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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 21: Puzzle Pieces

A/N: Read, Review, Enjoy!

 

Harry woke in a panic, clutching at his stomach. He found only a small clean bandage, not the wooden dagger he’d been dreaming of. Trying in vain to look around at his dark and blurry surroundings he began a search for his glasses, reflecting as he moved that while he felt stiff and sore, the terrible gut-wrenching pain he remembered was gone. Where was he? What had happened? His fingers finally brushed against the lens of his glasses as he blindly searched the small table next to where he’d been resting.

Now able to see, he realized he was in an office of some kind where he’d been placed on a small cot and stripped to his waist. Very carefully, he pulled back the crisp, white bandage expecting the worst. Instead, there appeared to be only a small scar. Confused, he tried to remember what had happened; the last thing he could clearly picture was Luna asking him to clean his own blood as she floated him down the tunnel. After that was only flashes: the sun setting behind the bars of the grate as Luna begged him not to give up, Fred kneeling beside him on the island his eyes filled with horror, telling Hermione he loved her, Healer Drake forcing him to drink something. He wasn’t sure if any of it had been real, so instead he focused on what he could know.

Gingerly rising, he inspected the desk in the middle of the room and found Drake’s name everywhere. So he was in the man’s office, but where was the healer and where were his friends? He looked at the door for a long time before deciding it would probably be best that he not be found wandering the hospital. He returned to the cot, his entire body feeling so tense that when the soft knock came a few minutes later, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

Harry? Luna’s voice whispered across his mind. He tried to answer her, but couldn’t find that part of himself. He struggled, but he felt exhausted. I’m coming in. She finally said, opening the door and peeking in.

"Hey." He said weakly.

"Hi." Her voice was hoarse, but she smiled brightly. "How are you?" she asked, walking in and closing the door behind her before crossing to the desk and turning on a small lamp. He was startled by the amount of blood staining her clothes.

"I really don’t know. Can you tell me? What happened?" he demanded as she put the invisibility cloak on the chair and sat next to him on the cot.

"We brought you to Drake, just like you asked."

"I asked?"

"Yes, you did. And you were right, he’s agreed to keep all of this a secret after I explained what we were trying to accomplish. I guess he and Willem were good friends. He wants to talk to us more about it later though." She explained, her eyes falling to his wound, which he hadn’t bothered to rebandage. "That certainly looks better."

"If you say so. Most of it is a blur to me."

"Trust me, it looked really bad." She shuddered with the memory.

"What exactly happened?" he asked.

"I don’t really know, Harry. It happened so fast, too fast. She threw this sharp piece of wood, but it was almost as if she didn’t throw it. None of it makes sense and I saw it with my own eyes." She rasped out. Reaching into her pocket, she grabbed some sort of salve and rubbed it across her throat.

He reached out, lifting her chin to better see the damage Cho had done. Though quite faded, he could still make out the remains of the angry bruises and ragged nail impressions marring her skin. "This is it, right? Nothing else happened after I passed out? All this blood is mine?"

She took his hand, and looked at him very seriously. "I’m fine and that’s the last thing you should be worried about. You were really bad off for awhile there and I was very scared for you. We all were."

"Where is everyone? Where’s Hermione?" he asked, finally realizing why he must be feeling so uncomfortable. Usually when he woke after something like this, she was there beside him.

"She and Fred are with Drake working on something. Trust me, it’s really important or else she’d have been here. I’m a bit useless with potions so they sent me to check on you."

"What is so important? What are they working on?"

She lowered her eyes, squeezing his hand tightly. "The cure."

"Cure? What cure?" he asked, the panic he’d felt upon waking rushing back to him. She turned away, unable to answer. "The cure for what, Luna?"

"To the poison that tipped that piece of wood." She said softly.

(BREAK)

"Why isn’t Luna back yet?" Hermione demanded. "Do you think something’s wrong? I knew I should have gone myself."

"Focus." Fred scolded. "We both know the only way you’d have been satisfied was laying eyes on him yourself, but I’m sure Luna is competent enough to come get help if something were wrong. She’s probably just filling him in on what happened. I’m sure if he’s awake, he has questions."

"Well, if you’re going to be logical about it." She grumbled.

"Here’s some more wisdom; without this cure, Harry’s in big trouble. So if you really want to help him, you’ll focus up before Drake gets back here."

"They paged him away over half an hour ago!" she complained, knowing she was being difficult but unable to stop herself.

"He has to keep up appearances, right? We don’t want anyone knowing what we’re all up to."

"I’m so sick of this vow of secrecy!" she yelled. "And to make it worse, you all find the one adult who is willing to go along with it!"

"You were willing to go along with it." He reminded her. "I know you’re worried, but chill out. Drake already fixed him up, almost like new. This is just the last step. Be thankful the poison was something he’s worked with before."

"Oh yeah, quite the silver lining." She said bitterly.

"Whatever. This is ready to come off the flames." He sounded angry.

"Are you sure?"

"If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t do this." He said, leaning over to extinguish the fire, a defiant look in his eye.

"You are such a child sometimes."

"I’m just trying to decide which side of the line you fall on. One minute you tell me I’m brilliant at all this stuff, that I don’t need you or George to do it, yet here you are questioning my every move."

"I won’t gamble with Harry’s life." She said coldly.

"So now it’s a gamble that I really know what I’m doing?"

"Why are you fighting with me?!" she cried in frustration. "I don’t know, okay?! I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything right now and I hate it! I don’t know that even if Drake brewed this all by himself that it’ll work, let alone us doing it! I don’t know if Harry’s going to be okay, I don’t even know if he’s awake right now! I don’t like not knowing things okay? I’m scared!" she exploded all over him, the adrenaline she’d been running on reaching its final breaking point. Unable to do anything else, she began to cry.

Fred looked extremely uncomfortable and unsure about what to do, but she just couldn’t stop herself. With her tears came a sort of release, of the frustration, the tension, anger, fear, all that she had been clinging to that day. Finally, he stepped forward and awkwardly put his arms around her, attempting to offer comfort though this was obviously a situation he wasn’t used to dealing with. She clung to him, burying her face in his shoulder, trying to regain control of herself.

"I’m okay." She said finally, pulling away and wiping her eyes. He walked away to wet a towel, bringing it back so she could clean her face. "Thanks."

"Sorry. I didn’t mean to pick a fight. Guess I’m scared too." He shrugged.

"So now that it’s off the flame, what did he say was the next step?" she asked, hoping he’d take the cue to just put it all behind them.

"We mix in whatever this stuff is." He offered a small grin. "Remember he said it was his own concoction. Something secret he was still trying to patent."

"Right, he said it added to the healing agents tenfold." She recalled as he poured in the specified amount. "Hey, do you think he’d let us try some of it in the cure for Draco and Lupin?"

"I thought you believed that one impossible." He smirked.

"Stranger things have happened." She lamented.

"How’re things looking?" Drake asked as he finally returned to the small lab.

"We’re in the final stages." Fred reported.

The healer moved swiftly across the room and peered into the cauldron. "Hmm, it looks good. Well done."

"Hey everyone." Luna emerged from the cloak at the doorway.

