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harry potter
Chapter 13: The Ring of Mykele

NOTE: Not original? Not mine. And now for the next exciting installment! Read, Review and Enjoy!

 
 

Hermione sat down in the grass and the others circled in around her as she showed them the relevant page in the book. "What we are searching for is the Ring of Mykele." She announced proudly.

"The ring of what now?" Ron asked looking confused.

"Mick- elle." She said sounding it out for them. As Harry leaned in closer to her to read the passage, she felt her heart beat faster and hoped he couldn’t hear it.

"Hermione, this is in Latin." He said, scratching his head.

"I know. I learned it when I was ten from my parents." She answered nonchalantly. Everyone appeared impressed, but she wasn’t exactly pleased by their accolades. There were a lot of other things she had wanted to do the summer her parents had forced her to learn the dead language, but knowledge was always prized far over experience in her home, regardless her argument that the two were linked.

"Well, what does the ring do?" Ginny asked.

"Like Lupin told us, it has many powers. Most of them the wandless kind." Hermione began, searching through the text for the relevant lines.

"Well, what’s the one that is supposed to interest me so much?" Harry ran his hands through his hair nervously.

"Let’s see, it can make the wearer invisible just by thinking it." She quickly translated, finding it easier to look at the book than at him.

"Harry has a cloak for that." Ron said. "Though I suppose it is a bit cumbersome."

"It can also let you read one’s thoughts." She added.

"Voldemort can do that, so that’s not why he would want it." Ginny pointed out.

Harry had confessed to Hermione that it felt like sometimes he could read minds too, but neither one of them was about to tell that to anyone else. He had worried that it was one more way he was connected to Voldemort. "It allows the wearer to see in the dark." She went on quickly, catching onto Harry’s anxiousness.

"That one’s cool." George grinned. "No wand light to give you away."

"Is that it?" Fred asked her as he too leaned to look at the book, as if he’d be able to read what he saw.

"Well, there’s one more thing, but it’s been scratched out." She pointed to where someone had blackened the page. Underneath the scribbling someone had written in English: You have found the second clue. I delay no further. As you can see, this Ring is extraordinary, but there is yet one power to uncover. Look to the thing that lives, yet should not. It is a dangerous being to keep at a school, yet can offer protection of a secret way. Know the way to calm it, and you will find the next clue upon it.

"Your mum sure did like her riddles, didn’t she?" Fred sighed.

"So what’s alive here that shouldn’t be?" Ginny asked the group. They all thought awhile. Then Ron’s stomach growled loudly and they decided to save the clue for later.

"Thanks, Mione. You’re the best." Harry whispered with a grateful smile before he and the Weasley kids went in to shower before lunch. With an airy feeling of satisfaction, Hermione went to fetch Neville and Luna and tell them of her discovery.

(BREAK)

Luna was excited that Hermione had finally made progress with the book. Though she still didn’t know exactly what they were searching for, she did know that it was important for Harry to have it. She’d been shown so many things recently, things no one else was supposed to know. She desperately wanted to tell her new friends what they were in for, but she couldn’t. The best she could do was guide them and even then she wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing. Part of her couldn’t stand the burden of her secrets anymore and just wanted to find some way to make it all end for good.

Entering the Great Hall, Luna decided to take advantage of the less strict seating restrictions of the weekend meals and went to sit with Harry, Ron and the rest of her Gryffindor friends. After all, there weren’t many people in her own house who cared for her company and she’d rather be near people who at least liked having her around. Moving quickly, she took the empty seat next to Ron, forcing Harry and Hermione to the other side of the table. She caught their amusement and wished Ron were as perceptive as they seemed to be. Perhaps it was time she start being less subtle in her own feelings, though her rather high self-confidence just couldn’t quite extend to her romantic aspirations. Maybe if she was more certain, maybe if she had seen something that gave her a more definite answer as to how her affection would be received… But there was some comfort in knowing that eventually things between her and Ron would be settled one way or the other. She knew how she’d like it to turn out, but she didn’t hold out any great hope. She knew what he and everyone else had thought of her, how often they used the words "weird", "strange", or "odd" to describe her… and unfortunately it seemed Harry was changing his mind about her faster than Ron.

She felt so alone all the time, though that was partly her own fault. She knew what she had to do, how to act and what to say to be accepted… but she’d always done what felt right to her and simply dealt with others disapproval of her disregard for normalcy. After her mother had died in such a silly and thoughtless way, she’d been cruelly teased and this led her to believe that she didn’t want to be accepted by the other kids. Now that she was older, she found that there was a part of her that did want to feel a part of a group, to have someplace she belonged. Ginny had whole-heartedly taken to her, Harry and Hermione were both on their way to really liking her… it was Ron who was the hold-out, the one still questioned what he felt about Luna and why, and she knew it. All she could do was hope he’d continue to come around. Until then, she supposed she would focus on the clues with everyone else and so she picked up her book and pretended to read as she listened to them all discuss the latest development.

(BREAK)

"Maybe Moony can help us with the second clue." Ron said after his third helping, reverting to Lupin’s nickname while they were in public.

"Yeah, he didn’t know where the clues led, so maybe the bickeross potion won’t work against them to find this Ring of Michael." Fred added.

"Mykele." Hermione corrected. "Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It was like a game to them."

"What?" Ron asked, his mouth full.

"Be more disgusting Ron, please." Ginny scolded sarcastically.

"Hiding it, making clues. You all know that the Marauders liked to play games." Harry said, catching onto Hermione’s train of thought. "Maybe this time they did hide the ring out of necessity, but it certainly seems that they still made a game of it. And this time they roped in my mum to help."

"Your mum probably secretly liked the thrill as much as the boys did, otherwise why would she have helped at all?" Luna said absently from behind a book called ‘Modern Witches and the Horrible Creatures that Hunt Them.’ Harry smiled as Hermione made a face at the title. He knew she was only interested in useful information, not made up nonsense and he liked that she so enjoyed learning. But then, a part of him liked that Luna read those strange books, it seemed to let her see things from a whole different perspective. He realized he was beginning to come a bit closer to understanding her… if that was even possible, which he still wasn’t sure it was.

"Why would it being like a game mean anything?" Ron asked after he swallowed. "Other than that they made a tedious responsibility into fun."

"Well, think about it. Suppose they one day decided to come get the ring back. They would want it to be as difficult as possible, right? So they would do everything they could to ensure that they would receive no outside help, even from themselves. Make it a contest to see who would find it first." Hermione shrugged.

"So you’re saying Moony will refuse to help us?" Fred asked.

"Not so much refuse as be unable." Harry reasoned. "I think what Hermione is trying to say is that they probably found some way of keeping themselves from helping each other or anyone else. He did say that they mistrusted Peter, so they probably used the strongest potion possible. Could have been precaution as well as a contest."

"So no one will be able to help us?" Neville asked timidly.

"We’ll help each other." Harry assured him. "I just don’t think Moony will be able to figure out the clues for us."

"Still doesn’t hurt to ask." Ginny said and no one could argue with her point. So after lunch, they made their way to the Defense classroom and found Lupin in his office writing a letter. He was so focused on what he was writing that he didn’t notice them all come in.

"Is it a love letter?" Ron asked, sneaking up behind Lupin and startling him so badly he nearly fell out of his chair.

"No. Just a regular letter." He said turning red and quickly putting the paper in his drawer.

"To whom?" Ron asked with false sweetness.

"Um, Tonks." He answered quietly.

"Are you writing her poetry?" He continued to tease as Harry, Fred and George stood behind him grinning.

"Leave him alone, Ron." Hermione scolded with a face that looked much like the one Mrs. Weasley made when disciplining her children.

"It’s Saturday, I figured I’d be student free." Lupin said by way of an apology. "What can I do for you all?"

"We found the second clue and were wondering if you could help us." Harry answered as Hermione showed him the passage in the book and the clue Lily had written under it.

Lupin studied it for some time, running his fingers wistfully over the words as he allowed his thoughts to wander back to that time when Lily had been alive to write them. When he finally opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out. After awhile he shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, guess that’s the potion working. It won’t let me tell you what I think."

"Maybe if you wrote it down?" Ginny suggested as Neville handed him a new piece of parchment. He tried, but every time he went to write, he dropped the quill due to sudden finger spasms. "Guess not." She said after his fourth attempt.

"Sorry." He said again. They stayed and had tea with him, trying several roundabout ways of getting through the potion.

Once it was clear they would be receiving no help from Lupin, the one who had started them on this quest, they politely said their good-byes, which seemed to suit the professor just fine. Harry grinned as he followed the others, knowing his friend was anxious to get back to his letter. Deciding to continue enjoying the weather, they headed outside to the tree by the lake.

After throwing around ideas for awhile, Luna turned to Hermione. "Does it say anything about this Michael guy?"

"Mykele." Hermione corrected again but Harry could hear the agitation in her voice. He saw that the twins had also picked up on her annoyance and he took in the wicked grin they shared. He smiled to himself and guessed that Hermione was in for a hell of a time, knowing how they liked to push people’s buttons. "Let me see." She scanned the page.

"Why would knowing stuff about him help us?" Ron asked Luna.

"I don’t know, I was just curious. You never know when knowing things will come in handy." She answered mysteriously, while looking pointedly at Harry, as if she were trying to give him a hint about something… what it was he had no idea.

"Yeah, this Michael guy did make the ring after all." Fred added, shooting a smirk in Hermione’s direction.

"Mykele." She said, glaring at him before clearing her throat and turning back to the book. "It says he was a great inventor of many powerful objects used by many of the world’s most powerful witches and wizards. He was considered a genius in his craft, though he unfortunately met his end while in the process of creating a hat for his son, who was an Auror. The hat was supposed to kill any person who placed it on their head and he mistook it for one of his own one day when preparing to go out."

"I wouldn’t call someone who did that a genius!" Fred laughed.

Ron gave his brother a little push. "It’s not funny."

"Does it mention anything else about the ring?" Harry asked impatiently.

"Well, here’s something. It says he made the ring as a gift for Godric Gryffindor."

"Why?" Ginny asked.

Hermione turned the page and sighed. "That part has been scratched out too. Looks like it would have given away the last power or something."

"Wait, let me see the clue again!" George said excitedly. He reread it, his eyes growing wide as he shook his head. "Of course! It protects a secret entrance and is dangerous. Why didn’t I see it before!"

"What?" Everyone asked. Harry’s heart was in his throat.

"The Whomping Willow!" George answered excitedly.

"You may be right!" Hermione exclaimed taking the book back. "It lives but shouldn’t. Trees are alive all right, but this one is animated! And it guards the way to the shrieking shack, plus if you push the knob that Crookshanks found, it calms it so you can get by!"

They all excitedly ran over to the tree, which immediately began thrashing when Neville got too close. "Be careful." Ron warned him before turning to the others. "So, who’s going to push the knob?"

"I’ll go." Harry volunteered. "This thing was supposed to be for me anyway." He walked slowly to the edge of its reaches and took a deep breath. Then he jumped in, dodging branches and leaping for the lever.

"Harry, Watch out!" He heard Hermione scream. The branch came out of nowhere and scooped him up throwing him several feet. He felt his body thud against the ground as the wind was knocked out of him. His friends ran over yelling his name as he sat up with a wince, his glasses cracked and his arm bleeding.

"Occulous reparo." Hermione instantly pointed her wand at his face.

"Well, that didn’t work." He said, shakily getting to his feet with Ron and Fred’s help.

"Maybe we should all go for it together." Luna suggested, gazing dreamily at the tree.

"Yeah, it’ll be harder for it to get all eight of us and at least one should be able to get there." George agreed. Together they all turned and faced the tree and after counting to three, they ran in. Harry didn’t look anywhere but his at his target and once again he almost made it before being grabbed up. This time he hung on to his branch for dear life, praying that someone had succeeded.

A few violently dizzying seconds later, the tree stopped moving and Harry carefully climbed down, the world still spinning under his feet and forcing him to sit. "Who made it?" He asked once assured that everyone was safely on the ground. Ginny raised her hand proudly. "Good job." He said as he surveyed the rest of the group. They all had cuts and scrapes, their clothes were torn and leaves were tangled in their hair. All in all, not as bad as it could have been.

Once they all caught their breath and collected themselves, they split up and began examining the wide tree trunk, looking for anything that was carved into the wood. Harry stopped at a spot where he found J.P. and L.E cut decisively into the trunk. He touched the initials- his parents’ initials- feeling sad and sorry for himself.

"I think I found it!" Neville called suddenly from the other side. They all gathered around him and gasped. A brief paragraph had been magically seared into the wood far above anyone but Hagrid’s eye-line. Harry looked up and read the words that revealed the last power of the ring. It took a few moments to fully comprehend their meaning as his mind tried to reject what his eyes were seeing. Feeling his chest tighten with emotions he couldn’t even describe, he reached up trying to touch his mother’s message.

"Harry?" Hermione put a scraped and bleeding hand on his shoulder.

"We have to find this ring." He said turning to the others with a new determination. He would see that he used this last power if it was the last thing he ever did.





A/N: Sorry to leave you hanging. Actually, I’m not, because it’s more fun for me this way. Please keep those reviews coming because they make me feel good. And if you didn’t like something, please let me know, I’m all about feedback. BTW in the next chapter, someone dies.

Chapter 14: Secrets and Loss

NOTE: You know what goes here so I’m not going to write it. Real quick note about this chapter, someone dies, someone innocent, someone who’s a friend. They are a semi-main character. Don’t get mad at me, I’m just the medium through which the words flow. Please review and please enjoy. I write for the reader, let me know you guys are out there.

 

 

The new marauders were all in the Gryffindor common room talking excitedly about what they had discovered, Luna once again using Harry’s cloak to gain easy entry. Harry, however, was sitting apart from the others, not knowing exactly what he was feeling. He sat in front of the fireplace, staring at the bright, golden-orange flames as they licked at the wood he fed them and thinking about how he now wanted that ring more than anything else in the world. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that Hermione was staring at him, worried about the effect this new development would have on him.

He hadn’t said anything to anyone since they had returned to the castle after copying down Lily’s words. Now as the voices of his friends faded into the background, he sighed and took out the folded piece of paper, rereading the long passage for the hundredth time.

You have reached the third clue. Let your reward be knowledge. The last power of the Ring of Mykele is the power to speak with the dead. When you find the ring, you will know how to use this power. For now, here is your next clue. In a nearby town, there is a secret house. One you have never seen. In this house, there is an antique store owned by my friend. Very few people know of it. She will ask you three questions. Answer all and she will lead you. To reach this house, you must know the words. They are hidden here in this clue. L-E .....Remember

Harry was stumped. It could be any of the words, any number of them. They had all agreed that the town was Hogsmeade, as there was no other village nearby that she could have visited while at school. But where and more importantly, how was he supposed to find a secret hidden house?

"Well, we won’t be able to do anything until our first Hogsmeade weekend." Ginny voice broke through his reverie, but he still kept his back to them and they seemed content to let him have his space.

"And that isn’t for three weeks yet. We have plenty of time to work on the clue." Neville added optimistically. Harry felt himself getting angry and desperate. He wanted- no… he needed the ring now. He wanted to talk to Sirius and his parents. He wanted to apologize to Cedric Diggory.

"Harry? It’s dinner time." Hermione came to kneel in front of him, gently reaching out to rub his arm. Her hand was now bandaged as they had visited the hospital wing upon reentering the castle. Madame Pomfrey had asked that they not make their visit a weekly ritual this year after she had fixed everyone up. Harry felt another twinge of anger mixed with guilt and still said nothing as he rose to follow them to the Great Hall.

He kept his silence all throughout dinner and wound up going to bed early. However sleep was an impossibility as his mind continued to race with thoughts of the past and the ways he wished it were different. He tossed and turned until his roommates finally came up to go to sleep themselves. Noticing he was still awake, Ron gave him a small smile of support. "Maybe you should talk to Moony." He said quietly as he climbed into his own bed.

"And what good would that do?" Harry asked, letting loose his first words since finding the clue and unable to hide his grumpiness.

Ron’s grin quickly faded. "I don’t know, tell him-"

"Tell him what? That we know what the ring does? That I’d do anything to get it? He won’t be able to help." He flung the covers away from his suddenly hot skin.

"Just-" But Ron was interrupted as Harry leapt out of bed.

"I’m going downstairs to work on some homework or something. I know I won’t be able to sleep." He left the room with his books saying goodnight to his roommates. He felt tense all over, his muscles tight and anxious to move- like he needed to run endlessly for miles.

When he reached the common room, he wasn’t surprised to see Hermione sitting in a chair in front of the fire with a book on her lap. "Couldn’t sleep either?" She asked. "I figured you’d be down here sooner or later."

"You called it then." He threw his books on the couch and slumped in the chair across from her.

"What’s going on Harry? What are you thinking?"

"That I almost wish Lupin had never given me that parchment. If I can’t find this ring, if I know I could talk to them and don’t get to... I don’t know." The words slipped easily from his mouth. She made it so easy to be honest.

"Well, maybe this will help." She moved to sit next to him on the arm of his chair and showed him the book she had been reading. "After dinner I went to the library to see what I could find on this Mykele guy and I came across this: He made the ring for Godric Gryffindor so that he could communicate with his wife, who had died two weeks after the school was first opened. Her name was Selene."

"Selene Gryffindor. What does any of that have to with now?" he asked.

"I don’t know. Luna said it was important that we know the history behind the ring and I agree. It’s always better to know exactly what you’re dealing with." She leaned back against the chair so that her arm was pressed up against his.

"Is there anything in there that will help us?" he asked to distract himself from the goosebumps rising all over from her nearness.

"I don’t think so." She paused. "Harry, I know how important this is to you, and you will have your chance to talk to them. I’ll see to it personally."

"What will I say?" Seeking comfort, he hesitantly leaned his head against her shoulder, closing his eyes against the despair he felt. "I hardly knew my parents. And Sirius, how can I apologize for being so stupid. And Cedric-"

"Cedric’s death wasn’t your fault, Harry. It was Voldemort. And Peter."

His eyes flew open. "If I wasn’t here, if I wasn’t around-"

"Then Voldemort would have taken over by now." She interrupted resting her head upon his. "I can’t honestly say that I know what you’re feeling, but I do know that if you were never born, then Voldemort wouldn’t have been stopped fifteen years ago and maybe none of us would be around... me especially, since my parents are who they are. But because you are here, because your mother gave you the power to withstand Voldemort all those years ago, you gave the rest of us a chance to live."

Harry took in her words. Deep down, he knew she was making great sense, but he just couldn’t shake the feeling that he was responsible for everything. Perhaps he was used to the guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was familiar, something he could grab onto at a moment’s notice. He didn’t want to give it up. Maybe that was selfish, to keep the feeling all to himself for it’s reliability, but he didn’t care. Hermione sat with him until morning, reading silently beside him, simply there for support. Finally other students began to come down, ready to enjoy their Sunday. Harry was never more grateful that Hermione was in his life.

(BREAK)

"It just feels so natural being around him, comforting him." Hermione admitted. She, Ginny and Luna were seated in the courtyard waiting for lunch to start. Although she hadn’t mentioned what exactly she and Harry had talked about, she was sharing the feeling of spending that time with him.

"That means you guys are good friends, not necessarily that you’ll make a good couple." Ginny said steadily.

"That’s your opinion." She answered hotly. Of course they all knew of the school-girl crush the youngest Weasley had on Harry. But now years later, Hermione had hoped she would have gotten over it. She wasn’t sure that was the case. "What do you think Luna?"

"I think whatever you both decide will be best for you." She answered quietly.

"As long as the road to my brother is clear, right?" Ginny teased her.

"I find Ron interesting." Luna defended herself.

Ginny shook her head. "You’re the only one."

Hermione was taken aback by her friend’s mean words. "There’s nothing wrong with Ron. He’s got a lot to offer. Really, Ginny. He’s your brother after all."

"He wasn’t good enough for you!" she shouted. "Don’t pretend you didn’t know he liked you. We all know you’re smarter than that."

She was stunned. Of course she suspected Ron may have developed a crush on her, but had assumed it was merely because of all the time they spent together. "I knew and handled it delicately. I never made him think I wanted anything more than his friendship. And I’m not the one sitting here talking him down to someone who is actually interested in more with him!"

"Well, aren’t you perfect." Ginny said sourly before rising and walking away.

"Ginny!" Hermione called after her but the other girl kept going. "What has gotten into her?"

"I’m not sure, she doesn’t talk about much lately and there’s a lot swirling around in her head so I can’t make most of it out." Luna answered, staring after her friend. Hermione felt the girl’s answer was odd, but then so were most things about her. But she was astonished to find that the absurdity embraced by Luna was exactly what was drawing her in and making her want to be friends with the girl.

"Well let’s hope whatever it is passes quickly." She said as she gathered her things to go into the castle.

"I wouldn’t hold my breath." Luna said so quietly that Hermione wasn’t sure she’d heard anything at all. What did that mean? She wanted to ask, but the other girl was already heading away so she let it go. After all, how would Luna know anything if Ginny hadn’t talked to her?

(BREAK)

Ginny slammed the portrait behind her, ignoring the scolding the Fat Lady was screaming from the other side. At first glance the common room appeared empty and she was glad of it. Throwing her bag across the room, she slumped into one of the armchairs by the fireplace and stared at the crackling flames. "Hey." A soft voice said beside her.

She screamed and fell from her seat as Neville stood quickly from the other chair looking horrified. "What are you doing here?" She screamed at him, her heart beating a mile a minute.

"I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!" He continued to fumble out an apology as he reached down to help her up. "I really wasn’t trying to scare you, I thought you saw me there."

She looked at him suspiciously before taking his hand and allowing him to help her to her feet. "Shouldn’t you be at lunch?"

"Shouldn’t you?" he countered with a shrug before stooping to pick up the papers that had flown off his lap.

"I wasn’t hungry."

"Neither was I. What’s wrong, having a bad day?" he asked in a friendly yet embarrassed manner. She smiled in spite of herself, he was always so nervous around the girls.

"I’ve had worse and I’ve had better." She sighed, slumping into the chair once more.

"Well, I guess I’ll leave you alone then." He said as he shyly gathered his things.

She felt guilty for making him feel bad. After all, no one was more harmless than Neville. "Hey, don’t let my attitude run you off. You were here first."

"Are you sure?"

"Sit down already, Neville." She insisted. He sat. "What are you working on?" she asked awkwardly.

"Just some notes. Trying to think some things out I guess." He answered quietly.

"Hope that works out for you."

"So…what’s bothering you?"

"Nothing important. Hey, Neville? Would you mind if we just sat here quietly for awhile?" she asked delicately. There was nothing she wanted to discuss with anyone at the moment.

"Sure. Whatever you want." He sat still for a moment before returning to his notes. Listening to him scribble, she closed her eyes and wondered what it was exactly that was making her so unhappy.

(BREAK)

Draco-
Tonight. Usual place, usual time. I’ve received news.

He’d gotten the note just before dinner and knew exactly who it was from. He resented the fact that all of a sudden this new person comes into the fold and right away he was expected to take orders from them. But he also knew that if he wanted to get anywhere in the future, he had to play the game now. So at midnight, he set off for the clandestine meeting.

Draco wrapped his invisibility cloak more tightly around himself as he slunk out into the crisp night air, feeling strangely vulnerable. While he was actually enjoying having a room to himself, going anywhere outside of it was a whole different story. Usually he never went anywhere alone here if he could help it. Goyle and Crabbe may not be the most lively of conversationalists, but they certainly knew how to fill space and look menacing. Pansy he could do without, but even she was useful in her own dull way. He knew that he tolerated them all because they gave him the two things he never received at home, company and attention. The only times he’d ever done anything without them here at school it was because he’d been following orders from his father, and he couldn’t risk disappointing Lucius- his hold on the man’s affection was shaky as it was. This situation was no different. It had been made very clear to him that the identity of his new partner had to be kept secret from absolutely everyone and he’d be damned if he was going to let anyone mess this up for him. And so he was now forced to not only sneak out of his prison-like yet strangely freeing punishment of a room, but also stalk the school grounds completely alone in the middle of the night.

As he made his way around the lake and into the forest, he took off the cloak and wondered what his life would be like if he just kept walking… If he went on until his legs gave out, completely abandoning everything he knew and starting over somewhere far away. "It took you long enough." A voice said from behind him.

Refusing to show how startled he was, he slowly turned and regarded the cloaked figure with a smirk, ready to play his part. "I was enjoying the freedom." He answered, not wanting anyone to know that he actually liked being kept away from the pressures of interacting with anyone other than Dumbledore and Snape.

"Hey, it’s your fault that you got caught. You’ll have to make your punishment work for us."

"And I will." He answered defensively. "So, what is it you wanted?"

"It’s what the Dark Lord wants. I’ve gotten news from home."

Draco was quickly losing his patience. Not that he ever had much for this particular person anyway. "And?"

"The plan for the quidditch game is a go. My parents have sent me the spells and it’s been agreed that we go through with it."

"And?" Draco asked again, working hard to hide his sudden nervousness. He hadn’t been thrilled with this plan when it had been discussed during the summer but knew better than to voice his concerns. Now that they actually had to do it, his stomach began twisting itself in knots. This was beyond anything he’d been asked to be a part of in the past, a lot of people could get hurt or even killed. Of course, that was what they wanted- but a part of him that had been learning how to actually reason things out was screaming at him that this was a step too far.

"And, I’m to remind you that no matter what happens you are to make sure they think you are responsible."

"How could I forget?" He asked snidely. That was the part he was most uncomfortable with. His name wasn’t worth much to many people on either side of the war as it was, and now he had to become known as a murderer to the do-gooders and a fall guy to the evil ones.

Reaching a hand out from under the cloak, his partner stepped forward and placed it reassuringly on his shoulder. "It’ll be okay Draco."

He shook it off and began walking away. "Just don’t screw up your part when you set those spells. I’ll handle what I need to." He said over his shoulder. He took a deep breath and closed off his thinking mind. He was now in ice-mode, numbing himself from the inside out so that he could go on to do the things expected of him and try to make his father proud. It was a state of being he could slip into pretty easily after so many years of practice.

(BREAK)

Harry made an effort to pretend that everything was fine and happily, no one asked any questions. And so the next two weeks went by quickly and without incident. Though they had made absolutely no progress with the clue during that time, Harry was excited in spite of himself when he woke early Saturday morning. It was the day of the first quidditch match of the year and he rushed to the window to find the weather was warm and clear- perfect for flying. He dressed quickly, then hurried down to the Great Hall with a smile plastered across his face, sure they were going to beat the Hufflepuffs- no problem. Parvati and Seamus had been learning the plays quickly and their last practice had gone as smoothly as it could have possibly gone. They all worked together like a real team.

Taking a seat at the table, he realized Ron was already having his usual nervous breakdown. "Oh, will you relax! This one’s in the bag." Ginny finally told him. The rest of the Gryffindors were buzzing along the table, excited to have the best seeker and beaters returning. It seemed they knew there was no way they wouldn’t win the cup this year. But as they all headed to the locker room, Harry’s own stomach began to flutter nervously. After all, he hadn’t nearly as much practice over the summer as the Weasley kids.

At the entrance to the stands Hermione, Luna and Neville broke off to go find seats. Harry had to stifle his laughter as Luna wished Ron luck before following the others- she was wearing Gryffindor colors and a button that said Weasley Is My King, but in his nervous state Ron apparently hadn’t noticed the words. It seemed he was paying more attention to Luna these days than Ron was… hopefully that would change. But as it was, Harry did notice her and saw that she seemed distracted, jumpy, and somehow resigned… Something about her reminded him of someone about to be walked before the firing squad, assured that it was their time to die and fully accepting that it had to be that way. And then she turned to him and it was all gone, like some sort of shield had gone up between them and all he could see was what she chose to show him… a falsely excited smile.

Pushing aside his confusion, he followed Ron into the locker room. The team laughed and joked as they prepared themselves, each trying to channel their nerves in a positive direction. After changing into his uniform, Harry sat back and let Ginny give the pep talk. He had found that it really didn’t bother him to step aside as team captain; it was less responsibility for him and she was doing a fantastic job anyway. Besides, the less he had to worry about at this point, the better.

Ten minutes later, they walked out onto the pitch to loud, exuberant cheering. The entire school was alive with excitement, throwing themselves into this simple joy to forget for awhile the complex horror waiting for them out in the world. Harry glanced at the Gryffindor stands, hoping to catch Hermione’s eye. She and Neville had gotten front row seats and he was surprised to see Luna sitting beside them. He wondered whom she’d support when they played Ravenclaw and as he attempted to share a grin with her, she shot him a look of so much guilt, sorrow and terror that he was taken by surprise. A moment later, her face was normal and she was simply staring expectantly over the field, obviously trying not to meet his eyes again. This was the second time within the last hour that he’d noticed her actively try to hide something from him. There was nothing he could do about it now, but his curiosity had been peaked and he knew he wanted to talk to Luna later and find out what had her so shaken. He tried to ignore a small voice telling him that later would be too late.

Taking their positions on the field, the two teams stared each other down- once they were fellow students, now they were quidditch enemies. At Madam Hooch’s whistle, all fourteen players zoomed into the air. Dean Thomas, having not made the team, was the new announcer this year and he appeared to be channeling Lee Jordan while he spoke. "And Ginny Weasley has the quaffle first. She passes to Patil, who passes to Finnigan and back to Ginny. She goes to make the score- It’s a fake! She passes to Patil who SCORES!!! The only girls on the Gryffindor team and what lovely girls they are!"

"Mr. Thomas...." McGonagall warned.

Pushing everything else in his head aside, Harry listened to the commentary while searching for the snitch. He also kept his eye on the Hufflepuff seeker, Iris Taylor in case she spotted it first. Circling the field and listening as the score increased 20-0 Gryffindor favor, he took a moment to enjoy the feeling of freedom being in the sky evoked in him. Then his senses kicked in and he ducked a bludger that came at him as Fred rushed forward and angrily hit it back at the Hufflepuff beater that had sent it hurtling in his direction.

"Thanks." He called.

"Pay attention next time!" Fred yelled back with a grin. Harry grinned back before heading off to make another sweep of the field.

"Another goal for Gryffindor!!! Way to let the girls show you up Seamus!" Dean shouted into the microphone, teasing his friend.

"Mr. Thomas!!" McGonagall shouted in a voice meant to imply it was her last warning.

Harry and Ron shared a laugh as he went past the goal posts before he flew off to check the other side of the field. Just as he was ready to turn around again, the snitch zoomed past his face. He gave chase immediately as George jumped on his tail to block the other beaters who were trying to interfere. Seeing Iris coming at him from the opposite direction, he began to worry- she was closer to the snitch as it was heading right towards her. Then suddenly, the snitch zoomed upwards. Harry fixed his grip and shot up after it. Iris was too slow and now she was behind him. He knew she’d never catch up to his Firebolt, so he focused all his attention on the snitch. Stretching out his hand, he could just barely touch it. He pushed a little harder and grasped it firmly, feeling it struggling to break free.

"HE CAUGHT IT! HARRY POTTER HAS THE SNITCH! FINAL SCORE 180 TO 0. GRYFFINDOR WINS!!!!!!" Dean shouted into the microphone. Harry and the rest of the team flew around the pitch to the enormous cheering from the Gryffindors and the predictable boos coming from the Slytherins.

Then Harry heard a noise he didn’t recognize coming from his right. He looked over at the Gryffindor stands just as the second explosion went off and raised a hand to shield his head from the debris. The front of the tower began to fall away as students frantically struggled to hang on and climb backwards. As he flew through the air, dodging the wood and fire raining down on them, he caught a glimpse of Hermione as she grabbed Luna who’d began to fall, pulling her back to safety. Together the girls reached out to grab Neville, but couldn’t get him in time. Harry watched horrified as Neville, Hermione, Colin Creevey, Lavender Brown, and several other kids fell over the side. All fourteen quidditch players leapt into action racing to catch their fellow students. The professors were all shouting and preparing to cast spells.

Harry made a beeline for Hermione, screaming out her name. She saw him coming to save her and reached out her hand as she fell. He was inches from her, pushing himself to his limit to breach the final gap between them. Firmly grasping her hand, he felt pain shoot up and down his arm. He tried to pull her onto the broom but couldn’t muster the strength. He looked around desperately for help.

That’s when he saw Neville. Fred and Ginny had made a grab for him, but they had missed. "Hold on tight!" Harry yelled as he raced forward, still holding onto Hermione with one hand. He wrapped his legs around his broom and stretched his other hand out for Neville feeling Ginny and Fred right behind him. Suddenly he lost his balance and rolled over, dangling from his broom by his legs as his friends had to swerve to avoid running into him. He made a mad grab for the boy, but missed and yelled out to the others as Neville continued to fall. Only seconds had passed since the first explosion but to Harry, if felt like he was watching his friend free-fall for hours. Neville finally hit the ground and was crushed, as rubble from the stands fell down on top of him.

Harry watched it all- every part of Neville’s death- not wanting to forget. His anger surged as he realized that again, he had not been able to help. Carefully bringing his broom down, he gently let Hermione go before uncrossing his legs and falling to the ground in exhaustion and grief. She sat next to him, staring at the spot under the destruction where Neville had landed. She wrapped her arms around herself, crying hopelessly as she rocked back and forth. Harry felt his own eyes water and he turned and buried his face in the ground. Vaguely, he felt pain in his shoulder from where it had popped out of the socket when he had grabbed Hermione. It was nothing to the feeling tearing through his heart.

(BREAK)

Luna had run away before anyone could make sense of anything down at the quidditch pitch. Now she sat alone in her dorm, contemplating the mysteries of life as she allowed tears to flow freely down her face. She’d known this was coming, just not how horrible the outcome would be. She’d tried her best to minimize the damage by sitting in the Gryffindor stands, knowing the second explosion had been meant for the Ravenclaw section- specifically, it had been meant for her. Hoping that by placing all the targets in one place she’d force the culprit to do exactly what they did- move the second spell- she’d made it so that everyone’s attention would be on one spot with no diversions. She’d been trying to save lives… and she’d almost succeeded.

It was the second time she’d decided to try and challenge fate, to change the things she knew were coming. The first time- following Harry and the others to the ministry- hadn’t worked out so well either. She knew that had she not taken the action she had today, many others besides Neville would have been killed. But in the moment it didn’t matter. The loss of his life was devastating. She could have told someone what was planned, what she knew… but she hadn’t. His death was as much her fault as it was the person who actually set the spells.

