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Introduction:

harry potter
Draco felt like tearing his hair out. He, Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Dumbledore were all waiting in a holding room. The guards would be bringing Cho Chang to them, everyone feeling it was best not to parade him and Potter through the prison. He was grateful for that, personally knowing many of the people imprisoned there and what they were capable of. The Order’s directive was capture if possible, kill if necessary. Voldemort and his follower’s directive was kill if possible, capture if necessary. They had no reason to capture Draco, and so death could come to him at any time. It was Potter they wanted alive.

Finally the door opened and his heart leapt into his throat. He was supposed to protect Cho last year, and had turned on her instead. If she really was orchestrating some grand scheme against the others from behind bars, then he hated to think what she had planned for him. Feeling cowardly for his thoughts, he straightened up and put on a smug face. After all, he would be the one getting to leave after they were done here.

They sat her at the small table and shackled her to the chair, which was bolted down to the floor. She certainly didn’t look like the cute girl she had once been at Hogwarts. Her hair hung in long tangles around her face, which was streaked with dirt. Her eyes were hidden under dark shadows, large purplish marks indicating her lack of sleep. He had been worried about his own rapid weight loss, but she looked down right emaciated.

"I have nothing to say to any of you." She said in a detached voice.

"But we have plenty for you to hear." Dumbledore calmly replied.

(BREAK)

"Oh, hey." Ron said uncertainly. He had been trying to kill time until Harry and his dad returned and had gone to shoot pool in the parlor. Instead, he found Luna, curled up with those files they had gotten from the ministry.

"Hi." She said with a smile, brushing a long strand of golden hair behind her ear. He instantly felt the need to go and throw himself at her feet and beg for forgiveness. To tell her he had been wrong and still loved her. But that was Harry’s M.O. and he didn’t want to seem insincere.

"I didn’t mean to bother you…" he turned to leave but she stopped him.

"It’s fine, Ron. I was kind of hoping we’d get the chance to talk."

That was all the invitation he had needed. They hadn’t spoken since their fight in Trelawney’s tower at the end of school. He had taken it forgranted that they had broken up, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if it was just a really big fight?

"But it was the case. I can’t be with someone who doesn’t trust me, Ron." Luna sighed.

Ron instantly threw up his shield, angry with himself for forgetting. "I really wish you and Harry would at least pretend you can’t do that."

"Pretend to be something we aren’t? I don’t know about Harry, but I can’t do that. My power didn’t just develop gradually like his, I’ve been able to do this my whole life. I’ve always read minds, I’ve always seen the future and I was always encouraged to use these gifts. I can’t turn them off and I don’t want to. They are a part of who I am, which is something you can’t understand and that is why we can’t be together."

"I could learn, Luna." Ron said simply. "I was so upset, I needed someone to blame."

"And the fact that you chose to blame me says a lot." She replied.

"Well, what do you expect. If you had a sister or brother and I knew something important about him or her, I would have told you."

Luna looked down at this, and he saw her eyes water. What he had said to make her cry, he didn’t know, but he was instantly sorry for it. "Ron, I want to be your friend again. More than anything. We all need each other. But we can’t be anything more. It’s not meant to be."

"Yeah? Did you see that in one of your visions?" he asked harshly.

"Ron, I was never the one meant for you. I’ve been seeing a lot of things in the last few months, as more and more events come to pass. As soon as Harry made the decision to find the other descendants, I saw…I just saw a different future for you. It wasn’t with me. And mine, it wasn’t with you."

"And this is supposed to make me feel better?"

"That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted you to know that we can both be happy, as long as we stick to the right paths. We just aren’t going to find that happiness with each other."

(BREAK)

Harry turned away, unable to look. Cho’s appearance, her attitude, her mind; he couldn’t take it all in at once. He couldn’t believe he had once aspired to be with her, that she had once been a pretty, bright student with her whole life ahead of her. He knew her parents had fled after her capture and were being hunted for their part in planning the explosions that took Neville’s life. He could understand her need for revenge, but he wouldn’t let himself forget that she had chosen this for herself. She could have denied her parents, she could have told someone and gotten out. She didn’t. He wouldn’t let his pity sway him, despite her appearance, and because of it, he knew she was dangerous.

Arthur pulled out her letters, which had been confiscated from her cell. "Seems you have a couple of loyal pen pals."

"Is it against the law to have friends?" Cho asked angrily.

"Only if you ask them to commit crimes against others." Arthur responded. "Now these two girls, Marietta and Pansy, they were friends of yours back at school?"

"Yes." Cho said simply.

"I don’t think so." Draco said suddenly. "Pansy never talked to you a day in her life. Not while we were at school anyway."

"No one asked you. Traitor." Cho spat at him, forcing Draco to take a step back. "You just had to open your mouth and be the hero at the trial." She looked at his arm and laughed. "How does it feel, Hero. Was it worth it?"

"Enough." Dumbledore said quietly but powerfully.

For a moment Cho looked intimidated. Then she laughed again. "This isn’t Hogwarts, Headmaster. I’m not a bad little student in your office to serve detention. I killed someone, injured a few others, planned to kill a few more. Neville was a waste of space anyway." She added looking directly at Harry.

He felt his anger flair and he tried to get a hold of it quickly, he wasn’t quick enough. Her chair shook against the bolts holding it down. He took satisfaction in the moment of terror in her eyes. Dumbledore turned to him and simply shook his head. Harry nodded and took a few deep breaths.

"Miss Chang…" Arthur started but she interrupted, still looking directly at Harry.

"What was that, Harry? Did I make you mad? I heard about the Leaky Cauldron, you know. What with my ‘pen pals’ and all. You gonna throw that table at me? Or weren’t you mad enough?" she laughed. "You think Neville was the only one I wanted dead? He annoyed me, but Looney Luna, she was so irritating, always with her nose in my business. I rigged that bathroom to kill her you know. She wasn’t supposed to be saved, I wanted her dead and if I get out of here I’ll make it happen. I hoped you both would die that day, but it was her I wanted. And I had big plans for the others too."

"Shut up." Harry said, wishing Hermione had come, to help keep him grounded. He felt like a teapot, bubbling and about to scream.

"MISS CHANG!" Arthur said loudly to get her attention.

She couldn’t be swayed. "Shall I tell you what I planned for Ron, that stupid oaf, walking around like he was so important." She paused to look at Arthur. "He’s an idiot by the way, your son. Death would have been a kindness." Her chair shook again as Harry fought with himself.

"Don’t do it." Draco whispered to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"That’s quite enough!" Arthur rose.

"You’re the ones who wanted to come see me, you don’t get to control what I say. And look at you two!" She brought her attention back to Harry. "Best friends now, huh? How’s Hermione feel about that, Harry? Wow that reminds me, you don’t even want to know what I had planned for her after drowning Lovegood in the bathroom. That bitch got in my way, she will certainly suffer for it. And I mean suffer!"

And then there was a loud crack as the legs of the chair split against the pressure of Harry’s anger. Cho and the chair flew backwards. Dumbledore was on his feet in an instant, his wand out and casting. A large bubble surrounded the girl before she slammed against the wall, protecting her head from cracking against it. Harry stood panting, his entire body shaking. Cho was unconscious, he wished she were dead. Shaking his head of such violent thoughts, he was disconcerted. They had only been words, she had come at him with the only weapon she possessed and had gotten the better of him, forced him to lose his control. He felt defeated and sat heavily as the guards came to bring Cho to the prison hospital.

"Can I see those?" Draco asked suddenly, indicating the letters Arthur still held, now crumpled in his fist. He handed them over and sat next to Harry as Draco walked to the corner to read by the sunlight streaming through the dirty window.

"Well-" Dumbledore began.

"I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry." Harry said running his hands through his hair and resting his head in his hands. He was frustrated, after all that, they still had nothing.

"I know you are." The old wizard replied.

"Such a cruel girl." Arthur lamented, shaking his head.

"We will keep this incident quiet." Dumbledore said. "And Miss Chang’s mail privileges are certainly revoked."

"But we haven’t learned anything!" Harry protested.

"Harry, I doubt she would have been cooperative. This was a mistake." Arthur said shaking his head.

"Maybe not." Draco said from the window. "These letters from Pansy? They aren’t from her at all. It’s not her writing, and there are far too many big words."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked as Draco handed the letters back to Arthur.

"I’m positive. She used to write me dippy little notes all the time, these are not in her writing. And Potter, remember how I told you she wasn’t bright enough to come up with sending those newspapers, well, I was being kind. She’s no mastermind, that’s for sure."

"Why would they use Miss Parkinson’s name?" Arthur asked.

"That’s something we’ll have to ask the author of those letters." Dumbledore answered. "Arthur, surely there is someone in the ministry who can track this letter, give us clues as to who wrote it?"

"I know just the man. Hopefully we’ll get some answers soon." Arthur said, motioning them all to the door.

"And hopefully the giants are trustworthy, I don’t want her getting out of here." Harry said as they started down the long hallway.

"Time to put that behind you, Harry. We have to prepare for a fight tomorrow." Dumbledore said.

(BREAK)

"Who knew she was hiding all that crazy?" Ron said. Harry simply shook his head and said nothing. He and Draco had relayed the visit to the others when they got home. Now they sat in the parlor with Ron, Hermione, Fred and Luna, going through the ministry documents until the Order meeting started.

"I never want to see her again, that’s for sure." Harry replied.

"Completely opposite what you thought about her in fourth year, huh?" Ron teased as Hermione gave him a little shove.

"Like you said, who knew she was hiding all that crazy." Fred laughed. "Don’t worry Hermione, we can all handle your crazy."

"Keep going and I’ll show you crazy." she warned him, crossing her arms. Harry smiled and leaned over to kiss her cheek.

They all settled in to read. Harry left the documents already translated by Hermione and Luna to the other guys. He had the other files in front of him, the ones about Voldemort. He was putting off his own information, not really wanting to read about what they knew of his life and the judgements they made about him. He had a feeling reading those files would only make him angrier.

Half an hour later, he struck gold. "I don’t believe it!"

They others looked up at him, startled. "What is it?" Luna asked.

"It just makes so much sense now, why he actually liked Bellatrix LeStrange." Harry reread the pages, just to be sure he wasn’t just seeing what he wanted to see.

"We’re all at the edge of our seat, Harry. You going to share?" Fred asked.

"He had a sister." Harry said. "She was a mental case, schizophrenic according to the documents."

"And?" Draco asked.

Harry scanned the pages again, wanting to get the whole story together for them. "Apparently he broke her out of the asylum their parents had sent her to, right after he left Hogwarts. As far as record of her goes, that was the last anyone saw of her."

"How does that explain his attachment to Bellatrix? We know they weren’t related, she was part of the Black family." Hermione asked, moving closer to read the document over his shoulder and see the information for herself.

"And mine as well." Draco glumly reminded them.

"It says here he had tried to get custody of his sister before he broke her out. That they had been extremely close siblings. Apparently, she was one of the few people he actually cared about, and she was bat shit crazy. At least according to these." He held up another file, records from the healers at the asylum. Hermione grabbed it up and began reading.

"So what was her name? Was she older or younger?" Fred asked.

"Margaret. Her name was Margaret Riddle. And she was born first." Hermione answered still looking through the healer’s notes. "Says here that she was in the asylum, because she suffered a complete mental break. They didn’t hold much hope as she refused to take any herbs or remedies. And the ones they forced her to take, they just weren’t effective."

"So what happened to her?" Fred and Draco asked at the same time.

"No one knows after he broke her out." Harry kept looking, but she wasn’t mentioned again. "But if something bad happened, and then he met someone like Bellatrix, well, maybe she was like his sister and so he developed a blind spot for her."

"She certainly wasn’t all there, was she." Ron replied, shuddering at the memories thoughts of Bellatrix conjured.

"But what about Margaret?" Luna asked, coming to sit next to Hermione to look through the file.

"She died." A voice said from behind them. They turned to find Dumbledore in the doorway. "Please, excuse the interruption, I rang at the door, but no one came to answer. I can see you were all too busy."

"Sir, you know for a fact that Margaret Riddle is dead?" Hermione asked.

"I do. I was at her funeral, saw her laid to rest. It was the last time I tried to reach out to Tom until Harry showed up. He was as unreachable then as he is now. Losing Margaret was the last straw." Dumbledore sighed and came to sit with them.

"So what happened?" Harry asked.

"There were few people in Tom’s life that he really cared for." Dumbledore began. "He hated his father, as you know, and when they were younger, Margaret is the one who took care of Tom. Once, when he was still a young man showing promise, he confided in me that without his sister, he wouldn’t have survived." He paused to sigh again, looking around at the promising young faces surrounding him now. "She had her mental break two years before Tom came to Hogwarts. He considered the decision to send her away unforgivable."

"So what happened after he broke her out?" Hermione asked, completely enthralled with the story.

"She was unwell. She had been refusing treatment, medicine, food. She was too weak, and he had gotten to her too late. She had given up on living and he had been unable to convince her otherwise. She died of natural causes and was laid to rest in a small graveyard in the country."

"Not-" Harry began but was interrupted.

"No, Harry. She isn’t in the graveyard he brought you and Cedric to. He hadn’t wanted their father anywhere near her, even after death. And that is the tragic tale of Margaret Riddle."

"So Bellatrix…" Ron prodded.

"Was a stronger version of the sister he had lost." Dumbledore nodded. "She had remained loyal and strong even after Lord Voldemort was vanquished for so many years. And then she was also taken from him, yes, I believe he sees the act as a line drawn in the sand. Which is why we need you all to take care tomorrow and follow directions without question. Harry took someone very important from Voldemort."

"He did it to me first!" Harry protested. Ron reached over to pat him reassuringly on the back as Hermione took his hand.

"Yes, but unlike you, Harry, Tom has no moral center. It will always be an eye for an eye with him. I’m glad you have those files, even if you weren’t supposed to take them." Dumbledore nodded encouragingly. "It is always best to know your enemy, so that you never underestimate him."

(BREAK)

Harry sat by himself in the backyard under the large willow tree, letting the soft summer breeze clear his head. Tomorrow they would once again be going into battle, and while he felt he better understood some of his enemies motives, he couldn’t understand why so many had followed him. Was the lure of power really so overwhelming?

The Order meeting had simply been a last minute planning session, deciding the best place to put everyone. The decision was an unpopular one. He, Fred and Charlie were stationed with Tonks, Kingsley, Mad-eye, and several other Aurors, leading the attack in the sky.

Hermione, Ron, Luna, Draco, Ginny and Bill were to be in the village, part of the surprise ground attack squad with Arthur, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Madame Maxime, the rest of the Aurors and the Villagers who had refused to leave their homes. Being separated from his friends, not being able to have each and every one of them where he could see them, it wasn’t a plan he had been happy with. Fear, doubt, worry, they clouded Harry’s thoughts, keeping him awake long after everyone else had turned in. He ran his hands through the soft grass and closed his eyes as he faced the damp breeze, trying to clear his crowded head.

He felt Luna’s presence before she made herself known. "Do you want to be alone?" she asked, standing before him as he opened his eyes.

"Yes and no. I just can’t sleep. Too much to think about."

"It’s going to be fine, Harry." She said, taking a seat next to him on the ground.

"Really, did you see something?" He asked anxiously.

"No." she let her head hang. "Truthfully it’s all a blank when I try to see anything, too much is up in the air, too many decisions not made. I hate when it gets murky like this, it makes the end so uncertain, it fades away. It’ll become clear again once the dust settles, just like after Hogsmeade."

"I hope the picture is the same." Harry answered.

"So do I. Everyone has a plan, we’re all going to be together even if you and Fred are in the air. We’ll all be able to watch out for each other out there tomorrow."

"I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. When I do, all I can see is what could go wrong, and how much I stand to lose if someone gets hurt."

"Okay, then in other news, Hermione told me that as soon as she can get into the Hall of records, she’ll be able to trace at least Mykele’s lineage. So we’ll have somewhere to start." She smiled at him and he felt grateful that she was trying to cheer him up.

"That’s a whole other thing I can barely think of. Who knows how long it will take to find these people, and what if they don’t want to help? Finding eleven random people in an overpopulated world. It all seems hopeless."

She stayed quiet for a long time before responding. "What if I could make it a bit easier for you, what if I knew who one of the other people was?"

He felt a tug at his mind. Something that had come and gone in a flash a few weeks earlier. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to say. "It’s you." He turned and faced her, feeling more relieved than he had thought.

"I come from Gwendolyn Crowley. My grandmother was very proud of her lineage, said we came from heroes and warriors. She was disappointed that daddy chose to run the magazine, said it was unbefitting our legacy. She herself had fought against tyranny in England when she was younger, helping the small group of our kind who tried to keep a rein on the royal family throughout the ages."

"They weren’t always successful, eh?" Harry snorted, thinking of the stories he had read in muggle history books while in a muggle school.

"Well, we had our own problems every now and then too, so said Granny. She used to tell Kane and me all about it, telling us we had to aspire to greatness. She was so proud when he joined the Aurors, thought it was only a matter of time before he was promoted to the Royal Watch division."

Harry took her hand. "I’m sorry." He said simply.

She smiled again. "It gets easier to think about him, especially now."

"Why now?"

"Let’s just say I have something in the works and leave it at that for now. There are other things to focus on. We got off track anyway. I just thought you should know, and wondered what you wanted to tell the others? You know, Hermione and Ron especially."

Harry paused. He knew that having one less person to find was very good. He knew that the person being Luna meant he always had someone he could trust and that was very good. He and Luna sharing one more thing they couldn’t share with those closest to them, to those already upset at being left out, that was very bad. Keeping it a secret could be worse. "Well, they don’t need to know right now, especially with Lairmore looming over us."

"And after?" she asked, squeezing his hand.

He shook his head and squeezed back. "After, we’ll just see what happens I guess."

(BREAK)

I hate waiting! Fred thought to him from their hiding place among the trees.

You’re telling me, Harry thought back. They had been waiting for over an hour for the enemy to make their move. Allies and villagers were bunkered down in the little houses sprawling out in front of him. Harry’s eyes were trained on a house at the end of the street, the one where Hermione and Luna waited with Ron, Draco, Molly, Ginny and Bill. Every now and then Luna would send him a telepathic report, but it did little to calm his nerves.

How much longer, do you think? Fred asked, nervously moving his broom from one hand to the other.

How should I know? Harry replied. Then he felt the coldness. Looking around, he knew the others waiting with him felt it too. The Dementors were close. All they needed was for the Death Eaters to show, Harry just hoped they’d come before the Dementors found them.

And then, as if on cue, green flames shot into the air, and the Dark Mark rose into the sky, illuminating the dark shapes flying around it. There appeared to be hundreds of them. The air began to crackle as many more Death Eaters apparated into the streets.

Harry met Tonks’s eye and nodded as she gave the signal. With a cry, they rose in the air, casting immediately as the others streamed from the houses where they had been hiding.

(BREAK)

Luna was nervous. She had been trying all day, but nothing was coming to her. Leaving her mind open, should anything need to come, she focused on the others around her, as they waited impatiently in a stranger’s home. This particular homeowner had been a single mother, willing to offer up her house to the Order, but choosing to flee with her children. Luna couldn’t blame her, fear for those you loved was a powerful motivator. She only hoped Harry would be able to keep his head together out there, and intended to keep the others safe so he wouldn’t worry or become distracted.

Last night, she had wanted to tell him so much more, to let him know about Draco’s knowledge of her brother, of Lucius’s secret. She hadn’t been able to. He was already so burdened, and while she desperately wanted to unload to have him make her feel better, she had held back, trying to comfort him instead. There was just so much more that he carried around on his shoulders than the rest of them, not only did he have his own hopes and fears and sorrows, he was burdened with those of his loved ones as well as the rest of the Wizarding community. His need to succeed, the pressure that failure wasn’t an option, it was going to break him someday.

Get ready! Harry’s words in her mind broke through her thoughts of him. She saw that the others had heard and moved to the windows to watch for the signal.

"May we all be watched over." Molly prayed.

And then the signal broke and they were all moving at once. Arthur had given them specific orders, stick together and stay with him or Hagrid. Ginny, Draco and Molly went left with Arthur’s group. Luna followed Hermione and Ron to the right, with Hagrid, being forced to cast almost as soon as she was out the door.

(BREAK)

"Look out!" Fred called out and Harry dove down, missing the fireball that had launched at him. For a bit there, flying with Fred, he felt like they were out on the quidditch pitch again, but bludgers were the least of his worries. Skimming the tops of the houses he caught sight of Hagrid and Madame Maxime, towering over everyone else. At first Harry had worried that their height would make them easier targets, but they did have giant blood coursing through their veins, and the vicious ferocity seemed to have come out. Seeing Hermione, Luna and Ron with them and unharmed, he raced back up to the sky.

Dodging spells, he zoomed through a group of Death Eaters who began to give chase. That’s right, come and get me morons. He thought as he flew toward the trees. It was obvious his pursuers knew who he was, because unlike the other Order members in the sky, they sent spells to capture, not kill, hurtling toward him. He ducked and dipped low, leading them through the forest. Ready? He thought to Fred.

We’re all set up for you. Was the reply. He raced upward suddenly, breaking though the tree canopy. There were still five death eaters following him, and they never knew what hit them. Tonks, Fred and Mad-eye, waiting in position, had stunned Harry’s hunters in midair, magically lowering them to the ground where another group of Aurors placed them in custody.

That was easy! Fred’s giddy thought reached him.

Too easy. This is usually the time to step up our awareness. Harry warned as they flew back to the battle over the village.

"Ready to try it again?" Tonks yelled to Harry.

"Sure! Just let me get a few on the hook!" and he swooped in to draw some more attention.

(BREAK)

It was genius really. Harry had come up with it when they’d first taken cover in the trees, and while he saw that the plan made the adults uneasy, Fred was amused by the brilliant simplicity. The Death Eaters didn’t want Harry dead, and that made him the only one without a bullseye on his head. Sending out the one person they didn’t want to kill but very much wanted to capture, was the best way to keep everyone else from being hurt. Harry had offered himself up as bait, and agreed to lure the Death Eaters away into the woods where they could set up an ambush. It had worked twice already.

As Harry gathered a new bunch, Fred hid himself in the trees and allowed himself the time to scan for his family. Ron was with the giants, helping Hermione and Luna keep them shielded as they tore through the enemy line. They were so convincing as terrible giants that Fred himself felt scared of Hagrid, for the first time ever. He felt Ron was well protected.

Arthur, Bill and some villagers were dueling with a large group of Death Eaters, but appeared to be gaining the upper hand. Molly, he knew was running among the houses, helping tend the wounded and dying, on both sides. Charlie was up in the skies, reigning terror on the enemy from above.

Fred couldn’t see Ginny though, and began to panic. He hadn’t wanted her to come, had in fact told his parents she shouldn’t go. Molly had of course agreed, but Arthur had not, saying that if he was going to let the others do whatever they wanted, it was unfair to place restrictions on Ginny. Fred’s last hope had been that Ginny simply wouldn’t want to go, but surprisingly that wasn’t the case. He had decided to hope that it meant she was on the way back to being herself.

You ready? Harry was once again calling for his attention. Determined to spot his sister the next time, he raced to get in place for the next group Harry had lured into the trees.

(BREAK)

Draco had never felt more terrified in his life. He felt like a walking target, as he and Ginny followed her brother and parents through the streets. He kept his senses trained and made sure he cast before his adversary. Potter was in the skies, and appeared to be doing well as the number of flying Death Eaters dwindled. But here on the ground was another story. He felt like every time they made progress in dwindling the Death Eater numbers, more of them apparated in. And the Dementors weren’t helping their cause either. Meanwhile, the Order, villagers and Aurors had all the numbers they would have, and their losses were being felt more.

"Look out!" Ginny screamed. On instinct he dropped the ground and turned as a masked figure prepared to cast again.

"Expelliarmus!" Ginny yelled first.

Draco watched as the other’s wand flew away. Angry to be disarmed, the Death Eater lunged at Ginny, but Draco was quicker. "Expulso!" he pointed to ground in front of the man and was amazed as the pavement exploded beneath his feet. The man gave a mighty scream as pieces flew up into his face, knocking him unconscious.

Ginny hurried over and helped Draco to his feet. "You okay?" he asked, hoping she hadn’t been injured by a stray piece of flying debris.

"Yeah, thanks. That was quick thinking."

"The only kind we’re afforded out here." He said quickly looking around. "We lost your father." If they got separated, they were supposed to head into the nearest house and think their location to Harry or Luna who would relay the message.

"Let’s go find them!" she said excitedly. Watching her, he felt as if the battle were finally waking her up from a long sleep, and she was acting more like the girl he had known her to be, back when he was spying on them all.

"That’s not the plan." He said hesitantly.

"So what? Since when do rules and plans make a difference?"

She may not be uneasy walking around without extra help, but Draco was far more practical, being more of a target. "Look, a lot of people out here want me dead. One of them, my own father. I really don’t want to be wandering around aimlessly." He said resolutely, grabbing her arm and pulling her along with him.

"Please, I’m the minister’s daughter, you think they wouldn’t be after me and mine to use as leverage? If I’m willing to keep going you should be too." She said as she let him pull her toward the nearest house.

"Yeah, as leverage, meaning you get to keep breathing, and the possibility to keep breathing long after if they save you. I’ll be dead where I stand." He answered harshly, wishing he could just leave her behind. This time last year, he would have. Damn the conscious he had grown.

"If you’re so worried about it, I have the solution." She pulled to a stop and reached into her pocket, producing Mykele’s ring. "This will make you invisible."

"Why do you have that!?" Draco asked angrily, taking the ring from her before anyone could catch sight of it.

"I figured it might come in handy." She shrugged.

"Do you know how much they want this? Are you an idiot?" Draco yelled in a vicious whisper.

"No, I was thinking ahead. Now you don’t have to worry about being seen." Ginny argued defensively. "I thought Harry might need it, if things got difficult, but if you’re such a wimp then you can use it."

"Potter doesn’t know you have this, does he?"

"What does it matter? It belongs to all of us."

Draco shoved the ring deep inside his pocket, hoping he could hand it off soon. "Listen you little idiot. This isn’t a game, this is survival. Whatever little girly problems you’re having with Potter and Granger doesn’t mean a goddamned thing to me right now, you understand. Bringing this ring here was so stupid, it’s one more thing that makes you a target. These types of objects create energy, you know, you think they don’t have their own special people on their side? People with extra powers like Potter and Lovegood? They have people who can feel this energy." He was so angry and scared he let it all unload on her, and though she looked hurt, he didn’t feel bad about it. She had to understand the danger they were really in.

Screams interrupted her reply and they both ran toward the sound. The Dementors were running rampant down the street as those who had tried to stop them ran in fear. They were stronger, and gaining more strength with every soul they took. "Come on!" Ginny yelled, running off before he could stop her. This girl seemed to have a death wish, just his luck, he’d get lost in battle with someone like that. He wanted to turn and run, to find more people to bring back and fight, but Ginny was already facing down the Dementors.

With a growl of frustration, he hurled himself after her before he could change his mind yelling out, "Expecto Patronum!" as he went, unleashing his large silvery snake on the dark army coming down on them.

(BREAK)

Hagrid and Madame Maxine had been knocking down the enemy since it had all started. Hermione, Ron and Luna mainly tried to just stay out of their way, keeping protection charms around them, and disarming anyone who tried to catch them unaware. After sweeping down an entire street, they made their way down another, and ran into trouble.

"Minister Fudge?!" Hermione couldn’t help letting out her shock. The former minister simply stood before them, the wand in his hand dangling uselessly at his side. He wasn’t wearing Death Eater robes.

"What’re you doin’ here Cornelius?" Hagrid asked angrily. Fudge didn’t answer. And then about ten more people began to join Fudge in the middle of the street, villagers, people who had been fighting on their side.

"What’s wrong with them?" Ron asked. Hermione was afraid she knew. And sure enough, before she could reply, it was as if a switch had been flipped in the man before them.

Fudge attacked quickly, scattering their small group as fire shot out of his wand in their direction. The villagers began casting spells at them just as quickly. "Run! They’re under the Imperious curse! They won’t stop!" Hermione screamed. She and Luna dashed between two houses and ran for the cover of the trees. Looking back she realized the others weren’t following, no one was following them. She grabbed Luna’s arms and brought them to a stop. "We lost Ron and Hagrid!" she said gasping for breath.

"Why aren’t they chasing us?" Luna asked.

Hermione tried to look down the streets, but it didn’t appear they had been seen. "Look!" she pointed to a figure standing on the roof of a house off into the distance.

"That’s him. That’s the one putting them under the curse!" Luna said.

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I’m sure, whoever that guy is, he’s controlling them."

"Then let’s go." She and Luna cut through backyards, making their way quickly to the caster’s perch and stunning the few who managed to get in their way.

"It’s Dolohov! He’s a nasty one." Hermione whispered to Luna. "You ready?"

Luna nodded and both girls split up around the house, hoping to take him down from either side. GO! Luna shouted in her head.

Hermione heard the other girl scream outloud, "Expelliarmus!"

Within an instant Hermione threw her own curse, "Incarcerous!"

She and Luna climbed onto the roof with their prize. "Release them , NOW!" Hermione demanded of Dolohov, who was looking up at them defiantly.

"He’s upset that he was bested by teenage girls." Luna said, looking down at him in disgust as she looked through his mind.

"I’ll bet he is. He’s about to be a lot more upset if he doesn’t release those people." Hermione threatened.

"What are you going to do? Take me to your headmaster." Dolohov sneered.

"We don’t have time for that." Hermione answered pointing her wand in his face. "Sectumsempra!" she shouted the only curse she could remember that caused harm and wasn’t an Unforgivable. Harry had told her that he had seen Snape using it against James in the past when digging around in Snape’s memories.

"Hermione!" Luna gasped as a large gash appeared on Dolohov’s cheek. Hermione had missed on purpose, only wanting to wound the man. She didn’t want to kill anybody.

"Release them." She demanded coldly.

"I will not." Dolohov said defiantly.

"Sectumsempra!" she shouted again. The man howled in pain as blood began pooling down his arm. She had gotten his shoulder this time.

"Let them go." Luna demanded. "We really don’t have time for you." She pointed her wand at the man, threatening to add her own curse in with Hermione’s.

"I’ll say." Dolohov answered, looking past the girls from his immobile position on the roof.

They turned to see a swarm of Dementors coming right for them. Looking at each other, the girls called their Patronus creatures, and hoped they’d make it somehow.

(BREAK)

They had almost cleared the skies of Death Eaters when the Dementors started coming at them. Harry began to feel they were fighting a losing battle as his stag raced through a group chasing Tonks. He turned and threw a Hurling Hex at the Death Eater trying to sneak up on him. The enemy’s broom began to buck and jerk, forcing his pursuer to land or risk being thrown off.

"Everyone! Ground!" Kingsley yelled out to the Order flyers, and Harry knew it was their best move. They would never be able to overcome the Dementors in the sky. Looking for a place to land, Harry saw how hard it had been for those fighting down below. Many houses were on fire, and the streets were torn up, completely destroyed in some areas. He saw a group of villagers fleeing a small band of Dementors and sent his stag in to assist before flying on.

And then he saw them, Hermione and Luna on top of one of the houses, their Patronus spells trying desperately to fend off the dark creatures streaming towards them. There was a man in Death eater robes with them, but he appeared to be their captive, and no longer a threat. Getting closer, he could see it was Dolohov.

"Hey!" he shouted loudly. The girls looked up at him in relief as he flew past and through the large mass bearing down on them. Harry shot upwards, seeing that some of the creatures had followed. He made another pass, getting a few more to give chase. But there were some that wouldn’t give up their attack on the girls. Harry had to get them out of there.

Hermione! Throw up a hand! He instructed, knowing Luna would be able to hold them off on her own for a moment. She did as he asked and he raced forward, the Dementors hot on his trail. He moved lower and took aim, throwing out his own hand and slowing just enough to ensure he had her in a good grip before flying off. He could hear her shriek as they shot through the air, her fingernails were digging into his skin. He wasn’t going to let go. Seeing Hagrid and Madame Maxime’s large forms looming in the distance, he called out to them.

Let go! He commanded, sweeping in low. She did, and flew down directly into Hagrid’s arms. Making sure she had made it safely, he went back for Luna.

"Looks like they left you behind." Dolohov was shouting to Luna over the noise of the battle raging around them.

Shut up. He heard her think to the vile man.

Luna! Harry called to her, wanting her to know he hadn’t deserted her. She instantly threw up her hand, waiting for rescue as if she had known all along that he was coming back.

As he slowed to grab her, she put her wand between her teeth so she could grasp him with both hands. "Wait you can’t leave me!" Dolohov cried as they ascended.

"Watch me." Harry shouted back.

"No, no, NO NOOOO, YOU WORK FOR US!!!!" they heard the man cry as the Dementors that remained surrounded him.

He was controlling Fudge and the villagers! Luna told him as they flew through the air.

Not anymore. Harry thought back to her. He went back to where he had left Hermione and the others, only to find the area deserted. He couldn’t stop, there was a gang of Dementors tailing him, and he couldn’t leave Luna down there by herself. He also couldn’t keep flying around with her dangling from his broom.

Can you climb up here? He asked. He helped as best he could while still maintaining a solid flight path. Swinging a leg and using Harry as a sort of hand ladder, she got herself up and behind him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she held on for dear life as he shot through the sky, Dementors in hot pursuit. He couldn’t fly forever though, and one thought kept interrupting any plan he tried to make. In the few seconds he had left her to go get Luna, what had happened to Hermione?





A/N: Alright then. It isn’t looking so good for them is it… see how the fight ends and learn a few more revealing things in the next chapter of Harry Potter and the Coven of Warriors! Please take the time to review and leave your thoughts, good or bad. Feedback rocks!

Chapter 11: Ready to Rumble

NOTE: Welcome back, more action coming at you, along with a ton more questions. Pay attention, clues are everywhere. Read, Review and Enjoy!




Draco’s lungs were on fire, his legs felt like jelly, but he wouldn’t stop running. He couldn’t. His grip on Ginny’s wrist was iron tight as he pulled her along behind him. There were too many Dementors, they couldn’t hold them back and had been forced to retreat. Where is everyone?! He thought wildly trying to push it outwards to Lovegood or Potter. They needed help.

"In there!" Ginny shouted, now the one pulling him toward a small house to the right. "Where’s the ring?" she yelled as soon as he slammed the door shut behind them.

"What?" he was confused and out of breath, not to mention feeling extremely depressed thanks to their constant proximity to those creatures.

"The ring! It makes you invisible, if they can’t find us, they can’t give us the kiss!" she shouted, trying to search his pockets.

"Hey!" he moved away from her and retrieved the ring himself. Using it would leave an energy mark for anyone with the ability to sense it. But it could save them right now from the Dementors bearing down on their hiding place. With a cry of frustration he put the ring on and grabbed her hand, hoping it would work. "Nothing’s happening." He said after a minute.

"Concentrate!" she demanded. "It has a voice or whatever, that’s what Luna told Harry."

The air grew colder, their teeth began to chatter. He closed his eyes and begged the ring to work, not knowing what else to do.

(BREAK)

Hermione landed in Hagrid’s arms and felt relief. He deposited her to the ground gently and they watched as Harry zoomed off to get Luna. "’Ere, zey come again!" Madame Maxime cried as a group of Death Eater’s apperated in the trees and came toward them.

She ran with the giants, wondering just how many more people they could possibly send here. "Ron! Fred!" she cried out in relief seeing her friends down the street with Mr. Weasley, Dumbledore and a large group of Aurors.

They came to a stop in front of the group just as Charlie, Tonks and Kingsley landed from the sky. They looked worried. "The Dementors are chasing Harry, he can’t land!" Charlie told them breathlessly.

"We have to do something!" Tonks shouted.

"We’ll have to hope Harry can hold them off." Dumbledore said with worry in his voice. Hermione was about to protest before realizing that Death Eaters were bearing down on them from all sides. They had positioned themselves around the remaining rebels, trapping them, it appeared they were waiting, a few of them were avidly watching Harry’s progress through the skies. The last thing anyone on either side wanted was for Harry to be caught and given the kiss. Both sides were ready to intervene, if necessary.

"Maybe he could, if he were alone, but Luna’s on the broom with him." Tonks said, raising her wand and letting her own eyes search the sky. Hermione raised her wand, trying to push aside her terror. She knew that with Luna up there with him, he’d take less risks, go more slowly, and be distracted. Harry’s risky, speedy, single-minded focus was what made him a good flyer.

And then some silent signal went off within the enemy’s ranks and her mind went blank as she grit her teeth and began to fight her way out.

(BREAK)

Do you see them? Harry asked desperately. He had tasked Luna with finding their friends, as he had to try and focus all his attention on flying them away from the rather large group of Dementors now giving chase. It wasn’t helping that he also had to dodge spells being thrown at him from the ground, in addition to the constant fear that Luna would lose her grip and plummet to her death.

Over there! She pointed to the right and he followed her direction without hesitation. I see them, everyone except Draco and Ginny!

He took a moment to look. There was a large fight going on below them. He caught glimpses of them all, his eyes finally landing on Hermione. They seemed to be doing alright, and it appeared the Death Eaters had finally stopped apperating in.

And then he noticed the Dementors. They had stopped their ground attack when he had flown by, and joined their brethren in their chase for Harry. Worry overtook him as he fixed his grip and shot straight forward through the trees.

He had no time to safely get Luna off his broom as he had intially intended. She clung to him as they increased their speed, pressing her face into his back for protection against the sharp wind. Hold on really good, now! He warned and she wrapped her arms even tighter around him, so that he could barely breathe. Fixing his grip again he shot straight up in the air rising as high as he could, while shouting for help to his friends below. He zoomed to the right suddenly, but not as sharply as he would have, had he not been concerned that Luna would fall. It was a mistake. A group of Dementors swooped ahead of him, and he didn’t have enough time to slow his progress. If he dove again, he would have to take an immediate ninety degree drop, and he wasn’t sure Luna would be able to hold on, considering their speed. His only other option was to fly right through them, and risk capture for both of them.

Go straight for them! And stop worrying about me! Luna’s shout resounded in his head. Without questioning, he took her direction and flew right at the creatures blocking their path. He felt Luna’s grip loosen as she raised a hand to throw out a spell. Her large silver butterfly zoomed through the air seconds ahead of them, scattering their foes in a burst of bright, happy light.

Keep going, and I’ll keep casting. We can do this, Harry. Luna instructed and he turned to face their pursuers. He tightened his left hand on the broom and wrapped his right arm behind him, clutching Luna to him as tightly as he could. Taking his cue, she wrapped her left arm more tightly around his waist and raised her wand, pointing her butterfly forward and sending it at the Dementors that rushed them. Whatever happened now, they were in it together.

(BREAK)

"Have you seen Ginny?!" Ron yelled to Bill as they each dueled a Death Eater. Bill responded in the negative, subduing his adversary. After helping Ron, he ran off to help anyone else who may need him. Ron was getting worried. He’d asked everyone he came across, but no one had seen his sister. Was she hurt, inside one of the houses, and being tended by their mother and other volunteers? Or worse, was she- He shook his head and refused to let himself think that way. He couldn’t become distracted, he’d be no good to Ginny or anyone else if he were killed.

He engaged in another duel, this time able to gain the upper hand on his own. It was easier, now that the Dementors had abandoned their so called masters for the chase through the skies for Harry. Those hideous creatures had always had a thing for his friend, Dumbledore had surmised that it was because of the miserable memories of his childhood that he carried around. Well, they were trying desperately to get Harry now, and Ron caught glimpses of Luna’s Patronus lighting against the dark swarm surrounding her and Harry. He couldn’t stand it anymore, they were alone up there and he wouldn’t let his conscious be held back anymore. They needed help. Running from the fray behind him, he found a deserted area directly below where Harry was swooping in and out of the horde of Dementors as Luna tried to fend them off.

Ron climbed to the roof of the nearest house and took a deep breath, remembering every good thing that had ever happened to him, every joyful moment he had ever had. He put every positive intention into his soul and reached deep down within before screaming "Expecto Patronum!" and releasing his Patronus into the sky. It raced upward, blasting through a group to the right of Harry.

"Expecto Patronum!" Someone cried behind him. Turning, he saw a villager had followed him onto the roof and was now doing her part to help Harry. Looking around, he realized several others had followed him and were now climbing onto the roof. Many appeared to be wounded, as if they had decided if they could no longer duel, they could at least cast into the sky. Cries of "Expecto Patronum!" Went up all around him and Ron felt his heart grow soft and strong at the same time. They could do this.

(BREAK)

Draco held very still, willing Ginny do the same. Three Dementors had made it into the house. Where the others had gone he didn’t know, and at the moment, he didn’t care. He didn’t feel very different, other than a slight tingle, as if his skin were lightly rippling along his body. He guessed the ring had worked, since the Dementors were now searching for what was apparently standing right out in the open, him and Ginny.

He held her hand tightly and slowly turned to look at her. We need to get out of here. He thought at her, wishing for the first time ever that he were Potter. Silent communication had so many advantages.

So let’s go. He almost dropped her hand in his surprise. He truly hadn’t expected to hear a response. And then he remembered what Potter had told him. The ring gave the wearer the power to tap into other’s minds. He also knew of the legend that he could have wandless powers while using the ring, though Potter hadn’t divulged that much, Draco had done his own research. Useful little thing, this ring was. It could definitely be worth the risk of owning it. His only regret was telling his father about the ring in the first place.

He edged them to the door while the Dementors searched the back of the house. Once in the street, he started running again. He no longer felt tired, he felt empowered. Once they were several streets away he skidded to a stop and dropped Ginny’s hand. "Help me take it off." He demanded.

While he’d been able to get the ring on one-handed, taking it off was another story. And he very badly wanted it off. The way he was feeling while wearing it was making him uncomfortable, and the thoughts he was fighting back were threatening to pull him back into the life he was struggling to leave behind.

"Are you sure?" Ginny asked.

"Yes! Now get it off!" he ordered, thrusting his hand in her face. Why was she so incapable of understanding danger?

She pulled it off for him and he breathed a sigh of relief. His skin stopped wiggling and his felt the familiar drain of life creep into his bones. He was exhausted. Ginny stared at the ring and smiled at him. "Good thing I brought it. Guess I’m not such an idiot after all."

Draco snatched it from her and crammed it back into his pocket. "That still remains to be seen. And you’re really making me rethink our whole agreement to try and be friends."

"You’re breaking my heart." She rolled her eyes, and apparently caught sight of something interesting above them. Looking up he saw two figures on a broom, zipping through the air as they were chased by a swarm of Dementors.

"Is that Potter?" suddenly Draco knew where the rest of the Dementors originally chasing them had gone. "Who’s that with him, Granger?"

"I think it’s Luna." Ginny watched their progress through the air. "Yup, sure is, look, that’s her Patronus."

Draco watched as the giant butterfly swooped around above them, running off several of the horrible creatures attacking it’s master. "What are they doing up there by themselves?"

"I don’t know, but they could probably use some help. Come on!" Ginny shouted, running off after the figures in the air.

Draco swore to himself that this was the last time he would stick to Ginny Weasley while fighting. Anymore battles they brought him to, he was hanging around people with a clearer head and smarter instincts. She was running ahead of him now, not even looking to make sure her path was clear. He stunned a ragged looking Death Eater that was hiding in the shadows before he could get them.

The weight of the hideous ring in his pocket kept banging against his leg as they ran and he longed to put it back on. He was so tired now, his poor health affecting his willpower and endurance. The ring would give him the temporary ability to take care of himself and Ginny in the present situation. He could virtually be Harry Potter on the ground, whipping things around with his mind and who knew what else. The only problem was his lack of self-control. He didn’t want the responsibility or the stigma. They were all just beginning to really trust him.

Breathing hard, he looked ahead, and saw a welcoming sight. Ron and several villagers had positioned themselves on the roof and were casting their Patronus spells upwards to help Potter.

"Ron!" Ginny yelled.

"Where the hell have you been?!" Weasley yelled back to his sister.

"Surviving!" she answered as she began to climb. "You need a hand?" she turned and taunted Draco. He guessed she was still upset that he had gone off on her.

"That’s okay. I’ll just stay down here. Be sure to take a long walk while you’re up there, though." He responded, not caring what Ron thought of his invitation to his sister to basically jump off the roof. Instead he gathered everything he had left inside of him and threw it into his spell, sending his serpent gliding through the air. He wasn’t sure how long he was casting before his legs gave out and he crumpled to the ground. Closing his eyes, he gave in and passed out from exhaustion.

(BREAK)

Hermione gave a silent cheer after bringing down two more Death Eaters. Looking around, she realized there were few people actually still fighting and from what she saw, the good guys had gained the upper hand, through sheer force of will this time. Where was Ron?

She spotted his Patronus first, when she allowed herself the luxury of checking on Harry. He and Luna were still up there, fleeing and fighting for their lives. Ron and several others were on a roof in the distance, flinging their own spells in the air to help out. Fred, Charlie, Tonks and Kingsley had regained their brooms and zoomed into the air as soon as the ground situation seemed to take care of itself.

Hermione stunned another attacker and ran off to try and help everyone in the air. She was stopped when she noticed the other spells being cast upwards, and they weren’t meant to help. She heard Tonks’s yell when she was forced to dodge a stream of green light. "Moony!" she called out in relief when she saw Lupin down the street. He was grappling with two Death Eaters and she ran to help. Together they ended it quickly.

"Hermione!" Lupin gasped for air. He was limping, blood soaking the leg of his pants.

"Episkey!" she pointed her wand at his injury, hoping to help it heal. "Are you alright?" Hermione asked, wondering if he could help her after all.

"I have to be." He responded as the flyers let out another cry of frustration.

"Then come on!" she ran off toward the small group of Death Eaters trying to hurt their friends from their position hidden between two houses. She slowed her speed so that Lupin could keep up.

Inching around the corner, she counted seven of them. Lupin took a look and pulled her back around the side. "We have a problem." He told her, his eyes wide with concern.

"What?" she whispered back.

"Harland is out there. He’s a very bad man. Very dangerous." He took a shaky breath as he prepared to face someone he was clearly afraid of.

"Who is he?" Hermione asked now both frightened and curious.

"Harland Myers is a werewolf." Lupin answered as he looked up. Following his gaze, they watched as Tonks, Harry and the others struggled above them. "He went looking for the curse, he enjoys changing, and last time he and I met, he vowed to kill me."

"Why?" Hermione asked, leaning over to take another glance at the Death Eaters. "Which one is he?" but looking at the man in the center of the group, very tall and very wide, she felt she knew. There was something wild in the man’s attitude, in his actions. His long dark hair whipped around his face as he cast a whirlwind spell, sending it after Kingsley, who had to fly at top speed to outrun it before the funnel sucked him in.

"He’s the biggest brute out there of course." Lupin responded. "And he wants to kill me in particular because of the way I choose to live." He responded quickly. "Years ago the ministry wanted to regulate my kind. Dumbledore told me not to be a part of it, but asked me to come and try and convince some of those werewolves that weren’t as civilized as I was. Harland, who enjoys the terror and eventual bloodshed of the hunt was on that list. He rejected us, attacked us, and shortly after joined Voldemort."

Hermione suddenly remembered the Daily Prophet last year, when they had reported the Azkaban breakout. They had been so focused on Lucius and Bellatrix’s escape they hadn’t paid attention to the others that had run out with them. But now she remembered the name, as she recalled the article in her mind. Harland Myers had been among those listed as a dangerous escapee. "We can’t just stand here, we have to help Harry. And Tonks."

"I know." He closed his eyes, brought the tip of his wand to his forehead and took a deep breath. Hermione prepared herself and when he opened his eyes and nodded, she whipped around the corner, casting quickly and retreating back to cover as Lupin took his turn.

"Get them!" they heard a booming voice command.

Lupin pulled her back behind him and screamed "Protego Horribilis!" as they rounded the corner. The spells hurled at them bounced off the invisible shield and back at the Death Eaters that cast them. The three threw themselves on the ground and Hermione took care of them, fully binding them in place.

"Remus Lupin, is that you?" Harland rounded the corner. "I’d have thought you’d have been killed by now."

"Hermione, run." Lupin commanded.

"No." she responded steadily. She wasn’t going to leave him alone.

"You heard your professor, little girl. Why don’t you run along, it’s time for the big dogs to play." Harland laughed. "Unless you want to die, of course. I wouldn’t blame you."

"Go!" Lupin ordered.

"I think she needs incentive." Harland said cruelly. In an instant he had looked up, taken aim and cast. Hermione watched in horror and a large firebolt launched directly toward Harry. He apparently saw it and tried to swerve, but something went wrong. She screamed as Harry and Luna toppled over. Harry still had hold of the broom but Luna was dangling from his legs. As soon as they began their descent into the thick trees, Hermione was off, running in their direction. She hoped Lupin was able to hold his own, and even more hopeful that someone would come along and help him. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t be any help to him with the knowledge that Harry could be out in the woods with a broken neck.

(BREAK)

I’m starting to feel dizzy. Could we try for less circular motions? Luna thought to him.

We’ll fly whatever way keeps us alive. Try not to look down so much. Harry responded, flying past Tonks so she could help get some more of those creatures off his tail.

You’re the boss. She answered, directing her butterfly to the left.

Harry felt like they had been flying for hours. Once again using both hands to direct the broom, he had at least become more confident in Luna’s ability to hang on and fly with him. She had learned to lean with him and mimic his movements so that other than her arm wrapped tightly around him and her legs intertwined with his, he felt he was alone on the broom.

"Look out!" Luna screamed out loud, right in his ear. Ignoring the ringing, he turned to see what had caused her concern and saw several Dementors bearing down on Charlie. He flew closer and she cast her Patronus right toward them. At the same moment, his instincts kicked him in the gut. Looking down he saw a stream of fire heading straight for them.

Luna! Hold on! He screamed with his mind, diving hard to the right. Sweat soaked his hands, causing one to slip and he lost his hold. He heard Luna scream as they both slid sideways. He used everything he had to regain control, and only succeeded in holding onto the broom. He dangled from it uselessly and worse, Luna had slid down his body and was only holding on by his legs. We have to land. Reach up if you can.

Luna slowly raised her arm and he carefully reached down to grasp her wrist. She wrapped her other arm tightly around his leg and certain they both had a secure grip, he flew downward, toward the woods, hoping the thick trees would provide enough cover. Looking back, he saw Fred and Charlie covering their retreat from the Dementors.

Branches whipped across his skin and his glasses were torn from his face. Let go. He instructed as soon as they had reached a low enough point. Luna landed lightly and gracefully on her feet and seeing she was fine, he let go, landing hard and far less gracefully as knelt in the dirt trying to gain his bearings. His legs wouldn’t hold him up, after so long in the air straddling a broom.

"You did it! You saved us!" Luna cried, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her head in his shoulder. He held her to him tightly, reveling in their shared sense of relief.

"Come on, we have to move. Find the others." He said at last, pulling away. She helped him to his feet and they began walking back toward the village. Luna discovered she had lost her wand when they had slipped off the broom, and so Harry handed her his, knowing he could at least do a bit of damage without it.

When he tripped over the first tree root, he hit his head on a rock and felt blood trickling down his forehead. "Oh, hold still already!" she said after he tripped for the fifth time. She cast a spell and his blurry vision cleared instantly. It was the same spell he had used last Halloween, and he silently thanked Seamus for teaching it to them, suddenly feeling less helpless being able to see clearly.

They walked on in silence, their senses open and on high alert. He felt they were less than a mile from Lairmore when Luna grabbed his arm. "Harry…wait." She said, suddenly breathless.

"What’s wrong?" he asked. Horrified, he watched her eyes roll up into her head and she collapsed forward. He moved to catch her and lay her gently on the ground. "Luna?" he gave her a little shake. Her head lolled uselessly from side to side.

"Harry!" he heard someone, screaming his name. Someone very familiar.

"Hermione?" he shouted. Then remembering where they were he thought We’re over here. Hurry!

Minutes later, Hermione crashed through the bushes and threw herself in Harry’s arms, crying. "I saw you guys go down, I was so worried!"

"Something’s wrong with Luna." He said, pulling away and kneeling next to their friend. Hermione knelt next to him and took a look.

"She’s having a vision, I think." Hermione said at last.

"A vision? You’ve seen her do this before?"

"Once, at the Leaky Cauldron... She saw Lucius killing Draco and ran in to stop it. Said he was important and couldn’t be killed." Hermione explained.

Harry was astounded. How could they not have told him? He cast his anger aside when Luna’s eyes flew open as she gasped for air. "Luna? Are you okay? What is it?"

"Ginny! Don’t do it!" Luna yelled before fully awakening.

"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked.

"She brought the ring here. Draco has it now, he took it from her. We have to find them. Before….before someone else takes it." Luna said as they helped her up.

"You’re the boss." Harry smiled as he used her words, covering his sudden angry fear. Making sure everyone was in one piece, they ran off toward the village hoping to avert disaster.

(BREAK)

Everyone on the roof watched as Harry and Luna descended into the forest. "We have to find them!" Ron shouted to Ginny. She couldn’t agree more… who knew if they were able to land safely? They could be laying out there somewhere with a million broken bones.

Climbing down from the roof, she found Draco, unconscious next to the house. She leaned down and felt for a pulse. It was there, steady but weak. Without thinking, she reached into his pocket and took the ring. "Ron, wait!" she shouted to her brother as he jumped down and began running toward the woods. He turned back and knelt with her next to Draco.

"What happened?" Ron asked.

"Probably just a little too much for him to take. Past his bedtime or something." Ginny responded, forgetting that Ron wasn’t Draco, didn’t enjoy the cruel banter.

"Ginny, look at him. He was obviously unwell before he came here and he’s probably been running around all night keeping you out of trouble." Ron said, hitting the nail on the head.

"Since when do you care about him?"

"Since he’s been giving me reasons to. Come on grab his legs. We better get him over to mum and the healers. Then we can go find Harry and Luna." They carried Draco down the street and into one of the designated healing houses. Molly took a look and shook her head before directing them to a bed.

Gently depositing his far too light body on the bed, Ginny felt sorry for him. Draco was trying so hard to prove himself, going against his own character, struggling everyday to be someone he wasn’t. She had hoped giving him the ring would awaken the old Draco, force him to show his true colors. Unfortunately it seemed he was determined to change. She had so wanted to hate him again but she couldn’t and so she’d have to settle for making everyone else hate him. If he only had her to turn to, she would finally have the ally she’d been hoping for, even if it was Draco Malfoy.

After Ron filled their mother in, they took off towards the woods. She began to feel anxious again, and hoped they would find Harry and Luna alive. She took her concern as a good sign, one that indicated she was still capable of caring whether people lived or died. She certainly didn’t want anyone else she knew to die.

No sooner had they reached the tree line than Harry, Luna and surprisingly, Hermione came through. Ginny’s relief was overshadowed by shock when Harry lurched forward and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Where’s the ring, Ginny?"

"Hey!" Ron stepped between them, shoving his friend away. "What are you talking about?"

"She brought the ring here!" Harry shouted, allowing his panic to show.

"What?" Ron now turned on her, stepping away to side with the others gaining up against her. "Why would you do that? Do you know how dangerous it is?"

"Forget that, where is it now?" Hermione asked harshly.

Ginny grit her teeth against their assault. "I was under the impression that it belonged to all of us, remember that Harry?"

"Where is it Ginny?" Ron asked.

"I gave it to Malfoy. We needed to use it to escape some Dementors. He put it on, I helped him get it off and he took it from me."

"Where’s Draco?" Harry asked.

"Unconscious at one of the healing houses." Ron responded. "Come on!" He, Harry and Hermione took off. Ginny began to follow, but Luna stopped her.

"Are you sure Draco still has the ring?" She asked, looking at Ginny intently.

Strengthening the barricades around her mind, she answered evenly. "Well, I can’t be sure, but I know he put it in his pocket. We were separated for awhile and I found him passed out. I didn’t think to look for the ring, seeing as how we were busy carrying him to the healers."

Luna said nothing. Simply shook her head and followed after the others. Ginny felt like the other girl had looked right through her.

(BREAK)

Molly waved smelling salts beneath Draco’s nose. He awoke with a sneeze and appeared surprised to find them all surrounding him. "What happened?" he asked shakily.

"You tell us." Harry said. He wanted the ring back, but Draco appeared so disoriented, and so haggard that pity made him find patience.

"I don’t know. I was trying to help with the Dementors, they were on the roof but I didn’t want to try and climb up there… and then… I don’t know."

"Sheer exhaustion, I suspect." The healer said. "You are extremely malnurished and underweight. I’m surprised you lasted as long as you did. Here, eat some of this it should help." She gave him a large piece of chocolate. Then handed smaller pieces out to the rest of them. "You should all take some as well, it help counteract the effects of being around the Dementors for so long." Giving them a smile, she walked away to help someone else.

"Where’s the ring?" Harry asked quietly.

"In my pocket." Draco responded. Harry watched as Draco tried to reach with the arm that wasn’t there before remembering his affliction. He felt his pity grow tenfold. Then Draco’s face grew white. He brought his hand out of his pocket empty. "It isn’t there!"

He tried to sit up, but Harry and Ron held him in place. "Stop, you need to relax." Harry said.

"But it could be anywhere! Anyone could have it!" Draco looked miserable. "I told her she was stupid for bringing it here. Guess I was stupid to think I could keep it safe for you." Harry and the others looked at Ginny, who was hanging in the back of the room.

"It’ll be alright." Luna said, placing her hand over his. "I know we’re going to find it."

"How do you know?" Harry asked eagerly.

She turned and stared at him before carefully responding, "I just know."

"Oh my god!" Hermione shouted suddenly. "Moony!"

"What? What’s wrong?" Harry asked.

"I left him there with Harland when I saw you guys go down, come on!" she ran from the house the others hot on her heels.

"Who’s Harland?" Ron shouted.

"Bad werewolf!" Hermione responded. They followed her through a backyard and around the corner, stopping short at the sight before them.

"Remus?" Harry asked quietly as he approached his friend. Lupin lay on the ground with jagged claw marks across his face, long bloody gashes that turned Harry’s stomach. Kneeling down he saw the slight rise and fall of Lupin’s chest telling him that his friend was still alive… barely. They needed to get him some help, and soon.





A/N: Whew…that was a long battle scene to get out. A lot going down next chapter, so look for it soon! Stop and leave a review, I answer them all, and enjoy reading your thoughts. See you all next time!

Chapter 12: True Deceptions

NOTE: Okay, sorry for the delay in getting this one out, but life has interrupted my writing spree. I’m back to putting words on paper now, so I’m going to push out as much as I can. The last two chapters felt intense to write, hopefully some of that came through to you guys as you read. We’ll be slowing things down a bit now, but don’t expect to get bored, what we lack in action, we’ll have in intrigue. This chapter is about exploring truths and motives, so read on, review when you’re done and enjoy it thoroughly!

 

 
St. Mungo’s was a flurry of activity. Harry watched everyone, feeling more hopeful than the last time he had been there. After all, they’d brought live bodies this time. Tonks sat next to him, stiff as a board and staring straight ahead. She held Harry’s hand tightly, and he was beginning to lose circulation, but said nothing. Lupin would be fine, Harry was sure they had gotten him there in time. Hermione had filled them all in on Harland Myers, and recent reports from Lairmore indicate he was not among the captured. Nor was Lucius, to Draco’s disappointment. In fact, it appeared the elder Malfoy hadn’t been there at all.

What was the point of it all? Harry wondered to himself. Why had they attacked and destroyed a village, injured all those families? Simply to spread terror? And why not show up yourself, prove how terrifying you really are? But like Lucius, Voldemort hadn’t shown himself. Had they known the Order would be there? Was Snape somehow compromised? Had it been a test to see if they had a mole?

"Well, Hagrid and Madame Maxime are off." Arthur said as he finally entered the waiting room. Everyone had thought it best that they go to the giants immediately, and strike the Azkaban deal as quickly as possible, before their new captives had a chance to escape.

"And everyone else?" Harry asked eagerly.

"I just heard from Molly, they are all safely at your house." Arthur assured him. "What’s the news around here?"

"Nothing yet." Tonks said quietly.

"And Draco."

"Same as Lupin." Harry answered. "No one’s come to talk to us about anything."