"Ah, Miss Lovegood. I found these for you to change into." Drake produced a pair of scrubs.

"Harry’s awake." She reported, taking the offered clothing. Hermione looked at the healer desperately.

"We’re just about done here, you can go up if you like. We’ll be behind you shortly with this." He gestured toward the potion.

It was all the permission she’d needed. Grabbing the cloak from Luna, she settled it around herself as she ran. It was still before dawn and the hospital was mostly deserted, but they still took the precaution to not be seen. Especially Luna. Every time she looked at the girl, covered in Harry’s blood, she felt sick. They’d tried to clean her, but their spells had been useless. Drake said it had something to do with the poison; she was just glad he’d found something else for her to wear. As she approached the office, her heart tightened in anticipation. The last time she’d seen Harry, Drake had been forcing him to drink a potion, needing their help to hold him up. Then he’d sent them all from the room so he could tend to the wound. She knocked quietly before turning the knob, hoping with everything she had that the first potion had really worked and revived him.

(BREAK)

Ron tossed and turned, but sleep just wouldn’t come. He was too worried and definitely too angry. He had no idea where Fred and Hermione were, just that they said they had to leave the house and needed him to cover for them. And what’s more, he really wasn’t even sure where Harry and Luna were, but he suspected they weren’t at Mrs. Lovegood’s home. Hermione’s vague promise that he would know all when it was over wasn’t satisfying, never again would he agree to be part of something he didn’t know all the details to.

Flicking on the bedside lamp, he sat up and took the compact out of his pocket. Fred had told him it was a communication device, and that if they needed help, they’d contact him. It hadn’t grown warm at all. Ron decided to try and call them.

"What?" Fred answered distractedly.

"What’s going on? Is everything okay?"

"That’s yet to be determined. Is that all you wanted? These aren’t toys and we aren’t out having fun here. Wait for us to call you."

"Easier said than done. What do you expect me to do, sit and twiddle my thumbs?"

"I expect you to act normal." Fred was stern.

"I don’t know what’s going on, whether you guys are okay. I don’t even know where you are!" Ron protested, suddenly hearing someone else’s voice in the background. "Was that Luna? Let me talk to her, maybe she’ll be more compassionate and tell me something useful."

"No time for that. Listen, we’ll compromise, okay, so you aren’t sitting there wetting yourself with worry. If you don’t hear from one of us in an hour, start calling. If we don’t answer get help. Right now, we’re at St. Mungo’s."

"Why are you at the hospital?" he asked desperately. But there was no answer. Fred had closed his side. Ron slammed the compact shut, wanting to hurl it across the room in frustration. He held himself in check though, not wanting to risk damaging his only link to his friends. Instead, he settled for punching his headboard.

Looking at the clock he sighed. It was nearly four in the morning, another hour before the sun rose and he’d be able to make contact again. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if they weren’t back by morning, but it had been easy to cover Fred and Hermione’s absence last night; Arthur and Molly had spent most of the evening in the parlor talking to Ginny and Malfoy. Though glad they were distracted, he’d begun to worry that they were going to his parents to ask for permission to marry or something. That fear sharp in his mind, he’d eavesdropped on the conversation and was relieved to discover it was nothing of the kind. Apparently Malfoy had remembered some family link between Pansy and that Sarah Elaine woman. Well, at least the jerk was proving useful, finally. He was still thoroughly disgusted with his sister for her apparent decision to continue on with the guy.

Not wanting to think too long on that topic, he found himself right back at the huge mystery everyone else was apparently involved in. It had somehow brought them to St. Mungo’s, but for what reason? Was someone hurt? Well, he knew Fred had sounded completely fine, though a bit on edge. And he’d heard Luna in the background, though she’d sounded strained, raspy somehow. That left the two voices he hadn’t heard since they’d left the house. He doubted anything had happened in the few hours since Hermione had left with his brother. On top of that, he knew of only one kind of emergency that would drive her to not only leave the house without permission or in secret, but also make her so severely upset as she had been when they’d come to him for his help. Harry was hurt, and Ron knew it was true the minute he thought it. It must be pretty bad, for them to panic the way they did. He suddenly wanted nothing more than to apparate to the hospital and check on his friend for himself, to assess that Harry was nowhere as near death’s door as he suddenly imagined him to be. He knew it was the worst possible idea to go there, that it could potentially ruin their cover. He really didn’t care, if things were as bad as he pictured. The only question was, could he trust his brother to have told him if the situation really was serious? He wasn’t sure.

(BREAK)

Poisoned. The word tumbled around in Harry’s head after Luna left. That’s why it was still hard for him to breathe, why he felt so weak, why he couldn’t focus his mind to use his powers. It was slowly traveling his body, filling his veins. Luna had assured him that to slow the process, Drake had made him drink a blood purification potion. It would continue to clean the impurities from his blood, but with the rapidity with which this particular poison acts, it will eventually overcome the potion and reach his heart. She had confided that it had come close to taking over and would have if they’d gotten him to Drake any later. Harry was shaken by how close he’d come to dying, certainly closer than he’d ever come before if Luna’s reaction was any indication. Cho had almost succeeded where so many others had failed, Voldemort included. Or had it been Cho? He recalled the conversation right before Luna had left to tell the others he was conscious.

After dropping the bombshell about the poison tipped weapon, he’d made her repeat her version of what had happened, trying to picture it as she spoke. When he’d turned to say something to Cho, he hadn’t remembered her moving at all, it was her eyes that had held his attention in that moment. They were wrong, deeper somehow as if they belonged to someone else. More disturbingly, he felt he’d seen those eyes before.

"Someone else like who?" Luna had asked.

"I don’t know. I just remember thinking a few different times that something was off about her. And you were wrong, when you said I had made her let you go. I was trying but she was absurdly strong and I was scared to hurt you worse. And then she just released you. Just let go by herself."

"Are you sure?"

He had nodded, distracted by his memories of the event. "Yes, as soon as she did I threw her against the wall hard enough that she should have been knocked out. But then she was there, at the bars again, hands behind her back and I remember thinking that it was almost like she was someone else then. I just don’t know who."

"I agree, she was odd. Definitely different than she was at school, but I haven’t seen her since then like you have. I don’t know if it was just that place that did it to her."

He’d shaken his head, feeling uncertain himself. "All I know it the same thing that bothers you most about this bothers me too. Where did she get a sharpened piece of wood with a poison tip? I feel like we’ve stumbled into some twisted Grimm’s Brothers tale."

"Well obviously someone snuck it into her. How do we get our hands on the prison visitor log without going back there?"

"Why not go back?" he had brazenly suggested, ignoring the horror in her eyes. "I may as well, I’m on borrowed time as it is."

She had taken both his hands in hers and stared into his eyes, very serious. "They are working on the cure and I’ve no doubt that it will work. It is not your time to die, Harry."

"Is that that something you saw?"

"It’s what I haven’t seen. If you were meant to die tonight, don’t you think I’d have been flooded with visions of life without you? Like it or not, you are a major factor in many different futures for us all, and if you were taken out of the equation, the future would certainly change."

"I suppose that makes sense." He had admitted.

"I’m really sorry, Harry."