But the reason she hadn’t told anyone was too shameful to admit… even to herself. The fact that she’d risked and lost his and many other lives to try and end hers was too big a burden to bear. Feeling so very tired of knowing things and having the responsibility of guiding everyone down the proper path… She was willing to become the victim of this evil little plan, knowing it had to happen, that Harry had to lose someone to fuel his fury to the point he needed it at in order to survive what was ahead for him. But Hermione had reached out and saved her before Neville, letting her know it just wasn’t her time, she wasn’t done here- not that she was certain his should have been over. How could she explain it to the others? They couldn’t understand even if she was able to put into words how alone and full of frustrated despair she felt. And she could never explain that she knew the explosions had to happen in order for so many other things to happen, that this was the catalyst that would change so many lives. Her friends didn’t know- well, they didn’t know anything yet. But all she had to do was keep letting things play out and soon Harry would figure it out. Sometimes he was so close but there was too much distracting him from the truth within him. And Ron, he was starting to come around… so she knew she had things to look forward to in the future. But until that time all she could do was continue to sit and suffer alone while pretending everything was normal. And she would wait, she’d learned her lesson about trying to change fate. For now anyway.

(BREAK)

The hospital wing was packed. Uninjured students were helping the professors and Madam Pomfrey tend to all who were injured, the majority of whom were Gryffindors. Harry sat on his bed, his arm in a sling and his shoulder aching. It was all a dull roar in the back of his mind, all he could see was the closed door to Madame Pomfrey’s office. As soon as the chaos was over, the staff had uncovered Neville and taken his body in there before any of the patients were allowed into the infirmary. Everyone had told Harry that it wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t believe it. He kept thinking if only he’d been quicker, if only he hadn’t lost his grip. Vaguely he realized that Fred and Ginny were just as miserable, having also missed catching their friend. And he knew the professors were horrified at not having seen Neville fall while they were busy keeping the rest of the tower from collapsing. But none of that mattered to Harry, Neville was still gone and he personally could have prevented it, regardless of who else had also failed. Everyone else had been saved after all… it wasn’t fair.

Hermione and Ron were sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed, having suffered only minor cuts and bruises. Neither said a word, unable to do more than sit in shocked silence as they began the process of mourning their friend. Harry remembered a time in second year after Neville had been picked up by pixies and hung from a chandelier during one of phony Professor Lockhart’s failed lessons. He had said, "Why is it always me?" as he dangled there helplessly. Harry closed his eyes and cried.

Soon the room began to clear as students were sent back to their common rooms until dinner. None of the adults even attempted to kick out Harry and his friends, simply working around them as they shot out nervous glances. Neville’s grandmother arrived in a flurry a short time later, crazy bird hat and all. Dumbledore and McGonagall led her gently into the office to see her grandson’s body, each holding her up by her shaking shoulders. Harry felt sorry for her. First she had lost Neville’s parents to death eaters, driven into insanity by Bellatrix LeStrange and now she had lost her grandson, the last piece of her children that she had. Emerging from the room awhile later quietly sobbing but more or less in control of herself, Mrs. Longbottom looked around the infirmary until she spotted Harry. She made her way over and looked from him, to Fred, to Ginny who were in beds on either side of him. "I was told how hard you three tried to save him." She wiped her eyes. "He spoke of you all constantly, please, come see him laid to rest." They nodded their silent agreement, unable to say anything out loud.

(BREAK)

Draco angrily paced between the trees, not knowing exactly what to feel. He’d once more snuck out to meet and debrief his partner, but he’d already heard what had happened… Longbottom was dead and he couldn’t imagine a more pitiful victim... Hearing footsteps behind him, he whipped around to once again find a cloaked figure hovering behind him. His annoyance was at a breaking point. "What the hell happened?" He shouted.

"You seem upset?" His partner appeared surprised.

"You aren’t? You’re the one who’s new to all of this." He grumbled crossing his arms.

"Look, I know it didn’t work out exactly the way we wanted, but Neville was a friend of Harry’s. Although I would have much rather gotten those annoying girls."

"I’m sure you would have." Draco answered, forcing himself to go cold. It was obvious the person before him had no idea why he was upset and he wasn’t about to show weakness in front of anyone. Especially someone he may have underestimated… apparently he didn’t know just who he was dealing with after all. He’d never have expected such callousness.

"I did my part. Now make sure Harry thinks it was you, it’s important. I think Loony Luna may be onto me, she’s getting to be quite the thorn in my side. Even more than the Horrid Hermione."

"Don’t worry about it, I’ll figure something out. Are we done here?" He asked, turning and walking away without waiting for an answer. He had a lot of thinking to do.

(BREAK)

A few hours later, Luna walked calmly into the hospital wing, startling Harry into realizing he hadn’t noticed she’d been missing from the group. She wound up following him and the others up to the boys’ dormitory where they all scattered, sitting on various beds and staring at Neville’s empty one. He would never sleep there again, and Harry wasn’t sure how any of the rest of them were expected to sleep either.

He, Ron, Dean and Seamus had told McGonagall that they would see to going through their unfortunate roommate’s things and packing everything away. Hermione, Fred, George, Ginny and now Luna had volunteered to help… but now that the task was before them, no one could bring themselves to actually do it.

Finally Ron stood up and broke the somber silence. "Come on guys, Mrs. Longbottom wants to leave with all of his stuff." He said as he moved to Neville’s nightstand. He awkwardly picked up the books that lay there and flipped through them before walking over to place them in a trunk. All eyes were on him and as he prepared to put them away and they saw several sheets of paper fall out from between the pages of one of the texts, scattering across the floor.

Hermione stooped down and grabbed them. "They’re in his writing. Looks like notes." She revealed.

"Probably homework." Dean said.

"I don’t think so." Hermione answered, reading them.

"I can’t be in here anymore." Seamus said getting to his feet. "Dean, will you go with me down to the kitchens? I haven’t eaten all day and should probably at least attempt it. Can you guys handle this without us?"

"Sure go ahead." Ron answered absently.

They left quickly, nearly running from the room. As soon as they were gone, Hermione turned to the Marauders. "It’s about the clue. He was trying to figure it out."

"What’s it say?" George asked.

"It’s just a bunch of things scribbled down." She put the paper down and everyone gathered to read.

Harry needs the ring. Third clue, need words. Words are in the clue. L-E.....Remember. Remember what? Lily Evans? Initials? L-E has to mean something.
Ginny is sitting next to me now, and she seems upset. I wish she’d notice me, I wish I knew how to make her feel better. She’s so pretty. I should tell her. No one tells each other anything. Luna won’t tell Ron. Harry and Hermione won’t tell each other. I should just ask her. She might like me too.
L-E..........remember. What are we supposed to remember? Something about Lily? Maybe L-E is a clue and not initials, but how?

Ginny sat back with a small smile, tears running down her face. Then she dropped her face into her hands and wept with energy. Ron was staring at Luna but as usual she was looking out the window. Harry and Hermione were having trouble meeting each other’s eyes as she got up and nervously started pacing the room while he snuck glances at her.

Fred and George however had picked up the clue from Harry’s nightstand and were looking through it. "Um guys?" George said finally. Everyone turned to stare at them, except for Ginny who had buried herself into Harry’s shoulder. He’d thrown an arm around her trying to offer comfort, but she seemed nearly inconsolable.

"We think Neville accidentally solved it." Fred placed the paper in front of them. "L-E is not Lily’s initials, it’s supposed to be L through E. Look at the second sentence. ‘Let your reward be knowledge.’ Starts with an L...."

"And ends with an E" Harry finished.

"Good job, Neville." Hermione said quietly.





A/N: Who set off the explosions? Will everyone let their true feelings be known? Will Harry be able to answer the questions of the mysterious old lady and get the next clue? Find out in the next installment of Harry Potter and the Ring of Mykele. Please review.

A/N: Neville’s quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Chapter 15: Fighting Among Friends

NOTE: [insert previous statements here.] Sorry this took awhile to get up. I was at my parents’ house and their internet sucks. Read, Review, Enjoy!
 

 

Monday morning dawned as any normal day would. Harry lay in bed wondering how he could be expected to go to class like usual when only two days ago he had watched his friend die. Sitting up, he looked over at Ron and saw that he had woken with the same pained expression on his face as he thought of the day ahead. None of the boys in the dorm said a word, remaining somberly silent as they got up, dressed and went down to breakfast.

The Great Hall was filled with small mumbling here and there; the Slytherin table was providing most of the noise and they conversed easily among themselves, as if nothing had happened. Everyone else in the other three houses was staring at the table, their books or at nothing at all. Neville’s absence was felt all along the Gryffindor table and as Harry took a seat between Hermione and George he knew that today would be one of the hardest to get through. He didn’t want to go to classes and stare at an empty desk. He didn’t want to go to Potions and know that nothing would blow up or bubble over.

Dumbledore stood up and the silence that rang though the hall was deafening. "As you all know, there has been a terrible occurrence this weekend and a life was lost. We have now determined that a spell was placed on the Gryffindor stands set to go off at a certain time. It was the equivalent to what Muggles call a bomb. We will be conducting a thorough investigation and the culprit will be caught. In respect to the memory of Neville Longbottom, all classes for the entire week have been canceled." He paused. Not one student cheered at the prospect of no class, even the Slytherins knew better. "The funeral will be held tomorrow and any student wishing to attend may do so along with the those whom were already invited by Neville’s grandmother. Also, there were plans to cancel this weekend’s trip into Hogsmeade, but I have ultimately decided to allow it to go on as planned. Enjoy your breakfast."

Once again, a note appeared in front of Harry directing him to go immediately to the Headmaster’s office when he was done eating. He looked at the others, but this time, only Ron and Hermione had also received one. When it was discovered that even Ron was having trouble building an appetite, they decided to just skip the rest of breakfast and wait in Dumbledore’s office. They stayed close together as they walked the halls, all three of them immersed in their separate grief. When they passed by the gargoyle and went up to the office, they were surprised to see the Headmaster already sitting behind his desk, waiting for them with a look of sad determination.

"Sir, didn’t we just see you downstairs?" Ron asked.

"I noticed you three leave and decided that I was also done with breakfast."

"Why did you ask us here, sir?" Hermione inquired as Harry stole a glance at her. Her face was red, as if she had been crying right through the last thirty-two hours.

"I was wondering how you were doing on your hunt." He answered honestly.

"We know what we’re looking for." Harry said. "The Ring of Mykele."

"Ah." Dumbledore sat back and brought his fingertips together, looking pensive. "Who else knows this?"

"Fred, George, Ginny, Luna and Neville." Ron said without thinking. Realizing what he had said, who he’d included, he looked down in sadness and anger.

"I see. Harry, I have to ask you to abandon your search." The headmaster said simply. He appeared to brace himself for what he knew was coming.

"I can’t do that!" Harry yelled, startling Hermione and Ron.

Dumbledore had seemed to anticipate his anger. "You have to understand that it was careless of Remus to give you the first clue knowing what you would find."

"Why?" He demanded.

"Do you remember the Mirror of Erised? What I told you about it? The same applies to this ring. If you find it, you’ll be looking to the past instead of the future. Its powers will consume you."

"Only if I let it! I just want to talk to them, at least once. You can’t understand. My parents, Sirius, Cedric and now Neville! I just want one chance to say good bye. I never got to say good bye to any of them!" He was shouting again.

"How will that help you, Harry?" Dumbledore asked quietly.

"I don’t know. But I won’t let you or anyone else keep me from doing so." He turned and stomped out of the headmaster’s office. He knew he looked childish, but he didn’t care.

(BREAK)

After their dismissal from Dumbledore a short while later, Hermione and Ron found Harry sitting alone in the Owlery. They sat down on either side of him without saying anything, all three simply wanting to be there for each other. She was worried and feeling like Dumbledore was letting her down. He was losing his student in every way possible by saying things that he knew would force Harry to push against him. She couldn’t say she didn’t agree with their Headmaster, but she saw Harry’s point as well. What could it hurt to have at the very least a proper goodbye? After, Dumbledore could demand the ring be handed over so that he could be sure Harry wouldn’t hurt himself.

She wanted desperately to say something to break the silence, to make Harry feel better about Dumbledore trying to forbid him from seeking the only thing he’d ever really wanted… but she felt like with Ron present, they couldn’t have an honest conversation about what he really felt. Harry, when they were alone, was always himself and at the same time completely different. He was able to tell her things that he couldn’t tell anyone else and that made her feel entirely special. Despite the fact that her feelings for him past friendship had developed a long time ago, she now found herself drawn to him in a new and better way. Of course she had no hope that he would ever see her in that light, but just knowing that he trusted her more than anyone else in his life was enough.

Sadness suddenly stabbed through her heart. She felt like she should have been thinking only of poor Neville, who they had all tried and failed to save. He had slipped right through all of their hands and the fact that Luna had later sought Hermione out to thank her for saving her life had done nothing to lessen the guilt. How would any of them be able to move past this? She knew she would never be able to forget… after all, it was her fault Harry had missed Neville. Had he not come to save her first he could have caught him, had he not had to hold onto her as he zoomed after the other boy he wouldn’t have lost his grip and could have caught him… Surely this all proved that had she not been saved Neville would have. It was a realization that was hard for her to come to terms with.

Ron, who was always desperate to lighten the mood, finally couldn’t help but break the silence, interrupting Hermione’s depressing thoughts. "So, I’ve been thinking lately about some things, and I decided I’m going to ask Luna to be my date for Hogsmeade this weekend."

"Ron!" She scolded. "Do you really think two days after... you know… is the proper time to bring up dating people?" If she wasn’t going to allow herself to talk or think about other things, then she’d be damned if she was going to let him do it around her.

"I just want things to try and get back to normal, whatever that is." He explained moodily.

"Things without Neville are normal? Living without Sirius is normal? Constant fear for our lives is normal?" Harry asked. "I’ve got news for you Ron. Things haven’t been normal for a long time. In fact, I don’t think things have ever been normal. Not for us."

"Doesn’t mean I can’t try." he sounded hurt. "I know if I had died, I wouldn’t want everyone sitting around moping for days feeling sorry for themselves."

"You didn’t die! Neville did. And you know what? We never paid enough attention to him to know what he would’ve wanted!" Harry rose to his feet and stalked over to look out the opposite window. Hermione began to panic. The boys were inching toward one of their fights and she wasn’t sure whether she should, or could stop it.

"Maybe you couldn’t get off your high horse long enough to pay him any attention, but I sure as hell did." Ron said defensively rising to his feet as well.

"Stop it Ron!" Hermione grabbed his hand and tried to pull him back.

"No!" He whipped his arm from her grasp. "You know what Neville told me in fourth year Harry? He told me that if he didn’t feel so sorry for you, he would have wanted to be just like you: strong, confident and fearless. But you aren’t any of those things. You’re scared and clueless, just like the rest of us. Only difference is you got famous, which gave you a big enough head to make you think you could do anything. You may have fooled him and everyone else, but I refuse to let you fool me any longer!"

"Guys, we’re upset. You’re saying a lot of things you don’t mean." She tried desperately.

"But I do mean it Hermione." Ron said darkly.

"Oh yeah?" Harry finally turned to Ron, anger melting away the tears she saw slip down his face. "Let me tell you what I know about you. You are a born follower. You never do anything by yourself and yet you can’t stand it when someone else does better than you. And talk about scared! You may as well be scared of your own shadow with all the whining and shaking you do. At least I can make friends without being a hanger on. Do you really think anyone would know who you are if I hadn’t happened to sit with you that first day on the train? I mean other than as Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred and George’s little brother of course. And maybe even as one of Ginny’s brothers. Let’s face it, Ron, you’re the only one in your family who doesn’t stand out."

"Harry!" She had never heard anything so mean come out of his mouth before. This was probably the worst fight these two had ever had.

"You know what? Maybe I could have stood out if I hadn’t been busy risking my life to help you out. You know what I think? I think things were normal, until you decided to rejoin the wizarding world. After all, you didn’t grow up in it like I did, so I would know. And by the way, if it weren’t for you, Voldemort may not have returned at all! Didn’t you tell us all that after the tournament that your blood gave him life? You helped Peter bring him back, so if you had just stayed in the muggle world, he wouldn’t be here now!" With that, he turned and slammed the door behind him, leaving only Harry and Hermione.

"He didn’t mean that. You know he didn’t. Just like you didn’t mean what you said to him." She took a step towards him, but he moved to the door.

"You think you know us, Hermione. You think you know everything, but you don’t. Just leave this alone." And he too stormed out.

She was left by herself unsure of what exactly she had been witness to. Hedwig flew down and settled on her shoulder gently cooing. She petted the owl’s feathers as tears slid freely down her face.

(BREAK)

As soon as she found out there would be no classes, Ginny had returned to her room and gotten right back in bed. She couldn’t find words to describe what she felt, but she knew it was so torturous it actually made her physically hurt. She allowed it all to wash over her, but she refused to let herself remember any of the things that may have caused any number of the emotions drowning her. She didn’t want to dwell, figuring it would only make her hurt more.

Giving no struggle, sleep gratefully overtook her and she spent the rest of the day exactly as she had started it, in and out of painful consciousness. Everything in her mind had turned to a purposeful blur in order to keep her sanity, and so when she did find herself uncomfortably awake, she was able to find immense relief in the absence of thought. At last it was dark outside and by the time her roommates came to bed, she was satisfied that she’d passed through an entire day without once thinking of Neville… or Harry… or Ron taking Luna away… or the other many things keeping her from feeling like herself. She knew she couldn’t hide forever, but this haze of being she had found would certainly serve to get her through tomorrow. It would be one of the saddest days of her life, but she intended to be completely checked out for it.

Practicing now, she sent her mind elsewhere- to some other happier place where she could wait until her roommates where asleep. Ending the meditation and returning to her present consciousness, she realized a whole hour had passed since she’d begun the exercise… far longer than she’d thought. Well, this could really work for her after all. The thought soothed her enough to once more drop into a blackout slumber.

(BREAK)

Many students attended the funeral in London the next day, including the remaining Marauders. The service was short and filled with tears. Neville may not have been good at many things, but he had made an impact on a lot of people. His grandmother stood next to Dumbledore, tightly gripping his arm as her own friends stood around her for support. She’d retired her strange hat for the day, swapping it out for one more suitable for the sad occasion though still odd. It was all black and wide-brimmed with black roses lining the band. A big, stuffed crow sat on top holding sheer black netting in it’s beak that draped around the had and down over her face.

Unable to take in the sight of her sorrow, Harry looked around and took stock of his group of friends who were currently scattered among the crowd. Fred and George had decided to stand near the back, glaring at the ground as they chose to feel the anger over their sorrow. Ron was with Luna and Ginny in seats in the second row- he was purposely avoiding looking back in Harry’s direction. Although torn up about the fight he’d had with Ron, Harry still refused to be the one to end it… not that those were things he should be thinking about at the moment. Besides, it was Ginny he was more concerned about. She’d gone through the whole day moving like a zombie, nearly attached to Luna’s arm as the other girl led her around, telling her when to get up, when to sit and where to walk. He liked that Luna was taking such good care of their friend, who had obviously been blindsided by the events that had led them all to this moment.

Shaking his head and shifting his gaze, he found Hermione, sitting a few rows away with Hagrid. He was crying into a handkerchief big enough to be a small table cloth. Harry had to smile as the giant offered the used cloth to Hermione, who politely declined his offer with a disgusted grimace. Harry himself had chosen to sit with Lupin and Tonks. She’d come up special for the day, having also known and liked Neville- and to support Lupin in the loss of his student. He watched as the couple clasped hands, leaning their heads together as they grieved, giving each other strength. Longing filled him as he wished for someone to be at his side, helping make him stronger- someone he could make stronger.

After it was all done, Harry walked over to Hermione having decided that not only did he want to apologize, he needed to. He had stayed up racked with more guilt than usual for the way he had spoken to her the day before when it was Ron his anger had really been intended for. He tapped her on the shoulder. "Hermione?"

She turned and gave him a brief nod, and gestured for him to follow her. They walked away from the group a bit for some privacy, but not far enough to cause alarm in any of the adults chaperoning the sad event. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, she stopped him. "You don’t have to say it, Harry. Merlin knows we say enough I’m sorry’s every year." She said without meeting his eyes.

He smiled hesitantly. "You do know me, and you’re probably really the only one who does."

"Maybe, maybe not. I do know you didn’t mean any of it, and neither did Ron. You were both upset and looking for something to lash out at. It just happened to be each other."

"Probably, but it shouldn’t have included you." On impulse, he stepped closer and drew her to him in a tight hug. It felt comfortable and reassuring. It felt right.

"You should go talk to him." She said into his shoulder.

"Not yet." He answered as he clung to her.

(BREAK)

"Hey Luna!" Ron had spotted her bright blonde hair as she moved through the courtyard and rushed to catch up to her. He stopped short right in front of her, hands on his knees and panting as he struggled to catch his breath. He’d been running around trying to find her since they’d all returned from the funeral. Although he’d been sad watching Neville being buried in that lonely graveyard, he’d also been inspired. Any one of them could be in that box and if not for Hermione, Luna might have been. Life as they knew it could end at any time and the longer he waited to experience the things he wanted to experience, the less chance he’d be able to.

She put a hand on his shoulder. "Whoa, are you okay?" she asked in concern.

Letting out one last big breath, he stood tall, pretending he hadn’t been near fainting from lack of oxygen. "I’m great! How are you?"

"I’m okay." She answered, arching an eyebrow and giving him a suspicious smile. "Was there something you needed?"

"No not really." He said awkwardly, stuffing his hands in his pockets and shuffling his feet as his nerves overtook him.

"Just felt like taking a run?"

"And you were the finish line!" He joked, instantly feeling stupid as soon as the words left his lips. To his surprise she smiled. He suddenly felt awash in confidence; this girl liked him back, all he had to do was ask. "Actually, I was sort of wondering if… well, if maybe you’d like to spend some time with me when we all go to Hogsmeade?"

"Are you asking me to be your date for the day?" She asked, rather directly for her. It threw him off a bit.

"I guess, I mean I think… well, yeah- yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. I fear that I’m failing miserably." He hung his head.

"I think you’re doing a great job." She answered coyly.

He looked up to find her staring right at him, completely and seriously flirting with him. He couldn’t believe it. "Really? So then you’re agreeing to go? As my date." He wanted to be clear, no misunderstandings.

"I’ve been looking forward to it." She smiled. A normal person would have said- ‘I am looking forward to it.’ But hey, words were words and he knew agreement when he heard it.

Not wanting to ruin things, he decided his best course of action was a hasty departure. He quickly said goodbye and rushed off, relieved to have finally made a move toward settling things with Luna. He just hoped that now that those concerns were off his chest, he wouldn’t be overrun by his anger with Harry.

He didn’t want to hate his best friend, but they’d both said hurtful things, things they’d obviously been secretly thinking of each other for a long time. He shook his head, not wanting to dwell on it anymore than he already had. Instead he channeled his focus into deciding just how he was going to entertain the lovely Miss Lovegood for an entire day without her feeling she’d made a huge mistake.

(BREAK)

The rest of the week passed by with an almost visible tension between all of the Marauders. Ginny, still hadn’t said a word to anyone since the night in the boys’ dormitory, Fred and George were at odds with each other for some unknown reason, Ron and Harry only glared every time they saw each other and Hermione was keeping her distance from both of them. Luna was the only one who seemed happy, and that was only because Ron was spending all of his time with her. At other times, when Luna thought she was being unobserved Hermione had seen the brief flashes of grief creep into the girl’s eyes. She wondered if Luna felt the same survivor’s guilt that she did… She hoped not, she wouldn’t wish what she felt on anyone else.

Saturday morning dawned a bit chilly, forcing her to grab a jacked as she joined the students who were third year and higher waiting outside for the coaches that would take them to Hogsmeade. Harry came up beside her, but the rest of her friends were scattered out in the sea of students. She hated that they were all so distance from each other in every sense, knowing that until Harry and Ron patched things up between themselves, there was no way the rest of them could band together to be strong enough to get over losing Neville. She decided to make it her mission to get the boys to make up, to force one or both of them to see how silly it was to fight right now when they were so lucky to still be alive. She would succeed or go crazy trying.

(BREAK)

Harry had uncertainly gone to stand with Hermione outside the school. When he realized she was okay with him being there, he’d relaxed considerably, which is perhaps why her words took him by such surprise.

"You should go talk to Ron. He’s the one who needs to hear the apology before he’ll give one." She said softly, glancing up at him through her eyelashes.

"Maybe I don’t want to apologize." He answered stubbornly. Though he was glad Hermione had forgiven his harsh words to her, he didn’t feel like he owed Ron anything. After all, he had only been defending himself from his so-called friend’s tirade.

"Harry. You are both being ridiculous and one of you needs to be the bigger person. You of all people should understand that now is not the time to be fighting among ourselves." She was saying… But he was distracted by the subject of their conversation.

"Maybe I will later. I think he’s busy right now." He pointed to where Ron was whispering something in Luna’s ear. Harry felt a moment of relief from his anguish over Neville as his heart fluttered excitedly. If Ron was really taking Luna on a date as he had said, then that meant being with Hermione really was an option now. The new question was, what would he do about it?

"Looks like you’re right. Oh my-" She gasped and grabbed his hand as the carriages pulled up. Many other students screamed or scrambled to get away, pushing against each other. He pulled Hermione close so she wouldn’t get knocked over by the mob.

Because almost the whole school had witnessed Neville’s death, the Thestrals were now visible to them and many were unsure how to feel about the creatures. Hagrid stood in front of the group, calming those who hadn’t studied Thestrals in his class. After a long while, everyone filed into various carriages throwing nervous glances at the things pulling them. Harry, Hermione, Fred and George had gotten one together and were making small talk on the way. As it turned out, the twins were arguing over a new product and whether to introduce it in the Diagon Alley property or in the newly opened Hogsmeade store. Harry rolled his eyes and with Hermione’s help showed them what idiots they were being. Before long, two more Marauders had made up.

Harry and Hermione spent most of their morning together, first going with the twins to see their shop- which was a bit smaller than the other- and then to Honeydukes for some chocolate that she had wanted to send her mother. At lunchtime, they headed to the three broomsticks determined that the rest of their afternoon be spent searching for the house. Though she hadn’t liked it, she had agreed to continue helping him find the ring, despite Dumbledore’s request that they give it up. "With you as my friend, I’ll never make Head Girl!" She joked as they took a table in the back. They placed their order and then resumed discussing where the house could be.

"I’ll bet it’s near the Shrieking Shack." He said, taking a swill of his butterbeer.

She raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"

"Well, that’s where Sirius, Lupin, Peter and James hung out. Lily wouldn’t have gone far. It was their seventh year when they hid it, and Lupin always tells me how inseparable my parents were by then."

"How sweet!"

"And disturbing, but I guess that’s only for me. No one wants to hear that sort of thing about their own parents." He pictured what it would be like to take Hermione’s hand across the table, to tell her how much he cared about her, to lean over and kiss her.

"Ok, so we’ll head over there right after lunch? Harry?" But Harry wasn’t listening anymore. He had looked up and shook his head a bit to clear it of his thoughts when he caught sight of Ron and Luna entering the pub.

Remembering Hermione’s words from earlier, he made a quick decision and stood up motioning for them to come and join their table. Luna smiled and started towards them, but Ron grabbed her hand and pulled her out behind him, her face a mask of confusion. Harry sighed and sat back down. Hermione, who had witnessed the exchange, placed her hand on his and said soothingly, "He’ll come around." Though her tone was calm, her eyes flashed annoyance. Thankfully, he realized it wasn’t with him.

Even though he felt indignant over Ron’s rejection of the olive branch he’d offered, Harry held his hand still so that she wouldn’t move hers away. "But do I want him to? It’s always me that’s waiting for him to come around." He said, not bothering to hide his irritation.

"Come on, Harry. You’ve made us do a fair bit of waiting in the past." She pointed out, removing her hand as the waitress brought their food. And he couldn’t argue with that point, so they ate their lunch quickly and hurried over to the Shrieking Shack without further discussion of his fight with Ron.

They walked around, trying the password in several places with no luck. "Maybe it’s not here." Hermione said.

"Or maybe it’s not the right words after all. Let your reward be knowledge." He tried one last time, standing right next to the shrieking shack.

"Umm.... Harry? Look!"

He whirled around and watched as the shack turned from an old dilapidated house into a Victorian style mansion of sorts. There were towers and a porch that ran along the front, side and back of the house. It was painted purple with lavender and golden yellow trim. Slowly they made their way up the porch steps and to the door, where a sign declared that the store was open.

"What are you guys doing here?" Ginny asked from behind them, startling them both as they spun around to face her. She was staring up at the house, disgust clearly evident on her face.

"Ginny! Don’t you see it?" Harry asked gesturing to the amazing sight behind him.

"The Shrieking Shack? Yeah I see it. So?"

"Say the password Ginny." He instructed. She did and gasped as the house changed in front of her. Apparently, she could now see what they saw.

"Interesting." Hermione said, a look of contemplation on her face. "No one else can see it unless they know the password or are near when the password is said." Harry stifled a laugh of amusement- she was always reasoning out and looking for the answers, trying to find the magic behind the magic.

Entering the store, they were instantly surrounded by what looked to him like a lot of junk. "Look at that!" Ginny said leading them to an enormous trunk. "It’s like the one the imposter Moody had." As they inspected it, they didn’t notice the old woman coming up behind them.

"Can I help you?" She asked as all three jumped and turned. She was clearly decades older than they were, though it was nearly impossible to guess at her age. While her eyes held years of wisdom and were surrounded by tiny lines and wrinkles, her face held a hint or youth. Her long hair reached down to the floor and was entirely silver and she wrapped the strands around herself to keep from tripping. A large mole protruded from the middle of her forehead, making her appear less ethereal than one would initially think.

"Um yes." Hermione said finding her voice first. "We’re looking for something that Lily Evans left in your care." She took the paper from him and handed it to the woman.

"You want the next clue then?" The woman turned and walked to a cabinet. "First you must answer the right questions. We wouldn’t want anything to fall into the wrong hands."

"Can’t you just give it to me? I’m her son. My name is-"

"Harry Potter. I know your name, boy. Everyone knows who you are. But that means nothing as I was given firm instructions. You must answer the questions to make sure you are worthy. Let’s see how badly you want this ring." She grabbed a large chest from the cabinet and faced him. "Only you are allowed to answer the questions, as I see that only you have the burning desire to use the ring’s powers. Question one is to test your ability and your courage, question two is to test your virtue, and question three is to test your knowledge. Shall we begin?" He stepped forward while the girls climbed up and took a seat on a rather large couch that might have made Hagrid’s feet dangle a few inches from the floor. "Alright, question one then. What would you do if you were threatened, the ring or your life?" She opened the chest and stared at him expectantly.

He thought a moment. "Well I guess I’d-"

"Don’t tell me. Show me." The woman answered from somewhere in the fog that had instantly rolled in.

Harry blinked his eyes, and found himself face to face with Voldemort.

 

 

A/N: Next chapter, Harry "answers" the questions, the group discovers who was behind the explosions and well.......you’ll see.

Chapter 16: Questions, Culprits, Truths and Decisions

NOTE: [Insert previous statements here.] Read Review Enjoy!



Harry jumped back from the leering snake-like face in front of him. He looked around for any kind of weapon and felt his wand in his back pocket. It was instantly in his hand and feeling a sense of nervous confidence, he pointed it at his enemy.

"It was all a trick, Potter, meant to bring you here to me. Now I’ll kill you, your friends and that bumbling old lady. I want that ring, and this time, you won’t stop me from getting what I want." Voldemort stepped forward, and Harry shot a stunner at him before turning to run from the house and down to Hogsmeade. But the town was deserted.

He looked desperately up and down the street, but only empty storefronts and abandoned pathways greeted him. "No one to help you." Voldemort taunted from a few yards behind him. "Tell me how to get the ring!" Harry turned and decided to stand his ground. There was nowhere to run, nowhere he could hide, and he wasn’t about to let his enemy anywhere near his friends. If Voldemort wanted a duel, he’d give him one. "Give me what I want and I may consider letting those two little girls back at the house keep their lives." Voldemort offered with a sneer as he stopped a few yards from Harry. "Unfortunately, I cannot grant you yours. Today is the day you die, Potter."

"You think I’d trust you? Even if I had the ring, I’d never give it to you. I’d rather throw it in the lake." He answered defiantly forcing himself to project the bravery he wasn’t completely sure he felt.

"Come now, I give you my word. Tell me how to get the ring and I’ll let your friends live to fight another day." Voldemort hissed, taking a tentative step forward.

"Stop!" Harry raised his wand higher. "You can save your breath, I’d never take your word on anything!"

"You pretend to be brave, but I see inside of you. You are nothing. And now, I’ll kill you just for the fun of it." But before he had even raised his wand, Harry threw a binding spell at him. He instantly put up a shield and began his attack. "Crucio!"

Harry dropped to the ground writhing in pain. The torture intensified as Voldemort drew closer. "It’ll all end, if you just tell me how to get to the ring."

"No!" He cried through the waves of agony that were now ripping through every part of his body. His limbs felt like they were being stabbed over and over by thousands of tiny, sharp knives, his head was on fire with torturous pain, burning away his sanity. But even with the remembrance of the Longbottoms and how they were tortured circling in what little consciousness he clung to, he still refused to give in. He wouldn’t reveal the clues Lily had made, that she had been the one to hide the prize. He would never betray his mother.

After what seemed liked hours, Voldemort apparently became bored with this game. After one last refusal from Harry, he shook his head in frustration. "Very well. I will find it without you. Don’t worry, your friends will be joining you soon. Goodbye Harry." Suddenly the curse was lifted and Voldemort took deadly aim. "AVADA KED..."

He was cut off as Harry, with some difficulty, raised his wand and threw another stunner at him. This time it hit it’s target, knocking Voldemort off his feet. With one last burst of willful strength, Harry cast a binding to ensure he wouldn’t be caught by surprise. He lay on the ground, breathing heavily through the phantom pain still overwhelming his body. He knew he couldn’t afford himself long to recover, it was doubtful that Voldemort would travel alone. Who knew how many Death Eaters were nearby, waiting for their master’s orders. Had to be plenty of them, for them to have so quickly overtaken Hogsmeade. Though everything in him screamed in protest, he got his feet under him and rose quickly, trying not to show how shaky he was. He walked over to his now bound enemy and pointed his wand at the man’s heart.