"Well, they have all the villagers to attend to as well, we’ve made them pretty busy tonight. But let’s see if being the minister can finally help me out." Arthur winked at them before heading off to talk to the healers.

"He’ll be okay." Harry told Tonks.

"I know. He always is." She said sadly. Harry felt taken aback. He pictured Hermione and Ron in their places, Ron reassuring Hermione that Harry would be fine, and Hermione hanging her head replying, "He always is." In that horrible tone, devoid of emotion, trying not to feel.

Lupin had been hurt one week before marrying Tonks, in Hogsmeade. He’d been hurt bad then, and this time was worse. How many times had Harry ended up in the infirmary? So many times, Madame Pomfrey’s face would forever be emblazoned in his memory. And how many times had he awoken to worried faces all around him, to Hermione at his side holding his hand? So many, he couldn’t clearly remember them all. George and Neville were already gone, and Lupin was the only remaining survivor of his friends. How many more risks could they all take before fate caught up with them?

(BREAK)

Molly brought them all back to Grimmauld place while Harry, Tonks and Arthur followed Lupin and Draco to St. Mungo’s. Luna’s body was exhausted, but her mind was a whirlwind. She knew what she had seen, and Ginny was denying it. Luna had wanted to get there before Ginny had the chance, but they were too late. She knew Ginny had taken the ring from Draco, she knew Ginny was claiming she didn’t have it and she knew that Ginny wanted the others to blame Draco. What she didn’t know was why. What was Ginny’s goal?

"Will you wait with me? Just until they come home." Hermione asked as they started up the stairs. Luna wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but she knew Hermione was worried. She was too, Draco hadn’t looked good and Lupin had looked worse. So she followed Hermione up to her room and they sat together in silence for a long while, each wrapped up in their own thoughts.

"Why would she risk bringing the ring out of the house?" Hermione asked finally. Luna was surprised to learn that her friend had been meditating along similar lines.

"I don’t know." Luna replied honestly.

"And that crack about it belonging to all of us, what was that? What did you see?"

"I saw her with the ring." Luna again replied honestly. She left out the method of obtaining it, still unsure what Ginny’s aim was and whether it fit into the ultimate final path. She hadn’t received a vision that anything had changed, not yet.

"And?"

"And nothing. There was nothing after that, she just had the ring and I came back and we were in the woods."

"So where is it now? Is Draco lying?" Hermione asked.

"He doesn’t have it. I know that for a fact." Luna defended him.

"Then where is it?" Hermione asked again.

"Are you thirsty?" Luna asked suddenly. "I need something to drink if we’re going to speculate all night, you want something while I’m down there?"

"Some water, I guess." Hermione responded uncertainly. "Thanks."

Luna closed the door and sighed into the hallway. She didn’t want to lie to Hermione, she made it a point never to lie to any of her friends. But soon they would all be asking her the same question, and she had to figure out what to tell them. It was time to go see Ginny.

(BREAK)

"Draco’s awake, and asking for you." Arthur returned to the waiting room and approached Harry.

"Me?"

"Says he has something to talk to you about." Arthur shrugged. "Remus has been stabilized. He lost a lot of blood, and it was difficult to find the right match for someone with his condition. But they seem to think he’ll be okay. He’s been given a sedative and is asleep, but they say you guys can go in there."

"You go, have some alone time. I’ll be there after I see Draco." Harry told Tonks. She nodded and followed Arthur as he led the way. Harry made his way to Draco’s room.

He opened the door carefully and saw Draco looking small and weak in the hospital bed. "Never thought you’d get the chance to see me like this, huh, Potter?" Draco sneered.

"Is something different?" Harry asked coming in the room.

Draco laughed. "So this is what it feels like to be a good guy. I’m not sure I like it."

"I’m not sure I like it either, to be honest. But it’s better than the alternative."

"Easy for you to say, you never lived the alternative." Draco answered with a hint of bitterness. "I don’t have that ring." He said suddenly.

"I believe you." Harry answered in surprise. "Why do you think I don’t?"

"Used to it, I guess. I didn’t know she had it until long after we all got split up, so I didn’t tell her to bring it either."

"I know. I don’t think anyone could tell Ginny what to do at this point." Harry shook his head. "Did she say why she had it?"

"She said she thought you’d need it and then offered to let me use it instead." Draco yawned widely.

"What’s she thinking?" Harry asked, more to himself than Draco. "Look you need to rest up, so don’t worry, we aren’t out there planning your execution or anything, I know you had nothing to do with that ring disappearing."

Harry closed the door behind him and closed his eyes, leaning against the wall. He hoped Ginny was lying about not having the ring, since he knew Draco wasn’t. Otherwise, they had a big problem on their hands.

(BREAK)

Ron was sufficiently stuffed. The kitchen had been the first place he had gone when they got home, knowing that his mother would immediately be making comfort food, enough to feed the army of people that would be sure to stop by. He climbed the stairs to his room, feeling ready to sleep for the rest of the summer.

Hearing someone coming down from the top floor he waited on the landing and watched as Luna appeared and marched straight over to Ginny’s door and knocked loudly. He guessed that she wanted to ask about the ring and felt a sudden protectiveness for his sister. Sure it was just about the stupidest thing she’d ever done, but she had to have a good reason, and after what they had all just gone through, she deserved a bit of peace before the inquisition occurred. However, his own desire to not confront Luna kept him from acting. Ginny was a big girl and Luna was too kind to cause trouble. After the last conversation he’d had with his ex and the crushing blow to his self-esteem it had caused, he was willing to let Ginny lose a bit of sleep in order for him to avoid Luna.

He waited until she went in before continuing on his way. He knew that even with his shields up, she probably had known he was there. She and Harry made him feel vulnerable, small even. He was just another player in the game, a pawn that could be sacrificed while protecting them- the knights, the bishops, hell, they could be the king and queen of this war. He threw his wizard’s chessboard across the room, scattering the pieces. He didn’t want to be alone, he was free to pursue his thoughts with no one else to focus on, and they were depressing him. He strode to his broom cabinet and opened it to go through to Hermione’s room.

"Hey." She said with a bit of surprise. "What’s up?"

"Just didn’t want to be alone." He said wandering along her bookshelves.

"Well, just to warn you, Luna will probably be back up here in a few minutes."

"So she isn’t expecting her conversation with Ginny to take long, huh?"

She looked surprised. "Luna went to talk to Ginny?"

"I just saw her go in her room." He told her. "Why, where did she say she was going?"

"It doesn’t matter. You okay?" Hermione sat up on her knees at the edge of the bed and motioned that he come sit next to her.

"Physically, I’m all good. Otherwise, I guess I’m as okay as you are." He sat and stared at the floor. "Do you ever think about what life is going to be like after this is all over? Both ways, I mean, whether we win or lose."

"Of course I have. It’s only natural."

"But do you think, even if we win, that it will be better?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, right now, life is- terrifying, yes- but it’s also exciting. We never know what going to happen, every situation could mean life or death. Everything is intensified: our feelings, our emotions, our determination, fights, decisions, needs, wants. What happens when it’s all over and we have to live the rest of our lives quietly, just like everyone else? I mean Harry will probably never have a quiet life, but the rest of us?"

She shook her head, "I think we could all do with a little quiet in our lives."

"And when the boredom sets in?"

"The desire for things to be exciting all the time will hopefully pass with age and maturity. And do you really think this will all end over night? Who knows how long until we actually get Voldemort, and after that, how long until we subdue all of his followers? We’re likely looking at years of this life, and you and Harry can become big bad Aurors and chase down danger until your heart is content. It’s not like it’s all going to drastically change in a moment. And besides, Luna apparently has this whole vision of how things turn out and it ends well and we’re all happy."

"So she says. How does she know what it takes to make everyone else happy?"

"At this point, Ron, I’d say she’s the only person besides Dumbledore who I consider to know more than I do."

"I liked it better when you didn’t like her." Ron grumbled.

"It’s hard not to like her, isn’t it, Ron. You really screwed that one up."

"Thanks. Glad I came in here." He shoved her playfully and she slugged him back.

"Ron, I think that as long as we all get along, we’ll be okay."

"And you and Ginny?"

"We have reached an agreement to leave each other alone."

"Before or after she knocked you out?" he laughed and she slugged him again.

"I did it to myself." She insisted, crossing her arms.

"You’re the only one who believes that."

"So be it, I’m not saying any different."

A comfortable silence settled and Ron felt himself relaxing. Even if Luna came back, he felt he would be alright, with Hermione there as a referee. That thought made him remember the apparent task that had driven Luna from the room in the first place. "I wonder why Ginny brought the ring there…you don’t think she intended to hand it off to someone?"

"I don’t think well of Ginny right now, but I doubt she would switch sides."

"Draco did." Ron pointed out. "So did Percy." He added quietly.

"But Ginny’s different. I don’t think she’d join Voldemort, it would mean giving up too much of her own independence. She’s not one to follow orders or fall in line, right? So forget that and let it go, because I’m getting mad that you’re forcing me to defend her."

"I just don’t know what to think about her anymore. That was the worst thing I could think of, and then I realized that was the only thing I could think of. Why else would she bring it?"

"Well, let’s hope Luna can find out."

(BREAK)

"What do you want?" Ginny asked, upset Luna had finally picked that moment to start wanting to talk to her again.

"You know what I want, Ginny. I want you to give me the ring so I can give it back to Harry."

Ginny felt her anger build. The fact that she did have the ring did nothing to lessen her anger that her so called friends would automatically accuse her. "Even if I did have it, why would I give it to you? So you can rush it off to Harry and be the hero while I’m once again the villain?"

"If you give it to me, I’ll tell them that I went back to Lairmore and found it." Luna offered as she shifted her weight uncomfortably. Ginny knew Luna wasn’t a liar. She could withhold truth until the end of time, but she had never known her to actually lie.

"I don’t have it."

"And you know that I know that you do."

"You can leave now." Ginny said harshly, motioning Luna to the door. "You know when you came in here, I really thought you came to finally try and talk to me like a friend, instead you come and hurl accusations at me."

"I know what I saw, I know Draco’s story and that it’s the truth, and I know how suspiciously you’re acting, even for how you’ve been lately. Why did you bring it out there in the first place?"

To be honest, Ginny hadn’t had a clear plan when she had brought the ring with her to Lairmore. She had found Harry’s door open earlier that day and had had the sudden desire to put the ring on, to call up George, maybe Neville. Without thinking, she had gone in and taken the ring, but when she had gotten back to her room she had been filled with dread. Wearing the obnoxious piece of jewelry had begun to give her a headache, just a dull thud. But she saw Harry and Fred walking around in obvious pain and didn’t want that for herself. Her head ached enough just from the weight of her own thoughts, she didn’t need anything extra. But Harry had already gone back in his room and she couldn’t bring herself to give it back, to admit she had gone in his room and taken something so important. And then they were all leaving for Lairmore and she didn’t have time to do anything other than put it in her pocket.

"Ginny?" Luna prodded, ending Ginny’s memory. "Why did you take it?" she asked gently.

She shook her head, "I don’t know. Okay? I had the ring, I was going to talk to George, I put it in my pocket and forgot until Draco and I were in trouble and needed to use it."

"I half believe you. Why are you lying to me?" Luna tried to step closer, but Ginny moved away. "I don’t have to tell the others anything we talk about, Ginny. You and I, we go way back, before the others even knew I existed."

"Yeah, we do, but you sure forgot about me pretty quickly once they started to like you, huh?"

"No, Ginny, you forgot about us. You lost yourself in this new person you decided to become. To be honest, I don’t want to be around you anymore, I don’t like this new you, this unfamiliar girl. She’s mean, sneaky, vindictive. She lies and steals and betrays her friends. She’s always angry and sad, and she’s selfish. Would you want to be around someone like that?"

"You all want answers from me, why are you like this Ginny? Why can’t you get past everything like the rest of us Ginny? What’s wrong with you Ginny? Well you know what…I don’t have any answers! I can’t tell you what happened alright! I feel what I feel and I did what I did and I can’t change it."

"I only have one question for you Ginny." Luna’s voice was strong despite Ginny’s outcry. "Why did you take the ring from Draco and lie about it?"

"I didn’t." Ginny stuck her chin out and crossed her arms. She didn’t know why she was sticking to her story, they obviously weren’t buying it. But she wanted her plan to work, it had been formed once the opportunity had presented itself, but she felt it was the best way. She wanted to drive a wedge between the new friendship blossoming between Draco and the others, to have someone who was her friend and hers alone. She had lost Luna, and Draco was now her only other option.

"You did. I saw you doing it." Luna admitted.

Ginny knew they had arrived long after she had taken the ring back, so the only other way that could be true was if- "So you had some stupid vision and I’m supposed to take that as fact? You say yourself how unreliable they are, that they can change as quickly as someone changing their mind." She looked Luna in the eye and saw the other girl wasn’t buying what she was trying to sell. Ginny sighed and looked away. "Alright, I was going to take it back. Okay, I was going to and I don’t know why I wanted it, but when I searched his pockets it wasn’t there. He was laying there, unconscious and I was more worried about finding the ring than getting him some help. And then you guys came running up and I felt terrible. I don’t like the way I think or the things I do, alright? I’m not proud, but it wasn’t on him, and I don’t have it now."

"Ginny-" Luna began.

But Ginny didn’t want to hear anymore, and she certainly didn’t want to be accused anymore. Knowing Luna was feeling determined and was unlikely to be swayed into leaving, Ginny took it upon herself and fled her room. She walked quickly to the kitchen, where the aroma of her mother’s cooking still wafted from. Molly was bustling around the room as Kingsley and Mad-eye sat at the table, waiting for Arthur and Harry.

Ginny felt safer in there, the adults were so adorably clueless to the drama running rampant through the teens. Luna wouldn’t continue their talk here, Ginny was sure, so she sat and gladly took the full plate her mother put in front of her. She smiled warmly at Luna when the other girl entered, and felt a slight tug of satisfaction at the other girl’s obvious frustration. Luna politely declined Molly’s offer of food, instead getting two glasses of water and returning upstairs.

(BREAK)

Harry Left Lupin’s room feeling drained. His friend had looked better, but was resting comfortably in his bed, the deep gashes across his face now just long scratches. Tonks had refused to come stay at the house, choosing to remain with her husband in the hospital. He had understood and left her without argument.

Arthur was waiting outside the room. "You ready to go home?"

"You have no idea." Harry sounded tired, even to himself.

They made their way to the car in silence and settled in for the short ride back to Grimmauld Place. The gentle motion of the car and the comfortable quiet began to lull Harry into a light sleep, but he was startled awake when Arthur finally spoke. "Didn’t get the chance to tell you earlier, I had dropped Miss Chang’s letters off with Mr. Crescent at the Ministry."

"Oh yeah?"

"I certainly did. Not to worry either, Edgar Crescent is the tops. Old Edgar will figure it out and hopefully none of the rest of you will be bothered by these little incidents Cho is arranging."

Harry appreciated the hopeful tone Arthur used when delivering his news. But hopeful wasn’t what Harry was feeling. "How many people died out there tonight?"

"What?"

"At Lairmore. How many people died, and how many had their souls sucked out?"

"Why on earth would you want to know something like that for, Harry?"

"Why won’t you tell me?" Harry countered, not understanding his sudden need for that knowledge personally. "I know you have the tally by now."

"It’s not important. You and the rest of the kids are okay. All of our friends are okay. Can’t that be enough?"

"What you mean is no one important died."

"Harry-"

"Not caring about all those people fighting with us and dying, does it make us any better than him?"

"Everyone at that village, on both sides, knew that death was a possibility when they choose to be there, yourself included. You stayed anyway as did everyone else. It was a choice. And think of it this way Harry, had Luna fallen from your broom and died, we all would have been devastated, but to other families there, they would be thanking their stars that it hadn’t happened to anyone they loved. She would have been just another body to them. It doesn’t make them terrible people. And the fact that it bothers you at all is proof enough of the fact that you have a conscious and that makes you every bit better than him."

Harry felt strange, like he was in the middle of an actual father/son moment, or how he always imagined it would feel to talk to his father. He appreciated Arthur more and more and knew that the best way return the favor was to show his appreciation. So caught up in the moment, he said the first true, kind thing he could think of. "I wish I had known you all my life, Arthur. I think your words would have gotten me through some very hard times."

Arthur smiled and looked at Harry out of the corner of his eye. "We know each other now Harry, and so we’ll be family forever."

They arrived a few minutes later, no longer conversing, having said everything that needed to be said in a few short words. Harry had been seeking comfort and assurance and Arthur had provided it. They went into the house and were immediately assaulted by Molly who ushered them into the kitchen wanting to know everything about Lupin and Draco’s conditions. Kingsley and Mad-eye were also eagerly awaiting news, but it was Ginny’s presence that made Harry suddenly uncomfortable. Obviously he couldn’t confront her here in front of the adults, and he began to doubt he could confront her at all. Maybe he should talk to Ron and Fred and they could all sort of have a go at it together, that way no one would blame him if Ginny freaked out. Not that he thought she would, but the possibility was there. After all, she had already punched Hermione, though truthfully he didn’t know the exact circumstances leading up to the act. He was sure his fiancé wasn’t completely blameless. Regardless, with Ginny sitting there and him wanting so badly to shake her and demand she answer for her behavior, he couldn’t remain. He excused himself, claiming exhaustion.

Luckily, Molly was the worrying sort. "Oh of course you should go on to bed, dear. No one expects you to sit here and prop your head up for our benefit, you all need sleep. In fact, Ginny you should head off soon too. Although are you sure you don’t want to eat a little something first, Harry?"

He looked at the full plate in front of Ginny, steam still rising from the food, hot from the stove. "You can stuff me full in the morning, I promise. But I want sleep more than eat right now." He kissed Molly’s cheek, bid the others good night and headed to his room.

(BREAK)

Hermione and Ron had begun going through the ministry documents as an exercise to stay awake. After a short while there was a knock on the door. Hermione got up to answer and Luna entered carrying two glasses of water, giving a start once realizing Ron was there as well. She shook it off quickly and handed Hermione her glass.

"Thanks, where did you go to get it, a well in the middle of nowhere?" Hermione asked, wondering if Luna would tell her the truth. She wasn’t disappointed.

"Actually, I stopped by Ginny’s room first." Luna answered with a shrug, sitting on the floor.

"What did she have to say for herself?" Ron asked. Hermione was proud of him, trying to get along and act normal with his ex.

"Nothing much as usual. She says she doesn’t have the ring." Thankfully, Luna was taking Ron’s lead. Hermione felt hopeful that they would soon be friends again. After all, reconciliation had to start somewhere.

"You don’t believe her, do you?" Ron asked.

"No, I don’t. But I don’t know why she’s lying."

Suddenly there was another knock on the door, but before Hermione could rise to answer it, the knob turned and Harry let himself in. She wanted nothing more than to shout his name in relief and run into his arms. But she felt that the act would be a bit dramatic, especially since they had an audience. Instead she settled for a smile, hoping he could read the thoughts in her eyes. She refused to lower the walls in her mind and let him see her actual thoughts, though, feeling it unfair that he have the advantage.

"How’s Lupin?" Ron asked eagerly.

"And Draco?" Luna added.

"They’re both fine, or they will be anyway." Harry answered tiredly. He came and sat on the bed next to Hermione, taking her hand as the other two gathered around. "Remus’s wounds are already healing, and they replaced the blood he lost. He was sleeping when I left and Tonks is with him."

"Good." Ron nodded.

"Yeah. Draco’s a bit of a different story though, I guess. The healers told Arthur that Draco was suffering from extreme stress and depression. It’s made him lose too much weight, made him lose too much sleep. They said his body just sort of gave up on him." Harry looked down in despair. Hermione could imagine how he felt- the guilt of knowing that Draco’s condition was partly due to the fact that he had chosen to forsake everything he knew to help them, to join them; as well as the worry that he may not get better. After all, who would have ever thought they would care about what happened to Draco Malfoy?

"What does that mean for him?" She asked.

"They aren’t sure yet, I guess. They’re giving him a bunch of herbal treatments to increase his hunger and need to sleep. They want him to put on quite a bit of weight before school starts or they won’t allow him to go, due to medical condition."

"What? That’s ridiculous." Ron said.

"Not really if you think about it." Hermione responded. "They want him less stressed, you think Hogwarts will do that? Not only is it 7th year, but he also has to face all those kids he used be friends with, not to mention the ones he’s wronged. The thought is probably one of the things keeping him up at night, I know it would me."

"He asked to see me before he passed out for the night." Harry said suddenly. "Made it a point to tell me he wasn’t lying about the ring."

"Luna was just telling us how after talking to Ginny, she was sure that Ginny was lying about not having it." Hermione informed him.

"Yeah? What did she say exactly?"

Luna sighed. "Just that she didn’t have it. She claimed she looked for it when she found Draco passed out, but it wasn’t there."

"And how do you know she’s lying? For sure?" Ron asked.

"I saw her do it." Luna answered. "I had a vision in the woods and saw her take it out of his pockets. And besides, I just know. You know it too. We all do. I don’t know why she’s sticking to her story." And then Hermione caught the look that passed between Harry and Luna. They were communicating silently, something for only them to know. She felt a stab of jealousy, and let it pass. She and Ron had private conversations that Harry and Luna didn’t need to know about. Why couldn’t they do the same? Sure, she didn’t do it in front of them, but then, she didn’t have the ability. All the same, she wondered what they were saying.

"So now what? Do we just go and take it from her?" Ron asked.

"No." Harry answered sharply. "I want to see what she’s planning."

"You make it sound like she’s up to something sinister." Ron said defensively. "I mean, I didn’t think she had the best intentions either, but what exactly do expect to find?"

"Nothing but the truth, Ron. If we discover her motive, then we can understand why she did it and try and help her." Harry answered.

They discussed it for a while longer but Hermione noticed how quickly Harry ended the conversation. Everyone said goodnight and Ron and Luna went down to their rooms. Hermione turned and without thinking asked, "So what were you and Luna talking about?" Apparently she hadn’t let go of her jealousy like she thought.

"What?" he asked as he climbed into her bed for the night.

"I saw you two." She said in a light, bantering tone. She didn’t want him to think she was upset. She didn’t think she was anyway. "You guys got all quiet and did your little mind thing. I was just wondering what it was about." She climbed in next to him.

"Oh, that. It was about Ginny. She wants to talk to me about something they talked about and I wanted to compare notes based on what Draco said to me."

"And you guys couldn’t say that in front of us because…?"

"I don’t know, I guess she doesn’t want to upset Ron. But if she got anything out of Ginny, I want to know. As for now, it’s comforting to know the ring is at least still in the house and not out there in god knows who’s hands."

"Well if it’s so important, go talk to her." Hermione urged him.

"Oh it’s important, but I told her I’d talk to her tomorrow. Right now, I want nothing more than to be right here with you." And he took her in his arms and held her close. It was all she had wanted since they all got out of Lairmore with their lives, to hold him tightly and feel the comfort of his love.

(BREAK)

Draco woke with a start. He looked around the unfamiliar room and remembered he was in the hospital. He wasn’t sure what had woken him until he heard the second thump from outside his door. He knew Mr. Weasley had set up guards outside his room, and he wondered what they were doing. The IV in his arm, delivering fluids and nutrients to his blood kept him from rising. Not that he could if he wanted to, he felt so weak and worn out. He thought about calling out to the Aurors, but for some reason, he was suddenly gripped with terror, and his throat tightened uncomfortably.

When he saw the knob turn slowly, he felt like screaming, but couldn’t make his vocal chords work. He swallowed hard instead. The door opened and he lay in anticipation. A tall dark figure stood in the doorway. In the light from the hallway, Draco could make out the slumped over bodies of his guards.

"Hello, Draco." A gruff voice greeted him. He recognized it instantly, though he hadn’t heard it since he was a small child, before the werewolf had gone into hiding somewhere in Europe. He had been glad when Harland Myers left, the man had actually evoked nightmares in Draco when he was young. He was definitely nothing like Remus Lupin.

"What do you want?" Draco asked, trying to keep his voice hard and steady.

"Quite a lot actually. So why don’t we get started. Then I can go pay a visit to my dear old friend down the hall and the pretty little witch he mated with." Harland dragged the Aurors’ bodies into the room and closed the door. Draco desperately tried to call for the healers, for anyone. And then Harland turned to him and smiled.

 
 

A/N: Trouble’s a brewing, isn’t it, muwhahahahaha cliffhanger! A lot’s happening and there’s a lot more to cover coming up. Next chapter: Luna is flooded with visions of the future, news from Edgar about Cho’s letters, we learn the history of Harland Myers, letters arrive from Hogwarts, apperating lessons are set up, and oh yeah, we find out what Harland has done to Draco….so stay tuned, next chapter is coming soon!

Chapter 13: A Howling History

NOTE: Hi! Welcome back, a lot to cover, this will be a longish chapter. So let’s get right into it. Read, Review and Enjoy!

 


Luna woke up screaming. She had been dreaming at first, something innocuous, that had morphed into a scene of terror. She had been lying in a hospital bed, when a menacing figure entered and stood over her. He had the body of a man, but the face of a wolf, and she knew instantly who he was though she had never seen him before in her life. Harland Myers.

Only she wasn’t in the hospital, she was in her room at Harry’s house. But she knew that the dream wasn’t about her anyway. Draco was in trouble. She threw off the covers and raced up the stairs to the top floor, mentally shouting Harry’s name. By the time she reached the landing he was sleepily opening Hermione’s door.

As soon as he saw her face he seemed to become fully awake. "Luna, what’s wrong?"

"We have to get to St. Mungo’s! Right now! Harland is after Draco, and probably Lupin!" she said quickly.

He never even questioned her. Instead, he ran to Arthur and Molly’s room, rousing them and relaying Luna’s message. Arthur had instantly apparated to the hospital, telling Molly to get word to the Ministry. By then, everyone was awake and Luna filled them all in on what she had dreamed. She only hoped she had received the vision in time.

(BREAK)

Harry wanted nothing more than to apparate to the hospital with Arthur. Instead, since he didn’t know how, he was forced to sit in the parlor with the others and wait for information. He felt like a child all over again, left behind because he didn’t have the skill. Fred had, of course, wanted to go with his father, but Molly had put her foot down. Apparently, she knew who Harland was and she was scared of him and what he would do to her family.

Hermione and Ron went upstairs to dress for the day, since no one would be sleeping any longer. Molly made Fred and Ginny help her in the kitchen, getting breakfast together even though it was still dark outside. It was obvious she wanted them under her watchful eye, so that they don’t get any bright ideas about following their father. Harry didn’t think she had to worry about Ginny. Fred was a different story since he knew how to apparate, and Harry had a feeling that if he knew how, Molly would have made him stay with her as well.

Now he was sitting on the couch, Luna was next to him looking deep in thought. Her face was lined with worry and anxiety. He knew how she felt, having seen Arthur being attacked only two years before when he was able to tap into Voldemort’s mind. The knowledge that something terrible was happening, that you had seen it happen and the feeling that you could do nothing about it was terrible. He was glad he had lost that power and for the first time, realized that Luna was always dealing with that kind of pressure. He admired her strength and fortitude. He didn’t think he could handle it.

"It’ll be okay." He tried to reassure her, reaching over to rub her shoulder.

"Maybe." She replied, still staring off into space.

"Well, did you see it ending badly?" he asked.

"I didn’t see it end at all. That’s why I hate having dream visions, they end as soon as I wake up. I’ve been trying to make something else come, but it won’t, so I don’t know. I feel like jumping out of my skin I’m so wound up worrying. I’m about ready to just apparate there myself." She shook her head at the floor.

"It would be nice if we could, wouldn’t it?" he felt the same way. But when he turned to look at her and share his misery, she was deliberately not meeting his eyes. She was keeping a secret; he had learned enough about her to know what her mannerisms were. "What is it, Luna?" he asked gently.

She didn’t say anything at first, and then she turned and whispered, "I can."

"You can what? Apparate?" he said loudly in shock.

"Shhh!" she put a hand over his mouth. "I’m already seventeen, Harry. After Kane died, I stayed home to help out; it forced me to start school a year later than I normally would have. My dad arranged lessons for me last year during the few weeks I wasn’t with you guys on winter break. On my birthday, he took me to take the test and I passed. I didn’t want another reason for people to think I was weird or off somehow, so I kept it all to myself, okay." She removed her hand.

"Okay." He said, though there was a lot more he had wanted to say. "So no one else knows?"

"Not exactly." She hung her head again and he knew she didn’t want to tell him what she was about to. "Hermione knows about my age, but nothing about my brother. Meanwhile, Draco knows all about Kane, but nothing about my age. They each figured it out and I begged for their discretion, so please don’t be angry she didn’t tell you."

And he wasn’t. He agreed that it was Luna’s business to tell what she wanted about herself to whomever she wanted. He certainly hadn’t told everyone everything about his past, only Hermione knew everything. Ron knew parts, and Luna probably knew more than he had told her, but there was nothing he could do about that. So, no he wasn’t upset, another idea was forming in his mind. "How long did it take you to learn?"

"I think I had it after the first lesson, but the instructor disagreed. I guess he wanted to be sure to get paid for all four lessons." She looked at him warily. "But I’m no teacher, Harry."

"I’m sure you’re better than you know, and Fred could help. I have to get to that hospital, Luna. I can’t sit here anymore and wonder."

"That’s not a good idea. They wouldn’t know we were there, what if something goes wrong?"

He felt frustrated, he had thought she would understand, having been the one to actually see the danger. "If I had already known how, Arthur would have let me come with." He argued.

"Okay, but what about Hermione and Ron, they’d want to go too, I’m sure."

"So teach them too, but let’s get on it, Arthur already left more than five minutes ago."

"I think I know an easier way than teaching you guys how to apparate, since that would take time as well." A voice said from the doorway. Harry looked over to see Fred leaning against the wall.

"What’s that?" Harry asked.

"Oh, I just happened to overhear dad last night after you guys got home. He told mum, Kingsley and Mad-eye that he had portkeys set up between here and a bunch of places, in case we ever need to evacuate. One of them will take us to St. Mungo’s." Fred answered with a mischievous grin.

"Where do the others go?" Harry couldn’t hold back his curiosity. Why hadn’t Arthur told him about this? Well, Harry had fled the kitchen quickly last night, maybe he had intended to tell him. He didn’t have to ask how Fred had overheard, since the extendible ears were his favorite invention of the twins.

"Whole bunch of places, the ministry, the Burrow, Azkaban, and a few places I hadn’t heard of. I guess they’re meant to be like safe houses or whatever." Fred grinned again. "Come on! We’re wasting time, and mum will notice I slipped out soon. I’m not so good at making the doubles I conjure speak and if I’m too quiet, she’ll be suspicious. So let’s get the others and go!"

"Where are the portkeys?" Luna asked rising. Apparently any doubts she had were gone, now that they had a way to get there that wouldn’t compromise her.

"In their room. I can’t go in to get it, but Harry can." Fred turned to Harry, who had recently discovered that as master of the house, no room was off limits to him.

"Okay, let’s get Hermione and Ron and go." They crept out of the parlor. Harry glanced in the kitchen and sure enough, there was a Fred double, sitting quietly at the table. It wouldn’t fool anyone who knew the real boy, not for long.

(BREAK)

"I’m not scared of you." Draco said, trying to sound brave. He was terrified actually, but he put on his old mask, the one of the original Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius Malfoy who couldn’t be intimidated. Who was strong and more menacing. He may not feel like that person, but after spending his whole life acting that way, he knew how to pretend.

"I don’t care if you are or not." Harland laughed. "I want answers, and you’re going to give them to me." He walked up to the bed and pulled a syringe out of his pocket. "This is a nice mixture of truth serum and a paralytic agent. It’s a strong potion, brewed by a master alchemist. I’m sure you know of him, he’s your potions professor after all."

Draco watched as Harland inserted the needle into his tube and pushed the plunger. A soft warm feeling enveloped him and his mind seemed to draw back into a swirl of comfort. He tried wiggling his fingers but nothing happened. He could still move his head though, and he shook it violently from side to side, hoping to wake up the rest of him. What had Snape done? Wasn’t he supposed to be helping the Order?

"You can stop struggling. You won’t be able to move from the shoulders down. Can’t paralyze you past that, we need those vocal chords to work. Now, a few questions. First, have you told those idiots with Potter that Snape is a spy?"

"No." It was the truth of course. They had already known, since he was actually a double spy. But Draco didn’t add that. He felt strange, trying to fight the potion so he wouldn’t betray anyone. But it was almost as if there was nothing there to fight, besides the paralysis.

"Hmm. So they don’t know that he is working for us?"

"No." Draco said again automatically. It was a lie, and he was amazed he had told it. Snape’s potion hadn’t worked! Of course, he knew that couldn’t be possible, Snape was too good at what he does. He must have known why they wanted the potion and brewed it special so it would appear to work. Unfortunately, the paralysis had worked, but now Draco had new resolve. If he failed to make Harland believe he was telling the truth, it could compromise Snape as well as the others.

"Why didn’t you tell them?" Harland leaned over him, smelling of dirt and dead leaves and a hint of wet dog.

"Because I’m not helping them. I just needed a place to go after breaking with my father. They were grateful for what I did with Cho and offered to help me. I decided to use them."

"You aren’t helping them? Then why are you fighting with them?"

"To get to my father." Draco said simply. "I hate him, and I want him dead. Like I said, I’m using Potter and the others to get what I want."

"So where are they keeping you? Where is Potter staying?"

Uh oh, time to think quickly. "I don’t know. They blindfold me every time we come and go. They don’t trust me." He hoped it was convincing. Harland was studying him.

"Is Snape working with them?" Harland stared at him.

"He’s pretending to. But they don’t know he’s attending the Death Eater meetings." Draco said as fast as the lie came to him. Any hesitation would give it all away.

"How did they know about the attack on Lairmore?"

"I don’t know." Draco said quickly. "They don’t exactly confide in me. Potter came up to me the other day and said there was a battle coming up and that if I wanted to come and try to find my father I could."

"But he didn’t tell you how he knew?"

"All he said was that the ministry had received information from a reliable source. If you have a traitor in your midst, I doubt it’s Snape, he hates all of those people."

"Another traitor, you mean. You do know that you are on the list of defectors, that you are to be executed on sight." Harland grinned menacingly. Draco said nothing so Harland continued. "I don’t feel right about killing you though, I’ve known you since you were a baby after all. So I got permission for something else, as long as you hadn’t sold us all out completely."

Draco swallowed hard. He thought he knew what Harland was talking about. "Don’t." he said quietly.

"But it’s so brilliant, don’t you see, Draco?" Harland moved closer, leaning further over him so that Draco could feel the man’s hot, rancid breath on his face. "If I turn you, what will your new friends think? You said they already don’t trust you, they couldn’t risk having a Malfoy running around as a werewolf. They’ll have to take you out. Isn’t it poetic? You betray us to help them, and we make it so they have to kill you."

Draco felt his throat close in terror. That was probably exactly what would happen. Sure they dealt with Lupin, but that man was all good, through and through. Plus he was in control, was able to leave when the time came for him to turn. Draco was nowhere near as good on the inside, who knew what becoming a monster would force him to do. If he were Potter, he wouldn’t trust a Malfoy as a werewolf either.

"Just a quick bite." Harland said lifting Draco’s limp arm in his hands. "That’s all it would take. A bite and I’ll be on my way to take care of Remus and his new bride. Of course, you’re the lucky one, I’ll be leaving you alive."

Draco watched in horror as the man raised his arm to his mouth. There was a hungry, predatory awareness in his eyes. Draco turned away, unable to look any longer. He wanted to fight back, to pull his arm away and run. He was helpless, a rag doll left for anyone to come in and play with as they please. He felt the heat from the man’s mouth on his skin, a few drops of saliva. And then he felt the pressure as Harland’s lips and teeth surrounded the flesh of his arm. All he had left to wait for was the sting of pain.

"Hey!" Someone shouted. Draco turned to find Arthur Weasley standing at his door. Harland emitted a low growl from deep within, and before Draco knew what was happening, the creature pounced. Arthur ran down the hall, the werewolf hot on his trail. Draco looked down at his arm, but couldn’t see clearly in the dark. Had Harland broken the skin? He wanted to reach over to turn on the light, but his body still wouldn’t cooperate.

(BREAK)

"I don’t feel right about this." Hermione said.

"Noted. Go ahead, Harry open the door." Fred urged.

Harry hesitated, feeling like he was intruding. They were gathered in front of the Weasley’s room, and Harry had his hand on the knob. He took a deep breath and twisted, opening the door for them all. Fred and Ron walked right in, but Harry stayed in the hallway with Hermione and Luna, still feeling bad about entering someone else’s room without their permission.

"So what is it, what does the portkey look like?" Ron asked his brother.

"I’m not sure. It’s probably one of these things." Fred indicated the random objects on the dresser.

"Harry?" Hermione was calling for his attention. He turned to see Luna’s eyes roll up in her head. She began to sway on her feet and he and Hermione reached out to steady her. She seemed to snap out it more quickly this time, but the look on her face horrified him.

"Luna, what is it?" Harry asked in fear.

"We have to get there, he’s going to try and bite Draco, to turn him!" She ran into the room and stared at the dresser. "It’s that one." She pointed to a small statue of Merlin.

"Okay, if you say so." Fred answered as they gathered around. All at once they reached out and touched the object. Harry felt the familiar tug as they were whipped through time and space to the waiting room at St. Mungo’s.

"Come on! His room is this way!" Harry shouted.

"Hey! What are you kids doing? It’s after hours, you can’t be running around here!" the woman at the desk called after them. But they paid her no attention.

Harry skidded to a stop outside Draco’s room and motioned the others to get behind him.

He looked quickly into the room and saw the two guards that were stationed outside Draco’s room lying motionless just inside the door. Nodding to the others, they all drew their wands. Harry poked his head around the doorframe again and saw Draco lying very still in his bed. He appeared to be alone. "Draco?" Harry called cautiously.

"Potter? Go! Harland is chasing Mr. Weasley! They went to the left!" Draco shouted.

Ron and Fred had run off immediately, before Harry could stop them. They disappeared around the corner, leaving Harry in very awkward position. He needed to follow them, to help Arthur and his sons. But doing so would leave Hermione, Luna and Draco vulnerable. He made a choice and stayed, hoping the Weasley’s could handle themselves. Luckily he didn’t have to feel guilty long, Kingsley, Mad-eye and several Aurors came down the hall a moment later.

"Harry? What are you kids doing here?" Kingsley asked.

"Luna saw Harland attacking Draco in a vision. Arthur, Fred and Ron are chasing him around the hospital. They went that way." Harry answered.

"Okay." Kingsley said. "Mad-eye, you and Lace stay with the kids, the rest of you, let’s go!" and the Aurors took off.

"Come on then, let’s go in the room." Mad-eye shooed them all from the hallway.

"But Lupin! And Tonks! They’re down the hall, what if Harland goes there?" Harry asked worriedly.

"Lace, go check on them. First, take care of those two." Mad-eye instructed, indicating the two dead men on the floor. Lace left to carry out orders, floating the lifeless bodies in front of him.

"Did he bite you?" Luna asked Draco.

"I’m not sure, I can’t see clearly in the dark and I can’t raise my arm to see it better."

Mad-eye flipped on the lights and they all gasped. Draco’s good arm lay limply next to him, large teeth marks on his forearm. A small pool of blood collected under, as small drops still dribbled down his arm from the wound. Draco closed his eyes and turned away. Harry felt that had they not been there, the other boy would have cried.

"Well, you’re screwed now, boy." Mad-eye said, lifting Draco’s arm for a better look. "Better clean it up at least." And he pulled open a drawer, took out some gauze and began wrapping the wound.

"What happened, Draco?" Hermione asked gently.

"He came in here with some potion." Draco answered, his tone devoid of all emotion. "He said Snape made it, that it was a truth serum with paralytic tendencies. But I guess Snape fixed it so that it would only paralyze me. They must have told him why they wanted to use it."

"What did he ask you?" Harry moved closer, feeling deep sympathy for his new friend. He had been through quite a lot in a very short amount of time.

Draco ran through all the questions he had been asked, adding his fear that Snape may be compromised. Draco looked up at him with eyes so full of devastation and fear that Harry had to look away. This wasn’t the same Draco Malfoy, not anymore. And all these horrible things had happened to him because he chose to join Harry, making Harry feel more guilty than he already had.

"And you told him nothing?" Mad-eye asked urgently.

"Of course not. I told him that you guys don’t trust me." Draco paused and looked directly at Harry. "So what happens now? When are you guys going to kill me?"

(BREAK)

Ron followed Fred as they raced down the halls. Occasionally they shouted for their father, but received no answer. He was getting worried. He didn’t know this Harland character, but he had already put Lupin in the hospital, tried to attack Draco and was now chasing down their father. Ron hoped they weren’t too late. He also hoped Arthur had gotten there in time to keep Draco from being turned. The idea of him being a werewolf was more than Ron could stand to think about.

"Wait." Fred screeched to a halt, and Ron almost ran into him. "Listen." Fred instructed. They could hear strange sounds, like two people fighting coming from down the hall, behind the doors leading to the cafeteria. They carefully made their way into the large room, but it was empty. The sounds were coming from further back, in the kitchens. Peering through the doors, they saw Arthur with his back against the wall, his wand in one hand, a long butcher’s knife in the other. Harland also had his wand out, and though both men were dueling heavily, he tried to lunge at Arthur every chance he got. That’s when Arthur would swing the knife, keeping the man and his poisoned teeth out of biting range.

"Okay, on three we go in together and take him by surprise. Throw a stunner at him." Fred instructed. Ron nodded his agreement. He felt nervous and alive, just as he always did before they all did something dangerous. His heart was pounding so hard and fast that he was sure the predator on the other side of the door could hear it.

Fred counted silently and on three they threw the doors open together and shouted. "Stupefy!" But it appeared Harland had been ready for them. He dodged out of the way and turned on them.

"No!" Arthur cried and threw out a spell to shield his sons from the attack. Moments later the kitchen doors flew open again and Kingsley charged through with a dozen other Aurors.

"Surrender, Harland." Kingsley demanded.

"You know better than that." Harland said raising his hand and waving a finger in their direction. And then he was gone, apparated to somewhere else.

(BREAK)

"Kill you?" Draco was momentarily pleased with the confused look Potter gave him. Draco had thought that disposing of him would have been their first thought.

"Yes, kill me. I’m infected, I’ve been bitten. And unlike your friend Lupin, I’m not such a good guy underneath it all. Who knows what I’d do once I change." Draco felt his fingers twitch. The potion must be wearing off.

"That doesn’t mean we’ll just take you out back and shoot you, boy." Mad-eye said. "There are ways of dealing with the condition."

Draco shook his head. He didn’t want to live this way. He had known he did horrible things, that he was mean and vindictive. He had already been so close to being a monster just like his father, and had run in the other direction. How was he supposed to go on now that he really was a monster?

"There’s nothing we can do? No treatment?" Granger asked. "I mean I know once they change it’s too late, but the full moon is more than two weeks away, there’s nothing that can stop the infection?"

"No, I’m afraid there isn’t." A voice said behind them. Healer Drake walked into the room. "I had come to check on your regrowth, but imagine my surprise to overhear the fact that you’ve been bitten by a werewolf."

"Worse than just that, Roscoe. He was bitten by Harland." Mad-eye told the healer. Draco was surprised that they seemed familiar.

"You two know each other?" Potter asked. Apparently the others hadn’t known either.

"Oh, yeah. From way back." Healer Drake responded. "I used to work with the Ministry, in the Auror department, developing new vaccines, cures, and even poisons that could be used as weapons. And then I stumbled upon the first version of the regrowth cure and tried to help out Mad-eye. He didn’t want the help." Drake smiled at the old Auror.

"Don’t need a new eye." Mad-eye said gruffly. "Roscoe here also joined a small group of us who were assembled to take care of the rampant wolf problem we had quite a few years ago. Lupin even helped us out, trying to get them all to register themselves with the Ministry, and taking out the ones that wouldn’t."

"It was a messy business." Drake said in remembrance. "They wanted me to work with the wolves, and try to find a cure, or even just a deterrent for the change. There isn’t one, it just doesn’t exist. The only thing is the Wolfsbane Potion, but it’s so hard to brew that few people can actually create it. And it won’t stop the change, it’ll only let you keep your own mind in wolf form." Drake shook his head sadly and then made his way to Draco’s side. "Well, let’s at least take a look at this arm."

"What does it matter anymore?" Draco asked miserably.

"Well, you’ll want all fours paws to run around on soon." Drake smiled. It quickly disappeared when he saw Draco’s face. "Too soon?"

"It’ll be alright, Draco." Lovegood said soothingly. "We aren’t going to turn on you for this."

"You say that now, but once it actually happens…" Draco let his sentence trail off. He was ready to end it himself if they didn’t do it for him. Life was just getting too hard, and it didn’t seem worth it anymore.

Potter approached the other side of his bed, and looked down at his bandaged forearm. Then he sat and reached out to place a hand on Draco’s shoulder. "I’m sorry we couldn’t help you. That we couldn’t keep this from happening. But we aren’t like them, Draco. We aren’t going to turn our back on you. I promise I will do everything I can to help you."

"Me too." Granger said stepping up next to Potter. She reached down and took Draco’s hand, squeezing it in support. He tried to squeeze back and was successful. The potion was definitely wearing off. He turned his face away from them, embarrassed by the tears that were now coming. It was all just too much. He had never felt so cared for in his whole life, and these were the people who chose to care about him, the ones he had been raised to hate and distrust.

"I see some good progress here Draco." Drake said. "We can skip your treatment this morning, you need to rest up."

"It’s morning already?" Potter seemed surprised.

"Well, it was nearly five in the morning when Kingsley and I got here. And that was about a half hour ago, maybe a bit more." Mad-eye answered. "Sun will be up soon if it isn’t already."

"I’ll go start brewing some Wolfsbane later today. I believe Severus Snape is also very adept at making the potion." Drake told Draco.

"Yeah, he is. He was making it for Lupin during the school year." Potter replied.

"Hey. You okay, Malfoy?" They all turned to see Weasley standing in the doorway with his brother and father.

"He’s been bitten, Arthur." Mad-eye reported to Mr. Weasley as they entered the room.

Mr. Weasley came to stand by Healer Drake. He looked down at him in despair and Draco felt that now he would get the truth. Potter could promise all he wanted, but Draco had to live in the real world, and in the real world, he knew that it was less dangerous to take him out than let him run free. And now the Minister would pass judgement, after all, he had the entire wizarding community to answer to.

But Mr. Weasley’s words surprised him, it was a simple apology. "I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time."

Draco didn’t know what to say. Granger was still holding his hand, Potter was still sitting next to him, Luna was smiling at him encouragingly and the Weasley boys had come to stand at the foot of the bed.

"Okay, here’s how this it going to work. The public will never hear of this. You all will not be going around talking about it, Draco’s condition is to be considered top secret. I’ll have to speak with Albus, of course, but nothing else will change. And when Lupin goes away for the full moon, he’ll take Draco with him. And Draco, at all costs, you are to never be near Harland again."

Draco nodded, never wanting to see the man for the rest of his life. Of course he knew, as they all did, that once he’s had his first change, after the disease had taken over completely, it was near impossible to deny your creator. He would be tied to Harland forever, or until one of them died, and if Harland asked him to do something, like hurt Potter, he knew that he would be compelled to carry out the order. He shook his head, he didn’t understand why they were keeping him alive. He was too dangerous a risk.

Because they care about you. He heard Lovegood’s voice in his head. Apparently his walls had gone down at some point. You might as well get used to it, you have real friends now Draco. This is what it’s like, they take care of you no matter what and vice versa.

"We’ll take everyone home with us. Healer Drake if you’ll agree to come with and take care of the medical needs of both Draco and Remus?" Arthur was saying.

"Absolutely. It would be an honor." Drake replied.

"Okay then, let’s get home to Molly and Ginny. We can discuss how the rest of you kids got here later."

(BREAK)

The next two days passed tensely. Harry had spent most of his time in the war room, where they had set up both Lupin and Draco for medical care. Healer Drake had brought a lot of the machines from the hospital to the house, and they were hooked up for their respective needs. Both spent most of their time asleep, but Harry sat with them anyway. And since Tonks refused to leave Lupin’s side, she and Harry kept each other company. The others would come and check on things every now and then, but neither patient had been up for visitors. So everyone else took it upon themselves to either go through the ministry documents about the coven, or figure out what Ginny did with the ring.

Harry had told Lupin what had happened to Draco while the boy slept, and he agreed to talk to him about the condition. "Though every wolf is different, just like people." Lupin had warned.

Now, they were both finally awake together and the others piled in to say hi, and to learn about Harland Myers. Arthur and Dumbledore had been busy, coming and going from the house at all hours of the day and night. There was a lot of fallout from Lairmore to take care of, not to mention the manhunt for Harland. They had been so busy, they didn’t have time to sit and give a history lesson of their newest old enemy.

But Lupin knew all about Harland Myers, and today he looked well, refreshed even. The deep gashes across his face were now just small white scars, and he finally had his appetite back. So Harry, Hermione, Luna, Ron and Fred had come to ask the only person they could at the moment about the enemy. Ginny hadn’t come out of her room much and didn’t want to visit. She had told Ron she would check in on their friends later, when the room wasn’t so crowded.

"Well, it does me good to see so many friendly faces." Lupin said with a big grin when they all entered the room.

"How are you today, Moony?" Hermione asked.

"Better. Feeling like my old self again."

"And you Draco? How are you feeling?" Hermione turned to the other bed.

"Fine." He said simply. Harry thought he looked a million times better than when they had found him unconscious in that house at Lairmore. Some color had returned to his face and the heavy dark circles beneath his eyes had lessened. He even looked like he had put some weight back on, now that he was being forced to eat every time he was awake.

"I suppose you all came to hear about Harland." Lupin said.

"Oh tell your story, but please don’t tax yourself too much." Tonks said rising and leaning over to kiss her husband’s forehead. "I’m going into the ministry for awhile, I’ll be back soon." She gave Harry a menacing look. "Harry, I’m counting on you to know when enough is enough for him." And then she left.

The others all took a seat and settled in to listen. "Where to start? Well, Harland is a werewolf because he wanted to be one. He went looking for someone who was infected and found Adele Cooper. She wasn’t a witch, simply a muggle who had the misfortune at some point to come across a werewolf. Well, later when he was captured but before he escaped the first time, he admitted to putting her under the Imperious Curse and making her bite him." Lupin paused to take a drink of water.

"So what happened to Adele?" Luna asked.

"Harland killed her." Lupin said simply. "As I taught you all during third year, werewolves are connected to their creators, forced to submit to their will. Harland of course wanted none of that, he simply wanted the curse, but not all the rules that came along with it. He killed her, cut off her head and left her for the muggles in her village to find. Word got back to the ministry and he was immediately tracked. He killed two Aurors and turned two others. Then he began turning more people, all muggles from that point on. Those that fought the link that bound them to him were killed or cursed to do his bidding."

"So he was building an army?" Harry asked.

"We believe so. He came to me at one point, demanding that I live as I was supposed to and stop hiding what I was. I refused and he tried to kill me, and would have if James and Sirius hadn’t shown up. His group terrorized England for over a year and then….well he ran into Voldemort. The ministry was worried that those two combined would wreak complete havoc, maybe even be able to take over London. That’s when they decided to impose the werewolf laws. Lily, James and Sirius were all working with Albus and the ministry already, but the ministry wouldn’t accept my help, because of what I was. Albus is the one who convinced them that the best way to hunt werewolves was with one. We went around finding as many as we could, registering them and asking about Harland. Even those wolves not in his pack were scared of him." Lupin shook his head sadly. "The man has no conscious."

"But you guys must have found him eventually." Ron prodded.

"We did, after James and Lily were killed and Voldemort had been vanquished by Harry. The Death Eaters had all gone underground, and we found Harland, holed up with Bellatrix LeStrange, Antonin Dolohov and Walden Macnair. After a long fight, those three were taken into custody and thrown in Azkaban. Harland was caged and brought before the ministry for his crimes. He was sentenced to death."

"So what happened?" Luna asked.

"My father helped him escape." Draco answered miserably.

"So that’s how he got away." Lupin said. "We’d always wondered who’d helped him."

"I thought, with the exception of Barty Crouch Jr., that with the Dementors it was impossible to escape Azkaban." Fred responded.

"Oh he wasn’t at Azkaban. He was being held in the Department in Mysteries. They had decided to try and study him, figure out if they could find a cure. I guess that’s where Healer Drake came into the story." Lupin answered.

"What happened after Lucius broke him out?" Luna asked Draco.

"He lived with us, in secret. I grew up around him and he was always scary. He was always telling my father he could turn us all and help the Malfoys become a real force to be reckoned with. Lucius declined, of course, knowing that would put him and the rest of us under Harland’s power. Harland would just laugh and tell him that the offer always stood. Then Aurors started showing up, I guess they finally began to suspect my father had been and still was a follower of Voldemort." Draco replied.

"We always suspected." Lupin corrected him. "After uncovering several other high profile Death Eaters, they went after Lucius, but could never pin anything on him."

"Well, they definitely kept coming to the house after the first Auror died while investigating." Draco responded. He and Harry both flicked their eyes in Luna’s direction before Draco continued. "I guess Harland felt it was too risky, so he left, told my father he was going to travel the world and make trouble. I was relieved that he was gone. I never liked him, a very creepy man. I was eleven when he disappeared, but he still gave me nightmares."

"You were eleven?!" Lupin cried. "You mean to tell me Harland was living here in England for ten years and we couldn’t find him?"

"My father is good at making people disappear, and at bribing officials. Fudge was practically in his pocket when he became Minister, so he was able to get away with a lot until the Aurors went around Fudge and began their investigation." Draco propped himself up and tried to reach for his glass of juice. Fred helped him out, handing over the drink. "Thanks."

"But he had to have been captured at some point." Hermione pointed out. "He was listed among those who escaped Azkaban last year."

"He was. I kept an ear up for any word of him, seeing as how when we got him the first time, he had sworn to kill me. He was apparently found in India last year and brought back here under heavy guard to carry out his original sentence. I was relieved to hear it. Of course, less than a week later, he, Bellatrix and Lucius had all escaped with the others."

"You think he went to help them?" Ron asked.

"It’s possible. The thought had occurred to me, as well as Dumbledore that Voldemort had tracked Harland down and they planned for him to be caught. Just so he could help the others get out."

"Why did they put him in Azkaban anyway?" Harry asked angrily. "They knew at that point that the Dementors had left."

"Arthur investigated that." Lupin replied. "Apparently some wires were crossed during his transport back here. We aren’t sure if it was an accident or if someone had been forced to make the mistake."

"Like with the Imperious Curse?" Fred asked.

"That, or simple blackmail. We just don’t know, everything was all confusion."

"Why didn’t you all tell us about him then? If you all knew he was so dangerous?" Harry asked.

"Because Snape told us that Harland had returned to India. And he had, we sent people after him, but they never returned. I don’t know when he came back to London this time." Lupin answered.

"So now Harland is back and he’s definitely still pals with Voldemort." Harry said. "That’s just fantastic."

(BREAK)

Healer Drake came in a short while later and kicked them all out so he could see to his patients. He told Draco and Lupin that he was going to tell the others to leave them be for awhile, that they both needed rest. He gave them each their separate remedies, ran the treatment on Draco’s wasted arm and left so they could nap. But Draco couldn’t sleep. He finally had his chance, no one else was around.

"Professor?" Draco asked, hoping the other man hadn’t fallen asleep.

"You can call me Lupin or Remus, like the others, Draco." Lupin responded kindly. "At least when we’re outside Hogwarts."

"What’s going to happen to me, Lupin?"

"With the change?" Lupin turned on his side so that he was facing Draco’s bed. "Expect it to be painful, at least the first few times. Once your bones are used to the transformation process, it’ll get better."

"And then what? What happens after I change? What will I do?"

"Will you be yourself still? No, you won’t. The wolf’s instincts take over and you won’t be able to distinguish between friend, enemy, or stranger. That’s why it’s important to take the Wolfsbane Potion, so the wolf won’t take away your humanity. And for extra safety, I leave."

Draco meditated on the thought. "So what do you do, when you go away?"

"I go far out in to the country and deep into the woods where the chance of running into anyone is practically non-existent. Then I run until the wolf is tired and wait for morning."

"Do you… do we only change during the full moon?" Draco asked. One day a month might not be so bad.

"Full transformation, yes. But the days before and after, you won’t feel like yourself. Everyone is different, but I feel like climbing the walls during that time, like I have too much energy and it’s building and building until I feel like I’m going to explode. Others get angry or depressed. Some even get extremely happy."

"Is it horrible?" Draco asked quietly.

"Sometimes, because you aren’t in control of yourself. When it first happened to me, I thought it was the end of the world. I wanted to die, to just give up. But then I had friends who helped me through it, Sirius and James. Even Peter at the time." Lupin sighed. "It’s always amazing how much history really does repeat itself."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, this has all happened before hasn’t it? I was James’s friend, and I received this curse. And here we are, so many years later, and a friend of James’s son receives the same curse. And that’s not all." Lupin let out another heavy sigh. "Every time we’re in battle, I feel like I’ve been there before, and of course, I was. Some seventeen, eighteen years ago when I was a younger, more capable man. And you know what, so many of the faces are the same, just a little older… or younger. Harry is such a mixture of his parents, sometimes being around him hurts me, because it’s almost like having them back." Lupin admitted closing his eyes.

Draco felt bad for Lupin. He had been through so much in his past, and now here he was, reliving it all over again. He wanted to admit that being around Potter hurt him too, in a different way. Potter could do anything it seemed, and though others around him suffered, he always came out of each danger untouched. And stronger too. The more Potter gave into his destiny, the better off he was. Hell, he’d almost gotten the Dark Lord at the Leaky cauldron, had certainly come closer than anyone before him. But the more Draco tried to be good, tried to forge his own destiny, the worse things got for him and the more he had to rely on all of these people who had a year ago been strangers, enemies. And he wished they still were. He didn’t want to care if they lived or died. He didn’t want to know their history, or understand them better. He wanted to blame them for everything, because it was so much easier. But if he was going to face facts, everything done to him, his missing arm, the werewolf bite, the feelings of constant inadequacy; those things were the other side’s fault. Potter hadn’t thrown a killing curse at him, or sent Harland to his room. Potter hadn’t been the cold, unfeeling monster who had raised him.

Everyone in this house had shown Draco more kindness than he deserved, certainly more than he had ever thought to show them. And now, they were keeping him alive, even though it meant untold danger for themselves, should Harland show up, or if Draco lost control. The reason was two-fold, he knew. Sure they had probably come to care a little for him as Luna claimed, but when you came down to it, they just weren’t the murdering kind.

There was only one way Draco could think of for him to repay their kindness, but was he really capable of doing it? "Did you ever just want to give up? You know, just end it all for yourself?"

Lupin opened his eyes and stared at him, now all seriousness. "Honestly, yes. Of course! Anyone with a conscious would if given this curse. The last thing I wanted was to hurt someone I cared about, and it would have been so easy to end it all, better for everyone else. Or so I thought at the time." He looked down. "Okay, I thought it several times over the years."

"Why didn’t you?"

Lupin met his eyes once more. "Because I had friends telling me not to. But then they were taken from me, and I felt like the world was ending. It was harder then, when I was on my own, to find reasons to go on living. But I didn’t give up and I had a hard life because of this curse. And I learned it wasn’t the end of the world after all. I mean here I am, a professor, a fighter for the Order, and a husband to a wonderful woman. Life gives you what you put into it, Draco."

"That’s what I’m afraid of." Draco replied, as someone knocked lightly at the door.

Arthur Weasley came in and greeted them, asking about their condition. But Draco could see the panic hiding behind his eyes. "What’s wrong Mr. Weasley?" he asked.

"Draco, if you’re up for it, I need you to once again go over everything you and Harland talked about involving Severus Snape." Mr. Weasley said seriously, pulling a chair up next to his bed.

"Why? What’s happened Arthur?" Lupin asked, sitting up in bed.

He looked back and forth between to two of them before lowering his head. "Severus is missing, he was supposed to report to me and Albus this morning about last night’s Death Eater meeting. He never showed and we can’t find him anywhere."