Her apology had taken him by complete surprise. "Sorry for what?"

"For all of this. If I hadn’t been so determined-"

But he had disentangled his hand and used it to cover her mouth, cutting her off. "Don’t waste your breath. You’ve done so much for me, how could I not help you with all of this stuff with Kane. And now our reason is two-fold. If we can free Willem and prove his story, we can back Edmund off of Arthur. And as an added bonus, by finally proving your brother was murdered by Lucius, we can reveal the truth of his family roots and hopefully disgrace him among Voldemort’s ranks. It’s much bigger than Kane now, and much bigger than us. Your determination led us to all of this other stuff, things we can do to finally gain leverage. I don’t regret going, only that Cho got the better of us both."

"It’s a nice way to think about it." She had said sadly, removing his hand.

"Everything about you is nice, Luna. It isn’t your fault this stuff is slowly trying to kill me, it’s Cho’s and whoever she’s working with, or for. I don’t blame you at all, you’re one of the most important people in the world to me." He’d been uncomfortable by his sudden honesty, but didn’t regret it. He had wanted her to know he cared about her, that his current predicament wasn’t something he held against her.

Rather than reply, she had risen suddenly and quickly grabbed the cloak. "The other’s are probably dying to know what’s going on, I better let them know you’re awake."

"Oh, yeah. Sure." He had answered, uncertain why he felt so disappointed until she’d stopped at the door.

She had spoken without turning to face him. "You’re an important person to me too."

He had felt instant relief, realizing the problem had been that he’d put himself out there on the limb of vulnerability and had thought she was going to leave him there alone. "Luna, you said now isn’t my time to die. Have you seen it sometime in the future?"

Still she hadn’t turned to him. "No. Not yet." And then she had wrapped the cloak around herself and left. A few days ago, he would have believed her without hesitation, back before he’d seen her lie. Now, with her not willing to meet his eyes and give an answer, he wasn’t sure. Had she seen some vision of the possible future, one where he didn’t make it?

A soft knock on the door a few minutes after she left knocked him out of his thoughts of their conversation and brought him back to the present. When Hermione entered, he felt his heart sigh in relief. Though her eyes were already red and puffy from crying, her tears started anew the minute she saw him. She ran to his side, gently throwing her arms around him. He pulled her closer, tighter to him, wanting to believe that with her there, he had a reason to think positive, that Luna had been right and he was going to live.

They never spoke a word to each other, he and Hermione, they didn’t need to. They simply held each other and waited for Drake to bring the cure.

(BREAK)

Luna sat in a corner of the lab, turning the hunk of wood over in her hands. She was studying it through the clear plastic bag it was now encased in, wondering just how something so small could have been so potentially lethal.

"It’s very good you thought clearly enough to bring that with you." Drake said as he filled a small vial with the cooled potion. "Helped me know right away what he’d been poisoned with."

"Yeah, I’m a hero." She answered bitterly, feeling anything but heroic. She was a swirl of several emotions, none of which she wanted to explore very deeply. Secretly, she began to long for the time before she’d met Ginny, when life had been simple. But her own visions had shown her that she had a greater destiny. And she knew the result of ignoring that future, it didn’t end well for her or anyone else.

"Ron’s calling." Fred sighed, pulling out the compact.

She listened to them in a haze. While they’d waited for Drake to clean Harry’s wound, Hermione had berated her for everything that went wrong and for not telling Ron anything about it. Luna did feel guilty that he still knew nothing of Kane, and she was certain he’d be extremely angry to be the last to know when she did tell him. "Fred! Be nice to him, imagine how you’d feel if you were in his position."

"Was that Luna?" she heard Ron ask. "Let me talk to her, maybe she’ll be more compassionate and tell me something useful."

"This is ready, we have to go." Drake said urgently. Fred turned from them to speak to his brother one last time before snapping the compact shut and following them up to the office. Luna felt uncomfortable out in the open, but the healer assured them that now that she had changed clothes, there was a more deserted way he could take them, where only researchers went. Fred pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his shocking red hair, hoping to hide his identity should they see anyone. After all many knew who the Weasleys were, thankfully Luna was more unknown. Still, she walked a step behind Drake, hiding herself as best she could, feeling secure only once they had reached the office. Harry looked up at them expectantly when they entered, the hope in his eyes overwhelming.

"Is it ready? It’s going to work, right?" Hermione asked tensely, rising so the healer could take her place on the cot.

"It has before." Drake said confidently as he sat next to Harry and began taking his vitals. "Your pulse is a bit slow, pupils are a bit dilated." He reported to his patient. "But otherwise it seems the blood potion did its job and you should be strong enough to handle this."

"What do you mean?" Harry looked concerned.

"Yeah, how intense is this stuff?" Fred asked.

"It will be fighting to overtake the poison." Drake explained. "You’ll sleep through most of it, should knock you right out."

"And when he wakes up?" Luna prompted.

"Well we won’t know until then, but he should be good as new, a bit sore but healthy otherwise.

"How long will it take?" Harry asked worriedly. "Lupin and Tonks are supposed to pick us up around four this afternoon."

"Young man, your life depends on this counterpotion working. It’ll take as long as it takes. I’m sure an inventive bunch like you can figure out what to tell everyone if you aren’t awake by then." Drake said sternly. "And just so you know, the next time I’m at the house to see Draco, I will be seeking out you and Miss Lovegood for a little conversation about my old friend Willem."

"But you will keep all this quiet, right?" Fred asked as Hermione shot him a dirty look. "My dad isn’t too happy with us right now as it is." He explained, making a face back.

"As Miss Lovegood already informed me." He answered with a smile, handing the potion to Harry. "Drink up Mr. Potter. We’ll see you again in several hours."

Luna watched as he drank without hesitation. In a short while, she, Hermione and Fred would be making plans, but right now, all three watched their friend as he lay down and closed his eyes, hoping with everything they had that he would live to open them again.

(BREAK)

"There is something I think you should all know." Drake began as they all went into his inner office to let Harry sleep. "I didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily, he needs to be able to rest in order for the counterpotion to work. But there is one major side effect to this poison that the potion won’t be able to cure and it’s probably why she used it."

Hermione felt her heart pounding in her ears. She knew it had been too easy. "What is it?" she asked nervously.

"Well, the poison is called Psychohemia. Not only does it invade the blood, but it inhibits any psychic ability the victim may possess." He answered solemnly.

"But if your cure can clean his blood, then why can’t it stop the invasion in his brain?" Luna asked, a look of horror plastered on her face. Hermione scoffed. Obviously there was quite a bit about this whole day their friend hadn’t seen. What good were her stupid visions anyway?

"It’s not as easy as all that. The potion can purify his blood because that is a physical effect. Blocking out the part of the victim that is psychic, well, let’s keep it simple and just say that effect is the magical aspect of the Psychohemia. Much harder to counter without knowing the spell used when binding the poison. I certainly don’t know how to brew it, but I was forced to find some cure for it a few years back when use of it became rampant, and we received the same results. The cure stopped the poison, but those who’d possessed any degree of wandless powers lost the ability to tap into them. The poison was actually Severus Snape’s brainchild back when he was working with the Death Eaters, and when he switched sides, he actually helped me brew the counterpotion."