"I’ll never let you win." He growled. He’d been intent of finding out where Ron, Luna, the twins, and everyone else who had been in the village were being kept, but before he could demand any answers, the fog rolled in again and Harry blinked as smoke stung his eyes.

When he was once more able to open them and focus, he saw Hermione and Ginny kneeling over him with concerned expressions on their faces. "Hermione?" He was confused. "What happened?" He asked as he sat up, his head swirling.

"You passed the first question young man." The old woman said from behind him. He got to his feet, the girls steadying him.

"You mean it was all an illusion?" He was incredulous, and vaguely he could still feel the pain from the unforgivable that had been used on him. Of course it made sense the more he thought about it- it had been just a little too easy to gain the upper hand in the fight.

"It was a rotten thing to do without giving him a warning." Ginny scolded.

"And letting him think Voldemort was really there! How could you?!" Hermione said angrily.

The old woman shrugged. "If he knew it wasn’t real, he wouldn’t have acted honestly."

"You guys saw everything?" He asked, shaking his head to clear it of the remaining fog.

"Yes, yes, they watched from in there." She pointed to the chest she had brought out. It had a substance in it much like the one in Dumbledore’s pensive. "Now, are you ready for the next question? I don’t have all day you know." Harry nodded. "Alright then. I have here a box. Inside is something that may help in your quest or may hinder it. I will give it to you now and ask that you not open it until you return here. Can you do this?"

"What do you mean until I return? Why can’t I open it or not open it now? I need the next clue." He felt himself getting frustrated.

"Need I remind you that this is to test your virtues? Patience, self-control these are the things that the wearer of the ring must have. Come back the next time Hogwarts allows you to visit the village and no sooner." She turned and the shop vanished. They were now standing in the deserted living room of the Shrieking Shack.

(BREAK)

"That was weird." Ginny said as the three of them looked at each other in confusion. Hermione wasn’t sure what to make of what she’d just been a part of. She watched with some concern as Harry slumped down on the couch, a cloud of dust rising around him. He was staring down at the box in his hands and she knew he wanted nothing more than to tear it open. Seeing the look on his face, Ginny must have decided to leave him to his thoughts. "I’ll catch up with you guys later." She said quietly and then quickly left.

Hermione sat down next to Harry and waited for him to speak first. "Sirius never would have passed this test." He said quietly. She smiled, remembering how difficult it was for him to wait for anything. "I wish he were here." He added softly.

"So do I. And when you get the ring, we can tell him that." She reached over and rubbed his arm in reassurance.

"Why is everything always so hard?" He shook his head. "Why do so many people have to die?"

Hermione drew her hand back in frustration. He always came to her for answers, for discussion. He would never see her as anything other than his friend, the answer key. "Why are you asking me? As you said before, I don’t know everything." She said huffily.

Harry looked up sharply at this. It was obvious that he hadn’t realized his comments would still be bothering her. "I apologized for that."

"I know. But Harry, you can’t have it all your way. You can’t say things and expect them not to make an impact. You can’t expect answers from me only when you feel bad. And you can’t expect that you’re the only one who is suffering from everything that happened." She stood up and crossed her arms. Damn, she hadn’t planned on saying anything or starting an argument. It was the last thing either of them needed and she knew he was never one to back down.

"If I remember correctly, it was my parents that died, my godfather that died and I was the one to miss catching Neville." He said crossly, standing to face her.

"Right there!" she shouted, her anger and frustration taking over. "That’s what I mean. You weren’t the only one who cared for Sirius. And you aren’t the only one who feels guilty about Neville."

"Really?" He began to pace the floor angrily, clenching and unclenching his hands. "I couldn’t get to him. I tried and I would have if...."

"If it wasn’t for me." She broke in harshly.

"What?" he stopped, looking at her dumbfounded.

"You think you’re the only one to feel guilty about not getting to him in time? Look around at the rest of us once in awhile Harry. Open your eyes. Luna and I tried to pull him back up onto the stands and missed. Ginny and Fred couldn’t grab him either. Don’t you think we all suffer from the memories? Until today, when she was trying to help you might I add, Ginny hasn’t said a word. She’s been crying herself to sleep every night. And do you really think Fred and George’s fight was about some stupid product of theirs? It was Fred’s way of not thinking about what he had done. And what about me, Harry? You expect me to sit and listen to you say how bad you feel about not getting to him in time and tell you it’s okay. But you don’t see how it’s tearing me up inside."

"What do you mean?" he stepped closer

"I pulled Luna up first and so we missed Neville. And if it weren’t for me falling…if you hadn’t gone after me first….you would have caught him. But you saved me first and now I’m alive and he’s dead." She wrapped her arms around herself, lost in the thoughts she hadn’t really allowed herself to think. "Someone else was always first and he suffered the consequence."

"Hermione...." he placed a hand on her shoulder.

"If you didn’t have to hold on to me so I wouldn’t fall, you wouldn’t have slipped off the broom and you would have grabbed him. Do you even know how much it hurts me to know that he died because I was saved? Can you imagine how guilty I feel?" She let out a loud sob and Harry wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight against him. She grabbed the front of his shirt in her fists and cried.

"I know this doesn’t make anything better, but I’ll never be sorry that you’re alive." He leaned his cheek against her soft hair. They stood there for a long time.

Finally, she stepped back and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Harry picked up the box and handed her jacket to her. Neither spoke as they prepared to head back to the coaches. They didn’t need to.

Suddenly, they heard Pansy’s voice at the front door. "Are you sure it’s safe to talk in here?" She asked the person she was with. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand and pulled her behind the couch. Peering around the side, they saw the girl come in apparently by herself. Harry put his hand over Hermione’s mouth to cover her gasp as Draco Malfoy appeared out of thin air.

"So how did you do it, Draco? How did you set that spell?" Pansy asked excitedly.

"As you can see, Potter’s not the only one with an invisibility cloak. I snuck out the night before and set it up as my father directed." Malfoy smiled.

"Your father? Isn’t he in prison?"

"Not for long. Besides, he told me to do it when I visited him this summer. Shame only Longbottom died." As they both laughed, Hermione had to practically sit on Harry to keep him from going out to punch Malfoy. The distraction of keeping Harry from doing anything stupid was the only thing keeping her from throttling the little jerk herself.

"What time is it?" Malfoy asked Pansy after awhile.

"Quarter to four." She answered.

"I better go. Dumbledore is supposed to check on me at four thirty."

"How long is this going to last?"

"I don’t know. Snape is trying everything he can. Just goes to show how stupid that old fool is, employing a ‘former’ Death Eater. Come on, see me to the edge of the village?" She nodded and he disappeared under the cloak. Once they were gone, Harry and Hermione ran to the secret way back to the school.

(BREAK)

As soon as they were a safe distance from the Shrieking Shack, Draco simply walked away from Pansy as she prattled on. She obviously didn’t need him to make conversation so he figured he didn’t really have to be there. Besides, he felt his façade slipping and though dense, he didn’t want to risk Pansy catching on to his doubts.

As he walked alone back to the castle, his own words replayed over and over in his head, "It’s a shame only Longbottom had died." And then he had laughed. Had Potter and Granger heard the hollowness in the glee he’d projected? Of course he knew they were there. His partner had been in the pub with them and overheard their plans to check out the abandoned house. The news had been passed along to him and after sneaking out and finding Pansy, Draco had done exactly what they’d all expected of him, he’d confessed to being to one to set the spell. It wasn’t something he wanted his name attached to, but he had no choice in the matter now.

Potter was sure to run straight to the headmaster with what he’d heard, no matter the lack of truth behind it. And now Draco had to prepare himself for the fallout that came along with his false confession. Feeling lower than low as he snuck back into his room, he threw the cloak under his bed and sat to wait for old Dumbledore, trying to imagine what his punishment would be.

(BREAK)

Dumbledore leaned forward in his chair, lost in thought after they had related everything they had heard between Draco and Pansy in the Shrieking Shack. Harry glanced at Hermione who merely shrugged, unsure what to do next. "Sir, is Snape just lying to him about helping? He definitely hasn’t gone back to the other side, right?" He asked eagerly, interrupting the silence.

"Professor Snape, Harry." The Headmaster corrected automatically.

"How did Malfoy know about Harry’s cloak?" Hermione pressed.

"We know he has been spying on you all for a long time, he may have found out that way. And yes, Professor Snape is playing as our spy. If word gets out that he is reformed, Voldemort will have him killed. As of right now, he is viewed as a valuable asset, and he feeds them misinformation when he goes to their meetings. I’m afraid I can tell you no more on that subject. As to the imprisoned Death Eaters, I will give Arthur a heads up, but there’s not much we can do, with the dementors on Voldemort’s side."

"What about him setting the spell?" Harry demanded.

"We cannot act on this right away. If we do, he will know that someone overheard his conversation and you may be put in danger. For now, I will have all the teachers keep a closer eye on the next match. I will also confiscate his cloak in secret. If you will excuse me, I believe I am now due to check on him."

Disappointed by the lack of action taken by Dumbledore, they headed back to the Gryffindor common room just as everyone was returning from Hogsmeade. He asked Hermione to round up the others and meet in the Room of Requirement and with her help, he filled them all in on what had happened, from the old woman in the mysterious shop to the brief meeting in Dumbledore’s office. "I think it’s time we put all our fights aside and work together." He finished.

Ron got up. "So I’m just supposed to forget everything you said to me?"

"If I’m willing to forget what you said to me, then I don’t see why not. I apologize, Ron, okay? I was stressed. We all are." He gave a small nod of acknowledgement toward Hermione. "And there are more important things going on right now."

"Agreed." George said getting up as well. "Ron, just say you’re sorry, because honestly, the things you said were way worse than what Harry said."

"How do you know?" Ron asked.

Fred held up his trusty pair of extendable ears. "Never leave home without them."

"I’m sorry too." Ron mumbled, looking at the ground.

"Right," Harry said. "I think it’s time to start up the DA again." Everyone looked up in surprise. "I’ve been thinking it over, and if you’re all on board, I’d like to share a few ideas I had." Hermione smiled at him and he smiled back. He realized that once again she was right, he had been ignoring his friends. They all looked happy to be included in the decision. "Ok, first of all, we want this to be open to ‘everyone’, so let’s do it on Wednesday nights as Hermione suggested. Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle are on the Slytherin team and won’t be able to spy on us for Malfoy. Now, if as many people sign up as I’m expecting, I won’t be able to handle them all. So I thought that maybe the first night, we test everyone on their basics and then divide them up. I will take the existing DA members, Hermione can take the intermediate group and Ron and Ginny take the basic group. I’m putting the two of you there, because that’s where I’m expecting most of them to go. Is everyone okay with that?"

Ron raised his hand. "You don’t have to raise your hand Ron." Harry grinned.

"Right. Anyway, I was just wondering when Hermione, Ginny and I would be learning the things you’ll be teaching the advanced group?"

"We could set up a time that works for all four of us." He suggested.

"I’ve got an idea for that." Ginny said. "What if the advanced group meets on a different day? That way, wherever we are things won’t be so cramped. Then you’ll be free to help us on Wednesdays if we need it."

"Works for me. Any objections?" No one said anything. "Right, well now, where will we meet?"

"The Great Hall on Wednesday?" Hermione suggested.

"And here for the original DA meeting." Fred added.

"Sounds good. Now who wants to go with me to talk to McGonagall right now?" They all decided to go and Harry noticed Ron and Luna holding hands as they walked down the hall. He smiled, glad that his friend was happy. He knew it would be awhile before things between the two of them would be normal again, but he was willing to wait it out. As for Hermione, time would tell.

(BREAK)

"Let’s go for a walk Mr. Malfoy." Dumbledore said as soon Draco answered the knock on his door. The headmaster was standing in the hall with Filch, it seemed his reckoning had arrived. With a shrug he followed Dumbledore while the caretaker stayed behind. They walked for a long while and in complete silence, making him begin to feel nervous. Eventually they wound up in a hallway he had never seen before and as they made their way down it, the old wizard finally broke his silence. "You know, Draco, there are some things I will just never understand."

He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond, but he knew how he was expected to and so that’s the path he chose. "I’d think there are quite a few things you’ll never understand, sir."

Dumbledore shook his head sadly. "Perhaps you are right. But perhaps there is one area in which your expertise could offer me some enlightenment. Please explain to me, why are some children so eager to continue the sins of their parents? Why are they so intent on taking up battles completely unconnected to them and their lives, started in the generation before them?"

Draco felt slightly ashamed, a bit stupid, knowing what was being implied… that he was one of those children, so eager to be used by his father. He didn’t appreciate it and he was determined to prove he was no idiot. "I suppose it would depend on one’s interpretation of what it is to sin."

"I suppose that could factor in. But wouldn’t one find greater satisfaction in taking up a cause that was their own, one they felt strongly about and not just one they inherit." Dumbledore returned.

"Unless the one they inherit is one they do feel strongly about." Draco volleyed back, feeling he was in some sort of contest.

"Then I suppose that would depend on whether or not it was a noble cause."

Draco shook his head, feeling he was about to get the upper hand. "But then that would depend on one’s interpretation of the word noble, wouldn’t it? Just because you don’t believe in what my father and his group want to accomplish doesn’t mean it’s wrong."

Dumbledore halted their progress, turning to look him directly in the eye. "Exactly, Draco. And the same works the other way, just because you father and his group don’t agree with what we want to accomplish doesn’t mean we’re wrong. What you have to decide it where you stand. And what you have to understand is that sometimes, it’s perfectly alright to take a stand in the middle and remain neutral until you do develop strong feelings one way or the other. But to continue on one side just because it’s there, without really believing in it, then you’re only cheating yourself of the opportunity to really find out who you are."

"Who said I didn’t believe in the cause?" He returned sourly.

"Well, what we want is for everyone to live together in peace, to let everyone be what they are without hassle as long as they do no harm. I am behind this because I see a world full of differences, nature is nothing but variety, even in the most barren desert, and that is what makes it beautiful- that diversity is what makes the world function in synchronicity. So tell me, why do you feel it’s necessary to destroy and kill anyone not like you?"

"Hey! I’ve never killed anyone!" Draco defended himself, not liking how he was being viewed through the headmaster’s eyes- as someone weak and without the ability to think for himself.

"On the contrary. Neville Longbottom is dead, and I am certain you had prior knowledge of the event which took his life. Whether by your hand or your silence, his murder is one you can claim as yours. Are you proud? Is your father?" Dumbledore countered, his eyes now harder than Draco ever seen them before.

He knew he had to stay strong, to show he wasn’t weak, that he couldn’t be guilted into revealing anything. "You can’t prove anything."

"Lucky for you or I would have already handed you over to the Aurors." The headmaster answered quietly. "It’s not too late, Draco. You haven’t completely lost your soul yet."

"According to you, I would have lost it the minute Longbottom took his last breath." Draco shot back, feeling frustrated. It seemed Dumbledore was torn between anger and disappointment in him, between wanting to punish and save him. The old man seemed as tortured by his feelings as Draco felt by the conversation. If that was what it was like to have a soul, then maybe he should be glad not to have one.

"No, at that moment you put yourself on the path to losing it. Whether or not you walk that path is your decision and at some point, you are going to have to make a choice."

"We’ll see."

"We certainly will. It’s time to head back to your room." And without another word, he turned and began walking away rapidly. Draco nearly had to run to keep up with the headmaster and had actually broken a sweat as they reached his door. He was surprised to see Filch coming out, holding his invisibility cloak.

"Found this in the search." The ugly, stringy hair man reported.

"Hey! That’s mine!" Draco rushed forward but Dumbledore held him back.

"And it will be returned to you at the end of the semester before you go home for the holiday. Until then, I will be confiscating it in order to remove the temptation to use it."

"Why were you having my room searched?" Draco asked, though he already knew the answer. Potter and Granger had done exactly what he’d expected.

"As I told you, I suspect your involvement in what occurred at the quidditch match. I am only lacking proof." Dumbledore said. "Have a good day, Mr. Malfoy." He added before taking his squib and walking away.

Well, not having the cloak was going to hurt him badly, and would certainly make him more vulnerable when he needed to be out of the room. As for the words the headmaster had spoken, they were boring annoyingly into his head. When the time came for his dinner to be brought to him, he ordered the house elf to take it back, deciding sleep would be his best defense against having to think. He opened his trunk and grabbed one of the sleeping potions he’d stolen from his mother, Dreamless Sleep. It was her favorite and secretly his as well when he was able to sneak some. It certainly made life easier if you could sleep through the more horrible moments. Careful to take just a pinch, he lay down and drifted off into the bliss of nothingness.

(BREAK)

It was deep into the middle of the night and Ginny had the common room to herself. She sat in front of the dying fire hoping the house elves would just let it go out so that she could remain undisturbed. Glancing sideways, she saw the empty armchair next to her, the one where Neville had sat the last time they’d been alone together. She’d been so frustrated that day, upset to find out she’d been right and Harry and Hermione were slowly heading towards coupling up. Neville had wanted to talk to her, to let her vent her feelings out but she had ignored him, preferring the silence to conversation. Now she would never get a chance to talk to him again.

Tears fell freely down her face as her mind whirled. She didn’t know anymore what she was feeling or thinking. Neville had always been a perfectly nice boy, always sweet and willing to help. Of course she’d noticed the way he looked at her, and of course she’d thought about attempting to date him. But after so many unsatisfying attempts at relationships including the last one with Dean, she’d put off Neville not wanting to hurt him. She found herself wondering- if he’d had the nerve to approach her and initiate things, whether she would have gone for it. She knew she needed someone like Neville, attentive and caring. She shook her head, reminding herself that none of it mattered. She’d never know how it could have turned out differently.

She got up and moved over to sit in what she now thought of as Neville’s chair, curling herself up within it and drifting off into a troubled sleep promising herself that from now on, she would do whatever it took to get what she wanted. Life was too short after all.




A/N: Okay and there we go. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment!


Chapter 17: An Unexpected Trip to Hogsmeade

NOTE: [insert previous comments here.] This is going to be a long one!!!




During the week, classes had been extra strenuous to make up for the time that was missed and the next Saturday was spent doing a mountain of homework. Right before dinner, Harry gave up feeling that he had made a good enough dent. Plus, after much begging, Hermione had relented and agreed to let the boys copy her Potions essay. He looked over at Ron who had given in to defeat long before he had. Things between them were still awkward, and he tried to think of anything that would make it better. He put his books away and walked over to where Ron was going over his plans for the first real DA meeting.

"How’s it going? With the plans for Wednesday I mean." He sat down nervously. But he knew if he wanted the friendship back, he had to put in the effort.

"Good. Ginny figured out what we’re doing, so I’m just looking over everything. She gets more and more like Hermione every day." Ron complained, acting as if he weren’t as tense as Harry was. Luckily it seemed he was willing to make the effort as well.

Harry smiled at the thought. Ginny had been working diligently on her homework and lately you could find her with her nose two inches from a book. Though he suspected the reason for this behavior was more than just because she wanted good grades. It was a way to escape. "And how are things with you and Luna?" He asked awkwardly.

"Weird, but that’s to be expected with her, I suppose." Ron smiled. "You know, yesterday, she gave me a clump of dirt."

"Why?" Harry smiled back.

"She read in the Quibbler that it’s supposed to bring good luck if you carry the earth with you. An illustrious claim by some weirdo her father interviewed."

"Huh. So everything’s like usual then?"

"About as usual as it’s going to get." Ron laughed.

"And you really like her?" He asked a bit anxiously.

"You know what? I really do. She’s weird and everything, but there’s something about her that’s... I don’t know how to describe it really." Harry relaxed as the conversation progressed. Things were getting easier. "So, what’s up with you and Hermione?" Ron asked.

"What do you mean?" Harry had tried not to be alone with Hermione all week, but it wasn’t going well. They always happened to be in the library at the same time, or the common room, and usually when no one else was around. He feared saying the wrong thing to her, something that would not only destroy his chances of moving past friendship but the friendship itself.

"You know what I mean. You’ve been spending a lot of time together, ‘studying’." His friend teased.

"It was just studying, Ron. Nothing is going on." Harry responded, not meeting his eyes.

"If you ask me, you should start getting that ‘something’ going." Ron poked him in the shoulder.

Harry pushed him. "Cut it out. I don’t know if it’s the right time to bring it up."

"If you wait for the right time, it’s never going to come."

"That’s rather insightful of you."

"Yeah, well hanging around Ginny and Hermione all these years is starting to rub off." His stomach growled loudly. "Ready to go to dinner?"

"Let me just put my bag away." He ran his things upstairs and then they made their way to the Great Hall.

"You nervous about tonight?" Ron asked. That evening they were to hold the DA meeting that would determine where to place everyone who showed up.

"I probably would be if you guys weren’t going to be there. Plus, Hermione planned out the whole thing. Less for me to do." He grinned as they sat down at the table together.

Hermione smiled at Harry and he knew she was glad to see him and Ron conversing so easily with each other. For a minute, he let himself think things were going to be ok. Until he looked over at the Ravenclaw table. Cho was staring at him, an unreadable expression on her face. He had sent Luna to tell her about the meeting, wanting to avoid any kind of fight that might have started. He sighed. Maybe tonight would be harder than he thought.

(BREAK)

"Will you relax already? You’re going to break my hand." Luna declared. She and Ron were waiting just outside the school for everyone to finish their meal and clear out.

"Oh, sorry." He relaxed his grip, but didn’t let go. She could feel his nerves.

"You aren’t even going to start teaching anyone anything tonight. It’s all about watching." She tried to reassure him.

"I know, but there’s still so many ways I could mess something up."

"Don’t worry, it’ll all turn out fine for you." She said soothingly.

"How do you know?" He asked grumpily.

"Because I do. Besides, it’s Harry who should be worrying, what with Cho basically stalking him." She’d decided she needed to say something, give some hint. None of them had seemed to notice Cho Chang, creeping at the edges as she watched Harry. None of them took the girl as seriously as they should, based on the things Luna knew and had seen of her. But she wasn’t entirely sure if she was supposed to tell them just how dangerous Cho could be to their group. She knew that the other girl’s ultimate exposure would come and maybe needed to come at the hands of someone else, someone who needed to expose her in order to save themselves. But a hint before anything got too out of hand couldn’t hurt, could it?

Ron turned to her, looking concerned and confused. "What about Harry and Cho?"

"I’m not sure, but something in the girl has become unbalanced… maybe she was the whole time, who knows. But lately her scales have tipped further into nuts." She shrugged, trying not to appear too serious. "I heard her talking and she seriously thinks she has a chance at capturing Harry’s attention again."

"Then she really is mental. He’s all about Hermione these days it seems."

She raised an eyebrow, seeing the longing in his face. "And that bothers you?"

"Of course not!" He answered quickly.

Luna knew he’d also had a crush on Hermione and she wasn’t sure which irked him more- that he couldn’t have her, or that he couldn’t have her because of Harry. Although to be honest, she didn’t know which bothered her more- Ron still sometimes wishing he was with his first choice, or that Harry had decided to let Hermione take up so much of his attention. She needed Harry to focus outside his hormones in order for the truth to come out, in order for her to finally have someone to confide in so she didn’t constantly feel like she was losing her mind. She supposed that her desire to take on someone else as her confidant gave her no right to be mad at Ron for his left-over feelings. "Looks like that was the last of them." She said absently, as the final group of students exited the Great Hall. "Let’s go help set up."

(BREAK)

"Okay everyone. Quiet down so we can get things started." Harry was standing in front of a large group of students from three of the four houses. After dinner, the tables had been moved aside and mats were provided. He looked around, pleased that the turnout was greater than he had expected and that there wasn’t a Slytherin in sight. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were all standing around him and he pulled courage from his friends. "Tonight is about seeing where you all stand, so the rest of the Original DA members and I will take groups of you and see what you can do and place you accordingly. Depending on your abilities, you will be put in one of three groups: Beginners, will be taught by Ron and Ginny Weasley, Intermediate will be taught by Hermione Granger and I will take the Advanced group who will be meeting on Tuesday nights. Alright, lets get started."

He divided the newcomers up among the DA: He, Hermione, Ron, Fred, George, Ginny, Luna, Cho, Dean, Seamus, Zacharias Smith, Ernie MacMillan, Susan Bones, Colin and Dennis Creevey, Hannah Abbot, Lavender Brown, and the Patil twins each took small groups of four. They tested and judged everyone’s comprehension of basic skills. For those few showing promise, harder spells were readily given and graded. Harry noted how much Hermione seemed to be enjoying her role as educator and was glad he could provide her the opportunity.

After two hours, he thanked everyone for coming and told them he’d have lists put up in all their common rooms the next day so that the first meetings could take place that week. Everyone cleared out, leaving only the Marauders to clean up.

Well, almost everyone had gone. "Harry?" He turned around to find Cho standing behind him. "I just wanted to apologize for the fight we had on the train. I was really embarrassed by the way I acted."

"Okay, it’s fine, Cho. We both said things that were out of line. So I’m sorry too." He could see his friends watching to see if things got out of hand, except for Hermione who was focused on rolling up the mats and putting them away, a weird expression on her face.

"I don’t want things to be bad between us." Cho stepped to the side and blocked his view of Hermione.

"Okay, well, apology accepted." He said quickly, turning to gather all of his papers.

"Good. Because if things were bad between us, we’d never have a chance of getting back together." She said quietly.

Harry sighed heavily. "Cho-"

"I know. You don’t think it’ll happen, but we’ll see." With that, she left and he turned to the others, rubbing his head in confusion. Ron grinned sympathetically and shook his head at the ground. Something about Cho’s persistence felt off to Harry. He just couldn’t believe he was all that desirable.

The rest of the night was spent with Ron, Ginny and Hermione deciding where to place everyone. They laughed and joked as if they hadn’t a care in the world and for the first time in awhile, Harry felt like he was happy as they all threw themselves into this distraction in order to forget that Neville was no longer there.

(BREAK)

"But why does she want to get back together with him?" Hermione whined.

"Who cares? The important thing to note is that he isn’t at all interested in her." Ron argued. It was very late and the others had turned in long ago. He had no one but himself to blame for his loss of sleep. He wanted very badly to copy Hermione’s homework and she had declared he had until midnight to finish.

"Really? No interest at all?" She again interrupted his writing.

He sighed in frustration. "If he did, he would’ve taken her up on the offer by now don’t you think? Trust me, I’m sure you two are on your way to a long and happy romance."

"What’s your problem?"

"I’m trying to make your deadline here! And you keep messing me up to talk about the impossibility of Harry and Cho!" He shouted.

"Sorry." She said sarcastically. "Maybe if you did your own homework every once in awhile you wouldn’t have to stress about copying mine. I’ll be over here when you’re done."

He knew the homework wasn’t the reason he was feeling so irritated. It was the conversation she was trying to have with him. Regardless the fact that he had found a strange happiness with Luna, he still didn’t want to have to listen and guide Hermione through starting up a relationship with Harry. He could put those previous feeling behind him, and he could be really happy for them... someday. But she was pushing his limits at the moment. Of course he couldn’t tell her that. "I’m sorry. You’re right that I’m stressed and I shouldn’t take it out on you. I appreciate you helping me get this done."

"Very good. Now say ‘Polly want a cracker.’" She glared at him.

"Excuse me?"

"I’ve heard all that before. You and Harry could form a nice harmony when you’re saying what you know I want to hear." She answered crossly.

"Now who’s stressed and taking it out on the wrong person?" he smirked. "Look, if you’re this twisted up, just tell him what you’re feeling and what you want to do about it."

"Easier said than done." She muttered. "I’m going to bed. Just don’t lose my things."

He watched her climb the stairs and shook his head. The sooner those two just sat down and talked to each other, the easier it would be for the rest of them. Turning his attention back to the work before him, he hunkered down and barreled through. It was slightly after one in the morning when he finally packed up his things and trudged off to bed.

(BREAK)

The next morning at breakfast, the students of Hogwarts got some very exciting news as Dumbledore stood up to address his pupils. "It is now the first of October. I have received several requests from various older students, and have decided to give in to them in the spirit of fun. On the thirty first, a Costume Ball will be held for Fifth, Sixth and Seventh year students." He paused as several girls started cheering. "I have been told that if I decided to go along with this idea they would need to shop for their costumes, so I have scheduled a special Hogsmeade outing in two weeks for the older students only. That is all."

Now it was Harry who was excited. He couldn’t wait to return to the Shrieking Shack and finally get the next clue. He turned to share his excitement with Hermione only to see that she was getting up to leave. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"I wanted to get some more homework out of the way." She answered without looking at him.

"But Hermione, its Sunday morning!" He knew for a fact that she already had every bit of her work done, she was a terrible liar.

"Yeah well, I don’t want to get that rushed panicked feeling that you and Ron seem so fond of." She snapped.

She was mad at him! But he couldn’t remember doing anything recently to upset her. Not that he knew of anyway. "Is something wrong?"

"With me? No, everything’s fine, Harry." She walked quickly from the room. He turned to Ron, bewildered, but his friend’s mouth was stuffed full so he could only shrug. Harry got up and ran after Hermione, catching up with her just outside in the courtyard.

"Hey! Slow down." He grabbed her arm so she’d stop. "Obviously something’s wrong with you, just tell me what it is."

"It must be obvious if you’re noticing." She said miserably, pulling away from him.

"Okay, ouch. Maybe I deserved that."

She sat down on the edge of the fountain and sighed, running her hands nervously through her hair. "No you didn’t. I just don’t want to tell you what’s wrong because it’s stupid."

"Nothing about you is stupid, Hermione." He noticed her shiver in the crisp autumn air and took off the sweater he was wearing over his T-shirt. "Here, take this. And don’t tell me you’re not cold." He said as he handed it to her.

"But then you’ll be cold." She pulled it on as he sat next to her.

"I think I can manage." He actually felt warmer, being so close to her. "So what’s wrong?"

"I don’t want to talk about it." She looked out across the lawn her face flush with embarrassment. "Let’s just go for a walk." she got up and headed toward the quidditch pitch, he quickly followed. They walked together quietly for a long while, the silence heavy but comfortable. "So.... are you and Cho getting back together?" She finally asked.

He noticed that she was looking anywhere but at him and he smiled, glad she seemed as nervous as he did. It was a good sign. "Not unless I get a lobotomy. She’s...for lack of a better description, not my type." He said quickly.

"You thought she was last year." Hermione returned, this time stopping to look at him.

"Yeah, well, I thought a lot of things last year that turned out to be false didn’t I? Besides, I was blind to what was right in front of me." He faced her, standing so close. Ron was right, no more waiting for the right moment. "Hermione, I-" He began, but stopped abruptly as he noticed Ginny, running up behind her.

"Hermione! We’ve been looking all over for you! Dumbledore is calling for all the prefects. You better come too, Harry. I think it has something to do with Malfoy!" she reported breathlessly.

Harry groaned and followed the girls as they ran back up to the castle. Once again, Draco Malfoy was ruining his life. They reached Dumbledore’s office just as all the other prefects and Head Girl and Boy were running out. Ginny said she’d wait in the hallway so he and Hermione continued up the stairs. Ron was still with the Headmaster.

"Ah good, Harry, you’re here as well. We’ve received word from Professor Snape that he caught Draco out of his room. I’ve sent all the other professors and prefects out to check the area for any danger. Hermione, will you and Ron please take the Gryffindor tower? I trust I don’t need to tell you to be as careful and secret as possible." They left to carry out their orders as he turned to Harry. "Could you find Fred and George and check the dungeons for Professor Snape? I doubt anything was done there, but he is expected at a Death Eater meeting and is unable to do so himself. There are no other students who know the dungeons like the Weasley twins that I trust to accompany you." Harry nodded and went to find Fred and George, with Ginny following closely behind him.

They found the twins in the room of requirement, working on several products for their store. Harry was momentarily taken aback having never seen the room set up quite this way before. It was like a giant lab/kitchen, with things bubbling in cauldrons and tubes all over the place. Though loathe to be torn away, the twins were excited by the prospect of danger so they readily agreed to search Snape’s territory.

(BREAK)

"I think he was about to say something really important!" Hermione whined as they ran towards Gryffindor tower. Ron didn’t bother to respond, not caring how upset she was that Ginny had interrupted the time she was spending with Harry. He hated being in the middle of this.

They rounded the corner to see Luna talking to the Fat Lady as she waited outside the portrait. "What are you doing out? The castle’s in lockdown. You’re supposed to be in the Great Hall!" Ron said in anger and fear. He hadn’t thought he’d had to worry for her safety but here she was and looking as casual as ever, as if the whole place weren’t buzzing with dangerous tension.

"I know what’s going on." She answered, startled by his tone. "And I know what you’re looking for. I was waiting for you guys so I could tell you."

"How do you know?" Hermione demanded.

Luna looked away. "I saw someone talking to Draco about it."

"What do you mean? When? Where?" Ron gently grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look him in the eyes.

"Who was the other person?" Hermione added, stepping up next to him.

"It’s not important right now. There’s been another explosion spell set, do you want to know where it is or keep interrogating me?" Luna asked harshly.

She was right about the urgency but he was frustrated none the less. Luna always seemed to know things and this secrecy of hers was starting to wear on him. But for the sake of the dire situation they were in, he would once more let it go. "Okay, so where is it?"

(BREAK)

Harry opened the door to the dungeon hallway cautiously, his wand at the ready. When he saw that all was safe, he motioned for the others to follow and three red heads stumbled in behind him "Alright you two. If you were to hide something dangerous down here, where would you put it?" He asked, wanting to get straight to business.

"There are many possibilities." George said looking around.

"The shadows provide good cover but the dampness will destroy anything that is left too long." Fred added.

"Which narrows our prospects a little. Hey Fred. Do you remember in our second year...?"

"When we hid the-?"

"Yeah, took Filtch weeks to clean it all up!"

"We almost got expelled for that!" Fred laughed.

"Good times." George nodded in remembrance.

"Guys, we’re here to do something?" Ginny reminded them impatiently.

"Right! We’ll check all the good hiding places and let you know if we find anything." George said as they walked off.

Harry and Ginny followed behind them. "Sorry about ruining the moment you were having with Hermione. It broke my heart to do it." She said quietly.

"Moment? What moment? There was no moment." Harry panicked. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want the others knowing that he was trying to date his best friend.

"Oh please. I saw it was a moment from the top of the hill." She said with a laugh.

"I have no idea what you’re talking about." He maintained, watching the twins search.

"Fine have it your way. But she was wearing your sweater." She answered slyly.

"I gave it to her because she was cold."