 
 

NOTE: Okay, so for those of you who read my little notes at the beginning and end of each chapter, I know I said a lot of other things were going to happen in this chapter. But while writing it, it kind of got away from me and went in a completely different direction than I had intended. So I guess the story will be changing a bit from what I had planned. Anyway, more to happen next chapter, though now that I’ve gone this way, even I’m not sure what’s coming up. Stick with me folks, this should get interesting. Hope you enjoyed the chapter, please leave a review, let me know what you think!

 
**NOTE: FOR THOSE OF YOU STICKLERS FAMILIAR WITH WEREWOLF LORE
I know that a werewolf must be in wolf form in order to bite someone and have them turn, according to Rowling. And I know that Lupin, above all others would know this. However, I have obviously taken some liberties (Especially since I changed Lupin’s history and how he was turned to serve the story in HP and the Ring of Mykele, and took Fenrir Greyback out of the picture completely) So please, suspend belief with me and just go with the flow, after all, that was only the rule for werewolves in the HP series, there are other stories of werewolves that have different rules for how to turn someone, as well as appearance, mood, and ability (or lack of) to keep some humanity in wolf form. I need it to be this way to serve the story, so please, just stick with me and enjoy the story and try not to focus too much on the technical.

Chapter 14: The Truth is Out There

A/N: Welcome back, I think enough new elements have been added for now, and we should start solving some of those mysteries already laid out. This will be a super, super long chapter by the way, as there’s a lot to go over. Answers are coming, in this chapter and the next few, so Read, Review, Enjoy!

 


Five days had passed since Lairmore, and things were starting to get back to normal, or as normal as things could be in Harry’s house. Lupin and Draco had recovered enough to seek the comfort of their own rooms. Of course, Tonks had wanted Lupin to return to their apartment with her, but he had insisted they stay at Grimmauld Place, so that he could help Draco. The teens all focused their energy on translating and going through the mountain of ministry documents (except Ginny who stayed in her room) while the adults busied themselves making preparations for them all to return to Hogwarts. Arthur had set up a time for them at the Ministry to start their apperation lessons, promising Harry and Hermione access to the Hall of Records as well. By tomorrow, they would have the name of at least one more coven member.

Only two things were keeping Harry and the others from finding peace. The first was Snape’s disappearance. Everyone was worried, including Harry. It was true there was no love loss between himself and his professor, but that didn’t mean he had wanted him to be captured by the enemy. Had that been what happened? Had they discovered he was a spy and killed him? Arthur and Dumbledore were franticly trying to find any trace of him, but the man had simply vanished. Luna had tried and tried to make something come, but every time all she could see was static, as if someone were deliberately keeping the vision from her. She confided to Harry and Hermione that she had never experienced something like that before, except when she had tried to see in the boys’ minds last year to try and get around the Bickeross potion.

The second thing keeping them awake at night, was the still missing ring. Harry wanted desperately to use it, had begun to feel anxious from the time away from it. He wanted to talk to everyone, to see if they knew something about what had happened to his potions professor. He felt moody and distant from the others and wondered if it was possible he was suffering from some sort of energy withdrawal as a result of so much time away from the ring. If he was, Fred was right there with him, and the two commiserated on their desire to speak with their loved ones. Ginny was truly being selfish, and the more irritated he felt as the days passed, the more he resented her and whatever game she was trying to play.

He and Luna had been trying to find some time alone, to discuss the two stories they had heard from both parties involved with the missing ring. Finally, with Hermione laying down for a nap, Draco stowed away in his room to rest and Ron and Fred busy helping Molly bring some more of the Weasley belongings from the Burrow, Harry had his chance.

He followed Luna down to the parlor after Hermione kicked them out so she could sleep. "Hey you wanna go out back, away from all the ears still in the house?"

"Sure." She replied as he led the way. They settled themselves in the far corner of the yard, underneath the big Willow tree, hidden from the world.

"What am I supposed to do about this Luna, I want the ring back."

"I know you do. Have you talked to her at all?"

"No, I’m worried that if I do, I’ll say something I’ll regret. I’m so mad at her, and I don’t understand what she’s planning." Harry angrily shook his head at the ground. "What did she say to you. Exact words?"

"Just that she had intended to call on George and then put the ring in her pocket and forgot about it until she and Draco were in trouble and needed to use it. Then she said she had wanted to take the ring back, had searched his pockets while he lay there unconscious and felt bad about it. But she maintains the ring wasn’t there and that she doesn’t have it now."

"Interesting." Harry thought back to his conversation with Draco at St. Mungo’s. "You know, Draco told me that she said she had brought it because she thought I might need to use it, and had let him use it instead."

"Somehow, that rings more true." Luna sighed. "I have an idea of what she may be up to, and I don’t like it."

"What? You’ve got me on the edge of my seat here." Harry edged closer.

"At night, I’ve been seeing some weird things, just quick flashes involving Ginny, Draco and the ring. And just yesterday…" she hesitated.

"You’re killing me, Luna."

"Yesterday I saw the final vision again, and it wasn’t the same, and it wasn’t good. I think that if whatever she’s planning works, it may put us off the right path."

"So what do you think she’s up to?" Harry asked, feeling his patience grow thin, but he held himself in check. After all, it wasn’t Luna he was really annoyed with.

"I think she’s trying to turn us against Draco. She wants us to blame him. Why, I don’t know, but I really think that’s what she’s trying to do."

"That doesn’t make sense. We know it was her, don’t we? So why keep it up?" Harry tried to make sense of it, but perhaps he was in too rational a state of mind.

"I don’t know. And I don’t know how this changes the final picture, since we obviously aren’t going to believe Draco did it." Luna sighed again. "Unless we’re missing something."

"What, like he did have something to do with it?" Harry asked, though he refused to believe it. Not after what Draco went through.

"No….maybe….I don’t know. I wish there was a way to get past those walls she built. What’s the good of being a mind reader when you can’t get into someone’s mind?"

(BREAK)

Ginny watched Harry and Luna go out into the yard together and sit under the willow tree. Only once they were hidden from view behind the leaf curtain did she make her move. As she climbed the stairs, she suddenly hoped Harry and Luna fell in love or whatever. That would show Hermione, since she so trusted Luna around her precious fiancé. Unfortunately, knowing both of them so well, she doubted that outcome. Still it was nice to think about Hermione finally being put in her place. Maybe one of the coven people they were going to search for could turn Harry’s head.

She stopped outside Draco’s room and let herself feel guilty for what she was about to do. But it had to be done, and by finally paying him a visit, she could try and kill two birds with one stone. After all, it wouldn’t do for the others to turn against Draco, she wanted him to turn against them as well. Then she would have him, the one person that would be there for her and her alone, someone she could finally count on. Maybe her loneliness was finally getting to her, maybe she really was cracking up. But neither thought stopped her from knocking on the door.

He opened it slowly, and regarded her suspiciously. "Can I come in?" she asked lightly.

He merely shrugged and turned back into his room, leaving the door open. She watched as he climbed back into his bed and pulled the covers up. He looked better, less tired, more healthy. She closed the door and approached him slowly, feeling like the worst person in the world. It wasn’t too late, she could just pay a visit and leave without carrying out her plans. "How are you?"

"Well, I guess you coming to ask five days late is better than not at all. I’m fine, I guess. Thanks for your concern." He answered harshly.

"I wanted to come, but one of them was always with you." She protested. "I’m sorry. And I’m really sorry about, you know, what happened to you at the hospital." She lowered her eyes, still not quite believing the boy in front of her was now a werewolf.

"Yeah, well, it’s not like you could have stopped him, so don’t lose too much sleep over it. Was that all?" he had anger in his tone and it gave her pause.

"Why are you mad at me?" she asked sitting on the edge of the bed next to him.

"Why are you trying to frame me?" he returned, scooting himself away from her.

"What are you talking about?" she asked innocently. But underneath she was fuming. They had already gotten to him, made him think low of her. Well, any thought she had of abandoning her plans was now forgotten.

"The ring, Ginny. I didn’t hide it, I certainly don’t have it now and I didn’t give it to anyone. It was in my pocket, and then I passed out and I woke up and it was gone. And the only thing you’ll tell anyone is that I had it last."

"Well you did. You were the one who snatched it from me, all the while calling me names, if you recall."

"Because it was true, that was probably the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, until now, if you’re hiding that ring."

"You know, I really did think you were different." She rose in anger and started pacing. "The others are all so willing to believe the worst of me, my own brothers included. Every time something goes wrong, they need someone to blame, and since they don’t want to blame you anymore, they’re picking on me."

"Because you did it, Ginny. You brought the ring there and you took it from my pocket and now you’ve done who knows what with it."

She shoved her hands in her pockets and faced him, while running her fingers over the large garish stone on the ring. She wondered if he could tell she had it with her at that moment. "You know, I thought you of all people would understand. Don’t you remember how they blamed you for all those things you didn’t do after you came over to our side? Didn’t they even think at one time that you had sent newspapers to Hermione’s parents to cause trouble? Fred told me about that. You didn’t of course, but because of the things you’ve done in the past, they’re always going to doubt you Draco. Especially now that you have this werewolf curse. And now, because of the things I did in the past, they’re always going to doubt me. Don’t you see? Don’t you see how hypocritical they are? They do horrible things to each other all the time but somehow, they’re always golden while we will forever be tarnished. It doesn’t matter how many good things you do, and it won’t matter if I ‘go get help’ because in their eyes, we will always be damaged goods."

He stared at her for a long time before answering. "What I see is someone who’s trying very hard to sell something, but I’m not sure I’m buying."

She sighed, forcing herself to look defeated. "I didn’t take that ring from you, Draco. I was on the roof fighting the Dementors when Ron and I saw Harry and Luna go down. We jumped down to run after them and I found you on the ground and called Ron over. Yes, I’ll admit I went through your pockets looking for the ring, but it wasn’t there. And if it was, my brother was with me the whole time, he would have seen me take it. A fact they refuse to acknowledge. I don’t know when you blacked out and I don’t know how long you were lying down there, okay?" She tried not to sound like she was pleading, she wanted to be convincing.

"He was really with you the whole time?" Draco asked. She felt triumph at the hint of indecision in his voice. He wasn’t sure anymore and that was all she needed. The creation of doubt was enough.

"Yeah, he was. We carried you over to one of the healing houses. And then together we went to find Harry and Luna. I was never alone with you. How could I have taken the ring? But they won’t listen to me! They want to think I took it because it’s easier than thinking someone else found you and took it while we were distracted. You know, someone who shouldn’t have it." Ginny was proud of herself when she felt the tears come and forced them out. Maybe she’d become an actress some day.

Cupping the ring, she pulled her hands out of her pockets and sat on the edge of the bed again. When she looked over at Draco, he turned away, unable to meet her eyes. Perfect. Keeping her mind blank so as to try and stave off any pesky vision Luna may have, she let her arm dangle next to her, and careful not to let any movement show she slid the ring under his mattress. Now it was time to perform the final act. "Draco, promise me you don’t have the ring. That I’m not taking all this blame while the whole time you have it."

"What?" he asked incredulously, finally turning to face her.

"If you do, I won’t tell them. You can give it to me and I’ll sneak it into Harry’s room, they’ll never have to know. And you don’t even have to tell me why you had it. If you have it." She put as much concern and friendliness in her gaze as she could, trying to look sincere.

"I don’t have it. And weren’t you the one who was just talking about unfairly placing blame?" He seemed unsure of himself now, not quite as hardened as when she had first come in. Success could be hers!

"Look, I’m sorry, I just had to be sure. Besides, you blamed me. And I know I don’t have it, and you were the last person to have it. But I believe you, okay? You say you don’t have it, then you don’t." she rose and moved to the door before turning and adding, "I just wish you’d trust me the same way." And then she left.

(BREAK)

Harry and Ron were in the middle of tense game of wizard’s chess when the knock came at his door. Luna, who had been lounging on his bed translating the ministry documents volunteered to answer it. He had expected Hermione, fresh from her nap and ready to join them. Instead, Draco wandered in.

"Hey, how’re you feeling, Malfoy?" Ron asked without looking up from the board. He moved his knight, capturing Harry’s castle.

"Bit tired but okay I guess. I just wanted to talk to you guys about something." He stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.

Harry abandoned the game and offered his seat to Draco, moving to sit next to Luna on the bed. "So, what’s up?"

"Ginny just came to see me." Draco started.

"Oh yeah?" Ron said suspiciously.

"Yeah, and I wanted to ask you a question Weasley. She says she couldn’t have taken the ring from me, because you were with her from the time she found me up to when I woke up."

Ron stopped to think. "Yeah, I guess I was."

"Are you sure?" Harry and Luna asked together.

"Well…" Ron thought for awhile. "The way I remember it, we were on the roof, trying to help with the Dementors when we saw you two go down. We went to go after you, but Ginny found you on the ground passed out and called me back over. Then we carried you to the house and we both ran off to the woods, where we ran into you guys and Hermione."

"That’s exactly what she said." Draco replied. "Except she added that she had looked through my pockets but came up empty."

"Did you see her search him?" Harry asked Ron.

"Not that I recall, but it all happened so fast." Ron shook his head.

"You said she had to call you back over? Where did you go that she had to call you back?" Luna asked.

"I didn’t see him laying there, I was worried about you guys so I got down from the roof and just started running down the street." Ron explained. "So I guess what you’re trying to point out is that there was a small window of opportunity for her to have taken it." He said sadly. "Damn, I had really hoped we found a way to clear her."

"Hey, it’s better that she has it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself." Harry said. "I’d rather Ginny have it somewhere in the house than someone else have it somewhere in the world."

"So you guys really think it was her, no doubts?" Draco asked.

Harry looked at him, feeling a bit uncertain. "You have doubts?"

Draco shrugged. "I don’t know. Maybe. I mean I don’t know how long I was unconscious, someone could have come along."

"And they not only knew to search your pockets, but they also left you there alive? Isn’t it you who’s always saying they all want you dead?" Ron asked.

"Well, I guess I’m just not as willing to think so badly of your sister as you do." Draco replied.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Ron asked defensively. "You spend a couple days around her and now you know her better than I do? You don’t know Ginny."

"Neither do you. Not anymore anyway." Draco responded.

Do something! Luna pleaded with Harry.

"Hey!" He called for their attention. "Look, you’re both forgetting one important thing. Luna saw her take it."

"That’s right." Luna said quickly. "I had a vision and I saw her take it. No one else."

"Well, all I can say is she was pretty convincing. So if she’s lying, you all better watch out, because she has skill at it." Draco said rising. "I just thought you guys should know. Drake’s going to be here soon, so I guess I’ll see you later." And with that he left.

Harry and Luna shared a look. Draco was right to tell them, and unfortunately, Ginny’s actions were confirming their fear. She was trying to turn them against Draco and him against them. But why?

(BREAK)

"I’m so excited!" Hermione said as they drove to the ministry the next day. Luna liked that learning new things made her friend so happy, she found it admirable. Hermione, Harry, Ron and Draco were on their way to their first apperating lesson. She doubted any of them would need to go on after today, as she had taken to it so easily, though only Harry and Hermione knew she had the capability.

Luna had gone along to start searching the Hall of Records while the others were at their lesson. At least that’s what they thought, that she would get them started and they would join her later. Of course, she had other ideas. There were other things she needed to know, for her. The coven would have to come after that.

They all walked into the ministry together and met with Tonks and Kingsley. "Alright, Luna, you’re with me. The rest of you are with Kingsley." Tonks instructed.

"Good luck guys!" Luna told the others as they walked off. Then she followed Tonks. "Would it be okay if we stopped by the Archives first? There’s something we needed from there."

"I guess that would be alright." Tonks said with a smile as they changed direction and headed for the archives. "You know, I’m really impressed with this whole thing you guys cooked up. I really hope it works and that these people will be everything you all hope they will be."

"Some of them will, and some of them will need convincing. I’m sure Harry will be able to do it though." Luna said confidently.

"It does seem he can do anything, doesn’t it?" Tonks laughed. "Well, here we are. I’m going to leave you here for a bit to get whatever you need done. I have a few things to take care of in the Aurors office, a few leads came in about Severus and I need to make sure they fall into the right hands. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes, okay? Then we’ll head to the Hall of Records."

"Sounds good." Luna smiled until the door closed, and then she grew serious. She had twenty minutes to find the right file and copy all the information. Quickly, she moved to the card catalogue and read through the labels on the drawers. Finding the right one, she pulled it out excitedly. There it was, the file on Julian Heath. She had to go down to the yellow section and ran the whole way. It took her a few minutes to find the right place, and the brightness of the yellow was beginning to hurt her eyes.

Finally she had the information in her hand. Sitting at the large desk a few feet away, she began going through it, not really reading, just skimming. There, towards the end, she found her brother’s name and mention of the investigation at the Malfoy mansion. She pulled out her parchment and magically copied everything contained in the file, she could decide what was important later. Putting everything back, she headed back to the door, knowing Tonks would be showing up soon.

Luna felt excited. Thanks to Draco’s discovery about his father and his recollection of the day Kane had gone to his house, Luna finally had hope. Kane could be cleared, and their grandmother could finally find peace, knowing her grandson’s name would no longer be a joke. He had been murdered, and she was finally going to prove it. She knew deep down that regardless the satisfaction she’d get from solving the mystery, what this quest for Kane was, was actually a way to escape. Her mind was so scattered, so heavy with thoughts she wasn’t ready to have about her future. Clearing her brother’s name was something singular she could focus on. She would keep the others out of it for as long as possible, this was for her.

(BREAK)

Ron was nervous. He knew Hermione would be able to learn quickly, and Harry would probably have it in no time at all. Even Draco, in his weakened state and with all the things wrong with him, would probably get it pretty soon. Ron was the only one who didn’t catch on to things quickly, he just hoped apparating would be different.

They walked into a large room he had never seen before and was surprised to see Dumbledore waiting for them. "Here they are, all ready for you." Kingsley said. "Good luck guys!" and then Kingsley was off and they were left with their headmaster.

"Sir, you’re going to teach us?" Hermione asked. Ron could hear the excitement in her voice. Only Hermione could be this happy about lessons during the summertime.

"I am." Dumbledore nodded and offered a kind smile. "And we are going to start with some astral projection. The clearer your mind is and the less control you hold over your physical body, the easier to will be to apperate." He eased himself to the floor too fluidly for a man of his age and beckoned them to join him.

"Any word about Snape?" Harry asked as they settled in front of their headmaster on the floor.

"Professor Snape, Harry." Dumbledore automatically corrected. Ron saw no indication that he was worried for his missing spy. "It is my understanding that a few pieces of information have been trickling in, but so far it has all proved useless or false. For now, we are keeping hope that he is far more valuable to them alive. Now, I want all of you to relax and clear your minds. You must put your worries for him aside for the next hour, as I said the clearer your mind is, the easier this will be for you." He pointed to a tall tapestry strung up in the corner. "There is something behind that curtain over there. I want you all to think about going over there and looking. Focus on it, concentrate and try to think yourselves over there to see what it is. Close your eyes and meditate. Think of yourself as becoming lighter, your body is a vessel and it can be left safely."

Ron had his eyes closed and was trying hard to follow instructions, compartmentalizing everything that was troubling him. He didn’t feel any different. Dumbledore was still talking them through their meditation, and Ron focused on his voice, willing himself to just get up and go look behind the curtain. He was supposed to be feeling light and airy according to the headmaster, but he still felt heavy, grounded to the earth. Let go of the control. Dumbledore’s voice flitted through his head.

"When you know what the object is, raise your hand." Dumbledore had instructed, and almost immediately after said, "Well, done Hermione."

Of course, she had already done it. Ron focused harder, but he wasn’t sure how to let go of himself. "Okay, Harry, good job." Dumbledore said a few minutes later. Ron felt heavier now that the others were succeeding. He felt defeated.

Don’t give up, Ron. Clear your mind, stop thinking and just be. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Ron sighed and cleared his head once more. He pretended he was weightless, that there was no gravity and he could float up into the atmosphere at any moment. He focused on the curtain, wanting desperately to go and see what was back there. He began to feel something, his body was tingling, he ignored it, telling himself the physical didn’t matter. He was finally feeling lighter, less tethered to himself. He could feel himself rising higher and higher. And then he opened his eyes and found himself staring down at the others. What’s more, he was staring at himself, still seated on the floor, eyes squeezed shut. He had done it! He watched as Draco opened his eyes and raised his hand. Damn, Ron was going to be last. Quickly he raced to the tapestry and searched behind. He saw Fawkes, sitting quietly on a perch and smiled at the phoenix.

He raced back to his body and slowly lowered himself down. As soon as he felt like himself again, he raised his hand triumphantly.

"Very good, Ron. You’ve all done well. Let get started on projecting your body with you when you leave." Dumbledore smiled at them all.

(BREAK)

Apparating was easy. Harry had been worried that he wouldn’t be able to do it, but when it had come time to finally try, he had gotten it before even Hermione. Of course she had been less than a minute behind him. Ron got it pretty quickly, once he learned to let go. Only Draco had had problems. According to Dumbledore, it was because his mind was so heavy. He said they’d try again after the full moon, when maybe his thoughts would be lighter and less likely to root him in place. In the meantime, he had been instructed to keep doing the astral projection for practice.

Harry had wanted to take the test right then, but of course his birthday was still two weeks away. Ron, however, had already had his birthday in March, so he could have tested if he wanted. Instead, he decided to wait until Harry could go with him. Poor Hermione couldn’t test until September.

Now, they were on their way to meet with Luna in the Hall of Records, Kingsley acting as their guide. Harry couldn’t contain his excitement. They were finally going to start getting somewhere with the coven. His only anxiety was how to tell the others that Luna was part of it. They entered a very ordinary, clerical looking room, filled with plain gray filing cabinets. He was glad, the archives had been way too colorful. This room was also a lot smaller, having only the records of everyone’s birth, death and marriage.

Luna was seated at a small table a few files open around her. "Hey! How’d it go?" she asked.

"Pretty good. What have you got going?" Harry asked walking up behind her and leaning over to see what she was working on.

"I found Mykele’s records and they led back to Alexandra Nikas, of Greek descent." She answered, sliding the file over to Hermione who had seated herself across from her.

"If I remember our translations correctly," Hermione gazed upwards as she scanned her mind, "Alexandra had the ability of pyrokinesis."

"And that means…?" Ron asked.

"Oh, that she could start fires with her mind." Hermione answered quickly.

"Cool! I wish I could do that!" Ron exclaimed sitting next to Hermione to read through the file.

"Have you been able to find out who is her current descendant?" Draco asked.

"I was just about there. I followed the records from Mykele, forward to present day. I believe this is who we want." Luna showed them another file.

Harry picked it up and read outloud, "Jacinda Nicolau."

"According to that, she was born eighteen years ago in Greece. But she moved to France last year when she married."

"Married at seventeen? That’s a bit silly." Ron said, causing Harry and Hermione to share a look. They hadn’t told anyone but his parents about their intentions. At least he didn’t, she wasn’t meeting his eyes anymore, and he suddenly had a strong feeling she may have told someone else. Well, that was something he should probably have known about. He saved it away for later and focused back on the conversation.

"Yeah, well, it didn’t last long. They divorced six months later, according to the record. No kids resulted from the union, so she is the last in the direct line from Alexandra." Luna was saying.

"So now what?" Draco asked, turning to Harry.

Only Harry didn’t know. "Maybe I should write to her, kind of introduce myself and the idea about the coven. Is she still in France?"

"Yes, but Harry, not everyone will know they are descended from the coven. You didn’t." Luna pointed out. "Do you really think a letter will express everything you want to discuss?"

"And what if the pyro thing skipped her or something." Ron stated. "How do we know she still has the power?"

"If she’s part of the coven, I’m sure she will. After all, there are other people who can start fires, or move things with their mind, but it’s my understanding that Harry and the others gifts will be the strongest, since their ancestors were the first to have these powers. They created them after all, using their own energies." Hermione said.

"Luna is one of the others. She’s part of the coven." Harry said quickly. Luna looked at him and he relayed with his eyes that it was time to tell them.

"What are you talking about?" Ron asked.

But Hermione, who had translated the documents, caught on quickly. "Gwendolyn Crowley was precognative." she said slowly.

Luna sighed and looked down. "She was also my ancestor. Our grandmother used to tell us all about her, about all our ancestors. She was proud of our family."

"And you knew?" Ron asked Harry.

"I suspected until Luna told me." Harry answered defensively.

"Why didn’t you tell us?" Hermione asked.

"I didn’t tell Harry until right before Lairmore, and after, well we all had so much going on, with Harland after Draco and Lupin, and Ginny taking the ring, and Snape disappearing." Luna defended herself and Harry. "We decided to wait for the right time, and since we’re here, looking for coven members, it was obviously the right time."

They were all quiet for a long time, and Harry wished he could see what they were all thinking. But their walls were high and sturdy. He abstractedly found himself wondering if Jacinda was also telepathic, in addition to her other power, just like him and Luna.

"Hey, so all it means is that’s one less person to look for, right?" Draco asked, trying to put it in perspective.

"Right." Hermione said suddenly with a shake of her head. "And there are still other people to find, so let’s get started. Arthur will be taking us home in a little over an hour, we need to find all the relevant files to take with us by that time." She split them up and gave them names to look for. Harry had received Ashford Deveroux and went in search of his records and those of his progeny. He knew he and Hermione would be fighting when they got home, but at least he had something this time as well. For once, he wasn’t going to be completely in the wrong.

(BREAK)

As soon as they arrived home, the others had dumped the files with Hermione and left her and Harry alone, as it was obvious they had some things to discuss. Ron just wanted to be alone. Once again, he had missed out on being special. He had been okay with Harry being in the coven, it had made sense, and Ron was used to Harry being ‘the chosen one’. But now Luna was a part of it too.

Just once, couldn’t he be the one, couldn’t he have a big destiny like the others? Everyone had something special going for them, except him. Harry and Luna were getting more god-like as the weeks passed, not to mention, they excelled at everything they tried. Fred was a genius, of the mad scientist variety, and had created his own success because of it. Hermione, was simply a genius, destined to have whatever life she wanted and be successful at whatever she chose to do, (as long as it wasn’t related to sports). Draco had forged his own destiny, choosing to be stronger than the life he was given, and now, on top of it, he was a werewolf; Draco was heading for a life of excitement and adventure. Ginny, of course, had crazy working for her, not to mention her incredible iron will and apparent skill at lying. And despite what she had done, people were drawn to her, if her dating life had been any indication. For awhile, she had dated a few guys, and then she had drawn Harry in for awhile. And now, it appeared she was drawing in Draco as well. Not to mention they all still cared so much about her, none of them could bring themselves to throttle her the way she deserved. She created her own magic.

Ron felt he was the only one who was completely average in every way. There was nothing he was better at than anyone else. He didn’t have any special skills or powers. He was even an average student. He stretched out on his bed and stared at the ceiling, which was covered in posters of quidditch teams, just like his walls. He was even an average quidditch player, despite having played with his brothers his whole life. Meanwhile, Harry had come in and been good at it the first year, when he had just learned of the sport. It wasn’t fair. Why did he have to be surrounded by so many special people, only to be cursed with being ordinary? At least he was capable, it could be worse. He could be below average.

Shaking his head, Ron decided to stop feeling sorry for himself. If he wanted to stand out, then he’d have to find a way, and sitting here being moody wasn’t going to help. He felt new resolve to work hard, to not only be able to graduate early with the others, but to produce scores that would rival theirs. He would be the best keeper anyone had ever seen this year, and go out with a bang. And he would not only go with to find the coven members, he would be the one to talk them into helping. He decided that if he wasn’t special enough to be handed a big destiny, then he would create one for himself.

(BREAK)

"I’m not mad that she’s in the Coven!" Hermione yelled in frustration. She and Harry had started fighting almost the minute they were left alone. And now, she was trying to make her stance clear. "I just don’t understand why you didn’t even tell me you suspected. I feel like you and Luna are in this little bubble, where the two of you can go together whenever you want and the rest of us are being left in the dust."

"Because it’s our fault we were born with these gifts and none of you were." He shot back.

She growled in frustration, throwing her hands in the air. "Damn it, Harry! I’m not jealous that you guys can do all these things, and I’m not jealous that you guys are friends. I’m jealous that you both seem to be confiding in each other while I’m sitting here trying to find answers for you, answers you already have!"

"So I’m supposed to tell you everything I talk about with everyone? Or just with Luna?" Harry asked crossing his arms.

"You’re supposed to realize that I’m your fiancé, and that you should share everything important with me, especially when I’m trying to help you! Don’t you think I should have known that you even suspected it might be her? I mean last year, before you two got so close, you would have told me, if for no other reason than to ask my opinion." And she had arrived to her point. "Things are changing between us and I don’t like it."

She watched his expression soften. "Hermione, I don’t want anything to change either, and I know it’s mostly my fault that we aren’t what we once were. But I wasn’t intentionally keeping anything from you. The reason Luna and I decided to wait to tell you guys was because, well, yes there was a lot going on right after she told me, but also we were terrified of this reaction, from you and Ron. You don’t think we feel bad, that I feel bad I can’t share this with you guys? You, me and Ron have done everything together, and then suddenly, last year things started developing in me, things that have always been there, just waiting to be discovered. And I couldn’t share it with you. Besides, you’re keeping things from me, things I should know."

"You’re turning this around on me?" she was incredulous. "What have I done? What secrets have I kept from you?"

"Well, you want to tell me what really happened that day I came home to find you with a black eye? Or maybe you want to tell me who besides my parents you’ve told about our engagement, because I was under the impression we were keeping it a secret, something just for us until we told everyone together."

Damn. She felt irritated, frustrated, angry. She didn’t know what to say and sat in his desk chair, putting her head in her hands.

"Thought I forgot about that day, didn’t you? And you didn’t think I saw that look on your face today in the Hall of Records, but I did. You’re right, Luna and I talk about a lot of things, because we have a lot in common right now. Because we’re friends. Because we need each other right now since, as you always say, the rest of you don’t have these powers. But you know what we don’t talk about? Everyone else’s secrets. You don’t think she keeps things from me too? Luna is one of the most secretive people I’ve ever met, and it’s mostly by necessity, considering the things she’s able to see. And I never tell her anything that happens between us, I haven’t told her of our engagement. So who did you tell?"

"You realize she probably knows anyway." Hermione said, trying to put off his questions. She was embarrassed by the answers she would have to give.

"That’s beside the point, since I didn’t tell her." Harry shot back. "Who was it, Hermione? And why not just tell me you had wanted to tell someone? There’s a reason you’ve kept it a secret, and I have a feeling it has to do with that other thing you’re keeping. About ‘the door’ hitting you."

"Well you’re so smart, you seem to have pieced so much together, why don’t you just figure it out." She stood and turned from him angry and embarrassed. Why had she gone to Ginny’s room that day? She should have known she wouldn’t get away with it.

"I think you got into a fight with Ginny while I was gone." He answered, hitting the nail on the head. "I may not know the details, or who went after who, but that’s what I think. Tell me I’m wrong."

"Fine!" she yelled, finally turning to him. She hated the hot tears she felt sliding down her face. "I went down and confronted Ginny. I wanted her to know I wasn’t going to be pushed around and I said everything I could to make her mad. I wanted her to attack me, not so that I could run to you guys and make her look even worse, but so that I could defend myself and prove to her I’m not as weak as she thinks I am! And I succeeded, she hit me and I got the upper hand. I was tired of feeling helpless, having to stay under the same roof with someone you kissed twice behind my back! She was so smug, knowing how much her family means to you, so sure of herself that she would always be in your life, while I could be dispelled at any time you decide you don’t want me around!"

She stopped to take a breath. He had let her rant on until she ran out of steam, staring at her the whole time with a stone face. "So to make her mad, you told her we were getting married." It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even a guess. He spoke like he knew that’s the way it had been and she felt her heart catch in her throat. Had her one moment of weakness with Ginny caused her to ruin everything?

"Yeah, I did. What would you do, Harry, if I went out and kissed…say, Fred, for instance. Would you really have welcomed him with open arms when he came looking for a place to stay? Would you want us together, always under the same roof? Even if we swore it was an accident, that we never meant it to happen? I doubt it. But here I am, and she’s here too, even after committing theft against you."

"I would hate it. And I wouldn’t have wanted him here." He admitted. "But I would have had to let him stay, because he’s a Weasley. I mean what do you want me to do? I can’t throw her out, she’s Ron’s sister. Arthur and Molly’s daughter. What would you have me do Hermione? I could try using a time turner to go back and stop it all from happening, but that isn’t very practical, considering it could potentially ruin the fabric of time. I’m just as helpless with her here. So helpless, I can’t even go and accuse her of ‘committing theft against me.’ I have to sit here and wait to see what happens, because Ron thinks she’s fragile. Because upsetting her could upset everyone else."

They were both quiet, staring each other down. "So now what?" she finally asked.

He shook his head and sighed, sitting on his bed. "I don’t know. You know that I love Arthur and Molly like they were my own parents. They practically are. You know I love Ron and that hurting him, and you, a few months ago was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So yeah, Ginny’s probably always going to be in my life, because I need my family, I need Arthur and Molly, Ron, Fred….even Bill and Charlie."

"Where does that leave us?" Hermione asked, coming to stand over him.

"I guess that’s up to you, isn’t it?" He looked up at her, hurt and desperation mingled in his gaze. They had been at this moment so many times. "Can you deal with it? Can believe that I don’t want to be with Ginny, even if she’s a part of the rest of my life? Can you understand that I need Luna? Can you believe that I would never just kick you to the curb, that you’re not only my fiancé, you’re my best friend?"

She wiped her eyes and knelt before him. "I can try. I know you love me, Harry. And I love you, so much it hurts sometimes. I’m just worried that love may not be enough. I’m so tired of fighting with you, of feeling insecure, of wondering what’s going on in your head. I liked it better, when you confided everything in me, when you didn’t have Luna to turn to. I like her too, you know. She’s my friend, and I trust her, and you. I trust you both alone together, I just wish you wanted to include me. That we could be as close as we once were." She reached up to wipe away his tears as well.

"Okay. I won’t keep anything from you, ever again. I’ll tell you everything, from what I eat for breakfast, to what I dream about at night. No more secrets, not between us." He searched her eyes. "And you do the same. If something’s bothering you, come and tell me, even if I can’t do much about it. Don’t let it build up to the point where you force someone to punch you in the face."

"Okay, no more secrets." She agreed, taking his hands. "I love you Harry, even when things are difficult between us. You’re my best friend too you know. Sometimes, I wonder if it would have been better if we had just kept it that way. But I know it couldn’t have worked. I feel like we were meant to be together, even if it is just for right now."

"What do you mean just for right now?" he asked.

"It’s just something Ginny said."

"Hermione-" he started but she interrupted him.

"She said you were destined for a life of greatness, which is true. She also said you deserved someone equally as great, and while I think pretty highly of myself, I’m not delusional, Harry. There are a lot of great people in the world, and soon, we’ll be out there looking for some of them, people with destinies as big as yours…and Luna’s."

"Hermione, the only reason my life is great, is because you’re in it." He pulled her to him and she clung on tightly, as if he would disappear before her eyes. "No more secrets." He said.

(BREAK)

"It’s looking good, Draco." Healer Drake smiled at him encouragingly. "I just want you to know, this next part may be more painful. Because of the elbow. It’s harder to grow the bones that connect other bones. It’ll be worse when you get to the wrist and hand." He warned as he packed away his things.

"Yeah, I think I already feel it." Draco answered clenching his teeth. His arm felt like it was on fire, the sting was so bad. "How long is this going to take?"

"A day, maybe two. You’ll have the elbow back for sure before you have to leave with Remus." Drake answered packing away his things and pulling out a small vial full of capsules. "Here, these should help with some of the pain. It’s my own creation and completely natural. No side effects to worry about like with those silly pain pills the muggles take." He gave a little snort of contempt.

"Thanks." Draco took the clear bottle offered him and studied the amber liquid filled capsules inside.

"I’ll be back to check on your progress tomorrow. As for everything else, you’re looking good. I like the amount of weight you’re putting back on. How’re you sleeping?"

"Better I guess. I get a little sleep every night now."

"Good! Remus is almost his old self again, so you two should be set for next week. The Wolfsbane is brewing at home, I’ll bring it with me as soon as it’s ready."

"It’s weird, to hear you talk about it like it’s normal." Draco admitted. It seemed he was having more trouble coming to terms with this curse than everyone else. Of course, it wasn’t happening to them.

"Well, from now on it’s normal, for you anyway." Drake smiled at him again.

Draco didn’t want to think about it, so he tried changing the subject. "Have you heard anything about Professor Snape?"

Drake’s face fell. "No, there’s nothing, no clue. He’s vanished."

"Well, I’ve said it before, my father and his friends are very good at making people disappear." Draco said miserably.

Drake left soon after and Draco was left to his own thoughts and the pain. He decided to test himself, to see how much agony he could stand before having to take the herbal potion. After all, Lupin had told him that transformation would be painful the first few times, better he get used to it.

A soft knock at his door a bit later knocked him out a troubled nap. He woke, drenched in sweat, his arm ablaze in pain. Gritting his teeth, he rose to answer the door. "Hi." Ginny said brightly before taking in his appearance. "Hey, are you okay?"

"I’m not really up for company right now." He turned and hauled himself back to bed. She followed him.

"You don’t look good at all." She said, real concern in her voice.

He took in her old torn jeans, faded t-shirt and dirty hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. "How ironic, I was just thinking that you never looked better. What do you want, Ginny?"

She looked herself over before answering. "I can’t just come see how you’re doing? And yeah, so I’m a bit of a mess, but I didn’t think entering your room was a black tie affair."

"Look, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but I really want to be alone." He said as large wave of pain overwhelmed him. Involuntarily, he let out a cry.

She came over to him and sat on the bed, taking his hand. Hers was cool and comforting, his was on fire, like the rest of him. "I saw Drake leave, I know you had your treatment. Is this how it always is?"

"No, this is the worst it’s ever been. He said it’s because I’m growing the elbow." Draco panted out. He was drenched in sweat.

"What are these?" she asked, picking up the bottle filled with the herb capsules.

"Pain meds." Draco answered shortly, trying to catch his breath.

"Then why don’t you take them, moron." She let go of his hand to open the bottle and hand him one, but he refused it.

"No, want….get…used to….pain." he choked out.

"Why?"

"Trans….trans….change painful."

"So let me get this straight. You think because your transformation will be painful, you should suffer now to get used to it." She stood, shaking her head and moved to the door. "That’s ridiculous. I’ll be right back."

He decided when she left, that he wouldn’t get up to open the door for her. He knew Potter was the only one able to open all the doors in the house and took comfort in the fact he could finally be alone. Unfortunately, when she walked right back in a few minutes later carefully carrying a large bowl, he realized she had left the door slightly ajar.

She set the bowl on his nightstand and picked up the pitcher and empty glass also placed there. As she poured a glass of water, he watched, wondering what she was up to. She took one of the capsules and held it out to him. "Take it Draco. There’s no need to make yourself suffer anymore than you already are."

He studied her closely, looking for an alterior motive. All he saw was real concern, for him. Still, he hesitated. "Come on, Draco. Don’t be such a stubborn ass. You don’t have to be a martyr you know. If Healer Drake didn’t think you should take these, I’m sure he wouldn’t have given them to you. Take it." She demanded.

Another wave of pain racked his body, and he wanted to scream out his pain. The end of his injured arm felt like someone had taken a bowl of salt and rubbed it all over an open wound. Okay, so she had a point, why suffer when, for once, he didn’t have to. He took the offered capsule and put it in his mouth. "There you go." She handed him the water. He swallowed hard, hoping the potion wouldn’t take too long to work.

She sat down next to him again and reached inside the bowl. Pulling out a wet towel and ringing the excess water from it, she turned to him with a smile. "Just relax." She began running the cool cloth across his burning forehead, washing away the sweat. She turned and dipped the towel once again ringing the excess water. "Lift your head a little." She instructed. She placed the towel behind him, against the back of his neck, the iciness of the water soothing him. "Lay back." She instructed again.

"Whatever you say, Florence Nightingale." Draco said. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because it helped Ron when he had a really bad fever once. I think he was eight, and he caught a terrible flu. Mum kept saying she thought he would burst into flames he was so hot. So she sat there and ran cold water over him to help break the fever. You looked like you needed to cool off."

"That’s not what I meant, and you know it." He said. He felt his heart hurt a bit, as he pictured the warm family moment she had shared; her looking on in concern as her mother cared for her brother. He shook his head slightly to keep himself from actually feeling jealous of Ron Weasley.

"Because I want to, okay? I walked in here and you looked so bad. It made me feel bad for you. None of the others were here helping, so I took it upon myself." She smiled again. "Besides, I thought we were friends. Friends help each other."

"Yeah, so I’ve been told." Draco said, realizing the pain had subsided considerably.

"Besides, I don’t have anyone else to be nice to."

"You could give the ring back to Potter. That would be pretty nice." He said delicately.

"Really, Draco? I’m here helping you and you still want to hurl around accusations. I swear to you, that ring is not in my possession."

He noted the careful way she had phrased it. "Okay, it’s not in your possession, but you know where it is."

"No! I don’t!" she said angrily.

"Look, I get that you’re mad at Potter and Granger, but what about your brother?" Draco tried a different tactic. His arm was throbbing dully, but the rest of the pain had subsided and he was grateful that Ginny had forced him to take the potion. However, he didn’t let that get in the way. He felt incredibly guilty that he hadn’t been stronger, that he’d passed out and given Ginny the opportunity to carry on destroying her life by making everyone mad at her.

"What are you talking about?" she asked angrily.

"You may not care that you’ve cut Potter off from his parents and Sirius Black, but what about Fred and George?"

She didn’t say anything for a long while. It seemed this thought hadn’t occurred to her. "I’m cut off from George too, you know. And Neville as well, since I don’t actually have the ring." She said finally. "Why do you care about that anyway?"

"Did you forget I was there that day? Because you sure remembered when you were plunging a knife in my back. You think it doesn’t tear me up that I was a part of the day Percy killed your brother? It does and that’s how I knew I couldn’t be on their side anymore. Then Potter found a way to reunite you all and now George has been taken away all over again. It’s cruel, Ginny. And you aren’t a cruel person. At least, you didn’t used to be."

"How would you know what I used to be?"

"Because I spied on you all for years, remember? And besides a cruel person wouldn’t have sat here and tried to make me feel better just now."

"Exactly. I tried to help you out, and now you’re the one being cruel!" she shot back. "You think I want to take George away from Fred? That I want to take Lily, James and Sirius away from Harry?"

"No, I just don’t think it occurred to you that’s what you were doing until just now."

She stood and moved to the door. "I really don’t know what else to say to convince you. I’m going to leave, before we start saying things we can’t take back." And she rushed out the door, slamming it behind her.

He knew she had it, and now, maybe she’d start feeling bad enough to finally give it back and save some of her humanity. He hoped so, before this went too far and the others couldn’t forgive her. He wasn’t sure why he cared so much, maybe he felt akin to Ginny, now on the outside of the group, just like him. He pushed it all aside for now, deciding he had done what he could. Her conscious would hopefully start to take care of the rest.

(BREAK)

Ginny ran all the way back to her room before letting the tears come. She was a horrible person! How could she not have thought about what it meant to keep the ring from them for so long? And she hadn’t even thought about George in days! Fred probably hated her now. And poor Harry, he’d lived his whole life without his parents and finally got them back and now, here she was, taking away some of the short time they probably had left. She wanted to go back to Draco’s room, grab the ring and rush it to the others, apologizing for doing something so horrible.

But she couldn’t. She had come too far to get herself out now. How would she ever explain herself to them? They’d probably go straight to her parents and they’d force her into an insane asylum. She would just have to make sure they found it soon, and wiping away her tears, she tried to think of a way to get them to search Draco’s room that wouldn’t throw suspicion on her. Unfortunately, it would be hard, since they all suspected her already.

(BREAK)

Harry had left Hermione to write a letter to her parents. They had talked some more and after he had admitted how upset he was to not be able to visit with his parents and Sirius, she had fessed up that she was missing her parents as well. They may not have been the most understanding people, but she felt they loved her in their own way and wished she could talk to them. He had suggested a letter, and didn’t bother to point out that they hadn’t tried to contact her at all.

He relished the time away, feeling tense after their fight. He headed outside in the back yard and straight for the willow tree. He liked it under there, it was like a whole different world within the long branches, surrounded by a soothing, leafy green. It was alive under there and he felt alive, more connected to nature. He wanted some time to himself, to think, to not think. When he parted the branches and caught sight of Luna standing there looking like she was ready to flee, he smiled and shook his head.

"I guess there’s no where to be alone in this house."

"I can leave, go to my room. It is your house after all." She offered softly.

"That’s okay. You aren’t bothering me." He sat against the base of the tree.

"Give me time, you just got out here." She joked. "I didn’t know what to do, I was already out here, and you wanted to be alone…"

"It’s fine, Luna. It’s big enough for both of us under here." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, enjoying the warm air and gentle breeze.

"Are you guys okay?" she finally asked, still standing.

"I guess. For now, until the next problem comes along." He sighed. He’d been hurt beyond belief when Hermione had admitted that she sometimes wondered if they should have stayed friends. He had thought they had shared a lot of good times, but it seemed all she wanted to focus on were the bad ones.

"It’ll get better." Luna offered.

"Yeah? Did you see the final picture again? Is it back to what it’s supposed to be?" He asked opening his eyes. She was still standing in front of him and it was starting to make him feel nervous. "Will you sit already, I don’t like it when people hover over me."

"Then why don’t you stand?" she shot back. "I was sitting out here forever, my legs hurt. And no, I haven’t seen it yet, but…"

"But what?" he asked, rising to his feet. He was suddenly feeling too anxious to sit anyway.

"Look, I’ve told Hermione the same thing…just because I see everyone happy, living a good life in that vision, doesn’t mean it’s what you’ve envisioned for yourself."

"Yeah, I’ve heard you say that before. What exactly does that mean?"

"That nothing is certain and-" but he didn’t get to hear what she wanted to add. Her eyes had rolled up in her head and she was swaying on her feet. A vision was coming. He quickly took her in his arms before she could fall and eased her to a lying position on the ground. Other than that, he didn’t know what to do but wait.

(BREAK)

Luna was in what she liked to think of as the white room. Okay, so this wasn’t going to be an actual vision of a future event, it was a warning for what was coming. She always received warnings in the white room. All she had to do was wait for the pictures. It started with a scream and she turned to see Ginny, lying on the ground, unmoving. She couldn’t tell if her friend was dead, but it didn’t look good. A woman appeared, a stranger Luna didn’t recognize. The ring, held triumphantly in the woman’s hand, that she sure did recognize. It was the ring of Mykele. Then a man she felt she should know, he was standing in front of a crescent moon and holding a bunch of envelopes. Cho Chang appeared behind the man, looking menacing. Then it hit her, he must be Edgar Crescent, the man Arthur had told Harry he was having go through Cho’s letters.

The woman with the ring laughed, as random objects started flying around her. And then it all began to fade and Luna knew it was up to her now, to interpret what she had seen. And she had a feeling she knew exactly what every picture had showed, and she didn’t like it one bit. She let herself rise into consciousness and back to Harry.

 



NOTE: Whew, that was a lot to get out, and I had to force myself to stop or it would have turned into a million word chapter! Okay, just so you’re all with me. I had come up with a basic outline based on what I laid out in the first few chapters. And then the writing got away from me when I introduced Harland’s character and it’s now a whole new thing, completely different from where I had intended to go. So right now, I’m kind of flying blind, going chapter by chapter and seeing what comes out. It’s coming pretty quickly, but without even a basic understanding of what I want to happen, there may be a delay between chapters. Not now though, because I ‘m immediately writing the next one, so I don’t lose my train of thought. Just wanted to give everyone fair warning. Please leave your thoughts about the chapter when you’re done reading, I’m answering every review and I so enjoy hearing all of your thoughts and opinions. And if you don’t like something, voice it out! Criticism is welcome too!

**NOTE TO THE STICKLERS**
I’m sure some of you might have thought at one point while reading this chapter that I was wrong about when Hermione turned seventeen. I know Hermione is supposed to be older than them, that she was supposed to have turned seventeen in the sixth book, but what can I say, that’s not the way I need it to go here. Remember, I’m definitely not Ms. Rowling, and this is fanfiction. I’ve already turned most of the characters completely around from how they were portrayed in the real books, trying to keep them true to themselves at the same time, as they react to the situations I lay out for them, so again, please don’t focus on the technical aspects. I’m about what makes a good story, and not necessarily concerned with sticking 100 percent to what was originally laid out. I just want you all to know, that I know that wasn’t how it was in the books. I’m not making mistakes on purpose here, I’m just writing a story. Happy Reading!

Chapter 15: Planning the Chase

A/N: Welcome back, more answers being revealed here, and we begin to wrap up Ginny’s reign of terror withholding the ring from everyone. So read on …Review, and Enjoy!

 

Luna’s eyes fluttered open and she stared at him in absolute horror. "What is it?" Harry asked softly, waiting for the worst.

"A warning. I was in the white room." She said slowly as he helped her sit up. She had explained this to him before, that it wasn’t like a real vision. He didn’t fully understand, but then, he didn’t fully understand his own capabilities either.

"A warning about what?"

"About what will happen if we don’t get Ginny to give the ring up soon. Someone, a woman, she was standing over Ginny’s body holding the ring."

"We would never let that happen, Luna." Harry said seriously. He’d see to it himself that Ginny never left the house again if that’s what it took.

"But Harry, this woman, she’s special. And I think she’s got something to do with Cho." Luna proceeded to tell him everything she saw including who she believed was Edgar Crescent and the random objects flying around the strange woman.

"And you’re sure you’ve never seen her before? There was no hint to tell you who she was, like with Edgar?"

"Not that I could see." She closed her eyes, trying to see it all again.

"Well what about all that stuff flying by her, no clue there?" He asked desperate to learn her identity.

"No, I know what that meant. I saw something very similar last year, with you. Before you started tossing Draco around with your mind. It’s how I knew you were special like me." She looked at him, full of concern, and a bit of fear. He began to panic. He’d never seen Luna lose her cool like this.

He swallowed hard, reading the meaning between her words. "So what you’re saying, is you think she’s telekinetic, like me?"

Luna nodded slowly, and then shook her head violently. "No, not like you, you’re stronger. But yes. You know, Draco said that he knew they had their own special people with extra abilities. I didn’t get the impression this woman was very strong, certainly nothing like when I saw you in the white room. But…"

"But what if they did find someone, what if they find one of the coven’s descendants before we do. And they wouldn’t even know, they’d just be looking for psychics." He finished the thought for her. He remembered Draco telling him that he had known Harry was in his head, because he’d had mind-readers in there before. Harry hadn’t pushed then, figuring Draco had been referring to Voldemort, but now…

"Maybe he’ll know who this woman is." Luna said, obviously following his thoughts. He rarely had walls around his mind, since the others almost always had theirs up. And he didn’t have anything to hide from Luna, the one person he would have to shield from.

"Let’s go ask him."

(BREAK)

The minute Draco let them in, Luna felt uneasy. Something wasn’t right in there, something had shifted the feeling of the room. She didn’t think it was Draco himself, he seemed fine that they had come to see him. But something was different, the energy of the room felt thicker. She tried to analyze it, as Harry explained why they had come to disturb him. Just as something, some idea began forming at the edge of her mind, Harry nudged her and told her to describe the woman.

"Oh, right." She shook her head. "She was tall and thin, olive skin, long dark hair. I think she had hazel eyes, but I’m not sure. She looked to be around thirty, maybe a little younger."

Draco thought for a moment. "That sort of describes a few people I’ve seen. It could have been Elise McKinney, did you see a star tattoo? It’s small and right here under her right eye." He pointed to the right place.

Luna shook her head. "No, no tattoo. She’s like Harry. She can move things with her mind."

"Oh." Draco said. "No, I don’t know anyone they had that could do that. I mean they have their own seers and Elise is a firestarter, like that Jacinda girl you have to go find. They also have people who can see or sense energy, one guy who can talk to animals, but no one I know of who can move things without a wand. They’re probably looking now though." Draco looked at Harry meaningfully. If they knew Harry could do it, then they’d want their own as well.

"Then they must have found her after you broke with them, because she’s the one who was writing those letters to Cho. The ones supposedly from Pansy." Luna thought out loud.

"Really?" Draco looked interested. "You saw all that?"

Luna only nodded. The room was really starting to bother her. Something was there that shouldn’t be, and while she may not be an energy senser, she had always been open to things, and often felt the shifting emotions others threw out into the world. Whatever she was feeling now, it wasn’t coming from Draco. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling, just something that didn’t belong.

As the boys sat and talked, she tried to analyze, to find her way back to the thought that Harry had interrupted earlier, but she couldn’t focus. She needed to be away from the room, take a step back and figure this out.

"But you aren’t in pain now, right?" Harry was asking Draco. They had moved on in the conversation and Draco had been telling them of Ginny’s latest visit to him.

"No, that potion worked great. It’s just a bearable throb now. But as for Ginny, I think I got through to her, a little anyway."

Luna smiled to herself. She had seen the clues that Draco was the one who would put them all back together, and apparently it was starting to work. She hoped that soon she would receive the final vision again, that they were headed back down the right path.

They left a few minutes later so Draco could rest. Standing in the hallway, Luna began to feel normal again. She knew she had felt that energy before, though not so overwhelming, and as soon as she was away, she realized instantly what it was. The ring had been calling for Harry, who after all had used it more than the rest of them. She wasn’t sure whether to say something or not, until Harry spoke.

"Did something feel different to you when we were in there?" he asked as they headed upstairs to his room.

"Yes. And I think I know what it was. I think Ginny hid the ring in Draco’s room."

Harry stopped halfway up the steps and turned to stare at her. "Then let’s go back and find it." He said finally.

She had initially agreed, but something inside of her was screaming that was wrong, that it wasn’t supposed to happen yet. "I think we should wait." Luna said carefully. "Until he leaves with Lupin."

"Why?"

"I don’t know. I just think it’d be best if he didn’t know she tried to set him up."

(BREAK)

Hermione, unable to sleep had left Harry’s bed and gone to her own room. He and Luna had come and told her all about the vision, their visit to Draco and their thoughts on Ginny putting the ring in his room. But none of that is what kept her awake, as disturbing as the news had been. It was the letter she had sent off to her parents. Harry was sleeping fitfully next door and she hadn’t wanted to bother him when he had so much on his plate already, especially since she was one of the problems constantly consuming him. And the fact that he was once again cut off from his parents made her uneasy with discussing her own fears, despite their pledge for total disclosure.

Wayne and Mildred Granger were hard people to please, but she knew that at one point they had been proud of her and her talent. Hermione’s greatest fear in life was disappointing anyone, especially her parents. The problem was, that this time, they had disappointed her as well and it hurt more than she cared to acknowledge. She realized that they had just been reacting to the situation in the only way they knew how, but the fact that they hadn’t trusted her, had taken the word of a newspaper they hadn’t even known existed, proved to her in her own mind that they had just been looking for an excuse. They had always wanted her to succeed, but in the life they had envisioned for her. When she had gotten her letter to Hogwarts, they had, at first, been thrilled. It meant to them that their daughter was finally special. Hermione didn’t know when that had changed.

Over the years spent with Harry and Ron away from the Grangers, she had excelled, had opened up, had come into her own and made her own decisions. Every time she had returned to her parents, it became harder and harder to live up to their expectations, to live by their stringent rules and to acknowledge that what they told her was the truth. She felt there was so much now that she knew, that she better understood the world than they ever could. Over the last 6 years, she had seen and done things she would have never thought possible. There was no way she could now live the way they wanted, to throw away all the wonderful magic she was discovering in herself and those around her and become an ordinary person, a dentist like her parents. She wanted nothing to do with the muggle world any longer, it held nothing for her. It was in the wizarding world that she had finally excelled in every way and in her letter, she had tried to explain that to them. She could only hope that they understood.

A small booming sound broke through her thoughts and she leapt out of bed a bundle of nerves. She went to the bookcase and peeked in on Harry, he was still tossing and turning, but fast asleep. Moving quickly to the other side, she checked on Ron. He was very still but snoring loudly, also fast asleep. Carefully opening the door she made her way downstairs and found Fred in the hallway outside his room, bent over double and trying to catch his breath. Smoke was billowing out from his doorway.

"Do you know how many people will be out on the street if you blow this house up?" she asked.

Coughing to clear his throat, he turned to her startled. "This is nothing, I’ve been way closer to burning the house down before." He grinned finally straightening himself.

"Yeah, does Harry know you’re looking to make him homeless?" she crossed her arms and grinned back at him.

"What he doesn’t know, won’t hurt me, right? What are you doing up anyway? It’s like two in the morning."

"Couldn’t sleep." She shrugged. "What exactly are you working on in there?"

"Something I could really use George’s opinion on." Fred replied angrily. "I’m really about ready to just go rat Ginny out to mum and dad. Let them deal with her, because I have no idea how we’re supposed to."

"So why don’t you, then? I don’t know why you and Ron and Harry are walking on eggshells around her. Maybe your parents need to know what she’s up to. I mean what happens when they want to talk to George again?"

"Mum’s already asked, earlier today actually. I made up this whole thing about how we can only use it once a day and Harry had already called up Sirius. Don’t know what I’ll tell her when she asks tomorrow. And we can’t tell them about Ginny because they already have so much going on! I mean dad is going crazy trying to find Snape, dealing with all the Ministry business and trying to get you guys all set up for school. And mum, well, I just can’t bring myself to tell her. After last year, the last thing she needs is to feel like she’s losing another one of us."

Hermione felt her temper rising. "And it’s fair that with everything we all have to deal with we’re also stuck with taking care of her?"

"We who, Hermione? Other than letting her use your face as a punching bag, you have nothing to do with her."

"I told you all, I-"

"Did it to yourself. I know what you said, and I know that you know that we know you’re lying." He said with a grin.

"What?"

"You heard me." He grinned again before turning serious. "How mad is Harry, exactly."

"At Ginny? Probably a lot more than he’s letting on. Especially now." She told him of Harry and Luna’s suspicion that she was trying to frame Draco, leaving out the vision Luna had about that woman taking the ring and Ginny lying still below her. They had all decided to spare her brothers that information until necessary. And if all went according to plan, they wouldn’t ever have to know, since they intended to search Draco’s room as soon as he left with Lupin.

Fred simply shook his head in disbelief. "Draco was never one of my favorite people, and he did a lot of horrible things over the years, but at some point, you just gotta think that guy’s been through enough. What is wrong with her?"

"I try not to think about her too much, no offense."

"Yeah, I guess I could see why. But she’s all I think about anymore, which is why I was trying to distract myself with a project. I was waiting to try it after talking to George, but…" he looked her over thoughtfully. "Maybe you could help me."

"With what?" she asked cautiously.

"Come on and see." he motioned her to follow him back into his room. Looking around, she saw several cauldrons bubbling, test tubes full of multi-colored liquids, and scorch marks all over the walls and ceiling.

"So what is all this for?"

"I’m trying to help our wolf friends. Find a cure, you know?" he looked slightly embarrassed. "And before you get all know-it-all on me, I realize that Drake said it couldn’t be done. But really, what else have I got to work on? My store in Hogsmeade was destroyed, Lee’s still working to put the one in Diagon Alley back together. I need something to keep myself occupied."

"And what better way to stay busy than to attempt the impossible?" she asked.

"It’s better than laying awake in bed doing nothing. If I can’t sleep I may as well try and be useful. Do you want to try and help, or would you rather go back and lay in the dark, letting whatever’s bothering you eat away your soul?" he handed her a lab coat and an extra pair of goggles.

She eyed the offered materials warily. "Well, apparently it’d be safer back in my room." Then, with a sigh, she took the coat and goggles and began putting them on. "But I guess it would be better to have something else to think about."

"And if we’re successful, Lupin and Draco would owe us for life!" Fred laughed. "Plus we could throw some of it at Harland and take away his bite."

They worked in silence for awhile, using what knowledge they had, referencing the herb and potion books Fred had found in the house when they didn’t know something. "So…" Fred started awhile later while they were waiting for their brew to boil, "what is it exactly that’s keeping you awake? Another fight with Mr. Perfect?"