"Why would Snape invent a poison that destroys a person’s link to their psychic awareness?" Luna asked.

"Why wouldn’t he?" Fred declared glumly. "He’s a creep, no matter which side he’s on."

"Well, without his help, your friend would be dead right now." Drake answered defensively, obviously not happy to hear a younger generation disrespecting their elders.

"Yeah, well if he hadn’t invented the poison in the first place, then we wouldn’t need his help and I wouldn’t have to worry about my friend at all." Fred countered. Hermione remained silent, not wanting to be rude to the healer, but was totally in agreement with Fred.

Instead of answering, Drake turned and with a wave of his wand produced three cots. "I have some things to tend to around here. You three better rest while you can." And then he quietly slipped back into the main office and then out into the hospital hallway.

"I think you made him angry." Hermione said quietly, as they all prepared get a few hours of sleep. Fred made a call to Ron to tell him everything was fine.

They lay on the cots in silence, she knew the others hadn’t fallen asleep yet. And if they felt anything like what she was feeling, she doubted they’d ever find repose. Of course how could they feel what she was, all the way down to her soul? And as much as she wanted to blame Luna for this whole thing, she realized she was responsible as well. She knew everything there was to know about Harry, and she knew how he would react in almost any situation. The minute he’d come to her with this crazy plan, that excited twinkle in his eye, she should have found a way to stop it. So as irresponsible as it was for Luna to suggest all this, Hermione had gone right along with it, worried more about Harry being upset with her for going against the plan than what could happen to him if they carried it out.

She sighed and turned to face the wall, trying to find a comfortable position. It was impossible. Her fear about Harry dying had been relieved; she trusted that Drake knew what he was talking about, especially since learning Snape had not only created the poison but it’s cure. As much as she didn’t like the professor, she had to respect his talent. No, it wasn’t his death that was concerning her, it was how life would be if he awoke no longer possessing his powers. Drake had said they wouldn’t know for sure until Harry woke up later; and in the back of her mind she kept the hope that as a coven descendent he would be stronger than the poisoned spell. But the realist in her knew it was never that easy. To occupy her brain, she began applying her intelligence to the problem, wanting to find the solution before there was even really an issue. It was the only way Harry would remain positive if he awoke powerless.

(BREAK)

"Good morning mother." Fred said brightly as he strolled into the kitchen.

"Fred! Good Morning, Ron said you were still sleeping. But here you are, wide awake." Molly answered. His brother shot him a dirty look, obviously upset that he hadn’t been informed of Fred’s arrival. "I guess we’re still waiting on Hermione."

"Oh I wouldn’t count on her." Fred said quickly. "Last night she said she was going to sleep as long as she could, you know pass the day as quickly as possible. It is a bit sickening the way she and Harry get so panicky when they’re apart."

"I think it’s sweet." Molly answered absently as Fred took his seat. She and Hagrid seemed to take him at his word, but Ron, Ginny and Draco looked doubtful. He felt awkward sitting in Harry’s kitchen for breakfast when he was still knocked out in Drake’s office. They had all decided that it would be best for Fred to return to Grimmauld Place, to make it easier to hide the fact that they had left and that Hermione was still gone. She had refused to leave until Harry woke. He understood she had more of a right to stay, but he still hadn’t been to keen on returning to the house.

Ron glared at him throughout the meal, and Fred did his best to ignore him. After all, it wasn’t his fault his brother had been kept in the dark. Whether or not your girlfriend had a brother is an important thing to know, and if Ron hadn’t taken the time to get to know Luna the way Harry and Hermione had, then it was his own fault and he deserved to be broken up with. His brother had never been very aware, and Fred was sure that had a lot to do with why he hadn’t been able to hang on to Luna, despite her claims to have seen a different future for them. Had Ron been everything she’d wanted in a partner, he doubted the vision would have made a difference.

As soon as breakfast was over, both boys ran up to Fred’s room. "Where’s the compact?"

"Right here. What’s going on?" Ron demanded holding the compact out of Fred’s reach.

"I need to check in with the girls." He said feeling annoyed.

"Why? What’s happened? Why didn’t Hermione come back with you? Are Harry and Luna okay? What were they really doing?" Ron asked in a rush.

"Hey, Hermione’s the one who promised to tell you everything when it was over, and it’s not. Now give me the mirror!" he yelled. They had all decided before he’d left St. Mungo’s to return here that until they knew what was going on with Harry, they wouldn’t tell Ron anything about it, not wanting him to worry needlessly. After all, the potion might not work at all and the poison could take over ending their friend’s young promising life. Fred wouldn’t allow himself to think that way, but couldn’t shake the small doubt pricking at his positivity.

"Not until you give me answers." Ron answered evenly. "Why were you all at the hospital? Harry’s hurt, isn’t he? And Luna, she sounded strange last night when I heard her voice. What is going on!?"

"Fine!" Fred gave in. He really did feel sorry for his brother and really didn’t want to argue anymore. "Let me have the compact and I’ll let them know things are fine here and tell them I’m going to let you in on everything."

"Right, I’m supposed to trust that? The minute you have what you want I lose my bargaining chip."

"I promise, Ron. Okay? I promise." He was eager to check in at the hospital himself. "You know I don’t really need that thing anyway, I could just apparate back to the office and check on them in person. So trust me, okay, I’ll tell you everything."

"Fine." His brother answered, slapping the compact into Fred’s open hand.

He eagerly opened it, waiting less than a minute for them to pick up. "Hey Fred." Luna answered. Her voice was almost back to normal, still a bit strained, as if she’d spent too much time shouting.

"Any news?" he asked quickly.

"He’s still sleeping. Did you write the letter yet?" Hermione’s voice came on.

"Not yet, got here in time for breakfast and had to sit to keep up appearances. By the way, you’re in your room attempting to sleep the day away until Harry and Luna return."

"That makes me sound tragic." She complained. "Go write the letter!"

"I will, I have a problem first. Seems Ron here can’t wait to find out what we’ve all been up to. I’m going to tell him."

Both girls were silent for a moment, obviously discussing between themselves. It was Luna who finally answered. "Go ahead. Tell him whatever he wants to know. I don’t care anymore." She said sadly.

"Will do." He answered softly. "Let me know the minute anything happens there."

"We will." Hermione answered. "And don’t forget, be back here by three if there’s no change."

"Whatever you say, darlin’." He closed the compact with a smile.

"What were they talking about? What letter are you going to write?" Ron asked right away.

Fred sighed. "They want me to write to Gabriella. To see if she can help Harry. If we need to, we’ll send it right away."

"Why would Harry need the strongest healer in the world?" he looked nervous.

"Because Cho poisoned him." Fred answered simply.

"What?! What do mean poisoned? Why were they anywhere near Cho?"

"Because her cell happened to be near the secret escape route."

"Escape route? From Azkaban? Why were they there?" Ron looked so confused, Fred nearly laughed. Maybe he would have, if the situation weren’t so completely unfunny.

"To talk to Willem Fritz about Kane’s murder. And Edmund."

"Who’s Kane and why do we care if he’s been murdered?"