"Of course you did. You should ask her to the Costume Ball." She pushed. The whole conversation seemed a little odd to him. Like she was forcing the issue for some reason. Something was poking in his mind, like a thought beyond his grasp. Only for some reason, he had a feeling it wasn’t his, but Ginny’s thought that was just out of his reach.

"Ginny, we’re searching for a deadly device. Right now is not the time to think about this." He said shaking his head.

"Whatever you say." Suddenly there was a loud explosion, and she grabbed his arm in fear. "What did you two do?" She demanded of her brothers.

"It wasn’t us!" They said together.

"It came from above us." Harry said. They all looked towards the ceiling as they heard screams from the hall upstairs.

Quickly they ran up only to get pushed aside as students ran wildly out the front door. Harry and George had to grab Ginny to keep her from falling down the stairs. Once it was all clear of the herd of students, they ran down the hallway until they saw all the professors and prefects gathered outside Professor Flitwick’s classroom. He was surprised to see Luna there as well, looking down at something on the floor and shaking her head. Looking up she caught sight of him and he could almost hear her voice floating through his head. I was too late. She seemed to be thinking to him, tears in her eyes.

Harry, Ginny and the twins slowly walked up to see what everyone was staring at. Two bodies lay on the ground, uncovered from the rubble that had once been a classroom. Harry realized that he knew them; one was Hannah Abbot the Hufflepuff prefect and DA member and the other was Jason Stone the new Slytherin prefect and quidditch team chaser. "Are they dead?" He asked quietly.

"No, thankfully. They were only knocked unconscious." Madame Pomfrey answered as she examined them. Harry looked to Ron and Hermione who were frozen in shock and fear like many of the others in the room. Luna appeared relieved.

"What happened?" Lupin demanded.

"They must have found the explosive ready to go off and ducked behind the desk. It saved their lives." Professor Flitwick said shaking his head. McGonagall ushered everyone out as the professors carried the students’ bodies to the hospital wing. Harry stormed off.

"Where are you going?" Hermione called after him. He didn’t answer. He just kept walking. Somewhere in the back of his mind he sensed that she, Ron, Ginny, Luna and the twins were following him. He didn’t care.

"Popple snaps." He growled at the gargoyle when he had reached the headmaster’s office. He and the others climbed the stairs in silence and he could feel their tense anticipation for his actions.

Without knocking, he burst into Dumbledore’s office. The Headmaster rose as the students barged in. "You." Harry said, pointing his finger at Dumbledore. "This is your fault. I told you a week ago that Malfoy was the one who set that spell and you said not to do anything about it. Well, now two more students are injured. And one of them was from his own house! He doesn’t care who he hurts and you’re letting him get away with it!"

"Harry-" Dumbledore began. But Harry was on a roll, his anger at the breaking point.

"No! He killed Neville and you did nothing! Two more students could have died and this time you’d better do something about him or I will!" Harry turned and stormed out of the office and back to the Gryffindor common room.

Awhile later, the others came through the portrait and found Harry once more sitting in front of the fireplace staring into the comforting, crackling flames. No one said a word; they all simply sat around him and stared… at each other, at the ground, at nothing at all. Finally, Ron broke the silence. "Dumbledore has gathered all the students in the Great Hall and is letting them know what happened."

"Fabulous." Harry answered, his back to them.

"Don’t you want to know what he said after you left?" Ginny asked coming around to stand in front of him.

He looked up and became startled at the brilliance of her hair in the firelight. He shook his head, not only in answer to her question, but to clear it of his thoughts. "Only if he said he was getting rid of Malfoy."

"He’s not." Fred said from the couch. Ron and George remained seated next to him, but Hermione came to stand next to Ginny.

"And he said if you go near Malfoy, he’ll expel you." She warned.

"He did, did he? I doubt he meant it." Harry had upon arriving that year, felt comfortable in his position at the school. They would never send him away, they thought he was safe there. But were any of them really safe anywhere anymore?

"Harry, he has his reasons for doing this." Hermione said without much conviction.

"Not good enough ones from what I can see." He said, finally rising and walking away from the girls.

"I agree with you there, mate." Ron said. "But you definitely shouldn’t have talked like that to him. You aren’t going to be his favorite anymore."

"Yeah, now we’ll never get away with stuff!" Fred complained.

"Oh please, Harry could kick Dumbledore in the face and still be the favorite." George piped in.

"Yeah, he wasn’t mad at what he said, he was only mad at what Harry threatened to do to Malfoy." Ginny added. "And Harry, while you brought up a good argument, you did it all wrong. I want Malfoy gone too, but it is safer to keep him here out of contact with everyone."

"Safer? Neville’s dead and Hannah and Jason are knocked unconscious! I wouldn’t call that safe." Harry felt his temper rise again. But for a moment he had felt awkward. The words coming from Ginny’s mouth were one’s he’d expect to hear from Hermione.

"He’s moving Malfoy to a room off of his office. The little ferret can’t leave without himself or the portraits seeing him." George offered.

"He should have done that after Hermione and I brought him proof that he was responsible for the first explosion." Harry answered.

"Again, no argument here." Ron said.

"Well, he’s doing it this time, without evidence. So just let it go for now. We’ll all have our chance with Malfoy. We’re not going to be in school forever you know." Hermione said darkly.

"Maybe it’s not as easy as all that." Luna piped up out of nowhere. "I mean just because it looks like Draco’s responsible doesn’t mean there isn’t something deeper going on, right?"

"What are you talking about? You’re always spouting off nonsense!" Ron said loudly in aggravation.

"It was just a thought." She answered quietly, looking hurt. Harry may not have agreed with her thought, but he suddenly felt very certain that Luna was hiding something.

(BREAK)

"What happened to needing proof?" Draco asked glumly as Dumbledore led him to his new room. It was much smaller and unfortunately connected to the headmaster’s office. Without his cloak, it would be near impossible to sneak out. It was so unfair, he hadn’t even known those second spells had been set until Dumbledore had shown up to move him, thinking him responsible.

"I’ve decided it’s best not to take anymore chances, Mr. Malfoy. I have some things to attend to, please feel free to wander my office if you find yourself too cramped in here. There is nothing in there worthy of finding." He left quickly, presumably to try and minimize the damage another story like this could produce, inciting an uproar in the public. At best, the school would be portrayed in the papers as dangerous.

Draco paced the small room, certain it had once been a large closet. Oh how the tides had turned… Potter had started up in a cupboard under the stairs and wound up the golden hero, while Draco had gone from a mansion to an old closet as a suspected killer. Yet could he really blame Potter for it? It seemed that everything that had happened and was happening to him was a result of following orders from his own side of the war. They didn’t look out for each other like Dumbledore, Potter and the rest, they didn’t care who became cannon fodder. Draco had the sense that in the grand scheme of things his life meant very little to Lord Voldemort, and possibly even less to Lucius who had always been quick with his disappointment and stingy with his approval. It seemed the more he watched Potter and his friends, the less sure he felt about destroying them. After all, everything they had done had been in reaction to whatever was done to them first. They weren’t fighters or bullies, not unless provoked. If he had never taken a stand against them, they probably wouldn’t have even known he was alive, wouldn’t have sought him out to torture the way he had with them. Okay, so they were all better people, but that didn’t mean they were strong enough to win… only maybe they were.

He knew something was up with Potter, that something was different. After all, the other boy had thrown him twice without lifting his wand. He hadn’t really had the chance to tell his father and he certainly hadn’t told his partner in crime. And what’s more, he wasn’t sure he would tell Lucius or anyone else. There was a part of him deep down that secretly wanted to rebel against Lucius, telling him that perhaps going against his father was the only way to really get his attention. That part of him was extremely pleased to know that Potter had some advantage that neither Lucius or Lord Voldemort knew about. They’d always said that Potter was nothing more than a child, yet over the years, Draco had gathered the sense that somehow the kid was more than that, meant for something greater. How else had he managed to survive time and again when reason says he should have been taken out as a baby, or even as an inexperienced eleven-year old wizard? But here they were so many years later and that simple child was still breathing and much stronger.

Draco paused his thoughts, trying to figure out what it was he was trying to decide, what argument he was making with himself. One thought stood out in his head as he looked out the window. A group of girls walking across the lawn had caught his eye and one in particular captured all of his attention, the same one he’d been irrationally drawn to for quite some time... though always in secret. Watching her now, his only thought was that unless he did something to change himself, she would never be within his reach.

(BREAK)

"I’m sorry I said it!" Ron said as Luna pouted beside him. He knew he’d hurt her feelings earlier and now that they were sitting alone outside by the fountain, trying to spend the time they had before lights out together, he was trying to fix it. "You can have any opinion you want about anything!"

"I know I can. Apparently it’s you who’s having trouble with that concept." She shot back.

"Look, you’re the one who wanted to suggest in front of everyone that Draco was innocent. I only said what they were all thinking." He tried to defend himself again.

"Believe me, I know what they all think." She said angrily. "And I never said he was innocent! I just said there might be more to it."

"Okay, then what makes you believe that?" He crossed his arms.

"I don’t know, Ron. I just think you guys are jumping to conclusions too quickly."

"What are you talking about? Harry and Hermione heard him confess to setting the spell that killed Neville!" he cried, unable to understand her reasoning. "What other conclusion is there?"

"I just think that not everything is what it seems." She once more insisted with an air of mystery. Then she sighed and took his hand. "I don’t want to fight about this anymore. We’ll see what happens. You guys could be right."

"We are right. They wouldn’t lie about what they heard." He defended his friends.

"I never said that they would. I just think that there’s more to the story than what been heard and seen so far. Nothing is ever simple right?" She smiled coyly.

Ron involuntarily grinned back. "Well you certainly aren’t. Quite the puzzle you are."

"And maybe someday you’ll piece me together and figure out the whole picture." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "So are we done with this silly fight? Can we talk about something else now?"

"Like what?" he asked feeling himself melt.

"Whatever you want."

There had been one thing on his mind, and since they’d agreed to put the argument behind them, he decided it was as good a topic as any other. "Okay, how about this Costume Ball dance thing?" He put out there nervously.

She smiled wider. "What about it?"

He felt himself blush and was glad for the dark, moonless sky above them. "Well, I was kind of wondering if you wanted to go with me?" he blurted out quickly before he could mess it up.

"Absolutely! I was waiting for you to ask." She leaned over and kissed him again snuggling up against him.

"How did you know I was going to? You’re awfully sure of yourself." He teased.

"Let’s just say I was already picturing us dancing together." She whispered in his ear sending a shiver down his spine.

"Well," he swallowed hard, "let me paint you a more realistic picture because I’m not exactly the most graceful of dancers."

"You don’t have to be. You only have to be yourself."

"If that’s what you really want. But you might be sorry." He warned.

"Never." She promised. "Any thoughts on our costumes? Because I have a few…"

"Nothing that makes noises or moves on it’s own." He warned.

"Well, now I’ll have to come up with something completely different." She grinned.

(BREAK)

Luna lay in bed listening to her roommates deep, even breathing. She was too mad at herself to find the same peace the other five girls had. She’d come so close to revealing so many things that day and was grateful that Ron and Hermione had forgotten her words in the excitement after the explosion. She was sure she’d blown her own cover in her eagerness to help and worse she hadn’t even gotten there in time. The others would have had some hard questions for her, but thankfully Harry’s little blow up at the headmaster had sufficiently distracted them. It wasn’t time yet to tell of the other person she’d seen talking to Draco, she knew that much. Besides, how could she possibly explain how she saw what she’d seen? It was a part of her the others weren’t ready to know. She had responsibilities and letting fate take it’s intended course was one of them. She’d decided not to interfere and since, she’d done nothing but- always finding a way to justify it. Trying to step in and stop this spell from going off today had been a mistake and she’d almost had to reveal all because of it. She would have to do better, no matter what she saw or knew.

As to the fight with Ron, it was her own fault as well. She had so many secrets she was keeping from him, about her and her past, about the things she knew about him, and about what she knew was coming. Well, from then on, she’d keep it all to herself and let them figure it out as it comes. She was done giving hints; none of them took her seriously anyway. Well, Harry was starting to, but he was still a long way off. She didn’t like to admit that what her new friends thought of her hurt her feelings, and she was glad they were starting to change their minds as they got to know her. But waiting for them to come around completely was starting to wear on her.

(BREAK)

Tuesday night came quickly and the first meeting of the original DA had come to pass. All in all, Hermione thought the evening went smoothly and she was proud of Harry. He’d stepped into the role of leader and had been well prepared, having them spend their time reviewing what they’d learned last year. In fact, the only blemish on the whole evening was the presence of Cho Chang. She had watched with a jealous intensity as the other girl did everything in her power to get Harry’s attention.

At first when she’d asked for help with a spell, Harry had been truly interested in helping her. But by the time Cho was claiming to have trouble with her wand placement, it appeared evident to him and everyone else in the room what she was doing. At one point he had caught Hermione’s eye and stared at her in desperation, silently begging her not to think anything of his attention to the other girl. She felt excitement that he cared what she thought, and at the same time was fuming that Cho wouldn’t back off. Of course, she couldn’t say anything. She had no claim to Harry beyond his friendship.

Now laying awake sometime in the early morning hours, she stared at the ceiling helplessly. Everything inside of her was saying that Harry returned her feelings, not to mention Ron had pretty much said as much. But then why hadn’t Harry done anything about it? Should she… could she approach him? She wasn’t sure. But she knew she had to do something because she couldn’t keep going on like this.

(BREAK)

Harry could sense that Hermione, Ron and Ginny were nervous. It was Wednesday night and they were to teach their groups for the first time. It wasn’t a surprise that no one new had made it into the advanced level, so the night before he had simply gone over everything they’d learned last year. Although it had gone well, Cho’s behavior had irked him. What’s more, her plot to get his attention had been extremely transparent and had obviously upset Hermione. But he had to put that all behind him tonight. He walked around the Great Hall, watching as everyone tried whatever they were being taught.

While circling the room, he found that he couldn’t take his eyes off Hermione. She was really in her element, it was like she was meant to teach and again he was happy to provide an outlet for her talent. He laughed as one of her students shot a stunner at his opponent only to miss, hit a mirror and have it bounce right back at him. She shot him a dirty look so he turned to Ginny’s group to hide his continued laughter.

As he had anticipated, most of the newcomers had become a part of the beginners, so Ginny and Ron had split them up between themselves. She was helping a first year with his wand placement and he thought that she was also in her element. She was patient and understanding with those that were having difficulty, keeping an eye on the troublemakers and at the same time letting the mood remain light and comfortable. Harry realized that she was beginning to act a lot like Hermione, but with more of an edge. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her either.

Just as he was reaching the highest point of his emotional confusion, Ron called out to him. Thinking he needed help with something, Harry hurried over only to see that everyone was doing great with the summoning spell his friend was having them all do. "What’s up?" He asked.

Ron pulled him to the side out of earshot. "Why are you staring at my sister like that?"

"Like what?" Harry asked innocently, swallowing his guilt.

"Like any minute the drool is going to run down your shirt." Ron said sarcastically.

"I was not staring like that." He insisted.

"Good, because I thought you liked Hermione."

"I do! And trust me, I don’t have feelings for your sister. She’s too..." But he couldn’t find the words. Ginny definitely wasn’t the shy little girl he had first met, but he wasn’t sure how to describe her now.

"Annoying?" Ron offered. Harry just grinned.

"Tiresome?" Ron tried again, smiling himself. "How about cranky?"

"Well, whatever you wanna call it, it’s not for me. In fact, I was going to ask Hermione to the Costume Ball thing. Think she’ll go?" Harry asked.

"Um, let me think.... Yes! She’s been so worked up, scared that you’re getting back together with Cho, she’s really getting on my nerves. Please do it so she’ll leave me alone."

"You taking Luna?"

"I said I would as long as her costume didn’t make noises." Ron made a face.

"Didn’t like the lion’s head last year, huh?" Harry laughed.

"What are you two gossiping about over here?" Hermione asked coming up behind them.

"Quidditch." They said together and started laughing all over again.

"Yeah, well, it’s nine thirty. Any end to this in sight?"

Harry looked at his watch in surprise. He stopped everyone and thanked them for coming, advising that they go straight to their common rooms. Soon after, the students had cleared out leaving Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny to clean up. Fifteen minutes later, everything was back to normal and ready for breakfast in the morning. Noticing that Hermione was hanging back, he pretended to still be packing his things into his bag as Ron and Ginny hurried off to get an hour or so of homework done before they called it a night.

Smiling at each other in the empty hall, Harry and Hermione walked out together each feeling too shy to say anything. As they were walking past the front door, she stopped him. "Let’s go for a walk."

"Right now?" He asked.

"No time like the present."

"It’s almost ten. We’ll be breaking curfew Miss Prefect." He smiled down at her, wanting nothing more than to spend more time alone with her.

"Well, it’s not like we haven’t broken rules before. Besides, I’m trying to work on being more spontaneous." She smiled shyly at him.

"Are you?" he teased. "I think you’re off to a good start." He took her hand and together they walked out into the night. After five minutes Harry broke their comfortable silence with a blunt question. "So, this Costume Ball thing.... Do you want to go?"

She turned to him excited. "Yes, I do!"

"With me I mean." He clarified.

"Yes, I’d love to go with you!" She smiled widely.

"As like, a date, I mean." He clarified further. He wanted her to know for sure what he was asking.

"How many times do you need me to say yes, Harry?" She crossed her arms in mock frustration, still smiling.

"Alright. So, we’re.... We’re dating then?" He smiled back.

"Yeah, I guess we are." She looked away, unable to keep eye contact. "I really like you Harry."

Reaching out to lift her chin, he met her eyes and declared, "Well, good. Because I really like you too." He didn’t think he’d ever stop smiling again. She threw her arms around his waist and he held her to him tightly, never wanting to let go. He kissed the top of her head, breathing the sweet scent of lilac permeating through her hair.

They discussed plans for their costumes the whole way back up to the Gryffindor common room. Ron and a few others were still up doing homework and when they entered, holding hands, he gave Harry a thumbs up.

"I think I’m going to go to bed." Hermione said at the bottom of the girls’ staircase.

Wanting to do things right, he raised her hand to his lips. "See you in the morning." He said. She ran giddily up the stairs as he turned to see Ron grinning madly.

"So, it’s all worked out then?" Ron smirked.

"Better than I thought." Harry answered plopping on the couch next to him.

"It’s about time." he rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, it is." Harry agreed with a smile.

(BREAK)

By the Friday before their Hogsmeade visit, the whole school was buzzing about the newest couple and almost everyone thought they made a great match. Almost. Cho Chang glared at Harry and Hermione every time she saw them. But he barely noticed and he certainly didn’t let it bother him. He was happier than he ever remembered being.

That night, he and Hermione sat alone in the common room cuddled up on the couch. He had asked her to keep the box for him so he wouldn’t be tempted to open it, but he felt it was time for him to take possession and asked if she would get it.

"Are you sure you don’t want me to hang on to it until tomorrow?" she asked, looking up at him through her eyelashes in that way he found irresistible.

"Do you have that little faith in me? Can’t trust me with it for one night?" He teased.

"Alright, it’s your call." He kissed her before she ran up to get the box for him.

He loved kissing her. It felt so natural, so.... right. He smiled as he allowed his thoughts to wander back a week to their first kiss. They had gone for a nighttime stroll again, ending up at their study tree by the lake. She had leaned her back against it as they talked and he remembered being mesmerized by her mouth, not hearing a word of what she was saying. Unable to hold back any longer, he had leaned forward and gone for it. He remembered how soft her lips were and how surprised she had been before returning the kiss. It was sweet and had lasted what seemed like forever.

Hermione returned placing the box in his lap and bringing him back to the present. "What was that look for?" She asked settling herself next to him again.

"Just remembering something good." He smiled.

Ron came in through the portrait and groaned. "Don’t let me interrupt." He plopped down on Harry’s other side, obviously upset.

"What’s wrong?" He asked.

"Luna! She wants to us to dress as birds!"

"Everyday, or just for the Ball?" Harry laughed.

"Ha ha. She wants to be a peacock and she told me to pick the bird I want to go as." Ron said miserably.

"Go as a rooster." He teased, ruffling his friend’s bright red hair.

"Or a pigeon." Hermione giggled.

"You’re both bloody hilarious." He grumbled.

"Well, what would you rather go as?" she asked.

"I don’t know. What are you two going as?"

"We haven’t decided." Harry answered.

"Oh, I had an idea about that!" Hermione turned to him. "I just finished reading a book on Arthurian legends. Let’s go as Lancelot and Gweniverre."

"Cute. But that doesn’t help me." Ron mumbled.

"Who said we were trying to help you?" Harry turned to him grinning.

"Good friends you are. Maybe I’ll just dress as a professional quidditch player."

"How original." Hermione rolled her eyes.

"It will be once he adds wings and a beak." Harry joked.

"I don’t hear any better suggestions." Ron returned angrily.

"Sorry. Can’t think of anything that will go with a peacock. I’m going to go to bed. See you guys in the morning." She leaned over and kissed Harry before heading upstairs.

"Wish my girlfriend thought up cool ideas like Lancelot."

"Can I help it if she thinks I’d make a good Knight?" Ron glared at him and Harry laughed as the boys headed up to bed.

Harry spent the entire night listening to everyone else get their rest, unable to sleep through his excitement. Soon he would be one step closer to everyone he had lost and the thought was more than he could bear to think about. All he’d ever wanted was the opportunity to meet his parents and now, their actions during their lifetime were presenting him with the way. When morning finally came, it was all he could do to make it through breakfast and the short carriage ride over to the village.

As soon as they got to Hogsmeade, Harry and his friends hurried off to the Shrieking Shack. "Let your reward be knowledge." He said and they all tumbled into the shop after the house changed.

"Thank you, come again soon." The old woman was saying to a customer as they entered. She looked around at Harry’s large group. "Oh good. You’re back and you brought more friends to look around and not buy anything."

"Who said anything about not buying?" Fred asked, holding up something that looked like a severed werewolf’s arm. "This stuff is great!"

"Well, in that case, take all the time you need. There’s an upstairs as well." She turned back to Harry. "You. Give me the box." He handed it over and she inspected it carefully. "You didn’t open it!" She seemed surprised.

"You told me not to."

"Well, not everyone does what they are told. Come and sit. I suppose it’s time for the third question, the one that tests your knowledge." Harry, Hermione and Ginny sat on the same humongous couch as before along with Luna and Ron. Fred and George stood behind it, their arms already full of the weird and mysterious items for sale. "In this box was a name. A name that had you looked into the thing which you seek, you would know. This person had a lot to do with the making of the ring. It is important to know the history of such powerful items. So how well did you research, can you tell me the name?"

"In one try?" Harry felt his desperation rise.

"I’ll give you three." She grinned knowingly.

"I don’t suppose it would be as easy as Mykele?"

"You suppose right. Two more tries."

Harry thought for a minute. "Godric Gryffindor?"

"No. Only one more." She warned. Harry was worried. What if after he went through all this, he couldn’t think of the right name? He remembered Luna’s words, that you never knew when knowing things would come in handy. He felt now that she had somehow been speaking of this moment.

Next to him, Hermione was holding her breath and he realized that she knew who it was. He thought harder, knowing only he could give the answer. He remembered her saying something about Godric’s wife. That had to be it. He struggled to recall what Hermione had told him. Godric had commissioned the ring from Mykele to speak with his dead wife, he remembered the conversation, but what was the woman’s name? Harry shook his head in frustration. It was on the tip of his tongue, and he knew it must be right.

"Do you know?" The old woman asked.

He could feel Hermione next to him, nearly bursting with the knowledge he needed. He wished he could just pluck it from her mind. "I...It’s......"






A/N: Does he remember? Wait and see. I know this chapter was long, but once I started I couldn’t find a good place to stop, until there. I LOVE cliffhangers. Please review!!!!!!!

Chapter 18: The Costume Ball

NOTE: Welcome back, a lot to cover this chapter so bear with me. As always I own nothing I didn’t make up and please, Read, Review, Enjoy!



"Well?" The old woman asked impatiently.

And then, as if Hermione had put it in his head herself, he knew the answer. It was right there, glaring at him in bright lights in the forefront of his thoughts. "Selene Gryffindor!" Harry jumped up in his excitement.

"That is correct." The old woman said without emotion. "Here." She unceremoniously handed Harry another box. "This one you can open as soon as you leave here." On the top of the box was a stamp that read ‘Crysta-Belle’s Valuables.’

"Thank you so much, Crysta-Belle." Harry said graciously.

Everyone rushed out of the store except for the twins who had to pay for their items. Once all together outside, they ran to the three-broomsticks where he had only enough patience to wait until they had ordered their lunch before tearing open the box. Inside was a key on a chain and a slip of paper.

It read: Keep this key close to your heart. It will bring you to your goal. This paper will lead you to your next clue. It shimmers in the day and at night, when the moon is full. In it, there is a grave where a treasure lies. Find the bottle and you will find where to go next.

"Grave? I’ve had my fill of graveyards thank you." Harry said after reading it to the others.

"I don’t think it means an actual graveyard." Ginny said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, those don’t shimmer, do they?" Ron asked.

"So, what shimmers all day and when the moon is full?" Harry asked.

"Um, anything shiny, mirrors, jewelry, water-" Hermione started listing.

"Water? As in the lake?" Harry asked getting excited again. "During the tournament in fourth year, I saw a ship down there. In books, the bottom of the ocean is referred to as a ship graveyard."

"What books are you reading?" George joked.

"It makes sense." Hermione said.

"You’d find treasure on a ship too, right?" Fred looked around at the group as their food arrived.

"How do we get down there?" Ron asked, his mouth instantly stuffed.

"You really find him attractive, huh?" Ginny asked Luna. She just shrugged and rolled her eyes.

"I’ll ask Dobby to find more gillyweed for me. I’ll just make sure it isn’t from Snape’s cabinet this time." Harry said, taking a bite of his sandwich.

That settled they enjoyed lunch and split up after to spend the rest of their time getting what they needed for their costumes. In the end, Harry had vetoed the Lancelot and Gwennivere costume Hermione had thought up. He wanted them to go as whatever they wanted and felt it would be more fun to surprise each other. Fred and George went to check on their shop, as the girls headed away in a group, leaving Ron and Harry to themselves.

"So, Luna said I didn’t have to go as a bird." Ron said conversationally. "But now, I have no idea what to go as."

"Lancelot is open. We’re going themeless." Harry offered.

"Lancelot, huh. I suppose I could go as a knight. What are you going as, then?"

"I haven’t the faintest idea. I suppose vampires and ghosts are a little overplayed? But they are the easiest."

"Can’t ruin a classic. Remember Nick’s death day party? How creepy was that?" Ron shuddered in remembrance.

"It was pretty bad." Harry paused as something suddenly occurred to him. "Uh, Ron? Hermione’s probably going to want to dance at this thing and unless I took lessons while I was sleeping, I still can’t do it."

"I feel your pain. I’m hoping that Luna won’t-" He stopped as something ahead of them caught his eye. "Uh oh. Don’t look now, but Cho’s coming this way."

Harry looked up to see Cho, Marietta, and two of their giggly friends coming his way. Only the girls weren’t giggling today and Cho looked really angry. "I suppose it’s too late to duck in the nearest store and pretend we didn’t see her?" He asked Ron, feeling desperate to avoid confrontation.

"Just a bit." Ron answered sympathetically.

"I knew it!" She yelled, coming to a stop right in front of him. Her friends glared at Ron. "I knew the reason you dumped me last year was because of her!"

"If I remember correctly, it was you that did the dumping." Harry returned.

"Well, you didn’t fight for me! You just let me go off because all the time you really wanted her!"

"Maybe you’re right. Is that what you want to hear?" She slapped him, hard and right across his cheek. Ron jumped back startled. "Ow. What was that for?" Harry could feel a sharp stinging where her hand had made contact.

"Being an insensitive ass! You made me think we still had a chance-"

"No I didn’t! In fact I flat out told you we didn’t have a chance. You just couldn’t stand the thought that someone didn’t want you so -ow! What the hell!?" She had slapped him again. "Okay, you need to stop doing that!" He rubbed his cheek, unsure how to proceed.

"Really!" Ron said. "It’s not fair, he can’t fight back, you know. With you being a girl and all."

"Like I care! Where is she anyway? Left you already? Because if she did, I still don’t have a date for the Ball." Harry couldn’t believe his ears. She hit him and yelled at him, but still wanted to date him? She really was psycho! Or she wanted him to think she was for some reason. Something here just wasn’t settling right for him.

"She’s getting a costume. We’re going to the dance together." He took a step back out of swinging range.

"Off with his weirdo girlfriend probably." She pointed at Ron.

"Hey! Leave me and my weirdo girlfriend out of this! You’re the nut who apparently can’t stand being turned down." He ducked as she took an unexpected swing at him. "Hey now. I am a prefect, you know. I could report you."

"You don’t have the guts, Weasley." She answered angrily.

"Cho, you’re graduating this year. Let’s just stay out of each others paths until then, alright?" Harry offered, trying to restore peace and order.

"That would be kind of hard since I’m in your stupid DA club." She snapped.

"There’s an easy fix for that." Ron told her harshly.

"Are you kicking me out? You can’t do that!" She glared at him and turned to Harry.

"Well, if you think it’s so stupid." Harry glared back. He was sick of this. It really was getting a bit ridiculous.

(BREAK)

Hermione left the store with Luna and Ginny right on her heels. They had all found something rather quickly and she was anxious to return to Harry and try and get some alone time in the village with him. She was wrapped up in pleasant thoughts when Ginny tugged on her sweater. "Hey, isn’t that Harry and Cho fighting down there?"

Hermione looked up sharply. Sure enough, the two appeared to be shouting at each other, right in the middle of the street with many people standing around watching. She began to hurry towards them, the girls right behind her.

"I’ll report you to McGonagall!" Cho was shouting as they approached from behind her. "It’s unfair to kick me out just because we used to date!"

"You do that!" Harry shouted back. "I don’t care what she says, you are unwelcome at DA anymore if this is the way you want it to be!"

"What’s going on?" Hermione asked cautiously walking up next to Harry.

"Like you don’t know!" Cho glared at her.

"No, I don’t. That’s why I asked." She shot back.

"He’s all yours. For now." Cho said simply as she angrily pushed past them with her friends.

Harry put his arm around Hermione’s shoulders in reassurance, lifting his other hand to his face, which was a bright, angry red. "That’s going to welt up nicely." Ron said.

"Thanks." Harry answered sarcastically.

Hermione pulled his hand away to inspect his cheek. "She hit you?" She couldn’t believe it. She had never known anything like this to happen to anyone in real life.

"Twice! And she tried to get me too!" Ron declared turning to Luna, obviously looking for sympathy. "And we just had to take it too! If she was a guy, I’d have knocked her out!"

"I’m sure, Ron." Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Why’d she hit you?" Hermione asked, running her hand gently and soothingly along his stinging cheek.

"I don’t even know." He sighed, resting his face in her palm.

"It came out of nowhere!" Ron told her. "She was the one doing all the yelling and then Harry tried to talk some sense into her and she just hauls out and slaps him!"

"I’m sure that’s exactly the way it happened." Ginny said doubtfully. "Well, it’s going to be fun playing Ravenclaw, they’re our next match."

The others thankfully walked away, leaving Harry and Hermione alone. She reached up and kissed his cheek. "Better?" she asked, feeling shy. She still couldn’t believe she and Harry were together.

"A little." He grinned, taking her hand as they walked down the street. His hands were large and strong, and beautiful. Sometimes when they sat up late in the common room together, she would stare at their interlaced fingers, wondering what his hands would feel like on her skin. "So, what did you get?" he asked, breaking her daydream as he tried to reach in her shopping bag.

"It’s supposed to be a surprise." She said, batting his hand away. "I see you didn’t get anything before Cho beat you up."

"Yeah, well, I guess my costume is going to be a surprise to me too." He grinned that charming, boyish grin and she felt herself melt. She had a feeling that no matter what, she would love him forever.

(BREAK)

DA had gone smoothly and as it neared the end, Ginny felt a strong sense of accomplishment. Not only was she coming along nicely in the advanced classes, she was successfully teaching others the skills she’d acquired the year before. She couldn’t wait to get to the Patronus Charm, feeling jealous that Hermione’s intermediate group was already attempting that spell. "Hey Ginny!" Ron called for her attention just after she dismissed her group for the night.

"What?" She turned to him with a sigh.

"Could you please clean up all the mats for me? If I don’t get this essay done for McGonagall she’s going to kill me." He pleaded.

"Sure, go ahead."

"Thanks, sis." He kissed her cheek before running off.

She began rolling the mats left over from her group before moving on to his. Just as she was getting a groove going, another voice called out to her. "Ginny?"

Turning expectantly, she was slightly disappointed to find Gem Valor, one of the kids in her group. He was in Ravenclaw and a fifth year like her. "What’s up?" She asked with a friendly smile, looking past him to Harry, who she had been hoping was the one seeking her out. He was gathering papers at the front table and paying no attention to her.

"Well, look I know we don’t know each other…" Gem began in a strange drawl that told her he was originally from somewhere in the south of the United States. Where exactly, she wasn’t really interested to know. "I was kind of hoping maybe we could get to know each other better at the Costume Ball." He looked at her expectantly.

"Excuse me?" She wasn’t sure she’d heard right.

He smiled. "Well to be more forward, I’m asking you to be my date for the Costume Ball."

"Oh." She once more glanced over his shoulder at Harry. Hermione had joined him at the table and now the two of them were leaning on it with their heads together, laughing, unconcerned with anyone else who may be in the room. When Harry reached out to interlace their fingers, Ginny made her decision. "I would love to go. I didn’t think someone like you would notice me." She said coyly. Honestly she couldn’t care less whether he noticed her, she’d barely taken in his existence beyond teaching him spells. But if Harry and Hermione were going to the dance together, then she sure as hell wasn’t going to show up alone.

He appeared thrilled, his green-hazel eyes shining. "How could I not notice you?" He flirted back. "You’re only the most beautiful girl in school."

"Careful now Gem, going too far makes the compliment less believable." She said in a low voice, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she reached out to straighten his collar. She sensed him shiver under her touch and felt empowered and desirable. Perhaps this boy would be just the thing she needed to draw Harry’s attention. After all nothing was more sought after than that which wasn’t available.