"No, we took care of that."

"Hmmm, thoughts about the coven? Ron told me about Jacinda. Lucky girl, starting fires is an even cooler power than Harry’s mind thing."

"No, I’m not worried about that, I’ve no doubt we’ll track them all down. It’s just a matter of doing the work."

"So what’s bothering you?"

"I wrote to my parents today. Finally. I guess I’m nervous to hear back from them. They must be so mad at me, they haven’t tried to contact me at all since I came here. I mean, you came here and a few hours later, Molly and Arthur were here after you."

"So you wanted them to come here and drag you back home?"

"Of course not! I just…I wish that I felt like they cared. That they wanted to take the time to understand me and my life instead of being disappointed that I rejected the life they wanted for me."

"Well, I could say parents suck, but truth be told, mine are pretty awesome. I’ll kill you, by the way, if you tell anyone I said that." Fred gave a little laugh. "I know I give them trouble, but it works for us, I wouldn’t trade them. Maybe the Grangers will come around. What did Harry have to say when you talked to him about all of this?"

"I didn’t tell him. How could I?" She shook her head in despair.

"What are you talking about? I’m sure he would care that this is upsetting you."

"I know he’d care, and I know he’d sit there and talk it out with me and try to make me feel better. But how am I supposed to complain to him, of all people, about my parents? He went his whole life without them, was raised by horrible people, finally got the chance to know his parents and now they’ve been taken from him all over again."

Fred was silent, lost in thought. Then he shook his head and slammed his fist on the table. "It’s not fair, is it? There’s so much else going on, so many real things to worry about and here we all are being held hostage by my sister. I hate that I can’t talk to George. I hate that Harry can’t talk to James and Lily. That none of us can talk to Sirius or Neville. I hate it, Hermione." He slammed his fist again.

She put a hand on his shoulder in reassurance. "Draco and Lupin have to leave in a few days. Harry’s going to go get the ring then. She hid it in there, both he and Luna are sure."

"Why not just go now? Explain to Draco that we know he had nothing to do with it?"

"They want to wait. They think it’s better he not know she tried to set him up. And I agree. Like you said, we’ve all got so much else going on, and he’s not only trying heal, but he also has to deal with this whole werewolf thing now. And he seems to get along with Ginny, and despite setting him up, she seems to get along best with him. Harry and Luna think it’s better not to rock the boat and just take care of this as quietly as possible."

"Yeah, well, if they’re going to be all diplomatic about it." He said sullenly. Then looking into the cauldron, he brightened. "Well, if we succeed here, the werewolf thing will be one less worry for Draco and the rest of us. It’s boiling, time for phase two!"

(BREAK)

"You think you guys can do it?" Harry asked. It was early in the morning, but he had woken when Hermione had tried to slip silently back into bed. Asking where she had been, she explained her inability to sleep and subsequent time spent with Fred. Now he felt hopeful, a feeling he thought had deserted him.

"Honestly, I don’t think so. I mean, Drake tried for years and came up empty. I just don’t think there’s a cure. But I wasn’t going to burst his bubble, and besides, more impossible things have happened."

The doorbell stopped his response. "Who could that be this early?" Harry rose and together they went down to answer the door. Arthur had beat them to it.

"Ah, Harry. This is Edgar Crescent." Arthur indicated the short balding man standing in the entryway. "Edgar, meet Harry Potter and Hermione Granger."

Pleasantries were exchanged and they all went into the parlor. "Sorry to bother you here, Arthur, but you had said this was of the utmost importance and I didn’t want to tell you at the office, where anyone could hear." Edgar said as they settled themselves.

"I appreciate that. What have you got, Edgar?"

"Unfortunately, I have Sarah Elaine."

"Are you sure?" Arthur sat up straight at the news.

"I triple checked, hers is the only writing we have in the entire system that matches these letters. And it’s a hundred percent match at that."

"Who’s Sarah Elaine?" Harry asked.

"A psychic witch." Edgar answered.

"She was also the daughter of Neil Elaine, who was a Death Eater." Arthur sighed, knowing Harry would want nothing less than full disclosure. "Neil was caught and cornered, but he tried to fight his way out. Wound up getting himself killed by Aurors. Sarah was a child at the time, and the ministry took her in and tried to turn her from the influence of her father’s beliefs. But she was a mean little girl and proved to share her father’s views, feeling we had wronged her family. The Ministry kept her from being able to get her wand, as they did with many of the deceased Death Eaters’ children, but they learned the hard way that she could move things without a wand. She threw tantrums in every home she was placed in, causing things to go flying at people, destroying everything in her sight. At age sixteen, she ran away and no one was able to track her down."

"Though, from what I hear, her ability is no where near what you’re capable of, Mr. Potter." Edgar smiled at him in a friendly manner.

"We’re keeping that quiet, Edgar." Arthur scolded. "Try not to give credence to the rumors everyone is spreading around."

"What do you want, Arthur? The boy did it right there at the Leaky Cauldron, in front of several witnesses. There’s only so much we can cover up, you know. People talk. At least we were able to keep it out of the paper." Edgar sighed and rose. "I know, I’m shutting my big mouth now. I have to get into the office anyway. Here’s everything we have on her." And after handing Arthur a thin file, Edgar took his leave.

"Is there a picture of Sarah in there? A current one?" Hermione asked as he began looking through the information.

"Just this." Arthur held it out to her. "It was taken on her fifteenth birthday by the foster family she was with at the time."

Harry leaned over to take a look and saw a pretty young girl, with long dark hair, olive toned skin and hazel eyes. Hermione met his gaze and he nodded. It sure looked like it could be the person Luna saw. "Can we borrow this for a moment?" Harry asked.

"I suppose it would be silly to ask why?" Arthur raised an eyebrow.

"To see if Draco recognizes her. We’ll bring it right back." Harry answered quickly. Then he practically ran up the stairs, Hermione hot on his heels. He banged on Luna’s door harder than he had intended, but he was excited. She answered looking sleepy.

"What’s going on?" she asked as Harry thrust the photo in her face without a word. He watched as her eyes focused and grew wider. "Where did you get that?"

"Is it her?" Harry asked anxiously without answering her question.

"Yeah, only much younger than I saw her." Luna looked confused. "What’s going on, who is she?"

"Her name is Sarah. Sarah Elaine." Hermione answered.

"Never heard of her." Luna said, still looking confused.

"Yeah, well I have a feeling we’re going to hear a lot about her from now on. Her writing matched the letters, she’s definitely the one who’s been working with Marietta and Cho. And now, we have to figure out why." Harry said grimly.

(BREAK)

Later, they had all gathered in Harry’s room to discuss the latest news. Draco insisted he had never heard of, nor seen Sarah before, and that he hadn’t known of anyone else that was supposed to be helping Cho the year before. A knock on the door interrupted the discussion.

Harry got up to admit Molly who smiled at them and held up several envelopes. "Mail’s here, there are letters from school." She looked around and her smile faded. "Where’s Ginny?"

"She wanted to take a nap." Ron said quickly.

"Oh? Is she not feeling well?" Molly looked worried.

"Just tired like everyone else. I was thinking of heading down for a nap myself." Fred assured his mother.

"Hmmm. I’ll give her hers later then." Was all Molly said before heading back downstairs with Ginny’s mail.

"At some point, don’t you all think they should know that everyone is on the outs with Ginny?" Draco asked.

"That’s not your call, Malfoy." Ron said defensively. Draco simply shrugged.

Harry passed out the letters, catching Hermione’s disappointment that there was no response from the Grangers. You only wrote them yesterday. He tried to silently reassure her. She gave him a smile that didn’t quite meet her eyes and he felt her uncertainty.

Everyone had received Hogwart’s mail, except Fred of course. And they opened them expecting the usual supply list and class schedule. "Oh man, you guys have a heavy load!" Fred exclaimed looking over Ron’s shoulder.

But the workload wasn’t what bothered Harry. He was reading the note McGonagall had included and seeing Ron’s face, he knew his friend was feeling the same thing he was. Total and utter disbelief.

To Harry Potter,
I regret to inform you that due to your decision to go for early graduation, you are unable to be a part of the Gryffindor quidditch team. Due to the large amount of classes and the fact that you will be unable to complete an entire season on the team, we must leave the spot open for any other student able to meet with the practice and game schedules. I take no pleasure in informing you of this, Potter, believe me.
As to your classes, you will be receiving your timeturner upon your return to Hogwarts so that you will be able to meet all the requirements for graduation. Additionally, you, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy will be rooming together in a separate dormitory off the Headmaster’s office. Please report to me immediately upon your arrival. I will be expecting you all in my office.
Sincerely,
Professor Minerva McGonagall

"No quidditch…" Ron said weakly. "That’s completely unfair. They never said that when this whole deal was being set up."

"Come on, would it really have changed your mind?" Hermione said unsympathetically. "It’s not like you guys were going to be professional players."

"Right. It was just for fun." Harry agreed quietly. "But still…"

"Oh, not you too!" Hermione turned to him. "You’re upset you can’t play a silly game? Weren’t you the one ready to leave school all together to ‘not waste time’?"

"Yeah, but…Now I’m going to school, I thought…." He didn’t know what he had thought, but quidditch had definitely been a part of the picture. It was one of the few pure joys in his life, hell he’d nearly given his life while playing.

Hermione shook her letter angrily in his face. "You know what mine says? That because I’m doing this whole half a year thing I can’t be made Head Girl! It was what I had been working towards!"

"I’m sorry." He and Ron said together, lowering their heads. Harry truly felt bad, he knew she had been striving for the title of Head Girl since her first year and her choice to support him was keeping her from it.

"It’s fine." She answered more calmly. "I had already assumed it would be this way, but seeing it in print, making it all real, I wasn’t ready for it to be true I guess." Harry put his arm around her in comfort. "It’s not such a big deal… I suppose."

"You think you guys have it bad!" Draco burst out. "I knew since Hogsmeade the stupid game wasn’t an option for me this year!" He raised his half arm as proof. Then he rose to his feet and continued his rant. "And I’m not even a prefect anymore, let alone something as prestigious as Head Boy. And on top of those things, I now have to explain to a lot of people who are already against me why I’m rooming with you three! You think that’s something I look forward to? At least you guys will be able to walk around wherever you want, do whatever you want, while I sit for months in a room hiding. Oh except for the few days I get to go off who knows where with Lupin and turn into a monster. So boo hoo, you guys don’t get to finish out your school careers as quidditch heroes. Everyone only moved heaven and earth to set this all up for you anyway! Of course they’d do anything for Potter. And if that means doing anything for Weasley or Granger then so be it! I didn’t ask to be treated like the rest of you, okay! I don’t even want to go back!" he stalked out of the room.

"Wow." Ron said quietly. "How long do you think he’s been holding that all in?"

Harry looked around at them all a minute before running after Draco. He caught up to him just as he was going into his room, and Harry raced to put a foot in the door to keep from being shut out. Shoving his way in he closed the door behind him and turned to Draco, who was staring him down, a dangerous look on his face. "What do you want, Potter, because if it’s an apology, you might as well just leave now."

Harry shook his head. "Everyone’s is allowed to lose it every once in awhile, Draco. Especially when they’ve been holding everything in for so long."

"I don’t need a therapy session."

"I never said you did. And I could care less if you’re pissed that I followed you, it’s my house and you have to listen to what I say." He crossed his arms, knowing that the best way to get through to Draco was with hardness. Like himself, Draco didn’t respond well to gentleness or sympathetic treatment. It wasn’t how either of them had been raised.

"Then say what you have to say and get out."

"Okay, I want to say that I’m not angry at your little outburst, I’m disappointed."

Draco scoffed. "Like I care."

"Exactly! You don’t care what I think, what any of us think, so why the hell are you so worried about what everyone else will think? You said yourself, Pansy isn’t a genius. And we all know Crabbe and Goyle are brainless thugs, and the rest of the Slytherins aren’t exactly the most popular kids in school. As for everyone else, well, you were a mean kid. You upset a lot of people and yeah, you’ll have to deal with the fallout, but none of them are all that impressive. I’ve dealt with their hatred before. Besides, we’ll be there, we won’t let them hurt you too bad." Harry finished with a taunt.

"Sometimes, I really don’t like you." Draco shook his head at the floor.

"That’s unfortunate since you’re my favorite person in the world." Harry shot back, smiling inwardly. Draco sighed and sat on the bed, letting go of his anger. Harry had gotten through, and now they could be honest. "I’m scared to go back there too, you know." He confided.

"I’m not scared." Draco said stubbornly. "I just…it’s all so suddenly different. I was a completely different person this time last year."

"Maybe." Harry answered sitting next to him. "Maybe you were different, or maybe you were just lying to yourself. I know you want to think that this change, these feelings of remorse came out of nowhere, starting with that day in Knockturn Alley. But I don’t believe it. I mean, it had to always be inside you somewhere. I’m sure if you think about it, there were other times in your life when you had doubts, I think it was all just building until you couldn’t hold it in anymore. You can’t hide who you really are forever." Harry recalled his own fears last year, when he had momentarily stepped out of who he was. But he was never meant to be the cold hard person he’d become, no matter how easily he’d slipped into the role. It was easy for him, and Draco, to be mean, because they hadn’t been shown much kindness in their formative years. But Harry now truly believed that neither of them were really those people.

"Well, at least you seem sure. I’m not. I still find myself thinking the way I used to, and I always seem to be fighting with myself. What if I can’t win, or worse, what if I’m lying to myself now and that really is who I was meant to be?"

"Not possible. Because if you really were supposed to follow your family, you wouldn’t be fighting against your upbringing at all."

"It’s a nice thought Potter." Draco handed over his own Hogwarts letter. While it still bore the Slytherin seal, the letter had been written and signed by Professor McGonagall, head of the Gryffindor house. "Another reminder of how different things are. I guess seeing this just pushed me over, you know? And if something as little as this could upset me so bad…it’s just hard to believe this is my life now. That I’m supposed to be this person."

"Well, I can’t convince you, you’ll have to convince yourself." Harry said quietly. "As for Draco the werewolf, I’m not worried. Lupin wouldn’t steer you wrong, and I trust him implicitly."

"And should Harland show up?" Draco asked.

"I trust you enough to fight that as well. I think your willpower is a lot stronger than you want to believe."

"I hope we never have to find out."

"Well, they’re hunting him even now, so maybe we never will."

They sat together in silence for a long time. Harry felt Draco’s uncertainty, his despair. He tested his own willpower during that time, trying to be there for the other boy, while ignoring the scorching tension he felt from the ring calling for him. He wanted to rip the room apart, find the ring and jam it on his finger, never to be removed again. But he forced himself to believe that knowing where it was, was enough for now. Draco had enough on his plate without the knowledge that the one person he actually seemed to want to feel close to was trying to set him up for a fall.

(BREAK)

Fred pushed the cauldron away in disgust. He had been looking for a clear lavender color and the brown sludge produced was a disappointment. No way he could give that to Draco or Lupin to drink. Hermione had been right, he was attempting the impossible. As he sat with his head in his hands, his stomach rumbled loudly. He realized he had worked right through dinner, and right through everyone else going to bed if his watch was showing him the correct time. With a sigh he decided to go refuel himself before attempting the cure again.

Passing Ginny’s room, he saw the light was still on under the doorway. He gave a momentary pause, but went on to the kitchen. Talking to his sister was near impossible these days but he knew he’d have to attempt it sometime soon. He wouldn’t let her go, not like they had with Percy, no matter what she had done, no matter where her head was. But his anger, it was too much right then. Who knows how long George would be around before the next phase, whatever that may be, and Ginny was taking that time away.

He sat at the table, a plate full of leftovers in front of him and tried to eat without thinking. It didn’t go well. Away from his project, all he could focus on was his desire to wear the ring. Even the fact that his headache had finally gone away couldn’t deter him from the need. She had to have a good reason for doing this to him, didn’t she? He couldn’t believe his little sister could be so cruel for no reason at all. Finally unable to hold himself back anymore, he rose and went back up to her room, knocking impatiently at the door. She answered looking annoyed. He didn’t care.

Brushing past her, he strode into the room and turned to face her. "What have I done to you, Ginny?"

"What are you talking about?" she asked angrily.

"I know Harry hurt you very badly and some part of you wants to get even. But I want to know what I did that hurt you so bad that you would want to do this to me. Whatever it is, I’m sorry okay. I’m really sorry. But I need you to stop now, to just give the ring back." Fred hung his head. "I miss George, I need to talk to him again. Please, Ginny."

At first she looked surprised, and then hurt. "I don’t have-"

"Yes, you do! You know exactly where it is because you put it there."

"Can’t you ever be on my side, Fred? Just once can’t I rely on my family?"

He felt his anger rise. "When we can’t rely on you? You’re holding everyone in this house hostage, Ginny! Harry can’t come just take the ring because he’s worried about upsetting the rest of us, and Ron is so worried you’ll fall apart that he can’t come make you do the right thing. Luna knows you have it, saw you take it in fact, but she can’t make a move because she’s worried about upsetting you and some grand vision she has of the future. Hermione can’t even stand the sight of you, and Draco, well he’s the one you’re trying to set up, for some reason. And none of us can tell mum and dad because they’re already dealing with so much. We’re all in a holding pattern because of you! There are other things for us all to worry about you know! Snape’s missing, Draco and Lupin have to go away, we have to find these coven people, you all have to go back to school soon, a mad werewolf is running around biting people and oh yeah, Voldemort’s out there somewhere. No one has time for this, Ginny, so if you’re looking for attention or something, message received! Now give it back!"

"I don’t have it!" she screamed at him. "You want to search me? The room? Go ahead, I don’t have it!"

"That’s really clever, baby sister." Fred answered meanly. "I know you don’t have it with you, we all do. Harry and Luna figured it out and they know exactly where you put it. And as soon as Draco leaves, they’re going to go get it."

"What are you talking about?" her voice held confidence, but Fred could see the worry in her eyes.

"They know, Ginny. They know you put it in his room and they’re waiting for him to leave to go get it. You know why? As desperately as Harry wants that ring, he actually cares about Draco’s feelings, unlike you. That kid’s been through hell and back proving himself and the last thing he needs is to know someone is trying to ruin all of the effort and progress he’s made. When are you going to be done torturing him, Ginny? When are you going to be done punishing the rest of us? Haven’t we all been through enough?"

"So they think the ring is in Draco’s room and that’s my fault too?" Her anger was hollow, she was losing her conviction. Fred pressed on.

"This is finally going to end in two days, one way or another. Please, Ginny, don’t let them go find the ring there. Get it yourself, bring it to Harry and apologize. Make it right before it’s made right for you. You might save yourself the added grief and some of your friendships."

"Why should I be the one to apologize? If the ring is in his room, there’s no proof I put it there. You all just don’t want to believe Draco could still be the same old guy underneath it all. Where will my apology be?"

Fred shook his head. "You really should have thought this through better, Gin. Of course there’ll be proof. George is watching us, remember? He’s seen everything you’ve done. So has Neville and Sirius, and so have James and Lily. You really think they’ll all lie for you?" he watched the thought sink into her head. "Like I said, this is going to end soon, one way or another. Take the high road, Ginny. Please just go get it and give it back before they find it without you."

"They won’t find it."

"Okay, have it your way. But if you think we aren’t all watching his room, you’re wrong. If you’re planning a visit to get it back without us knowing, you’re delusional. Two days, Ginny. Two days and this is finally over!" Fred turned and stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He leaned against the wall breathing heavily, trying to get himself under control. He could hear her, screaming and throwing things, and he smiled. She had tortured him for more than a week with this whole thing. Let her stew in the fact that she wouldn’t get away with it. Then, they’d get her help…force her if necessary.

(BREAK)

Hermione sat on the stairs, taking a turn watching Draco’s room. The last thing any of them wanted was for Ginny to have the chance to hide it again. She looked up from her book at the sound of approaching footsteps and saw Harry walking toward her, a grim expression on his face. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing." He said quickly. "It’s just…the mail’s here." He handed her an envelope and her hopes rose. Her parents had written back! But when she looked at the familiar scrawl, she realized it belonged to her headmaster, and not to either Granger. Harry sat next to her and put an arm around her shoulders as she opened the letter.

Dear Hermione,
I have received a letter from your parents and it is my duty to inform you that they are requesting to see you. It is against my advisement at this time, for many reasons, however they were not to be deterred, and as they are your legal guardians I am forced to oblige, regardless of the underlying hurt felt by both you and them due to recent events.. Of course, the decision to see them ultimately rests with you and whether you have either the desire or fortitude for such a meeting at this time. Should you choose to meet with Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I would recommend you bring your friends with you, as we often need support when we least expect it.
I am required to request an immediate response to this missive as your parents demand an immediate audience with you in order to secure their continued cooperation with their protection. Should you agree, a time has been set up for you this weekend and all you would have to do is show up.
Your Humble Headmaster,
Albus Dumbledore

"So?" Harry asked after a long while.

"They want to see me. This weekend." Hermione answered quietly.

"Your parents? They wrote to Dumbledore instead of you?" Harry asked in confusion.

"Yeah, they were probably too upset to write to me directly." She had read between the lines of Dumbledore’s missive and could only imagine what her parents had to say to her, since it had been too much to put on paper. "He said it’s my decision whether or not I go."

"Well, what do you want to do?"

"I don’t know, but I have to figure it out right away." She handed him the letter so he could read it himself. "Would you go with me?"

"You know I would." He said right away, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"Do you think Ron and Luna would go too?" She asked. "I just… No one can get to me like they can. I just want as many people that like me around as possible."

"Mione, I’m sure your parents love you." He offered, pulling her close.

"Yeah, probably. But I don’t think they like me very much." She held back the tears, knowing how unfair it was that she was crying to him about being able to see her parents, who were, after all, very much alive.

"You, me, Luna, Ron, Fred- we’ll all go. It’ll be a party and we all need some time out of the house. Did you know Molly’s insisting on going to Diagon Alley without us for our supplies? I have Arthur arguing on our behalf though."

"I like it here." She sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. "It’s the only place we’re all safe."

He rested his lips in her hair and was silent for a long time. "For now we’re all safe. At least from anyone on the outside."

She let the statement pass. He was one of the most optimistic pessimists she had ever met, and she was beginning to understand that it was important to let some of those thoughts out. Better than letting them eat away at you. She had major doubts about the outcome of meeting with the Grangers, but she couldn’t bring herself to follow Harry’s example and talk about it. Once he had the ring back, maybe. But not now.

(BREAK)

They were watching her. All Ginny could do was pace in her room and try to figure a way out of this. She could just leave. Take off and put her idea of disappearing into the muggle world into action. Maybe find a way to Australia, she’d always thought it was beautiful there. They could have their stupid ring and all be mad at her for however long they wanted and she wouldn’t have to deal with any of it. She couldn’t do that though, because more than anything she wanted to make this better. She didn’t want Fred and Ron or even George mad at her, she didn’t want her parents to worry. She didn’t want Harry or Draco to think she was a horrible person. Besides, she couldn’t go out into the world by herself right now, not without fear.

And then the plan formed. She would take the ring back and follow Draco and Lupin! Then after he was all done, she would convince Draco to go with her and use the ring as leverage. She’d give it back to the others, who would be sure to follow her ring or no ring, in exchange for them leaving her be. She’d be free and she wouldn’t be alone and they’d get their stupid ring back. And maybe, just maybe her family would miss her so much they wouldn’t have room to feel angry. And maybe Harry would be so happy to have the ring back he’d forget she’d ever hurt him so badly in the first place. After all, as Fred had implied, she felt they were even now after the pain Harry had inflicted upon her. She hadn’t even realized that was why she had taken the ring in the first place, until Fred had made his little outburst. But now it clicked, and she knew that’s why she had gone into Harry’s room when the opportunity had presented itself and stolen the one thing that would hurt him most, regardless of convincing herself she had wanted to talk to George. After all, she hadn’t called him, hadn’t even used the ring once since it came into her possession. Now, it would be her bargaining chip. Her only other option was to wait for them to find it and then turn on her, and then she’d be trapped here with them all hating her. It wasn’t a hard choice.

She opened the door and saw Ron, passed out on the stairs. He’d been awake three hours earlier when she’d heard him take over from Fred. They changed every five hours, so she had time, as long as her brother stayed asleep. She crept down the hall and lightly tapped on Draco’s door. She could hear him moving around in there, so she knew he was awake. As soon as he opened the door, she rushed in, so he wouldn’t have time to question a sleeping Ron.

"Something I can help you with?" he asked.

"I couldn’t sleep and decided to come see how you were doing." She answered simply. "I figured you’d be having a harder time, the closer it gets to the time for you to leave."

"I’m definitely feeling more anxious, like the walls are closing in on me." He admitted. "But Lupin said I wouldn’t feel like myself for a few days before and after."

"And what about your- um-" she pointed to his missing arm.

"That’s about done I think, until the next treatment." He looked down at it shyly. "I got the elbow back." He quietly added.

She could tell he was happy about the progress but embarrassed to show it. "That’s really great. Can I see?"

He looked at her strangely. "You’d really want to?"

She did not want to see. But she didn’t know how else to show that she was just as excited for him. She didn’t want him to feel self-conscious. "Sure! It’s not everyday you get to see a medical miracle, right?"

"I wouldn’t go that far…" he was uncertain.

"It’s amazing Draco. And I’m so happy for you, that it’s working." She watched as he slowly rolled up his sleeve. She stepped closer and studied his arm, now a stub ending just after the elbow. It wasn’t as gross as she had imagined, more fascinating than anything else. Without thinking, she reached out to touch it, because it had looked so unreal. He stepped back in horror, pulling his sleeve down and turning from her. "I’m sorry." She said softly.

"Are you screwing with my head?" he asked suddenly.

"What?"

"I mean, you’re trying really hard to be nice to me all of a sudden. And you’re trying really hard to convince me to take your side on this whole theft issue. So why do you care what I think. What are you up to?" He still had his back to her. She didn’t know what to say, and she didn’t know why she felt so hurt.

"Can’t even face me when you’re making accusations anymore, can you?" She said finally, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around. "I told you, I want to be friends, I want someone on my side. I never tried to hide my initial motives, and I’ve done nothing but try to make that happen!"

"Why me? Why not just patch things up with the others? Get your life back."

"What life?" she asked angrily. "The one where I stood in the background as Ron’s little sister? The one where I’m lost amid the faces of greatness? I have nothing to offer them anymore because I’m tired of standing in their shadows! And I chose you because you’re supposed to be different from them! You weren’t part of the group, someone I was forced to like. I chose to like you, Draco, maybe because I can’t like them right now. I can’t have Harry, I can’t have Luna. I can’t even have my own brothers to myself!"

"And I was what was left over?" he sounded hurt.

"No! You gave me hope! Don’t you see? If we were friends, then I wouldn’t be alone like Percy. He was always alone, never had friends, couldn’t relate to people. I never wanted that! But here I am, friendless because I can no longer relate to anyone, for whatever reason. You were here, and maybe I wanted to use you, but I needed you too. I’m scared that they’re all right and I’m cracking up. I can’t be alone!"

Ginny hadn’t realized she was crying this time until he reached out to wipe away her tears. She hadn’t been so honest with anyone, including herself, in a long time. Closing her eyes, she relaxed into his touch. "Ginny." He whispered her name as he cupped his hand around the back of her neck and brought her face roughly to his. Their lips met in an explosion of hunger that she hadn’t been expecting. Letting instinct drive her, she threw her arms around his neck, pressing herself tight against him. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer still, providing no doubt of his desire as she melted against him. Her own passion bubbled over and she lightly bit his lip, drawing a low animalistic growl from deep within him that sent shivers of excitement down her spine; it had sounded so dangerous.

And that’s when he pushed her away. She had never felt so instantly cold and lonely. They were both breathing heavily, staring at each other from across the room. "I’m sorry." He said finally. "Like I said, I’m not really feeling like myself right now."

"I’m not sorry at all." She said steadily. And if she was continuing to be honest with herself, she wasn’t sorry it happened. She was only sorry it ended. "And I’ve never felt more like myself."

Draco shook his head. "Sometimes, I really think you’re messing with me."

"Think what you want, it’s the truth. I wanted it to happen. Because maybe I really am starting to like you."

"You are so hard to read. Truth, lies…it all sounds the same from you. How do I tell the difference?"

"Maybe that’s not important." She said quietly. "Maybe I don’t care whether or not you believe me. I just- Will you do me a favor? Will you just lay here and hold me? I just need to feel close to someone. And I want it to be you."

"Ginny, I wasn’t lying, I don’t feel normal. I don’t trust myself."

She turned and climbed into his bed, pulling the covers back for him to join her. "I trust you. And I just want to lay here, maybe fall asleep. I just want to feel…connected."

He hesitated, wanting so badly to be a good guy, to do the right thing. Ultimately he joined her, she knew he would. She moved herself in close, pulling his arm around her and resting her head against his shoulder. He felt so thin, even with the weight he had put back on, and she worried he wouldn’t be well enough to change.

They lay there, holding each other for a long while. She passed the time thinking of all the ways she was now worried for Draco, and how she’d take care of him when they ran off together in a few days. After she convinced him to go of course. But once she had followed him, he wouldn’t have much of a choice, so she didn’t let it concern her. After a time, she felt him drift off, his arm falling limply from around her shoulder. She disentangled herself as gently as possible and silently crept out of bed. Reaching under the mattress, she retrieved the ring and tip toed to the door.

Allowing herself a glance back, she regretted that she had to leave, that he would find her gone when he awoke. But she couldn’t let the others see she had been there, and after what had happened between them, she doubted he’d be telling them of her visit this time. Peeking into the hall, she saw Ron, still fast asleep on the stairs, snoring. He obviously had a gift for sleeping soundly anywhere. Smiling inwardly, she crept back down the hall and into her own room feeling triumphant. She had the ring, and soon, she’d use it to bargain for a whole new life.

(BREAK)

"Normally we’d have left yesterday, I like having the extra day as a buffer. But with us both on the mend, everyone decided it would be best to wait for today." Lupin explained as Drake was giving Draco a last minute check up.

"So, should I pack or something?" Draco had been on edge since Ginny’s visit. He was looking forward to leaving, to get some time to himself and sort things out in his head. It was unfortunate that this was his way out, and his ignorance to the process embarrassed him.

Lupin simply smiled at him in encouragement. "Just a change of clothes."

"You both are looking good, health-wise. Obviously neither of you are a hundred percent and I trust I don’t need to tell you to take it easy out there." Drake said, handing them both a small bottle of the Wolfsbane potion which they put in their bags.

They were preparing to leave, and Draco felt himself panic. He wasn’t ready for this to be real, wanted more time. "Don’t you want to say good-bye to Tonks?" Draco asked desperately.

"We, uh, already took care of that. She went into the ministry very early this morning." Lupin blushed slightly.

"Yeah, they aren’t good at public good-byes." Drake joked with a wink as they all made their way downstairs. Everyone, including Ginny, was downstairs in the parlor waiting. Draco felt awkward and wished they could have just quietly left the house without notice.

He and Lupin received many good byes and good lucks and he felt himself panic even more. He knew they were trying to be nice, but all the attention was making him extremely uncomfortable and he began to feel claustrophobic. Part of him was aware that his shifting hormones were responsible, but the way he was feeling was really just a much more intense version of the way he always felt, at his father’s house, at school, and especially here.

Ginny had been the only one to remain seated and he met her eyes as they turned to finally leave. He didn’t know what her plan was, he’d wanted to believe everything that had happened was real. But when he woke to find her gone, he felt extremely alone. He began to believe that going to see him, getting close to him had been part of a bigger picture. She had needed to be in his room, for whatever reason. And the way he had wanted her had been obvious, more than he had intended to reveal. The animal currently brewing within him had taken over his common sense and he decided he would request the Wolfsbane potion sooner from then on. And after he got back and returned to normal, he would pull Ginny aside and they’d have a long talk about motives. Using these thoughts as a distraction, he got into the car with Lupin to be driven, who knew where, to be dropped off far from civilization.

(BREAK)

Harry felt anxious. They had all sat down together for breakfast after Draco and Lupin left, at Molly’s insistence. Harry knew that he and Fred both were itching to get into Draco’s room, but since Arthur had taken the morning off, they couldn’t find it in them to deny the Weasleys the family time they had obviously been looking for. Ginny stared at her plate the whole time, as the others kept shooting nervous glances in her direction. Only the adults were oblivious to the tension, and Harry tried very hard to keep them from noticing, engaging both Molly and Arthur in conversation.

Finally, Arthur rose and announced he had to be getting to the office. As soon as he was gone and Molly’s back was turned, they rose as a group and walked upstairs. Harry noted that Ginny had stayed behind. Fine, let her hide with her mother for now. As long as they got the ring back.

Something isn’t right, Harry. He heard Luna’s voice whisper through his head as they climbed the stairs.

He’d had the same feeling but had chalked it up to his anxiety. What are you thinking?

I’m not sure, but something is off. There’s something we missed, something else is brewing. I think it’s coming from Ginny, she’s been shielding herself extra hard the last two days. They were outside Draco’s door.

"Go on Harry. Open it." Ron prodded.

Harry reached out and opened the door leading the way as they all filed in. He felt instantly disappointed. It’s not here anymore, it is.

No, I don't think it is. Luna answered with fear. We have to talk to Ginny!

"Hey, where are you guys going?" Fred yelled as Harry and Luna ran from the room.

"It’s not there!" Harry yelled back.

Molly was alone in the kitchen and turned in surprise as they all skidded to a stop in front of her, causing her to drop a plate. "What is wrong with all of you!?" she asked putting a hand over her chest.

"Where’s Ginny?" Harry asked.

"I thought she went upstairs with you earlier." Molly replied suspiciously.

"She must be in her room. Thanks mum!" Ron said as they all turned and ran back upstairs to Ginny’s door. Harry knocked so hard he worried his knuckles would bleed.

With no answer and a silent agreement with her brothers, Harry reached out and opened the door. They entered an empty room. And the ring wasn’t there either.

"What’s going on?" Fred asked. Harry could hear the desperation in his voice and felt his own rise.

"Aparecium." Luna had pulled out her wand and waved it over a blank parchment that was laying on the bed. She picked it up and turned to the others, her face a mask of fear. "She left a note."

(BREAK)

Ginny sat back in the cab comfortably, the ring stowed safely in her small travel bag, which she clutched in her lap. She loved her brothers’ genius. It was because of their extendible ears that she was able to carry out this plan, as she had woken early to spy on the final arrangements made between her father and the ministry drivers. Learning of the general location they intended to drop off Draco and Lupin, she had broken into her secret stash of muggle money and counted out enough for the long drive ahead of her. She had researched the process of paying carefully and worked hard at remembering what each note was worth, having stolen an old Muggle Studies textbook she had found in the parlor.

Writing the note to Ron and Fred had been the hardest part, but she had done it, letting them know where she had gone, why, and what her demands where. She had asked that they take the trade, and keep the ring in exchange for letting her go. Smiling to herself, she patted the sleeping bag she had brought. They were going to think she really was crazy, but she knew she wasn’t. After all, she wasn’t intending to follow two werewolves through the woods, no matter how much potion they had in their systems. She was only going to set up camp on the edge of the trees, where the pick up point was supposed to be for the next day. Then she’d intercept Draco, make her plans known and they’d run off to wherever they wanted, away from everything. She smiled again and settled in for the next few hours that she’d be in the car.

(BREAK)

"I’m going to kill her!" Ron yelled. "What is she thinking going out there by herself? And following two werewolves no less. I mean we all saw what Lupin was like without that stupid potion!"

"They have their potion, Ron." Harry said trying very hard to keep a grip on himself.

"I think it’s time to tell Arthur and Molly." Luna said quietly.

"What will that accomplish?" Ron asked angrily.

"Well, they’ll certainly notice if we all go after her." Hermione pointed out in Luna’s defense. "This is something we’ll need their help with."

"And what happens to Ginny?"

"And what happens to her if we screw this up and can’t bring her back, Ron?" Harry countered. "She said in the letter she wants to trade the ring in exchange for us letting her run off and take Draco with her. What are we supposed to do? Drag her back? Your parents will probably have better luck."

"You’re right." Fred announced as he stood. He was the only one to remain silent since reading Ginny’s note, sitting on her bed lost in thought. "We need to tell them, Ron. We’ve both said we want to help her, it’s time we start. She’s obviously showing us that we can’t do it by ourselves, she’s too far gone, too irrational." He rose and moved to the door. "Mum and dad were our last resort, well, we’ve got nothing else right now and we can’t let her be out there by herself for too long, so let’s go."

"Fine." Ron angrily agreed. "But we’re going with them."

"Of course we are." Fred nodded agreement.

Harry shared a worried look with Luna and Hermione before following the Weasley boys downstairs. They hadn’t wanted to burden Molly and Arthur, but Ginny was giving them no choice. And werewolves weren’t the greatest danger facing their daughter, if the warning Luna received was true. Through silent discussion, the three decided to hold that back for as long as possible.

(BREAK)

"I don’t understand." Molly said slowly.

"That doesn’t matter right now, mum. There’ll be plenty of time to explain it all later." Ron said quickly. "All you need to know right now is Ginny followed Malfoy, she has the ring and she wants to give it back in exchange for getting to leave."

"And as soon as Fred and Mr. Weasley get here, we have to go after her." Luna added.

Hermione was worried. Not really for Ginny, she knew the horrible girl would be dragged back. She was worried because Harry had insisted on going with Fred to get Arthur, even though he wasn’t licensed to apparate. He had let his fear, however plausible it was, that Fred and Arthur would choose to chase Ginny down without them all outweigh his worry over ruining his chances for a proper license.

When the air began to crackle around them and they finally appeared, she felt relief, until she saw Arthur’s face. He looked furious.

"This is going to be almost impossible to cover up, Harry!" Arthur was yelling, obviously picking up the conversation they’d been having before coming back. "Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should!"

"I think it should be okay in an emergency situation!" Harry yelled back. Hermione winced. She knew he was beginning to let out the constant irritation he’d been feeling and thanks to Ginny running off, they were all going to feel the brunt of it.

"Molly, have they told you?" Arthur asked, ignoring Harry.

"They’ve told me, I think. I just don’t understand, Arthur." Molly cried. "What is she doing? And why?"

"We can ask her when I bring her back. In fact, we’ll all sit down and have a long talk about what’s been going on." Arthur turned to the rest of them. The teens held their tongues and looked at the floor, each having the grace to look guilty. Though Harry was nearly shaking; in anger, in anticipation, Hermione didn’t know.

"What’ll we do?" Molly asked.

"Right. Here’s what’s going to happen. There’s a car on the way, it should be here any minute, I ordered it long before we left the ministry. Harry, Fred, Ron and I are going after Ginny. She doesn’t have that much of a head start and from what I understand of what little I’ve been told, she doesn’t intend to hide. While we’re gone, Hermione and Luna, I expect you to fill Molly in on everything."

"Arthur, just apparate there and bring her home." Molly pleaded.

"I can’t! I already pull way too many favors, my position as minister may already be in jeopardy. And I’m already going to have to pull off a miracle to cover up Harry’s little trip today. I can’t bring Ginny, who is certainly further from the appropriate age than he is, back with me. Especially since she’s my daughter! And we can’t afford to risk having someone else placed as minister. We have to drive after her and I don’t trust these three here and I don’t really trust them out there." He turned and stared down the three boys who only hung their heads lower. "Maybe I just don’t trust them at all anymore."

(BREAK)

"Are you sure, miss? There naught a town near for quite a while." The cab driver looked concerned as he took Ginny’s money.

"This is perfect. I just want a night with nature." She said with a smile.

"It could be dangerous, out here all alone, a little girl like you." The driver tried again. "How ‘bout I take you back closer to the city for camping, no extra charge since I have ter go back that way anyway. Anything can happen out here, you know."

"Anything can happen anywhere." Ginny said with a smile. "Why don’t you just forget you ever saw me."

"That’s mighty hard to do. I’ll be worrying ‘bout you all night."

"No you won’t." Ginny pulled out her wand and smiled at the nice man. "Obliviate."


 

NOTE: In the books I don’t remember ever reading what the Granger’s real first names were. I know Hermione did a memory charm and gave them the new names, Wendell and Monica Wilkins, during the real last two HP books, and so working off of that, I figured they would probably have names beginning with a W and an M. I had of course considered naming Mrs. Granger Jean (or Jane) because of Hermione’s middle name, but ultimately decided that so many people have done that in other fanfiction I’ve read, I just wanted to be different. So that explanation out of the way, we move on to what’s coming up: the hunt for Ginny is on, Draco goes through transformation, Hermione meets with her parents, Hagrid returns, Harry’s birthday, a trip to Diagon Alley in disguise, Hedwig brings disturbing news, the Dursleys make an appearance, the gang meets up with Sarah Elaine, news surfaces about Snape, Luna asks Harry for help, another attempt is made to talk to Cho after some good news is received, Hermione traces some more Coven members, and they finally return to Hogwarts after a difficult train ride….just a few things to look forward to over the next few chapters. So stay tuned, it’s only going to get more interesting.

Chapter 16: The Hunt

A/N: So, a lot is happening right now in the story, a lot of things up in the air, and some of them are taken care of here and some are made more complicated. This is the longest chapter yet, I couldn’t help myself. HOWEVER… Recently I’ve had a family emergency, so posts may be sporadic for awhile as my time for writing has nearly evaporated. But I am NOT deserting this story, it WILL continue to update and I will still check in and respond to every reviewer. So as always, Read, Review, Enjoy!!!

 
 

"So she stabbed him and you and Hermione covered it up!" Arthur looked stunned. Harry never felt lower, laying out all of their problems, adventures and misdeeds of the last six years. He, Fred and Ron had been filling Arthur in on everything they could think of that ever had happened to Ginny over that time. The worst was still to come. How was Harry ever supposed to tell this man that he had used his daughter, no matter the circumstances?

"They didn’t want us to have to hurt anymore than we already were, dad." Fred piped up. All three boys had chosen to sit in the back, leaving Arthur alone in the front. When the driver had finally arrived, Arthur had demanded they go alone, wanting as few people as possible to know his only daughter was out in the world, making herself an easy target.

"So, in addition to the chamber of secrets, the Riddle diary, the Department of Mysteries, the quidditch matches last year, and losing two of her brothers; I’m to understand that my daughter has also tried to seduce Harry away from Hermione, stabbed young Malfoy in the back, almost drowned in the bathroom at school, was lost in Hogsmeade while you all ran around fighting, stole that stupid ring from you, tried to frame the same boy she stabbed and has now run off intending to trade the ring for the freedom to leave us all with, again the boy she stabbed, who is also a werewolf and the son of a Death Eater. Additionally, she has forsaken all of her friends, choosing to push you all away. Have I missed anything?"

Harry looked at Ron and Fred out of the corner of his eye. They both shook their heads at him, silently telling him it was enough, that he didn’t have to reveal all. But he felt he owed it to Arthur, to know everything, no matter how bad he would think of him. "Well, I suppose you can add me to the list of things that may have screwed Ginny up. I…a while ago….before Hogsmeade…. I didn’t want any of them to go, I was worried that I would be distracted out there fighting, if they were there too. But I knew, because of….George (he chose the name of the son he felt would hurt Arthur the least) that Fred would never stay behind. And I wanted Draco to come, in case it was all a trap somehow. But Ron, Hermione, Luna and Ginny, I didn’t think they should go and….well I figured there was only one way they wouldn’t know about it and that was if they weren’t around me. I wanted to make them all hate me…so they wouldn’t want to come with. So I…well, I…" but he couldn’t continue. How could he? How could he explain the necessity of using a girl to her father? To a man who had trusted him?

"He set it up so Hermione walked in on him kissing Ginny." Ron burst out of nowhere. "He told Ginny he wanted to be with her and then after Hermione saw, he told Ginny he’d made a mistake and they both came crying to me. It made me mad and he and I had words and he fell into his role, being cold, mean and distant. It worked, we got mad at him and didn’t know anything about what they were planning for the village. Until something happened that connected me and Hermione to Harry and we ran to Luna and she told us everything. We went to Hogsmeade and we all did what we did there. It’s over now, he’s apologized a million times to all of us, including Ginny. So that’s it, okay Dad?"

Harry had never felt more grateful to Ron. He had laid it out so matter-of-factly, as if it was some long ago incident that, while relevant, was not a big deal. He knew Ron wasn’t really feeling that way, not yet, but he appreciated the save none the less.

"We’re almost there." Arthur said quietly. Harry wanted more than anything to search through his head, and unlike his sons, he never shielded so it would be easy. Harry held himself back though, not really wanting to see what Arthur was thinking of him at that moment. Instead he looked out the window. The sun was still high in the sky, though it was clearly way past noon. It had taken too long to convince Arthur to leave the office, that Ginny had really run away and then to convince him to take care of it quietly. He had wanted to send the Aurors after her, wanting a huge search and it took a lot for Fred and Harry to convince him it was a family matter. It had taken too long for the car to arrive and too long to drive.

They were now hours from civilization, and apparently close to their destination. Harry felt thankful that it was summer and the sun stayed out longer. It didn’t matter that they had the potion, you could never trust that. The only thing you can trust an animal to do, was to act like an animal. And these were animal hybrids, with a keener sense of smell, greater speed and more power than even their impressive wolf kin. Sure he trusted them when they were people, even Draco if he forced himself to be honest. But this close to the full moon, he felt uneasy. After all, as Ron had pointed out they knew first hand what Lupin was like without the potion. And sure Drake was really good, but Snape had always brewed the potion for Lupin in the past. What if something went wrong this time, with Snape unavailable?

And worse, what if Sarah Elaine somehow came across Ginny as Luna had seen. Arthur may know that Sarah was in the picture because of Cho, but none of the Weasleys knew the danger she was presenting to their family. They had to find Ginny before anything happened. There was so much to worry about, he wanted to strangle Ginny himself at this point.

Arthur suddenly pulled off the road, onto a small lane running through the woods that was nearly impossible to see. Sure the car was far enough to keep it from being seen from the main road, he parked and shut off the engine. They all four sat in silence.

Finally, Arthur turned and faced the boys. "She can’t be far from here. Get out." They all climbed from the car and stood together as Mr. Weasley held his wand out and muttered, "Homenum Revelio." He began walking and the boys followed.

(BREAK)

"I feel weird." Draco said as they sat to catch their breath.

"Weird how?" Lupin asked, taking a drink from his water bottle.

"Tingly, itchy." He answered as he rubbed his back against the tree he’d chosen to rest on. "I feel like I’m too small and too big at the same time."

"Yeah, that sounds familiar. I also get really hot." Lupin took another swig of his water and wiped the sweat from his brow. "We’re all slightly different, so don’t worry if everything you go through isn’t the same as me. Be happy you don’t have to feel like you’re baking in an oven." He finished with a grin.

"The sun’s still pretty high, right?" Draco knew it was well into the afternoon hours, quickly approaching evening, but he wasn’t sure exactly how much longer he had.

"Getting nervous?"

"Weren’t you, your first time?" Draco asked.

"I didn’t know it was coming, the first time." Lupin replied with a faraway look in his eyes. "Some man…or thing was in the Forbidden Forest. I thought he was just really hurt, I tried to help him and he bit me. It was bad, but I didn’t want to admit I had been somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. So I told everyone some dog had done it, a stray I found by the lake that had run off after. I had no idea it was something more. I just thought I was feeling weird because we were going home so soon. I hated summers away from the school, it was so boring without James and Sirius."

"So you changed at home?" Draco asked horrified at the thought. Left in civilization without a clue, without Wolfsbane, without help.

"No thank goodness!" Lupin exclaimed. "We went to the Shrieking Shack that night. It was only two more days before we were to leave for our homes, so we threw a kind of goodbye party, just us…and Peter. It was even before Lily joined the group, so just the boys. We snuck out at midnight, it was cloudy, looked like rain even. We took the secret way, laughing and joking about how we’d explain our wet clothes if we were caught when we came back. We reached the trapdoor and went into the master bedroom, ready to party. It was dark, even with our wands lit, but we didn’t want too much light, didn’t want to chance drawing attention from the village. So we put them out the wands and pulled the boards all the way off the windows, hoping the moon would eventually come out, after all it was supposed to be full that night. We sat around drinking whiskey and reliving the funnier moments of our year together, when James, I think, noticed that the clouds were moving on. I got up to look, and tripped. I was never graceful and admittedly drunk. I landed right under the window, where the moon was now brightly shining through. It was instant, torturous pain. It felt like every bone in my body was broken, I lost myself in it, had no other coherent thought for hours, other than the hunt. I knew there were others there, I could smell them, I could smell everything. I knew where they were hiding, had chased them to the trap door. I knew they were just on the other side, that they hadn’t moved on. In that frame of mind, I of course couldn’t understand that they had stayed because they were my friends and refused to leave me. All I knew was they were prey and they were near. I clawed at that door forever, until I finally began to get tired. They must have put some powerful charms on it while they waited me out, for the door to hold like it did. I woke up naked under a blanket with the three of them huddled around me."

"That sounds horrible." He didn’t know what else to say.

"Trust me, if you have to go through this, you are doing it in the best possible conditions. No one for miles, capable of keeping a piece of your own mind, and with someone who can go through it with you."

"Yeah. I guess."

"You know, after we figured it out, James, Sirius and Peter, they became secret animagi, so I wouldn’t be alone. And so they could be with me, without me being able to catch them and kill them. That was until we discovered the potion."

Draco knew a little of this. He heard rumors of Sirius the black dog and definitely knew of Peter the rat. "What was James?"

"A stag." Lupin smiled with remembrance. Draco shifted his weight, beginning to feel extremely antsy. Lupin must have noticed. "Get up. Make sure your backpack is strapped on tight. I think we should go for a run, you’ll feel less anxious, more free. It’ll help, I promise."

Draco wasn’t sure, but didn’t feel this was the time, or the man, to question. He rose, tightened the straps on his bag and jogged after Lupin. They started slow, carefully making their way through the woods, over fallen branches and through the brush. They steadily picked up speed, and he began to feel better, more focused. He pumped his legs and arms as the scenery around him began to blur. Lupin had been right, he felt free in a way he never had. He didn’t know how long they ran, and he had the vague feeling they were making large circles, but he didn’t care. During that time, nothing was wrong, nothing hurt, there was no thinking at all about anything.

He noticed the sun moving across the sky and let himself enjoy the wonderful colors swirling past. Everything was a bask of bright orange and pink melded with a lush green and sturdy brown. He felt like he was lost in a painting. And then he suddenly veered off course, leaving Lupin running along the path they had made as he took a sharp left. The sudden urge and his current speed made it impossible to stop. He tried to analyze his actions. He’d been literally running on instinct mode, and now he knew it was a scent he’d picked up. The colors around him were slowly darkening as the sun made it’s descent. He finally stopped his progress by tripping over an upturned root and forced himself to lay still to catch his breath. He and Lupin had taken half of their potions earlier in the day, and they were supposed to take the rest right before the change. But Draco ripped into his bag and guzzled his now. He knew that scent that had pulled him from where he was supposed to be. It was another person, who had recently showered because the smell of coconut was strong. He wondered how close he was to her, and if he had enough time to run far enough in the opposite direction. More than anything, he was angry she was there. Why on earth had Ginny followed them? He didn’t have enough time to figure out anything, as footsteps approached from ahead of him. She was going to find him.

(BREAK)

Ginny had set up a small camp for herself far into the tree line and down a long way from where she had been dropped off. Using a cloaking spell, she hoped to put off the others finding her for as long as possible. She was too realistic to really hope they hadn’t even found the note yet, but a small part of her kept saying it could be true. Thankfully it was summer and the air was warm, even as the sun lowered itself into the west, so she wouldn’t need a fire. It would draw attention. She could see a small patch of sky and lay down on her sleeping bag to watch the stars come out. Even now she could see the first few, even though the sky was a dull fiery orange, only tinged with a hint of deep purple.

And then she heard the noise. Sitting straight up, she turned, trying to peer into the rapidly darkening forest. Ginny grabbed her wand and rose onto trembling legs. There could be any number of wild beasts out there, in addition to Draco and Lupin. Not to mention a rogue Death Eater or two who’ve somehow found her location, or even the standard maniacal killer, picking off campers he happens to come across in the woods. "Who’s there?" She called in a shaky voice as she started toward the sound, forgetting the protection spells she had cast in her panic. It was so still now, eerily silent, as if everything around her was holding its breath in anticipation of being heard.

Just as she was about to step over a large upturned tree root, Draco came out from behind the tree and grabbed her shoulder, his eyes full of fear and fury. "What are you doing here!" he growled out.

"You weren’t supposed to find me yet!" she cried in surprise. This was all wrong, it wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

"What does that mean? You meant me to find you when the moon was fully up?"

"No! Tomorrow morning! Then I could convince you to leave with me!"

He let her go and took a step back. "Leave with you? What are you talking about?"

"Okay, let me explain." She took a deep breath, willing him to hear her out. "I’ll give you the short version, but I won’t leave until you listen."

"Then this better be the shortest story ever."

(BREAK)

Fred was in agony as they trudged through the woods. He knew it was his fault that Ginny had run, he had been the one to tip her off. If he hadn’t gone to confront her, hadn’t told her they knew where she hid the ring, she wouldn’t have done something so desperate. He’d known it was wrong and had told Harry the next morning which inspired the constant watch on Draco’s room. But she’d gotten in somehow anyway, and now she was alone in the woods and their parents now knew everything they’d never needed to know about their children. And Harry. He had hoped no one would bring it up, that Harry would take his and Ron’s silent advice and not tell their dad anything about it. But he hadn’t, and now Arthur Weasley looked more angry and disappointed than he’d ever seen him before.

They were periodically calling out for Ginny, all the while hoping Lupin and Draco were far away. The others hadn’t yet said anything about Fred having set this all in motion. They didn’t need to, he felt guilty enough by himself. But he knew it was going to come sometime, that they would need to blame someone. He dragged his feet along behind Ron, feeling his mood darken with the sky. They lit their wands as they became surrounded by shadows, and went on, calling for his sister, hoping not to draw the werewolves.

(BREAK)

They were sitting at the kitchen table, now silent for the better part of an hour. Luna and Hermione communicated in their heads, to keep from being driven insane by Mrs. Weasley. She had sat and listened to their story, all of it, after Luna assured Hermione that Harry hadn’t held back with Arthur. The only thing still secret was her vision, but they had agreed that the Weasleys were worried enough without Sarah. Harry was out there with the guys, and he knew the danger, that had to be enough. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, they had expected Mrs. Weasley to scream and cry and rant. To at the very least drown them in relentless questions. Instead, she sat back in the chair, folded her hands in her lap and had been sitting quietly since. Luna knew she was processing, that she hadn’t known what to say at the end of their tale.

"What am I supposed to do?" Mrs. Weasley finally asked. "How do I make any of this better for her? For all of you?" and then she rose and left. Sharing a look, the girls got up followed as she began climbing the stairs.

"Mrs. Weasley?" Luna called.

"Please let me know when Arthur brings them all home to me." And with that she continued up to her room.

"Now what?" Hermione asked.

"I don’t know. I’m not a damn oracle!" Luna cried and stalked into the parlor. She felt frustrated, angry and utterly useless. What good was it having visions, if they don’t show you things like this are coming? She should have known Ginny’s plan, the same way she should have known Kane was going to die going to the Malfoy mansion, the same way she should have known the stands were going to blow up and Neville would be killed. Instead, for those important moments, she only had feelings, nothing definite. And now that the others knew what she could do, they expected her to foresee these things, but she couldn’t and she hated it. Harry’s power allowed him to move things at will, he could use it whenever he wanted, why couldn’t it be the same for her? She wished more than anything she could speak with her grandmother, who had shared her gift and taught her the responsibilities of having it. But she was now living in Leeds, and Luna had chosen to come here with Hermione, had felt she needed to come with her friend. It truth, she came because she wanted that final picture that she had seen for them all, wanted it for herself more than she was willing to admit.

"I didn’t mean it that way, you know." Hermione said, following her. "I wasn’t asking to know the future, I was just trying to figure out how we’re supposed to handle this. I thought we’d commiserate."

Luna sighed. "I know, it’s just so hard, to want to know everything and not be able to. Especially when I can know some things, whatever fate decides to show me."

"It’s getting late." Hermione pointed out, obviously trying to change the subject. "I wonder if anything’s happening yet."

"I don’t know that either. Harry went out of our range over an hour ago. I can’t hear him anymore and the last thing I did get from him was that he intended to tell Arthur the whole truth."

"Hopefully this goes as best it can. I mean, if Sarah somehow fits into this…"

"I don’t think she does." Luna said, finally feeling confident about something.

"I thought you didn’t know anything."

"It’s just a feeling, Sarah doesn’t know Ginny left, because Ginny has been making fast decisions. It’s also probably why I can’t see her very well, and if they really do have their own seers on Voldemort’s side, they can’t follow her either, so they can’t give the information to Sarah. Besides, she’s wandless and Harry’s power is stronger than hers."

Hermione seemed to be puzzling it all in her head. "So, by that logic, any seer they find wouldn’t be as good as you, and if you can’t see Ginny, then there’s definitely no hope they could. And that firestarter Draco mentioned- Elise- she wouldn’t be as strong as Jacinda, as long as we get to her first. What if they accidentally find coven members before we do?"

"Finally starting to see the point in Harry’s ‘no time to waste’ attitude, huh?" Luna smiled. "So far, I’ve seen nothing to support that, but…. Well, they are looking for any edge over Harry, Dumbledore and the Order. Now knowing, or even just suspecting what Harry can do, not to mention the endless abilities of our Headmaster, it just makes sense they’d want the best in their arsenal."

"Then I know exactly how we’re going to get through the hours of waiting for them to return, we have to go through the records and figure out who these people are. Then we can figure out the best way to contact them, before the Death Eaters can."

(BREAK)

Draco’s heart was racing as words poured from Ginny’s mouth. She was explaining herself, her actions, and her plan that they run away together. He couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe her.

Since he’d stopped running, he’d become more aware of himself, and he wasn’t feeling good. His gut kept clenching, making it hard for him to breathe. Lupin hadn’t described this, had said he was able to sit with his friends until the moon hit him directly, and suffered so mildly otherwise he attributed it to anxiousness at a summer away from his life at school. Of course, he’d admitted to drinking in human form, though Draco wasn’t sure that made a difference, since this kind of pain would be hard to ignore, even drunk. Every wolf is different. He remembered the words and hated them.

"Please understand, Draco." Ginny was pleading with him. Of course he understood. It sounded so good, leaving all of this behind, running to some new place with her, somewhere where good things happened, where no one lived in fear. They would both be able to start over. The only problem was, wherever that place was, he would become the horrible thing invading lives there, bringing fear and darkness. He certainly couldn’t brew the potion he needed, and he doubted Ginny could. He’d ruin every place they went, worse he’d ruin her life even more, possibly kill her, and he wouldn’t even be able to stop himself from doing it.

"Please say something." She begged, grabbing his face between her hands and forcing him to meet her eyes. Suddenly he felt something deep within him, a pain that caused him to double over and fall to his knees. "Draco!" Ginny knelt beside him, worry contorting her features.

"Just go!" he managed to get out, as he struggled to breathe through the pain. He looked up and saw a deep blue sky dotted with stars just above the tree canopy. How long until the moon found him?

"Ginny!" they both turned as the distant call reached them.

"They’re looking for you! GO!" he urged, doing his best to shove her away.

"Tell me you’ll go with me tomorrow!" she demanded. "Tell me so I can set everything up with them."

They called for her again, closer, but still so far off. "Go, please." He begged her, as he clutched his stomach in pain.

"I’m not scared of you, Draco. I’ll stay here as long as it takes."

"No! I won’t go!" he shouted in her face. He didn’t care that she looked hurt, she needed to get away from him. "Look at me, Ginny! There are too many problems with your plan, I can’t do this just anywhere, we can’t make the potion! And Harland’s out there, what if he finds me and tells me to hurt you?! Just go! They’re out here looking for you, they’ve proved they obviously care! Can’t that be enough?"

"They want the ring." She said bitterly. "And we can learn how to make the potion, I don’t care how hard it is!"

"Ginny!" the calls were more insistent and he finally recognized the voice.