And this is where it got difficult. Fred hadn’t even known about Kane until the night Luna and Harry had approached him with this whole plan. How much would it upset Ron to learn how little he knew of the girl he’d claimed to love at one point? "Kane is Luna’s brother. I guess he was killed by Lucius Malfoy when she was eleven."

"Luna’s brother…" Ron stared off into space and Fred watched as that piece of information made it’s way through his brother’s head. "Start at the beginning Fred. What is going on here?"

(BREAK)

"Well?" Hermione demanded as soon as Drake returned.

"He’s still sleeping soundly. I drew some of his blood for testing." The healer answered. "I’m about to go to the lab and see what kind of progress we’re making."

"Can I go with you?" she asked. "I’m losing my mind sitting here waiting. I need to do something."

"As long as you wear the invisibility cloak." He replied with a kind smile. "It’s not yet lunch time, so there will probably be a lot of other healers working in there. Miss Lovegood, will you be joining us?"

"I’d rather wait here. I want to call up Fred and see how it went with Ron." She answered.

Hermione wrapped the cloak around herself and followed Drake to the lab, reflecting on how different things were now. In the past, it was rare that she and Harry would act without Ron. But lately, they all seemed to be acting without the others. She worried their lives were becoming more separate from each other, that the raw trust of children couldn’t hold them together anymore. Months before, when she’d become trapped in her own mind, she’d gone to look in on that moment with the troll, the event she felt led them all to each other. She’d told Harry and Dumbledore that she’d learned everything she needed from the memory, but had she? If something as simple as battling a troll could bring them together, what was the event that had split them all up?

"Take a look." Drake offered, whispering so the other healers wouldn’t hear. He’d loaded a drop of Harry’s blood onto a slide and slid it under a large microscope. Stepping forward, she leaned over, staring through the cloak.

The small circle was soft red, a few green specks floating around. "What does it mean?" she whispered.

"What are you working on, Roscoe?" another healer came up to them and Hermione tugged the cloak tighter around herself, taking a few steps back.

"Simple poisoning case." Drake replied brightly. He glanced to the side, obviously trying to decide if Hermione was still there. "It’s good news though. Seems the blood to element ratio has increased."

"Excellent! Then you’ve counteracted the poison. That’s why you’re the best." The other healer commented. "I actually need your advice if I can steal you away for a moment." Hermione felt herself panic. Though relieved to hear the potion was working, she didn’t want Drake to be stuck in the lab all afternoon, they might need his help again. Maybe it was selfish of her, but she didn’t care.

"Give me a moment, Henry, and then I’m all yours. First I have to deliver some news to the family of the patient." Drake replied.

"Of course! It’s a simple issue anyway, I just really wanted a second opinion." Henry replied.

"Give me about twenty minutes." And with a subtle gesture, indicated to Hermione that they were leaving the lab.

(BREAK)

Luna looked at the compact, feeling guilty that it had fallen to Fred to tell Ron everything. She should have just told him from the beginning, and really didn’t know why she hadn’t. Sure she and Harry had argued that the less people involved the easier it would be to keep the secret. But that was when she’d intended it to be between her, Harry and by necessity, Fred. Then to keep the peace, Hermione had become involved. And now, Drake had been roped in as well and looking back, there was no good reason she shouldn’t have involved Ron. Maybe things would have gone smoother, if they’d had one more person looking out for them.

Looking at the door to the main office, she felt another stab of guilt, this one right through her heart. Because of her and her plan, the very savior of the wizarding world may be damaged beyond repair. Hell, she’d almost gotten him killed. Thinking back to that last question he’d asked, about whether she’d seen him die, she felt uneasy. She’d actually seen it twice, when different people made decisions contrary to the proper path. And she’d worked hard to bring things back to the way they were supposed to be, relieved each time she once more received that view of them all happy. Not liking to think of what she had seen, she hadn’t revealed any of it to anyone. What’s more, Harry wasn’t the only one she’d seen die.

Since leaving him earlier, she’d been trying to make a vision happen, but apparently too much was left unsettled for the universe to send her any messages of the future. With a sigh, she tossed the compact to the side and went to check on Harry. He was laying very still, but his breathing was strong and steady. Much different from the wheezing they’d heard when they’d first checked on him that morning after a short nap. The potion was obviously working on his body. Would it be able to help his mind? She’d never hated Cho more, though like Harry, she felt that somehow it wasn’t their old enemy that had really been responsible. The whole scene felt surreal, like it had happened to someone else.

Gently sitting on the bed, she took his hand and tried to enter his mind, to find the consciousness buried deep down that was one’s awareness of their psychic capacity. She couldn’t find it. "What are you doing?"

Startled, she turned to find Hermione at the door, the cloak on the floor at her feet, her arms crossed angrily in front of her. "Trying to find him." Luna answered.

"What do you mean find him?" the other girl stalked over and stood over her, looking abnormally menacing.

"Well, I noticed his breathing is normal, so I figured the potion was working and wanted to see if it fixed his mind too."

Hermione softened, turning her gaze to Harry. "Did it?"

"I don’t think so." She answered, hanging her head.

"Drake said the potion has almost completely overtaken the poison. He’s definitely going to live…but…"

Luna felt for her. "I know. He won’t be happy with just being alive. Losing his powers is going to crush him."

"I suppose since you were sitting in here, you didn’t call up Fred?" Hermione said, anger once more evident in her tone.

"Not yet. I wanted to try this first."

"I’m sure you did." She said sullenly. "Where’s the mirror? I’m going to tell him to send the letter."

"In here." She regretfully rose from Harry’s side and led the way into the inner office, picking up and handing over the compact. She understood her friend’s anger. How could she not? She was blaming herself as much as any of them were. Her only fear was what Harry would say when he found out that Cho had made good on her declaration that it was better to let the enemy live and suffer.

(BREAK)

Fred searched high and low for Hedwig, but she was nowhere to be found. Ron had let him into his room, and through the secret passages, they’d made their way to Harry’s. But the blasted owl wasn’t there either. Together, the brothers went to see Hagrid.

"Harry asked you to take care of Hedwig and Robin while he was gone right?" Ron asked eagerly when the giant answered.

"O’ course he did! Knows I’d take care o’ them as if they were my own."

"Well where’s the owl?" Fred demanded impatiently.

"Haven’ seen her." Hagrid admitted. "Usually she comes ‘round to see me every mornin’ for some treats, but she’s no’ been around fer the last two mornin’s."

"Is that odd?" Ron seemed concerned.

"No’ if she’s ou’ huntin’." Hagrid replied with a shrug. "That owl is a mighty smart one. I’m sure she’s fine ou’ there."

They left Hagrid to go find Orion, the small brown owl their father used. "This one’s useless." Ron said grumpily. "Can’t even be sure it really delivers the letters you give it."

"Dad uses him for the ministry. I’m sure he’s reliable. Maybe he just doesn’t like you." Fred suggested with a smile. He handed the letter for Gabriella to Orion and gave careful instructions that it was to be delivered to no one but it’s intended recipient.

He’d been surprised while writing the note. Ron had actually been a great help, having known the spell to translate his English into Spanish, which she was probably more comfortable with. When asked, his brother had simply said that he’d been studying the spells Hermione had found.