(BREAK)

Harry paced the common room floor while Ron sat on the couch waiting. The night of the Costume Ball had come and they had planned to meet Luna and two others outside the Ravenclaw common room after all of their Gryffindor friends were ready. Ron had decided to go as a knight after all and found a spell to turn his regular clothes into lightweight armor. He still clanked when he walked though, which everyone found to be extremely annoying while they were getting ready. Harry, for lack of a better idea, had chosen to go as a vampire. In the same book Ron had found his spell, Harry had found a one to make your canine teeth grow into fangs for an evening. He wore jeans torn at the knees and a T-shirt featuring some English punk band borrowed from Dean under a black blazer. Glancing in the mirror, he had decided to call his look, Modern Vampire Chic. He’d left his glasses upstairs and Seamus had done a spell to correct his vision, saying that he used it all the time though it only worked for eight-hour increments. Without his glasses, Harry’s emerald eyes shone brilliantly adding to the vampire, creature of the night look he was trying to achieve.

"Harry?" He turned to see Hermione walk down the stairs. The sight took his breath away. Her dress was a deep purple, swirling down to the floor and giving the illusion that she was floating through space. Her hair was bewitched and hung around her face and shoulders in soft ringlets to her waist with silver and purple flowers crowning her head. The most amazing part of the costume was the large, delicate silvery wings extending from her back. The edges had a purple tint to them giving off an ethereal glow, looking so real that he wanted to reach out and touch them. He smiled as he leaned down to kiss her.

"Those are going to be dangerous for a poor little fairy like me." She said studying his teeth.

"Well, you look good enough to bite." He teased back.

"You both make me sick." Ron said standing in disgust. "Is Ginny on her way down?"

"She said to give her a few more seconds." Hermione answered, throwing her arms around Harry’s waist. Ginny’s date for the evening was someone named Gem Valor. All he knew of the guy was that he was in her section of the DA and a Ravenclaw. He hoped Gem was good enough to deserve Ginny, if he wasn’t Harry knew he’d be right there with Ron and the Twins, letting the guy know what a mistake he’d made.

Suddenly Fred and George made their appearance, running down the stairs and screaming like banshees, which of course was what they were going as. Hermione’s insistence that banshees were generally female did nothing to deter them. "Is Parvati ready?" George asked. The Weasley twins had asked the Patil twins to be their dates and thinking it would be fun the girls had agreed. But now looking at the boys, Harry thought Padma and Parvati were in way over their heads.

"We still have to pick up three people." Ron said anxiously as the two girls came down together.

"Relax Ron. We’re ready." Ginny had decided to go traditional with her own twist as well. She was a witch, dressed in a blue and green tie-dye mini dress, complete with a matching pointy hat and white knee high boots. She carried her broom down with her to complete the image. "A witch of the 60's!" She declared. Harry thought she looked cute. Parvati decided to go as a ballerina since she had taken ballet for six years before coming to Hogwarts. She’d freely admitted that Halloween wasn’t one of her favorite holidays and therefore hadn’t put in much effort. She looked horrified at George and Fred’s matching costumes.

"Can we go now?" Ron asked, impatient to get moving.

"Anxious to pick up your peacock?" Fred teased. Ron turned red and stormed out of the portrait. The others followed laughing.

"Have a good time!" The Fat Lady yelled after them.

Luna, Padma and Gem were waiting in the hallway as they said they would be. Everyone stopped short when they saw Luna’s costume and gazed in awe… it wasn’t at all what they had been expecting. She was wearing a floor length gown in a bright blue teal and a matching mask with the shorter of the peacock’s feathers surrounding it. Her blond hair was swept up with the longer traditional peacock plumes sticking out from where the golden tresses were tied. Loose curls hung around her face, and though her lips were painted orange to mimic a beak, the sultry smile she wore only added to her allure. In a word, she looked extraordinary.

"Wow." Ron appeared faint. "I had no idea Peacocks were so beautiful." He said kissing her cheek.

Hermione lightly hit Harry in the stomach so that he would stop looking at Luna. "What? I was just amazed. I really had a completely different picture in my head."

"That’s all, huh?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Hey, vampires crave the blood of the elusive fairy. You remember that." He teased, wrapping his arms around her.

"Oh I will, as long as you do." She replied, leaning up to kiss him.

"Ugh, Ron’s right. You two are sickening." Ginny said walking over to her date. "Hey Gem. Cool costume."

"Back at you. Love the tie-dye." He answered as he not so discreetly checked her out head to toe.

"Don’t love it too much." Ron warned, giving him the eye. Fred and George were sizing him up as well.

"I’m a perfect gentleman." Gem smiled and tipped his hat. He was dressed as a Wild West outlaw. Being originally from America, he explained that this is what cowboys wore in the old days, at least in the movies. He was clad all in black; black shirt, black pants with black leather chaps, black cowboy boots and a black hat. The only color on him was his face, hands, sandy colored hair and soft hazel eyes.

"Shall we?" Padma asked, taking Fred’s arm. She was dressed as a cat, wearing only a black leotard, leggings and heels. She’d bewitched fake ears from her head and pinned a tail to her butt. It vaguely reminded Harry of a time in second year when Hermione had messed up her polyjuice potion. Fred grinned wickedly at his brother over their dates’ heads and Harry had a strong idea about what was on his mind.

The group entered the Great Hall and excitedly took in their surroundings. Overhead, the Halloween bats were flying, skeletons were floating and the ghosts of the castle were swooping down on unsuspecting victims. Then Harry saw something that he knew Ron wouldn’t like. Thousands of little spiders were crawling around in midair.

"Hey Ron, look at that." He pointed up laughing as his friend yelped and jumped back into the hallway.

"Relax, Mr. Weasley. They’re bewitched and won’t come down anywhere near your head." McGonagall assured him. She was at the door checking that only the older students were in attendance.

Harry laughed again and Ron threw him a dirty look before following the others to find a table big enough for all ten of them. "That was mean." Hermione scolded.

"But funny." She still looked mad, but he could have sworn he saw her smile as they walked behind Luna and Ron, who was still ducking and glancing up nervously. They sat at their table and talked while waiting for dinner to be served. He looked around at everyone’s costumes and saw that every creature imaginable was present, from his vampire look to werewolves to ghouls.

After dinner, the music started and Hermione immediately dragged him to the dance floor with all the rest. Fred and George were going at it, not caring how they looked or who they ran into but Ron looked just as pained as Harry felt. Gem was a pretty good dancer, which appeared to make Ginny happy.

Harry looked down at Hermione who was a pretty good dancer herself. He was surprised her glittery wings weren’t smacking into people. "They’re magic. Just an illusion, so you can see them, but not feel them." She answered his unspoken question. Acting on impulse he leaned down and kissed her. She smiled against his lips. "I can feel the teeth." She said. "They’re kind of exciting."

"Glad you like them." A slow song came on and he pulled her in his arms. "Finally, something more my tempo."

She laughed. "I thought your tempo was just standing there not moving at all."

"If you’re there, then it is." She looked up at him and he knew she was as happy as he was.

(BREAK)

Ron was in pain. Or so he told Luna in order to get off the dance floor before he really hurt himself- or someone else. He pretended to hobble over to their table and gratefully sat to watch the other kids dancing, hoping he could learn something quick. Luna didn’t seem to mind, she was sitting next to him looking out among the couples with a faint smile. "Something you find amusing?" he asked her.

"The lengths you’ll go to in order to not dance with me." She laughed.

"I’m really hurt here! I think I twisted my ankle." He protested with a smile of his own.

"Hmm. Well let’s hope it gets better soon because I’m not going to let you just sit here all night."

He was about to reply but instead caught a disturbing sight. "I can’t believe her!"

"Who?" Luna looked around, her eyes finally resting where his gaze was directed. "Cho?"

Cho was standing on the sidelines with Marietta and both girls were glaring. And it wasn’t hard to guess what had them so upset. The two girls were watching Harry and Hermione with an intense hatred that was hard to describe. Suffice to say, if looks could kill his two best friends would be dead. "What should I do about it?"

"Nothing. Let Harry and Hermione enjoy themselves." She answered quietly. "We should all have fun while we can. Unhappiness will find us all soon enough."

He looked at her sharply. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing." She answered with a smile. "I was just having a pessimistic moment."

(BREAK)

Harry obliged Hermione with two more fast songs and another slow one before begging for a break. Everyone but the twin sets had also sat down for a rest and they returned to their table to find Dean, Lavender, Seamus, a Hufflepuff named Jane and Susan Bones added to their group. Having no where else to sit, Harry pulled Hermione onto his lap, and took a long drink of pumpkin juice.

"You lasted longer out there than I thought." Ron said to Harry.

"Her choice, not mine." They laughed.

"Oh! I love this song!" Luna said, pulling Ron up.

"Here we go again." He sighed.

"Don’t even think about it." Harry told Hermione. She gracefully allowed him to catch his breath- and a bit of his dignity- before she dragged him back out to dance.

"Mind if I cut in?" Fred asked when another slow song came on. "Padma said she’s tired of me stepping on her feet."

"How can I say no to that?" Hermione rolled her eyes and went off with him. Harry laughed as he watched Hermione wince and finally demand that she take the lead.

He was suddenly taken off guard as someone’s arms wrapped around his neck and dragged him back out on the floor. "Finally got you alone." Harry looked up into Cho’s eyes and felt a sudden flash of fear. It quickly turned to annoyance. "I know you wanted to ask me to the Yule Ball a while back, and now here you are, two years later and finally getting to dance with me."

He struggled to get away, pulling at her arms. "I don’t want to be dancing with you though. You’ve got me in a death grip."

"Do you know what my costume is?" She was wearing a short red dress that hugged her curves and her face was covered in silver and red glitter. Her hair was pulled up with red roses stuck in the tresses.

"The devil?" He guessed, still trying to break free. She had locked her fingers behind her neck, and he didn’t want to pull too hard on her arms and chance hurting her. But he was quickly reaching his limit.

"I’m an enchantress, and I’m here to enchant you to fall in love with me." She whispered in his ear.

"Then you’re bad at it because all I want to do is get away from you." He responded, looking into the crowd for help. Luckily, he saw that Ron had caught sight of what was going on and was on his way over with Luna.

"Cho, you have to let Harry go so that he can breathe." Ron said meanly.

"Mind your own business, Weasley. You know, I never liked you." She retorted.

"Good. Then I won’t have to worry about you stalking me." He shot back.

"Hey, what’s going on?" Hermione asked as she and Fred came over. Harry felt himself flush with embarrassment, which angered him more.

"Alright. Enough is enough." Fred said grabbing Cho, who still had her arm around Harry’s neck, and leading her out of school and into the courtyard. Hermione, Ron and Luna followed silently. "Cho, you have to let go of Harry now."

"No, we were dancing until you interrupted." She had wrapped herself around him and feeling his best defense was in a sense, playing dead, he stood stiffly with his arms at his sides.

"You were dancing, I was fighting for my life." He mumbled, stifling a weird urge to laugh. The scene would be very comical, if it were happening to someone else. He couldn’t understand Cho’s desperation to be back in his life. As she had once said, she could have any guy she wanted, so why Harry, and why now?

Fred and Ron had to basically pull Cho off of him and he quickly took a few steps back to stand behind Hermione and Luna. Any other danger he could face, but Cho was a whole different problem and he wanted as many people between them as possible. Something was terribly wrong, and he just couldn’t see it clearly.

"What is your problem?" Fred asked, a bit bewildered.

"I want what I want when I want it." She said, her nose in the air. "And I want Harry."

"But why?" Harry demanded.

"It’s because now she can’t have you, mate." Ron said, sitting down on the edge of the fountain with Luna.

"No, it’s because she has some kind of agenda that involves Harry." Luna said. Everyone turned and stared at her.

"How do you know?" Hermione demanded.

"I don’t know, just a feeling, I guess." Luna answered mysteriously. "But she definitely isn’t herself anymore. Something changed for you this summer, didn’t it Cho?" Luna asked very directly, as if she knew exactly what was going on with the other girl.

"Shut up!" Cho ran at Luna, but Fred grabbed her as Ron jumped up to block her path.

"Ron you are a prefect, you wanna handle this? Or you Hermione?" Fred looked at them. "She’s really starting to bug me."

"Right." Ron said. "Let’s go see McGonagall. She’s good with the punishments. You’ll all have to come along as witnesses." Fred and Ron escorted Cho back inside and Harry started to follow them, but Hermione grabbed his and Luna’s arms.

"We’ll be right in!" she shouted after the boys. "Are you okay?" she asked turning to Harry.

"Yeah, fine." He answered, feeling embarrassed all over again.

"Luna, what do you know about Cho? What’s she up to?" Hermione asked eagerly.

"I was just guessing." Luna answered, not meeting her eyes. "I saw her getting upset and knew I was on the right track and kept going. Old fortune tellers used the same trick. Its called reading people."

Harry thought it was a good and sensible explanation. But he didn’t believe it. Luna was most definitely hiding something.

(BREAK)

Ginny watched them all leave and felt lonely. George was still in the room, having been too busy embarrassing Parvati with his dancing to notice Cho attack Harry. She’d only caught the end of it herself, and had been too late to be of any assistance. "You okay?" Gem smiled at her.

"Fine." She smiled back. But her smile was hollow. Here she was in a room full of people and she’d never felt so lonely in her life. At first she’d tried to come between Harry and Hermione and then when they’d become a couple, she’d been holding out hope that they would implode. But they actually seemed happy together. For now anyway. And while they were enjoying having the romance of the century, she was stuck spending the evening with someone she could care less about and pretending she was having a wonderful time. Something inside of her was telling her to do something reckless, that she’d feel better after she’d acted out. Looking Gem over, she gave him a seductive glance and impulsively asked, "Do you want to get out of here? Go somewhere a bit quieter where we can talk?"

His eyes widened in surprise at the implication of her suggestion. "Where were you thinking we could go?"

"I might know a place." She said taking his hand and leading him toward the exit.

"Are you sure?" he asked though he put up no effort to stop her.

Inside, she knew she wasn’t really sure of anything anymore. "I’m positive." She smiled.

(BREAK)

They all got back to the dance in time for the last half hour. Luna put on a happy face for Ron’s sake and for her own she really tried to enjoy herself. But she was too angry. She’d messed up again, unable to keep herself from helping Harry and the others. She revealed that she knew too much about Cho. Luckily it seemed Hermione may have bought her cover. She took a deep breath and let it go. At least her slip up this time had put Harry closer to realizing what they both really were.

Surely there was a way she could one day explain herself to Ron and everyone else, but this moment wasn't the time to stress out about it. So closing her eyes and imagining they were the only two people in the room, she rested her head against Ron’s shoulder as he held her close. She’d keep her secrets awhile longer.




A/N: Please REVIEW!!!!!!!

Chapter 19: A Quidditch Game to Remember

NOTE: [insert previous statements here] This turned out to be a rather harsh chapter after I finished it. The mind goes mysterious places. As always Read, Review and above all else, Enjoy!



Harry awoke to a bright November first. Everything was fuzzy and he realized that the sight charm Seamus had done on him the night before had worn off. He quickly put on his glasses, choosing not to bother with the spell since he’d never been too concerned with how he looked and felt far more comfortable behind his frames. Hearing Ron’s snoring and glancing to find all three of his roommates still asleep, he rose from his bed taking care to be extra quiet. But when he looked out the window he was unable to contain his gleeful laugh. It had started snowing sometime during the morning and was still coming down covering the entire castle and turning it’s grounds into a winter wonderland. It had instantly evoked a sense of child-like wonder and deciding to give into that more innocent feeling, he turned and shook his friend awake. Ron sat up ready to swing until he realized that it was just Harry interrupting his sleep.

With a finger to his lips, Harry motioned him over to the window and the boys shared a mischievous grin. They dressed quickly and then Ron went to wake the twins while Harry ran to the Owlery. Tying three notes to Hedwig’s leg, he told her to be quiet when delivering them then made sure she had flown off before running to join the Weasleys. Ten minutes later, all four boys were outside and in the middle of a serious snowball fight.

Harry was suddenly tackled from behind, landing face first in the snow. He cheeks were numb, his glasses fogged, and freezing wet snow trickled down his neck, making him feel alive though very cold. He sat up and cast a weather protection spell on his glasses before turning to find Hermione, Ginny, and Luna squealing with delight as they dodged the snowballs the boys threw at them in retaliation for their assault on Harry. They girls laughed as they explained they just had to join the fun after receiving urgent notes telling them to come out and play. After a short rest to get their breath, they resumed the fight- running, shouting and throwing without care or discretion. They must have made quite a racket because within an hour most of the school was awake and outside, with a massive snowball war brewing. The impromptu battle of the houses lasted most of the morning until they were all beckoned back in with the promise of hot chocolate and dry clothes.

After lunch, Harry, Hermione and the Weasley kids were all sitting by the fire in the Gryffindor common room. Luna had also come to join them and Fred joked that she should just switch houses since she spent most of her time in the Gryffindor tower.

"Well, I guess I missed my window of opportunity to go looking for the clue." Harry said miserably. Dry and warm, with the initial joy at seeing the first snow over, he now had time to remember what that meant for him.

"Yeah, magic lake. It’ll be frozen over by now." Ron said while munching on popcorn.

"Someday before you grow old and die, one of you will read all the way through Hogwarts; A History." Hermione sighed. "If you do, you’ll find out that while the lake surface freezes over, the water below stays heated. The merpeople made it that way."

"You’re like a walking edition of the book, so why read it?" Ron asked.

"I’ll talk to Dobby and find out where to get gillyweed, even if it is Snape’s. As soon as I have it, I’ll go." Harry said decisively.

"Neville would have known where to find it. He was good with plants." Ginny said sadly.

Wanting to lighten the mood, George pulled out a deck of cards. "Anyone up for a game?"

"Of quidditch? Absolutely." Ginny said, shaking her head and rising. "It’s time to head down to practice."

"But… there’s snow outside." Ron whined.

"Look, we already aren’t practicing two days a week because of DA. A little snow won’t hurt you." she gave Fred a shove toward the boys’ stairs.

"Says you." He grumbled.

"Yes, says me, the captain. Harry, back me up here?"

"Um, it is kind of cold out." He smiled sheepishly.

"Something none of you had a problem with this morning when you started a school wide snow war!" She cried in frustration.

"That was then, Gin." George said.

"And this is now. And now, we’re all snug and dry." Fred added.

"Come on you babies. Let’s go." Complaining the whole time, the boys got up and went to change and grab Seamus as Ginny went to get Parvati, leaving Hermione and Luna to entertain themselves.

A short while later the team was in the locker room going over game strategies. "We want to be prepared for this one. Cho is angry and there’s no telling what she’ll pull. Or have her team pull. She is captain." Ginny said in a tone of authority.

"She won’t have much of a chance to practice." Fred laughed. "Her stunt last night- attacking Harry and attempting to go after Luna too- got her a month’s detention cleaning animal cages for McGonagall."

"Which just gives her more incentive." Ginny answered grimly. "Hopefully the weather will clear up in two weeks, but we might as well get used to these conditions so let’s get out there."

Fred leaned over to whisper to George and Harry as they walked out. "What is it about being captain that makes them act like Wood?" They laughed. "I mean first Wood himself, then Angelina and now our own baby sister."

Harry found and caught the snitch four times in the three hours Ginny kept them out there. He felt free, just flying around on his broom, thinking about Hermione, the clue and the snitch. Nothing bad, nothing terrible, just normal things a normal, sixteen-year old wizard would think about.

(BREAK)

Two weeks went by quickly, and Ginny had been struggling the whole time with trying to act normally. She’d thrown herself into quidditch practice, running the team ragged as she channeled all of her anger, grief, pain, fear and frustration into wanting to beat Cho. Of course there was one thing that kept bothering her… or rather, one person. He had been trying to get her attention, refusing to give up no matter how much she tried to distance herself from him. She would just rather not have to deal with him than face possibly hurting him with how she really felt.

"Hey Ginny." Gem, the very person she’d just been thinking of, surprised her as she walked out of Transfiguration class. He’d obviously been waiting for her.

"Oh, hey." She greeted him and quickly hurried on her way.

"Are you avoiding me?" he asked eagerly as he followed behind her.

"Of course not." She lied, amazed that it had taken him so long to take the hint. Some people where really dense… or really persistent. She wasn’t impressed by either.

"Then why do you go the other way when you see me?"

"You’re imagining things." She answered dismissively.

He scoffed. "You and your brother switched groups at DA this week. Was that so you wouldn’t have to be near me or am I still imagining things?"

She stopped and faced him. "Well, we’re talking now, aren’t we?"

"If you can call it that. Look, if I did something wrong the other night-"

She shook her head, deciding honesty was the only way to get through to him. "As bad as this is going to sound, its true. The problem isn’t you it’s me. I thought I was looking for something but I was wrong, okay. So I’m sorry." She hurried away before he could say more, feeling lower than low. It was the most cliché reason a person could give, but she understood why it was used so often. She really was the problem, he’d done nothing other than attempt to get to know her and show her a good time. She’d let things get too far that night, but she wasn’t prepared to let her baggage weigh him down. He was a nice guy after all. He just wasn’t the guy for her. Harry didn’t appear to be for her either, so where exactly did that leave her except by herself?

Of course Ron had asked a million questions about why she wanted to switch DA groups. He’d at once linked it to her desire to not be around Gem and had demanded to know whether he should throttle the boy. She’d assured her brother that Gem was an upstanding young man. She had said she simply needed a change and asked him to just do as she asked. For so many years she’d felt close to Ron, but ever since he’d stolen Luna away and started dating her, Ginny felt a sort of resentment. After all he still had Harry and Hermione to turn to. Luna had been her friend and hers alone until Ron had deemed the girl worthy of his notice. It seemed they were all slipping away from her, growing closer together as she drifted on her own.

She reached the Great Hall feeling completely alone. The urge to do something outrageous was strong, but this time she shoved it down. Only she wasn’t sure how long she could suppress the feeling. After all, it wasn’t only loneliness that was pushing her to the brink. Her guilt over Neville was tearing her apart. She’d debated whether or not to give him a chance, even discussed it with Luna, back when the two girls were still talking. In the end she just couldn’t bring herself to do it, arguing that he didn’t deserve the mess she would bring into his life. Neville had been a sweet guy, nothing but nice to her. And yet he still hadn’t rated. She’d given up before giving him a chance because she assumed it just wouldn’t work. These were the same thoughts that had been floating around in her head for weeks, but at least she wasn’t so delusional that she blamed his shortcomings. She knew full well that it was her own that kept her so unhappy.

She turned away from the noise of lunch being served and ventured outside instead, letting the cold air revive her. Everything was quiet outside, hushed by the blanket of snow. It was a world at peace, waiting for spring when everything would glean with the same brilliant green as Harry’s eyes. She sighed into the wind, watching her breath freeze in front of her. And then she smiled. In all this lonely icy emptiness… she actually felt more comforted.

(BREAK)

Luna rushed to find Harry having just learned some very disturbing news. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do yet, but she felt that seeing him would help her decide. Using her inherent talents, she was able to track him down just after breakfast sneaking toward the kitchens. "Harry!" She called out to him, hurrying to catch up. "What are you doing?" She asked as if she’d just happened upon him, not wanting him to know that she’d been searching him out.

"Looking for Dobby." He admitted. "I figured with all the cleaning, he’d be down here."

"Can I come with?"

"I guess. Nothing better to do?" He gave her a strange look.

She shrugged nonchalantly. "Ron’s busy begging Hermione to help him with some project and my first class on Fridays isn’t for another hour."

"Okay then. Ladies first." He gestured to the door.

"Oh no, when going into restricted areas it’s always gentlemen first." She challenged with a smile.

He grinned back and offered his arm. "Together then?"

"I suppose." She took his arm and as one they entered the kitchens.

House elves were running around everywhere, cleaning and preparing food in with an air of frenzied happiness. Several looked at them, but not one let the distraction interrupt their work. "Do you see him?" Harry whispered.

"I don’t think so." She hadn’t really spent much time with Dobby, so she wasn’t entirely sure which one she was looking for. "Excuse me, do you know where we can find Dobby?" She leaned down and asked a sprightly little female elf.

The elf regarded her in horror before answering in a tiny voice. "Dobby is washings the dishes in the back, miss."

"Thank you very much." She politely bowed her head before rising to follow Harry through the maze of counters and cabinets to the place where the dishes were kept.

They entered the area to find themselves in the middle of a medley of motion. Dishes were flying everywhere, dirty ones flying through the wash basins before settling themselves on the shelf sparkling clean as those that had been sitting clean for a while flew out to be readied for the next meal. It was a like a dance, everything perfectly synchronized with the sounds of clinking and splashing water creating a sort of rhythm. At the heart of it all directing the show was Dobby. His giant eyes sparkled as he caught sight of them. "Harry Potter!"

"Hello Dobby." Harry said with a smile. "I won’t keep you long, I was just wondering if I could ask you for a favor."

"Dobby is happy to do anything that Harry Potter asks. We is friends." He grinned.

"Yes we are." Harry assured him. "And this is Luna, Luna Lovegood, remember? She’s a friend too." He added, as if just recalling that she was there. She was secretly pleased that he introduced her as a friend, long ago having given up on anyone accepting her.

"Hello. It’s nice to officially meet you." She offered a little wave. He bowed in return.

Harry quickly turned back to business. "Look Dobby, I was wondering if you could find me some more gillyweed and this time not from Professor Snape’s personal supply if at all possible."

"Dobby can do it." The elf answered hesitantly. "But Dobby has to leave Hogwarts to find it."

"Is it dangerous?" Harry asked, looking concerned. Luna knew he would never ask anyone to put themselves in a risky situation on his behalf, and she worried that if that were the case, he might consider finding a way to go after it himself.

"Oh, no. Not dangerous. But Dobby is going very far to get Harry Potter’s gillyweed." He looked worried.

"Well, you’ve left Hogwarts before. You’re free now, remember. You can come and go as you please, I’m sure Dumbledore told you that." Harry reminded him.

He nodded. "Yes. Dobby is free."

"So you’ll go get it?" Luna asked.

Again he nodded. "Dobby is finishing his work and then is going to get gillyweed."

"Thank you." Harry replied earnestly. "I really appreciate this."

They quickly said their goodbyes and left the kitchens. Walking together in comfortable silence, they made their way back to the main floor. "So, you have the game tomorrow." She said at last, still trying to decide what she should with the knowledge she’d received. If she didn’t tell him, the consequences could prove dire for him… but if she did say something it could disrupt any number of other things lined up to fall in place.

"Yeah. Hopefully Cho isn’t too mad out there." He answered casually.

I wouldn’t count on it. She thought to herself.

"Why not?" He asked.

She stopped, shocked that he’d just answered her thought. He was staring at her expectantly, making her realize he didn’t realize what had just taken place. She shook her head, slightly disappointed that he was so obtusely unaware- even of himself. "I just hear the things she says in the common room. That girl has quite the violent streak and seems to hold quite a grudge." She hinted.

"I’m not too worried." He replied with a shrug. "I mean what can she really do out there?"

"You never know." She looked at him meaningfully. "It’s just always best to be prepared, you know, not underestimate."

Again he looked at her strangely. "I guess you’re right. Luna, is there something you’re trying to tell me? Do you know something?"

"I know Cho isn’t who she used to be and she’s really got something against you." She answered honestly, but was unwilling to say more. Harry had to come to discover things for himself- if he survived what she knew was planned for him the next day.

"Okay, I’ll be careful." He promised, regarding her suspiciously.

"That’s all you can do." She answered sadly before walking away, afraid her fondness for him and his friendship would push her to make a mistake. She still didn’t know whether or not it was right to disclose everything, but at least she had put him on alert. As she sat waiting outside the dungeons for Potions to start, she realized that in a way she had made a decision. By not telling Harry what he was in for, she had officially put it all in fate’s hands… not that she still didn’t have time to changer her mind.

(BREAK)

Despite the weird conversation he’d had with Luna earlier, Harry felt comfortable for once in his life. His team was tied for first with Slytherin, he was doing well in his classes even potions, and his DA club was a huge success. And in the present moment, he was with Hermione- the only place he wanted to be. They were sitting up in front of the fire the night before the quidditch match, her head on his shoulder and his arms wrapped around her. She was wearing the sweater he had given her that day in the courtyard and he leaned down to kiss her forehead, grateful for that memory and all the others they had shared. She looked up at him and drew his mouth to hers. Harry sighed in contentment when they broke apart. "I should get to sleep, but I don’t want to move."

"Me either. But you have to up early." She said wisely, while snuggling deeper into him.

"Do me a favor and sit far back in the stands tomorrow?" he asked rubbing her back.

"I can’t see well from back there." She sat up to look at him. "Harry, nothing is going to happen. Malfoy can’t get out to sabotage anything. Just relax and focus on the game, okay?"

"I just don’t like that he’s still here. Anything could go wrong."

"Or everything could go right! Maybe your motto should be, ‘I’m a positive thinker.’"

"I am. I’m positive something always goes wrong. But you’re right, he can’t get out so the only thing I have to worry about is staying out of Cho’s line of fire." He tried to smile.

"I don’t think that will be an easy task." She said worriedly.

"You sound like Luna." He moaned, tired of hearing how scared of Cho he should be. In truth he was unnerved by the changes he was seeing in the girl- changes that Luna and everyone else seemed to notice as well. But he refused to say he was scared of her. It was just Cho Chang after all.

Reluctantly, he and Hermione separated for the night and Harry climbed into his bed feeling tired yet energized. It took forever for him to finally fall asleep and sure enough morning came far too early. He knew he’d be alert the moment he set foot on the pitch and so he allowed himself to sleepwalk through the morning. He groggily made his way through breakfast, following the others out to the locker room in a haze. Hermione kissed his cheek and Luna once more reminded him to be on his guard before the two girls walked away to find seats. A sense of dread shot through him as he eyed the stands… it was only slightly alleviated by the sight of some of the professors patrolling the area, looking for signs of trouble.

Quickly changing into his uniform, Harry sat back and relaxed with his eyes closed as Ginny stepped up to give a few final strategies. "Alright. Fred, you focus on Harry out there and keep him safe from whatever they might have planned. George you play as usual looking out for the rest of us. Parvati and Seamus, keep your eyes open. I have a feeling that today, Ravenclaw is going to play as dirty as Slytherin. We need to score as much as possible in case they do manage to take Harry out, which might be their plan. Ron, you better not let a damn thing get by you. I don’t want to lose this you guys, not to Cho Chang. We’re better, we’re faster and our seeker is the best. There’s no reason we can’t do this."

Harry’s eyes shot open in embarrassment at the way she complimented him. More than that though, he was struck by the certainty that she had about Cho wanting to hurt him out there. That made all three girls who had warned him, though Luna had seemed the most sure- as if she knew exactly what was going to happen. What intuition did these girls have that he so obviously lacked that they took Cho Chang so seriously? He felt his senses come alive as his sudden nervousness roared in his ears.

"Just to be clear, are you expecting us to win by strictly playing by the rules?" Fred asked.

"And if so, how strictly to the rules are we expected to adhere?" George added seriously.

"I’d like it if we could all keep our dignity out there. But if they do play dirty, you have my permission to throw it right back at them, rules be damned." Ginny answered viciously, her game face firmly in place.

Harry shared an amused grin with the twins as they each separately thought of Angelina. Once ready, the team walked out onto the pitch to wild cheering. He looked up and was dismayed to see Hermione in the front row along with Luna, who had apparently decided to give up on her own house after all that had happened. He could understand her refusing to support Cho, what he couldn’t understand were the tears in her eyes as she purposefully avoided his gaze.

Ginny and Cho met in center field to shake as the team captains were supposed to do before each game. The two girls were glaring each other and both appeared to be trying to break the other’s hand in their grip. All fourteen players mounted their brooms and at the whistle they zoomed into the air.

Cho was instantly at Harry side, bumping him out of the way while they were flying. Just as suddenly as she’d appeared, she left and Harry had to quickly dodge the bludger that was coming at him. Apparently Ginny was right, their intention was to try and take him out. Fred was there in an instant and knocked the bludger back at the beater so fast, the other guy almost fell off his broom. Fred grinned at him wickedly.

Harry hovered high above the field watching what was going on in the game. "Already the score has jumped 40-0 Gryffindor! They are on FIRE! Lead by the cutest fifth year GINNY WEASLEY, Ravenclaw can’t catch them!" Dean declared into the microphone.

"Mr. Thomas! Impartiality! And keep the comments on the game." McGonagall scolded from her place beside him.

Harry looked desperately for the snitch. Though they were already forty points ahead, Cho could still catch it and win. He’d let that happen over his dead body. "Harry look out!" He heard Fred call. At the last minute Harry ducked as Cho flew directly over him looking to take his head off with her broom. She kicked at him as she passed, apparently trying to put his vow of death before dishonor to the test. He made a sudden dive and thinking he had spotted the snitch, she went after him. Ten feet from the ground he pulled back up and watched with immense satisfaction as Cho tumbled, unable to stop her momentum. The Gryffindors cheered loudly in support.

Fred suddenly raced forward to block another bludger that had been sent hurtling toward him, smacking it at a Ravenclaw chaser who was looking to make a goal. "They’re out to get you for sure, mate. Keep your eyes open." He warned. Harry once more took to circling the field, making sure to keep a good distance from Cho while Fred tailed him. When he glanced over and saw her directing her beaters, he felt his chest tighten with anxiety. Whatever she was saying to them, he knew it was nothing good.

"ANOTHER GOAL FOR GRYFFINDOR! THE SCORE NOW STANDS 100-0!" Dean shouted.

Harry ducked another bludger and watched as Fred hit it away. Just then, the other one came from behind and knocked the Weasley twin square in the back. Harry raced forward as his friend started to fall and brought Fred and his broom to the ground safely. A whistle blew and the game came to a halt. The rest of the Gryffindors grounded and rushed over to their fallen teammate.

Pulled Ginny aside once they knew Fred was basically okay, Harry let her in on the situation. "Cho figured Fred was looking out for me. I saw her giving instructions to the beaters, they planned this!" She appeared livid as she took it all in but said nothing.

It was announced that Fred was unconscious and unable to play. Everyone else got back into position and Madam Hooch blew her whistle to restart the game. Harry was on his guard, no longer having anyone to watch his back. From the stands, he was able to make out students from three of the four houses booing the Ravenclaw team for their foul. Apparently no one liked what they were seeing. He searched desperately for the snitch, which was proving to be extra elusive today. Instincts in overdrive, he sensed what was coming and ducked as two bludgers zoomed by his head. He looked behind him to see the beaters coming from either side. He raced forward but had to pull up as Cho positioned herself right in front of him. It was obvious she wasn’t even looking for the snitch; her goal today was to take Harry down.