"If they only care about getting the ring back, then why’d they tell your parents? That’s your father, desperately calling your name. You think he only wants the ring?" Another wave of pain racked his body and he let out an involuntary cry. His eyes felt sore, like he could see more than he should, things were brightening in the darkness and he knew he was starting to change. The moon was close, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. "Go, go, go, please go!" he begged again.

"Will you be okay?"

She obviously wasn’t going to leave him. He couldn’t do this, not with her there and the others so close. He forced himself to his feet and ran from Ginny, as fast as he could in the other direction. He could hear everything around him, smell so many things that were unfamiliar. It was unsettling. He didn’t know how long or how far he ran until he at last heard Lupin calling for him. Finally allowing himself to stop, he fell to his knees and let out a horrible cry, trying to release the pain, frustration and fear that he’d been holding in.

"Draco!" Lupin came through the brush and dropped down beside him. "It’ll get better than this, I promise. Just relax and don’t fight it. Let it happen."

"How long?" Draco panted out.

"Soon. I feel it coming too. Did you take the rest of your potion?" Lupin demanded. He could only nod in response. "Come on then, there’s a clearing over here, it’ll be easier in the open."

"Easier for the moon to find us." Draco sputtered out as he was helped to his feet.

"Better than rolling around in the trees and on fallen branches and risk hurting yourself. You can’t hide from it forever. And you aren’t alone." They had reached the clearing, and as Lupin turned to face him, he could see the man begin to change before his eyes, standing under the moon in all it’s glory. "Come on out here, it will be fine." Lupin beckoned. The words came from a mouth that didn’t appear to belong on his face anymore. Fur was sprouting and as Lupin doubled over, his body morphed, the clothes tearing off of him. Within seconds, the man that had stood before him was gone, replaced by a creature much larger, and much more menacing. The wolf looked at him with questioning eyes. Draco took a deep breath and stepped out into the clearing to join him, telling himself he was ready for anything.

(BREAK)

Ginny was stunned as she watched Draco run from her. He’d rejected her plans, thinking in a few moments, of all the problems she had more than a day to consider. Of course she hadn’t thought of the potion, or Harland. She hadn’t thought about Draco needing to change beyond this first time and the horror that could bring. She still didn’t care about any of it though. After all, Wolfsbane was just a potion, it couldn’t be that hard to make, could it? And she knew Draco was stronger than he believed, that he could fight and keep Harland out of his head. It’d be just like keeping Harry and Luna out, wouldn’t it? And they could go somewhere remote, where there are no other people, and he could change without fear, shouldn’t that be enough? Okay, so maybe she wasn’t sure it could be as easy as all that, but it had to be better than the lives they were living here.

"Ginny! Answer me!" she heard her father call her again, followed by her brothers and Harry. She rose with a sigh, and brushed the dirt from her hands. Going back to her campsite, she began gathering her things. Then she pulled out the ring and called out her location. She’d go home with them this time, because Draco was too unsure of himself to go with her tomorrow. But she was determined to work on him, to assure him he was in control, and that she could help take care of him. Then they’d leave and she would save them both from this life. Until then, she’d do what she needed to do, to keep the others satisfied that she was sorry for all she’d done and was on her way to getting back to normal. But she would not go to therapy, and she would not be sent away to some hospital, no matter what.

(BREAK)

"Over here!" they finally heard Ginny reply to their calls for her. Arthur ran the rest of the way, the boys hot on his heels. They all stopped short when they found her, standing by her things, holding the ring out to them.

"Here." She stepped up to Harry and placed the ring in his hand. "It’s done, over, okay?"

"Okay." Harry said quietly. His hand instantly warmed as he closed it around his prize, sending tingles up his arm. He felt instantly more peaceful.

"It may be okay between you two," Arthur said angrily, "but this is far from over, Ginevra. Let’s go."

As they made their way back to the car, Harry walked with Fred. Handing the ring over, he watched as Fred visibly relaxed in front of his eyes. Apparently they had both been suffering from energy withdrawl, and now they’d both had a small fix of their drug. Again the boys automatically climbed into the back and closed the doors, forcing Ginny to sit in front with her father. She shot them all a dirty look as she got in, but Harry didn’t feel bad. Of course there was enough room for her and anyone else in the back, but they sure didn’t want to chance getting caught in the anger storm Arthur was about to unleash, especially since the one who had brewed it was finally present.

"What were you thinking?" Arthur finally asked as they got back onto the main roadway.

"That I wanted to leave." Ginny said simply.

"And you thought it would just be that easy!? You aren’t a stupid girl, Ginny, but you sure have been acting like one, from what I hear."

"Oh, and what have you heard, father?" she asked bitterly, turning to glare at the boys. They all three kept their faces blank.

"Everything, apparently. Why didn’t you come to us, if you were so unhappy? We could have found a way to help you."

"Yeah, in between finding a way to help the world, right? How am I supposed to tell you or anyone else anything! All I ever hear is how much everyone is dealing with and all the things going wrong that need to be fixed. You think I wanted to be one more thing you have to fix? I’m not broken, dad! I don’t need therapy, I don’t need you and mum holding my hand, and I don’t need them all watching my every move!" she yelled.

"Then what do you need?" Arthur yelled back. "You needed everyone to worry about you? You needed all your friends to turn against you? You needed to run away with one of the most dangerous people you could, considering who he is and regardless of how he acts now? You needed to steal away our last way of reaching George? You needed to make your brothers feel like they were failing because they wanted to help you? Well? Were those the things you needed?"

Ginny sat as still as a statue, but Harry could see tears forming in the corner of her eye. He tried not to feel bad for her, knew she’d brought this all on herself, but he couldn’t help it. He knew what it was like, to act without thinking things through because it seemed like a good idea. He wanted to say something, but was scared of his own dressing down from Arthur. He knew it was coming, after all, he’d helped make Ginny who she was today.

No one said anything for a long time. Finally, Arthur spoke, low but clear. "This is what’s going to happen. Ginny, since you obviously can’t talk to any of us about what you’re going through, you WILL be talking to one of the healers. There is no choice for you, you are more than a year away from being of age and therefore, you will do as I say. You’re only other option is inpatient care with the healers, so I suggest you decide to take the opportunity to meet with them at the house. As for you two," he glanced back at Fred and Ron, "there will be no more secrets. Fred, I don’t care how old you get, I never want another lie from you. You will both be playing by the rules from now on, and you don’t do anything unless you are given permission to do it. Harry…I’m may not be your father, but I have tried my best and I expected better judgement from you. I realize you were trying to do a good thing, but it is never okay to use someone, even if you are trying to protect them. I may not be able to hand down decrees and punishments to you like these three, and believe me when I say I know how much my family owes to you, but I would hope you know enough to understand how disappointed I am. I want to expect better from all of you…I just don’t know how we’ll ever trust any of you ever again."

"Like you guys tell us everything." Ginny muttered.

"We don’t have to, we are the adults." Arthur replied angrily. "You need to adjust your attitude."

"Or what? You’ll have it adjusted for me when you force me to go see the healers?" she answered bitterly.

Harry felt lower than low, had felt that way all day. Ron and Fred also appeared properly ashamed. Ginny, however, didn’t appear to share their distress. He hoped the healers would be able to get through to her, and he hoped that this was the end of it all. They had all been found out, thanks to her actions, and now, maybe they could all be free to begin moving on from the last school year.

"You’ve left me no choice, my dear. You won’t talk to me or mum, you won’t talk to your brothers or your friends. What would you have me do? I’m not giving up on you." Arthur’s voice was hard, and Harry didn’t have to read his mind to know that he was thinking about Percy.

You didn’t give up on Percy, he gave up on you. Ginny is different. Harry thought to him without realizing it. He had only wanted to make Arthur feel better.

I hope you’re right. Harry was surprised he’d answered back. Maybe Arthur didn’t hate him as much as he thought the man would.

(BREAK)

"Okay, then from there we get… Gabriella Hernandez!" Hermione said triumphantly. They’d been working for hours on the information from the records room. It was past one in the morning, and she hoped the others would be back soon. Luna had reported that Harry had come back into her range about an hour ago, so it could be any minute. Apparently they had Ginny and the ring, and Arthur was deeply angry with them all.

"Okay, so from Hermelinda Aguilar, we get Gabriella, who was a…?" Luna started. She hadn’t translated those documents outlining the coven’s powers, only Hermione had.

"Psychic Healer. They’re healers who use their own energy."

"And that makes her different from say, Healer Drake, how? I mean I know he uses his energy in addition to the potions." Luna pointed out.

"Right, he does, all the healers at St. Mungo’s are probably psychic, but apparently, Hermelinda’s line are able to do so without any potions at all. They can also cure fatal diseases with a touch, can tap a person’s energy and drain them of it entirely, bring back those on the brink of death, and in one case, I read that Hermelinda was able to resurrect one of the other coven members who had actually died in one of their battles."

"Really? I must not have gotten to that one. I’m still going over and translating the battle records. Who’d she raise from the dead?"

"If memory serves-"

"Which yours always does." Luna interrupted with a grin.

"Sakhmet, one of the ones from Egypt. I believe it said she was hit with the killing curse and was pronounced dead until Hermelinda laid hands on her and she once again drew breath."

"Sakhmet. She was named for a goddess. That’s nice."

"Yeah, the goddess of war and vengeance. Not so nice, but fitting I guess. Let’s work on her family next." Hermione suggested.


We’re pulling around the corner. Harry’s voice invaded their heads and interrupted their plans. The girls shared a look of concern.

"How mad is Arthur?" Hermione asked timidly.

"He doesn’t know what to feel, I think he’s overloaded. His thoughts keep switching around to new things." Luna answered, trying to follow all of the things racing through Mr. Weasley’s mind.

"Well, we might as well go tell Molly and meet them downstairs." Hermione sighed and they went together to rouse the poor woman, who looked as if she’d been crying since she went into her room.

When Arthur stalked in a moment later, a firm hold on Ginny’s arm, Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat. She’d never felt so nervous. The boys came in behind, all three looking ashamed. "It’s late." Arthur said after looking them all over. "Everyone go to bed. Molly and I need to talk a few things over, we will see you all in the morning."

They all practically ran up the stairs, eager to escape before he changed his mind. All children instinctively knew, it was always best if there was a cooling off period before punishment is handed down. Ginny went straight to her room, but the others went to Harry’s. Hermione wasn’t surprised, she had expected the other girl to hide. The minute the door closed, Harry and Fred began to fight, obviously picking up from some silent argument they’d been having in their heads.

"I’ll be quick! Then you can use it, okay?" Harry said, putting his hand behind his back as Fred tried to reach for what he had closed in it.

"I’ll be just as quick! Let me go first, please! I need to!" Fred pleaded.

"I can just call Sirius real quick. I want to see if he knows what happened to Snape."

"I can ask George the same question, you know."

"Stop!" Hermione shouted. She went over to Harry and took the ring from him. She was surprised when he fought her at first, but didn’t let it show and he eventually let go. "Are you really fighting about this? After everything that happened tonight? Come here, both of you!" she demanded, placing the ring on her finger and holding her hand out. "Now, both of you hold on and think of someone."

"They can’t call up two people at once, can they?" Ron asked.

"Why not? Lily and James can visit together or separately." Hermione replied as she closed her eyes and cleared her mind, letting their energy work through her.

A few minutes later, just as Hermione began to fear it wouldn’t work after all, two forms began taking shape in front of them. Shortly after, they were staring into the unhappy faces of Sirius and George.

"Georgie Ol’ Boy!" Fred exclaimed. "And Sirius, welcome as well!" He was certainly in a better mood. "Long time, no see!"

"A lot has been happening, apparently." Sirius said sullenly.

"I don’t even know where to start with that sister of ours!" George exclaimed. "And now she’s a wolf chaser?!"

"Do you guys know where Snape is?" Harry asked eagerly.

"Yes and no." Sirius responded. "He’s definitely alive, but wherever they’re keeping him, it’s somewhere we can’t see. This can mean a few things, and when Remus returns, I’d really like it if you guys could set it up for me and James to talk to him, Arthur and Albus."

"Anything really bad?" Harry asked hesitantly.

"We can talk about it then." Sirius said mysteriously.

"How bad is it going to be with dad?" Fred asked.

"How should I know? I can’t see the future up here you know. We just get a sense of things down there, mostly through the people we were attached to in life. But I imagine it’s going to be worse for Ginny and Harry than you, Freddie." George laughed. "Why not ask one of the psychic wonder kids?"

Hermione felt herself grow warmer as the conversation progressed. Loathe to be the one to end the meeting, she suffered through her discomfort though her body was tingling and her skin was on fire. Shooting glances at Harry and Fred, she saw their faces were growing red and sweat dripped from their brow. She was determined to be as strong as they were, but feared she wasn’t. Finally, they all wrapped things up, setting up the future meeting Sirius had wanted and relief flooded her as the ghosts took their leave. She roughly pulled the ring from her finger and thrust it back at Harry, unconsciously stepping back.

"I don’t like that thing at all." She muttered.

"So, how’d it go with mum?" Ron asked her and Luna.

"She’s upset. We told her everything." She answered.

"She’s sad more than anything." Luna added, the far away look in her eye. "And disappointed, in us and herself. She feels like she’s failing as a mother. And your father feels the same about himself as a parent. They’re trying to figure out how they failed you all, including Harry, and they’re debating the best way to handle Ginny. They’re talking about all of that right now."

"Let’s just hope it all works out." Harry said quietly.

(BREAK)

Draco woke the next morning feeling sore and weak. His memories of most of the night were hazy, but looking down, he was thankful he’d had enough mind to crash next to his bag. Hastily pulling on pants, he rose on shaky legs and searched for Lupin.

"How’re you feeling?" he spun to find the man behind him, fully dressed and holding a bottle of water, which he held out to Draco.

Taking the offered drink, he guzzled it, soothing his parched throat before answering. "I feel…smaller, weak, tired, sore…I feel…less somehow." He struggled for words.

"Yeah, less. Because from now on, the wolf is always going to be the bigger part of you. It will influence you in ways you don’t expect, even when the moon is dark. As for everything else, a good rest will help that. And a good meal. Come on, the driver will be here soon."

Draco finished dressing as Lupin gathered their things. "So next time, we’ll be here longer?" he asked as they made their way through the trees.

"Not here, we’ll be at the school by then, but yes. Three days we’ll leave. Luckily you’ll be with a professor, so you won’t miss out on class too much." Lupin grinned at him. "So, was it as bad as you thought?"

"I don’t know, I don’t remember most of it. I guess it’s something to get used to." Truthfully, Draco didn’t know how he felt about what he had experienced. It was something beyond his grasp at this point.

"So what happened last night? Where did you disappear to?"

"I ran into Ginny, actually."

"What?" Lupin stopped and turned serious.

"She ran away, wanted me to go with her. Mr. Weasley and the others found her. I assume they took her back to Potter’s house, I left before things could go wrong." Now he was even more glad he’d turned Ginny down. He didn’t want to run anywhere at the moment, all he wanted was sleep.

"Well, I guess we’ll be walking into quite the scene when we get there. Arthur and Molly can’t be thrilled."

They made it to the waiting car, a nameless ministry guard waiting. Draco wanted to fall asleep on the ride back, but he couldn’t. His mind was too wrapped up in Ginny and her half-cocked plans. More than anything he’d wanted to give in and say yes, but too many years of learning the safest way to stay alive had hardened him. It had taken a lot out of him to be the son of Lucius Malfoy, but he’d given up everything individual to himself to do it, because this current life was the result of turning against his father. But he wouldn’t go back, couldn’t. And as he thought about it, he realized as much as he had wanted to go with Ginny, he really didn’t want to leave Grimmauld Place. He liked it there, felt things there he’d never experienced before. He felt safe and supported, and they’d given him no reason to run from any of that. Shocked to discover he was actually starting to really like all of these people, he began to wonder when the other shoe would drop.

A long while later, they pulled up in front of the house, and Draco actually felt he was home. Certainly more so than the cold, unwelcoming mansion where he’d been raised. He couldn’t wait to go to his room, climb into his bed and fall asleep for hours. Unfortunately, he realized sleep was probably the last thing he’d get, as they walked through the door.

(BREAK)

"You can bring a million healers here, but you can’t make me talk to them!" Ginny screamed. "And if you send me away to some hospital, I’ll run away the first chance I get!"

Harry tried to put himself in her shoes, and realized he very well may have acted the same way, had someone tried to force him into this. But he had plenty of people he could talk to, Ginny chose to talk to no one. She wasn’t giving them much of choice. Looking around at the others, he saw Ron and Fred, who usually enjoyed their parents punishing a sibling, sitting slumped in their seats, their faces masked with uncertainty and a hint of fear. Luna sat apart from everyone in one of the overstuffed chairs, staring off into space, her mind somewhere else far from this place. He didn’t want to pry, so he didn’t. Hermione sat next to him, tightly clutching his hand. Knowing how much she hated disappointing anyone, he for once felt equally as bad, if not worse. Harry himself was watching the scene before him in a trance, simply dreading his own turn in front of the elder Weasleys. He perked up, when he saw Lupin and Draco slip in quietly through the front door and stand awkwardly in the parlor doorway.

"Ginny, please understand we only want to help you." Molly was pleading. "We love you, and we want you to be happy, which you obviously aren’t."

"I don’t want to talk about this anymore." Ginny said coldly, crossing her arms and staring past her parents. Apparently she had noticed the new arrivals as well.

"Don’t let us interrupt." Lupin said, obviously uncomfortable to walk in on a family moment. "Just wanted to let you guys know we were back. I’ll just be in my room, Tonks is up there waiting for me."

"I’m going to go lay down." Draco said quickly turning and following Lupin up the stairs.

"Don’t get too comfortable! Drake will be here to check on you two in a little while." Arthur called after them before turning to his daughter. "Ginny, I will have someone here tomorrow morning, and you can talk or not talk to them, but you will sit there for as long as the healer feels you should sit with them. There will be no arguments, no compromises and no other choices. I’ve seen and heard of your solutions to your issues, and I don’t approve."

Ginny said nothing, simply glared her parents down before silently stomping from the room and up the stairs to her room. They all heard the door slam somewhere above their heads. "Well, that must have been very difficult for you both, we should leave you to your peace." Fred said, making to rise from the couch.

"Sit." Arthur ordered. "I am so disappointed in the rest of you. How could none of you have told us when you first suspected she was so confused? Imagine the trouble and aggravation you could have saved yourselves, could have saved her, by letting us be the adults for once and taking care of her."

"Like you weren’t too busy to notice something was off about her yourselves, since you’re the adults." Fred muttered.

"What did you say?" Arthur demanded.

"He’s right!" Molly cried. "We should have seen it Arthur! We are as much to blame as they are. We haven’t been there for her, why would she come to us? Why would any of them? We’ve been so busy, so distracted…I should have known…I did know I think…Oh Arthur, will any of this ever be over for good? Can’t we just be happy?"

"Of course you can!" Luna said seriously out of nowhere. "But more blaming and arguing and anger isn’t the way to get there. I don’t mean to step out of line." To Harry’s further amazement, she rose and walked to Arthur and Molly, throwing her arms around them both. "Now that everything is in the open, and you’ve reached your decision about Ginny, you can all sit down together and begin healing. More fingerpointing, even at our own selves, won’t get anyone anywhere. We all know we’ve done wrong, and we all feel guilty about it. We can’t change anything in the past, only learn from it."

(BREAK)

"Okay, I’m officially awed." Ron said a while later as they all gathered in Harry’s room. They were all in awe of Luna, she’d sat down Arthur and Molly and by the end of a rather long discussion, they’d all somehow come away feeling better than they had that morning. Harry knew she was good at that sort of thing, had gone to her himself quite a few times when he’d needed to feel better about something, but this was a whole other situation. He didn’t think Arthur would ever look him in the face again, but just a short while ago, they’d managed not only a conversation, but a hug as well.

"Everyone was so tense and hurt, you all just needed someone to be the mediator." Luna shrugged.

"I just can’t believe no one got into trouble!" Fred declared. "I mean, Ginny sort of, but the rest of us, nothing!"

"We all want this behind us, including your parents." Hermione said. "But I’m sure if you’re that upset about it, Arthur would be happy to arrange a punishment."

"I didn’t even do anything as bad as the rest of you." He protested. "I just didn’t tell them about Ginny."

"Or any of the other things you were up to at school." Ron pointed out.

"Please, they don’t know the half of what George and I got into up there. We’ll never be caught for most of it." Fred answered, the twinkle of mischief back in his eye. "Either way, Luna, you’re my new hero!"

"Anyway," Luna tried to steer them in another direction, her face flush with the embarrassment of being the center of attention. "Hermione and I worked on the records while you were gone. We’ve got another coven member."

"Great!" Harry exclaimed, finally feeling a sliver of actual happiness. "Who is he or she?"

"She is Gabriella Hernandez, a psychic healer." Hermione took up the narrative as she picked up the files and leafed through to the right place. "Descendant of Hermelinda Aguilar, age 27, originally from Spain, she is currently living in Canada with her husband, Philip Hernandez, a Canadian citizen."

"And they have no children." Luna added. "Hermione said Hermelinda was able to bring people back from the dead."

"Really?" Harry and Fred asked, both intrigued.

"Another coven member, but the account said she’d only been able to do it because the person was so recently killed, that the soul had yet to leave the body." Hermione quickly explained before they could get their hopes up too high. In Harry’s case, it was already too late. The image of Sirius, James and Lily rejoining the land of the living filled his head. Once she explained however, they all three became brainless zombies, decomposing before his eyes as they staggered from their graves. He shook his head violently to clear the picture.

"Okay, so now there’s Harry, Luna, Jacinda and Gabriella. Always have to be surrounded by the ladies, huh Harry." Fred teased.

"Gabriella is 27, a whole decade separates them." Hermione said. Harry noted the hint of defensiveness in her voice.

"Hey, sometimes older women like younger guys." Fred teased some more. "Besides, that just means she’s more experienced. And Luna and the other girl are around the right age…" he winked at Harry as Hermione turned from him and faced the others.

"Anyway, we have four out of twelve, well on our way. We should start figuring out how we’re going to approach these people. Most of them won’t speak our language, but that shouldn’t be a problem with all the translation spells out there. I think we should learn a few of those spells." She went to her room and returned with a large book. "I found a bunch in here."

"We aren’t in school yet!" Ron protested.

"Exactly. Once we are, we won’t have much time for extracurricular activities." Hermione warned.

(BREAK)

"You’re both looking good. A bit tired, but I expected that." Drake said wrapping up his exam. "Draco, I think it’s best if we put off your treatment until tomorrow, give your body more time to adjust before it’s forced to heal some more."

"Whatever you think is best, doc." Draco said tiredly. A knock on his door interrupted them.

Drake, standing closest, opened the door and Potter popped his head in. "Hey, sorry to interrupt. Tonks said Lupin was in here."

"We were just finishing up." Drake said as Potter fully entered the room.

"How are you guys?" he asked.

"Top notch." Lupin grinned as they turned to Draco, expecting his response.

"I’ve been worse." He answered quietly. He knew Potter would want to talk, they were all certainly fond of their heart to hearts around here. But he wasn’t in the mood, and let that thought escape the wall he kept up around his mind. He saw the other boy pick up on it and nod in silent agreement.

"Lupin. Dumbledore will be here soon. Sirius and my dad want to talk to you guys and Arthur about Snape." Potter said quickly, sneaking a glance at Drake. No one had told the healer about the ring, and though he appeared confused, he apparently knew better than to ask any questions about how they would be conversing with two people who were well known to be dead.

"We’re all done, you can go." Drake said to Lupin.

Soon after the healer left as well, assured his Wolfsbane potion had been successful. Draco lay down on his bed, glad for the solitude. He still couldn’t fall asleep, too many things were swimming around in his head. Just as he felt ready to scream in frustration at not being able to sleep when he felt so exhausted, another knock came quickly and quietly at his door. With a disgruntled sigh, he flung off the covers and answered the door, finding Ginny on the other side. "We need to talk." She said briskly brushing past him into the room.

He swung the door shut, amazed once more that she seemed unfazed by anything. They walked in on her screaming at her parents, and now she was here, back to working him. He decided to find out what she wanted, now that her plan with the ring had failed so miserably.

(BREAK)

"I’m sorry." Fred startled Harry. He’d been at the front door, anxiously waiting for Dumbledore, while Lupin and Arthur waited in the parlor, talking. Still uncomfortable being around Arthur, Harry had taken up his post, eager to call up Sirius and James so that they could figure out what happened to Snape. Fred had just snuck up behind him.

"Sorry for what? What happened now?" he asked.

"No, I mean I’m sorry I made her run. If I hadn’t gone to talk to her, we could have just gone and got the ring like you wanted and mum and dad wouldn’t have to have been told anything."

"It all happens for a reason right?" Harry said tiredly. He certainly didn’t blame Fred for Ginny’s actions, but he could understand where his friend was coming from. Still, Harry was done with the whole episode. He wanted to put everything before that moment behind him and stop endlessly obsessing over the things they can’t change. "Besides, I did what I did, she did what she did, you do what you do, it doesn’t matter in the end. According to Luna, every possible outcome has already been written. This is where our decisions led us. Don’t worry about that anymore, now we worry about getting back on the right path."

"If you say so." Fred didn’t appear appeased.

"Look, I haven’t told anyone that you tipped Ginny off. I let them all think the watch on Draco’s room was an added security measure."

"You didn’t even tell Hermione? I thought you two struck a no secrets deal."

Harry paused. How would Fred know? "She told you about that?"

"Well she said she told you we were working on a cure and I got mad, so she explained the whole deal." Fred answered quickly.

"I thought you guys only worked on it that one night." Harry felt a stab of uneasiness, suddenly understanding Hermione’s feeling about him spending time alone with Ginny, or Luna.

"And a little the night before Lupin and Draco left. She was upset by the letter Dumbledore had sent about her parents and couldn’t sleep again. Said she had to walk over Ron sleeping on the stairs during his watch. She woke him up, but he probably fell asleep again."

"Yeah, well we said we wouldn’t keep secrets, but that wasn’t my secret it was yours. And you didn’t tell her, did you?" Harry decided to ignore the jealousy swirling in his gut. He’d known she was upset by the situation with her parents, but had discussed it very little with him. Apparently, she’d followed his lead and found someone else to talk to. He saw her point now, about him confiding in Luna over her. As harmless as his friendship with Luna was, he knew Fred and Hermione’s was even more so. Excepting a few inappropriate comments and innocent teasing from him over the years, Fred and Hermione barely showed interest in each other. As far as he knew anyway. More than anything, he was upset to learn that things between him and Hermione were still strained. They used to tell each other everything, he wanted them to get there again.

"No, I figured you had and she just wasn’t bringing it up."

"Besides, if she found Ron sleeping, then now we know how Ginny snuck into Draco’s room."

"Hey, that must be it!" Fred said excitedly. "So would you say Ron is more to blame than I am?"

Harry smiled and shook his head. "Well, without your part, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to mess up his, right?" he laughed as Fred hung his head in defeat. "Relax, it’s no one’s fault, not even Ginny’s. We’re all playing off each other instead of working together like we used to. We should know each other well enough to know how everyone will respond to a given situation."

"We should, but do we?" Fred asked concerned.

The doorbell rang, causing both boys to jump. Harry turned and answered the door, admitting Dumbledore’s tall, deceptively frail form into the house. "Hello, Harry. Fred." The headmaster nodded a greeting. "You wanted to see me?"

"Not exactly." Harry answered, still carrying hard feelings toward the older wizard. "Sirius and my dad wanted to talk to everybody, about Professor Snape." Harry emphasized the word, so Dumbledore wouldn’t feel the constant need to correct him.

They walked into the parlor, Harry indicating to Fred that he could join them if he wanted. He shrugged and followed them in.

Harry sat next to Lupin and slipped on the ring, allowing his friend to add his energy as they thought of their loved ones. Almost instantly, Sirius and James were before them. "Hello again, Arthur, Albus." Sirius grinned at the two who had yet to see him this way.

"Albus! It’s good to see you again!" James exclaimed. "Harry, Remus, a pleasure every time we meet. Arthur Weasley, a pleasure to formally meet. I don’t know how I can thank you enough for what you and your family have done for my son."

Arthur reddened. "How ironic, I feel the same for the things your son has done for me and mine. Mostly." He shot a meaningful glance at Harry who felt a shiver of shame go down his spine.

"Listen, before the link weakens." Sirius interrupted. "Severus Snape is alive, but he is being held against his will. We just can’t sense where they’re keeping him."

"There must be powerful spells guarding the place, if its location is protected even from the plane of the dead." Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "That gives us a few options."

"Like?" Harry asked.

"There are certain places on earth where there is higher levels of energy. These places emphasis our magic, making any witch or wizard stronger when they cast." James explained.

"But with more of these places being discovered all the time, I doubt they’d take him somewhere we’d already know about." Lupin replied.

"Well, wouldn’t it make sense they take him to one of the places with the highest energy levels?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, how many of those are there? And can’t they be found more easily?" Fred added.

"They are the first places we’ll send our scouts." Arthur replied. "But who knows what Severus is going through in the meantime."

(BREAK)

Hermione had been working with Luna and Ron on the records and files from the ministry while Harry had his meeting. While they’d wanted to be present, she knew both she and Ron still felt uncomfortable in Arthur’s presence. They’d been exposed so completely, it was difficult to recover themselves. Luna’s reasons for not going were her own, and Hermione hadn’t pried, especially in front of Ron. They were getting along so well lately.

"Wow." Ron said awhile later, putting down the documents Luna had just translated and given him.

"I know. It’s a pretty amazing account." Hermione answered, knowing exactly what he’d read.

"But to really bring someone back from the killing curse! And I thought what Drake was doing with Malfoy’s arm was miraculous. I wonder if this Gabriella woman would be able to fix his arm with just a touch."

Hermione thought it was an interesting idea. "It seems like it’d be possible. Maybe we should find her first?"

"But Drake is making progress." Luna pointed out.

"Yeah, but if she could do it quicker and with less struggle for him why not?" Ron argued.

"Because the easy way isn’t always the best way." Luna responded.

"Easy for you to say, you don’t have to regrow an arm." Ron grumbled.

"Neither do you." Hermione defended the other girl. "Maybe it would be best to let Draco decide."

"Think what it means for Drake. He’s found success, and if Draco can complete the process, then he’ll be able to use his case to gain notoriety, teach others at his skill level and help a lot of people in Draco’s situation. Sure Gabriella may be able to heal him quickly, but how many others would she be able to realistically heal? Using our powers drains me and Harry, and healers use way more energy than we do. Even you guys get tired in battle."

"So we let Draco suffer to help more people?" Hermione asked. "I don’t know, it makes sense when you think in terms of someone you don’t know, but…"

"Well, like you said, we can ask him." Ron responded as Harry and Fred walked into Hermione’s room through the bookcase.

"Ask who what?" Fred asked.

"Ask Draco if he wants to continue with Drake or try and contact Gabriella and see if she’ll help him." Ron said.

"If she can help him is right. There’s no record of anything like that being done." Hermione pointed out.

"Well, we’ll ask him." Ron said through clenched teeth, obviously ready to end the debate he’d started. "Anyway, what happened downstairs?"

"They don’t know exactly where Snape is, just that he’s alive." Harry said as he and Fred outlined the conversation that had taken place.

"How long until they know something, do you think?" Hermione asked once they were finished.

"I’m not sure. Hopefully hours or days instead of weeks or months."

"Who’d have thought we’d ever worry about Snape, huh?" Ron shook his head in wonder.

"You know, maybe the energy thing is why Luna can’t get any visions about the missing Professor Spy." Fred suggested.

"Maybe." She said thoughtfully.

A knock at the door interrupted the pensive silence they’d fallen into. Hermione went to answer, finding Molly on the other side. "Albus would like to see you dear. The rest of you, lunch is ready."

They silently followed her down the stairs. She knocked on Ginny and Draco’s doors, but neither answered. Molly threw a worried look over her shoulder, but the teens said nothing. They continued on, the others breaking off to the kitchen as Hermione made for the parlor. A quick glance at Harry conveyed her wishes and he broke off from the group to join her. She took his hand as they settled themselves on the couch across from where their Headmaster was seated. Already knowing what this had to be about, she braced herself.

"If you feel up to it, the meeting with your parents is set for tomorrow morning." He said without ceremony.

"I have to see them sometime, right." She answered quietly.

"Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be now. We can find a way to keep them compliant for their own safety, despite their threats to make it difficult. Of course I’d prefer they continue of their own accord, but not at the sake of your peace of mind. Perhaps with some time, a better understanding can be reached."

"You speak like you know what they want to say to her." Harry accused, defensive on her behalf.

"The Grangers have indicated to me nothing other than that they wish to speak with their daughter."

"That doesn’t really answer the question." Harry said evenly. Hermione felt tense but didn’t know how to end hostility flowing from student to teacher.

"I don’t remember you asking a question, Harry." Dumbledore replied steadily.

"I’m going tomorrow." Hermione burst out. "If they have something they need to say to me, then I certainly have some things to say to them. And everyone said they’d come with me, so I hope to have a lot of support." She looked at Harry who was quietly fuming beside her, his hand tightly clutching hers.

"As you wish, Hermione." Dumbledore bowed his head in acceptance. "I will go make the final preparations." He left without further comment.

She sat next to Harry, not sure what to say, simply letting him work it out while she held his hand in support. "I don’t know why I let him get to me. I know he’s not trying to upset me or anything."

"You’re still mad that he kept things he knew about you secret." She softly suggested. "It’s not so hard to understand, forced to grow up in your situation and never knowing anything true about your past. And then to have someone trickle the information they have to you over several years, well, I’d be frustrated too."

"Maybe."

"Maybe you feel like he let you down, which is hard since he was the first person you ever really trusted."

He let go of her hand and put his arm around her, pulling her close. "You’re so smart. You have me all figured out."

"I’m smart enough to know I’ll never have you all figured out. But I feel like I’m close." She answered, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his shoulder.

"Closer than anyone else I’d think." He kissed her forehead. "I like it when it’s like this between us." He whispered.

"Then quit screwing it up." She joked, feeling his lips curve into a smile as he rested them against her skin.

"I’ll try."

(BREAK)

Ginny was nervous, but she didn’t let it show. She had paced her room, swinging back and forth between anger and confusion. Finally deciding that one outweighed the other, she had left and sought out Draco. Now alone in his room with him again, she was felt her emotional turbulence rise. They ignored the knock on the door and Molly’s declaration that lunch was ready.

"I really wanted you to come with me, you know. You, no one else." She said once she was sure her mother had moved on.

"You didn’t really have anyone else to take, did you." He replied coldly.

"That’s not what I meant."

"I’m sure. Look, I don’t know what plan you’re hatching now, but leave me out of it. I’m tired of being used. That’s part of the reason I switched sides in the first place."

"There’s no plan, Draco." Ginny said earnestly. "I really thought we’d go off somewhere and build a better life for ourselves. I wanted to save us both."

"What were you picturing exactly?" he laughed. "Certainly not a white picket fence. Face it, you wanted a guilt free way out of the mess you made, a way to leave without facing consequences and saw me as your ticket. After all, I couldn’t exactly hide my feelings for you, could I."

"I didn’t fake that." She said quietly.

"I don’t believe you."

"And I wasn’t the one who made the first move." She pointed out.

"Yeah, well, I’d already told you I wasn’t feeling like myself. I still don’t." He turned from her. "You exploited the opportunity though, didn’t you? Getting me to trust you, feel sorry for you, all so you could do what? What was your reason for coming in my room that night?"

She was shocked. "They haven’t told you?"

"I told Potter I wanted space a little while ago. Besides, I got the feeling they were all hiding something from me, so obviously they were trying to protect you."

"Maybe it was you they were trying to protect. From me." She hung her head, feeling shamed. No one made her feel this way but him.

"What does that mean? What was all this for? Why did you come to my room that night?" He demanded.

"To get the ring." She said quietly.

"Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about?"

"I hid it in here before. I wanted the others to think you had it so they’d be mad at you and you’d want to turn to me. They figured it out somehow, Fred told me they were going to get it after you left, so you wouldn’t have to know I’d tried to set you up. They even took turns sitting outside your door watching for me."

"So how did you get past them?" he asked dully.

"Ron fell asleep." She tried to meet his eyes, but he wouldn’t look at her. "So I snuck in here, but I didn’t plan anything after that, you have to believe me. I was honest with you that night, except for the reason I’d come to see you. I didn’t want to sneak out and leave you there alone, but I couldn’t let them find me! I had the ring and I wanted to use it to save us. I never thought you wouldn’t want to come with me."

"When did you hide the ring in here?" he asked, his voice harsh and clogged with emotion.

"What?"

"When Ginny? Which visit before that night was a lie so that you could plant the ring on me?"

Another shot of guilt assaulted her, but she’d come this far, she couldn’t stop now. "The night I came to check on you after they moved you and Lupin out of the War Room."

"Get out." He demanded moving to the door. She ran after him, pushing the door closed and placing her back against it.

"Please, Draco. I know I messed up and I lied to you. But I’m telling you everything now. The truth!"

"And why should I believe anything you have to say?" He reached for the knob and began trying to pull the door against her. She dug her heels in and grabbed his wrist.

"I told you they were all trying to protect you!" she reasoned desperately. "If I was still trying to turn everyone against you, why would I tell you about that? I promise I’m telling you the whole truth and I really am sorry."

He stopped trying to pull on the door and stared her down. "Why, Ginny. Why bother telling me any of this? What’s your angle this time?"

"There’s no angle." She said softly. "I wanted everything in the open between us so we could start over. I want you to trust me."

"But why?"

"Because…" she struggled for words and found none. Instead, she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips to his.

 

 

NOTE: A super long one to hopefully hold you off should there be a pause in posting. Thanks for reading everyone, and I apologize in advance for any future delays. Family comes first, and so writing must come second. Coming up: Draco and Ginny work some things out, Hermione meets with her parents, we glimpse Luna’s final vision for them all, Ron makes a move without telling the others, Luna puzzles out her brother’s death, Hagrid returns and Harry celebrates his birthday. It looking like another long one, with all that to squeeze into one chapter, so stay tuned. It’ll hopefully be coming at you soon!

Chapter 17: Confronting Reality

A/N: I think with so much going on right now in the story, that short chapters are a thing of the past. I know I said a lot of things were going to happen this chapter, and they are, but once again the story got away from me and more needed to be dealt with on the emotional/dramatic aspect before we get back to the action. There is a lot to digest in this chapter, so pay attention and stick with me. Sometimes the littlest details or dialogue reveals a lot more later on. WARNING: mushy and intimate scenes ahead! Without further interruption, Read, Review, and most definitely Enjoy!

 

At first his instinct took over and Draco returned the kiss, deepened it. He had wanted this so badly, wanted her for reasons unknown to him and for much longer than he cared to admit. But eventually his brain shook him out of the stupor, and the feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal set in again. He pushed her away roughly, moving to the other side of the room himself for added distance. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"What I want to do." She responded evenly.

"I can’t take this right now, Ginny. I don’t know what your aim is, what are you trying to do to me this time?"

"What are you talking about?!" she threw her hands in the air. "I’ve done nothing but try to be with you! I wanted your friendship and now I want more. I was trying to make it so we’d run away together, remember? Everything I did was for you, and me. It was for us!"

"And to make Potter mad, right?" he asked angrily.

"Not everything I do is about Harry."

"It isn’t? Why’d you take the ring in the first place? You didn’t hide it in here until days after you actually took it if you were telling the truth, so framing me wasn’t your original plan was it?"

"I told you at Lairmore why I did it." She said quietly.

"Right, because you ‘thought Harry would need it.’ We both know that’s a lie and it’s still about Potter!" He stomped his foot in frustration and she said nothing. And then it hit him. "You did it to get back at him, didn’t you? For hurting you all those months ago."

"Maybe." She whispered. "But I didn’t know that’s why I did it, not at first."

"Really? Because it doesn’t surprise me at all." He countered.

"It doesn’t matter, because the plan changed! You think you pieced so much together, can’t you figure out it became about you?"

"The only thing I figured out is that the closer you are to being caught, the more convincing you become. Can’t you figure it out? You ruined everything!" he yelled at her. "All your concern for me, your visits, they were all lies, all for some other purpose!"

"I was concerned! I could only hide the ring once you know! Not every visit was a lie."

"And which visit did you say it was when you took the ring back?" He watched her face fall. "Exactly. So now you see my dilemma. The last time you were in here kissing me, you had an alterior motive. It’s never what it appears to be with you, is it?"

She was quiet for a while before saying quietly, "That day I came in here and you were in pain, when I helped take care of you, that wasn’t a lie. I didn’t have any reason for being there other than to see you. I wanted to help, to take care of you."

"Yeah, I liked that memory too. And now it’s tainted, because I refuse to believe you. You’re too good at the game, Ginny. I don’t want to play. I don’t even know the rules to this one anymore."

"What do you want? I’ll drink a truth potion, you can have Luna search my head, I don’t care!"

"I don’t care either." He lied.

"That’s not true. I know its not." She took a step towards him.

"Well, you’re the expert at lying." He said, backing up to maintain the physical distance between them.

"I don’t know how to make this right. I didn’t know it was so wrong, all I was trying to do was bring us together."

"Maybe you were trying to do that, but that wasn’t all. I believe you took the ring to get back at Potter, whether you realized it or not. I completely believe you wanted to leave, to not have to face the people you hurt and who hurt you. And because I believe those things, I can’t believe this is anything other than another attempt to get back at everyone. What better way to get Potter’s attention than to pretend interest in me, right? And nothing bothers parents like the thought of their daughter with someone like me, so you can get to them too, huh? Not to mention the attention it would garner from your brothers, even the two ignoring you outside the house. So is that it? You want everyone’s attention, regardless the reason for it?"

"No, that’s not it. I think my family will hover more now than they ever have before, after what I’ve done and then attempting to run away. And Harry isn’t an option for me, I know that. I’m not really crazy you know."

"I like that. ‘Harry isn’t an option’ so you’ve what, moved on to what you can get right now?"

"That’s not what I meant!" she nearly shouted in frustration. "Look, I’ll keep it a secret, you and me. I haven’t told them anything about it anyway, and I’m sure you didn’t advertise what happened, since you were actually the one to kiss me the last time. I want to be with you, and I’ll do whatever it takes."

"Oh, I believe you’ll do whatever to get what you want. I’ve no doubt of it." He was starting to feel nervous and tried to keep his stony exterior. He was ashamed of himself, listening and wanting to believe her all over again.

"I mean it too. Anything between us can be our secret until you know it’s real." She offered. "I have no alterior motive." She turned and opened the door, walking out without hesitation and closing it behind her.

Draco was left feeling undecided. He had always been drawn to her over the years he was asked to spy on Potter, Weasley and Granger. Since spending time with Ginny, he’d felt closer to her than to anyone else, ever. But the last thing he wanted was to be a Potter replacement. First of all, despite their admitted similarities, they were nothing alike. Second of all, unlike Potter, he wanted to be with Ginny. It had hurt him more than he wanted to admit to find out she was plotting against him. What’s more, the others had known and not told him, to protect him, according to Ginny. But why?

He lay in bed lost in a million thoughts, ignoring the various people who came to knock on his door. The one thought at the forefront of his mind was that what had happened to Ginny, to make her what she was now, well it was all Lucius’s fault. Draco knew Potter and the others believed the influence of the Riddle Diary had been the beginning of her trouble, and his father had been the one to plant it on her. He’d felt bad about it even back then, but he’d hidden his feelings well, telling himself they’d had it coming. But Ginny hadn’t deserved the torture of Riddle in her head, she had been an eleven year old child at the time. They had all been just kids back then, even if Potter had started to be more. Draco began to wonder, could his guilt from knowing what his father had done to her, be the thing that had drawn him to her all these years? It had been easy to pretend indifference, even hatred, after all she was a Weasley, but deep down, she was the one he’d always wanted to like. The thought made his head hurt. Sometime after the last call for dinner, he finally dozed off, unable to stave off sleep any longer.

(BREAK)

"I’m actually nervous." Hermione confided in Harry as she lay on her side facing away from him. It was early Saturday morning, still a few hours before they had to rise and dress for the day. Neither could sleep.

"We’ll be there with you." He said turning and throwing an arm around her and pulling her close to him. "I’ll be there with you." He whispered in her ear before kissing her neck.

"I don’t know if that will make it better or worse." She answered seriously, turning to face him. She didn’t have to tell him how much her parents disapproved of him, he’d seen it in their heads for himself she was sure. They didn’t think much higher of the rest of her friends either.

"Then why don’t you just put it off until you’re ready? Dumbledore said it was up to you."

"And I already made my decision."

"Because you’ve never changed your mind before." He laughed.

"Not about important things. What else am I supposed to do? They’re my parents, and I may not have needed them much these past few years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to need them. If that makes sense." She felt relief that she could finally talk about this with him. It had been eating at her, and since he’d had a nice long visit with James and Lily the night before, she finally felt free to express herself.

"Oh, I understand. We all have people we wish we could still count on." He answered solemnly and she knew he was thinking of his own shaky relationship with their Headmaster. He was the first adult Harry had really trusted and therefore the first to truly let him down.

"What if they hate me now?" she whispered her fear as he interlaced his fingers with hers.

"For choosing your own path in life? That doesn’t sound like something parents should do. They’re probably mad, but I doubt they hate you. I think that’s an impossible task." He smiled.

"You’re biased." She grinned back.

"And they should be too." He leaned down and kissed her. "No matter what, you still have me and the rest of us too."

"And no matter what, I think that could be enough." She said honestly. And they could all be enough for her, she’d never felt comfortable with the Grangers, had certainly never felt accepted by them. She hoped the love had been there, but she’d always had the feeling they’d only had a child because it was what they were supposed to do, it was expected of a married couple. And then they’d wanted her so badly to be only what they wanted. Hogwarts had been a big area of contention between them, but they’d ultimately agreed, for once happy their daughter appeared special. "I don’t know when it changed, what made it different? They were so proud of me at first."

She watched as he appeared to think on the problem. Finally he sighed and shook his head. "I’m kind of at a loss here, Mione. I don’t really have a frame of reference, the Dursley’s never cared at all. What did Fred have to say about it? "

"What are you talking about? Where does he come into this?" she asked, completely confused.

"He told me, you guys were working on the potion and you talked to him about your parents because you were so upset. Besides, he’s from a big family and he and the Weasleys are usually at odds."

"Oh." She shook her head. "I didn’t talk about anything specific with him. He offered vague advice. It was more to make conversation while we were working I guess."

"If it was bothering you that much, why didn’t you just talk to me about it, instead of sneaking out of bed and working on a cure you think is impossible, late at night in Fred’s room?"

She listened in shock. "Harry Potter, is that a note of jealousy I detect in your tone?" she teased.

"Let’s just say I understand your argument about me and Luna a bit better." He said not meeting her eyes.

"Good, then you also understand there’s nothing to worry about with Fred." She laughed.

"Why didn’t you just tell me you were so upset? I mean you already hide all your thoughts and after the whole no secrets thing and all…"

"I felt guilty. Talking to you about all this when James and Lily are gone, and the ring was still missing…it just seemed unfair somehow, that you would have to comfort me." She shrugged.

"You are really quite silly sometimes." He smiled at her again. "I’m not delusional, the ring is a temporary fix. Who knows when it’s going to be their time to finally move on. Cedric did it almost right away while they’ve been wherever they are for what, sixteen years? I went so long without them, and I still don’t really have them back, and those are thoughts I will always carry with me. So please, never be afraid of hurting my feelings when you have something weighing so heavily on you."

"Okay, if you say so." She said moving so her head was on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and tried to picture a time when everything would be better, after the war, when they could all finally find peace. She imagined that nothing else would matter then, that everything would be inconsequential compared to the feeling of relief that they would no longer have to fear everyday for their lives. The insecurities they both had about their relationship, her parents, that would all be worked out easily with nothing else hanging so dangerously over their heads. She sighed in momentary contentment, letting go of her worries for the day ahead and just enjoying being there with Harry. After all, he had been half the reason she’d run away in the first place.

(BREAK)

Luna awoke with a smile. She’d had the vision again last night, right before she’s turned in for bed. The feeling had struck her so suddenly she hadn’t had time to sit herself down and had come out of it collapsed on the floor. But the bump on the back of her head was nothing compared to the relief of seeing they were somehow back on the right path. Things were getting back in alignment.

Pulling her favorite still moment, she pictured it in her mind as she stretched the sleep from her bones. It was a scene in which they were all together, and she focused in on the two people she was sure were responsible for the original disruption. Draco and Ginny. They were back on the road to each other, meaning Ginny had somehow gotten through to him and was on the way to earning his forgiveness. For now, it would be a secret between the three of them, even if they didn’t know she was in on it. Luna suspected the others had an inkling, Harry more so, but she knew Ginny’s brothers believed her interest in Draco was just one more phase she was going through.

Thinking of the boys, she moved on in the picture and focused now on Ron, paired happily with a girl Luna had never seen before. She really had loved him, when they had been together. And after she first received the vision she felt it was wrong. But the more it came, she knew that staying with him was keeping them both on the wrong path, and when he started to mistrust her and blame her she knew that the only thing to be gained by staying was unhappiness. With that thought, she skipped over herself, not wanting to focus too much on what she was only beginning to admit she really wanted. Her own future was still too far off, too uncertain. That brought her to Hermione and-

She lay very still as the roaring in her ears drowned out the sounds of everyone in the house waking. Her vision went next, swallowed by a deep cloudy gray as her mind swirled making her dizzy. And then she was in the white room. She saw the stupid ring again, spinning rapidly in midair. Next entered Harry and Fred, who upon laying eyes on the ring dropped to the ground clutching their heads. Streams of blue energy burst from the cursed object, striking both boys in the chest and sucking their essence. And then it was all gone, followed by a scene in which the boys were fighting, each trying to possess the prize as the others tried to pull them apart.

She woke with a gasp. Panicked, she sat up and buried her head in her hands. What was she supposed to do with this information? She would never want to tell either boy that they should stop communicating with their loved ones. Had Kane still been available, she would have seen herself in the warning along with Harry and Fred. But she couldn’t let this ruin them any more than it already had. Perhaps Arthur was right, when he said the ring was supposed to be cursed. It was a cursed blessing she supposed. But what could she possibly do about it?

(BREAK)

They all piled into the ministry car with Arthur at the wheel and Lupin in the passenger seat. Another car pulled in behind them, full of Aurors. Harry began to feel the nervousness that was coming off Hermione in waves. He squeezed her hand, but otherwise didn’t know what to say or do. He’d been nervous to meet his parents, but they had been meeting for the first time and he hadn’t expected anything other than something good. He knew that this was not the case, that whatever happened today was going to hurt Hermione very much. He wished she’s decided to put this off, but could see how that could possibly only make things worse. Damn, Dumbledore, why couldn’t he just have told Hermione what he thought or even knew was coming?

They drove for a long while, Ron and Fred each stared out the windows. Luna, also sitting next to Hermione, held her friend’s other hand, offering the same silent support that Harry was. None of them knew what to say. Arthur and Lupin were talking about ministry business in the front, so he focused in on them.

"Edmund is campaigning hard to get me out. Albus is trying to soothe the masses, but if the newspaper keeps printing these things, I just don’t know." Arthur was saying shaking his head.

"Who is Edmund?" Harry asked. They hadn’t been talking quietly, so he assumed they weren’t trying to hide their conversation.

"And what are they writing in the paper? Why haven’t we seen it?" Fred added. Harry hadn’t been aware the others were also listening in.

"I’ve been taking the papers, I didn’t want to worry you kids and since you all had so much more going on, you obviously didn’t notice the paper wasn’t being delivered." Arthur said quietly. Though they’d all talked it out, he was obviously still hurt and upset.

"Edmund Fritz is a business man. He owns several buildings on Knockturn Alley and even a few in Diagon Alley. He’s long been thought to be a Death Eater, but like Lucius and so many others, his position kept him safe from very close scrutiny." Lupin said quickly.

Arthur sighed and took up the narrative. "Lately, the Daily Prophet has been running articles accusing me of messing things up. They claim Lairmore was mishandled, since I’d let you all be there. Said I was relying on children more than trained Aurors, even if one of the kids was Harry Potter, and too many people were lost in the battle trying to keep you all safe. They also say I pull favors for friends and family, keeping them out of trouble while more and more "upstanding" citizens become targeted as lawbreakers. Edmund Fritz has recently bought the building the Daily Prophet is run out of, so you can see where the uneasiness comes from. Not to mention word somehow got out that we’ve approached the giants and many people are nervous about that kind of alliance."

"Yesterday’s issue called for a change in government and even offered Fritz as a viable candidate for the next minister with the promise that he would find a way to return the Dementors to Azkaban so the giants would be unnecessary." Lupin shook his head in disgust. "That’s all we’d need, a Death Eater in such a position of power and Dementors ‘guarding’ their current masters."

"So how are you going to stop him?" Hermione asked.

"Kingsley and Tonks are working secretly on it." Lupin answered as Arthur glared at him. "What? Better they know, Arthur, than they try to do something about it themselves, right?"

"I’d hoped they had learned a little more patience after all we’ve been through." Arthur answered quietly.

"Are we almost there?" Ron interrupted the tension.

"A little further down the road. You ready Hermione?" Lupin asked.

"Not really." She said quietly. Harry and Luna squeezed her hands again. They were in an area of London Harry had never been to before, at least he certainly didn’t recognize anything.

"Where are we?" Fred asked the question Harry had been pondering.

"Ezzlingham. It’s a secret wizarding village right here in the city. It was started by Stephen Ezzling more than three centuries ago." Hermione answered automatically before the adults could.

"That’s right, the home we arranged for your parents is just up here on the left." They pulled up in front of a small cottage style house. Arthur turned to face Hermione, "So, do you want us all in there with you, or do you want to go alone?"

(BREAK)

Draco had awoken feeling more upset than when he’d fallen asleep. Ginny had haunted his dreams, along with Lucius and Potter. It was all a jumbled mess in his head and he couldn’t straighten it out, couldn’t separate fact, fiction and his own desires. He rose easily and reflected that at least he was feeling healthier. His stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him he’d skipped every meal the day before.

Quickly donning a t-shirt and pants, he moved to the door, jumping back as he opened it and Ginny tumbled in. Apparently she’d been sitting on the other side, waiting for him. "Were you waiting long?" he asked sarcastically.

She climbed to her feet, not looking the least bit embarrassed. "The others left about ten minutes ago. Something about a meeting with the Grangers."

"And you’re outside my room because…?"

"I was waiting for you to wake up." She answered with a shrug. "Mum said the healer would be here soon, and I didn’t want to sit with her to wait for someone I don’t want to see."

"But you are going to see this person, right? Talk out some of this stuff that’s bothering you?" He mentally kicked himself for showing even this much concern. It was too late, she’d taken it as an invitation and walked right into the room, seating herself comfortably at his desk.

"I’ll sit there, because my dad wants me to. But I don’t see the point in letting a stranger in my head. It didn’t work out so well the last time." She looked down and he knew she was talking about that stupid diary. He cursed his father all over again.

"That was a trick, Ginny. It wasn’t anything real, and you shouldn’t have trusted it. But now, this is a professional, someone with nothing to gain from you, someone on the outside who can give you an unbiased opinion."

"My parents are paying this person, how is that unbiased?" she asked angrily. "I can’t believe you think this is a good idea. Why can’t I just talk it out with you?"

"I’m not unbiased." He said softly. "And I don’t mean because you can so easily manipulate me. I knew Lucius had the Riddle Diary, and I knew he’d given it to you, okay?"

"What are you talking about?"

He took a deep breath. This was it, lay it all out and let her hate him again if it had to be that way. But she had to know who she was so willing to put her trust in. "My dad, he told me that he intended to slip the diary into your things. He wanted a good distraction so none of them would notice. All year, when those people were being attacked, I knew what was happening. I could have helped, could have told you or any of the others, but I didn’t. I let you be used Ginny. I almost let you be killed, while Potter is the one who saved you."

She shook her head and stood, moving so she was face to face with him. He expected the worst but instead she calmly replied, "You think I couldn’t have guessed that? You had a whole different life back then, we all did. If you feel guilty about so many years ago, fine let it eat away at you, but it makes no difference to me. But let me ask…" she paused and actually turned away from him, leading him to believe she was about to come from someplace very vulnerable and honest. After all, she would look him in the eye if she wanted to lie.

"What?" he asked uncertainly.

"Last year, when Cho had Luna in the lavatory and planned for us all to drown, did you know about that?" she spoke so quietly he’d barely heard her. Apparently this incident, she did care about. He didn’t see the difference, but hey it was her head.

"No. By that time, she was acting without me." He answered truthfully. In fact, the whole thing was the final straw that had made him decide to turn on her, though he’d never been bold enough to share that with Potter. How could he have said that putting Ginny in danger had forced him to bring Cho down. It was only after that he’d realized he’d made a major move against his father and the Dark Lord.

"Really? You had nothing to do with it?" she turned to him again.

"No. I didn’t know until the next day and then I went to Potter with what I knew."

To his surprise, she smiled. "You see. You do care about me."

"What?"

"You obviously told me about the diary to make me mad at you, but you still couldn’t help but tell the truth about last year. If you really wanted to push me away, you would have lied, told me you not only knew but helped plan the drowning. Instead you admit it pushed you to confess."

Damn. She was sharper than he’d originally thought. "I knew what Potter was up to a few months ago. I knew he was setting you all up to keep you away from Hogsmeade and that he’d used you to do it. How does that sit with you?" He wasn’t sure why he was confessing so many things, why he was trying so hard to push her away. As she’d pointed out, he could’ve easily lied to her before, he should have, but the idea hadn’t crossed his mind. It had seemed so important to her, and his answer had made her so sure. Maybe he figured it was best to get it all out, so she understood he wasn’t as dependable as she seemed to think.

"I don’t understand. He told you he was going to kiss me in front of Hermione?" She looked taken aback.

"Well, not exactly." He admitted. "He told me and your brother right after it happened. He told us what he did and why and asked us to play along and we did. I never said anything about it."

"Which brother, Fred? Fred knew too?" she looked hurt. "But he only told you after, so there was no way either of you could’ve stopped it, right?"

"No, but…I let him get away with it. I knew it was a horrible thing to do and I let it play out. I was kinda glad when Weasley popped him one though. He deserved it. But I’ve done worse than even that Ginny, to people I‘ve cared far less for. At least Potter did what he did for semi-noble reasons."

"A strong argument against you and your past. Maybe I see better for your future. Just how long have you liked me, Malfoy?" She asked coyly.

"Excuse me?" He just never knew what was going to come out of her mouth.

"You heard me. A little while ago, you were confessing to something that happened years before, something that was obviously weighing on your mind but that you didn’t even need to confess. Was it that long ago that you suspected? Or did you realize while you were throwing Cho under the bus as revenge for nearly killing me, like your father tried to do? Was it while Harry was confessing that he’d used me or after Ron gave him the sock to the face you admit he deserved?" she smiled at his uneasiness. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and said nothing. "Okay, I’ll go first. I started to like you, in this more than friends way, in Lairmore I think. Even when you were calling me stupid. You were so mad, but you never deserted me, and then after, you so badly wanted to believe me, and when that became impossible, you tried to help me, convince me to help myself. The feeling grew stronger and I guess I lost my head for a bit, just wanting a way out for us. So now that I’ve bared all, it’s your turn. When was it, Draco?"

Before he was forced to reply, the doorbell rang and Mrs. Weasley called up the stairs for her daughter. He stared back at her, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. A second ring of the bell and call from her mother had Ginny shaking her head a melancholy smile plastered on her face.

"Saved by the bell." she sighed. "Too bad it’s my executioner."

"Talk, Ginny." He broke his silence to be supportive. "Tell them everything. Get it all out because this is someone you can finally be honest with, and not have to worry about them passing judgement. They’ve heard from people who’ve been through and done worse than you could imagine."

She said nothing as he opened the door. Straightening her shoulders she began to walk past him but on instinct, he reached out and grabbed her hand. "Good luck. I’ll wait up here for you when you’re done, okay?" then he leaned in and kissed her cheek, squeezing her hand for support before gently pushing her down the hall. He hoped he’d been convincing enough to get her to open up.