Now they were holed up in Fred’s room, waiting for the clock to strike three. "I can’t believe all this." Ron declared, interrupting the silence in which they’d been meditating.

"Believe it. And just be glad he’s going to live."

"But if he doesn’t have his powers anymore, how are we supposed to do this whole coven thing? He was supposed to be part of it. Hell, he was probably supposed to be the leader!"

"I don’t know, Ron. Right now, we’re still trying to focus on getting them back before Lupin and Tonks show up. Once we’re all back here together, we can start working on damage control. Besides, the coven is the last thing we all need to worry about."

"Says you." Ron said meanly. "What’s more important than the people who could very well end all of this for good?"

"All the other people flailing in the wind." Fred replied. "I mean right now, we’ve got a man murdered six years ago while investigating another man’s disappearance. Because of that, we have an innocent man framed and sitting in jail for nearly as long. And because of this jailed man, we have his brother who is working hard campaigning against our father, trying to take over the ministry. And now we also have some sort of link between it all, including a mysterious woman endorsed by the former minister."

"It sounds like some giant puzzle." Ron said grabbing his head. "Okay, let me see if I have this, Julian Heath goes missing and is last reported being seen at the Malfoy mansion."

"According to a witness who happened to be a squib working for the Malfoy’s." Fred interjected. His own head had been swimming when Luna had first told him and Hermione what they’d learned from Willem.

"Right. So new Auror Kane Lovegood is sent to investigate, only unlike most, he listens to the squib and makes a visit to Lucius. Then according to Draco, Kane demanded to search the house and was murdered for his efforts. But Julian is still alive at that point, being tortured for some kind of information."

"Exactly. And Luna found out he worked in the Department of Mysteries, so it was probably something in there Lucius was after."

Ron nodded. "Okay, so Willem is sent to investigate Kane’s death and first determines it to be suspicious but a few hours later, is forced to rule it an accident because of some mysterious expert named Jayalina Delamora who can see into the past."

"And according to what Luna found out from dad, Willem had been forced to make similar findings because of her involvement, all with incidents involving suspected Death Eaters."

"Then Willem is given a truth suppression potion and accused of bribery. And his own brother, whom everyone suspected he was working with, turned against him and called for his imprisonment."

"Which leads me to believe that whether old Willem knows it or not, he’s got some knowledge of something damaging to his brother and Edmund wanted to make sure he could never use it." Fred offered his opinion.

"But what could he know that he doesn’t know he knows?" Ron asked, taking a moment to think about what he said and make sure it made sense.

"Who knows." Fred grinned. "We’ll have to find a way to get him out of Azkaban if we want to pick his brain though." He felt his pocket grow warm and looked at his watch. Three o’clock on the dot. "They’re calling."

"Fred?" Luna’s voice came through. She now sounded perfectly normal.

"He awake?" Ron asked eagerly.

She paused, obviously nervous about hearing from Ron. "Not yet."

"I’m on my way. Ron agreed to cover if mum comes looking."

"Thanks Ron." She said quietly.

"We’ll talk later." He answered carefully, reaching over to close the compact. Fred knew he was angry to have been left out, and hurt. Whatever he wanted to say to Luna was his business, but he hoped his brother would remain as calm as he was at present.

"Hermione and I will be back shortly." Fred assured him.

"Just be careful." Ron warned.

(BREAK)

Hermione gasped when they apparated into Mrs. Lovegood’s living room. The woman was sitting on the couch, staring at them expectantly. It took her a moment to remember that she was a copy of the real thing. Looking down to see how Harry had fared on the trip, she felt relief. He was still breathing normally and what’s more, his eyelids were fluttering. Drake had suggested that the pressure of side-along apparation might revive him, and they’d all hoped it was true.

"The children are in their rooms sleeping." Mrs. Lovegood said pleasantly.

"Better start cleaning up." Fred warned Luna. She turned to the copy of her grandmother on the couch and with a wave of her wand, the older woman was gone.

"Come on, Harry. Wake up!" Hermione urged, giving him a little shake. Drake had warned them not to try too hard to wake him, that if he was still sleeping it was because he needed to. But she wanted to see him before she had to leave, to assess that he really was going to live with her own eyes.

He groaned softly, his eyes finally opening all the way. He stared up at them all blankly. "Harry?" Fred asked leaning in closer.

"Yeah. I’m okay." He answered, shaking his head slightly.

"Try it." Hermione turned to Luna. They’d created a test, to see if he still had his powers.

Harry? She heard the girl’s voice float through her mind as she tried to reach him. Can you hear me?

Yeah. But it’s sounds really far away. And something else is different. It’s wrong somehow.He looked around at them all in a panic. "What's going on?" he asked out loud.

"Try moving that." Hermione instructed.

"What?" he shook his head violently and then sat up in a hurry, his eyes unsure.

"That picture frame over there. Move it with your mind." She repeated.

"Why?"

"Just try it, okay?" Fred answered quietly.

They all watched him stare at the picture frame, his face contorting as he struggled. "I can’t. What’s going on?" he asked, his voice full of fear.

"I think it’s a good news bad news situation." Fred answered looking at the girls. Hermione’s heart was in her stomach.

Luna took over. "It seems that you still maintain a spark of psychic awareness. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to communicate in our heads. Had you been completely closed off, well, the telepathy wouldn’t have worked."

"That’s the good news." Fred gave a small smile.

"And the bad?" Harry asked anxiously.

"The poison seems to have destroyed the link your mind created to your telekinetic abilities." Hermione answered before Luna could.

"What are you talking about? I thought Drake gave me the cure?" he jumped to his feet, in a complete panic.

"You should probably take it easy." Fred suggested.

"He did give you the cure, that’s why you’re alive to talk to us right now." Hermione answered his question.

"It just doesn’t cure the secondary damage, since it’s an aspect of the poison that affects only those victims with psychic abilities." Luna added quickly.

"I think you guys better explain exactly what’s going on."

(BREAK)

Harry didn’t know what to feel. They had explained it all fully, nothing left undisclosed. He was sure of that because they all left their shields down and desperate to wake up that part of his mind now thought useless, he used the part he did have left. But why? Why did he maintain this power and lose the other? Could Gabriella really help him? Or was it really too late? He felt fear close in around him. At present, he knew he was actually quite safe, nestled away in the backseat of Tonks’s car with Luna and growing ever closer to his home.

As soon as they were all sure Harry was really okay, Hermione and Fred had gone back to Grimmauld Place. Then he and Luna had gone to rouse her grandmother. Even though he used everything he had in him, he’d still needed Luna to help him plant all the false memories of how they’d spent their day with Mrs. Lovegood. When she woke, it was as if she’d never been asleep at all. Though he still felt exhausted and wanted nothing more to go back to sleep, he pushed it all aside and put on a happy face as the old woman recounted memories of events that never took place. Lupin and Tonks had thankfully arrived shortly thereafter.

Harry, we’re here. He felt Luna gently shake him, not realizing he’d fallen asleep. She looked worried, and so he gave her a smile, reassuring her that he was fine. Just really, really tired.