Having to pull up so suddenly gave the beaters a chance to catch up to him. They got on either side and with carefully concealed hand placements grabbed his broom and guided him toward the wall. Harry shoved at the players as he struggled to break their hold. He looked ahead in panic as the wall rushed closer. They were going too fast for him to stop in time.

The crowd was in an uproar seeing what was going on and yelling for Madam Hooch. But her attention was focused on Cho who appeared to have found the snitch. Harry knew this was just a distraction and for the briefest of moments he was impressed with the planning she had put into this attack. At the last moment possible, when Harry was a few scant feet from the wall, the beaters let go and zoomed off to either side, barely missing the obstruction themselves. Turning sideways to try and slow as much as possible, he hit the wall hard with his entire left side and hurtled toward the ground. With extreme effort he was able to pull up, and working through the pain, managed to slow down enough to lightly fall onto the soft grass. Everyone in the stands was on their feet, eager to see if he was okay. Slowly, Harry rose, remounted his broom and took off. His whole body ached but he wasn’t going to give up. The game wouldn’t end until the snitch was caught, and he would be damned if he was going to let Cho catch it.

"POTTER IS BACK IN THE AIR! TAKES MORE THAN A DIRTY TRICK TO BRING DOWN OUR SEEKER!!! GO POTTER!" This time, McGonagall didn’t correct Dean. She was just as upset at what she was seeing as everyone else. Well, everyone but the Slytherins, who loved when Harry got hurt. Unfortunately, there was nothing the teachers could do to stop the match.

The crowd groaned as Ravenclaw scored their first goal. Ron had become distracted by Harry’s fall and hadn’t seen the chasers coming his way. After that, his confidence was shattered and they scored three more times against him. On their next attempt, and after stern warnings from Ginny, Ron got his head back in the game.

"BLOCKED BY RON!!! GINNY HAS THE QUAFFLE, PASS TO FINNIGAN WHO SCORES!!! 110-40. GO GRYFFINDOR!!

Harry was having trouble staying on his broom. His entire body was throbbing and he was sure he had quite a few broken bones. He felt faint and sick. Seeing the beaters coming at him again, he quickly flew the other way. Once again Cho jumped in his path, but he was wise to this move now and ducked under her.

Then he saw it. The snitch was fluttering close to the Ravenclaw goal, glittering in the sunlight. Harry flew straight forward ignoring everything going on around him. He weakly stretched his arm out, but a Ravenclaw chaser "accidentally" kicked it as he flew by. Harry moaned in pain and fell over. The crowd gasped. By some miracle he held on to his broom, flying upside down. He couldn’t gather strength enough to right himself, so he wrapped his bad arm around the broom and reached out the other for the snitch. It was at his fingertips.

The game had stopped and the entire Ravenclaw team, keeper included, rushed at him. His own team was in fast pursuit. He felt the bludger hit his leg as he stretched out further. Realizing he was now holding onto his broom with one arm and one leg, he assumed the other had been shattered by the bludger as it now hung limply in the air. But still he wouldn’t let himself give up. With one last push, he closed his hand around the snitch as the Ravenclaw team surrounded him. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a whistle blow and someone yelling that he had caught the snitch. The last thing he remembered was wondering if he really had caught it because he could no longer feel anything.



A/N: Whew....Cho was really angry. This was almost worse than Voldemort, eh? Well, next chapter is already half done, so keep an eye out. Don’t forget to REVIEW!!!!!!!

Chapter 20: The Cycle Has Already Begun

NOTE: [insert previous comments here] Ok, I think I’m somewhere near the middle of my story. For those of you groaning right now, let me just remind you how long the real books are getting....eh? As a side note, I’m viewing this story as a success, so I will be doing a sequel I have in mind. Keep an eye out for it when this one ends.




Harry knew where he was the minute he opened his eyes, having stared at the ceiling of the hospital wing long enough to have it permanently etched in his mind. He turned his head slightly, feeling how sore it was. His entire body felt like it had been through the wringer but at least he was alive. While struggling to find his glasses, he was just barely able to make out Hermione who was asleep in the chair next to his bed. He frowned, thinking what it must have been like for her to watch the other team attack him and not be able to do anything about it. He slowly turned his head the other way and saw Fred sleeping in the bed next to his. Ron, Ginny, George and Luna were all sleeping in chairs between them. Wondering how long they had been there, he finally saw his glasses on the table next to him. He tried to sit up and reach for them, but he couldn’t make his aching body cooperate. Giving up, he collapsed back into a laying position.

Hermione and Ron awoke to his groan of pain. "Hey Harry. How do you feel?" She asked gently as she held his hand. Ron silently scooted his chair closer.

"Horrible, how’s Fred?" he choked out feeling how dry his throat was. She gave him some water and he drank it greedily.

"He broke both shoulder blades." Ron answered. "But they’re already almost done mending. He was awake earlier and we told him everything that happened."

"How long have we been up here?" Harry asked, gratefully taking his glasses from Ron. He tried to look at his watch but it was no longer on his wrist.

"Only through the night, it’s..." Hermione paused to glance at the clock behind her. "Four in the morning."

Ron held up Harry’s watch, smashed to pieces when his arm had been kicked in the air. "I’m sure mum and dad will get you a new one." He said, trying to be helpful.

Seeing that his gift from Arthur and Molly had been destroyed upset him on a whole new level. But anger would get him nowhere at the moment. Besides, he wasn’t even completely sure what had happened to him. "So, what’s all wrong with me? I feel like one big bruise." He said resting his pounding head back onto the pillow.

"Well," Ron began listing everything on his fingers, "you broke I forget how many bones in your leg and arm, three ribs, your left shoulder had a small fracture, and your left wrist was sprained while the right one was shattered. Plus all the minor scrapes and bruises."

"Madam Pomfrey said all your bones should be mended by morning, but you’ll feel sore for about two weeks." Hermione revealed looked worried.

"So what happened when the match ended?" Harry asked, ignoring his diagnosis.

"Dumbledore suspended the whole Ravenclaw team from quidditch for the rest of the year for playing so dirty." Ron was getting excited. "That really made Cho angry. She also has to go to a Hogwarts High Student hearing on the charges of deliberately ordering bodily harm be done to other students!"

"What’s a Hogwarts High Student hearing?"

Hermione took over the explanation. "It’s a panel of all the Prefects and the Head Boy and Girl. They decide whether or not the person is guilty of their charges and the appropriate punishment. It is kind of exciting in a weird way. I read that they haven’t had one here in over seventy-five years."

"Dumbledore is giving some kind of speech at breakfast today and he asked that if you and Fred are well enough that we help you get down there. You feel up to it?" Ron asked.

"That can wait at least until the sun rises Ronald." She scolded before Harry could answer. Ron’s response was cut off as Fred moaned in the other bed, startling everyone else awake. He rushed back over to his brother’s bed.

"Here Harry." Hermione whispered. "Dobby brought this last night when I was the only one awake." She handed him what looked like a bunch of weeds but held onto his hand so that he would really listen to her. "I think you should wait to do this until after break when you’re all better."

He looked down at the bundle of gillyweed in his hand. "There’s only two weeks left. I’m sure I’ll be fine."

"I know how much you want this, but-"

"The sooner I get it done, the better I’ll be able to focus on other things. I don’t know if I’ll be able to relax over Christmas if I knew how close I was to getting it."

"Well, someone is going with you then." She said stubbornly.

"Hey Harry!" Fred called over to him. "How you doing? They told me you had it way worse than I did."

"Well, I’ve been told I’ll live, so all in all I’d say I’m doing good. You?"

"Sore, but better. I’m ready for this hearing so I can testify against that bitch."

(BREAK)

Luna sat in the infirmary and listened to the others lament on how they could have helped or prevented this. But she knew that whatever guilt they felt about their two friends now laying injured, it was nothing to the way she was feeling. She actually could have prevented this, had known it was coming. But she’d been at a loss on what to do, how to explain how she came by this knowledge, so she’d sat in the stands hoping Harry could once more outrun death. After all, he had the ability to change his own future simply by making a different decision. And he had. The second time Cho and her Beaters had tried to corner him, Harry had reacted quickly and ducked under them, changing the preset plan. His own survival instincts had once more prevented catastrophe.

But looking around at the worried faces and the two in pain, she realized her internal struggle was over. She couldn’t sit back and wait for nature to take its course anymore. Time and again Harry had beaten his destiny, when she’d known it was supposed to be otherwise. He was her proof that the future could be changed and manipulated, that the things she knew were coming could be stopped. She was no longer going to be an observer, she would involve herself in life. She had known that Harry was supposed to die, that Cho was going to kill him, and she’d stuck to her guns and let fate take it’s course, even if she did try to warn him with hints. But seeing it go differently right before her eyes, it was like an awakening.

Slowly, her friends all nodded off again, and she rose to go watch the sun rise. The snow glowed golden against the soft light and she saw the grounds around Hogwarts come to life. Small animals scampered across the lawn, scouting out an early meal as the trees all seemed to sigh and shake their branches against the wind, scattering snow as they stretched away the cold night. Today was going to be a better day. She knew it.

(BREAK)

With Ron, George and Hermione’s help, Harry and Fred made their way down to breakfast. The entire Gryffindor table stood and cheered when they appeared and many other students came up to congratulate the boys on a well played game. Harry looked up at the Head table and saw a few teachers clapping as well. McGonagall was smiling proudly and he could have sworn she had tears in her eyes. Harry was astounded. They were all more excited about his quidditch win than when he’d beaten Voldemort. Of course, this was a more decided victory.

Dumbledore waited until everyone was settled before standing to address the hall. "That was quite a match yesterday. A prime example of how a game should never be played. When those teams stepped on that quidditch pitch, all ideas of revenge and anger and rivalry should have been put aside." The Ravenclaw’s all looked at their quidditch players with accusing glares. Apparently, they weren’t as proud of their team. Harry watched Cho slink down a little in her seat an angry expression plastered all over her face.

"Furthermore, Miss Chang’s direction to the rest of her team to cause pain to the other players was a disgrace to discover and impossible to tolerate. She will be held accountable for her actions as she faces a hearing against the Hogwarts High Student Association after we return from break." Cho sank down further as everyone started murmuring among themselves. "Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, as you can see Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter were well enough to join us." The Gryffindors cheered. "I would just like to say that if I see anything like that at the next few matches, the continuance of quidditch at this school will be in question. Keep that in mind, players, when you step out on the pitch. That is all for now." The old wizard lowered himself into his seat and stared out over the sea of students, studying each one before settling in to eat. Harry found breakfast a painful affair as everyone talked loudly about what had happened yesterday. He felt like their voices were echoing in his head, causing the pounding headache he already had to worsen. After managing a few bites of toast, Harry gave up and just waited for everyone else to finish.

In the common room later, the friends were lounging around as Harry and Fred relaxed and recuperated. He was curious as to what had happened after he caught the snitch. "I don’t remember anything after that. I just passed out in midair."

"Not for the first time either." Ron said, recalling their second year.

"We caught you." Ginny told him. "The Ravenclaw team was right there, but they just watched as you fell. George, Seamus and I were underneath them and grabbed you as you went by."

"They just sat there!" Hermione said angrily. "Anyone of them could have helped you!"

"After they had spent the entire game trying to kill him? Why would they?" Luna asked. "I’m telling you, it’s like they were different people out there. I never imagined Cho would take it that far let alone anyone else. Evan Fruggle is one of the nicest people I know, yet he was the one who rammed you into the wall and hit that bludger at Fred." Harry felt like Luna knew very well what was going to happen during the game and was now giving them some kind of clue, as if she still knew what was coming. He could almost hear her voice in his head. She whipped her gaze in his direction so fast he winced, feeling guilty, like he’d been caught looking through something he shouldn’t. But she simply smiled at him

"Everything about that game was weird." He said, shaking off the feeling. "I didn’t think Cho would go that far either. You have to admit, she’s been crazier than usual lately. Starting with Hogsmeade. Accio cup." Harry called for a mug of hot chocolate so he wouldn’t have to move very much.

"You mean when she beat you up?" George teased.

"She’s a girl! I couldn’t fight back you know!" Harry protested.

"Sometimes, I think it’s okay to hit a girl." Ginny picked up on the teasing. "Like when they’re attacking you in the middle of the street."

"Whatever. I just think that since the trip into town right before the ball-"

"I think it started on the train, and probably, really sometime during the summer." Luna interjected, a look of disinterest on her face. She was merely participating in a conversation, it could have been about anything. Harry was beginning to spin her into quite the enigma.

"You said that before, didn’t you?" Fred asked, scrunching his face as he tried to remember. "You know about something happening to her this summer. Yeah! At the costume ball! You think something bad happened to her or what?"

"How should I know?" Luna answered in a dreamy, detached voice.

"I think the point Harry and Luna were making is that something’s changed." Hermione interrupted.

"Are you sure those players weren’t acting like themselves?" Ron asked Luna.

"Absolutely. Evan’s never teased me and he’s always been nice, but he called me a string of names this morning. And Moira, the other beater, she stops people from killing the spiders in the common room because she doesn’t think it’s right to harm anything."

"That constitutes evil where I’m concerned." Ron shuddered. "Spiders need to go."

"But you saw how they all were yesterday." Luna was ignoring Ron, "They were out for blood."

"So what do you think is going on?" Ginny asked.

"Someone got to them." Everyone turned to Harry as the sudden thought caught them all by surprise.

"What do you mean?" Ron demanded.

"Well, drastic changes in personality.... Maybe they aren’t acting of their own accord." Harry said.

"You think they’re under the Imperious curse." Hermione said, guessing his thoughts.

"Maybe." He didn’t know what had made him think of it, but suddenly he knew it was true. He glanced at Luna who was trying very hard not to look at him.

"But who....?" Fred asked.

"Malfoy." Ron glared at the fire.

"You really think he’s powerful enough to control seven people?" Luna asked him, her voice full of doubt. Once more Harry felt she was trying to hint at something.

"All I know is that we’ve underestimated him in the past and he created a bomb." Ron returned.

"Two bombs." Ginny said quietly.

"Right, two bombs and I think it’s time we give his evil little mind the attention it deserves." Ron slammed his fist on the table.

"Maybe we should go to Dumbledore." George said.

"What will he do about it?" Harry asked bitterly. "Stick Malfoy in another wing of the castle?"

"You’re saying we shouldn’t tell him what we think?" Ron asked.

"Before you even get started," Harry said putting his finger to Hermione’s lips to stop her protest, "that’s not what I said. I know we have to tell him. In fact we should be running there now, but really, what’ll come out of it?"

They wanted to go anyway, but he opted to stay behind citing his exhaustion as the reason. He climbed the steps slowly, feeling intense pain every time he moved. Harry got up to his room just in time, he couldn’t have gone much further. Falling onto the bed, he listened to Robin’s soft purring. "Could have used you yesterday boy." He said quietly.

As he thought on the situation, Harry realized he wasn’t completely sure that Cho was under the imperious curse, but why else would she go so far as to try and kill him? It was the only thing that currently made sense. And at that very moment, everyone else was in Dumbledore’s office, telling him of their suspicions. It wasn’t only the pain that kept him from making the long walk. Truthfully he was still upset with his headmaster. If Draco Malfoy really was the one who had been controlling the Ravenclaw players, then Harry believed that everything that happened yesterday was, at least in part, Dumbledore’s fault.

I don’t understand why Malfoy has to stay here. He thought. Hasn’t he proved that he’s dangerous enough?He was upset and starting to get very worried. If things kept happening, if students kept getting hurt, how long before the school was closed? His house or not, he didn’t think they’d send him to Grimmauld Place, and he knew he couldn’t return to the Dursleys.

(BREAK)

Hermione had been laying with Harry on the couch since just after dinner. While the room slowly cleared for the evening, his breathing grew deep and even. Sleep wasn’t coming to her as easily. Over and over in her mind she had been replaying the game, watching helplessly as Harry was beaten and battered in the air above her. She’d clung to Luna’s arm the entire time, feeling like she was crushing the girl’s slender bones.

When she’d seen Cho set up to trap Harry for the second time, she’d turned away unable to watch. But not Luna- she had been watching the scene intently, biting her bottom lip so hard it bled. Hermione hadn’t been able to look away from the girl’s intensity, it was as if she was watching a grim movie that she already knew the ending to. And when the look of surprise had crossed her face, brightening her blue eyes and catching her breath, Hermione had whipped around to the field and seen Harry dive below the set up and race toward the Ravenclaw goal. From that moment on, he had been her main focus, forgetting everyone else’s existence. When he finally passed out and began falling from the sky she froze up, her mind instantly drawn back to the day Neville had died. And then the others had caught him and she’d collapsed in relief, tears streaming down her face. Luna had sat back with her, and feeling a pain in her arm, Hermione realized that now it was the other girl squeezing her to death. But oddly, Luna was smiling. She had turned to her and said "He’s going to live!" her tone was surprised and sublimely happy.

And then they had been carting Harry off the field and Hermione hadn’t given it another thought. But now, assured of his health, she was able to focus on the weirder aspects of that day. And of course, wherever you found something weird you found Luna. There was something the girl was keeping secret, she was sure of it. In fact, everything about Luna Lovegood was secretive. But trying to piece together the bigger picture was proving impossible. Nothing she said or did made sense and Hermione was of the mind that unless you were in Luna’s head, you would never know what she was really thinking.

With a sigh, she gently shook Harry awake and asked if he needed help up the stairs. He declined, giving her a sleepy kiss goodnight before slowly making his way to his bed. It broke her heart to watch him struggle, but she knew better than to try and help when he didn’t want it. Once assured he’d reached the proper landing, she headed up to her own room, crawling into bed with a head full of questions and concerns. She closed her eyes against the assault of thoughts and focused on clearing her mind, but it was after dawn before she felt herself lightly drift off.

(BREAK)

Draco paced angrily. The sun was just peaking out over the horizon and still he was out in the woods, waiting. It had taken quite a lot in order to sneak out and he knew if he was forced to wait much longer, there was no way he wouldn’t be caught when he snuck back in. He intended to give his partner a piece of his mind, but the voice he finally heard wasn’t the one he’d been expecting. "Hello Draco."

He turned to find Lucius standing behind him. "Father? What are you doing here?!" He wanted to rush forward and throw his arms around the man, glad that his dad was once more free. But he knew better, they weren’t the kind of family who hugged.

"Making sure you’re doing everything you need to be doing." Lucius answered harshly. Draco knew that for a while now his father had seemed to lose faith in him, as if he didn’t fully trust his son’s intentions.

"We both are." He returned, feeling disappointed that the reunion he’d wished for was turning out more like the one he’d actually envisioned. He hadn’t realized how much he’d been hoping for it to be different though.

"So I’ve been told."

"And yet you still have doubts? I can do this! They all think I’m the one doing all these things, just like we wanted!" Draco protested.

"Well, luckily it doesn’t take much for them to suspect you. At least you did a good enough job getting under their skin over the years, even if you were never able to do much more that irritate them all." Lucius said, glancing around to be sure they were still alone. The passive aggressive compliment was normal behavior for him.

"I guess that’s the beauty of this plan, then. I don’t really have to do anything other than take the blame." He returned, hurt beyond words as he realized it may be too late- his father already regarded him as a failure in life, a disappointment.

"How is your new little partner doing?"

"Put the entire Ravenclaw team under the Imperious Curse and nearly ripped Potter to pieces in the air on Saturday." Draco reported.

"Impressive. I wouldn’t have expected such power." Lucius grinned savagely, more proud of this person who was a stranger to him than he’d ever been in his son.

Truthfully, Draco wouldn’t have expected his partner had the ability to control so many people at once either. She’d always seemed so docile and shallow if a tad unbalanced over the years. "Well, either way, she failed. Potter is alive and on his way back to healthy."

"Then we’ll just have to find a way to stop him before he’s healed." Cho said, stepping from the trees where she’d been hiding for who knew how long. "Were you two talking about me?" She asked sweetly.

"Good, you’re here. I bring instructions for you both." Lucius was all business at once. Draco shook his head in disapproval. Mere hours out of prison and already his father had thrown himself back into servitude. "The plans have changed. It is clear that you are unable to tempt Potter as you’d promised."

Cho instantly turned angry. "It’s not my fault! I didn’t plan on Hermione Granger getting in the way."

"Yes, a roadblock you should have been more than capable of handling." Lucius sneered.

"Yeah, like you guys have been so successful at it over the years." Draco shot back, instinctively standing up for Cho. He hated when his father got like this, blaming everyone for their faults while never acknowledging his own.

"Be that as it may," He glared at his son, "We had expected that you follow through on what you promised you could deliver, Miss Chang."

How could you expect anything, you were in prison when all this was being planned. Draco thought bitterly, though this time he held his tongue. Cho appeared livid, but she too held herself in check. "I still could." She raised her chin with an air of defiant confidence.

"Luckily you won’t have to prove it. Your mission has changed from one of seduction to one of destruction." Lucius said maliciously. "I hear you came close at the quidditch match. We need you to be more successful this time."

"Okay, what do you want us to do?" She asked.

"Well, after receiving news of your punishment we’ve had to scramble to make up for it." He paused to sneer at his son. "That’s right, we know they all blamed her for the quidditch match."

"She attacked him in front of the whole school! How was I supposed to make them suspect me of that?" He protested.

"Exactly." Lucius turned his glare on Cho. "Although impressive, that was a mistake. Now we will have to fix it." He handed her a vial.

"What’s this?" She asked as she stepped forward to take it.

"A potion. The first thing we must do is eliminate the illusion of the element of surprise. It no longer exists now that you are in the enemy’s sights, Miss Chang."

"And how do we do that?" Draco asked, feeling tentative.

"By telling Potter exactly who he’s dealing with, and torturing him with that information." Lucius answered with a sinister smile.

(BREAK)

Ron helped Harry down to breakfast the next morning. When they arrived, all the tables were chattering excitedly and there was an aura of fear that Harry could almost see. He found out why the minute he eased his aching body into a seat.

"Look." Ginny said grimly as she pushed the Daily Prophet towards them. Harry took one glance and looked away in disgust. Hermione picked it up and began reading out loud.

SECOND MASS BREAKOUT FROM AZKABAN
-Wanted: Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange,
Rodolphus Lestrange, Antonin Dolohov,
Walden Macnair, and Harland Myers

Last night, six known Death Eaters escaped
during a midnight raid at Azkaban Prison.
Among them was once highly respected
Lucius Malfoy, whom until the events of
last spring in the Department of Mysteries
at the Ministry of Magic, hid the fact that
he was a Death Eater. Harry Potter and
a group of Hogwarts youths were originally
responsible for the capture of five of the
six criminals after the battle. The question
of their safety was brought up before newly
elected Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley,
whose youngest son and only daughter were
apart of the group who brought these beasts
to justice.

"We have no reason to believe any of the
children are in danger. Hogwarts is one of
the safest places they could be right now."
Said Weasley.

However, he did not respond to questioning
about the two recent accidents at the
prestigious school, one of which resulted in
the death of a student, Neville Longbottom,
also one of Potter’s group of friends.

It seems there are more questions than
answers in all of these cases and you
should be advised to watch carefully after
yourselves this coming holiday break. These
convicts should be considered armed and
extremely dangerous, do not approach them.
If you do spot anything suspicious, Minister
Weasley is asking that you call one of the
newly installed hotlines, whose numbers
are provided at the end of this article.

It appears to us here, at the Daily Prophet
that events are being put into motion and
this journalist is willing to bet that Harry
Potter will once again be involved. This
famous boy has now supposedly come
against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named
numerous times and has faithfully protected
us in each and every instance. Let us
hope he is the hero everyone makes him
out to be.

"It just goes on like that until the end." Hermione said, throwing the paper away in disgust.

"Did you catch that ‘supposedly’ they put in there?" Ron asked. "What a bunch of dolts."

"They’re right though." Harry said. "Somehow, I’ll become involved. Somehow, he’ll be there again. Somehow, more people will get hurt and die. It’s all part of the cycle."

"Well, this year, we’re going to break that cycle." Ginny said vehemently.

"It’s already started, hasn’t it? Right here, in this school, with that murderer Dumbledore has locked away in his office. I’m not hungry anymore." Harry slowly got up.

Ron grabbed all the food he could carry, then grabbed his and Harry’s bags and with Hermione followed him out. They made their way down to the dungeons for their potion class with Harry having to stop every now and then to rest. He wanted nothing more than to just give up but unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.





A/N: Okay guys, classes start again in two days, so I don’t know how often I’ll be posting after this, but I will try to do at least one a week. Keep reading and for my own sanity, PLEASE review.



Chapter 21: A Watery Grave

NOTE: [you know what goes here] A little more excitement in this chapter so read on if you can handle it. (I know you can) Read, Review, and as always, ENJOY!



A few days later, Harry was still sore, but he felt that it was now or never. He wanted to go get the next clue that night, waiting was no longer an option. His dreams at night were becoming intense and now he was beginning to dream during the day as well, thinking of nothing other than the clue and ultimately, the ring. Hermione was apprehensive, but she knew better than to tell Harry he ought to wait. She did however, manage to convince him to let George and Ron go with, and together the Marauders came up with their plan. After DA that night, Hermione and Ron had hallway patrol duty. With the Marauders Map, Harry and George would sneak out under the invisibility cloak to be joined later by the other two after they handed off their job to the next prefect watch. Harry had a good feeling about that night. Until McGonagall found him after lunch.

"Come with me, Potter." She said as she continued briskly on her way. He limped after her the best he could. When they finally arrived at a broken window on the second floor, he sat down to catch his breath and rest his tired legs. "Now we are keeping this quiet, but a fifth year Slytherin was thrown out of this window last night, only he tells us that no one was around."

"So you think I did it! I haven’t voluntarily moved anything with my mind since Malfoy in Dumbledore’s office. And then only because I was really mad."

"So you were in your dorm last night?" She asked, worried and relieved at the same time. He couldn’t believe she had thought for a moment he’d been responsible.

"Yes I was! Does it look like I’m up to strolling the hallways?" He asked angrily.

"Watch your temper, Mr. Potter. Knowing of the power you possess, it seems only natural to-"

"Natural? Accusing me of hurting students is natural? When was the last time I did that? I don’t just go out and randomly attack people, so excuse me if I don’t see what’s so natural about it." He felt hurt and betrayed.

"I think it’s time you went to Albus and had him explain the full weight of your abilities to you." she said evenly.

"Great, just what I need. More weight to add to my shoulders." Harry struggled to get to his feet and found that it was a very painful affair. "If you’ll excuse me, professor. And don’t worry, I’m not going to search out my next victim." He left McGonagall in the hallway behind him, looking grim. As he walked away he could have sworn he heard her say, "He is losing his faith in us." He knew then, that it was true.

(BREAK)

Hermione found Harry a few hours later in the library. "What are you doing in here?"

"I’m trying to look up what I am." He said, pulling another book from the large stack in front of him.

"Excuse me?" she sat next to him and began looking through the titles.

"The thing, you know, the thing I can do with my mind when I’m angry if I focus it, I need to know more about it." He explained distractedly.

"Why don’t you go to Dumbledore? He’ll be able to answer your questions I’m sure." She said, flipping through one of the books.

"I don’t want his help. His kind of help is hidden riddles and lies and half-truths. I want to know straightforward with nothing left out and no surprises."

"Oh...." She knew he was feeling mistrustful of their headmaster, but she hadn’t realized just how far he’d come in his anger. "Harry, I realize he’s kept things from you in the past, but you’re older now so-"

"He kept everything he knew about me a secret. After growing up in that hell hole they stuck me at, the least he could have done was tell me about my family! About my past.... About me!" Harry slammed his book shut and sat back in the chair.

"He did save your life last year." Hermione quietly reminded him.

"Yeah, well, there are times when I wish he hadn’t. How bad is it, Hermione, that the fact that I can barely walk has no effect on me? How bad is it that pain, and extreme pain at that, has become so common to me that I’m no longer even bothered by it? No one should be used to this feeling, but thanks to Dumbledore and Voldemort it has become the biggest part of my life."

"I thought I was the biggest part of your life?" She smiled coyly.

"No, you’re the best part of my life." He said automatically. He stopped to smile, liking that what he said was true.

"Well, now you’re making me blush." She lowered her eyes, pretending to be shy and Harry couldn’t help but laugh.

"How do you do that? No matter how bad I’m feeling, you can turn it all around for awhile." He leaned over and kissed her cheek and she felt the warmth of his regard for her. It made her feel secure.

"I just want you to see that life is about balance, Harry. Pain and laughter. You’re parents died so that you could live. The Dursley’s were cruel and now you’re a fighter. Dumbledore wanted to protect you so he waited. Everything is done for some other reason and even though we can’t always see the outcome, I think it’s comforting to know that it’s always there."

"I guess you’re right."

"Come on, do you really have to guess?" she asked, giving him a playful shove.

He laughed a little. "Okay, you’re right."

"Good, now let’s go." She got up and grabbed his hand, trying to pull him from his seat. "DA starts in twenty minutes and Ron is having trouble with his lesson plan."

(BREAK)

"So this is where you all had your little DA meetings last year." Draco remarked, looking around. Cho had helped him sneak out and brought him to the Room of Requirement.

"They still have meetings here. Of course, I’m no longer welcome at those." She scoffed. "As if I should care."

"You should. You had an in, a way to know what they were all up to and you blew it playing the psycho ex." Draco cruelly reminded her. He didn’t like her at all, she was careless and didn’t think things through which only made her more troublesome and dangerous to him.

"Hey!" She yelled, turning on him. "I was trying to get around Hermione. But that plain little mudblood must have given him a love potion or something."

"Or maybe she’s sane. That goes a long way in recommending a girl, even Granger."

She eyed him warily before sighing and walking over to a large cabinet. "If you’re planning on insulting me the whole time we’re forced to plot together, I may as well find a way to enjoy myself." She produced a bottle of firewhiskey.

"Where did you get that?" He knew that particular liquor wasn’t allowed on school grounds.

"Ask and the room will provide. Did you want some too? Maybe it’ll loosen you up a bit, of course, it could just make you more nasty like it does with my aunt." She poured out two glasses and walked over to hand him one.

He’d been drunk before… all he’d felt was more lonely and depressed. But at least it had a soothing numbing effect once he drank enough of it and at the moment numb was how he was looking to feel. "Bottoms up." He said, taking the glass and downing it in one gulp. Not wanting to look foolish, he forced himself not to react to the sharp burning sensation firing down his throat.

"Well, well. I guess you’re a big boy after all." She sneered before drinking down her own, making a face and shaking her head at the taste. He ignored her comment, simply holding out his glass for more. "Okay, so time to brainstorm. Part one, how do we get them to drink the potion?"

She asked, refilling both cups.

(BREAK)

"So she thought you did it?" Ron asked incredulously. It was before the DA was to start and Harry had told him and Ginny about his encounter with McGonagall.

"That’s crazy!" Ginny said. "You’re the one going around stopping people from getting hurt."

"Well, apparently they think whatever power it is that I have is out of control." Harry looked around. A few students were starting to wander in. He lowered his voice. "Did you guys hear anything about this?"

"No. Though you did say McGonagall told you they were keeping it quiet." Ginny replied.

Hermione looked up suddenly. "Did they say who in Slytherin it was?" She asked.

"No, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find out."

"Fred and I can look into it while you guys are at the lake." Ginny offered. "I’ll have to find him first though. I haven’t seen him or George all day."

"They’re working on something, and I don’t think it’s a product for their store." Ron said. "I think it has to do with some prank. I wonder if it’s their fabled Seventh Year Spectacular?"

"Their what?" Harry asked.

"They always said that in their last year, they were going to go out with a bang. They thought last year was their last, so we got fireworks and a swamp." Ginny giggled. "I wonder how they’re going to top that."

"Suspend all the Slytherins from the ceiling? I heard them talk about that one." Ron said.

"I heard them once say something about flooding the dungeons with pudding." Harry offered.

"Whatever it is, it’ll be great!" Ginny said enthusiastically.

"I’m pretending that I’m not hearing any of this." Hermione smiled. "We are prefects Ron."

"Well, I’m not the only prefect sneaking out of the castle tonight am I?" She looked down at this and the others laughed. And then it was time to start the meeting. Breaking off into their groups, Harry watched with pride as everyone worked hard to learn to defend themselves. He finally felt like he was actually doing something to help the cause.

DA went quickly and before Harry knew it, he and George were under the invisibility cloak and halfway to the lake. "Ow, you stepped on my foot again." He quietly complained.

"Sorry, I’m not used to this thing." George answered. "Are you sure Hermione knew a spell to unfreeze the top layer?"

"That’s what she said. She looked it up a few days ago, along with a spell to dry our clothes instantly."

"That’ll come in handy. It’s freezing out here." George shuddered as they reached the study tree.

Awhile later, Hermione and Ron joined them and together, they all walked out onto the ice to approximately the spot where Harry believed the ship to be. As Hermione set about melting the ice, Harry gave Ron and George their gillyweed. "Alright, remember, it only lasts about an hour, we eat it right before we go in." They took off their coats and Harry handed the map and the cape to Hermione. She looked tired. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I just didn’t realize the ice was so thick. That was a lot of energy I had to use to thaw it. I’ll be fine." She promised, her breath coming out in small white clouds as he ate his plant.

"Wear the cloak while we’re gone. If someone comes, you run, okay?" He kissed her, then turned and dove into the water. Ron and George were right behind him. The further down they swam, the warmer and darker the water became forcing them to light their wands so they could see. Something moved on his right and he whipped around in a panic but found only the kelp bed. He began to worry, there were a lot of things other than merpeople down here, what would they do if the giant squid found them? Now there was something he hadn’t previously considered.

At last Harry spotted the ship, pointing it out to his friends excitedly. He pushed himself harder and swam as fast as he could, every part of his body screaming in protest. Cautiously, they made their way inside and split up to find anything resembling a treasure chest. Harry combed his part of the ship, getting more and more anxious. How long had they been down here? How long before the gillyweed stopped working?

From the corner of his eye, he caught the green sparks George had shot out of his wand, signaling that he had found something. Harry and Ron eagerly swam over to where he was excitedly gesturing to the treasure chest he’d discovered. With their combined strength, all three boys heaved the lid off and looked inside. It was empty except for a small bottle with a slip of paper inside. Harry quickly grabbed it and motioned the others to get going. He could feel the weight of the water now, and it was becoming harder to breathe.