(BREAK)

Hermione had decided that if she had to go, they were all coming with her. The Aurors surrounded the house as she and the others approached the door. Arthur knocked twice before the guard on the inside opened up and led them inside. Looking around at the antique furniture, the cultural artifacts decorating the shelves, the heavy books spread out everywhere, she realized she recognized them from her own house. Apparently the ministry had gone far to keep her parents comfortable. They all sat but she was too anxious and took to walking around, inspecting the things she’d seen her whole life that were now in this strange place. Finally, the Grangers emerged from the back of the house. They sat without a word, eyeing their guests suspiciously.

"Hello, Wayne, Mildred." Arthur nodded a friendly greeting.

"Mr. Weasley." Mildred answered shortly.

"We were under the impression we would get to speak to you alone, Hermione." Wayne said, ignoring everyone else entirely.

"I don’t go anywhere alone. Not anymore anyway." She answered sharply. She knew they’d catch onto the implication. She had unyielding support now, from the family she’d chosen for herself.

"We want you to return home." Her mother said.

"And what are the terms?"

"You already know, Hermione." Wayne replied. "You have to end this ridiculous phase in your life and get serious. You told us it wasn’t dangerous, well now we know the truth."

"What I said was I’d never put you in danger and I never came home injured." Hermione sharply corrected. "I never claimed anything about the danger I put myself in. You know very well I wasn’t raised as a liar."

"No, just a selective truth teller." Mildred shot back. "And where are we now? Hidden away by them because we are supposedly in danger now."

"Actually, we’ve relocated you as more of a precaution." Arthur stuck in. "Better safe than sorry, wouldn’t you say?" he smiled, still trying to maintain friendliness. She felt sorry for him, he didn’t know who he was dealing with, regardless how polite they had been to him in the past.

"No offense, Mr. Weasley, but if our daughter weren’t running around with your kind, there wouldn’t be any need for precaution, or uprooting us so entirely from our lives." Wayne said angrily.

"Now, that’s not necessarily true…" Arthur tried again. "The people we are fighting are as much against us as they are your kind. I would think you’d prefer to know the possibility of trouble is out there rather than remain ignorant because you think it won’t affect you."

"Either way, it is for us to decide what is best for our family." Wayne said angrily.

"We would certainly never tell you how to best take care of your family." Mildred added huffily. "And from what our daughter’s said, you have plenty of your own children to look after without Hermione troubling you as well. Not to mention the strays you take in." her parents turned to glare at Harry who looked as if he’d like nothing more than to tell the Grangers just where they could stick their comments.

"That’s enough!" Hermione cried moving so she was between her parents and the others.

"Harry’s not a stray!" Ron declared. "And we love him and Hermione as if they were our own siblings!"

"To take the place of the two brothers you lost, no doubt. Oh we read all about it in those horrid papers! How one of you turned on the rest and killed his brother. Wound up taking his own life while at that wretched school! You think we want any of that for our girl?" Mildred cried.

"Stop!" Hermione screamed at her parents. She turned as Luna jumped up to help her hold back Fred and Ron who had leapt to their feet ready for a shouting match. Arthur and Lupin had taken a firm hold on Harry, keeping him seated. Once the boys settled she turned on the Grangers. "You are being very rude to people who’ve done nothing but take care of me! Maybe you don’t agree about the way we all live, but I can’t imagine it any other way! I love you and I want you to be a part of my life, but I won’t give any of it up to keep you."

Her parents hardened before her eyes. Wayne spoke in a voice that she’d never heard before, low and dangerous. "You are our daughter, and you will do as we say. We’ll expose them all if you don’t."

"What are you talking about?" she shook her head. They wouldn’t really, would they?

"We will tell everyone and anyone what we know, Hermione." Mildred said. "We won’t lose you to these people, and we should have put our foot down on the issue many years ago. You can hate us forever, but we will not let you die for this cause. You are our responsibility."

She didn’t know what to say. Hermione. Harry’s voice whispered across her thoughts. Do you want to stay with them. Don’t worry about their threats, just answer, are you done with them until they come to their senses, or do you want to stay and try to work it out between the three of you.

She was too hurt, feeling too betrayed to want any such thing. I want nothing to do with them. She answered honestly. Apparently, it was the answer he’d been waiting for.

Harry rose to his feet and came to stand beside her, taking her hand. "You won’t need to worry about Hermione anymore I’ll be taking care of her."

"You’ll understand that we find it difficult to believe the word of a seventeen year old boy in the throes of puppy love!" Wayne shouted.

"I’ll be seventeen next week actually." Harry replied calmly. "But I own my own house, I have more money than everyone in this room combined could spend in their lifetime and I have more power than you could ever dream of. Most importantly, I love your daughter very much and wouldn’t change a thing about her. So you can threaten all you like, nothing will come of it, we’ll see to that." He held a hand up against their protest and went on speaking over the Grangers until they were once again quiet. "What you don’t understand is that the only reason any attempt is being made to keep you safe from the plague of evil spreading through London, is because you are Hermione’s parents. If it weren’t for her, you’d be nobody to us and you could live or die and never know the horror stalking you, simply because you aren’t one of us. So maybe you should take the time to consider who really needs whom here, because Hermione will be just fine. She’s smart, resilient, talented and extremely capable. And she has us behind her forever and no matter what. There aren’t strings attached to our acceptance of her." He turned and nodded to the others that it was time to go. As they all rose, he turned back to the Grangers, who were sitting speechless in their seats. "It’s been lovely to see you again. Let’s not make the next visit too soon though, if you don’t mind."

"You insolent boy. Who do you think you’re talking to?" Wayne rose from the chair and was just as quickly thrown back down in his seat, though Harry hadn’t moved a muscle. Hermione watched with the others, awed into stillness, and unsure if they should step in. When Harry got into these moods, they all became unsure how to react, adults included. She reflected that it must be the power and force he put not only behind his abilities, but his attitude as well.

"I know who I’m talking to, it is you who needs to better understand that not everyone is what they seem." Harry said through gritted teeth.

Harry! She heard Luna’s scolding. The other girl must have been so shocked she didn’t realize she hadn’t contained the thought to it’s single recipient.

"Time to go, it seems." Lupin said gently. "Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I’m sure Albus will be here to see you shortly, seeing as you are unhappy enough to make some very serious threats."

"Until then, you will understand that we must keep you from leaving the house." Arthur added. "Our apologies."

"Hermione!" Mildred cried.

"Good-bye mum. Bye dad." She said without emotion before walking out, leading Harry behind her, tightly clutching his hand. The others followed as they made their way back to the car.

"Well." Fred said as they headed back onto the road. "I guess in this case, the apple fell far from the tree and then rolled a few more yards. They are insane!"

"They just aren’t like us, Fred." Arthur scolded. "They’re muggles, they don’t understand the danger. They only know enough to be scared of it."

"It’s no excuse for the things they said. I’m sorry." Hermione said. "That stuff about George and Percy was way out of line."

"They’re hurt, Hermione." Lupin answered.

"That’s right, they wanted me to hurt too, because I was the adult, the one most responsible for you and probably the one they fear is going to take their place." Arthur added. "After all, I do take in strays." He smiled at Harry through the rearview mirror.

She watched a slow grin spread across Harry’s face in return. She felt good about not staying with her parents. She’d known it was never going to be an option for her, but when they’d threatened to expose everyone else, she thought for the briefest of moments that they’d won her obedience. Of course Harry, Dumbledore, and the others wouldn’t have let that happen and she felt silly for even the small moment of doubt. She hoped that someday she’d be able to find her parents and show them how great her life was and how wrong they were. It was a lot to hope for.

(BREAK)

"So how does this work?" Ginny asked testily. She sat opposite the strange woman, her arms crossed tightly and defensively across her chest. Her mother had introduced the healer as Laurel Honeywick. In keeping with the sweet name, the person bearing it appeared soft and comforting, a pile of honey-gold hair, big, brown, doe eyes and a slight, unassuming stature. She still didn’t like the woman.

"It’s up to you actually, how we approach this." Laurel smiled. She had insisted Ginny use her given name, as if they were friends. "I’m what many call a mind healer. Sometimes, just talking about what’s troubling you is enough. Sometimes, there are deep scars inside the head that need to be healed over with more than just a mental bandage."

"So which am I? Slightly touched with insanity, or deeply scarred?"

"I think you are deeply hurt. I think you’re having trouble trusting yourself and therefore you’re having trouble trusting anyone else. I think sometimes, the line between fantasy and reality blurs in front of you. And I think you think there’s something wrong with you that’s not there in anyone else around you. What do you think?"

"I think you’re a bitch." Ginny sneered at her. "What do you think about that?"

"Well, I think you have trouble dealing with anyone willing to call you out and be honest with you." Laurel smiled at her again. "What do you think?"

"That you’re annoying me."

"Then why are you still sitting here?" Laurel shot back.

"Because I promised some people I’d try." Ginny admitted, thinking of her parents and Draco.

"And do you really think you’re trying?"

"Maybe I would if you did anything other than ask questions."

"How else do you expect me to get to know you?" Laurel laughed. "Okay, no more questions. You can just tell me what’s bothering you."

"A lot."

"I see. Maybe something more specific would be helpful."

"I’m sure it would be."

"Wow, you and I have two completely different ideas of trying. I don’t think you are honoring those people you promised. Might make me reconsider my no more questions pledge."

"Isn’t there some faster way than me endlessly going on about my sad life?" Ginny asked. "I’m not really in the mood for story telling."

"There is, actually. But not many people like it because it’s sort of like an invasion. I would enter your mind and you would pick out the appropriate memories to show me. It wouldn’t hurt and would have no more effect than if a mind reader where in there."

"Yeah, because I have no idea what that’s like." She said sarcastically. She was uncomfortable with the idea of some stranger running around in her head. She already did her best to keep Harry and Luna out. Plus, how well did her parents know this woman? And what information was swimming in her head that could be harmful to those she loved if discovered? "I don’t know, what if there’s something I don’t want to show you?"

"Then you don’t have to." Laurel assured her. "Don’t be confused, I’m not a mind reader. I can only see what you show me. I’ll create a link between us, syncing up with your energy. Then you play whatever memories you want and I watch them with you. Then we’ll talk about them. And anything I see, anything we discuss is between us. I won’t even talk about it with your parents. Sound good?"

"I guess."

Ginny closed her eyes at the Laurel’s command, letting the healer place her hands on either side of her face. Then she gently brought their foreheads together, lining up the third eye. Not knowing what else to do, Ginny began replaying her memories, from the discovery of the journal and it’s ability to talk back to her to Harry saving her in the chamber of secrets. She showed her life over the next few years, watching the others from the outside, trying so hard to be a part of their adventures, her pitiful relationships with boys. She watched Harry struggle through the Tri-Wizard Tournament and finally emerge from the maze clutching Cedric’s lifeless body. Then they were in the hospital, visiting her father after the attack on him that Harry had dreamed. She brought up Draco and his cronies capture of them as they were brought to Umbridge’s office and then of course the Department of Mysteries up to Sirius’s death. Then she faltered and Laurel broke the link.

"That was interesting. You went through quite a few things that very few young people have to deal with."

"Yeah except that was nothing compared to what the others have been through." Ginny admitted, unexpectedly.

"The first thing you need to do is stop comparing yourself to your friends. You are all different and you experience things differently, think differently. Why would you think you’d all react the same to what you go through?" Laurel asked. But Ginny had no answer to give. "Okay, you aren’t ready to think about that, then let’s move on to why you stopped before last year. What was so different about last year that made you unwilling to go on?"

Ginny shook her head wanting to defy the woman. But she’d come this far… "I guess, because that’s when…well bad things weren’t just happening to me anymore, I also started doing bad things."

"I see. You started acting out after so much stress from the years previous. Do you think it might also have to do with you own lack of self-assurance? I mean you believe you were struggling more than the others, could that have something to do with it?"

"Maybe. You’re the healer you tell me."

"Well, do you want to show me?"

With a sigh, Ginny closed her eyes, once again allowing the intimate contact. This time she started with Neville and the slight way she’d flirted with him as Harry and Hermione seemed to grow closer. Then she was in the air again over the quidditch pitch grabbing wildly as Neville slipped through her hands, then through Fred’s and finally past Harry as he struggled to hold onto his own broom and Hermione; from there, Harry telling them all Draco had admitted responsibility for the explosions. She raced forward to the night in front of the fire, when she’d taken advantage of Harry’s concern for her followed by the hurt she felt when he refused her in Hermione’s name. Then they were at the Costume Ball, dancing half-heartedly with Gem Valor while watching Harry dance and laugh with Hermione and then struggle with Cho.

When Knockturn Alley appeared, she faltered again, not wanting to relive that day. But she wouldn’t let Laurel break the link. If this woman wanted to see, then she’d see it all now or never. So there they were, chasing after Harry to Bellatrix arriving with the Malfoys to Percy wildly throwing out the curse and striking George. They revisited the funeral and then the note from Draco brought to her from a small gray owl asking her for a meeting. She felt shame, watching with the healer as she snuck up behind the boy and plunged the knife into his back before stuffing it back in her purse and running. Then Harry and Hermione were discovering her on the stairs, helping her clean up, Harry was at the phone booth making the anonymous call. It had all been a blur to her at the time, and it was difficult to relive now.

She skipped ahead, to after the boys took the potion and were able to tell them Cho was the real enemy, that Draco had lied about setting the explosions. The trial began and Luna came up missing, leading to her and Harry’s search of the castle and eventual entrapment in Moaning Myrtle’s lavatory. That led to waking in Dumbledore’s office, her own turn on the stand against Gladys, followed by the roe she had with Hermione after the other girl discovered her diary. And then they were back at the trial and Harry was introducing Draco as a star witness, who then admitted the whole plot he and Cho were involved in.

And then Harry was before her, telling her what she wanted to hear before kissing her as Hermione entered the common room and the rejection she faced after. Jumping over the next month of unhappiness, she woke to Luna shaking her, telling her they were headed to Hogsmeade to help the boys and arriving to Draco, his arm splayed out and a big knife raised in the other. She watched as Ron took up the knife for him and once again saw the fear in his eyes as she reached out to take his hand. She had closed her eyes when Ron had swung down. Then they were lost together, her and Draco and she knew he was looking for his father. Honeydukes was next, and she ran in again without thinking. Then there was Harry, digging through the rubble searching desperately for Hermione. Finally, they came to Hogwarts as she watched in horror as Fred once again faced down Percy until Dumbledore arrived. The Headmaster tried to reach out to Percy, but her brother once more took his life before her eyes.

Now she was forced to walk down the aisle at Lupin and Tonks wedding again, Harry stiffly on her arm, not wanting to be near her as they were forced to acknowledge the happiness of others. She broke it off then, unsure if she should go on. Anything after became intertwined with the ring somehow, and she knew they didn’t want too many people to know about it.

"That was quite a year." Laurel said softly as she settled back into her seat. "A lot for anyone to go through. And I want you to know right now, nothing I saw makes you a bad person."

"There are a few people I’m sure who would disagree." Ginny shot back.

"And that’s because you hurt them very badly. I assume you mean this Hermione girl, who did nothing to you other than catch the eye of a boy you wanted for yourself. And the things you did because of it, they are the actions of someone who is very unsure and very unhappy. Maybe even a little desperate. But they don’t make you evil and you can probably still heal the rift, if you really wanted to."

"Yeah, well, let’s just say you don’t know everything. Things only got worse from there, and so were the things I was doing. I can’t tell you about most of it though, it involves…classified information."

"If you say so, but I want you to know that I’m not your enemy. Your secrets are my secrets."

"No, my secrets are mine, and everything I shared was because I wanted to." Ginny said defensively.

Laurel raised her hands in surrender. "Okay. I won’t push. Truthfully, you did great and I think this was more than enough for today. Would it be alright if we met again in a few days, after we both have time to digest what we saw here today?"

"Do we have to?"

"I’d like to. You showed me a lot today, and that can be exhausting, I know. So in return for not pushing you today by going on to talk about it, I’d like to meet at least once more and talk in the future."

"Whatever." Ginny answered under her breath.

"Great! I’ll take what I can get. I know this house is not your ordinary household so I’ll find out from your father the best time to come back. So, how do you feel now that you let so much out for me to see?"

"Lighter." She admitted.

(BREAK)

Harry followed Hermione to her room as soon as they walked in the house, the others respected their privacy and made themselves busy elsewhere. He closed the door and watched as she slumped down on the bed. Climbing behind her, he kissed the back of her head before gently massaging her shoulders.

"I guess it’s over for now." She said after awhile. "I don’t really need them anyway."

"Of course you do!" he pulled her around to face him. "Hermione, just because today didn’t go well doesn’t mean it’s over forever. They’ll always be your parents."

"I guess. But they want to hold me back. You were right, all I need is you guys. I need you." She threw herself in his arms and he held her tightly, hoping he hadn’t just messed up her life with his outburst at her parents. They certainly wouldn’t accept him after that, and she seemed determined to defy them with this point. At least for now.

"Hermione, I just-" but before he could complete his protest she silenced him with a kiss.

Pulling away, she smiled. "Trust me to know my own mind okay? It’s you I want, don’t make me question the decision too much." She teased.

"Consider me warned and silenced on the matter." He grinned back at her before tackling her back onto the bed, eliciting a playful squeal from her.

They wrestled and he let her get the upper hand rolling on top of him and pinning his arms above his head. She laughed as he pretended to struggle against her before leaning down and once more capturing his lips with hers. Sliding her hands down his arms and tangling her fingers in his hair, she deepened the kiss, instantly initiating his desire for her. A shiver went down his spine as he felt her fingers trail down his chest to the button on his pants, and his need intensified. Sitting up with her still straddling him, they disentangled themselves from their clothes and spent the next few hours trying to prove to each other that their relationship was as solid as ever. That what she gave up was worth it and that their doubts were unfounded. Of course, this was an area of their relationship where they had never really struggled.

(BREAK)

Draco was going crazy himself after waiting so long. His stomach rumbled once again, and once again he ignored it, though it was becoming more insistent. It seemed like forever since Ginny had gone down to speak with the healer. He hoped the longer it took meant that she was actually participating in the process. He’d had one false alarm earlier, when he’d answered the rapping at his door only to find Mrs. Weasley with a message from Drake. Apparently he was needed at the hospital and couldn’t keep their appointment that day. He thanked her and assured her he was fine with the delay and he’d felt healthier than he had in a long time, throwing in the compliment that it must be her cooking. Might as well rack up points with the parents now, just in case. She’d left him smiling anyway.

Now, unable to lay still any longer, he took to pacing the floor. Hearing the others come back home, he realized Ginny had been gone for well over an hour. Finally the soft knock came at his door. He threw it open and sure enough, she was on the other side looking grim. "So what happened?" he asked once she came in and settled herself at the desk.

"I relived some of the worse moments of my life for a complete stranger who wanted to assume she knew me. And I have to see her at least once more." She answered miserably.

"It didn’t help at all? You know, to get it all out in the open?"

"I didn’t say that, I just…I don’t want to need treatment."

"I know what you mean." He said gesturing to his arm. "But sometimes you have to go through something painful to be whole again."

"Well, aren’t you the philosopher." She sneered.

"Just trying to be helpful. If the gesture is unappreciated then I do have better things to do. You can leave anytime." He shot back.

"Do you remember forcing us all into Umbridge’s office?" she asked out of nowhere. "You took us captive and made us face that horrible woman. You seemed so happy about it, pleased to be helping her."

"Yeah, at the time I was. I was doing what was expected of me, trying to make my father proud. What about it?" he asked suspiciously.

"I just…I went through so many memories, saw so much of who we all used to be. It’s hard to think of myself any different than how I am now. It’s even more difficult to remember how you used to be."

"Yeah, well I was trying to tell you before." He said unsure what she wanted from him. "What are you trying to figure out? Was I sorry that I made you all miserable? Yes and no. It’s a difficult question to answer. If you had succeeded in taking Potter away from his girlfriend, would you have been sorry? Probably not. You would’ve been happy to have achieved your goal. Now that you didn’t succeed and had time to think about your actions, you’re sorry it all happened because it led to things that were even worse, like giving him the opening to use you. It’s the same for me. I tried to be who my father wanted, I was happy with any progress I made in torturing the rest of you. But upon reflection, I’m sorry I let myself be led and didn’t begin to think for myself sooner."

She stared at the floor, her brow furrowed. "I just saw so much of our past together, things I hadn’t really thought about in a long time."

"Having second thoughts about hitching your wagon to mine?" he tried to ask as if the answer didn’t matter. He wasn’t sure he’d pulled it off.

"Well, no not really. I mean, do you really forgive me for stabbing you and leaving you to die?"

He thought hard, wanting to give an honest answer. "I really do. What’s more, I understand why you did it. Grief, anger, betrayal they were blinding you at the time and I made myself an easy target. You already hated me at that point and I pushed it, thinking I could get through to you."

"Okay then. How could I not forgive you for everything you did? What’s more," she smiled as she rose and sauntered across the room towards him. "I understand why you did it. Your father was a crushing presence in your life, and someone you desperately wanted to please. If that meant being mean to some people you didn’t even really know then what’s the difference right? But you’ve woken yourself up and decided to live for yourself, and I couldn’t be more attracted to this new you, just now discovering what your life could really be."

She was standing directly in front of him, staring up into his eyes. His mind whirled, trying to stay focused on the moment. "I don’t know what I want my life to be." He said uncertainly as his nose filled with the aroma of coconut.

"I think you do. I just think you aren’t ready to admit it." She answered softly.

"One session with a healer and you’re a therapy expert?" he joked, swallowing the nervous lump in his throat.

"Maybe I just find you an easy yet interesting read." She teased, running her fingers up his arm.

"Ginny. I-" she stopped him, placing a hand over his mouth.

"You may not be ready to admit what you want, but I’m not as shy." She whispered before removing her hand and wrapping her arms around his neck closing the small distance left between them. Tilting her face up towards his, she leaned in, certain he would respond to her obvious invitation.

He didn’t want to disappoint her. He instantly crushed his lips to hers, once again feeling the spark that came every time they collided this way. Her passion instantly rose to match his own hungry need, and she turned them, slowly lowering herself to the bed. He lay with her, trying to keep the physical contact. They smiled against each other’s lips as they clumsily settled with her beneath him. She dug her fingernails into his back as he trailed kisses down her jaw. He shook with desire as she gasped when his lips met the sensitive skin at the hollow of her neck. She tasted sweet and salty all at the same time and he savored it, still unable to believe this was happening.

He rose slightly as he felt the tug on his T-shirt, helping her ease it over his head. He only wanted her more when she pushed him back, straddling him and pulling her own shirt off before leaning down to reclaim his mouth. He ran his hand over the silky smooth skin she exposed to him, all the while trying to forget his handicap and how desperately he wished he could wrap both arms around her.

He let her take the lead for the rest of their time together, and the experience was the most pleasurable and exciting he ever thought he could achieve. As they finally lay still together, long after they’d begun, he thought about what they’d done. It made him smile, for once knowing what it was to feel sublimely happy.

"And to think, you resisted me all those times before. See what you were missing." She teased, interlacing their fingers.

"Now that I know, I may never let you leave this room again." He said leaning over to kiss her bare shoulder.

"I think I could live with that." She stretched luxuriously and he watched her with pleasure. And then his stomach chose to rumble again, now that his brain was able to focus even slightly on other things. She laughed. "Did you work up that much of an appetite?"

"I actually haven’t eaten since Thursday." He admitted. "Other things got in the way."

She sat up sharply, now looking down at him in concern and anger. "Draco! You just got back from your first change, you’re doing the treatments with Drake and you’re still healing from your collapse at Lairmore. Do not complicate things by skipping meals!"

"Yes ma’am!" he grinned, sitting up as well, pleased that she cared.

"Besides," she went on, a wicked glint in her eye. "you’re going to need your strength if you intend to keep up with me."

"Don’t I know it." He shot back.

(BREAK)

Luna sat in her room, the files she had gotten about Julian Heath spread out around her. She tried not to think about how the others were spending their time and instead focused on the fact that with Harry and Hermione as occupied as Draco and Ginny, she’d finally have time to work on her own project. She doubted she had to worry about Ron or Fred interrupting her, they were both involved in tasks they were trying very hard to keep secret.

She thought she’d found a few answers. Apparently, Julian worked in the Department of Mysteries. There was obviously something he knew about in there that Lucius wanted to know too. Her first instinct had been that he’d been after the prophesy, but she just wasn’t sure. And it couldn’t have been about Harland, according to Draco, he’d been broken out years earlier. The file was vague on what Julian’s actual job had been, but it was clear that after he’d disappeared, he’d never been seen again. She’d figured as much.

As for the part mentioning Kane, it was reported that he’d received a lead pointing him in the direction of the Malfoy mansion. There was a source mentioned, someone who’d actually reported Lucius’s home as the last place Julian had been seen. They weren’t named and she grunted in frustration. Reading on, she learned that Kane had set out immediately for the large, foreboding house, calling in for back-up. Half an hour after his call, the other Auror’s arrived on the scene and found him crushed on the patio and Lucius claiming an accident occurred.

She shuffled through for the actual report. According to the lead Auror on the case, it seemed he first appeared to doubt Malfoy’s claim. It ended with the recommendation that the incident be investigated further. She didn’t understand until she flipped to the next report. Apparently, the Auror changed his mind, within mere hours if the time stamps were correct. The new report stated that upon examination by a professional, the incident could be nothing other than negligence on the part of Auror Kane Lovegood. Luna threw the papers away in disgust. What had happened? Who was this expert and what exactly where they an expert of? She had no leads, the only names mentioned were her brother’s and Lucius.

And then she had an idea. Grabbing up the reports she scanned for the signature of the lead Auror who’d written the damn things in the first place. At the very bottom she could just barely make out the handwriting. She rubbed her eyes and focused in again to be sure she was reading it correctly. But there it was, clear as day even if the ink was faded. Willem Fritz. It was the last name that gave her pause. Fritz. Was that as in Edmund Fritz, the man currently trying to take Arthur’s job? It could be a coincidence. She knew instantly that it wasn’t.

She had so many people she needed to talk to about so many things. Now she could add Arthur to the list, he had to know something about Willem. Pushing the horrid papers aside, she lay back and closed her eyes, reflecting on how confused she was. Her powers were beginning to get beyond her control, and she couldn’t understand why. She’d known of them her whole life, so why did she suddenly feel like things were changing, becoming more intense as if she were just now developing them, like Harry. She desperately wanted to discuss it with her grandmother, face to face. Not in some stupid letter. Surely Arthur could also arrange a short visit to Leeds for her before school started.

Thinking of her powers led her to her latest vision, or warning rather. How could she possibly explain it to Harry and Fred? Did they have to cut themselves off from the influence of the ring completely, or could they continue in moderation? She shook her head, just not knowing enough about energy work. Sometimes she felt like she could feel things, the spark of life every living thing gives off. And sometimes, she felt like she could tap into it, manipulate the way someone feels. In fact, she’d done just that when she’d sat the Weasleys down with their children and mediated their discussion. But when she’d tried to do it at the cottage with the Grangers, she couldn’t find the right urge, as if she was too nervous at the scene that had played out before her to concentrate on a power she didn’t understand how to use. Finally she decided her best bet was to ask Drake about any influence the ring may possess. After all, he actually worked with energy. She planned to ask Harry to borrow the ring tomorrow, claiming she’d like a visit with Neville. She’d keep it for as long as possible from them without actually stealing it like Ginny, and just have to hope Drake would show up soon.

(BREAK)

Fred looked hopefully into the cauldron then shoved it away in disgust. Maybe a cure really was impossible. He felt like he was letting Lupin and Draco down. He’d asked Harry for the ring that morning, but the headache had deterred him from actually using it. Harry had confided that his headaches had returned as well, almost as soon as he’d started using the stupid thing. Fred refused to worry, regarding the pain as more of an inconvenience than anything else. The headache had waned considerably throughout the day, so he now picked up the ring and slid it on his finger.

George appeared almost as soon as he called him, as if he’d been waiting. "Hey Freddie."

"Georgie." Fred smiled. "I could sure use your opinion on something here."

"Sure, but in exchange I want you to hear me out about something." George bargained.

"Agreed. What is it?"

"Oh no, you go first, that way you have to keep your end of the deal." He protested, floating closer to his twin.

"Fine. But just know I can cut you off any time I want, so you aren’t really getting your way." Fred argued for old time’s sake.

"If you want to see it that way. Whatever lets you get your beauty rest, you need it lately." George shot back.

"You’re one to talk, all pale and see through!" Fred laughed before turning serious. "Okay, I’m trying to come up with some kind of cure for the wolfies." He explained what he’d tried already and his reasoning behind it, adding Hermione’s input to the process.

"I think she was on the right track, trying to use an extract of the Wolfsbane in with some kind of healing base. Obviously aloe wasn’t going to be strong enough though." George scolded.

"I knew that. I was just trying to find a starting point. I just think it’s going to take a lot more than only finding the right healing agent. There’s got to be more to it."

"What are you thinking, like adding minerals as well?"

"Maybe. The Sorcerer’s Stone, Mykele’s stone here in the ring, why not say….try making something like that, instead of a pure liquid concoction." Fred reflected.

"I agree. Never limit yourself when creating something entirely new, right? Which stones were you thinking, because I have a few suggestions."

They bounced ideas back and forth before finally deciding on the best options to experiment with. With a new starting point all planned out, George brought the conversation back around to what he wanted to discuss. "It’s the ring, Fred. I think we should visit a little less frequently."

"What are you talking about?" Fred demanded, becoming angry. "You don’t want to see me anymore?"

"Of course not. You know that’s ridiculous. Remember, you promised to hear me out. I don’t like what it’s doing to you. To you and Harry actually. These headaches, they’re a sign of something, you can’t keep in contact with an object this powerful and not suffer side effects."

"Well, what can I say, I just want to spend as much time as I can with you before it’s really over."

"It is really over Freddie Boy." George answered sadly. "I’m already gone, this isn’t really real."

"I know that." Fred said quietly.

"Do you? Because you can know something without believing it. You and Harry. I just want you to take it easy. Don’t let this thing be stronger than you just because it seems to give you what you want. I won’t be able to come here forever, but the effects of using the ring now, they could be permanent. Please Fred. Keep yourself sane, for Ron and Ginny. They’re floundering too, and only now beginning to surface. Focus on helping them keep their heads above water and start letting me go."

"I can’t do that. I can be there for Ron and Ginny, you know I’d do anything for them. But I can’t just forget you."

"I’m not asking you to, I’m asking you to start healing."

(BREAK)

Ron ended the letter, said the finishing spell to make it readable to the person for whom it was intended and sealed it in the envelope he’d already addressed. He handed it to a small brown owl that Arthur usually used for ministry business before he could change his mind and hoped he’d made the right decision. Until he knew, he wouldn’t say anything to anyone. He only hoped the response would arrive quickly.
 

 

NOTE: So not everything happened in this chapter that I promised, but it is still all coming. Just in case something else messed up my plot line, here’s what you can look forward to in the next few chapters: Luna finds out more about Willem and talks to Drake about her warning, they discover a few more coven members identities, Draco finds a link between Pansy and Sarah Elaine, Hagrid returns with news from the giants, Harry celebrates his birthday, news arrives that brings them back to Cho, Luna asks for Harry’s help with her brother’s case, Ron receives a response to his letter, a trip to Diagon Alley turns out worse than expected, Hedwig goes missing, Edmund Fritz makes another move against Arthur, info about Snape arrives, the Dursley’s make an appearance, a stressful train ride back to Hogwarts, a new professor has taken Snape’s place, Luna strikes a deal with Dumbledore….well as you can see I have a lot to cover and even more to think up after all that. My days are still occupied by my family emergency and will probably stay that way for a few weeks, but I’m trying to make the most of my insomnia, so keep checking in, I’m still writing! Please don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the meantime, I love hearing from you guys!






Chapter 18: Birthday Wishes and Everyday Problems

A/N: Once more, there is a lot going down right now, a lot to pay attention to. So let’s keep plugging away, shall we? Read, Review, Enjoy!

 


Ginny woke feeling happy, something she didn’t think she’d ever experience again. After the others had gone to bed, she’d sneaked back to Draco’s room, and they’d spent many more hours getting to know each other in the dark. Now, feeling his arm wrapped so securely around her, his deep, even breath against the back of her neck, and the comfort of his body pressed so tightly against her, she felt safe, comforted, secure. Though she would never admit it to anyone, Draco wasn’t the first boy she had been so intimate with.

Last year, while watching Harry and Hermione so happy out on the dance floor of the costume ball, she’d been consumed by feelings of insecurity, hurt and disappointment while trying to keep a happy face. Losing herself in her misery, she’d sought desperately for a way to make herself feel better, and so, as Fred, Ron and Luna rescued Harry from Cho, she’d snuck off with her own date, Gem, and one thing had led to another. It had been a painful and lackluster experience, perhaps because she hadn’t really intended to go so far. Of course, this was something she’d always kept to herself, not wanting the others to have one more reason to doubt she was capable of making her own decisions. It wasn’t her proudest moment, and she hadn’t spoken to Gem since, though he’d tried for quite a few weeks after. She certainly hadn’t paraded the memory in front of Laurel, simply glossed over it quickly when showing all the unsatisfying relationships she’d tried to enter into.

Draco stirred and her breath caught in her throat. "Hey." He said sleepily, hugging her closer and burying his face in her hair. Letting out the breath in relief, she smiled before turning and once again claiming his lips. She’d feared he’d wake regretful, that it would be awkward between them.

Breaking off he turned away, a big dopey grin on his face. "Morning breath. Sorry."

"Oh please." She shoved him playfully. "If you can handle mine, I can handle yours."

"I’m not sure I can handle you at all." He joked, rising to put on his clothes.

"Where are you going? Are you in the habit of leaving a girl stranded in your bed, because I may have an issue with that."

"Stranded? Your clothes are right there." He looked down before adding, "I just figured you’d want to run off before the others started moving around."

"I see, you think I’m ashamed of myself. Well, maybe I should be." She teased before grabbing his belt loop and pulling him back down beside her. "We did some very bad things last night." He blushed slightly, unable to meet her eyes and she found him adorable all over again. For all the hardness he’d portrayed over the years, she was actually making him nervous. "I’m not in a rush to desert you." She said seriously. "We can keep it secret from the others, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do so. I…." She paused, suddenly uncomfortable with the amount of truth she had been about to disclose.

"You what?" he prodded, sweeping her hair back from her face and tucking a strand behind her ear. The gesture touched her.

"I’m finally on my way to being happy, I think. I just don’t want to ruin it anymore."

"I think you make me happy too." He admitted quietly. "Of course, you drive me insane usually and there are times I’d like to throttle you but… I don’t know it just feels right." He looked at her with worry, obviously unsure if she was in the same place he was.

"Sure, I can go along with that." She smiled. "And since we’re being honest with each other, are you going to finally tell me when you first felt this way? Or did you think I forgot that you never answered even after I told you my story. We’re past embarrassment at this point."

"That’s what you think." He grumbled. "Okay, I don’t really know, alright. It just sort of happened, that I softened towards you before all the others, maybe because I felt guilty about the diary. And then I had to watch you all, get to know you without really knowing you and you always just sort of stuck out. I tried to be meaner to you, to convince myself you didn’t matter. I tried not to treat you any differently than the others, but anytime we were pitted against each other, like the scuffle we all had in Umbridge’s office, I could never bring myself to act seriously against you. You held no similar qualms, I’d noticed." He shook his head.

"Well, I didn’t know." She defended herself not knowing why. He’d been quite the jerk back then, to everyone. He’d played his part expertly, so how was she supposed to know any different?

"Yeah well, the sick part is that I think I really let myself feel for you after you stabbed me."

"Really? How does that work?"

"It’s like I told Potter, you sort of freed me that day. I’d never felt so cut off from Lucius. My mother visited me every day in that stupid hospital, but my father never even sent me a message through her. After, when I was released and finally able to see him, he blamed me for it. Said I’d gotten myself caught up and he wouldn’t be taken down by my weakness. Maybe it was my fault trying to meet with you so soon after George died, but I’d never been more grateful to anyone as I was towards you. The whole incident finally opened my eyes to the fact that I was giving up everything for someone who could care less."

"I never did like that man." She tried to imagine it, the horror of living with such a cold unfeeling person. But her own father was so far removed from her image of Lucius, that she was sure anything she pictured couldn’t be close to what Draco had actually experienced. She had a feeling Harry could relate better and she began to understand the relationship slowly growing between the two boys.

"You’re not the only one. I’m sure even my mother doesn’t really like him." Draco stood again and began handing her clothes to her, the moment of bliss obviously over. "Anyway, that’s the progression of my regard for you, take it or leave it."

She dressed quickly then threw herself against him, wrapping her arms tightly around him. "I’ll take it." She answered, stealing a surprised kiss. "Now let’s get down to the kitchen before Ron gets there. I hate watching him eat, he’s such a pig." She led him to the door, listening for any movement on the other side. She reached for the knob before turning back to him with a smile. "Don’t forget to keep your mind closed and act normal."

(BREAK)

Harry sat at the table, savoring the smell of Molly’s cooking. As much as he wanted to be master of the house and to be responsible for his guests, he just couldn’t bring himself to argue when she’d insisted on kitchen duty. The only cooking that came close to being as delicious and comforting was Luna’s, which is why he’d relinquished control to her as well. But Molly, she was amazing.

He and Hermione had risen early, but all of the adults were already in the kitchen preparing for their day. Eager to get breakfast underway, Harry watched as the rest of the teens sauntered in, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Except Ginny, she entered looking wide awake. He caught Luna grin to herself when Draco entered a short time later and sat as far from Ginny as he could be. Hmmm, interesting, he thought to himself before checking to see that Fred and Ron had been ignorant of the moment. Since Ron was already piling his plate and Fred had placed his head on the table in an attempt to continue sleeping, he felt assured they were none the wiser. Unsure how he felt about this development himself, he thought it best her brothers not pick up on it too soon. Glancing at Hermione, he couldn’t guess whether she’d noticed.

"Mr. Weasley?" Luna asked as the meal went under way.

"Yes, my dear? What can I do for you?" he answered with a smile.

"I was wondering, well you see I’d like to visit my grandmother before we leave for school, and I was hoping it would be possible to set something up?"

"Of course! I’ll just have to figure a few things out. Unfortunately it’s being passed around that I’m so busy using the Aurors as my own personal security that they are unable to do their jobs hunting down Voldemort. I can’t keep calling them away for these things." He turned to Lupin. "Remus, maybe you’d be able to lend assistance?"

"We both would!" Tonks replied for him. "Luna this works out wonderfully! I have holiday time built up, I’d intended to use it for our honeymoon, but that fell through. I hoped things would settle enough for us to take a small trip before Remus had to leave for school, but you know they never have."

"They still haven’t settled." Arthur reminded her. "And you are an Auror, I’m afraid of how it will look."

"But she needs protection, doesn’t she Arthur? And two guards are better than one. I’d be taking off work to do something equally important and if Remus and I get to have a little time to ourselves while Luna’s visiting, then what’s the harm? Plus I’m sure some of the other kids would want to go with her, they never want to go anywhere alone, so it’s better that Remus have help."

Arthur put up his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine, you’ve argued your case. But you’ll have to convince your department to give you the time off, I can’t put in any word to help you."

"I’m not worried." Lupin laughed patting his wife’s hand. "When she wants to, she can be quite charming."

"Well, there’s your answer." Arthur turned to Luna. "As soon as Tonks can get off work for holiday, you can go to Leeds."

"How serious is it over there? Is your job really in that much trouble?" Harry asked feeling guilty. Arthur had pulled a lot of favors on his behalf.

"Oh hush on all that now." Molly interrupted. "Let’s talk about something happy for once. Harry, love, what would you like to do for your birthday?"

"I hadn’t really thought about it." He shrugged. "Other than going for my apparating license of course." He turned to look at Arthur who smiled and nodded.

"An appointment has been set up for both you and Ron for the morning of the 31st. And Draco, you’re going too, for another lesson with Dumbledore now that the full moon has come and gone. And if you do well, you’ll be able to test that day too."

"Thanks." Draco said quietly, staring at his plate and nowhere else.

"And Hermione, the last favor I was able to pull, with Albus’s help, is an arrangement for you to go with the boys and be tested early."

"Really?" Hermione squeaked in excitement.

"Well, we made the argument that it would be near impossible with your workload for you to leave once you’re at school, just to be tested. Besides, apparently your name held weight with the testing board. Not everyone receives a perfect score on every exam they’ve ever taken. Due to your exemplary academic record, they were willing to allow this for you." Arthur said proudly.

"Thank you!" she exclaimed.

"Now that’s all settled, Harry, there’s got to be something else you want." Molly prodded. "Come on its just a few days away."

"Really, anything you decide is fine." He felt embarrassed, as he always did when she fussed over him.

"Oh you boys, always so indecisive!" Molly exclaimed.

(BREAK)

Luna approached Arthur alone when he came home from work much later that day. She’d sensed him near and had excused herself from Hermione’s room, where they were all spread out researching the various information they needed. Meeting him at the door she asked him to join her in the parlor, secure in the knowledge that the others wouldn’t be coming down anytime soon.

"Is this about the trip to see your grandmother?" Arthur asked settling heavily in an armchair, tired from his day. She hated to burden him, but she wasn’t yet sure where else to go for the information she needed.

"No, actually it’s about my brother. I’ve always had questions about his death and while I was in the ministry I sort of found the reports about it." She looked down feeling shame. "I know I wasn’t supposed to look through that stuff, I’m sorry."

Arthur smiled wearily. "I told you all you were allowed access to the entire corridor, remember. There’s nothing to be sorry for. Please, go on, though I must confess, I don’t know much about your brother’s case. Lovegood…. Kane right? It was so long ago…"

"Oh I know. And yes it was Kane. The thing is, there are two reports, written by the same lead Auror, but only a few hours apart. The name signed on the bottom was Willem Fritz. I was wondering what you knew about him."

Arthur sat up a little straighter. "Willem Fritz, well there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. I realize you’re smart enough to have connected him to Edmund Fritz." She nodded as he went on. "They’re brothers, though it was always thought Willem’s values differed greatly. It’s interesting he’s involved in what I assume you think is a cover up for your brother’s death."

"Why is it interesting?"

"Because a few years ago, he’d been accused of taking bribes and fudging reports in favor of the person with the most to gain from a cover up. He claimed he’d never accepted a bribe, had been forced to change his reports because of some expert called on by the Auror’s office. But when we asked him to name the person he couldn’t. Claimed he’d been given some potion that kept him from revealing the truth. Of course, as you found out last year, there are such potions, but his story was so outlandish, no one took him seriously. Minister Fudge rarely took anything seriously."

"So what happened to Willem?"

"He was thrown into Azkaban. And here’s the kicker, he was jailed on the recommendation of his brother. As far as I know, he’s still sitting in a cell out there."

"Edmund wanted his brother in prison?" Luna asked. "Why would they listen to him?"

"Because in politics, sometimes money and influence hold more weight than the truth." Arthur said sadly. "It never did sit well with me, if Edmund was what we all suspected, why would he turn on his brother for fixing reports for his friends? Made me think maybe there was something to Willem’s story after all, that the poor boy got himself used and abused by their cause. I don’t suppose he mentioned the name of his expert in your brother’s reports?"

"No, he mentions them in the second report, but not by name."

"I can look into it if you’d like?"

She was touched by the offer, but couldn’t bear to impose on him when he was already fighting for his job. "Thank you, Mr. Weasley, but I think I’d rather let sleeping dogs lie. I was just hoping you’d be able to put all the pieces together. But this can certainly wait, we have more pressing things to deal with."

"A very mature perspective. But are you sure? I understand the need for closure, and I’d hate for you to follow the poor example set by some of your friends and start chasing this down on your own." He looked at her suspiciously. Apparently he’d been serious when he stated he’d have trouble trusting them all again.

She took a deep breath and let it out, trying to send a soothing, comfortable feeling throughout the room. She watched as he unconsciously slumped down in his seat, relaxing into the chair. "Of course I wouldn’t. I would never want to worry you or Mrs. Weasley any more than you already are."

"Thank you dear." Arthur sighed, closing his eyes as his body relaxed. "Do me a favor, let Draco know that Roscoe contacted me at the office and is still unable to get away."

"Absolutely. You rest until dinner." She said softly, quietly leaving the room. She was disappointed Healer Drake wouldn’t be stopping by. She’d hoped to ease her fears about the energy of the ring before she actually had to take it, but apparently he was needed more elsewhere. With a heavy sigh, she began climbing the stairs back up to Hermione’s room.

She felt guilty telling Arthur she wouldn’t do anything on her own, but technically she’d been telling the truth. Her plan had formed instantly during the conversation and she needed both Harry and Fred to pull it off. Unfortunately, to keep the waters calm, that also meant she’d have to include Hermione. Wouldn’t want Harry to worry about the conflict that could arise from keeping another secret from her. But she figured it could all work out, and if she was as good as she thought, Arthur would never have to know. After all, she also hadn’t been lying when she’d said she didn’t want to worry him or his wife.

(BREAK)

Harry barely glanced away from the paper in front of him as Hermione jumped up to let Luna back in the room. They’d all been working hard. He and Hermione had been tracing the records trying to find coven members. Fred and Draco were reading over the translated documents recounting battles as Ron flipped through the book on translation spells trying to learn them to later teach the others. Ginny had chosen not to join them yet again, but Harry couldn’t focus on that. He felt it was taking forever, piecing together these people’s lives but he was just about there…and eureka! "I got one." He told the others.

"Who is it?" Ron asked eagerly.

"Zachary Hill." Harry answered happily. "He’s Ashford Deveroux’s descendant. Says here he is twenty-one, born in the United States. Current records have him in the same small town he was born in, someplace called Milnerport in Massachusetts. He’s unmarried, no known children."

"Okay, and what was Ashford’s power?" Draco asked as they all turned to Hermione.

"Um…automatic writing." She said after sifting through her head. "It’s the ability to write messages of wisdom and guidance from a higher realm of consciousness. Basically the person acts as a channel and writes out anything that the force they tap into wants them to know."

"Like an ouija board?" Ron asked.

Hermione scoffed. "Sure if you have a real one and not one mass produced for entertainment. But in the case of the ouija board, the channel is open to any force that wants to come through it and can be very dangerous. An automatic writer is able to close off and channel a specific plane of consciousness, whether that be someone who’s moved on from our world or some other higher unexplainable force."

"My crazy aunt Phylis had an ouija board and she was always trying to make us use it when we went over there to visit, remember Fred?"

"She bought it in a muggle toy store, Ron. I doubt it was effective. Besides, this sounds more like a messaging service." Fred joked.

"If you want to oversimplify everything." She made a face at him. "Regardless, we can add Zachary to our list, along with the one I found." She handed the paper to Harry. "Hasani Jumoke." She announced from memory.

"From Cairo, Egypt. Age 32, currently employed as an architect." Harry read off.

Hermione nodded. "Descended from Sakhmet who was psychometric, more commonly called, a touch-know."

"Common or not, I have no idea what you’re talking about." Ron shook his head.

"It’s when the person can know anything and everything about you just by touching you or something you own."

"That is a dangerous power." Draco said warily.

"Agreed." Harry said. "Are these touch-knows rare?" he’d hate for Voldemort to find one of them, even if they weren’t as powerful as this Hasani was supposed to be.

"Compared to other psychics, yes." Hermione nodded. "I worry about this one, because this particular power has been known to skip a generation. I’m not sure how that affects those in Sakhmet’s line, I haven’t read anywhere how her progeny are affected by the claim."

"Well, I thought the whole point was that these people are different." Fred pointed out. "Why would it skip in her lineage?"

"It wouldn’t." Luna answered confidently. "I’m not worried. Not about Hasani anyway."

"So which one are you worried about?" Harry asked.

"No, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not worried about any of them." She said quickly.

"So what is it then?" Ron demanded.

"Nevermind." She said quietly looking away. Sometimes, Harry really hated Luna’s secrecy, necessary or not.

I promise, it’s nothing. I spoke incorrectly. I meant I had other things to worry about. Her voice zoomed through his head. He ignored it, not wanting Hermione to notice that they were once again communicating silently in front of the others.

They all soon settled back into research mode until dinner, which was a surprisingly light and friendly affair. Whatever happened between Ginny and the healer, or maybe even between her and Draco had obviously already had an effect on the girl, who not only joined the meal, but attempted conversation with her parents. He felt Luna, prodding in his head the whole time they sat there, but he wouldn’t let her in. Things between him and Hermione were finally going well again, he wasn’t about to ruin it by having a private conversation in front of her since she’d already expressed her displeasure at the idea. He would just have to find a time to talk with Luna later, though he did feel guilty to block her out. He’d never done that before, instead allowing her to be the only one with complete access to him.

They all retired early, each with their own ideas for how they’d like to spend the evening and with whom. "Harry." Luna stopped him as he was following Hermione into her room.

"Yeah, what’s up?" he asked casually, uncertain why he suddenly felt so guilty around her.

"I was just wondering, could I borrow the ring. I kind of want to reason something out and I think Neville might be a good person to bounce ideas off of." She wouldn’t meet his eyes and for the first time ever, he felt she was lying to him. But that couldn’t be, Luna never lied.

"Sure." He answered suspiciously, leading the way into his room and to the desk. Taking out the ring he had the sudden urge to run with it, to hide it away so Luna and anyone else would never be able to take it from him again. It was silly and he certainly wasn’t going to let himself be ruled by this object. He quickly dropped it in her hand before he could change his mind. "Just try not to leave the house with it." He offered an uneasy smile.

"Good thing you told me." She smiled back before quickly disappearing out the door and down to her room. Left feeling confused, Harry shook his head and used the bookcase to head back to Hermione’s room.

"What was that about?" she asked, already curled up in bed with a book.

"She wanted to use the ring, talk to Neville about something."

"Neville? I didn’t realize they had been close." Hermione said, closing her text and placing it on the table beside her.

"I don’t think they were close at all actually. I don’t know what she’s up to. But at least I can trust her, unlike when Ginny acts squirrelly."

"Ginny appears to have moved onto a new victim." Hermione said stiffly. "Maybe now she can stop trying to torture you."

"So you did notice." He changed into sweat pants and an old T-shirt.

"I’ve been noticing. After all, she did want to run away with him." She answered as he climbed into bed beside her.

"Do you think something’s bothering Luna?" he asked suddenly.

"She hasn’t mentioned anything."

"Yeah, but that’s not what I asked. She wouldn’t mention it, if something were bothering her, I just…" he broke off, still testing what was safe conversation for them. He wasn’t sure his concern for Luna qualified.

"What?" she turned to him. "You’re just worried right?"

"Well, you made it clear you were uncomfortable with us talking without you, so I haven’t. But I still have you to turn to, who does she have? It’s not like she can go talk to Ron or Ginny."

"What about Fred?"

"What does he know about her? They aren’t that close." Harry answered stiffly and to his surprise, a bit defensively.

"So go talk to her then, Harry. I told you already, I wasn’t uncomfortable with you two being alone, just that you were shutting me out."

"Really?" he asked feeling this was some kind of test.

"Yes, we need to be able to trust each other. Don’t we?"

"I already trust you, Hermione. I just don’t want to give you any reason to doubt me."

"And what kind of person would I be, to keep you from a friend that may need your help?" she countered. "Luna would never hurt me."

"Not like Ginny and I did, right. So you trust her, but not me."

She sighed and shook her head. "I trust you Harry. Go talk to her if you think that’s what she needs. We all have to have someone we can confide in, right?"

"And what if she tells me something she doesn’t want anyone else to know?" he pushed. He wasn’t about to leave any sort of opening for her to be mad about this later.

"Then keep it to yourself. We agreed not to have secrets from each other, but that doesn’t mean we have to betray everyone else. If there’s something she doesn’t want me to know, then I don’t have to know it. I just thought she and I had become real friends and that she’d want to come to me with a problem, just the same as she would you."

He studied her closely and realized she was actually very hurt that Luna didn’t seem comfortable confiding in her. "Why don’t you come with me to check on her? I’m sure she like to know she has extra support."

But Hermione was shaking her head and once more picking up her book. "You go. You two have your special link thing going for you. I’m fine really. Just let her know I’m here if she needs me, okay?"

"You’re sure?"

"Do you need me to push you out of bed myself? Go, Harry. I’ll be here when you come back."

He rose uncertainly and moved to the door. "You better be here when I get back, and you better not be asleep." He warned with a devilish smile, which she returned before he crept down the stairs and went to knock on Luna’s door. She seemed surprised to see him.

"Harry? I haven’t gotten to use the ring yet." She said quickly.

"I don’t need to use the ring, that’s not why I’m here." Even from the doorway, he could feel the object calling out for him to reclaim it. He ignored the feelings, with extreme difficulty.

"Then what is it?" she asked nervously toying with the ends of her long golden hair.

"It’s you. You were trying to talk to me earlier, but I’m trying not to have any private conversations in front of Hermione." He explained.

"I see."

"Are you going to invite me in, or what?"

She glanced behind her nervously before leaving the room and closing the door. "No, let’s go outside. I want some fresh air I think." Puzzled, he followed her down the stairs and out the back door without question.

Once they had settled themselves under the willow tree, they sat together in comfortable silence, enjoying the gentle summer night breeze, the loud unorganized singing of the crickets, and each other’s company. Finally, with the realization Hermione was still waiting for him, he turned to Luna. "So what’s up?"

"So much, I don’t even know where to begin." She sighed.

He watched her hair sway in the breeze, her eyes staring up through the leaves to the stars above them. She seemed nervous somehow and it unsettled him. Luna rarely lost her cool. "Is it something to do with why you want to visit your grandmother all of a sudden?"

"No, as much as I need to talk to her, that will have to wait for winter break. I’ve decided this evening that I’m not going to see my grandmother when I leave with Tonks and Lupin." She answered decisively, daring him with her gaze to try and change her mind.

"So where do you intend to go? I’m assuming you will be sneaking off so Tonks and Lupin won’t know."

"If that was my plan, would you go with? Will you help me?"

He’d instantly wanted to say yes. But with things so turbulent with the Weasleys and Hermione, he wasn’t sure it was the best idea to go defying authority at this time. "You know I’d do anything you asked, Luna. But…."

"Would it help if I said Hermione could come too, if you think she can keep the secret?"

"Well…" he really didn’t want to let Luna down. "What’s the plan, what’s this all about anyway?"

(BREAK)

"Have you been with other girls?" Ginny didn’t know what made her ask the question, but as she lay post coitus with Draco, she began to wonder just why he was so good at what he did.

"Are you really asking me that right now?"

"Are you really not going to answer?" she turned to face him, propping her head on her elbow as she gazed down into his horrified face.

"Why would you even want to know something like that?" he asked shaking his head.

"I’ll take your extreme displeasure with the question as a yes. Who was it?"

"Ginny, I do not want to talk about this." He rolled over on his side, facing away from her. "Go to sleep."

"You’re that embarrassed by your past? She must have been a dog." She teased, rubbing his shoulder. He shrugged her off.

"It’s none of your business."

She was taken aback by the harshness in his voice. "Then who’s business is it, if not mine?" she asked, angrily throwing off the covers and pulling on her clothes.

"Where are you going?" he asked turning back to her.

"To my own room, where everything is my business." She stalked to the door.

"How many other guys have you been with?" he called after her. She paused, her hand hovering above the doorknob before slowly turning back. He was smirking at her. "Not an easy question to answer when you’re on the spot is it? I may not know a lot, Ginny, but I do know I wasn’t your first. So before you go dragging up past conquests, make sure you’re comfortable enough for full disclosure."

"Fine, you weren’t my first, but you are my second. How many can you claim before me?"

"Only one and it was a mistake." He admitted.

"Who was it?"

"Why is that important? I don’t care who yours was."

"Because you are clearly more ashamed." She countered.

"Ashamed, maybe. I think regretful is more the word. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t matter, never did. She was just there, I was there, wrong time wrong place I guess. Yours wasn’t Potter was it?"

"I thought you didn’t care?" she said crossing her arms.

"I don’t." he said quickly. "But you can’t expect full honesty from me, get upset when you don’t get it and not be willing to be honest back. I told you I didn’t want to play games, Ginny."

"I’m not playing games!" she protested. "I just…I don’t know how this is supposed to work, okay?"

"And running away is your answer to everything lately." He retorted laying back down and turning away from her again. "Just go then."

She hesitated before moving away from the door and climbing back into bed with him. "Alright. I’m sorry I asked, and I’m sorry for jumping down your throat."

"Don’t do that, Ginny." He said seriously as he faced her once more. "Don’t stay if you don’t want to and don’t apologize if you don’t think you did anything wrong. I’m not going to compromise myself for you, you shouldn’t do it for me."

"I agree. But I want to stay. I feel silly for getting mad at all." She sighed. "No one makes me be as honest as you. Why is that?"

"I don’t know. Maybe because you know I’m not going to judge you. I mean who am I to judge anyone at this point, right?"

"Who are you, well tonight you’re the guy I plan to sleep with." She grinned wickedly.

"Really?" he looked her over in a way that made her shiver with delight. "But you put all your clothes on to leave."

"Well, I guess you’ll just have to take them all off me again." She whispered seductively as he leaned in to kiss her deeply.

(BREAK)

"I don’t know, Luna." Harry said uncertainly. "What if something goes wrong?"

"Since when has logic ever stopped you?" she shot back. "I’ve thought this through and sure it’s dangerous, but what isn’t these days? A stroll down the street is dangerous. This is about my brother!"

"And going to Azkaban to meet with an alleged criminal is the best way? There’s really no one else you can go to? Even if I go with you, I don’t like the idea of you walking around in there."

She sighed and shook her head. "I appreciate the concern, but we’ll have your invisibility cloak. And I already told you about the reports and what Arthur said. There is no one to give me answers except Willem. Especially if he’s been wrongly imprisoned."

"I don’t think Hermione will go for it."

"Well it’s up to you whether or not you tell her. Do you just not want to help me?" she asked, already knowing it wasn’t the case. But she hadn’t expected so much opposition.

"Of course I want to help you. I just don’t want it to blow up in our faces." He said. "I’m trying to be more responsible you know. Think things through a little better."

"I’ve already thought this through. Everyone will get what they want. Lupin and Tonks can have their time alone together and we’ll simply apparate to the prison, slip on the cloak, meet with Willem, get what we need and get out."

"Something tells me that if you didn’t need my cloak, you’d be doing this alone." He looked at her suspiciously.

"If it was possible I would." She admitted. "But I’m not stupid Harry. I need a lot more than your cloak. I need your eyes and your talents watching my back while I piece this together. I also need Fred’s potion making abilities. In return, I know something that will make you very happy." She offered up as a last ditch effort to entice out the old Harry, the one who ran on emotion and spontaneity. This new thinking Harry that he was trying to be for Hermione’s sake annoyed her.

She saw the familiar gleam in his eye as his curiosity rose. "Yeah? What?"

"It’s something Draco found out about Lucius. I asked him not to tell anyone until I figured out how it could help my case against Kane. But if you’re in on the plan, then there’s no reason not to tell you, right?"

"This feels like blackmail." He grinned.

"Think of it more as quid pro quo." She grinned back.

"Alright, anything for you, Luna. Let’s go see Fred. Then you and Draco can tell me all about Lucius tomorrow. Agreed?"

"Agreed. I can’t believe I had to bribe you." She teased.

"I thought it was quid pro quo?" He shot back as they headed into the house. "You knew I was going to agree to all this anyway, right? Even without the exchange of information."

"I’d like to think so." She answered honestly. "So what are you going to tell Hermione?"

He thought hard as they made their way through the kitchen to the hallway. "I think I should tell her. If it was just going to be us, then I don’t think she’d find out. But the more people you bring in, the more chance there is that something will slip out and I’d hate to be me if she found out I was keeping something like this from her."

"You mean you’re worried Fred will tell her." Luna pointed out as they headed upstairs.

"Not on purpose or anything." Harry said quickly, following her to her room. "Hey, I thought you wanted to talk to Fred."

"I do, I just need to get something." She walked in, grabbed a large book and was back in the hallway in a matter of seconds, but she saw that even that small amount of time was enough for him to feel the ring calling for him. She started towards Fred’s room but realized he wasn’t following her. "Harry?"