He tried to act normal, luckily their chaperones were so wrapped up in each other they hardly noticed their charges. A good thing considering the ridiculous floral scarf Luna had stolen from her grandmother to hide the very faint remains of her encounter with Cho. The front door towered in front of him and he suddenly dreaded going in there. It was only just past ten, still early enough for most everyone in the house to be awake. All he wanted was the sanctuary of his room and the last thing he wanted was to have to fake his way through the greeting he was sure to get.

With a sigh he turned the knob and led the way in. "We’re home." He called out weakly.

"Harry, Luna! Welcome back!" Molly emerged from the kitchen where something that smelled delicious was cooking. She crushed them both to her. "Remus, Tonks, I hope you had a good time." She greeted them as Ron, Hermione and Fred ran down the stairs.

"Harry!" Ron nearly knocked him over as he grabbed him in a hug. "Welcome home." he smiled.

"For heaven’s sake, Ron! They’ve only been gone two days." Molly scolded.

"Seems longer." Ron muttered.

"Now I know that you probably had dinner with Mrs. Lovegood but it’s such a long way back when you take the muggle way, I thought you might all like a late snack." Molly gestured towards the kitchen.

Harry’s stomach rumbled and he realized he actually hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before. Looking over at Luna, he saw she was thinking the same thing as she was nearly drooling at the smells invading their senses. "That sounds great. Thank you." He followed her, his tiredness momentarily forgotten.

The all sat together at the table, Harry and Luna telling the adults all about their fake weekend as the teens sat in eager anticipation to be alone to discuss all of the recent developments. However as his stomach filled, his exhaustion returned and when he announced his desire to turn in for the night, the others looked disappointed but understanding.

Finally alone in his room he changed clothes, reflecting that he was feeling numb. There wasn’t really anything specific anymore; no fear, no pain, no anger… not even disappointment. He just wasn’t feeling anything, as if he were completely gray on the inside, neutral. Climbing into bed, so many things whirled through his mind and he squeezed his eyes shut against the assault, focusing on the bright patterns emerging against his eyelids.

He heard the bookcase creak open and knew it was Hermione. He sat up and they stared at each other, both completely lost for words. And then he nodded and she turned to shut the passage before climbing in next to him.

"I love you." She whispered.

"I know." He answered nuzzling her cheek. "I love you too."

"I know." She smiled before turning away to turn out the light and settle in to sleep.

There was so much to think of, from his own predicament to Willem’s, from the mystery of how Cho was able to poison him in the first place to asking Draco about the gardener. But as he settled his arm around Hermione and pulled her closer against him, Harry decided to forget it all. One night to not think, to simply rest and replenish.

 

NOTE: Sorry this took awhile, got writer’s block in the middle. I like writing the action and dramatic scenes more than the in between scenes and had a bit of trouble. Anyway, next chapter I think we begin putting together all the pieces we’ve been given and believe it or not, some more trouble is brewing. Leave your thoughts in a review, or if you want further discussion or have questions, visit my meet the author page in the forums! I love to hear from you.



Chapter 22: Preserving the Past

NOTE: This is going to be a super long one, and there will be a lot going on because we have so much to get through. Have no fear, there will be some action and even some answers. So here we go again. Read, Review, Enjoy!

 

Harry woke up alone. He wasn’t sure when or why Hermione had slipped out, he wasn’t even sure what time it was now. Scrambling for his glasses, he shoved them on his face and eagerly lifted his shirt to check out his injury. It was all but gone, simply a small scratch marring his skin. Looking around the room, he focused in on the open bookcase and tried to shut it with his mind. It was a task he’d been able to perform many times before with no trouble, but now it just wouldn’t work. Sending his mind out, he was able to pick up on all the different people in the house. Arthur and Tonks had left, but everyone else was awake and moving. Why was this happening?

Before he could think on anything, Hermione appeared at the bookcase carrying a tray with two plates full of food. "Good morning." She quietly greeted him. "I convinced Molly to let us have breakfast in bed."

He was grateful, not wanting to be around anyone at the moment. He felt less somehow, weaker. And the last thing he wanted was an endless discussion on what had happened to him and what it meant. He still felt numb and wanted to keep it that way. "Can you do me a favor?" He asked as they settled in to eat.

"Anything you need." She offered.

"Can you tell the others I don’t want to talk about losing my power until we hear from Gabriella? I mean we have to discuss what Willem said, and what’s going on with Cho, but the rest…I just…it’s just so…"

"You don’t have to explain, Harry." She said. "If this is the way you want to handle it fine. But don’t tell me to back the others off and then shut me out, while all the time you plan on going to talk to Luna about it. I want to help you too, you know. And I may not have first hand experience like she does, but I’ve been reading up on all these superpowers you all are supposed to have and I think I know as much about them as I can without actually possessing them myself."

He listened to her demands, feeling they were warranted. Of course he’d wanted to talk to Luna, maybe not right away, but eventually. Who knew how long they’d wait to hear from Gabriella? Eventually this would get to him and who better to turn to than another coven member. But he understood Hermione’s anger, all that had happened was the result of his last project with Luna. "Ok. If I need to talk about it, I’ll talk to you." He said without emotion.

"It wasn’t an order, you know." She said harshly. "I’m not trying to control you, Harry. I just want to be kept in the loop. Do you know how scared I was for the last two days? I thought that I was going to lose you. You always talk about how difficult it would be for you if anything happened to me or any of the others, well we feel the same about you."

"I know. It went wrong, and I’m going to figure out why."

"Can’t this stop? Can’t you just find a way to give Arthur all the information you have and let him handle it?"

"We don’t have that much, Mione. We have more pieces and a few leads. We still have to talk to Draco about the gardener. And how is Arthur supposed to investigate Cho? I don’t even really know what happened there yet."

"I know. Luna said you think something was wrong with her. Well I agree, she’s insane and she proved it last year a few times. Neville is dead because of her. She sent an entire quidditch team after you to kill you in front of us all and then she tried to drown you, Luna and Ginny in the lavatory. And when Draco blew her cover, she tried to attack him in the middle of the ‘courtroom’. All with the aid and guidance of her parents and Voldemort."

"I remember." He answered bitterly. "And I know what I saw. She was herself and then she wasn’t. Something is going on there, something important."

"Can’t you let yourself get off your deathbed first before you go looking for reasons to get back in?" she asked angrily.

"Maybe if I had the luxury of time. But I don’t. We go back to school in a little over a week and then I’ll be cut off from London and all the resources available here. I hate being kept at that school when there are so many more important things to attend to!"

"I know, Harry." She answered quietly. "But you’re no good to yourself or anyone else if you push yourself too far too fast."

"So now what? I sit here and do nothing while all this brews around us? I’m trying to get ahead of them. Don’t you think it would be better to stop Edmund before he ousts Arthur and takes control of the ministry?"

"Of course, but at what cost? You life is worth much more."

"Cho got me by surprise. I won’t let it happen again." He vowed, to her and himself.

"Until it does. You went through all of this to help Luna find out about her brother but all you guys came back with are more questions! I hope she feels it was as worth it as you seem to." She answered bitterly.

