to be given this award were honored not for developing new spells or charms or curing diseases, but for fighting in battles against dark forces. It is a shame that such a nice ceremony like this came at the expense of so much unnecessary bloodshed. If I never see another Order of Merlin awarded in my lifetime, I will be happy."

There were some startled faces in the crowd, but many simply nodded.

Harry took a deep breath. "I'd just like to acknowledge some of the people I lost in this war. My parents, James and Lily Potter. Cedric Diggory. Sirius Black ..."

There were a few gasps from the crowd.

"...Hestia Jones. Mundungus Fletcher. Peter Nimms. Robert Paquin. Wayne Hopkins. Mandy Brocklehurst. Terry Boot. And one of my best friends in all the world, Neville Longbottom. I hope they didn't die in vain," he said solemnly and, before Fudge had a chance for another round of handshakes, turned and stepped down from the platform.

He glanced around and was surprised to see a few tables were not joining in the applause. Then he noticed a elegant but imposing-looking old man at one of the tables reserved for past Merlin award winners scowl at those tables and suddenly stand, applauding. Harry was startled to see some of those quiet tables begin to rise and applaud, as well.

As he returned to his table, he was greeted by Cissy and Hermione, who each embraced him in turn. Then he looked up to see Neville grandmother, tears in her eyes, step forward and embrace him as well. "Thank you, young man," she managed to whisper.

* * *

"Who is the old lady sitting with Mrs. Longbottom?" Harry whispered to Cissy. The meal was over and the tables were being magically rearranged to provide room for dancing.

"That's Marie Abbott. She's an old friend of Matilda," Cissy replied. "She's about all Mrs. Longbottom has left. You know her granddaughter, Hannah."

Harry nodded.

Then he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. It was that imposing-looking old man he had seen before. Harry rose.

The man had a face that looked like it was carved in granite. He had steel gray hair and piercing gray-blue eyes. His presence was such that he seemed huge next to Harry, even though they were about the same height.

"Marcus Cameron," the man said in a deep resonant voice, as he held out his hand.

Harry shook it and found that he hand was nearly enveloped in the old man's. "Harry ... Harry Potter," he said quietly.

The old man nodded. "I have wanted to meet you for a while. I knew your great-grandfather. Fought by his side."

Harry nodded in confusion.

The old man acknowledged the nod. "I was hoping you would permit me a dance with my god-daughter."

Again, Harry blinked in confusion, but was rescued by Cissy, who smiled and took the old man's arm. "I would love a dance, Uncle Marcus."

As he watched this odd couple make their way to the dance floor, he felt a hand on his arm. "Harry ..." Hermione said in a tentative voice. "Would you like to dance?"

It was a slow dance, so Harry shrugged. "Sure."

As they embraced, he again thought how pretty Hermione looked tonight. He felt her tighten her embrace and tightened his in return. She gave him a quick smile and rested her head on his shoulder as they slowly swayed to the music.

Harry sighed happily. Hermione felt so good in his arms. This was what he wanted. It was what he always wanted.

Then he thought of Cissy. Being with her was also what he had wanted, what he had needed for all these years.

As these thoughts passed his mind, he tightened his grip around Hermione's waist and heard her sigh in contentment.

* * *

For the next hour, Harry and Hermione ended up dancing together or simply sitting and talking together or with her parents and the Weasleys. Harry occasionally glanced around in search of Cissy, and usually spotted her talking with one group or another. He frowned a little as proprietary thoughts regarding Cissy passed through his mind.

Then he again felt another hand on his shoulder. "If you'll excuse us for a moment?" Cissy said with a polite smile. Then she turned to Harry. "There are some people I'd like you to meet."

Harry frowned and Hermione pouted a moment as he rose to follow Cissy. Soon he found himself at a table across the room. "Harry Potter, I'd like to introduce you to Martin Zabini and his wife, Cherie. And, of course, you know their daughter Blaise. Oh, and please meet Daniel Abbott and his wife, Cordelia. And you also should know their daughter Hannah. And this is their other daughter, Eve."

Harry blinked. Hannah he knew well from the Defense Association. She had been one of the recipients of an Order of Merlin, Third Class. She always had a fresh-faced look, but he had never seen her pretty as tonight. Then he turned to Blaise. He had been in Potions class with her for seven years, and Care of Magical Creatures for five years, but had never paid attention to her. She was quiet, reserved, and never seemed to take an active role in the Slytherin taunting of all things Gryffindor. As he looked at her closely for the first time, he realized she had a smoldering beauty, with rich dark brown hair and sensuous deep blue eyes. After pleasantries were exchanged, he couldn't help but glance back at Hannah and, especially, Blaise.

"As I was saying, we were thinking of holding a small get-together at the Manor, just Harry's old school friends. I am sure he would love for your daughters to attend," Cissy rattled on.

Harry suddenly looked at Cissy. This was the first he had heard of this. Not that it was a bad idea, he thought. Then he glanced back at Blaise, who seemed to be giving him an appraising look. Then she smiled. It was a knowing, even approving smile.

Then he felt Cissy tugging at his elbow and she led him back to his table.

Soon, he was back talking with Hermione, and now with Lavender and a complaining Ron, who claimed his feet would be sore for a week after all that dancing. 'I'm actually having fun,' Harry thought in surprise. But every so often, his thoughts would drift back to the laughing apple-cheeked face of Hannah and the haunting dark blue eyes of Blaise.

As Cissy stood and glanced around, she saw two more acquaintances casually making their way toward her. And she smiled to herself. 'Yes, Narcissa Black was back.'

Author notes: I am so grateful by the review response. I appreciate the reviews, especially how thoughtful so many are. There are too many to address individually. I know many of you are shocked by the notion of a 38-year-old Narcissa bedding Harry. This fic will have a few more shocks in it as it begins to open up. After all, Harry has been through 18 years of angst [as of the beginning of this story], and you have to know that things will now be all sweetness and light for him now that Voldemort is gone. At least not yet. I will continue to try to update more frequently. Again, thank you for your comments. I hope you enjoyed this chapter.