They made their way back to the surface as quickly as they could, the water temperature dropping as their breathing became more struggled. He felt his skin grow numb in the freezing water, but the spot where he knew the hole was loomed in front of them and Harry realized they were going to make it. The effects of the gillyweed had almost completely worn off and he struggled to hold his breath for the last few feet he had to swim. Desperately stretching his arms in front of him he felt for where he knew the hole was supposed to be. But it wasn’t there. The three boys desperately searched the surface, finding nothing but a thick layer of ice



A/N: Muwhahahahaha, CLIFFHANGER!!!!!!! Please review and stay tuned to see what happens next!

Chapter 22: Revealing the Enemy

NOTE: Hi again and welcome back! We begin to get some answers this chapter, so read on, review what you read and most important enjoy what you read!




Luna paced the hallway in front of the Great Hall impatiently waiting for Hermione. She knew the girl was due to come this way any time now. She’d gathered Ginny and Fred to wait with her, simply telling them that Harry had changed the plan and wanted them to wait there. Though she hated lying and was admittedly not very good at it, they had gone with her without question. But now her nerves were on edge, knowing the danger the boys were in if they didn’t act soon. She was feeling absolutely miserable about the fact that she hadn’t gotten the information in time to stop their plan. Apparently some final decision hadn’t been reached until well after they’d set out and she had an idea of whose fault it was.

"Hey guys!" Hermione rounded the corner in a panic. Her next words confirmed what Luna had already known. "Filch decided to go on rounds outside tonight! He found the hole and closed it up! Come on, I need help I can’t work the spell again by myself!"

(BREAK)

Harry felt himself start to panic. He knew they were in the right spot, so where was the hole? The effects of the gillyweed were now completely worn away and he wasn’t sure how much longer they could hold their breath. Feeling himself become dizzy from lack of oxygen he forced himself to stop clawing at the ice, trying to conserve his energy. Vaguely he could hear a muffled booming sound as flashes of light flew past him. And then his vision faded out. Just as he was drifting into nothingness, he felt hands pulling at him and a moment later, frigid air was making its way into his lungs.

"Breathe Harry. You have to breathe!" He could feel hands pushing on his chest, lips against his.

He thought he was breathing. "Come on, Harry!" Someone demanded.

He was trying to answer, but realized he couldn’t move his mouth. He couldn’t move his body at all. Am I dead? he wondered. Surely this couldn’t be death.... He was so relaxed, so comfortable. There was no more pain, no more tiredness. There was no danger, no worries, no panic or fear. Didn’t the person calling for him know how great it was here? Then flashes flew through his mind as if someone were playing a movie in his head, scenes from his life with those people he loved most: Lupin and Tonks, Arthur and Molly, Ginny and the twins, Ron and Luna, and lastly Hermione. Then Voldemort’s face invaded his memory, a deadly virus attacking his happiness. He had to get up. He had to protect these people, to fight with them. There was no time for him to rest, not now. He focused on moving the air through his lungs, on making his heart beat. He opened his eyes and gasped as he came back to the cold night.

The first thing he saw was Hermione’s face, surrounded by damp curls and the crisp, clear, star dotted darkness behind her. Then the sky disappeared as George and Ron leaned over to check on him. Harry groaned and slowly sat up with the assistance of the other three. Ginny, Luna and Fred were standing over them, dripping wet. "How did you guys get here?" He asked them, coughing through his words.

"Hermione came and got us." Ginny answered.

"Good thing too. She never would have gotten all three of you out in time." Fred added.

"What happened, though?" Harry shook his head a little, trying to clear it.

"Let’s discuss it in the common room. Raya mertis." Hermione said. Instantly, his clothes were dry. She turned and did it for all the others and herself before helping Harry up to the castle and finally through the portrait hole into the common room.

After they had all changed into their pajamas, Luna borrowing something from Ginny, they sat in front of the fire and talked about the night’s events. "Awhile after you guys went down there, Filtch showed up." Hermione said from her spot next to Harry. "I was under the cloak so he didn’t see me and he blamed the hole on the giant squid. I ran to get Fred, Luna, and Ginny because the spell to open the ice is hard. I wasn’t sure I could do it again by myself. I guess Filtch repaired it and left because he wasn’t around when we came back. Anyway, I knew your hour was up soon so we worked as fast as we could. Good thing they were all waiting by the Great Hall."

"Why were you guys waiting there?" Harry asked feeling confused.

"Luna said you wanted us to." Fred shrugged, wincing at the soreness he still carried in his shoulders.

"Oh, yeah. Right." He answered glancing at Luna and wondering why he was covering for her. She wasn’t meeting his eyes.

"Well after all that, did you guys get it?" Ginny asked excitedly.

"Yeah. It’s right here." Harry said putting his questions aside for a future conversation with Luna. He handed the paper over having already read it upstairs while changing.

You are near the end, this clue will bring you to your goal. The object you seek is guarded by magic. At the time when an animal was made from human origin, a map to the ring will become visible. But beware, for it will instantly be surrounded by the key holder’s worst cardinal fears. On the right day at the right time, hold the key out into the sunlight and the map will appear.

"Our worst cardinal fear...what’s that mean?" Ron asked.

"At the time an animal was made?" George asked. "What the hell is that?"

"I don’t know." Hermione said, her brow furrowed in thought.

"What kind of fears?" Ron asked again, more worried. "Like when we see a bogart? Or like something killing us?"

"Either way, little brother, I don’t think it’ll be bunny rabbits and puppy dogs." Fred laughed.

"Yeah, the clues seem to get more dangerous." Ginny said seriously. "I mean first the book. Okay nothing wrong with that, but then the whomping willow and Harry’s imaginary fight with Voldemort, and now the lake? Harry almost died tonight and Ron and George weren’t much better off."

"It’s because we’re getting closer." Harry said. "This thing is powerful, she couldn’t make it too easy, in case the clues fell into the wrong hands, say… Voldemort’s? Plus my mum probably didn’t figure on her son to go looking for it. She probably thought three grown men who loved mystery and danger would hunt it down."

"Sirius, James and Lupin." Luna said.

"Exactly. She didn’t plan this for a bunch of teenagers."

"So what you’re saying Harry, is that this last thing we have to get through will be the most dangerous? That’s not very encouraging." Ron slumped down in his seat. Luna rubbed his shoulder in comfort.

"You don’t have to go, Ron. I probably should go alone."

"No you won’t." Hermione said defiantly. "Now is not the time to argue about this anyway. We still have to figure out this clue."

"That’s right. Who knows what day she’s referring to?" Ginny said. "Or what animal she’s talking about? It could be a long time away. Or even have already passed."

"Was there anything else in that book to give us a hint?" Luna asked Hermione.

"I can check again, but I don’t think so." She said.

"Maybe it has something to do with that Mykele guy." Fred smiled at Hermione, who had opened her mouth to correct him only to realize he said the right name. "We say it wrong to annoy you." He told her.

"Mission accomplished." She said crossing her arms. Harry rubbed her back absentmindedly, thinking of everything he’d ever heard anyone say about Mykele the past few months.

"Hey!" Ron said suddenly, addressing Ginny and Fred. "Did you guys find out anything about that Slytherin that they think Harry threw out the window?"

"Oh, yeah!" Ginny exclaimed in remembrance. "His name is Vincent Morgan. He’s in the hospital wing and he keeps saying no one was around."

"But…" Fred continued with a smile, "I’ve found someone who says they saw Vinny boy talking to none other than Cho Chang earlier. My guess is he’s too embarrassed at being bested by a girl and just won’t admit she was there. After all, it’s not like anyone but us knows about Harry’s mind trick thing."

(BREAK)

"So I think that covers everything." Cho said, slurring her speech a little as she poured the last bit of firewhiskey into their cups. "Plan set." She emphasized the statement with a nod.

She was very obviously drunk and Draco wasn’t far behind her. He wished he was alone. "So we’re done. Great, goodnight." He got up to leave only to trip over his own feet and land on his knees. He opened his eyes wide as he tried to convince himself the room wasn’t spinning.

"Looks like you may need to wait a bit there, genius." She laughed as if she’d said the funniest thing in the world. Oh how he loathed being forced in her company. He definitely understood Potter’s aversion and why the plan to seduce him had failed… Cho was near intolerable. "Hey, did I tell you what I did?" She asked gleefully.

"Do we have to talk each other?" He grumbled, desperately trying to trick his mind into thinking he was okay. It wasn’t going so well.

"You don’t have to be rude. I was just making conversation."

"Look, just because we have to work together doesn’t mean we have to be friends, okay." He tried closing his eyes but found that only made the room spin faster.

"Whatever you say." She shrugged, unconcerned with his disdain. It occurred to him that she wasn’t thrilled to be forced into his company either.

Well, he was stuck here for a little while. He could at least attempt civility. "Okay. So what did you do?"

"What?" She looked confused.

The urge to laugh was as strong as the urge to shake her. He gave into the laughter, regarding her with a semi-amused sneer. "You were saying you did something I don’t yet know about?" he hiccuped.

"Oh yeah. Remember how you told me about Potter throwing you around?" She asked, getting excited.

He had truthfully told her that twice Potter had thrown him like a rag-doll, but he lied by telling her he’d used his wand to do it. He was still keeping his suspicions about what had really happened to himself. "Yeah, I remember."

"Well, I made it look like he did it to someone else. If we can do that again, maybe they’ll think he’s out of control!" She grinned proudly, swaying slightly as she sat there.

"What exactly did you do?" A sense of apprehension had overtaken him, destroying any chance he had of enjoying his drunken state of mind.

"Well, do you know a guy name Vincent Morgan?"

"Of course I know him, he’s in my house after all. He’s a seventh year like you."

She nodded enthusiastically. "Right. Well, I used the Imperious Curse and suggested he walk himself out the window."

Draco knew she wasn’t the type to arbitrarily hurt people, not yet anyway. She’d only so recently decided to give in to her family’s alliance with Lord Voldemort. True, her blasts had killed Longbottom who hadn’t really been the target, but as she’d once said before, he had been one of Potter’s friends and that had been good enough for her to sleep at night. "So what did Vinny do to make you so mad at him?"

"Nothing." She answered darkly. "Nothing that’s any of your business anyway."

He didn’t really care so he didn’t bother to push for more. "And did he survive his fall?"

"So it seems." She appeared genuinely disappointed which made him slightly more curious to know what the boy had done. With Cho, Vinny could have just said no to a date for all he knew… she’d already proven how poorly she did with rejection.

But Draco was used to dealing with the crazier people in life; after all, the majority of the Dark Lord’s followers weren’t in their right mind. He certainly wasn’t, having gone along for the ride. "Well, I’m sure you can try again."

"I just might. But forget about him for a minute, he’s nothing. Who else can we arrange an accident for that’ll get Harry in trouble?"

Here he hesitated. He couldn’t do anything about Vinny, she’d already taken action. But to throw someone else out a window just to frame Potter didn’t seem very productive. After all, the more incidents the school had the more likely it could be closed down. Being at Hogwarts wasn’t a walk in the park, but it was almost an oasis of sorts for him, a place to be out from under Lucius’s gaze if not his influence. But how could he express his disapproval without looking weak, or worse, looking like he was defecting to the other side? Because if they even suspected he was a traitor, they’d act first and find the truth later. His head was swimming, he couldn’t wrap his thoughts around anything coherent and all he wanted was to lay down and pass out in blissful unconsciousness. So he gave up on trying to be noble and finding a way to deter her from her plan. He was never great at being sympathetic to anyone else anyway so whoever her next target was they were on their own.

"Do whatever you want to whoever you want. Except-" He cut himself off before his inebriated tongue could reveal too much. He’d almost told her of the one person who he had begun to consider off limits in all of this… someone who he maybe sort of always thought of as off limits but who he’d had to go against several times before.

"Except who?" Cho asked, looking intrigued.

There was no way he was going to tell her and let her have that kind of power over him. "What are you talking about. I was going to say, ‘Except next time tell me beforehand.’ But my head is drunk so I forgot what I was saying for a minute." He said trying to cover while being sure not to fight the slur in his speech so she’d believe he didn’t have the little bit of control of himself that he had.

"Okay." She seemed suspicious but let it go. She moved closer, reaching out to him. "Well Draco. I think this may the beginning of a successful partnership."

He didn’t agree, but figured it would be in his best interest to play nice. So he reached out and shook the offered hand. "Whatever you say."

Her next move took him by surprise and nearly turned his stomach. She pulled his arm toward her, catching him off-balance. Wrapping her arm around his neck, she crushed their lips together. For a moment he was frozen, unable to believe what was taking place. And then he roughly grabbed her arm, freeing himself and shoving her away. "What the hell are you doing!?!" He jumped to his feet stumbling as he backed away, rubbing his sleeve across his face.

"Just making us closer." She answered with a pout. She was clutching her arm to her chest. "You really hurt me, just so you know." She added, obviously looking for pity.

"Yeah, you really freaked me out a minute ago, just so you know." He shot back. "I know you think the only way to form a relationship with any male is through your libido, but hold it in check with me got it? I’m about as far from interested as someone can get."

"Oh like you’re the man of my dreams." She rolled her eyes and stumbled to her feet. "You’re just something to do, alright."

And on that note… "Goodnight Cho." He turned and walked out the door unconcerned with whether or not he was caught sneaking back into his room. In fact, with his head floating, his legs wobbling and his stomach fluttering, he wasn’t even really worried about whether or not he made it to his room. Suddenly sleep seemed like the only desirable thing in the world. Finding a small alcove behind one of the tapestries Draco curled himself up and closed his eyes, welcoming the blackout.

(BREAK)

After several hours and a lot of discussion in the Gryffindor common room, everyone got up to go to bed. They were no closer to solving the mystery of the clue, or finding out why Cho would push someone out the window. "You coming?" Ron asked Harry after sending Luna up to room with Ginny.

Hermione was giving him a funny look, so he said, "You go ahead, I think we need to talk a bit more." Ron looked sympathetic as he went up the stairs. Harry sighed and turned back to try and put off the wrath of his girlfriend. "Hermione, I’m sore and tired, could we just talk tomorrow?"

"You are not going alone." She moved so that she was completely facing him.

From there he could feel the full force of the glare she was giving him, and he was sure he didn’t want to argue with that face. "Um.... Okay."

"Harry, you almost died tonight and you would have if I had let you go by yourself like you wanted to." She scolded.

"That could very well be true." He admitted, not wanting her to know that for a minute there… he thought he had died.

"I’m coming with you, even if no one else will." She insisted.

"Okay." He agreed without looking at her.

"Don’t do that. Don’t just say okay so that I’ll go away." She said angrily, getting to her feet.

"I don’t want you to go away! I just don’t want you going with when my worst fears are going to attack me!" he insisted. He didn’t want to fight right now, but if she wanted the truth he’d give it to her.

"Harry....." She had a warning tone in her voice.

"Lets just decide for now to discuss this again when we know more, okay? I’ll be healed by then and better able to make my argument."

"Fine, but you still won’t win." She crossed her arms.

"At least I’ll know I gave it my best shot." He smiled. She smiled back and kissed him goodnight before heading off to her room. Harry was exhausted and couldn’t find the strength to move, so he decided to just stay where he was for the night and fell into a fitful sleep, drowning this time in nightmares- new and old.

(BREAK)

Ginny had been up for hours, unable to turn off the memory of Harry lying still on the ground as Hermione literally breathed life back into him. She knew she had no right to feel the things she did, but she couldn’t help it- she had been really scared for him last night as they pulled the boys from the ice. As soon as the sunlight began streaming through the windows, she had gotten out of bed and threw on her school clothes, deciding a walk through the halls would revive her enough to get through the day. At the very least, it got her out of her room.

First she went to the Owlery to watch the sun fully break free from the horizon. After throwing around some treats for all of the owls surrounding her, she made her way back down to the maze of corridors and hallways. It seemed like hours that she roamed the school, in reality she knew it was only about twenty minutes. Eventually she found herself in a seldom-used section of the school meant mostly for storage. She stopped short as she peered ahead of her. Further along the hall, someone’s foot was sticking out from under a tapestry, unmoving. She nervously glanced around as she slowly approached, looking to see if anyone else were around. There was no one, it would still be at least an hour before even the earliest students came down to breakfast.

Stopping right in front of the tapestry, she grabbed the edge and took a deep breath as she wondered if she was about to find a dead body. Her heart thundered in her ears as it bounced against her body. With one burst of courage, she pulled the heavy fabric aside and took in the sight of Draco Malfoy passed out on the floor. She could see his chest rise and fall as he took deep even breaths. She nudged him with her toe, causing him to instantly wake and bolt up into a sitting position. Then he grabbed his head in pain, wincing against the light coming in from the window opposite him. "Agh, I feel like I’m dying." He moaned.

"If only." Ginny said meanly.

He looked up, taking in for the first time that he was no longer alone. She saw surprise, pleasure and fear pass through his eyes in a matter of seconds, ending with him shutting down to the point where his expression became unreadable. "What do you want?" He snapped at her.

"To know what you’re doing. Aren’t you supposed to be locked away in Dumbledore’s office for safe keeping?" She crossed her arms and regarded him carefully.

"I had a party to attend last night." He answered carefully climbing to his feet. He appeared wobbly and she could smell the liquor coming off of him. "Relax I wasn’t out plotting to kill anyone but my own liver, alright."

"So was Neville your first or last victim?" She shot back, feeling her anger rise. He had no right to be out drinking and having fun when he’d taken such an innocent life. He looked at her sharply, the sleepy discomfort instantly leaving his eyes. For a moment, he almost looked hurt. She didn’t care, she felt like cursing him right were he stood.

"I should be getting back. Now that you’ve seen me, I guess I’ll go wait to see what my next punishment will be." He turned to walk away but stopped, turning back to her a bit uncertainly. "You know, I’m not… nevermind." He shook his head, deciding against whatever he was going to say. "Just give me enough time to get back to my room to wash up before you send the firing squad, okay."

"Why should I give you anything?" She asked harshly.

"Whatever." He said with a slight smirk. "See you around Weasley."

"I doubt it." She shot back, watching him walk away.

Her first instinct was to run to Dumbledore, or Harry, and tell them she’d found Malfoy out of his room. But on second thought, she held herself back. If she told, then they’d all know that he’d somehow found a way out of his room without the invisibility cloak. And what’s more, he’d been drinking on school grounds. But really what could Dumbledore do to punish him further? It would only get Harry all worked up and he’d been through enough lately. But if she didn’t tell, then Malfoy would be free to continue roaming the halls. Of course, then he’d owe her… but there wasn’t anything she wanted from him other than his total disappearance.

Hearing voices beginning to drift through the hallways, she turned and began making her way through the Great Hall. She didn’t know whether or not to tell anyone about Malfoy at that moment, but she was comforted by the realization that she always had the option.

(BREAK)

When he woke up several hours later to sunlight streaming through the windows, Harry was

surprised to find himself in his own bed, with an arm draped over him. He turned and saw Hermione sleeping peacefully beside him.

"Hey. How are you feeling?" Ron yawned. He was just getting out of bed.

"How’d I get here, and what’s she doing there?"

"Most guys wouldn’t complain if they woke up next to a pretty girl." Ron smirked.

"Seriously, what happened?" Confusion was never something Harry had done well with.

Ron sighed, got up, and began dressing in his school robes. "You were having a nightmare or something last night, woke up the whole bloody tower. You don’t remember?" Harry shook his head and Ron continued. "Dean, Seamus and I helped you up here and Hermione insisted on staying until you went back to sleep. Guess she got sleepy. I’m going to go down to breakfast, looks like the other two are already down there. You coming?"

Harry tried to move his legs, but it hurt too much. "Guess not. It hurts to move, I might have pushed my limits yesterday."

"Might have? George and I were struggling to catch up with you down there and we didn’t break every bone in our bodies a few days ago."

"Well, I’m feeling the consequences today." Harry said as a wave of pain racked his body.

"Want me to bring you up something?"

"No thanks, I’m not hungry. Don’t know how I’ll make it to classes." He sighed, looking over at Hermione still so peaceful beside him.

"Just say you’re sick and ditch." Ron suggested with a shrug.


"They might know something’s up. I’ll just grin and bear it."

"You’ve had all the practice at it. But at least we’re off tomorrow. No classes for three days after you get through this, you can just lie around and get better until Monday." He smiled and grabbed his school bag. "I’ll leave you to wake up sleeping beauty."

(BREAK)

Ron liked Thursdays. It was the one day of the week when he and Luna had breaks between classes at the same time and were therefore able to spend more time together. They walked through the snow, bundled up and into each other as they made their way through the chilly morning. He’d never felt more content as he listened to her talk about the newest Quibbler articles she’d read. Although he didn’t put much stock in the stories, he liked that she was so supportive of her father’s magazine. Actually, Luna was supportive of almost everyone and it was a trait he admired. He realized she had stopped talking and looked down at her as she sighed sadly. "What’s wrong?" he asked in concern.

"Well, soon we’ll be going home. We won’t be able to see each other everyday anymore." She stopped walking and looked up at him.

"Hey, we’re all staying at Harry’s house for holiday break. I’m sure he’d be glad to have you come visit." He tried to reassure her, though inside he was also beginning to feel panicky at the thought of time apart from her.

"I suppose." She answered thoughtfully.

"It’ll be okay, you’ll see." He said, leaning down to kiss her cheek.

"Yeah, hopefully I’ll see in enough time." It was an odd response, but by far not the oddest he’d ever heard from her so he dismissed it.

"You act like you expect the world to end during the weeks we’ll be away from school." He joked.

"But it won’t. Not that I know of anyway." She answered very seriously. "But I just have a really bad feeling that something awful is coming."

"Yeah, you and everyone else. Something awful is always coming." Ron had meant to lighten the mood, but she appeared to consider his words very carefully. There wasn’t one thing he fully understood about Luna Lovegood, but he was suddenly certain that she had secrets that would probably blow his mind.

(BREAK)

Draco had taken classes with Dumbledore, choked down his lunch and spent his entire day in anticipation. But punishment never came, no lecture, no new rooming arrangement- nothing. By the time he turned in for bed, he realized Ginny Weasley hadn’t told on him. Why, he couldn’t fathom, but part of him was gratefully pleased. The other part was apprehensive, wondering what her silence would eventually cost him. After all, no one did anything for nothing.

He slept through the night like a rock, waking feeling more refreshed than he had for awhile. Classes for the day had been cancelled for the annual teacher’s meeting, giving the students of Hogwarts a well deserved three-day weekend. He spent the day resting and relaxing, but mostly planning on how he was going to corner Ginny. He needed to know what she was going to want in return for not ratting him out. The sooner they squared things away the less chance she’ll attempt some sort of blackmail. There wasn’t anyone Draco trusted fully, least of all someone who was supposed to be considered an enemy.

(BREAK)

Harry spent most of the weekend sleeping, leaving Hermione to find ways to entertain herself. But Sunday night, she was so bored she was ready to go wake him despite knowing he needed rest in order to heal. When he was awake, he seemed to be in so much pain but he refused to admit to it. But she could see how stiff and sore he was, given that when he tried, he could barely walk. He shouldn’t have pushed himself to go to classes the day after the lake- of course, he shouldn’t have pushed himself in the lake either. He was taking on too much and she was starting to worry. Luna must have noticed because she offered up her company as a distraction. "I was going to head to the library, I was hoping maybe you would want to help me?" she asked with an expectant smile as they sat in the Great Hall listening to the Weasley boys debate quidditch with Seamus and a few other kids.

"Well, what are you going to be working on?" Hermione returned. It was just after dinner and most of the students had decided to stay in the Hall and socialize, sort of like an impromptu party before classes resumed the next day.

"I had my father send a few books about Mykele and the ring, ones not available to us here. I thought maybe you’d like to help us go through them."

She was instantly interested, though one point caught her. "Us?" She asked.

"I asked Ginny to meet me there. I feel bad, like she feels I’m not spending enough time with her." Luna sighed, looking concerned.

"I don’t know, she’s been kind of distant with me lately."

"Well, then look at this as an opportunity to also try and fix things with her. I just worry that if we don’t do something to reach her soon…" She trailed off.

"What?" Hermione pressed.

But Luna simply shook her head. "I just think she’s really sad, that’s all. And a little lonely."

"Well, do you have the books?" She decided not to ask anymore about Ginny. It was clear Luna had shared all she was going to.

"Right here." She replied, holding up a bag stuffed with heavy texts. They told the boys where they were going and headed off to the library.

Ginny was already waiting at one of the tables, but Hermione saw a look of disgusted surprise cross her face when she realized Luna wasn’t alone. She was confused, wondering what she had done to make the other girl so angry with her. They all settled together and began reading through the books Luna had. For a half an hour they worked in awkward silence. "So how’s Gem?" Luna asked a while later.

"How should I know? It was only one date, just for the dance." Ginny said quietly.

"Oh yeah, then why is he over there staring at you?" Luna asked with a smug smile.

Hermione and Ginny both turned to see the sandy haired boy off in one of the aisles, trying very hard to look like he hadn’t just been spying. "Excuse me a moment." She got up and walked over to him and together they disappeared into the stacks of books.

"So did you find anything interesting yet?" Luna turned her attempt at small talk on Hermione.

"Nothing that we didn’t already find. But there’s something here about his ties to some kind of coven." She remarked. "Do you think Ginny’s okay?"

"I don’t know."

"She hasn’t talked to you at all?"

Luna shook her head sadly. "I think she’s mad that Ron and I are dating."

"Why?" She was confused. Wouldn’t Ginny want her best friend and her brother to be happy?

"I’m sure she has her reasons. But she’s so closed up on herself that I just can’t see what she’s thinking."

Hermione could relate to the feeling, even if the way Luna had worded it was strange. She felt like ever since learning of this ring, Harry had become so focused, she couldn’t tell where his mind was half the time, even if she could usually guess what he was thinking.

Ginny returned a short while later looking irritated. "That should take care of that."

"What did you tell the poor boy?" Luna asked.

"Only a harsher version of what I’d already politely told him. I’m not interested." Ginny closed her books and pushed them over to her friend. "Look, I’m getting tired. Maybe I’ll help again tomorrow, okay?" And then without waiting for a reply, she left. Though they may not have been around each other much lately, Hermione could see where Luna’s concern was coming from. Ginny was definitely not acting like herself.

(BREAK)

As soon as Dumbledore had made his last check on him after dinner, Draco made his way carefully out of the office, following the route along the wall that kept him just out of the sight of every portrait. It had taken a lot of trial and error but eventually he’d made it through so that not one of the crotchety old headmasters had scolded him for trying to get out. He walked through the shadows in the hallways, making his way to the Great Hall. He peeked his head in and scanned the room, looking for Ginny, hoping to catch her attention so they could talk out this thing she had to hold over his head.

A quick glance was all he needed to realize she wasn’t there. Keeping to the edge of the room, traveling behind tapestries, statues and other random décor that he found conveniently placed in his direction. He got as close to Ginny’s friends as he dared, hoping to overhear what he needed to know. He got lucky, listening in and finding out from Lovegood that Ginny was waiting in the library. Going back as quickly as possible, he ran through deserted corridors until he finally reached the library doors. Slinking in, he immediately set off into the stacks, winding his way through until he saw her, sitting alone at a table and writing in what appeared to be a diary. A stab of guilt unexpectantly went through him as he recalled the Riddle diary that Lucius had forced on her.

Before he could decide the best way to approach her, Lovegood and Granger strolled in. Draco sighed in frustration, deciding to wait, not wanting to waste the effort he’d put into sneaking out to find her. After what seemed like forever but was definitely less than an hour, something caught the girls’ eyes, and looking upset, Ginny walked off into the stacks alone.

He saw his chance and seized it. He followed her, dismayed to find that she wasn’t alone after all. He moved in closer, waiting for the guy she was talking with to get lost. "I was just hoping maybe you changed your mind about us dating!" Draco heard the idiot defend himself. From where he was hidden, he was able to see Ginny’s face. She appeared unmoved and highly irritated.

"Well, I haven’t and I’m not going to okay?" She crossed her arms, giving the boy a hard stare.

"Come on, Ginny. Just give me the chance to change your mind."

"There’s no reason. I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression at the Costume Ball, but I was only looking for a date for the night, not to tie myself to someone I don’t even know." She seemed ready for the conversation to end.

But the boy wasn’t done making his case. "Well get to know me! Don’t just write me off!"

"I’m sorry, Gem. But I can’t." She tried to walk away but he continued on.

"But why? Can’t you just give me a real reason?" he begged.

Ginny turned back with a frustrated sigh, obviously annoyed. Draco was also beginning to reach the end of his patience, ready to walk out himself and send this Gem guy packing. "I’m not the person you think I am okay?" She said slowly. "I’d just really rather not have you get to know me. Like I said before, it has nothing to do with you, you seem nice enough. But you have to leave me alone now because the more you bother me, the less I feel bad for ditching you and the more unfriendly I’ll become. Got it?"

Gem shook his head. "Whatever you say, Ginny. I guess there’s just no guy good enough for you." Thankfully he finally turned and left.

Draco was just about to make his presence know, but the look on her face stopped him, keeping him in the shadows. The confusion, hurt and anger in her eyes was arresting, freezing him in place. It was as if she was suddenly feeling too full and needed to find a way to expel some of the emotion tearing through her. "Harry. Harry’s good enough for me." She whispered. Then she pulled herself together, wiping her eyes before heading back to the table with her friends. He let her walk away, suddenly having no desire to talk to her.

One more girl obsessed with Potter, it seemed Ginny Weasley was as silly as the rest of these school girls… lusting after a guy just out of her reach. He knew then why she hadn’t told on him, hadn’t run to Dumbledore to say she’d caught him out of his room and still drunk from the night before. It hadn’t been for future blackmail, it was for a reason much more sinister and thought provoking though completely ridiculous. She’d done it for Potter.

After watching them all for so long, Draco was well aware of his enemies strengths and faults. Potter was highly impulsive and likely to give into the emotions he often wore out on his sleeve- it was information they’d used to trick him several times before though he’d always been the one to come out on top. If Potter- who believed Draco responsible for one death and several injuries- learned that he was once more found out of a room that was supposed to be escape proof, there was no telling what he’d do. Through his own observations, he knew Potter’s trust in the headmaster had soured. Would he take matters into his own hands, heroically insisting he was trying to save lives by getting rid of him without Dumbledore’s help? And if he did, would he really get in that much trouble for it? Potter was the chosen one among these morons running the school. So even if he directly disobeyed Dumbledore and did something to Draco, would they actually attempt to punish Potter to finally teach him a lesson? Apparently Ginny hadn’t wanted to take that chance.

Though still grateful that she had spared him having to deal with Dumbledore finding yet another way to try and put him in his place, he also felt a bit disgusted. Something about him was more accepting of Ginny when he’d thought she was going to blackmail him… he’d almost respected her, thinking she was going to play by the rules he knew. But now knowing the real reason he thought her weak and silly, one of those girls like Pansy- willing to follow around a guy who treated her like crap. Of course, the fact that he was the one being mean to Pansy didn’t give him a moment’s pause. She was so stupid and annoying that he really felt sometimes that he hated her. And he rarely tried to hide that fact from her, only leading her on when it was useful to him. At least Ginny had intelligence working for her.

He walked out of the library, making his way quickly back up to Dumbledore’s office. To his surprise, Cho was waiting for him outside the gargoyle. "I have something to talk to you about." She said as soon as she saw him.

He didn’t have to ask how she knew how to find him, his hand immediately going to the necklace he wore tucked under his clothes. It was a tracker and they both had one, so that they were able to find and keep track of each other in secret. He followed her to the Room of Requirement without question, closing the door and automatically walking over to the cabinet Cho had before. He pulled out a fresh bottle of whiskey and a cup. He poured himself a drink and gulped it down in one swallow.

"A real gentleman offers a lady a drink as well." She said disapprovingly.

He poured another and swallowed it down. "I’m as far from gentlemanly as one can get. And you Cho, you are no lady."

"Touché." She said, getting her own cup and pouring herself a good amount.

"You wanted to tell me something?" He was irritated, wanting nothing more than to walk out into the night and never look back. But he couldn’t do that and while he was here he had to play nice with Cho.

"What’s got you all agitated?" She asked, studying him closely.

"None of your business." He took another shot of the whiskey, gritting his teeth against a taste he was starting to get used to.

"Sorry I tried to care." She pouted.

He actually laughed. "If you think I believe you care anything about me or vise versa you’re delusional."

"I would never presume to think you cared about anyone but yourself, Draco." She shot back, drinking another cup of liquor herself.

"And with that settled, what did you want to talk to me about?" He asked again, feeling like he wanted to strangle her for prolonging this. To keep his hands busy, he poured them each a fresh drink.

"Yes, we have a problem." She answered. "I think Luna Lovegood is more than just suspicious about me, I think she knows I set those explosion spells instead of you."

He scoffed. "That sounds like your problem. She’s in your house, you should learn to watch what you say and where you say it."

"Oh but I’ll be sure to emphasize to Voldemort and your father that you’re the one who failed, by not properly convincing everyone like you were supposed to. So I guess it’s your problem after all." She smiled with a sinister sweetness. This was the kind of girl with the kind of dark intentions he was used to, not the silly Ginny who would risk the danger of him walking the school to protect someone else from doing something stupid. Cho’s motives were something he could fully understand.

"Okay. So what can we do about it? Loony Lovegood didn’t get her nickname for nothing, you know. I doubt anyone would listen to her."

"Harry does."

Glancing at her expression he grinned. "That bothers you a lot huh? That Potter pays attention to every girl but you now when just last year you were the only one he had eyes for. Screwed that up, didn’t you." He chuckled.

"Regardless, if Harry listens to her then Dumbledore probably would too. We have to do something about her before the HHSA trial."

"That isn’t until after we get back from holiday vacation." He pointed out, emphasizing his statement with a loud hiccup. Already he could feel his mind growing fuzzy as his vision darkened a bit, dulling the uncomfortable brightness of the world.

"And I think I have an idea that’ll kill two birds with one stone." She appeared pleased with herself.

"Oh do we have to kill more people?" He groaned before realizing what he’d said. "I mean, the more that die, the less likely they’ll keep believing I’m responsible. It shouldn’t be this hard to convince people I’m the bad guy, the more confident they are that I’m safely locked away, the less they’ll be willing to believe I did all the things you’re planning to do." He quickly added to cover his slip up.

She shrugged as if the solution were simple. "Let someone catch you out of your room."

"I already did. She has apparently decided not to tell anyone."

"Who?"