"Oh, sorry." He moved down the hall to where she stood. "I was just thinking, it would be easier to sneak the ring out with us than the cloak. Maybe we could just use that to make us invisible."

"No!" she replied in horror. Seeing the confusion in his eyes, she quickly added, "You can’t bring the ring to Azkaban, Harry. It just makes us a double target if someone there senses we have it. We’re already doing something dangerous. The cloak is safer."

"I guess I can’t ague with that." He said shaking his head as she turned to knock on Fred’s door.

He answered wearing a lab coat splattered with some kind of pink goo. "Well, isn’t this a surprise? What can I do for you two?" he asked gesturing them in and closing the door behind them. "I assume this is business and not pleasure?"

"It depends on how you look at it." Luna answered. "Do you remember how to make the Rictheous Potion?"

"Yeah…" he answered warily. "But it takes a few days to brew properly."

"We have a little time." Harry answered.

"May I ask why you need it?"

"To get around the Bickeross, if that’s what the person was given." Luna said before handing him the book and a list. "I’m not sure which truth suppression potion he was given actually. But this is a list of all the ones it could be and I found most of the counter potions in this book. Think you could whip up a sample of each?"

Fred glanced over the list and checked out some of the cures. "Maybe. I’m much better at making my own concoctions you know. I needed Hermione’s help before to get the Rictheous potion right. What if I need her help again? Plus it took twenty-four hours to work."

"Well, then we’ll have to hope he wasn’t given the Bickeross then." Luna stated.

"What is all this for?"

"I’ll leave Luna to tell you all about it. I have to go fill Hermione in." Harry said moving to the door. "I’m sure she’ll be able to help you this time too."

(BREAK)

"I understand she wants to find out what happened to her brother, not that I ever knew she had one." Hermione said stubbornly. Despite his warning, she’d fallen asleep the night before, and so Harry hadn’t woken her. Now it was the next day and after laying everything out for her, he felt ready to defend his position. He was going to help Luna regardless if Hermione approved. He’d already promised his assistance long ago.

"You aren’t the only one. She never even told Ron, if it makes you feel better."

"But she told you."

"It just came up last year while we were talking. She didn’t search me out just to tell me about her murdered brother. And Draco knows too. She said he figured it out after remembering he’d been home the day it happened."

"Why try to solve it now? It happened six years ago. Why not wait until everything else is over and focus all your attention on it, you know, when there aren’t Death Eaters waiting to get you as soon as you leave the house?"

"Because it’s been six years! Who knows how long until ‘everything else is over.’" He argued. "Ron’s like a brother to you, right? If he were killed, would you be able to wait so long to find out what happened?"

She looked uncertain. "Yes…no…maybe. Alright! No, okay! I wouldn’t be able to wait I’d want to know and I’d want the person responsible to suffer."

"Exactly. And Kane wasn’t like a brother to her, he was her brother. And what if this Willem person really was set up by his brother. Isn’t six years long enough for an innocent man to sit in prison?"

"Fine, I see the point. But Harry, Arthur’s already so upset. And this is one more thing like everything else before it. Why can’t we just go to him with what we know and get him to look into it. Or Dumbledore? Or Kingsley?"

"You know Arthur can’t focus on anything else right now with Edmund and the easily bought opinions of the Daily Prophet coming down on him. And Kingsley is already helping with that as well as leading the world wide search for Snape."

"What about Lupin and Tonks? Are you really okay with lying to them like this? They’re only trying to help and if something goes wrong, they’ll be blamed for it because they’re supposed to be watching you out there. And what’s more, they wouldn’t know where you were if something does go wrong!"

"This is the way Luna wants to handle it. I believe she knows what she’s doing."

"Yeah, well you also seem to believe you are invincible. You’re intending to walk into a prison full of enemies! They haven’t all broken out you know. Plus Cho is still there."

"I’m not scared of her." He scoffed.

She sighed and shook her head. "You’re going to do what you’re going to do."

"Yes, I am. Because I promised to help. And I also promised not to lie to you and not to keep secrets. I’m only keeping my word."

She let out a hollow laugh. "I’m sure that’s how you see it. Okay, you get points for honesty. But I just don’t think this is a good idea."

"But you aren’t going to tell anyone, right?"

"No, Harry. Luna’s secret is safe with me." She looked at him sharply before adding, "for as long as you guys are safe. If I feel like you guys are in trouble or need help, I won’t hesitate to tell someone."

"Fair enough." He agreed.

"I’m nervous about you two going into the prison alone."

"I am too." He confessed. "But Luna has it so well planned, I don’t think anything will go wrong."

"Yeah, we’ll see."

"So, are you willing to help out Fred with the potions?"

(BREAK)

Ginny had just left his room to go shower for the day when the knock came at Draco’s door. Nervous that someone had seen her leave, he opened it to find Roscoe Drake. "There’s my favorite patient!" he said by way of greeting as he strolled into the room. "Sorry about the delay in your treatment, but things have been crazy at the hospital. A major fire broke out in an apartment building and I was helping out in the burn ward."

"No problem." Draco shrugged.

"So, how are you? Any pain or discomfort?" Drake asked, at once all business.

"No, none at all."

"You look a lot better than the last time I saw you." The healer commented. "Healthier, happier. What have you been doing?"

"Nothing much." He shrugged embarrassed to give the real answer.

"Well, whatever it is, keep doing it."

"You’re the boss." Draco grinned inwardly. Now he had Healer’s orders to spend time with Ginny.

"Alright then. Let’s take a look at that arm and get this treatment under way."

"How much longer do you think it will take?"

"That’s hard to say. Everyone heals differently and this is an entirely new process. I must confess, you are coming along more quickly than I imagined."

"What about while I’m away at school? We leave in a few weeks."

"Your headmaster has already approached me and arrangements are being made." Drake answered mysteriously.

(BREAK)

Luna was waiting outside Draco’s door. She’d sensed Healer Drake was in the house the moment she’d woken. Knowing Harry or even Fred would be asking for the ring soon, she wanted to talk with Drake as soon as possible and was thrilled he’d finally shown up.

She accosted him as soon as he exited the room. "Healer Drake?"

He turned to her startled. "Miss Lovegood, isn’t it?" she nodded. "What can I do for you young lady?"

"I had a few private questions for you." She gestured towards her own room and he followed her in.

"Is something wrong? Are you ill?" he asked as she closed the door.

"Oh no. Nothing like that. I was just wondering about energy absorption."

"Really?"

"Well, more specifically, I was wondering about the dangers of being in constant close contact with a powerful object."

"What kind of object?"

She faltered here, not wanting to actually tell him about the ring no matter how trustworthy he appeared. After all, they’d been fooled by appearances before. "I don’t know, just something that both possesses it’s own magical energy and channels the energy of anyone in contact with it."

"Well, without knowing what the object is, I can only speculate. My assumption would be that nothing good would come from prolonged contact with such an artifact. Unless of course the person wielding it is stronger than the energy being put out. But in my experience, I’d have to say that whatever energy this hypothetical object may have will eventual overwhelm it’s possessor."

"What exactly does that mean?"

"Well, a number of things, based on cases I’ve seen similar to what you describe. One person lost their mind completely. Others become aggressive, desperate, despondent, just like someone with a substance abuse problem. Depending on the object, the person could become obsessive, possessive. In essence it could change who they are."

"But what if the object is essentially good, or at least not used for anything bad?"

"Pure energy doesn’t differentiate." Drake answered. "If anything, the person using the energy is the variable. It would depend not only on their intent with the energy, but their willpower and ability to withstand outside forces and harness the energy they are trying to use. Someone powerful like Albus Dumbledore would probably even have trouble, but it would take someone with that kind of power and focus to come away unscathed."

"I see." she wanted to believe Harry was strong enough, but his desire for the ring’s power came from somewhere deep within him. If it was any other object, with any other ability, she wouldn’t worry. But the ring was his connection to the people he lost and that meant the ring held a specific hold on him. And Fred, who’s mind was even more unfocused than Harry’s.

"I’m sorry, I can’t be any more specific without knowing the energy you’re speaking of. Although…" he looked around the room suspiciously, "I feel like there’s something powerful here."

"Thank you, Healer Drake. You’ve been more than helpful, believe me." She smiled in a way she hoped implied she had nothing to hide.

(BREAK)

Harry climbed the stairs to comply with Molly’s request that he tell the others lunch was ready. He was surprised to see Drake and Luna exiting her room. "Thank you again." She was saying.

"Think nothing of it. Glad to help." He nodded a greeting to Harry as he passed him to go downstairs. "Mr. Potter."

"Healer Drake." He nodded back without taking his eyes off Luna. He listened for the sound of the door closing downstairs, signaling Drake’s exit from the house before speaking. "What was that about?"

"Nothing."

"Are you sick?" he asked, feeling concerned.

"No. No, I just wanted to ask about whether he thought it would be possible for someone like Gabriella to heal Draco more quickly, you know like we all talked about before." For the second time in as many days, he felt Luna was lying to him. But before he could call her on it, they heard Arthur rush through the front door downstairs and shout for Harry.

Curious, they both ran down to meet him. "What is it? What’s wrong?"

"Nothing’s wrong, I didn’t mean to worry you. Is he here yet?" Arthur asked breathlessly.

"Who?" Harry and Luna asked together as the doorbell rang. Turning to answer it, Arthur admitted Dumbledore into the house as the others came out to the entryway to see what was going on.

"Dad? Is everything okay?" Ron asked.

"Everything’s fine. Let’s all go into the parlor." Arthur answered ushering them all into the room. "He should be here any moment."

"Who?" Hermione repeated Harry and Luna’s former question.

Again, before an answer could be given the doorbell rang. Harry jumped up to answer it. He opened the door and found himself face to waist. "Hagrid!" he exclaimed, throwing his arms around his giant friend.

"Hey there, Harry!" Hagrid hugged him in return nearly crushing him to death.

"We’re in here." Arthur called from the parlor.

As Hagrid entered, Hermione and Ron jumped up to hug him as well, glad to see his familiar, friendly face. "Hello everyone! It’s good ter be back."

"Where’s Madame Maxime?" Fred asked.

"She wanted ter go ter her house and warsh up o bit after travelin’ so long."

"What news do you bring us?" Dumbledore asked after Hagrid had time to rest and catch up a bit.

"Good news! The giants accepted yer offer. They’re pickin’ up and headin’ this way ter the meetin’ point you set up."

"Wonderful!" Dumbledore beamed as Arthur said, "Well done."

But Harry, Hermione, Fred and Luna were looking at each other uncomfortably. "When will they start guarding Azkaban?" he asked for the group.

"They’ll be arrivin’ in about two weeks." Hagrid answered.

"We should have them working by the time you all go back to school." Arthur guessed.

"Any word on Tonks’s holiday?" Luna asked eagerly. Arthur looked at her strangely, so she quickly added, "I hadn’t realized we were so close to the time we’d have to leave for school. I just worry I won’t get the chance to see my grandmother."

"I believe Tonks is working on getting the time off as we speak. Don’t worry, we’ll figure something else out if she’s unable." Arthur assured her.

Harry reflected that for someone so inexperienced at lying, Luna was a quick learner. Normally, she’d hold her cards to her chest and just omit whatever she didn’t want someone to know. But now, she’d just told her third lie, that he knew about anyway. He began to wonder if maybe she was picking up on his bad habits.

(BREAK)

"Luna!" Harry called her name, running up the stairs after her. Hagrid had retired to his room to clean up and rest soon after he broke his news about the giants. Everyone else had sat down to lunch at Molly’s insistence. Now, she had desperately tried to get to her room before Harry could catch up with her. She knew what he wanted to talk about, he had picked up on her lies. But she wasn’t ready to address the issue of the ring and her need to lie to him. She still didn’t know what to do, but ignoring him would only make him worry more. So she switched tactics.

"Hey, you want to go talk to Draco about Lucius?"

"Now?" he asked, momentarily surprised enough to forget the reason he’d followed her.

"No time like the present." She said going to knock on Draco’s door. He answered by opening it a crack.

"What?" he asked distractedly.

"It’s time to tell Harry about your father." She said quickly, watching as he nervously glanced into the room behind him.

"Can this wait?"

"We don’t care if Ginny is in there with you." Harry said suddenly.

"Excuse me?" Draco answered.

"We know about you two." Luna responded evenly as Ginny herself pulled the door open all the way.

"I guess it’s just impossible for anyone but the two of you to keep secrets." The other girl said moodily.

"I think you kept a pretty big secret, planning to run away as you did. And with my property." Harry shot back.

"I knew you were full of it when you said the ring belonged to all of us." Ginny countered. "What do they want to know about your father?" she asked Draco.

"It’s about the stuff in that ministry file." He told her testily, obviously upset that she was bickering with Harry. "Come on in, I guess." He invited them, closing the door quickly before any of the Weasleys walked by. "Where do you want me to start?"

"Wherever you want. It’s your story to tell." Luna answered.

"He’s adopted." Draco blurted out without preamble.

"What?" Harry asked confused.

Draco sighed and went to his desk, grabbing the file, still open to the relevant page and handed it to Harry. "He’s not a real Malfoy. His parents were muggles."

"Leonard Smythe?" Harry said incredulously, reading over the document.

"And the best part is, I’m almost positive he doesn’t know." Draco looked pleased.

"Which means Voldemort probably doesn’t know." Harry concluded. "This is magnificent!"

"I don’t see why it matters." Ginny said. "Voldemort is a half-blood."

"Something not many are aware of." Luna pointed out. "I still think it’s a case of extreme self-loathing."

"In any case, this is definitely information Lucius wouldn’t want out." Harry said.

"Exactly." Draco said with a smile. "I’d planned to tell you all at the last order meeting, but Lovegood here asked me not to."

"And I thank you for keeping your word. I know how much you want to get back at Lucius. I want to bring him down too."

"Why?" Ginny interrupted. "What exactly do you have against Lucius?"

"Everything." Luna answered simply, still too hurt by her betrayal to be open with her former best friend. Ginny had dropped her as easily as the others, and now she expected that Luna still confide in her?

She and Harry left the new "couple" to themselves shortly after, Harry looking dazed as they stepped into the hallway. "That’s not what I was expecting to find out."

"What were you expecting?"

"I don’t know, but not that. And to think, Draco harassed Hermione all those years for being the same thing his father is."

"He didn’t know. And I’d say Draco’s come a long way since then."

"Agreed."

"I have a headache, I think I need to lie down." She said quickly to deter him from trying to continue with the reason he’d come to find her. Stopping outside her door, she turned and smiled. "I told you I knew something that would make you happy."

"And you weren’t lying." He answered as she walked to her room. "That time." She heard him mutter under his breath as she closed the door.

(BREAK)

The next few days had passed in a comfortable haze. Fred and Hermione had instantly started working on all the different counter potions Luna had found. Harry, Luna and Ron spent their time reading up on the translated battle accounts of the Original coven, but they still couldn’t find the record of their actual final fight against Marquees, the one where they actually vanquished him. Little was seen of Draco or Ginny and most assumed they were in their rooms keeping to themselves. Only Harry and Luna knew better, aware that they were actually holed up in one of the rooms together.

When he awoke early, the morning of July 31st, he’d expected to feel different somehow, older. He felt the same as always. "Happy birthday." Hermione whispered in his ear before delivering a passionate kiss. "Are you ready for your present?"

"You’re enough present for me." He grinned. "Can I unwrap you now?" he teased, pulling at her clothes as she laughed and batted his hands away.

"That’ll come later. Here." She handed him a small brown package with a green bow on top. "I had Tonks pick it up for me." She said, obviously eager for him to open it.

He pulled off the paper, exposing a plain white box. He opened it and peeked inside. "Oh wow!" he exclaimed pulling out a passport.

"It’s all legitimate, for the wizarding world and the muggle one. Now you can travel the globe legally!" she smiled at him before adding seriously, "After school of course."

He flipped through it, touched that she had thought to take care of this for him. "What about you and Ron? And where did you get this picture of me?"

"The pictures were all just the most recent they had on file for us at the ministry." She reached into the drawer of her night stand and pulled out a handful of passports. "I had Tonks get one for each of us. Here’s mine."

"At least your picture does you justice. I look drunk." He laughed.

"I also have Ron’s, as well as one for Fred, just in case he wants to come along. I had one made for Draco too, though I don’t know if he’d want to go with us to look for the coven. But at least once he graduates, he’ll be able to go wherever he wants."

"And this one?" he asked, indicating the last passport in her hands.

"Well, I know Luna still has two years left at school and she won’t be able to leave with us right away. But I figured she might want to catch up with us during the summer if we’re still looking."

"Which I hope we aren’t." He hadn’t considered the fact that Luna would be unable to go with them and wasn’t sure how to feel about it. She was part of the coven, and what’s more, she was part of their group. It seemed unfair that she be left behind.

"Are you ready to face the rest of them? I know how you love it when everyone makes a big deal over you." She teased.

He groaned loudly. "Can’t I just stay in here with you all day?"

"It’s your birthday, you can spend it anyway you want, but it would be a bit difficult for us to take the apparation test from here."

"Oh yeah!" and with that thought he jumped out of bed and began throwing on clothes.

"Good to know where I stand." She said, still teasing him as she rose to change from pajamas to real clothes.

(BREAK)

They were all waiting outside the office of Griselda Marchbanks, waiting for their tests to begin. Harry felt as confident as Hermione looked, but Ron was chewing on his fingernails and staring at the floor. They all looked up expectantly when the door opened, but it was only Draco. "How’d it go with Dumbledore?" Harry asked him.

"Fine. I was able to do it with no problem so they sent me in here to test with you guys." He answered taking a seat. "I can’t believe the lengths they go through to keep you guys happy. No one would arrange something like this for any of the kids I used to hang out with."

"Yeah, well that’s what happens when people like you, Malfoy." Ron said.

"How would you know, Weasley." Draco shot back.

"I’d say I’m a hell of lot more liked than you are, so that’s how I know."

"Guys…cool it." Harry warned.

"He started it." Ron protested.

"All I did was make an observation. It had no malicious intent." Draco said calmly, obviously not wanting to pick a fight with Ginny’s brother. Unfortunately Ron couldn’t let things be.

"Whatever you say Malfoy. Why don’t you just shut up and keep enjoying the roll off perks of being with us?"

"Ron!" Hermione scolded.

"Well, there’s something you’d know all about, eh Weasley?" Draco took the bait and Harry shook his head. Things had never completely smoothed over between the two, but this wasn’t the time for bickering.

"What are you talking about?" Ron asked.

"Oh please!" Draco rose. "Do you think they’d do any of this for you if Potter weren’t involved? You’ve been sitting back and enjoying the roll over perks since you met him!"

"Hey, that’s enough!" Harry jumped between the boys as Ron also rose.

"My dad’s the Minister of Magic. This would have been fixed for me regardless of Harry. And where’s your dad? Probably out killing some more people!"

"I’ve no doubt he is. But I do doubt anything would be arranged for you regardless of who your father is. When was your seventeenth birthday?"

"What’s your point?" Ron asked darkly.

"Well I believe it was a few months ago. I don’t care enough about you to know when. But why is that you’re only now getting to test, on Potter’s birthday?"

"Stop this now, this is definitely not the place!" Harry tried again.

"Happy birthday, by the way." Draco said miserably.

"Let it go, Ron." Hermione warned.

"No, I want to know what he was getting at!" Ron said trying to move past her.

"What I’m getting at is your minister daddy didn’t do anything to help you get your license in time for your birthday. But he nearly moved mountains arranging all this for Potter." Draco said finally, though Harry noted he didn’t seem to take the same pleasure in torturing Ron as he used to. It was almost as if he’d been shoved back into his old skin and it was now sitting uncomfortably on him. Despite the horrid argument, Harry chose to look at this as progress.

"Screw you." Ron said.

"Okay, enough!" Harry said, finally taking action and mentally pushing both boys into their chairs and pinning them there. "Now that you both got that out of your system, let’s knock it off. You think anyone is going to want to help us if we’re acting like this?"

"Plus it is his birthday. You could at least put off killing each other until tomorrow." Hermione said angrily.

What was that? Harry individually asked both boys.

Ask Weasley, it’s his problem and he’s your friend. Draco answered coldly.

Ron’s response made things clearer. I think he’s trying to snog my sister!

Harry didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to lie to Ron, not about something like this. But he also didn’t want to be the one to tell him Draco had already more than likely accomplished the task. Luckily, Ms. Marchbanks finally entered the room, keeping him from having to offer a reply.

"Well, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger. Quite the foursome." Ms. Marchbanks said in an amused tone. "If you’ll all follow me, I’ll set you each up with a tester and we’ll get this underway."

(BREAK)

"It smells horrible in here." Luna offered as Fred showed her the progress he was making on her counter potions.

"Yeah, well, all in the pursuit of the truth!" he exclaimed.

"How long until they’re ready?"

"Hermione figured out we should have them all done by the beginning of the next week." He smiled. "Any word from Tonks?"

"She finally got an answer yesterday. They only let her take two days, so the plan is set for next weekend. Thankfully the giants won’t be placed anywhere near the prison until long after."

"Well, then you should be set on our side by then." He offered. "So…I’ve been asking Harry to use the ring and he says you have it. Says he tried to get it back a few times but you insisted you needed to use it. Are you done yet?"

"Not really." She said slowly while trying to make up an excuse quickly. "I’ve been talking to my grandfather, trying to figure out what he knows from up there about Kane."

It was true her grandfather had passed, and unlike Kane or Cedric, she didn’t have any inkling that he’d moved on. But she hadn’t tried to contact him, hadn’t even taken the ring out of the drawer she’d put it in when she’d first taken it from Harry.

"Up there?"

"Well, wherever they all are."

"Do you think I could borrow it real quick?" he asked gently. "I’ll give it right back. I just want to talk to George for a little bit."

She had nothing. She wasn’t a natural liar, it was just so hard to come up with believable excuses. She agreed to hand it over, hoping a brief encounter wouldn’t hurt him too much. She had to figure out what to do about this. Maybe she should just tell Harry about her warning and what she’d learned from Drake. Not on his birthday of course. She’d intended to let him use the ring guilt free that day, to talk to those people that should be here to celebrate with him but were unable. She truly believed Harry was stronger than Fred, and knew that he was fighting against the force trying to suck him in, even if he didn’t realize it. She went and handed the ring over, feeling like she was harming her friend and hating it, before heading downstairs to help Molly and Ginny prepare the house for Harry’s return.

(BREAK)

"And now, we’re legal!" Ron exclaimed as they climbed into the backseat of the ministry car.

"Congratulations to you all!" Arthur exclaimed. He had taken the rest of the day off to spend time with the family on Harry’s day.

Harry himself couldn’t be happier. Remembering how Fred and George had apparated all over the place when they first got their license, he suddenly understood the urge. They’d all passed with flying colors, and Harry was glad that this had seemed to come as easily to him as everything else. Draco wasn’t joining in their celebration, probably still upset by his argument with Ron. Meanwhile, Ron seemed to have forgotten it all in his delight and Harry decided to let it go for now. It was his birthday after all. It wouldn’t be too much to ask that he have one day for himself, would it?

They pulled up in front of Grimmauld place and Harry felt relief to be home, where he’d be surrounded by all the people he cared about the most. As they entered the house, he was instantly assaulted by what seemed to be a million balloons. They had filled the hallway from floor to ceiling and he had to push his way through them in an attempt to find the parlor, the others close behind him. It was weird to feel lost in one’s own home, but the fun of finding his way through the colorful maze made up for it. Finally as he entered the parlor, the balloons thinned and he discovered Molly, Fred, Luna, Lupin, Tonks, Hagrid, Madame Maxime, Kingsley, Mad-eye, Dumbledore, Ginny and even Healer Drake all standing around a large tiered cake.

"Happy Birthday!" they all shouted out as soon as they saw him. Harry was thrilled, it was the second year in a row that they’d given him his best birthday ever. Despite all the gifts he received that day, he was most grateful for the people bearing them. Thinking back to what his life was like before his eleventh birthday, before Hagrid had found him, he believed they’d all already given him the best present ever. They’d all helped free him and make him the person he is today. They’d all helped in some way to put him on the path to his own destiny.

 

NOTE: I know that was a lot to digest, but just you wait…things are about to get exciting again! Stay tuned for the next installment! P.S. I’ve set up a meet the author page on the forums, so please, review the chapters still, but if you feel like having a discussion, come find me on the forums, I’d love to talk to you all!


RECOMMENDATION: If anyone is looking for a good post-DH canon compliant story, I know of a great one that’s just gotten onto the site written by a talented author. Please check it out because I’ve gotten to read the first few chapters ahead of time and they were excellent! Look for Harry Potter and the Forgotten Child by Jsez444, you won’t be sorry!




Chapter 19: Tales From the Jailhouse

A/N: This is probably the last chapter I’ll get out before they close the queue for the holidays, so I’ll try to make it nice and interesting. Please as always, Read, Review and Enjoy!

 

"Useless, that’s what you are." Ron sourly told the owl. It had once more come back, loaded with letters for Arthur, but none for him. Maybe he’d done the spell wrong, maybe they couldn’t read the letter and that’s why it had taken more than a week to get a response.

Frustrated, he shoved everything off his desk in a burst of anger, watching it all crash to the floor. Nothing was going the way he’d pictured when he decided to take control of his life. He’d played nice during Harry’s birthday two days ago, despite the argument with Malfoy, but ever since, he’d been trying and failing to get information. He had wanted to talk to Harry about his fears that Malfoy was moving in on his sister, but his friend hadn’t been able to offer an opinion or advice beyond saying that whatever Ginny did was her choice. Ron understood that she was a point of contention between him and Harry, but he had hoped they’d be able to put that aside in order to keep her away from Malfoy. Apparently that wasn’t the case. And if Harry had trouble discussing Ginny, then Hermione was out of the question. He’d tried talking to Fred, but he was busy with some top secret project and had merely stated that Draco wasn’t such a bad guy anymore. Ron didn’t believe that excused the horrible person he had been, and with Ginny already screwed up the last thing she needed was someone equally screwed up. What’s more, with his sister locking herself away in her room for most of the day, Hermione helping Fred with his secret project and Harry and Luna sitting quietly together talking in their heads, he felt like he was being shut out of something. He didn’t like the feeling.

On top of all that, he was worried about his father. Arthur was looking more defeated every time he came home from the ministry. Ron wanted to believe that Dumbledore wouldn’t let anything happen to put Arthur out of a job, but it seemed the job was slowly killing him. He’d taken it upon himself to wake early and read the newspaper before his father had a chance to hide it, and he didn’t like what he was reading at all.

Everything was going wrong. Sighing, he stooped to pick up the mess he had made during his small outburst. He may not be able to do anything about the letter, couldn’t make his friends let him in on their secret or help his dad with Edmund, but he could do something about Malfoy. They’d be having a nice long talk very soon.

(BREAK)

"How’s it coming?" Fred asked.

"I think this one is done." Hermione responded removing her cauldron and extinguishing the flames that had been burning beneath it. He watched as she leaned over the large book Luna had provided, studying the words and making sure her potion matched the description of the finished product. It made him smile, seeing how serious she was.

"This one over here is done too." He responded walking over to check with the book as well.

"Do you really think this is a good idea?"

"What, Luna having Harry once more defying everyone to do what they want? Or us helping them do it? Which bothers you more?" he teased, knowing how much she disliked breaking rules. He, of course, held no similar qualms, despite his father’s insistence that they be on their best behavior.

"I’m nervous. Azkaban isn’t a place any of us should be running around in. And your dad is already so upset with us all, yet here we are, keeping more secrets."

"And as long as no one runs away this time, he won’t have to know about it."

"But they are! They both plan to duck out on Lupin and Tonks! And you and I are the only ones who will know where they are."

"If it makes you feel better, I can fix up a communications elixir." He offered, unsure if he could deliver. It was a difficult thing to make. "I mean, they’ll probably be out of range to talk to us in our heads, but with the elixir and a base object, we’d be able to keep communication with them."

"Have you made one before?"

"Well, no. But I learned about them last year in Snape’s class. It can’t be that hard. And if it will make you feel more comfortable, then I think it would at least be worth a try." He smiled down at her. "Besides, we’re almost done with all these counter potions, and they aren’t leaving for a few more days, so we’ll have time to figure it out."

"We?" she responded with a smile of her own before turning serious. "Are you okay, Fred?"

"Am I okay with what?"

"It just…" she started but stopped herself, obviously unsure if what she wanted to say was inappropriate.

"Spit it out egghead, I can take it." He said trying to put her at ease.

"Well, it seems like with George gone…well, you know I’d help you out with any potion, but he was the one you used to collaborate with. It just seems like you’re trying to have me take his place. You do know you could have done all this on your own, right?" she asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

He was momentarily taken aback. "Maybe I could have. But where’s the fun in being by yourself?" he finally answered moving away from her.

"And I’m happy to help. But I am being serious right now. I think you should know you are better at all this stuff than you think you are."

"Maybe I just don’t want to do it alone." He said honestly.

"Which is fine, as long as you know you don’t need me, or George to be brilliant at this."

"Snape would have disagreed." He remembered how much he’d hated potions class, despite his interest in the subject. He felt momentary guilt, remembering the man was still missing and possibly being tortured.

"Snape is disagreeable in general." She answered softly, also uncomfortable speaking ill of a man who is currently in so much trouble. "But it doesn’t take away from the fact that you have talent. You can fix up the store while we’re gone and you can make all your silly concoctions again. I know you haven’t been working on any of that."

"Yeah, much to Lee’s dissatisfaction." Fred answered suddenly feeling grumpy. He didn’t want to discuss any of that, didn’t want to think of life without the others in the house, so instead he reached for one of the many potion books on the table in front of him and flipped through to the correct page. "So, do you want to help with the communication elixir, or would you rather I prove my talent and work alone?"

She sighed and shook her head. "Alright together then. What do you want to use as the base object?"

(BREAK)

Harry felt uncomfortable at dinner. He had the urge to tell Arthur everything, not being able to bear the thought of seeing the disappointment in the man’s eyes once more. But this wasn’t his secret to tell, and he’d promised Luna his assistance long before she’d come up with this plan. His only regret was the lies they would be telling Lupin, Tonks and especially the Weasleys. He did feel bad Ron was being left out, but they had all agreed, the fewer people who knew the better. Besides, Harry and Luna both felt there was something else going on with Ron at the moment, though whatever it was, he was hiding it well.

The doorbell sounding interrupted his reverie. "I’ll get it!" Molly chimed, rushing from the stove. She came back a few seconds later, Dumbledore trailing behind her.

"I didn’t mean to interrupt." He apologized as Arthur pulled up another chair.

"Not at all, Albus. I’ve been waiting for you to make the announcement."

"What’s going on, dad?" Fred asked with worry.

"Some good news for a change." Arthur answered with a smile. "And it’s for you, Hagrid."

"Me?" the giant dropped his fork.

"Yes, you." Dumbledore replied with a smile. "Arthur and I have arranged a position for you within the Order, since you are determined not to return to Hogwarts as gamekeeper for the foreseeable future."

"Really?" Hagrid looked pleasantly surprised.

Harry was anxious. He knew his original decision to leave school had been at least in part the reason Hagrid had left as well and he wanted his friend to be alright. "Through the Order? So it’s not anything real, through the ministry?"

"It can be, once things are more settled there." Arthur answered. "I’d intended it to be so, but it took all the pull I had just to get the giants accepted as new guards. No one is happy about it over there, and adding Hagrid to the mix right now could be the final straw."

"Think nothin’ o it, Arthur. I sure appreciate anythin’ you can arrange." Hagrid nodded happily.

"We need you as a liaison." Dumbledore explained. "There are many magical creatures besides the giants, and you’ve made contacts among many. We’d like you to begin approaching them, see what side if any they are willing to take."

Harry listened in a fog as they discussed the details. They of course wanted Hagrid to begin with the Centaurs running in the Forbidden Forest, which meant of course that he’d be able to stay in his house while there. It began to feel, to Harry, like an elaborate deception and he realized they’d done it. Arthur and Albus had successfully gotten all of their charges back to the school, back to the one place they believed them all to be safest. He felt manipulated, despite the fact that he knew he needed to complete his education. Would they really let him go, once this semester was over? Or would they find some other way to make him stay, some other compromise that drew on his sense of guilt? As dinner came to an end, he promised himself he wouldn’t let them. He’d give up half a year, but no more, no matter what.

(BREAK)

"It’s been ten minutes. Are you really not going to talk to me? After all the progress we made the last time?" Laurel asked. This time, with so many people in the house, they were meeting in Ginny’s room. This somehow made her feel more exposed and less willing to open up to the stranger.

"I have issue with the question." Ginny replied coldly. "Especially this early in the morning."

"About all those boys I saw? I only want to know what role they play, and I’m not talking about just your romantic conquests, Ginny. I saw that your brothers also played a large role in your life. I want to know how you feel about all of them, honestly. I won’t judge you, Ginny, I only want to know you." Laurel leaned forward and placed a hand over hers.

She drew back in disgust. "We aren’t friends."

"Maybe not right now, Ginny, but I don’t see why we couldn’t become friends." Laurel offered sweetly.

"Because I’d prefer not to have my friends bought for me. You wouldn’t be here if my parents weren’t paying you to care."

"Is it my job to talk to you, yes it is. But I don’t have to care about you Ginny."

"You can stop that, I’m not stupid. I know what you’re doing."

"What do you mean?" Laurel looked confused. "Stop what?"

"Saying my name so much. You think it’s going to make me feel like I can trust you, it’s one of those tricks you people use and I’m onto it."

"I do want you to trust me. But I understand why it’s hard. Aside from your mother, I didn’t see very many females play an important part in your life. And after the last meeting, I knew it would probably be easier for you if you met with a male healer. But I do care about you, and so I chose to keep you as a patient and the first thing I want to discuss is why you’ve let yourself become dominated by the male presence in your life."

"I’m the only girl of seven children, and I’m the youngest. Does that answer your question? I’ve had nothing but ‘a male presence’ in my life."

"And has that made you feel like you have to be as strong as they are?"

"What, so we can arm wrestle?" She scoffed. She felt more and more nervous, as Laurel pushed her way closer and closer to something, some truth Ginny hadn’t faced.

"That’s not the type of strength I meant. Emotionally, have you held yourself back because your brothers did? I mean you weren’t at home playing dollies, right? You were doing all the things the boys did, including holding in the so called "girlier" aspects inherent."

"I cried to my mum when I was upset if that’s what you’re talking about."

"We’ve established your mum is an excellent source of strength for you to draw on, but from what I saw, it was your brothers you revered and aspired to be like. And the point I’m trying to come to is that it seems so much of your happiness depends on what the males in your life are doing."

"I disagree." Ginny said stubbornly.

"I’m sure you do. But you must admit, as your brothers grew older, started leaving home, making lives separate from yours, your happiness waned."

"Bill and Charlie have great lives and I’m happy for them. Fred and George always had their own thing going inside their own little world. And of course George’s murder would affect my happiness, but I hold nothing against Fred. Ron is trying to outshine everyone around him and failing, and I feel more sorry for him than anything else."

"You didn’t use to feel that way about Ron." Laurel pointed out. "It seemed at first that he was the one you were closest to. Until he found friends of his own. And what about the one you didn’t mention? The one responsible for taking George away from you all."

"Percy?!" Ginny rose and started pacing as her agitation grew with the conversation. "Percy was…misguided." She finished lamely.

"Don’t regurgitate what you’ve been told, Ginny. Say what you feel."

"What good would that do, speaking ill of the dead?" She felt tense.

"It could free you. You don’t have to censure yourself around me, you don’t have to hold back your feelings to keep the peace."

"He was an idiot. He was weak and easily led and I don’t want to be anything like him. He was always on the outside, and I’m scared that’s where I am now and it’s my fault and I’ll go crazy like he did." Ginny said in one breath as words poured out. She hadn’t wanted to say anything, but she’d begun to feel like a kettle boiling, about to blow its lid with all of Laurel’s poking and prodding.

"But he didn’t go crazy. He made decisions based on things he believed to be true of himself. You are certainly no where near crazy, but last year, you also began making decisions, based on things you thought true of yourself. It’s my goal to make you see who you really are."

"I’m not going crazy? Because it sure feels like it sometimes."

"Who’s the professional here?" Laurel smiled. "Now I want to talk about Ron. You seem to hold something against him."

"Of course I don’t. I just wish it were still like it was between us. But I ruined everything and because of me, I ruined things for him and Harry too."

"They have their own conflicts, I’m sure. As for you and your brother, nothing I saw makes me think things between you two can’t be resolved. But you need to be honest with yourself and him. I think he wants to be your big brother, he just doesn’t know how right now because you are shutting them all out to keep yourself from feeling disappointed. But you must realize, not everyone lives up to our expectations, Ginny. We are all flawed, it’s a matter of acceptance. Including acceptance of yourself."

"I love my family." Ginny said, feeling the need to defend herself.

"I never said you didn’t. Love and acceptance aren’t necessarily the same thing. You can love someone with out liking them and you can like them without loving them. It’s important for you to know the difference."

"Are we still talking about my brothers?"

"Actually, I was thinking of the other boys in your life. Shall we start at the beginning with Harry? Or work backward from Draco?"

(BREAK)

Ron seized his opportunity. Harry and Luna were busy outside talking about whatever secret they shared that also had Fred and Hermione tucked away in his brother’s room. His dad had left for the office with Tonks, his mother was busy in the kitchen cleaning up breakfast with Lupin as her helper and Hagrid had gone off to see Madame Maxime. And with Ginny locked away with that healer woman, there was no one to interrupt his talk with Malfoy.

He knocked heavily on the other boy’s door, feeling his blood rise in anticipation. When he answered, Ron saw the instant disappointment flash in his eyes. "What’s wrong? Expecting someone else?"

"What do you want, Weasley?"

"We need to talk."

"I don’t think we do." He tried to close the door but Ron threw himself against it and pushed his way in.

"I don’t much care what you think." Ron answered, slamming the door behind him. He made sure to keep his walls up high despite his anger. Wouldn’t want the mental twins coming to the rescue.

"Well?" Malfoy demanded impatiently.

"Well, I don’t know exactly what you’re up to, but you need to stay away from my sister."

"Really? Or what?" he challenged.

"You don’t want to push me, Malfoy." Ron said, clenching his fists.

"Don’t I? Let me ask you this, what if she’s the one who won’t stay away from me?"

"You really want to do this? I will take you out if I have to."

"Shouldn’t you check with Potter first? He is your keeper, isn’t he?" Malfoy sneered.

"I’m only here to warn you-"

"Then stop warning and take a shot if you want to!" the other boy interrupted stepping up into Ron’s face. "I’m right here, Weasley. Take a shot if it’ll make you feel better but if you think I’m ever going to be scared of you, you’re delusional."

Ron pushed him away roughly, but Malfoy quickly recovered his footing. "You think I don’t know what you’re doing? You want me to go after you so Ginny and Harry will turn against me, seeing as how they both softened so much towards you. But I know who you are, you can’t be anyone else. Provoking me into a fight to get points with my sister just proves it."

"You barged into my room, Weasley. Maybe I just think you deserve a free shot at me. For everything in the past. Hell, for the present and probably the future, seeing as how I intend to ignore your protests about my being with Ginny."

"She’s been used enough."

"If only you’d been this proactive with Potter, eh?" he taunted. "Besides, you seem to think I don’t care about her, so why should I worry about who’s used her in the past? According to you, I’m just the monster trying to…what exactly? What do I have to gain by being with her?"

"A permanent place here among us."

"By choosing the girl you’ve all brushed to the side? If I wanted that, I’d have gone after Lovegood, she Potter’s new pet."

"Shut up." Ron said dangerously.

"What, you haven’t noticed? That’s fine, because it seems to go the other way too, with him following her around wagging his tail like an eager puppy. But don’t worry, your brother seems to be picking up the slack where Granger is concerned. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed, with you all being as close as you supposedly are. Maybe Ginny’s not the one on the outside after all."

And then Ron swung without being conscious of doing so. Malfoy didn’t even try to move out of the way as fist connected with gut. Malfoy dropped to his knees, gasping for air. "You’re wrong." He said solidly, standing over the other boy.

"You’re in denial." Malfoy wheezed out.

Ron’s next blow connected with the boy’s jaw, knocking him to the ground. "Stay away from my sister. Stay away from all of us and after school, find your own life."

"I could recommend you do the same." Malfoy returned, spitting blood onto the floor. "You aren’t a part of this whole coven thing, and unlike your brother and Granger, you have nothing to offer to the efforts. Why don’t you move on and quit weighing them down?" he rose shakily to his feet but stood tall and defiant.

"Do you want me to beat the hell out of you?"

"You’re welcome to try. You’ve used up your free shots, so if you really want to do this, then let’s go. I’ll beat you with an arm tied behind my back." He laughed wildly. "Come on, Weasley, you’ve wanted this for so long, let’s go! Because I’m not going to stop seeing your sister, and if this is what it takes to prove it, I’m more than willing."

Ron wasn’t thinking, Malfoy was right, he’d wanted a piece of him for a long time. Without further hesitation, he lunged, engaging the two boys in a rumble.

(BREAK)

"I don’t want to talk about Harry, Draco or anyone else." Ginny closed in on herself. She’d already given away more than she’d intended, this was too far.

"Okay, maybe next time?" Laurel asked hopefully.

"You said we only had to do this once more."

"I said at least once more. I think we should talk a few more times before school. It’s only a few weeks."

"I don’t want to." Ginny protested.

"Because you know we’ll have to continue this conversation, because you’re uncomfortable with the revelations we’ve already made or because you don’t think I’m helping you?"

"All of the above."

"Well, we can address all of those issues next time." Laurel smiled.

"I’m not sure I like you." Ginny said nastily.

"Well, then that means you aren’t sure you don’t like me either." She answered still smiling. "See you next time."

She watched the healer walk out and gently close the door behind her. Burying her face in her pillow, she let out a wild scream of frustration. Harry, Dean, Neville, Gem, Draco, she didn’t want to discuss any of them with anyone, but sooner or later, Laurel would get that out of her too. The woman was good, she had to admit. With a sigh, she rose and walked down the hall to Draco’s room, but before she could raise a hand to knock she heard muffled shouting and the sounds of a struggle. She banged on the door and tried to force her way in, but her efforts were being ignored. Feeling desperate, she ran through the house, looking for the one person who could help her.

(BREAK)

"Are you sure it’ll be convincing?" Harry asked. He and Luna were outside under the willow tree discussing the loose ends of the plan.

"Well, I think it’s convincing. I’ve known her my whole life and I’ve been practicing the spell. What about the spell you were supposed to research?"

"I think I’ve got it, Fred let me practice on him." Harry said confidently. "If we do this right, no one will ever know we weren’t exactly where we’re supposed to be."

"I told you I had it all planned. And with Fred’s elixir, even I feel better. Being able to have a lifeline should something go wrong. But there are two things we can’t control."

"Which potion he was given and whether we have the proper cure?"

"I look at that as one whole problem by itself. I was also talking about Willem. What if we do prove he’s innocent? We can’t just let him keep sitting there in prison."

"But if we tell anyone, they’ll know we were there talking to him." Harry said thoughtfully. He knew he couldn’t in good conscious leave an innocent man behind. But they might have to, and he had to prepare himself for that, after all, they wouldn’t be much help to Willem or Kane if they were caught breaking into or out of Azkaban.

"Exactly." She said grimly, answering both his spoken and unspoken thoughts.

Before they could discuss it further, they heard the back door slam open. Instantly on his feet, Harry emerged from the leafy curtain to find Ginny desperately scanning the yard.

"Harry!" she yelled his name upon seeing him and ran up, pulling his arm as she tried to drag him along behind her.

"What’s going on?" he asked, digging in his heels and stopping her efforts.

"What’s wrong, Ginny?" Luna demanded.

"Something’s going on in Draco’s room! I heard sounds and he won’t answer the door!"

"What kind of sounds?" Harry asked as he hurried into the house, the two girls trailing him.

"Like fighting, there was someone else in there with him." Ginny panted out from behind him as they raced up the stairs. Harry’s heart dropped to his stomach, he already knew who he’d find in the room with Draco. Skidding to a stop outside the door, he gripped the knob and pushed his way in.

What he saw was completely different from anything he’d imagined. Draco and Ron were in the middle of the room grappling, but the blonde boy was the one on top of his taller adversary. He had his disfigured arm pressed against the back of Ron’s neck, his good hand wrenching Ron’s arm behind his back as he knelt against the small of his back, effectively pinning Ron to the ground. "Hey!" Harry shouted unnecessarily. Both boys had frozen when they’d burst into the room.

"Get him away from me before I kill him!" Ron yelled.

"You’re not in the position to kill anyone, are you?" Draco growled out in a mangled laugh. "Thought you’d get the best of me did you? Who’s laughing now?"

"Come on, get off him." Harry moved forward to pull Draco away.

"What the hell’s going on in here?" Fred demanded as he and Hermione entered the room.

"Nothing." Draco said sourly, wiping blood from his mouth and flicking his eyes in Ginny’s direction.

"Ron?" Hermione asked uncertainly.

"Nothing." He echoed, clutching his arm and rubbing his shoulder. "Everything’s fine."

"It sure didn’t look fine when we walked in here." Luna replied evenly.

"Well it’s all good now, okay." Ron angrily stalked past them all. They heard him stomp up the stairs and slam the door to his room before turning to look at Draco.

"What? Ask him what the problem is, he’s the one who barged in here." He said, turning his back to them.

"I’ll go get my herbal ointment." Luna said with a disappointed sigh.

"I’ll go with you." Hermione volunteered.

"You’re going to have to do better than that." Fred demanded as the two girls left the room. "What happened?"

"Your brother had a problem with me. We worked it out." Draco said with a shrug.

"By using each other as punching bags?" Harry asked, indicating the boy’s busted face.

"He thought I was weak just because I changed my attitude, that I’d cower to his every whim. Now he knows different." He replied, still dancing around the actual conflict.

"So it was all Ron’s fault?" Fred asked doubtfully.

"He came to confront me, I may have brought things to a head. What difference does it make? It’s over and it didn’t concern you." Draco said coldly.

"Anything involving my brother concerns me. As does anything involving my sister." Fred crossed his arms, standing tall and attempting to look menacing.

"Look, I already did this once today, but I’ll go a round two." Draco said, puffing himself up as much as was possible.

"Enough!" Harry stepped between the boys before another fight could break out.

"Hey!" Luna called for attention from the doorway. "Here, Draco. A couple of doses of this and you’ll be as good as new." She handed the ointment to him.

"Thanks." He grumbled, collapsing into his desk chair.

"I’ll go bring this other one to Ron." Hermione said.

"No." Ginny finally broke her silence. She walked to the door and took the tube of herbs. "I’ll take it to him, we need to talk. And you," she looked at Fred, "mind your own business."

(BREAK)

Frustrated, angry, embarrassed. Ron didn’t know which to feel more. He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling a failure. He ignored the first few knocks on his door, but when they became more insistent, he gave up and went to see which one of them was coming to lecture him first. He expected Harry, so when Ginny stalked past him, he was sufficiently surprised.

"Here." She angrily thrust a tube of lotion at him. "What did you think you were doing?"

"What did he tell you?"

"He’s not saying anything much, but he doesn’t have to. What exactly were your intentions when you went to his room?"

"I wanted him to agree to leave you alone, okay?" Ron gave in.

"What business is it of yours?" she demanded. "You didn’t ask my permission when you decided to date Luna. You never cared that it could drive a wedge between me and my best friend. Why would I need your permission to do anything with Draco whom you don’t even like?"

"I didn’t make you start ignoring Luna." He said defensively. "You can’t pin all that on me."

"Really? Because before you started to like her, she was all mine! She was my friend, and none of the rest of you gave a damn! Then suddenly you notice her and she’s part of the golden trio, making it a foursome. I didn’t ignore her! She left me to be with you!"

He was in shock, never knowing she had felt that way. "What do you want me to say? I’m sorry. I didn’t know."

"No, you didn’t care. Ever since Harry and Hermione came along, you’ve chosen when you want to care about me, forgetting me the rest of the time. Now the others are shutting you out, so with nothing else to focus on, you decide to care again? I don’t need you to protect me from Draco or anyone or anything else. Stay away from me and him. I let you have Luna and you screwed that up all by yourself. I will not let you screw this up for me." She turned and stalked from the room, slamming the door behind her.

(BREAK)

He’d ruined it. He knew he would, sooner or later. Fighting with your girl’s brother is never the way to win her heart. Draco sighed, staring down at the tube of ointment Lovegood had given him. The top was a screw on, and he couldn’t maneuver it open one handed. Frustrated, he threw it against the wall. He could get the upper hand in a fist fight, but he couldn’t open a stupid tube. He’d intended to ignore any knock at his door, but when the light tapping came, he recognized it and eagerly went to let her in.

"Hey." Ginny said shyly. "Can I come in?"

"Of course." He said, closing the door behind her.

"I’m sorry." She started.

"No, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have provoked him the way I did."

"He shouldn’t have come here in the first place." She shook her head. "You both were wrong, but it was wrong that I made this possible. I should have just told them."

"That whole thing, it wasn’t just about you, you know. I wasn’t very nice to your brother and some of the things I said over the years are hard for him to get past, I’m sure. And now here I am after his sister. I’d be just as angry if I were him. But I couldn’t let him think that just because I don’t want to be like that anymore didn’t mean I was a pushover."

"I understand, trust me. I just wish it hadn’t come to that."

"How mad are you?" he asked worriedly.

"Really mad, Draco! At him, at you and at myself. I hate that he thought he could come in here and control not only my life but yours. I hate that you couldn’t control yourself and pushed my brother into a fist fight. And I hate that I can’t do what I want the way everyone else can! He didn’t ask me for permission to date my friend, so he had no right to challenge you. But you had no right to make it worse! I’m so mixed up right now!" she cried out desperately. "What am I supposed to do?"

"I’m sorry, I know it’s not much, but it’s true. I’m sorry it was your brother, but I won’t let anyone push me around again, ever."

"I wouldn’t expect you to. I just don’t know how to make this better."

"So…are we done then?" he asked hesitantly, trying to hold back his fear.

"Done? What, with each other? No! At least, I hope we aren’t." she looked away. "I am surprised to find that I really do like you, Draco."

He pulled her close to him, feeling more relieved than he’d expected. "I won’t fight with him ever again, I promise."

"Let’s hope it’s a promise you can keep." She said pulling away to wipe her eyes. "Look at your face." She laughed.

"Thanks."

"Where’s that stuff Luna gave you?"

"Over there." He said feeling embarrassed.

She leaned over and picked it up, obviously catching onto the problem. She didn’t say a word about it, simply unscrewed the cap and began applying it for him. On impulse he leaned in and kissed her, finally glad to feel he wasn’t so alone.

(BREAK)

"I’m nervous about what’ll happen out there today." Hermione whispered in the dark as Harry squeezed her hand in comfort. They were lying awake, waiting for the sun to rise.

"It’ll be okay I’m sure. I’m actually nervous about leaving with Ron and Draco ready to tear each other to pieces here."

"Yeah, well don’t let it distract you today. It’s been three days and they’ve pretty much stayed clear of each other." Hermione said. "I wish I was going with you."

"We already agreed, the fewer people we have to sneak in, the better. But thanks to you and Fred, we’ll still be able to talk to each other."

"It’s small comfort, Harry. I’m still not thrilled with this whole thing."

"I know. But what else can we do? Everyone else has to focus their efforts elsewhere. There’s Voldemort, Edmund, Harland and Sarah to worry about, not to mention they’re still searching for Snape. They don’t want us helping with that, so we are in the perfect position to help Luna. And we may be helping Willem as well. And if we can free him, he could bring down his brother and that would be one less problem for Arthur and everyone else."

"If everything goes right. If it doesn’t, we’ll just be creating one more mess for everyone to clean up and it very well may cost Arthur his job and put a suspected Death Eater in his place." Hermione pointed out.

"Well, I’m choosing to focus on the positive." He leaned over and nuzzled her cheek, feeling her smile. "And right now, I’m positive we have hours before we have to be up."

(BREAK)

"Here you are!" Fred said proudly handing Harry a compact mirror.

"Luna can carry that." He instantly handed it over. "I refuse to be caught with that in my pocket, it’d be pretty hard to explain."

"You’ve packed the cloak?" Hermione asked nervously.

"Of course." He replied, rubbing her shoulder, trying to hide his own anxiety. He’d wanted to talk to his parents, to Sirius before they left, but Luna had convinced him it would be better to wait until they returned, so he wouldn’t be made to feel guilty before they left. He was concerned that she still had the ring in her room, had been making excuses since his birthday not to give it back. He hoped she wasn’t being affected by it and decided they’d talk about it once they got back.

"Luna! Harry! Time to go!" Tonks called up the stairs for them.

"Be careful!" Hermione warned one last time as he leaned down to kiss her good-bye.

"You guys just try to figure out where in the prison Willem is. We’ll take care of the rest." Harry assured her.

"Good luck!" Fred called after them.

There’s still time to back out of this. Harry thought to Luna.

Not for me. There’s no turning back. She thought as they all settled in the car.

"Are you excited to see your grandmother?" Lupin asked as a distraction when Tonks started the car and the passengers all had to hang on for dear life.

"Yes, of course." Luna replied as Tonks whipped around a corner causing her to fly across the backseat and crash into Harry. Rubbing their heads as they righted themselves, Harry began to hope Leeds wasn’t too far off. But he knew they had at least a four and a half hour drive ahead of them, maybe less based on Tonks driving.

"I am sorry it’s only for two days. I’d wanted a whole week away myself." Tonks grumbled.

"A weekend is better than nothing." Luna said brightly.

"And as soon as you guys get rid of us, what are your plans exactly?" Harry smiled slyly.

"Don’t you worry about that." Tonks smiled back through the rearview mirror. "All you need to know is we will be close if you need us."

"Right. We won’t be out of range for either of you, so if you need us, you do that mind trick thing you two do and call for us. Even if it’s a false alarm, call us, don’t worry about interrupting our fun."

"Worry about it a little." Tonks said under her breath.

Harry! Luna gripped his arm.

He turned to see her eyes roll up in her head. Her fingers dug into his arm and he tried to pry them off, knowing he could do nothing but wait for her to come out of it. He did his best to distract Lupin and Tonks from noticing, not knowing what she was seeing and whether it pertained to their plan.

Slowly she came back. What is it? He asked desperately.

Another warning. In the white room. I saw Sarah again, and Hedwig and a house I didn’t recognize but still it felt familiar somehow.

Hedwig? My owl?

Yes, she was swooping in and out and then Sarah appeared, stalking the house.

And you’re sure you don’t recognize the house?

It’s nowhere I’ve ever been, but it felt like somewhere I know of. It certainly wasn’t my grandmother’s home, if that’s what you’re thinking.

They fell into thoughtful silence as Lupin and Tonks argued about the places they wanted to go and the things they wanted to do in Leeds. What house had she seen? Where was Sarah heading? After an hour of staring out the window, he glanced over to see Luna curled up in the seat, napping fitfully. He wondered what she was dreaming, if it was some vision of the future. He decided he was glad he didn’t have her powers. It would drive him crazy.

(BREAK)

Hermione was anxious. Harry and Luna should be getting to her grandmother’s any time and Fred still wasn’t back from the ministry. She knew she should have gone with him, or with Harry. Neither boy could keep themselves out of trouble. She had to trust that Luna would keep Harry on task and aware, but she never should have trusted Fred to go alone to find Willem’s cell location. She was wound up so tight that she shrieked in surprise when the knocking came.

"You okay in there?" she heard Ron yell through the door.

Shaking herself, she rose to let him in, hoping he didn’t plan on staying long. "I’m fine, you startled me, that’s all."

"Really, that’s all?" he asked suspiciously. Hermione felt guilty, not letting Ron in on the plan, but he still didn’t even know Luna had a brother and she certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell him just how much he didn’t know about his ex.

"What’s up, Ron?"

"I came to ask you the same question. What’s going on with all of you lately? Are you and Harry on the outs or something? Breaking up?"

"Of course not!" she was shocked. "Why on earth would you think that?"

"Well, he’s the one who went with Luna, and they’ve been spending a lot of time together lately. And then you and Fred have been sneaking around, I just don’t want to have to learn these kinds of things from Malfoy."

"What the hell are you talking about? What does Draco have to do with this? And yeah, I’ve been helping Fred with his potions, because George no longer can. And Harry and Luna are trying to decide what to do about all the coven people. You know, how to contact them, the best way to approach them." Hermione felt horrible, she hated to lie, usually did everything in her power to avoid it. But his accusations had hurt, that he could so easily think Harry would just drop her for someone else. "If you aren’t a part of any of that, it’s not our fault. You’re the one always hiding away in your room lately. You think I don’t see how eager you are for the mail every day? What exactly are you up to?"

"Nothing." He said quietly. "And I’ve been hiding away in my room because that’s where I go when I feel unwanted. Kind of like right now. Why do I get the feeling you want me to leave?"

Before she could respond, the air around them began to crackle and an instant later Fred appeared. "I got it!" he said excitedly before he noticed his brother. "Oh, hey."

"You’ve got what?" Ron asked. "Where were you?"

"Hogwarts." Fred said quickly. "I went through Snape’s things to find the instructions for a potion."

"What potion?"

"The one I wanted to brew. Try not to be so nosy, little brother." Fred scolded as Hermione felt her pocket grow warm. It was the other compact mirror, Harry was calling. She threw Fred a look as she patted her pocket indicating the trouble.

"I’m not being nosy, you weren’t supposed to leave the house."

"Either way, nothing happened. Now I must get back to the lab, and I’ll need to be stealing away Miss Granger, she is my assistant after all." He grabbed her arm and they raced down to his room. He slammed the door closed as she fumbled to pull the compact from her pocket, neither of them worrying about what Ron thought of their hasty departure.

"Harry? Did everything go okay?" she asked desperately.

"So far so good. Did Fred find the cell?" she heard his muffled reply.

"I just got back. I found it alright!" Fred answered happily. Hermione’s stomach clenched in knots. Now things would really begin.

(BREAK)

"Be good." Lupin warned as he and Tonks climbed back into the car.

"I’m sure they’ll be perfect angels." Mrs. Lovegood replied.

"Separately maybe, but you put these kids together and they always find trouble." Tonks laughed. Then with a wave they were off, having stayed only long enough to have some tea and ensure the house was safe.

You ready? Harry asked Luna when they reentered the parlor.

Better now before she knows what we’re up to. She doesn’t get it as much anymore, but she has the sight too.

In an instant his wand was out and Mrs. Lovegood slumped over on the couch, knocked unconscious with a magical sleeping spell. "Where should we put her?"

"Her bedroom is back through there." Luna answered. "Locomotor body." She floated her grandmother into the back of the house and placed her gently on the bed.

"Are you sure about this?" Harry asked uncertainly.

"I trust you. Trust yourself." She said encouragingly.

With a sigh, he sat beside the older woman and cleared his mind. Reaching out, he touched the middle of her forehead and sent her images of the three of them: eating dinner, looking through photo albums, talking together. She would dream of the things they would have done with her, and hopefully never know the difference when they woke her.

"Geminio Homenum!" Luna cried as soon as he finished. Instantly another form of Mrs. Lovegood appeared. They led the copy into the living room and sat her on the couch. "If anyone comes looking for us, tell them we are asleep in our rooms." Luna instructed. The copy nodded.

"Ready?" Harry asked as she handed him the compact.

"As I’ll ever be."

He opened the mirror and felt it grow warm in his hand. It seemed to take forever to finally hear Hermione’s voice. "Harry? Did everything go okay"

"So far, so good. Did Fred find the cell?"

"I just got back. I found it alright. It’s on the northwest side, three stories up. Once you find your way inside, I can guide you there."

"Okay, we’ll call back once we’re in." Luna said.

"Please, be careful!" Hermione begged.

"We will." Harry closed the compact and handed it back to Luna. She put it in her pocket and grabbed the bag full of their counterpotions. He threw the cloak over them, and holding her hand, took a deep breath and concentrated on Azkaban.

They were on the island an instant later, staring up at the drab prison. Harry knew actual apparation into Azkaban was an impossibility, but they’d gotten a lot closer than he’d expected. Luna was still tightly gripping his hand and he could feel her nervousness. It’ll be okay. She simply nodded in reply.

Slowly, they made their way around to the entrance, careful to remain completely under the cloak. Time?He thought out to her.

We have about two minutes until they change. She answered. They waited impatiently for the doors to open and the guards to switch. Finally they got their chance and slunk by the Aurors as they made their reports to the relief watch. Harry decided the giants couldn’t get to the prison soon enough, if it was this easy for them to get in; he just hoped it would be as easy to get back out. They quickly raced down the main hall, passing the room where he’d been brought to talk to Cho. Once around the corner they came to a stop and pulled out the mirror. "Muffliato." Luna whispered as they called on Hermione and Fred. Hopefully the spell would be enough to keep others from hearing them.

"What’s going on?" Hermione’s voice floated out eagerly.

"We’re inside." Harry whispered. "Where do we go?"

"Where are you now?" Fred asked.

"Hallway to the right at the end of the main hall." Luna answered.

"Okay, keep going that way until you get to the end and turn left. I’m going to take you guys through as few cell blocks as possible."

"How do you know all this?" Harry asked as they followed Fred’s directions.

"I found the original mapped floor plans."

"Is that what took you so long?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"Well, they came in handy, didn’t they." Fred defended himself in much the same way Harry would.

"We’re turning left." Luna interrupted.

"Hold on, everyone be quiet a minute, someone’s coming." He closed the compact and pushed himself and Luna flat against the wall. He had been keeping his mind out ahead of them and sensed a conscious presence coming their way. Sure enough, footsteps sounded around a corner and an Auror brushed past them. He stopped suddenly, a few feet past and looked back. Harry held his breath, willing the man to go on. Then from nowhere, he felt peaceful, assured there was no danger. The positive aura seemed to be emanating from Luna, but was directed toward the guard. He looked at her inquisitively but she only shook her head.

Finally the guard moved on and they reconnected with Hermione and Fred. "Okay, guard is gone. Now where?"

"You already turned left?" Fred asked

"Yeah."

"Okay, three doors down on your right side there should be a maintenance stairway. They aren’t going to be running the cleaning crew for another hour so it should be deserted."

Harry tried the door and found it locked. "Alohomora." He whispered, instantly hearing the latch give.

"Colloportus." Luna said once they were through. "They’d question it if they found the door unlocked." She answered Harry’s questioning gaze.

"It looks like you can get to the third floor from there." Fred let them know.

"But what does all this mean?" Hermione asked, pointing out something on the floor plans that Harry obviously couldn’t see. "These rooms here after they exit the stairway?"

"Unfortunately those are cell blocks. There’s no other way for you guys to get to Willem except to go through there."

"Well, most of them are mad anyway, from the years the Dementors were here." Luna pointed out. "Even if they can sense us under the cloak, no one would listen to them, right?"

"Let’s hope." Harry answered grimly.

"You better do more than hope, Harry." Hermione said seriously. "Don’t you go getting caught, and if you do, it better be by Aurors and not prisoners."

"We’re at the third floor door." Luna interrupted.

"Okay, there’s a short hallway beyond it, go to the end and that will lead you to the northwest cells. Willem’s will be the second from the end." Fred’s voice filled the stairwell.

"How many cells total?" Luna asked.

"Twenty. According to the roster I found, every cell is taken."

"Okay, I’m going to close off communications now. We’ll call back when we need to get out." Harry said.

"Good luck." Fred said excitedly.

"Be safe." Hermione said at the same time. "I love you Harry."

"I love you too. We’ll be as quick as we can." He promised, closing the compact and handing it back to Luna. Sending his mind past the door, he ascertained the hallway was deserted. "We’re clear for now." He whispered.

They opened the door to a dark hallway made up of drab gray slate. Worn wooden and steel doors lined either side. Harry focused on the large door at the end as they began walking toward it. "You ready?" Luna asked, settling the cloak more firmly over them.

"Wait!" he said grabbing her arm. "We have a problem. There are four people on the other side of the door that aren’t prisoners. There are Aurors patrolling the wing, I can’t knock out all four at once with that spell."

(BREAK)

"Mail’s here." Molly said knocking on Draco’s door. He laughed as Ginny quickly threw herself under the bed so her mother wouldn’t see her.

"There’s mail for me?" he asked opening the door. He hadn’t received any letters except for the ones from Hogwarts. Of course, that hadn’t surprised him.

"Oh yes!" she smiled handing him a letter. "Arthur made sure the mail owls knew to bring anything for you to the ministry, then once they know it’s safe, they are to deliver it to you here."

"And this is the only one to come, or this was the only one that was safe?"

"I wouldn’t know dear. I’m sure you could ask Arthur."

"Well, thank you." He felt awkward, Mrs. Weasley being so nice when her daughter was hiding under his bed.

"You’re welcome. Dinner in an hour." She called over her shoulder as she headed upstairs to give Ron his mail.

"Who’s it from?" Ginny asked, crawling back out as he closed the door.

"Pansy." He said incredulously, reading the return address.

"Parkinson? Is she the one you slept with?"

"Give me some credit, please." He rolled his eyes. "She was stupid and useful. Nothing more."

"So what does she want then?"

"I haven’t opened it yet. I’ve been too busy defending myself." He grinned as she made a face at him. Tearing open the letter he allowed her to read over his shoulder.

Dear Draco,
There are so many stories and rumors flying around about you right now, I don’t know what to believe. Tell me it’s not true that you are now friends with the horrible Harry Potter! They keep saying you are fighting on their side, helping them and hurting your own. I can’t believe it. I won’t. It’s taken forever for me to be able to write you, I know. I just wanted you to realize it isn’t because I’ve turned against you. Neither have Crabbe or Goyle. Millicent wanted me to tell you she hasn’t either, but nevermind her. She’s nobody important. Mum and dad won’t tell me much about what’s going on, but they say I should stay away from you, maybe even try to take you out if I can. I want you to know that I could never turn against you! My cousin is back in town, as crazy as ever, and watching me like a hawk for some reason. I think they are all worried that I’m going to turn on them like you did your parents. I understand that though, I wouldn’t want to have Lucius as a father either. Anyway, I finally found the time to write this short note, I just wanted to let you know that you still have friends and I can’t wait to see you on the train. I hope this letter finds you quickly.
Your dear friend,
Pansy

"Are you sure you didn’t sleep with her?" Ginny asked.

"Not that I can remember." He answered distractedly. Something was tugging at his mind, some important piece of information he had forgotten or deemed unimportant at the time. There was something in Pansy’s note that had triggered…..something.

"Ugh, and to think, I was probably just as pathetic with Harry, if not more so. That was all the therapy I needed. Consider me reformed." She joked, trying to get his attention. "I will never lower myself for someone else ever again, so you better get really good at groveling."

"With you, it comes naturally." He offered.

"That’s my boy! Good start!" she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "So what’s troubling you? The letter? Are you worried about what they’ll all say when they find out you’re actually rooming with Harry."

"No, not really. I don’t expect to see them very much. Unfortunately, I probably won’t see you much either once we’re there. Our schedules are so full, squeezing everything into half a year." He scanned the letter again, hoping the answer would leap out at him. "It’s something she said…it reminds me of another talk we had, I just can’t remember exactly what because I rarely listened when she rattled on. But it feels really important now."

"Well, let it rest for awhile, it’ll come back more easily if you aren’t trying to force it." She pulled the letter from his hands and threw it over her shoulder. "There’s still forty five minutes until dinner. I think that’s enough time for us both to find a way to relax." She said with a suggestive smile.

(BREAK)

The compact grew warm a lot sooner than she’d expected. Flinging it open, Hermione desperately called Harry’s name.

"We ran into a problem." He answered.

"What’s wrong?" she demanded.

"There are four Aurors in that wing."

"What you need is a distraction!" Fred exclaimed excitedly. "Ask no questions, just hide and when you get the chance, go in!" he slammed the compact closed and thrust it in his pocket.

"What are you doing?" Hermione yelled.

"I’ll be back in a minute." He promised with a wink before disapparating before her eyes.

Hermione felt like she was going to go insane. She had no idea where Fred had gone and he’d taken her way of talking to Harry with him. It felt like hours, though not more than a minute could have passed before Fred returned. She instantly slugged him. ‘What the hell was that!" she yelled.

"I made a distraction." He said rubbing his shoulder. "And I took the compact because I wanted Harry and Luna to be aware and not distracted talking to you while I was gone. Their window of opportunity is going to be small. By the way, you hit really hard for a girl."

"What kind of distraction?" she asked, angrily crossing her arms.

"I set a fire on the south side of the island. A rather big one, if I do say so myself." He smiled proudly.

"Idiot." She muttered. "There’s probably going to be a lock down now! How are Harry and Luna supposed to get back out to a place they can apparate from?"

"I’ll find a way with these." He answered defensively, holding up the map of the prison. "There are always secrets in these old buildings, and I’m good at finding them."

"You better be right." She warned sternly. "Hold out your wand."

"Why?" he asked, doing as he was told.

"Deletrius." She waved her wand past his. "Now no one will know you started the fire, should they come asking for some reason."

"Between the thoroughness of you and Luna, I doubt we’ll be caught." He said studying his wand. "We should’ve had you two masterminding things from the beginning."

(BREAK)

"Fred! Hermione!" Harry desperately called into the mirror. But they had obviously closed their side of the communication portal. He had nothing to do but follow Fred’s direction. "Come on." He pushed Luna through the door to their right, closing it behind them just a shrill siren sounded. Whatever Fred had done was effective. Harry heard the heavy door at the end slam open and the four guards rush past.

"Azkaban is now in lockdown, Auror team one report to the southeast quadrant. Auror team two, prepare lockdown." A booming voice echoed through the hallway as Harry cautiously opened the door. The Aurors were long gone.

"Come on." Harry whispered under the still screaming siren.

They went quickly through the door, and he tried very hard not to look at the people occupying the cells on either side. "Who’s there!?" a man cried as they made their way past him. He was old and shriveled, his eyes milky, reaching a skeletal arm through the bars for them. Harry pulled Luna and the cloak closer and hurried their progress. "Take me with you!" the old man cried.

They made it to the second cell from the end, and found a thin man, slumped over with his head on his knees, long stringy brown hair hiding his face. Harry remembered Sirius in that moment, could almost feel the man’s hopelessness. Willem? Willem Fritz? He heard Luna call out to the man.

Willem’s head shot up and he looked around with wild piercing blue eyes. "Who’s there?" he demanded.

For our safety we cannot reveal ourselves, we are cloaked. But I assure you, you aren’t going insane, we are real. Harry answered the man’s fear.

Luna took over. We snuck in here to help you. My name is Luna Lovegood, you investigated my brother’s murder six years ago. At the Malfoy mansion? She prodded.

I remember. Willem thought back to them. It was one of the last cases I worked on before they threw me in here. The young man’s name was Kane, wasn’t it?

It was! Luna said excitedly. I’ve read both of your reports, I know all about the expert who forced you to change your opinions in so many other cases. And I know your story that you were forced to take some kind of truth suppression potion.

Willem shook his head sadly. You know a lot. If only you could make someone listen to you. But I remember you, you were only eleven at the time. It broke my heart to tell your family that it wasn’t murder, when everything in me suspected it was. I have no real concept of time here, if you say it’s been six years, then you can’t be more than seventeen. No one will listen to a teenager, especially the sister of one of the victims.

They will listen. I have friends with ties to the ministry. It’s not like it was, there are people in power now who will listen. Fudge is gone. Luna assured him.

They still won’t listen. Willem answered despondently.

That’s why I came with her, Mr. Fritz. I don’t know how much you know in here, but my name is Harry Potter, and they will listen to me. Harry tried to sound assertive. He hated using his status, but the man had been fighting dementors, had lost so much hope.

The prisoner regarded the empty space in front of him with interest. Really? Harry Potter? Of course I know of you and what happened when you were a child. You were legendary. And since being in here, I’ve heard so many things from the other prisoners. You seem to have caused them quite a bit of trouble, young man. I suppose there are some who might listen to you, I’ve heard you are actually friends with the new minister’s family.

He is. What we need from you right now is a better story to tell them. Luna interrupted, feeling the urgency of the situation. Which potion were you given? We made several counterpotions.

I think it was Sulpanus. It was red anyway, from what I remember. Willem shrugged, obviously still unconvinced anything would come of this dream he felt trapped in. Harry felt sympathy, he didn’t seem like such a bad guy.

Sulpanus is red! Luna said excitedly. And the counterpotion is Calenthie. She rifled through the potions until she found the correct label. She thrust it through the bars, her arm becoming visible as it left the safety of the cloak. Willem jumped back startled. Take it, there are no side effects and it should work within five minutes.

We may not have five minutes. Harry warned. The siren had finally shut off. Quickly he took the compact and flipped it open. "We need more time!" he whispered desperately when Hermione answered.

"Another fire on the way!" Fred said happily.

"Wait!…" Hermione cried, but Fred had apparently already gone. "Harry, what’s going on?"

Who’s voices are those? Willem asked guzzling the potion and making a face. Oh that’s rancid.


Friends of ours, helping us sneak in here. Luna responded.

"Everything is fine so far. He drank the potion, we just have to wait for it to take effect." Harry assured Hermione. He winced as the siren sounded again and the booming voice began giving orders once more.

"What’s that? What’s going on?" Hermione yelled.

"Fire accomplished!" Fred’s voice came back. "Hermione, you wanna wipe my wand clean again?" Harry took exception to the suggestiveness in his tone, but had no time to worry about it.

"Thanks for the fire. We’ll call again on our way out."

"Okay, I found a secret way in the plans. So lockdown shouldn’t be a problem." Fred reported.

How’re you feeling? Harry asked Willem, closing the compact.

Like I drank something disgusting.

As soon as you’re able, we need to know about the expert and the witness, the one who saw Julian Heath enter the Malfoy mansion. That person is the one who sent Kane there.

The witness was a squib. I have no potion keeping me from talking about him. It was just that no one seemed to care what he said, most likely because he was a squib. Auror Lovegood and I were the only ones to listen to him. His name was Bowen Roseblood. I kept his name out of the report to protect him. He is the Malfoy’s gardner. Or at least he was. Who knows what happened to the poor fellow.

We can ask Draco about that. Harry thought to Luna alone. She nodded excitedly.

What about the expert? It’s been a few minutes. Harry prodded Willem.

Yes, she was a different matter. Fudge brought her in on certain cases involving certain families. Willem appeared to be having difficulty getting the words out, but he struggled to continue, finding it easier as he went on. She had some kind of special power, I guess like the two of you. Only she claimed she could see the past. Who knows she probably could. But I doubt what she said happened was what she saw. In every case she wound up exonerating the suspects, saying their version of events was exactly the way it happened. I don’t know her connection to Fudge, but he insisted she was the real deal and to be taken seriously.

What was her name? Harry asked desperately as the sirens once again grew silent.

Jayalina Delamora. Willem answered grimly.

Thank you. Luna said. We have to go now, but we will figure this all out and we will get you out of here.

One more thing. Harry stopped her retreat. Why is your brother so against you he’d have you thrown in here?

Because I’ve always disagreed with him. When I started investigating Ms. Delamora, he was furious. I don’t know why, what she was to him. But he gave me up as his brother when he found out. You better get going now. You’ll be no help to me or anyone else if you get caught up in here too.

Thank you again. Luna said earnestly as they hurried back to the hallway. "We need to get out!" Harry said urgently into the compact. But there was no answer. "Hello? Hermione! Fred! We need to get out now!"

"What’s wrong?" Luna asked.

"I don’t know, they aren’t answering." He paused throwing his mind out. "They’re coming back, and there are more of them." He said, looking at her in horror.

"What do we do?"

"In there." He pushed her back into the room they’d hidden in before. Together they crouched down under a large desk, pulling the cloak as tightly around themselves as they could. He knew Aurors had ways of finding people, and Dumbledore had actually seen through the cloak before. He prayed they would be safe.

"Hermione! Fred!" He whispered furiously into the mirror. Still no reply. What had happened? He had no more time to ponder. He snapped the compact shut as footsteps approached and came to a stop outside the door. They held their breath, making themselves as small as possible as the knob turned and an Auror entered.

"Homenum Revelio!" the man cried, scanning the room.

 


NOTE: So that was the last chapter before they close the queue…here’s what there is to look forward to in the new year: Harry and Luna find their way out of Azkaban, Draco remembers something important, they continue to solve the mystery of Kane’s death and discover more coven members, Cho makes a reappearance when some news is received, Hedwig goes missing, Luna has a clearer vision involving Sarah, Ron receives a letter, the Dursleys make an appearance, Edmund makes a move against Arthur, surprising revelations about family relationships, a troublesome train ride to Hogwarts, news about Snape, a new potions professor, Luna makes a deal with Dumbledore, Harry makes a surprising discovery in the Forbidden Forest, and a whole lot more after all that. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete this before the world ends in December 2012.



Chapter 20: Escape From Azkaban

A/N: Welcome back after such a long break. Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday, however each of you chose to celebrate. As you may remember, we left things in a bit of a cliffhanger. I just want to make a general warning: some of you may have noticed the story is growing a bit dark in it’s content, well, it’s only going to get worse the longer the war goes on. Just letting you know ahead of time. So without further delay, let’s continue on and find out what happens. Read, Review and Enjoy!

 


Though both Hermione and Fred had insisted they weren’t hungry, Molly had forced them down to the kitchen to share in the dinner she had prepared. "I went through the effort of making you all a fine meal the least you could do is share it with me. Arthur is held up at work, but there’s no good reason you two can’t put off whatever you are doing for half an hour." She had argued with her son. And not wanting to blow Harry or Luna’s cover, they had nothing to argue that point with, but Hermione thought her heart would explode with the tension of not knowing what was going on at the prison.

Her pocket grew warm as soon as they sat at the table and she instantly started to reach in and grab for the compact before stopping herself, her eyes relaying the crisis to Fred. He looked helpless as Molly plopped a large helping onto his plate.

"I forgot to wash my hands." Hermione tried running from the room, but Molly simply pointed her in the direction of the kitchen sink.

"I just put new soap there, it’ll do." Molly said sweetly, unaware of the turmoil she was putting them through.

Forced to unnecessarily wash her hands, Hermione wanted to cry she was so frustrated. It all felt surreal, being forced into normalcy at the same time something so dangerous was in the works. This was why she hated secrets so much! Her pocket was now ready to burst into flame the compact was so hot. Harry must be in trouble, he must need their help and here they were, held hostage in the kitchen by Molly and the secret. She was ready to reveal all, her fear for Harry and Luna reaching a breaking point where she didn’t care if he got mad at her for sounding the alarm.

Instead she took a deep breath and returned to her seat. Within a few seconds her pocket grew cold, and she began to worry even more than before. Fred was desperately trying to get her attention, motioning for her to hand him the compact under the table. She knew it was their best plan, and the best move for Harry. Fred could free himself from the dinner table and then guide them out of Azkaban safely. He was good with maps and floor plans and would definitely be able to instruct them more easily than she could. Especially since he’d already claimed to find three different secret passages, a few tunnels and two secret exits obviously all built to help the jailers, should the prisoners become unruly. If he was successful, then no one here would need to know anything. Feeling reluctant that she wouldn’t be the one to contact Harry, she stealthily slipped him the compact none the less.

Almost as soon as it was in his hand he doubled over, making noises as if he were about to be sick. "Are you alright?" Ron asked with disgusted concern as he scooted his chair a little farther from his brother, who, after all, looked on the verge of emptying his stomach.

"Excuse me!" Fred strangled out as he convincingly covered his mouth in a panic and ran from the kitchen back upstairs.

"What in the world is wrong with him?" Molly asked, her face masked with concern as she half-rose to follow her son.

"What isn’t wrong with him?" Ginny grumbled, picking at her plate.

"You’re one to talk." Ron shot back.

"Enough!" Molly shouted, silencing her children. Hermione shared a distressed look with Draco. Neither wanted to witness a family argument, but if there was one thing the Weasley children were good at lately, it was starting fights. And if this was the togetherness Molly was forcing on her, she felt even more frustration at being held back from contacting Harry. Of course she couldn’t let it show, none of them were supposed to think Harry and Luna were anywhere but at Mrs. Lovegood’s house. She hoped Fred had gotten back to them in time.

"He said earlier while we were working on his potions that his stomach felt upset." Hermione said with a careful shrug. She didn’t want anyone to pick up on her lie, and she knew she wasn’t nearly as convincing as Fred.

"I hope he isn’t catching something. I should go check on him." Molly made to leave the kitchen.

"I’m sure he’s fine!" Hermione said desperately, eliciting strange looks from the other three teens. She ignored them, her only goal to keep Molly from disturbing Fred. "He was testing products, I’m sure it was something he did to himself. It’ll pass."

"I’ll just be a minute. You all keep eating." Molly insisted, heading upstairs. Hermione’s heart plummeted to her stomach. Of course she would still want to check on her son, Molly was a good mother despite her own beliefs about herself to the contrary. There was nothing more Hermione could have done, other than throw herself in front of the woman or fake a heart attack. But she was no actress, that was Fred, Harry and Ginny’s area of expertise.

"What’s going on? What was that all about?" Ron demanded. Ginny and Draco looked on with curiosity.

"Nothing. I told him I refused to try his silly concoctions and so he ate them. He did it to himself and I don’t feel a bit sorry for him." She answered, looking down.

"Yeah right. Something is going on with you two, and with Harry and Luna. With all four of you. What is it?"

"Believe what you want Ron. I don’t care anymore." She answered glumly. She was too scared, too angry to worry about keeping up appearances. She wasn’t an accomplished liar, Harry should never have expected her to be able to be successful at keeping the others from knowing anything. As she pushed food around on her plate, she swore to herself she would never agree to anything like this ever again.

(BREAK)

Harry’s heart was racing so fast and so hard he was sure the man could hear it. Luna was shaking next to him, her nails digging into his arm as she buried her face in his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her closer to try and offer comfort. To be honest, he didn’t have much to spare, his own fear was paralyzing. He gently nudged them both further under the desk as the Auror peered around the room. The mood thing you did earlier! Do it again! He thought to her desperately.

I can’t! She answered so despairingly that even in his head her voice was wavering with tears. I don’t know how, I just can sometimes. I’ve been trying and I can’t now!

Harry began to panic as the man walked across the room and began opening cabinets. He didn’t know whether the spell had worked or not, but he pushed them even further back under the shadow of the desk, in case their cloak was no longer as invisible as it used to be. After all, Dumbledore had seen through it and that thought kept tumbling around in his head. He clutched Luna to him all the while wondering what had happened to Hermione and Fred. Why hadn’t they answered? And how was he supposed to get them out of all of this?

Suddenly someone started shrieking, back from the direction of the cell block. It was a hopelessly pitiful sound filled with sorrow and it kept coming and coming. "Hey, what’s going on in there!?" the Auror turned back toward the hallway and walked so close past them, Harry could feel the slight swirl of wind the man had kicked up in his haste.

"It’s Fritz! He just started yelling, can’t get him to shut up!" Another Auror yelled as more prisoners joined in Fritz’s sudden wailing. Not knowing whether Willem was trying to help them with another distraction or was actually insane, Harry just hoped the man wasn’t getting himself in too much trouble with the guards, carrying on the way he was.

As the Auror left the room to go assist his partners, Luna let out a long shaky breath. Harry rested his forehead against hers, letting them each draw on whatever strength the other had before pulling back and nodding that they had to go, now. Silently they crawled out from their hiding place and readjusted the cloak. Certain they were well hidden beneath it’s folds, he led them to the door, inching his way back down the hallway toward the maintenance stairwell they had originally snuck up through.

With Luna watching their backs, he put all his focus into turning the knob and opening the massive door as quietly as possible. Though the noise from the prisoners was more than enough to cover their retreat, the last thing they needed was for one of the Aurors to notice a door that was opening on it’s own. It squeaked and not daring to move it more than necessary, they held their breath, making themselves as tall and slim as possible while sliding through the small opening. He carefully pushed the door closed behind him before turning and facing the stairway, sending his mind in both directions looking for conscious life. It was thankfully deserted.

Now feeling extremely desperate, he fumbled for the compact and whipped it open all but screaming for Hermione and Fred.

(BREAK)

He ran to his room and grabbed up the floor plans before rushing to the bathroom, the compact once more growing warm. Slamming the door behind him, Fred hastily sprung it open, instantly hearing Harry’s strained voice begging for them to answer. "I’m here! What’s going on? Are you guys okay?"

"For now. What happened to you guys?" Harry demanded.

"Mum and dinner. Don’t worry about that, where are you?"

"The maintenance stairway. We need to get out immediately."

"Okay." Fred fumbled as he spread all the plans out in front of him. "Go up two floors." He finally instructed.

"Are you kidding? You want us to go further in?" Luna asked wildly.

"It was your idea to go there in the first place, missy." He responded with a grin. "Just trust me would you? I’m taking you the best way there is right now."

A knock on the door startled him so badly he nearly fell over. "Fred, dear? Are you alright?"

"I’ll be fine mother! Just something I ate!" he called desperately.

"Hermione said you were testing those products again. One of these days you’re going to kill yourself!" she scolded through the door.

"What’s going on?" Harry asked quietly, obviously hearing Molly’s voice.

"Nothing." Fred whispered.

"Well? Are you coming out?" his mother prodded again.

"Give me a few minutes, mother! I want to make sure the worst is over. I’ll be back down as soon as I can, okay?!" He was nearly shaking with the effort of not screaming at his mother in that moment.

"If you’re sure." Molly said, finally retreating back down the hallway.

"We’re at the door. Now what?" Luna asked.

"Go down the hallway and take your first right. Halfway down the corridor past the door that’ll be right in front of you, there should be a statue of some sort. It’ll be standing on the left. There’s got to be some kind of trip lever or something, because behind there is an abandoned tunnel. There’s just one problem."

"What?" Harry asked warily.

"The wing with the statue also holds about ten prison cells. And it gets worse." Fred grew concerned as he looked through the records and roster for the small cell block.

"What?" Harry asked again, even more warily.

"It seems that wing is part of the women’s network of cell blocks. And one of the fine ladies kept there is our very own Cho Chang."

(BREAK)

Luna’s heart skipped a beat. The last place she wanted to parade Harry through was Cho Chang’s own little section of hell. "Are you sure?" she demanded.

"According to what I have here, yeah I’m sure." Fred answered.

"Isn’t there some other way we can go?" she pleaded.

"This is the closest to where you are. If you want to chance trying to go another route, I’m with you, but the longer you stand there and debate it, the worse it’s going to be any way you go." Fred warned.

"It’ll be fine." Harry nodded to her encouragingly though she knew he wasn’t really feeling quite so positive. "We have the cloak. She won’t even know we’re there. But we have to go soon, the hallway is deserted for right now."

They were both making good sense, so with a sigh she pushed down her foreboding concerns and took the compact as Harry turned to force the door open. They slipped through and continued on their way, taking the turn Fred had indicated and finding themselves in front of a heavy wooden door.

"How many prisoners are on the other side?" Harry whispered. "I need to know how many minds I should be looking for."

"Ten cells, only four prisoners." Fred answered quietly.

"Then we’re okay for now." He said grimly, pushing open the massive door. Clutching onto each other in the extremely narrow corridor, they made their way past the first two cells which were thankfully empty. I think that might be what he’s talking about. Harry thought to her, pointing a little further ahead.

In the dim light, she could just make out some large stone mass jutting out from the wall to their left. It made the walkway even more narrow. Let’s just be super quiet. She answered nervously as they passed the third cell and glimpsed a huddled form snoring softly beneath a blanket. The fourth also held a prisoner, though this woman was older and wide awake, staring at the wall in some sort of trance. Luna shuddered, wondering what she looked like when she went into her visions. Hopefully her face wasn’t as devoid of life as that woman’s was, it was disturbing.

The fifth cell was directly across from the gigantic sculpture and also occupied by a sleeping mass, hidden beneath her blanket and snoring. "Where should we start looking?" Harry whispered into the compact as he stared up at the monstrosity before them.

"I don’t know, what’s it look like? There aren’t any pictures of it here or anything." Fred whispered back.

"It’s like a nature scene carved into the wall, a waterfall with large cliffs on either side. Then there’s this huge stone tree sculpture with branches jutting out." Harry described quickly. Luna looked up at the ugly twisted things above her head and thought he’d held back in his description. They were horribly beautiful in a way, gothic images that could haunt your dreams.

"I would try pulling on the branches." Fred finally answered tentatively. "It is a bit obvious though. Anything else there?"

"Not that I see." Harry said reaching up to tug on the first branch. The action caused the cloak to fall to the floor and Luna glanced behind them into the cell. It appeared the person within was still asleep. They paused to assure none of the other three women present had witnessed them. With a shrug, he simply reached up and tugged on another branch.

She felt extremely uncomfortable now that they were out in the open, but after attempting to pull on a few branches herself, she saw it would have been impossible to accomplish the task under the cloak’s protection. They hurried their pace, pulling desperately on everything they could reach. "Maybe the trigger is on the wall." Fred suggested after a short while. "What exactly does the carving look like?"

"Just a stupid waterfall, some river that disappears behind the tree sculpture and those two cliffs jutting out from either side." Harry answered impatiently.

"I wish I were there." Fred answered sounding just as just as frustrated as Luna felt. "It could be anything! You might even need two triggers."

"Then if that were the case, what is your first instinct?" She prodded, stooping to pick up the cloak and hand it to Harry.

They heard Fred take a deep breath. "I would say find the branch that stands out the most. Then pull on it the same time you push in the cliffs. If they aren’t part of the tree and aren’t carved into the wall like the rest of the scenery, then there’s no other reason for them to be there. But having a push lever on the wall is iffy, so for back up, the branch will actually unlock the cliffs. That’s what I would try, based on what you described."

"Okay. You’re the expert." Harry said looking up. "Which do you think?"

She studied the branches, unfocusing her eyes to see if anything came to her. It came in a rush and she closed her eyes to keep from feeling dizzy. She felt herself stumble and Harry catch her to keep her on her feet. The long gnarled branch with a smaller, thorn covered one twisted around it leapt out at her. Quickly wrenching her eyes open, she zoned in on the very one she’d just seen in her brief vision. "It’s that one!" she whispered excitedly.

Okay, on three. He thought to her as he went to stand in front of the two cliffs. One….two….three!

She yanked as hard as she could on the ugly thing, careful not to gouge herself on the stony thorns. At the same time, Harry pushed with everything he had and stumbled forward as the cliffs slid into the wall. Immediately the tree swung forward, revealing a long dark tunnel. "We got it!" Harry reported happily into the compact.

Luna made to join Harry at the entrance, but suddenly felt something tangle in her hair and pull her backwards. She let out a tiny shriek as she slammed against the bars and felt strong, claw like fingers tighten around her throat as her attacker’s other hand continued to pull, pinning her head against the bars. Reaching back, she grabbed at the thin arm that had such an iron grip before her captor could actually pull her hair out of her skull.

"What the hell was that?! What’s going on?" Fred demanded.

"I’ll get right back to you." Harry said with a furious calmness. He snapped the compact closed and produced his wand. "So what now, Cho?" he asked, looking past Luna, his eyes full of hatred.

(BREAK)

Realizing that the sooner she cleaned her plate the sooner she’d be able to leave the table, Hermione began wolfing down the hot meal. After all, she couldn’t use the "I’m sick" excuse to leave, Fred had already executed it perfectly.

"Hungry all of a sudden?" Ron asked angrily. Fine, let him be angry. She didn’t have the time or inclination at present to worry about what he suspected.

By the time Molly had come back downstairs, Hermione had choked down more than half her plate. "I just don’t know what’s wrong with that boy. Always eating or drinking those horrible potions." She shook her head as she regained her seat.

"Those horrible potions are his livelihood, mother." Ginny surprisingly defended her brother.

"Don’t even get me started on that!" Molly exclaimed.

"I don’t see what the big deal is. He owns his own business and uses a skill to create his supply. It’s not like he’s out digging ditches or selling potions out on the street corner." Ginny went on.

"Of course not, dear. And I will support him and the rest of you in whatever you want to do even if it is digging ditches, though I think you all over qualified. But just because I offer my support doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it."

"Yeah, remember how she was when Charlie decided he wanted to work with dragons?" Ron teased his mother. "Nearly blew her lid she was so supportive."

"I support him now. But I still worry for him. Those creatures are dangerous." Molly insisted with a shudder.

"So are a lot of other things." Ron shot back.

"Hermione dear, slow down. You’re going to choke yourself." Molly lightly scolded, finally noticing Hermione had just about cleaned her plate.

"Turned out I was hungrier than I thought." Hermione responded. "It was delicious, thank you!" she rose to bring her plate to the sink and tried to run upstairs.

"What’s the rush? Don’t you want seconds if you’re so hungry?" Ron asked with an accusatory glare.

"Yes, by all means, there’s plenty." Molly smiled warmly at her.

"Oh, I’m stuffed. Couldn’t eat another bite. And besides, we left some cauldron’s burning and with Fred sick in the bathroom, it looks like it’s up to me to make sure nothing burns."

"Check on him on your way, would you please?" Molly asked her. "If he’s near death, let me know?"

"I’m sure he’ll be fine." Hermione assured her as she rushed from the room and nearly flew up the stairs. She pounded on the bathroom door.

"I’ll be down in a minute!" Fred yelled. "Can’t a guy get sick in private?"

"It’s me, moron." She hissed through the door.

He flung the door open, grabbing her hand and pulling her into the small room before slamming the door shut. "How was dinner?" he asked nervously.

She didn’t like the look in his eyes. "What’s going on? Are they out?"

"They’re on their way." He said absently.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, they found the opening to the tunnels…." He trailed off.

"But?" she prodded.

"I don’t know, okay. It sounded like Luna screamed and then Harry said he had to call me back and closed off communications."

"What! Give me that thing!" she made a mad scramble for the compact now laying uselessly on the sink.

Fred was a hair quicker, grabbing it up and holding it high in the air. "You can’t call them. If they are in trouble, we’ll only be a distraction. It’s better to wait for them to call us."

"And if they don’t call?" she asked angrily crossing her arms.

"Let’s a least give them some time. Okay? It’s only been a few minutes." Fred pleaded, though she could tell he was also unhappy with the lack of communication.

"Maybe we should tell your mum."

"And get us all in trouble?"

"We should be in trouble! We’re doing something very stupid and dangerous!"

"Your selective conscious is annoying me." Fred answered testily. "If you were so set against this and all the lying involved with pulling it off, then you should have told Harry from the beginning."

"I did!" she protested. "Never once did I tell him this was a good idea! And I even warned him that if I felt it necessary, I’d blow the whistle on this whole plan. I won’t let them be killed because you’re scared to be grounded by your parents."

"I’m not scared of them." Fred said puffing himself up. "I just don’t think we should jump the gun here."

"They could be dead already!" she protested.

"Who could be dead?" they heard Ron call from the other side of the door. They looked at each other in a panic. "I know you two are in there." He continued after a moment.

Letting his anger show, Fred gathered all the floor plans before stalking to the door and flinging it open, revealing Ron holding up a pair of extendible ears. "Really? Using my own invention to spy on me? That’s in poor taste Ronniekins." Fred stalked past his brother and into his room. "You coming brainiac?" he called to Hermione.

She was left in the bathroom, staring down Ron. "Tell me what’s going on, Hermione." Ron pleaded.

She felt hot tears brim her eyes. "I can’t right now." She too bushed past him, making to follow Fred, but Ron grabbed her arm.

"Whatever this is has obviously gone out of your control. Maybe I can help." He said softly, though his grip on her arm was firm as she tried to pull away.

"Let go, Ron. I just can’t tell you right now, there’s too much at stake. I promise to tell you everything once it’s over, okay?" she felt sorry for him, knowing how much she’d hate to be left in the dark.

"Hermione darling, don’t make promises to my brother that you can’t keep." Fred poked his head out into the hallway. "This is Luna’s bag, and it’s up to her to tell him."

"Luna? You’re doing all this for her?" Ron looked even more hurt. "So then where is she really? Her and Harry, because you wouldn’t be this worried if they were really visiting with her grandmother."

"Sorry Ron, you got all you’re going to get out of us. You can take up any future complaints with Miss Lovegood. In the meantime," Fred reached out and grabbed Hermione’s other arm, "I’ll be needing my assistant back."

But Ron wouldn’t release her and as the two boys pulled at her she began to feel like a wishbone. "Enough!" she yelled, pulling herself free from both their grasps. "Ron, I’m sorry, but telling you anything now could ruin things. I promised I’d tell you after and I will, regardless how everyone else feels about it. I agree it wasn’t fair to keep you in the dark. But right this minute, you can help best by keeping Molly away from us." She knew simply having a task, some small role in this would appease him.

"Whatever." Ron grumbled, stalking back downstairs.

"You coming? The compact is hot, I think they’re calling." Fred flipped it open as he turned back into his room, unconcerned with whether she followed. She knew he was unhappy with her promise to Ron, but he could just get over it as far as she was concerned. It wasn’t his secret after all, it was Luna’s, and Hermione intended on talking the girl into telling her ex everything. If she and Harry made it back home that is. Rushing into the room, she prepared herself for bad news.

(BREAK)

Harry’s insides turned to stone as he stared into Cho’s wild eyes. "What now?" she cackled, tightening her hold on Luna, forcing the other girl to grab desperately at her captor’s arm as she struggled to breathe. "Now I choke the life out of your little friend here! Who knew you’d make revenge so easy!"

"Cho-"

"Ah, watch yourself Harry. One more step and I’ll crush her windpipe now and worry about torturing you later."

"It’ll be the last thing you ever do." He promised, holding his wand steady.

"You think I’m scared by the threat of death? Look around, it’s my last concern."

Are you okay? He thought out to Luna who appeared on the verge of panic.

I can’t breathe!. Was her only reply as she continued to pull at Cho.

"What’s going on over there?" the woman in the third cell demanded.

"Never you mind, Abigail." Cho growled.

"Are there other people here? Take me with you!" Abigail wailed suddenly.

"They won’t be able to. They won’t be leaving." Cho grinned wickedly, pressing her face against the bars. Harry wanted nothing more than to mentally toss her across the cell, but her hold on Luna was so strong, he worried he’d hurt her too. His mind was a whirlwind, what could he possibly do to get them out of this?

"This is between us, Cho. Let her go and I’ll stay." Harry offered.

"Very gallant. I wouldn’t expect any less. But you’re wrong, Harry. This isn’t just between us. Luna and I have our own bad history, don’t we?" she squeezed down harder on Luna’s throat, causing her to make small gurgling sounds as she struggled for air. "You were always a thorn in my side, weren’t you? Always studying me so suspiciously, always in my way at just the right time! I won’t have to worry about you for much longer!" Cho let out another maniacal laugh. "You didn’t see this coming, did you?"

"Please." Luna struggled out.

"Please? Please what, please don’t kill you? Sorry, I’ve pretty much made up my mind about that, regardless your friend’s threat to end my life as well. I’ve already seen to it that you all suffer."

"If you kill her, how does she suffer?" Harry asked desperately. "It’ll just be over, nothing more. Some punishment." He scoffed.

"Really, you think reverse psychology is going to work?"

"I don’t think any sort of psychology would work for you." He shot back. "I was just going off your words. Death makes those left behind suffer, not the person themselves."

"That depends on how slowly they die, wouldn’t you agree?" Cho once more tightened her grip, cutting off the last bit of air Luna was receiving. He watched her struggle and felt her presence grow dim in his mind.

"Stop!" he cried out, lunging forward and grabbing at Cho’s arm himself. Luna fell limp and her eyes rolled up into her head as he desperately pried at the claw like fingers crushing her throat. Without thinking, he reached through the bars and punched their attacker in the face.

Cho looked surprised, but never loosened her hold. He couldn’t understand where her strength was coming from, she appeared so weak physically. Perhaps her insanity was aiding her to that effect. Then just as suddenly as she had grabbed Luna, she let her go. Harry caught his friend as she fell forward, coughing and gasping for air. The minute she’d released her grip, Harry had sent Cho hurtling across the cell. She collapsed in a heap.

"Luna!" he lowered her to the floor as she struggled to regain her breath. "Are you okay? What can I do?"

She simply shook her head, coughing and rubbing her throat. He wrapped his arms around her in relief, hugging her close, as he had feared for a moment there that he’d never be able to again. I’m okay, it’s okay. She began repeating over and over in his head as she clung to him.

"You two better go soon." Cho said quietly. Looking up, he saw her once more standing in front of the bars separating them. Harry scrambled to his feet, dragging Luna along with him as he backed them away. He didn’t like the look in Cho’s eyes, the secretive smile across her face or the attentive stance as she held her arms behind her back. "I’m sure the Aurors will be along soon to check in on us all. You probably don’t want them to see you here. Don’t worry, word of your visit is safe with me."

"Like I’d believe anything you say." Harry growled.

"Luckily you don’t have to. Apparently your exit is right behind you, take advantage of the situation." She sneered. He tried to see what she was hiding, but her mind was a vast wasteland, deserted to him. And her mannerisms, it was almost as if she’d become another person. She was up to something, he just didn’t know what. But he also didn’t have time to puzzle over it.

"Let’s go." He pushed Luna ahead of him, down into the tunnel then stooped to grab the cloak and compact before turning to follow her.

"You were right by the way." Cho called after him. "It’s always better for the enemy to live and suffer."

He turned to make comment, but was instead struck by a sharp stinging pain in his stomach. He faintly heard Luna scream as he fell back into the tunnel. Close the entrance! He instructed, still unsure exactly what had happened to him. He lay on the floor watching Luna struggle to pull the heavy stone sculpture back in place. Once the task was accomplished, she knelt before him, lighting her wand so they could see. It wasn’t a pretty sight. A short, thin piece of wood had lodged itself in his gut, and the wound was bleeding profusely. Nothing bled quite like a stomach wound, it was one of the slowest ways to die.

"She threw that at you." Luna said, her throat sore so that her voice came out strained. "Flung it faster than I could even see! As if she hadn’t thrown it at all, but shot it at you somehow."

"Well get it out!" he said, feeling himself begin to panic.

"I don’t know if I should! What if it does more damage?"

"I don’t care! I want it out!" he screamed, losing his control completely. He began pulling at it himself, which only resulted in large stabs of pain shooting through his body.

Luna batted his hands away. "Alright already, I’ll do it."

"Just do it quickly. One pull if you can." He wheezed out.

Bracing herself, she took hold of the end of the thin spear-like wood. Taking a deep breath, she met his eyes and pulled. It was agony and he let out an involuntary cry. "I’m sorry! Oh please, I’m sorry!" she yelled over him.

"How bad is it?" he asked, squeezing his eyes shut against wave after wave of pain. He couldn’t bring himself to look.

"I don’t know for sure, but it doesn’t look good." She said, near tears. Thinking quickly she pulled off the t-shirt she had thrown on over her tank top that morning and using her wand magically cut it into strips. "Hold as still as you can." She instructed, suddenly all business. Wadding up several strips, she pushed them against his wound, pressing down to hopefully slow the bleeding. Then she placed his hand over the makeshift bandage so she could focus on tying the remaining strips together. She wound them around his waist several times, tying off the ends. He looked down at her handiwork and was dismayed to see the blood was already soaking through.

"We don’t have much time to get out of here. Call Fred." He handed her the compact, trying to push aside his physical discomfort long enough to focus on getting out relatively alive.

(BREAK)

"Are you still reading this thing?" Ginny demanded, picking up Pansy’s letter.

"Don’t be jealous." Draco teased her. "I’m only trying to figure out what I forgot."

"Whatever you say." She said, tossing it back onto his desk.

"Did you talk to your brother?"

"Ron didn’t get anything out of Hermione or Fred. He’s super mad about it, though I find it a bit satisfying that they’re cutting him out. Does that make me depraved?" she asked coyly.

"Do you really care?" he asked.

"Not particularly. Dad finally came home by the way. Said they had some major leads on where they might be keeping Snape. I figured that might interest you."

"Did they actually find him?" He certainly was interested. Severus Snape was the only connection he had to the familiar life he had known. And upon finding out that he too had switched sides, Draco had desperately wanted to speak with the professor. Unfortunately he’d missed his chance when the man had gone missing.

"Well, no. But they think they found where he’s being kept. Only thing is they’re finding it impossible to break in. I guess it’s a fortress they built up on some island that sits on one of those energy sites. Right now the Aurors are trying to be sure he really is there."

"And probably trying to make sure he really is their captive." He answered glumly.

"You really think he turned double, double spy?" Ginny grinned. "I doubt it."

"Maybe you do, but I think anyone is capable of anything at this point. I mean, why did he brew that stupid potion in the first place!" Draco rose in anger and began pacing.

"What potion?"

"The one he gave to Harland!"

"Oh." She answered quietly, looking at the floor. "Well, the truth part didn’t work, right?"

"No, but the paralysis sure did! He had to have known what could have happened, he isn’t stupid!" And then Draco realized he had come to his point. He was deeply hurt that Snape, an adult he’d actually trusted, had left him in such a vulnerable position, as if his life didn’t matter in the long run. And maybe it didn’t, but he felt betrayed none the less. "At first I thought it was a good thing, you know. That he’d fixed it that way. Figured he’d trusted me enough to know and lie effectively. Now, I just don’t know. I blamed myself when he came up missing. Thought I’d messed up and Harland had seen through it all and I’d blown Snape’s cover."

"This is a tricky game we’re all being forced to play. No one is really all good or all bad, are they? I don’t think Snape intended for you to get bitten. He may not even have known Harland was the one they were sending if they were testing him as well as you." She argued. "Besides, either way it wasn’t your fault. They already had their suspicions about him, based on what Harland asked you."

"I won’t be satisfied until I talk to him."

"Well, you might still be waiting awhile, based on what dad was saying." She shook her head sadly. "They have a whole bunch of other stuff going on right now as well, what with Edmund and the Daily prophet as well as that Sarah woman they think was writing to Cho."

Draco paused in his pacing, turning to stare at her. "What?" she asked. "You’re freaking me out."

"The newspapers." He said absently, trying to fit all the pieces in his head. Something Ginny had said triggered something, the same something that Pansy’s letter had aroused.

"What about them?" she asked.

"That’s it! The newspapers! The ones they sent to the Grangers!"

"Okay, again what about them?"

"They all think that Cho, Marietta and Sarah are the ones responsible for sending them right?"

"I think so, according to that Crescent guy they are the ones writing to Cho." She offered.

"Exactly!" he picked up the letter again and scanned through it. My cousin… those words suddenly leapt off the page at him. He remembered it all. "It was before we were going home after third year. Pansy was going on and on about all the stupid things she was doing with her family over the summer and she said they were going to visit her cousin Sarah, who she thought was weird. I remember she said something about her uncle dying after the last war, and that they had kept Sarah from getting her wand because she wouldn’t cower to Dumbledore or the ministry. That was the part of the story that had interested me, and I remember thinking that I was glad my dad hadn’t been caught. It has to be the same person, right? That’s the connection! That’s why she’s writing using Pansy’s name and how she would know Cho!"

"I don’t understand. Pansy and Cho weren’t friends, so how would her being cousins with Sarah link them?"

"Because she said Sarah was living in Asia, in the same small village that Cho’s family comes from. I remember Pansy complaining that she saw the Chang’s all the time during the summers. Why couldn’t they have become friends without Pansy knowing?"

"I just don’t want you getting ahead of yourself here." Ginny said slowly. "Are you sure you’re really remembering all this and not just filling in the blanks? You said yourself that you rarely listened to the girl."

"I’m sure. I may not remember all the small details, like which village they lived in or how old her cousin was, or what her uncle’s name was, but I’m sure about everything else."

"Okay, so now what? Do we tell my dad? I mean they have to know all of Sarah’s relatives already, right?"

"They don’t, I can guarantee it. The Parkinson’s files were among several others to come up missing in the hall of records after the last war. I know this because my father had sent our house elf to steal the records of our family and all of his friends. The elf messed up and wound up leaving several behind, including ours. Lucius was really mad, beat the little guy pretty bad. And then strangely, the elf went and punished himself further."

"You mean Dobby?" Ginny asked. "Your father beat Dobby? I think I hate him even more, I mean that’s like kicking a puppy. But if he went and punished himself too, I bet he left those files behind on purpose."

Draco really didn’t feel one way or the other about the house elf, had found him annoying more than helpful. Of course, he supposed that didn’t mean he deserved a beating. These thoughts were new territory for him and rather than delve deeper, he shook his head and went on. "Either way, Parkinson was one of the few names he did bring back, and I think I remember the name Elaine there as well. Those files, proving Pansy’s relation to Sarah might still be at my house."

"So then should we tell me dad?"

"I don’t know. What do you think?" he asked concerned. He knew Potter would want to know, but he was apparently off on some secret adventure so the only one left to tell would be the minister.

"Well, I think it’ll at least give them a better place to start searching if they don’t know already. But it’s up to you."

He thought hard, uncomfortable with having to make a decision. "I suppose it’s for the best. I’ll just have to fill Potter in when he gets back. Let’s go."

(BREAK)

"What the hell is going on!?" Hermione demanded as soon as Luna made contact.

"We ran into some trouble. Harry’s injured." She said reluctantly, knowing how the other girl would react.

"What do you mean Harry’s injured?! Is he alive? What happened? Where are you guys?"

"I’m alive." Harry called out weakly. "We’re in the tunnel."

"What happened?" Hermione demanded angrily.

"Cho, she threw something and it caught him." Luna said, studying the piece of wood she’d pulled out of her friend. It was thin and sharpened to a fine point, about the size of a dagger. The end was stained with Harry’s blood, and it looked like something else underneath, something which glowed green in the wandlight. "Where would she even get something like this?" she wondered out loud.

"How bad is it?" Fred asked.

"It isn’t good." Harry replied honestly. "We need to get out of here now, while I still have the strength to move."

"Oh, Harry!" Hermione cried out. "I told you guys not to go there!"

"Now isn’t the time for I told you so’s." Fred scolded her. "Go straight down the tunnel. It’s a bit of a walk, but it’ll take you through the prison the back way and directly to a sewer grate on the east side of the island. You should be able to apparate from there."

"Okay, I think we’re going to need some help, if you guys want to meet us at my grandmother’s house." Luna said, looking Harry over with a wary eye.

"How are we supposed to get there? We can’t apparate to somewhere we’ve never been." Hermione said with malice. It was clear she was holding Luna responsible for Harry’s predicament.

Luna kept her own voice neutral. "I left my bag downstairs in the parlor a few days ago. Inside is a small photo album and the third one is of me and my grandmother standing in her living room about two years ago. It hasn’t changed at all."

"We’re on it." Fred reported. "See you guys there, call if you need us."

Luna snapped the compact closed and bundled the piece of wood inside the cloak before stuffing it into her bad along with the unneeded counterpotions. They could leave no trace of themselves. "Ready?" she asked.

"Like I have a choice." He choked out.

She gave him a weak smile before using her wand to lift him as gently as possible from the ground, hoping the tunnel wasn’t too long. "I’m going to need you to clean up after yourself." She said, picking up the bag and starting down the tunnel. He weakly pointed his wand and unable to form words any longer, she heard him think Scourgify. Glancing back, she saw that the pool of blood that had collected under him was in fact gone.

After a few minutes, she realized he’d lost consciousness. Harry? She searched for any sign of him, it was faint, but thankfully still there. His breathing was growing erratic, so she quickened her pace, trying to ignore her exhausted mind and the fiery pain in her throat. She desperately wanted a glass of cold water.

What seemed to be an eternity later, she finally reached the sewer grate. She had never been more grateful to breathe fresh air. Carefully placing Harry on the floor, she collapsed next to him. All they had to do was get on the other side of that grate, she could see the ocean beyond. The only problem was that she didn’t think she could carry him any further. By the end of their journey, she’d just barely managed to keep him a few inches from the ground. "Harry?" she gently shook his shoulder but due to an extremely sore throat was unable to speak with any more volume. HARRY! WAKE UP! Her mind screamed so loudly she could feel her voice reverberating through his head. Slowly, his eyes fluttered open.

"Where are we?" He asked weakly.

"We’re almost out. How’re you feeling?" she gingerly pulled back the makeshift bandage to check on the wound. It appeared to have stopped bleeding at least.

"You tell me. How does it look?"

"Not good. But better than before. Harry, you’re going to need to see a healer for this. There’s no way around it."

"We’ll figure that out once we’re back at the house. How far is it?"

She watched as he tried to rally himself, forcing his way into a seated position. Though he tried very hard to hide it, she saw the pain in his eyes. "I’ll just have to clear the grate. Then we can make our way onto the beach and apparate."

Harry turned his head, scanning the horizon before turning to her in despair. "I can’t do it."

"Don’t worry, I know how to do side-alongs, I can just apparate you with me. It’ll be fine." She grabbed his hand. "Don’t give up Harry. It isn’t hopeless yet."

But he shook his head, flopping it from side to side. "I’m sorry." He whispered.

"No! Absolutely not! I won’t accept this Harry. Come on, everyone is waiting for us. Hermione is waiting for us! For you!" she squeezed his hand, trying to rally him.

"Give me the compact. Let me talk to her." He whispered.

"You can talk to her at the house and not a minute sooner. Just hold on." She rose and turned to the grate, trying to feel the confidence she was attempting to portray. Harry had saved her life many times over. This was her chance to return the favor and she would not let herself screw it up. This was her fault, her obsessive need to solve Kane’s death when all the while she’d really just been running from truths she didn’t want to face, burying herself so deep in the mystery she didn’t have space to think of much at all, let alone an uncertain future.

She waved her wand carefully, whispering, "Expulso" so that the explosion caused was small enough to create an opening only large enough for them to squeeze through. Then she turned back to Harry and leaned down, wrapping her arms tight around him. Try to work with me here, Harry. Give it everything you can because I don’t know how much more my mind can take and if I have to float you out I may not have the strength to apparate us away. He flung his arm over her shoulders, using the other to help push himself off the ground. She staggered under his weight, eventually finding her footing.

"One step at a time." Harry said in a far off voice, his eyes glazed over.

"That’s right, now come on. We’ve been here too long."

"Way too long." He agreed softly.

(BREAK)

"Do you really think this will work?" Hermione stared at the picture, trying to memorize everything in it.

"We’re about to find out the hard way." Fred grinned at her nervously. She had sent him to sneak down and grab the bag, arguing that he was more stealthy. In truth, she had really just wanted a few minute alone to herself, to digest the news that Harry was critically injured. It was her worst fear coming true, and she wasn’t there with him. She could only hope Luna was strong enough to get them out. Of course she blamed the girl, for wanting to go to the prison in the first place and she blamed Fred for sending them through Cho’s wing. What had Cho done? She was anxious to get to the house and find out.

"Think you got it?" Fred asked, breaking into her thoughts.

"Yeah, let’s just do this before I change my mind." Her first instinct was to go tell Arthur the Harry was in trouble, worse, that he was wounded. Fred had convinced her (just barely) to let them try to sort it out first. The last thing she wanted to do was gamble with Harry’s life, but involving Arthur could only jeopardize his standing. If it were found out he was covering Harry’s prison break in, that could be the last straw, the final thing Edmund could twist around and use to ruin the current Minister. The last thing anyone needed was a Death Eater running the Ministry. Of course, at the present moment, she couldn’t care less about anyone else, all those people out there who would suffer if Arthur lost his job. Harry was the only one who mattered to her.

She squeezed Fred’s hand, the picture of Mrs. Lovegood’s living room firmly in her mind. She concentrated hard, and the next time she opened her eyes, they were there. Turning, she was startled to see an elderly woman, sitting on the couch and looking up at them expectantly. "The children are in their rooms sleeping." Mrs. Lovegood smiled kindly.

"That must be the double." Fred began looking around, checking that everything was secure. "Wait here." He instructed as he went through the rest of the house.

"Well?" she asked impatiently upon his return.

"It all appears secure. The real Mrs. Lovegood is still sleeping peacefully in her room. No sign of either of them yet." No sooner had the words left his mouth, when the air began to crackle. Luna appeared out of nowhere, instantly falling to her knees. They rushed forward to help her.

"What happened? Where’s Harry?!?" Hermione demanded.

"I couldn’t bring him with…so tired…" Luna sighed out. "I need help." She looked up at Fred, and Hermione realized they were talking to each other silently. She hated, absolutely hated when Luna or Harry did that, but it made her especially mad now.

"We’ll be right back." Fred said hastily before he and Luna joined hands, quickly dissaparating before her.

"NO!" she screamed and screamed in her frustration at being left behind. The few seconds Luna had lain before her was enough to take in the girl’s full appearance. She had been splattered with blood, though the only wounds she had perceived where deep nail gouges and bruises along her neck. She dropped her head into her hands, realizing the blood had probably been Harry’s. What had happened? Every second they were gone was agony.

Finally she felt the air crackle around her again and she leapt to her feet as they all three appeared together, a mass on the floor in front of her. "Harry! Oh god." She knelt gingerly and took his hand, trying not to focus on anything. He was unconscious.

"I checked before we came back. The bleeding has stopped. Luna did a good job bandaging him up." Fred placed a hand on her shoulder.

"He needs to go to a healer!" she cried, hot tears sliding down her cheek.

"What happened?" Fred demanded of Luna.

"We had just opened the tunnel entrance when Cho got a hold of me. Nearly choked the life out of me. Harry got her to let go I guess, I was pretty faint by then. We went to leave and she hurled this at him." Kneeling down, she pulled out a small, very sharp piece of wood. "It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen, there’s no way anyone could throw like that. It sped at him as if it were a bullet from a gun!"

"How is that possible?" Hermione asked, taking the weapon and examining it. Looking at the dark blood stains on the wood was easier than studying the body before her. "What is this stuff?" she pointed at some bright green stain at the tip, it almost seemed to glow in the light.

"I don’t know. That’s why I brought it along." Luna replied softly.

"What do we do? We can’t just sit here, he needs medical help!" Hermione grew impatient.

"Drake." Harry croaked out from the floor.

"Harry!" They all huddled around him.

"Go to Drake. He’ll keep it quiet." Harry moved his head until he was looking directly at her. "Mione, I’m sorry."

She grabbed his hand. "Don’t worry about that or anything else right now Harry. I love you and you’re going to be okay. You’ll be okay." She asserted, nearly demanded.

"I love you, so much." He weakly squeezed her hand before going limp. "I love you all…" he trailed off, once more falling into unconsciousness.

"How are we supposed to get him to Healer Drake?" Luna broke the silence.

"I’ve been to his office before. In the hospital." Fred offered. "After Harland went after Draco, Ron and I went with dad to Drake’s office while they made the arrangements to bring him and Lupin home."

"And how do we know he’s there?" Hermione said wildly. "It’s late, well past ten o’clock."

"He had a small cot propped up in the corner, said he often slept there as he was always working." Fred answered gently.

"If you can picture it, I’ll pass it on to Hermione and we can all take Harry there." Luna suggested.

"Fine. But if Drake isn’t there, we are going after the first healer we can find. No arguments, and I don’t care if they keep it secret or not, as long as Harry gets treated. Understand?" Hermione looked harshly at them both as they lowered their heads and nodded. She was more angry than she could put into words. And now she had to open her mind to Luna, let the girl in when she’d been working for so long to keep her out. She was loathe to make herself vulnerable. Pushing that thought down deep, she made a small crack in the fortress and waited for the picture to come.

Once they were sure they were all on the same page, they each grabbed onto Harry and concentrated. Shortly thereafter, they arrived in the office, relieved to find themselves in the presence of a very startled Healer Drake.

"What are you all doing here?" he asked rising from his chair. "Oh my… What happened?" he caught sight of Harry and rushed around the desk.

"It’s a long story." Luna answered him, handing over the wooden weapon with the strange substance on it.

Hermione grabbed the healer’s sleeve. "Please, just fix him!"

 


NOTE: Okay, that chapter definitely got away from me and a lot more happened than I intended. That means once again I’ve written myself off track and have delayed their arrival at Hogwarts. This just might turn out to be a hundred chapter story after all. Anyway, more thrills, more mystery to come, so look for the next chapter soon. Please leave a review at the door! Thanks for reading.
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