"Ginny Weasley." He answered reluctantly. So far Ginny had remained out of Cho’s sights and he was hesitant to put her name into this. After all, regardless her reason she’d protected him, the least he could do was repay the favor. But this line of thinking was new territory for him and he wasn’t sure he was making sense to himself… so how was he suppose to explain his argument to Cho. "She’s useless, no threat at all so I made sure she found me but even that she messed up by not going to the headmaster. Like I said, useless." He added, deciding the best way to keep Cho away from Ginny was to ensure she wasn’t viewed as a threat.

"But why wouldn’t she tell?" Cho looked at him suspiciously.

"Who knows." He answered, pouring yet another round of whiskey for them. "Anyway, you were saying something about two birds, one stone?" He still didn’t like the way she was staring at him so thoughtfully.

"I think I’ll keep that plan to myself. Thinking about it now, there’s not much you can help with and it may be better that you have total deniability."

And there it was. She didn’t trust him. Not that he’d ever fooled himself into thinking he was fully gaining her trust- he certainly hadn’t given his to her- but he’d thought for awhile that she was at least someone he could safely turn his back to for a little while at least. Now he felt sure that if he turned his back even for a second, she’d plunge a knife in without a second thought. Part of him was really angry, after all she was new to all of this even if she did know about her family’s alliance with Lord Voldemort for a long while. She was already so certain she was a better bad guy than he was, she saw the softness in him that his father saw. "Fine, I’d rather you just screw up all on your own."

"Who says I’ll screw it up? I almost always get what I want." She smiled flirtatiously. He realized this was what she considered her greatest weapon, her sexuality. Whenever she wanted something from someone, she’d get either shy and giggly or coy and sultry depending on the guy she was trying to work over. Shy and giggly had worked on Potter last year but neither approach had worked this year. It didn’t work on him either, but why let her know that?

"And what is it exactly that you want?" He asked in a low voice, pouring another round of drinks. As he handed her cup to her, he let his fingers linger over hers telling himself the whole time he was doing it to gain her trust back.

"To be successful." She replied, turning her body toward his. "All I’ve ever wanted is success and to be surrounded by people who were destined for it."

So that explained her jump from Diggory to Potter. Cedric Diggory had been the favorite to win the Tri-Wizard Tournament and Cho had very quickly attached herself to him. But it was Potter who took the trophy and came back alive, something no one thought would be possible especially the Dark Lord. He’d been livid when Potter had escaped that graveyard. Draco had been grateful not to have been there, hearing the story from his father afterwards had been bad enough. It also may have been the first time he felt a hint of respect for Potter, having made it through the elaborate plan set up against him… of course that wasn’t anything he’d admit to anyone, he was reluctant to admit it to himself. Part of him thought that if Cho was truly looking for success, she may had picked the wrong side of the war. "I knew you were shallow, but the depth of your shallowness is absolutely spectacular." He grinned to soften the insult, so show he was trying to make her mad.

She smiled back. "I really loathe you."

"That’s what makes us perfect, a bond forged through mutual hatred." He stepped closer, again telling himself he was working her. And he was, but he knew he was working himself. His sudden desire to try and seduce Cho had nothing to do with her, she could have been anyone in that moment. There was someone else he was trying to forget and the added bonus was possibly gaining back some of Cho’s trust in the meantime. And so without hesitation, he put a hand around her neck and pulled her to him, pressing his lips roughly against hers. Her response was immediate, she knew how to work a guy, from his emotions right down to his sexual desire. She knew what to become to make someone want her. Luckily he wasn’t under any illusion about who she was, otherwise she might have really made him fall for her that night as they rolled around in the dark together.

(BREAK)

Harry barely made it through his Monday classes. Every part of his body screamed in protest any time he moved, but he was very careful not to let it show. Obviously he couldn’t hide it all, but he didn’t want his friends to know just how much he was suffering. After all, he had no one to blame but himself for his current condition. Hermione had begged him to wait until he was fully recovered but he’d insisted on diving down to get the next clue. Worse, he’d gone through it all for nothing. Who knew how much time they had before the right day and time came for the map to appear?

Luna had been his savior, stopping him just after lunch to give him some pain pills she’d had left over from when her grandmother had broken her leg. He didn’t question why she had her grandmother’s medication, simply gobbling down the pills gratefully. She’d given him the rest of her supply while assuring him she wouldn’t tell the others how bad off he was as long as he promised to rest. Now as he lay down for the night, exhausted and sore enough to take more of those pills, he thought hard about Luna. She always seemed to know what everyone needed, was always around at the right time. Perhaps she was extremely perceptive, but there had to be more. He was sure even Hermione hadn’t caught on to just how miserably he’d still been feeling… but Luna had. She knew an awful lot actually, like she could read their minds or something. And sometimes, he almost felt like he could too- though the only person he’d ever admitted that to was Hermione. But maybe Luna knew something… maybe she could tell him more than he could try and gather from dusty old library books.

Maybe it was time he consider sitting down and having a long conversation with his newest friend. He’d thought of it before, but something always happened to push it from his mind, as if the world were telling him it wasn’t time for Luna to reveal these things to him. The pills were kicking in, settling a comfortable ease about his battered body. As he drifted of to sleep, he vaguely wondered what new distraction would keep him from talking to Luna.

(BREAK)

They all talked Harry into canceling Tuesday’s DA meeting and Ginny was relieved. She’d been doing her best to avoid him, but when Wednesday rolled around he’d insisted on keeping up appearances and they all gathered in the Great Hall after dinner with their groups.

Thankfully Gem had given up trying to talk to her. She felt bad, but couldn’t stand the emptiness she felt inside after being with him. Through no fault of his own, he would forever be thought of as her biggest mistake. So with him completely out of the picture, she only had Harry to feel anxious around. She watched him as he walked through the room, trying desperately to conceal a slight limp. Her thoughts began to wander and she wondered if her will was anywhere near as strong as his was. She doubted it very much. Had she been through what he had in that quidditch game, she was positive she wouldn’t have the fortitude to then attempt to swim through the lake- nearly dying in the process- and then to walk around as if everything was absolutely fine. She found that she admired him very much for his strength, both physically and emotionally.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts of Harry that she wasn’t watching her students. One was practicing a binding and missed his target, hitting Ron instead. The heavy thud he made when he fell to the floor startled her into the present. "Pay attention, would you?" Ron scolded her as Harry came over to release him from the spell. Her heart leapt into her throat when he then turned and approached her.

"Is something wrong Ginny?" Harry asked quietly pulling her out of earshot from everyone else.

"No, just daydreaming. It was my mistake." She answered quickly, feeling touched by his concern.

"You sure?" he looked at her suspiciously and for a moment she felt exposed, as if he could read her thoughts.

"I’m fine, okay. I’ve got to get back before they kill each other." She hurried back to her group and spent the rest of the evening purposely not looking at Harry. But she felt his eyes on her… or was she imagining it? She wasn’t sure anymore.

(BREAK)

By Saturday, Harry could almost move without cringing in pain. It had been extremely difficult to hide his agony but with the aid of Luna’s pills he’d done his best. With only a week left until they were to go home for break, the Weasley boys decided to skip homework and do something more recreational. He decided to stay out of whatever prank they were planning and since Hermione was on her rounds for a few hours, he was looking forward to some alone time. First he’d tried to find Luna, but it seemed that since he’d made his decision to corner her, she’d been avoiding him. So with nothing else to do, he grabbed one of the books Luna had her father send to look through for anything about Mykele or the ring. Putting on his coat, he went out to the courtyard to read, the crisp air and slight wind reviving his aching bones and tired mind. After magically clearing away the snow, he settled himself down and got into the mind set for research.

About thirty minutes later, he looked up and saw Ron, George and Fred running toward him. "We were with you all morning." George said breathlessly.

"Okay, and what were you really doing." Harry asked suspiciously. Ron just grinned.

"Wait for it." Fred told him looking at his watch and then pointed up.

As if on cue, Harry heard several girls start screaming from one of the second floor windows. "Isn’t that the girls’ shower room? What did you guys do?"

"Well, we noticed our old friends Crabbe and Goyle going for a swim at the indoor pool." Fred grinned.

"Seemed too good an opportunity to pass up to test our new product, an illusion potion." George said wickedly.

Fred laughed. "You enchant it with a certain sight charm and then whoever eats the candy sees whatever you want them to see. We made it so they read the ‘girls’ showers’ door as ‘boys’ showers’ and offered them each a piece."

"Then we waited for them to go and shower and we ran out here." Ron smiled.

"And I guess they went in." George finished.

All four boys burst out laughing until they saw Hermione stalking towards them. "Which of you is responsible?" She asked angrily.

"For what?" Fred and George said at the same time, looking as innocent as they possibly could.

"You know for what! There were girls showering in there!"

"Then Crabbe and Goyle should thank whoever’s responsible because otherwise they never would have seen a naked girl." Fred laughed.

"Unless they paid for it." George added.

"It wasn’t funny you guys!" Hermione yelled. "It was an invasion of privacy!"

"Come on, it was a little funny." Ron said.

"I know that at least two of you were involved," she looked pointedly at the twins, "but as for you two...." She glared at Ron and Harry.

"Hey, I was out here reading!" Harry said raising his hands as a kind of shield.

"He was, we just ran into him." Ron said, quickly coming to Harry’s defense.

"Then you were with them, meaning you were involved." Hermione said in satisfaction.

"Wait....I didn’t....that wasn’t what I said." Ron looked scared.

"You can’t prove it was us." George crossed his arms.

"Lucky for you, but I know it was you and just think if the situations were reversed! What if some girl walked in on you when you were showering?"

"Depending on who it is, I’d ask her to join me." Fred looked Hermione up and down meaningfully.

"Hey!!" Harry warned. Fred grinned and shrugged as Hermione gave a frustrated cry and stalked back into the castle.

Harry glared at Fred who again shrugged and said, "What can I say? I like them feisty."

But his response was cut off when he noticed Cho walking purposefully toward them. Turning to see what had captured his attention, the Weasley boys stood tall, placing themselves between him and Cho. "What do you want?" George demanded.

"I heard you all went to Dumbledore accusing me of being under the Imperious curse." She said quietly. Her voice was weird and a little scary. "Well, just so you know I’m not, and while I hate to show my hand before the game is done, I think it’s time to let you know who you are dealing with."

"And who are we dealing with? You?" Fred laughed.

"Laugh now, but you should be aware that not all of Voldemort’s followers are in Slytherin. Now, you’ll never be able to prove I said this and since I’m already in trouble anyway it doesn’t matter, but you want to know who put the other players under the curse? Me. I’m way more powerful than you think."

"What?" Ron asked in shock.

"Why?" Harry thought was the better question.

"Because I was informed early this summer, of where my family’s alliances lie." She said, answering Harry and ignoring the others. "My parents are Death Eaters and it was my task to get close to you. But then that horrid little mudblood got in the way, so I decided to try and kill you myself. But don’t worry, my orders have changed now."

"Why are you telling us all this?" Fred asked.

"Yeah, you have got to be the worst bad guy in history." George joked. It was clear they didn’t believe a word she was saying.

"I was told to." She answered. "By the way, intanculous." She waved her wand with an evil grin.

"Intanculous?" Ron asked. "What the hell is that?"

"It’s the spell that is used to bind people with Bickeross potion. I slipped some in your pitchers of juice this morning at breakfast and watched to make sure you all drank. Our secret is safe." She turned to walk away. "Guess I’m not the only one who pulled a prank today." She called over her shoulder.




A/N: What!!!! Where did that come from? Review!

Chapter 23: Misplaced Passion

NOTE: Okay, so before you read this chapter, I want to tell you it went in a very, I guess ‘weird’ is the right word, a very weird direction. As always Read, Review, Enjoy!



Harry could tell that Hermione was becoming desperately frustrated with the four of them as they tried to tell the girls what Cho had said. They’d been trying all day and failing miserably. "Honestly, are you sure you can’t just write it down?" She asked again.

"No, we tried for you like ten times now." Ron said getting more and more upset.

"How did she sneak bickeross potion into your pitcher?" Ginny demanded.

"She probably just went down to the kitchens and asked! The house elves will help you with anything when you’re in there." Fred answered bitterly.

"Yeah, they probably gave her the right pitcher and stirred it for her." George added.

Harry watched as Hermione literally bit her tongue on their talk of house elves. "Maybe Dumbledore knows a way around the potion." She offered stiffly.

The last thing he wanted to do was go to Dumbledore. He had a feeling that even if they could say what they wanted, the headmaster wouldn’t do anything about it. He hated the helpless feeling he had right now, and knew that Cho had done this to make him suffer. What had happened to the slightly eccentric girl that he had known last year? Could evil really turn people this much?

"There has to be a way around this." Ron finally said.

"Is what she told you really that bad?" Ginny asked. Ron tried to nod, but couldn’t make his head move. He cried out and threw himself down on the couch in complete and utter frustration as Luna rubbed his back in affectionate comfort.

"Let go see Dumbledore." Fred declared. "He has to know something."

Harry stayed behind, saying he was feeling too sore to make the trek. He hated that he didn’t trust his headmaster, but from what he saw nothing was being handled the way it was supposed to. Things were starting to make sense now at least. From Cho’s desperate attempts to get back together so she could spy on him, to Malfoy’s attempt to get the ring. Voldemort wanted him to know that he could reach him at any time through any person. The enemy was watching him and there was nothing he could do about it.

As he made his way to bed, he longed for the feeling of being dead again. He wanted nothing more than to rest his aching head, heart, and body. For someone else to take up the fight so that he could finally drift away. But there was no one else, and maybe now it was time to share that information with everyone. Maybe his friends should know the Prophesy, so that when he had to make his choice to have them fight alongside him or to cut them off, they might understand. He needed them now, because he was being crushed under the pressure. A pressure he knew they could never understand.

(BREAK)

Draco was sure to stay in his room that night, already disgusted enough with himself without chancing a repeat performance of such a big mistake. He was under no delusion of him and Cho being a couple- they’d kill each other or themselves before letting that happen. But the night with her hadn’t been as bad as he’d thought it would be, had given him a nice distraction from all the things weighing down on him. He’d never known the comfort a warm body could provide… he just wished it hadn’t been hers.

They’d woken in a huddled mass on the floor that morning, both hungover and slightly ashamed of the things they’d done and been a part of with each other while intoxicated. She quickly pulled herself together and left, eager to get her potion into the juice pitchers before breakfast. He remained behind, knowing he still had time before Dumbledore’s morning check on him. Trying to make sense of his actions and the line of thought that brought them about, he’d realized he just might be self-destructing under all the stress and pressure placed upon him.

Part of him longed for home, where things were less complicated and he rarely had to make decisions for himself. Part of him knew Hogwarts was where he was supposed to be, where he was forced to look at both sides of life and figure out for himself where he stood. He certainly didn’t want to be on Potter’s side, but did he really want to be with Lord Voldemort and Lucius? Couldn’t there be some third place to make a stand, some neutral ground where he could say he didn’t care about the agenda of either side? But even if there was that gray area, would he be strong enough to choose it? He wasn’t sure. Now laying in bed and desperate to avoid falling any deeper down the rabbit hole with Cho, he wondered what he could do to help himself.

(BREAK)

Luna finished packing her trunk, readying it to be taken to the train, before making her way to the Great Hall where Ron was waiting for her. She hoped Harry wouldn’t be there yet. She felt horrible about how she’d avoided him this whole last week of school, but she knew he wasn’t ready yet. His conclusions were still unformed- he had ideas, inklings. Harry was coming close to understanding but wasn’t ready for acceptance. After all, as long as he continued to survive the traps set for him, he had a big destiny to fulfill, one he didn’t yet fully grasp. Knowing how easily he was distracted, she’d longed for one more thing to grab his attention, to put him off a bit longer. Although she hadn’t wanted it to be the mind torture Cho had chosen to inflict.

She’d known for a long time that Cho was working with Draco, though she could never explain to anyone how she’d known. She’d hoped the other girl would give up after Neville was killed, but apparently she’d liked the taste of evil she’d gotten. Luna knew she had to keep the secret, that someone else was meant to expose Cho. And so as Ron sat next to her complaining about how miserable he was at being unable to tell anyone what he knew, she had to steel her resolve to not let him know that she could tell for him. She was sick about it, wanting nothing more than to ease his mind- but she had to stay strong. Who knew what could go wrong later if she stepped in and revealed Cho’s secrets now? It would certainly leave the other person flailing in the wind and though it wasn’t anything she was certain of, she had a feeling they were going to need this person in the future.

(BREAK)

"I’ll only be there a week." Hermione told him. Harry continued packing, looking sullen. "Come on Harry, my parents only requested me to stay with them a week. You can make it without me that long." She was sitting on his bed flipping through a quidditch magazine of Ron’s.

"I don’t know if I can." He turned and jumped at her, and she shrieked as they fell backwards, him on top of her. He knew very well by now where all of her ticklish spots were and showed her no mercy.

She had tears in her eyes as she laughed. "Okay! Stop! I give, I’ll try to leave sooner." He stopped tickling her and kissed the tip of her nose. "I’m not making any promises though."

"Fine. But I’ll be very lonely." He shifted his weight so that he was beside her, his head propped up on his hand.

"I doubt that, with a house full of Weasleys!"

"What can I say? I just don’t think Ron is as pretty to look at all day as you are." She laughed and Harry forgot for a moment how horrible the past week had been. Dumbledore hadn’t known a way around the bickeross potion, Cho took every opportunity to harass Harry, Ron and the twins and they were still no closer to solving the clue. And as anticipated, Dumbledore refused to do anything to stop Cho other than go ahead with the hearing. But for right now, he was lost in Hermione’s laughter. "You make me very happy. Do you know that?" He leaned down and kissed her.

"I’d say about as happy as you make me." She smiled, interlacing her fingers with his.

"I’m going to tell them." He said suddenly.

"Tell who what?"

"The others, I’m going to tell them about the Prophesy and I need you to be there with me when I do."

She sat up and looked at him in concern. "Are you sure you want to?"

"No, but I think I need to. Things are happening, Hermione. Big things, I can feel it. I think it’s only fair to tell them." He sat up and drew his knees to his chest.

"You don’t have to be alone at the end, you know." She tried to reinforce the point once more.

"Perhaps, but they should know that the decision ultimately rests with me. You should know that too."

She threw her arms around him. "I do know that, but I want to be there. And I’m sure they will too. Harry, you don’t necessarily have to be the one to end this."

"Do I really have to repeat the Prophesy to you?" He asked quietly.

"No, it’s still crystal clear, but-"

"Just get to Grimmauld Place as soon as you can, okay?" He rested his forehead against hers.

"Okay. I’ll be there." She promised.

"That’s all I ask."

(BREAK)

Ginny held the book in her hands and looked at her packed luggage, making no move to bring it downstairs. While gathering her things, she’d come across a text that Neville had lent her a few weeks before he’d died. It was a slim volume on the care of Bubble Flowers. She’d mentioned how much she liked them and how she’d planned to get one someday. He’d run right off to his room, returning with the book a short while later. At the time she’d thought it silly, him making such a fuss when she didn’t even have the plant yet. Not wanting to hurt his feelings she’d accepted it with a smile, but she hadn’t once looked through it simply putting it in her nightstand and forgetting about it.

Turning the book over in her hands now, she flipped through it. A small package fell from where it had been tucked into the front flap and she leaned down to pick it up. Spilling the contents into her hand, she realized they were seeds. Bubble flower seeds. With tears in her eyes, she opened the book to the first page and read the brief inscription Neville had scrawled there. Ginny, this should get you started. I’m glad I was able to finally find something to offer you.

Not wanting to think about it at all, she slammed the book closed and deliberately got up to throw it in her trunk, first tucking the packet of seeds back into the front flap. Then wiping away her tears, she made one last sweep of the room before heading off to meet the others for the train ride home.

(BREAK)

Harry and all the Weasley children arrived at Potter Manor to Mrs. Weasley who trapped each one of them in a crushing hug. Because of the escaped Death Eaters, their bodyguards had been doubled and Harry felt nothing but annoyance. Already he was aware of Hermione’s absence as she tended to keep him grounded and aware of what was around him.

He went up to his room to nap before dinner, but found that he just couldn’t get comfortable. The emptiness of the room irritated him, despite the presence of Hedwig and Robin. With a grunt of annoyance, he got out of bed and went to the secret door behind his bookcase. Although Hermione’s room felt just as empty as his, he could feel her aura clinging to the space. He climbed into her bed and buried his face in her pillows, which smelled of the same lilac as her hair. As soon as he closed his eyes, he slipped off into a dreamless sleep.

(BREAK)

"I just don’t understand why you don’t feel any desire to spend the holidays with your family!" Wayne Granger cried.

"You already spend so much time with that boy and his friends. I think a bit of time apart will be good for you." Mildred Granger added from her seat on the couch.

"They’re my friends too, mother." Hermione said stubbornly. "And I never said I wouldn’t spend the holidays with you! Harry said you were both welcome to come stay for Christmas."

"How gallant." Wayne scoffed.

"You don’t understand!" she cried.

"Oh, we understand perfectly." Her mother responded. "You are all caught up in this boy and you’re not acting like yourself. And if you think that now that you’ve admitted to dating him that we’d let you go spend weeks at his house, you’re insane."

"I have my own room mother. Nothing untoward occurs I assure you." She answered, leaving out the fact that Harry had already slept in her bed more than once. Of course, they hadn’t been dating at that time. "Besides, Ron’s parents are staying there, and Professor Lupin and his girlfriend, an Auror named Tonks. So there’s a ton of adult supervision. And it’s not like its just going to be Harry and me there- Ron, Ginny, and the twins will be there as well. And as I said already they are my friends too."

"I don’t care." Wayne declared. "You are our daughter and you are a good girl. I won’t allow that to change because your hormones are running rampant."

"Oh please dad. If you know that I’m such a good girl then you also know that you can trust me. I’m going over there to try and get through all of the holiday homework they sent home with us. It’s easier for me to work there because I don’t have to hide everything I’m doing, there’s nothing but non-magical people living here! You don’t want me to fall behind at school do you?" It wasn’t a lie of course. She did have a lot of homework and it would be easier to get it done at Grimmauld Place. She just left out everything else, including her overwhelming desire to be near Harry.

"I’m not sure I want you at that school at all anymore." Her father answered quietly.

"It’s fine, I promise. And Harry is smart and talented. He’s the headmaster’s favorite student so he can’t be all that bad can he?" She reasoned.


(BREAK)

Draco arrived to an empty house. Of course he hadn’t expected Lucius, the mansion would be the first place the Aurors would look for him. But he’d hoped Narcissa would’ve been there to greet him. Apparently she had found something more important to do. She still wasn’t back by the time he’d decided to go to bed.

As he lay in bed, he wondered why he’d been born into a life that didn’t quite suit him. Sure he liked having money, being rich. He liked that people did what he said and gave him what he wanted. But the cold distant parents, the constant servitude to some dark figure, and the countless lives he’d been a part of destroying- those things he could do without. Lucius always said that his son hadn’t inherited the cunning bloodthirstiness required for survival. Pulling up his sleeve, Draco began to wonder whether his father had been right about him.

He stared at the tattoo placed so decidedly on his skin. It had been done almost against his will- he’d wanted nothing that ugly anywhere on his body and certainly hadn’t wanted to be tied to a master. Of course he never really had a choice in the matter, Lucius had offered him up in servitude as soon as the Dark Lord had returned. For more than a year he’d been hiding this horrible image now forever etched into his skin. It was a beacon, a way for Lord Voldemort to contact his followers, and Draco hated when he was forced to answer.

Downstairs he heard the front door open and slam shut. Then Narcissa was on the stairs, veering left into her own room. He could hear the faint rattling of a bottle and the faucet run as she took her nightly sleeping pill. He held some small hope that she would come and check on him before turning in, but apparently the fact that her son was returning from school had slipped her mind. He wondered how many potions she was taking now. His whole life his mother had chosen not to deal with the more unpleasant things in her life, dousing herself in mind altering potions when life was a bit too much for her to take. This was a secret known only to him and his father.

He had to hold himself back to keep from going to her room and checking to make sure she was okay- to ensure she was still breathing, take off her shoes, and tuck her under the covers as he’d done countless times over the years. In public, Narcissa was strong, regal, icy, and manipulative. In private, Draco knew her to be weak, quiet, obedient and despondent and sometimes he hated her for it. All he could do was wait for the time when he could escape this house and sometimes he worried the only way to accomplish that… was death. He really hoped there was another way.

(BREAK)

Ginny stared at her trunk. It had been fours whole days since their return from school and she was still unwilling to attempt unpacking. She knew the first thing she’d see was Neville’s book and the last thing she wanted was another reminder of how guilty she was feeling. But after so long avoiding it, the presence had built up and she felt overwhelmed by both guilt and regret. She had to get out of the room and away from the book.

She knew the hour was late and everyone else was asleep. Wandering downstairs she made her way into the deserted parlor, feeling the chill in the room without a fire to warm it. Sitting on the couch nearest the fireplace she thought about lighting it. But she’d left her wand upstairs and wasn’t really sure how to build a fire the muggle way. It had always seemed so unnecessarily difficult when her father excitedly tried to explain it. So instead she sat in the chilly silence, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light of the lamp that had been left on in the corner. With her outside environment finally matching how she felt inside, cold and deserted, she let herself cry.

(BREAK)

Dear Harry,
Mum and dad agreed to let me leave tomorrow, as I told them we had massive amounts of holiday homework. I should be arriving with Tonks by the floo network before dinner, so please let Molly know, though she cooks enough for at least twenty more people. I can’t wait to see you! These have been the longest four days of my life. Till tomorrow then,
With love,
Hermione

Harry reread the letter for the millionth time that night. He hadn’t realized how much she meant to him until they were separated and was already dreading summer more than usual. He couldn’t sleep; he was just too excited. He decided to go get a snack from the kitchen, see if a full stomach could knock him out.

As he passed the parlor, he heard someone crying. Curious, he poked his head in and saw Ginny curled up on one of the overstuffed couches, sobbing into her hands. "Are you alright?" He asked her, taking a tentative step into the room. He was uncomfortable around crying girls, always scared that he’d only somehow make it worse.

"Oh, Harry. I didn’t think anyone was awake." She sat up and wiped her tears on the back of her hand.

"I was hungry. Are you alright?" He asked again coming further into the room.

"No, I guess I’m not." She said, trying her hardest not to continue crying.

He came and sat next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. Her skin was like ice under the material of her T-shirt. "Hey, Gin, what’s wrong?" He asked as he magically lit a fire to get rid of the chill in the room. He never went anywhere without his wand anymore, not even in his own house.

"I miss him. You know- Neville? I miss him so much." She leaned her head on his shoulder and started crying again. "I think I liked him too but I messed it up. He was so sweet and funny. Charmingly clumsy and adorable, I used to say to Luna when we talked about boys. Why didn’t I tell him?"

Harry didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t the slightest clue that she had liked Neville that way, and was at a complete loss for words. He wished Hermione were there, she always knew what to say to console someone. Unsure of what else to do, he simply hugged Ginny tighter and listened to her talk.

"I didn’t know he liked me back." She cried. "I wish I had. If only I hadn’t missed his hand when he fell. He was reaching for me and I missed! I could have saved his life!"

"Hey, none of that was your fault, Ginny. We all tried."

"We should have tried harder!" She yelled, pushing him away. She ran her hands through her hair, and lifted her tear stained face to Harry. He was amazed by the way her hair glowed in the firelight. It almost seemed to come alive, shocking and electrified. He had a sudden urge to reach out and stroke the stray, ruby strands away from her face.

"Harry, I don’t know what to do. I can’t stop thinking about him."

"I honestly don’t know what to tell you." He stared down at the floor, feeling it was the safer place to look.

"Is this what it’s like for you? When people you care about die? I know it’s still haunting you too." She edged closer to him, eager to hear what he had to say.

"Yeah, and it’ll probably haunt me the rest of my life. I still think about all of them, but what you have to do is try to go on. Find something that makes you happy and pour all of yourself into it."

She edged even closer. "And that’s what you found in Hermione, right? Someone who makes you happy?"

At the mention of Hermione’s name, Harry became very aware of just how close Ginny was to him. He suddenly felt very uncomfortable. "Ah, uh yeah. Right, she makes me very happy."

"Good for you… I just feel so alone and Ron doesn’t understand because he has Luna now. No one else understands, because no one else has lost someone they cared so much about, except you." She turned her face to him again.

In her eyes, he saw what everyone else must see when they look at him. He saw pain and guilt, sorrow and regret. Ginny’s eyes drew him into her and he began to see a shadow of himself in there. He didn’t want that for her, he didn’t want that for anyone. He wasn’t even aware that he was staring, or that she was staring back. They were lost in their shared world.

Ginny lightly touched his cheek, her icy fingers soothing his hot skin. Before he knew what was happening, she brought his head down and kissed him. Her smell of coconuts engulfed him and his thoughts became fuzzy. For a moment it seemed they were one person. Ginny deepened the kiss bringing their bodies closer together, as they each fed a hunger that they never knew existed. Somewhere in his mind Harry was screaming at himself that this was wrong, but a fog had rolled in on his reason and he couldn’t break away. He knew he had to end this, he knew he didn’t feel for Ginny the way she needed him to. He was enticed by her, he was attracted to her, but he knew that he wanted Hermione. As she eased them back on the couch, Harry’s mind whirled around Hermione. This wasn’t right. This hunger that he felt, it was empty compared to the sweet kisses, the laughter, the happiness he shared with her.

Ginny was trying to take off his shirt, but he had finally found his senses. "Ginny, stop! This has to stop."

She sat up, seemingly surprised to find herself there. It was as if both were waking from some sort of trance. "I’m so sorry." She whispered.

"Hey, it’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it is understandable."

"For Hermione or Ron?" she countered.

"Okay maybe not that understandable."

"I’m so sorry. I swear this will never leave this room. I’ll take it to my grave." She took his hand and looked earnestly in his eyes.

"Oh, you don’t think I should tell Hermione?" he had felt like telling her as soon as he and Ginny had broken apart.

"Um, no!" She stood, looking down on him.

"But I kissed someone else." He protested.

"Trust me, this was more my fault than yours, no need to upset her."

"But we don’t have secrets. She’ll know, somehow she always knows when I’m keeping something from her. Besides, you were hurting and...."

"And I used an old crush to try and make myself feel better. But I think that now I feel a little bit worse. I forced my friend’s boyfriend to cheat on her." She turned her back to him.

He stood behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "There wasn’t much force Ginny. To be honest, I was a little attracted to you, but-"

"But I’m not Hermione, I know." She cut him off.

"I still think I should tell her."

"Whatever you feel is right." She pushed his hand away and went back to her room. Harry was more confused now than he’d ever been.

(BREAK)

Ginny had never felt more disgusted or pleased with herself. She knew she was turning hard, but the depth she had just gone through to try and get what she wanted was despicable. While crying for Neville, she used both her and Harry’s guilt over the boy’s death to create a bond with him. And after when he’d rejected her in favor of Hermione, she tried to turn it into a secret, something they shared that would draw them together. She’d been aiming for creating an ally in him, so that the secret would grow and continue and one day he would leave Hermione for her. What’s worse, Ginny had been just fine with the idea of being the other woman until he opened his eyes. But Harry had been true to himself, and she knew he was going to tell. There would be no secret romance right now. But the seed had been planted.

That time between conversation, when she’d gone for it and finally kissed him, it had been perfect. He was perfect, his lips soft and sure and his arms strong and comforting. There had been fireworks going off in her head, it had all felt so right. The feeling was a high and it had been worth the pain before and after. It had been worth using Neville. Harry may not realize that he wants her yet, but he could never escape what had happened between them; it was a part of their history. All she had to do now was keep her head above water when Hermione found out. After that, she was sure it was just a matter of waiting for Harry to come to his senses. Am I losing my mind? Ginny wondered to herself. And then she realized that it didn’t much matter.

(BREAK)

Ron was laying awake thinking of Luna, wondering if she was thinking of him. They’d managed a letter each in the four days they’d been apart and she had promised to stop by the next night for her first visit to the house as his girlfriend. He couldn’t wait and now had a better understanding of Harry’s restlessness. His friend was also anticipating tomorrow night, when Hermione would be arriving as well. Of course, she would be staying for the rest of the holiday break. Luna would eventually have to leave again.

She wasn’t even here and already he was dreading their next separation. He wondered if he was in love with Luna- having no prior experience with the emotion it was hard for him to tell. He certainly cared for her much more now than he had even when they’d first started dating. There was clearly something about her that drew you in once you gave her a chance, and he was amused to find that she was quickly charming their whole group of friends into liking her, even Hermione who had originally thought the other girl ridiculous.

He sat up in bed as he thought he heard a door slam on one of the floors below him. Hearing no other sound, he settled himself back down and tried to force himself to sleep, wanting to look his best for when Luna arrived.

(BREAK)

The next day passed in awkward silence for Harry and Ginny, both just trying to keep out of the other’s way. Harry stationed himself in front of the fireplace before dinner, getting more and more excited with every minute that passed. He could almost feel Hermione in his arms and wanted nothing more than the real experience. At the same time, his guilt over what had happened with Ginny was eating away at him and he dreaded having to tell Hermione about it.

But he forgot it all when at five thirty exactly, there was a crackle in the fireplace and she appeared before him. She shrieked in delight when she saw him and jumped into his outstretched arms. He twirled her around, feeling every bad thought and feeling he’d had the past five days melt away. Tonks came in silently behind her, and took off right away to find Lupin. Harry could see Ginny standing in the doorway looking at them, her face sad and remorseful.

He led Hermione upstairs and into her room to quickly unpack before dinner. "We need to talk about something." He told her nervously.

"Ok." Her back was to him as she began shelving all the books she had taken with her.

"Ok." He paused to collect himself before going into the explanation he had been planning, trying to get it all out in one breath. "So last night I went down to get a late night snack because I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited to see you and Ginny was crying in the parlor, so I went in to see what was wrong, and she was missing Neville. Right, anyway, we started talking about how it felt to lose people you care so much about and she was hurting bad so I tried to give her advice and then she kissed me." He paused slightly. Hermione had stopped what she was doing and was listening intently, her back still to him. "It took me by surprise you know, I just wasn’t expecting it and then she kissed me harder and my mind was fuzzy and I didn’t know what was going on and I let her keep kissing me. But then she tried to take it too far and I stopped her and I wanted to tell you even though she said it wasn’t a good idea, because we don’t keep things from each other and I’m sorry it happened." He took a breath. She still had her back to him and she was standing very still. "Hermione?"




A/N: Oh, does she forgive him? Keep reading and reviewing.
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