"It was worth it." He said steadily. Whether she realized it or not, her shields were still down and he saw just how much she blamed Luna for the weekend’s events. And how disappointed she was that he was so willing to go through so much for the other girl. "Luna asked for my help and I’d do it all again. I would do the same for any of them. And for you Hermione, I’d move the stars for you if you asked me."

"That’s all well and good, Harry. But sometimes you may have to just say no to the more insane favors asked of you. And sneaking into Azkaban was definitely insane. I can’t believe I went along with it. I guess that shows how far I’d go for you. But I won’t do it again and I mean it. It’s stupid to risk our lives doing things the adults could have done for us."

"I don’t know about you, but I haven’t felt like a child for a very long time. So what does that make me? Am I not adult enough to make my own decisions?" he felt annoyed. "I don’t want to argue right now, Hermione. I’m so tired of all of this. This house, that school, always being questioned and second guessed, us always fighting. The only thing I can control are my own actions at this point and I won’t apologize for them any more. I made the decision to go with Luna, and I’m the one who has to deal with the fall out."

"You think I’m happy with the way things are? I gave up my entire muggle life to be here, basically cut ties with my parents. You think I don’t feel trapped, sitting in this house only being able to react to everyone else’s decisions? When do I get a say in anything Harry? It’s my life too! You are a part of that life, hell we’ve promised to try and build a life together. And lately it all just seems to be falling apart. I get to care whether you live or die, Harry. I get to care if you’re putting yourself in unnecessary danger and I get to care if something is wrong with you. You think you’re the only one who suffered through all of this? You lost one power, we thought we were going to lose you altogether! And now here I am once more defending myself to you, while Ron has to sit and wonder why he wasn’t good enough to be involved in all this in the first place. Your decisions, your actions, they affect more than just your life, you know."

"What do you want me to say? You’re right! You’re always right, okay. I’m horribly self-centered and only care about what I want."

"That’s not what I said Harry." She said through clenched teeth.

He felt hot, stuffy. "I need some fresh air. Do you want to go out back with me?" he asked lightly. He really didn’t want to fight anymore, not with her.

"You go ahead. I think we need some time to ourselves for a bit." She rose to return to her room.

"I am sorry, you know. That you had to be so scared for me."

"I know you are. I’m sorry I didn’t wait a little longer to try and talk about all this. It was obviously too soon."

"Okay." He said, tentatively meeting her eyes.

"Okay." She gave a small smile before shutting the bookcase.

He shook himself, trying to forget the agitation he’d felt. Quickly dressing, he pulled the invisibility cloak out of his bag and threw it around himself. He really didn’t want to see anyone else so he stealthily slipped down the stairs and through the thankfully deserted kitchen. Breakfast was apparently over and Molly had already cleaned up. He went out into the yard and directly under his willow tree. But even once safely enclosed within her branches, he kept the cloak on. Only once he had settled comfortably and made sure he was in fact alone, did he let himself cry.

(BREAK)

Luna paced her room feeling guilty and frustrated. She had ignored the calls for breakfast, not wanting to face anyone. She still had no answers, no news of the future and no ideas as to how to proceed. How could she tell them that, when she was the one who had started all of this? Maybe she never should have included Harry at all. If she could have just gotten Fred’s help, maybe things would have gone better. She’d been acting selfishly when she’d decided to ask Harry to go with her to the prison; wanting his support and the sense of safety she felt when he was around. More than anything, she had wanted his company and she regretted it now.

She had been tuning out the small fight between Harry and Hermione, not wanting to intrude. She knew the other girl hated having either one of them in her head and now that her walls were actually down, Luna still attempted to give her friend her privacy. She felt when it ended though, and the despair they were both feeling. It was overwhelming and made Luna’s heart hurt. She knew in order for that final vision to come true they would all have to go through a lot of pain emotionally. But she also knew they would be fine in the end, that they would pull through and have happy lives. In the meantime, she would have to remain strong as things worked themselves out, strong and patient. After all, her own happiness was hopelessly linked with everyone else’s. As for now, Hermione locked herself in her room and Harry made his way outside, both wanting time alone. She decided to give it to them.

But the ring was pulsating energy around her room, angry with it’s lack of use and a different type of guilt went through her. She’d taken it back from Fred and thrown it in her drawer, figuring she’d do something about it later. But Harry probably really wanted to talk to his parents, to Sirius. More than that, he probably really needed to. Despite her reservations, and despite her vow to leave him to his peace, she decided to bring the ring to him. She’d tell him what she’d learned and hope he’d use it responsibly. But no sooner had Luna pulled open the drawer and removed the prize when the feeling came over her. She quickly threw herself to the floor and waited.

There was no white room this time, instead flashes of a narrative played out in front of her. A room she’d never seen appeared around her and she found herself staring at a very large teenage boy. Instantly she felt she knew him, but couldn’t place where she’d seen him before. He was seated at a desk, writing a letter addressed to Harry. Suddenly she was outside and once more Hedwig swooped around the strange yet familiar home before flying off, a letter attached to her leg. Then came Sarah, stalking towards the house in the night, several cloaked figures behind her. The air crackled around her as she watched every occupant of Number 12 Grimmauld place apparate in front of her eyes and a fight broke out. Watching in horror, she felt relief as Kingsley, Mad-eye and several Aurors suddenly materialized in to help. That’s when it all disappeared and she was back in the house, watching as Sarah terrorized the large boy and his family. They were huddled together in a corner while the crazed psychic destroyed their possessions, throwing things around without ever once lifting a finger. When Harry came in a few moments later, the family’s fear intensified. He and Sarah faced each other down as sounds of battle played out in the background. "It was you!" she heard Harry say. "It most certainly was." Sarah replied before hurling the couch at him, which he blocked with a spell. They began their strange duel, their words now drown out by the ruckus they were creating. Sarah managed to get the upper hand, and Luna watched in horror as the woman used her power to torture him. And then it was over.

She opened her eyes, feeling confused and terrified. Some decision had been made, someone had done something to set this in motion and unless someone intervened, this was what would happen. But what exactly had she just seen?

(BREAK)

"I don’t want to talk to that woman!" Ginny said decisively.

"Why not? You talked to her the last two times." Draco answered. To be honest, he wanted her to talk to the healer. Already she was different, getting back to the stubborn willful girl she’d been and not the scheming, lying one she’d become. As much as he’d like to take credit for the change, he wasn’t delusional. He’d never made anyone’s life better.

"Because we don’t talk about things I want to talk about. She thinks she knows what we should discuss." Under the bitterness in her tone, he detected a bit of uncertainty, maybe even fear.

"But if you had your way, you wouldn’t talk to her at all." He leaned down to kiss her cheek.

"Exactly." She crossed her arms defiantly.

The doorbell sounded and she looked at him helplessly. "Come on. Tell me you don’t think talking it out with her has helped?" he pushed.

"All it’s done is make me think about things I don’t want to think about." She protested.

"Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley called up the stairs for her daughter. "I’m sending Laurel up there."

"Trapped. That’s what I am. Trapped." She complained, going to the landing to meet the healer.

"I’ll be here when you’re done." He called after her before closing his door. He stared at the room, feeling how empty it was without Ginny. Lately, he’d been toying with the idea of talking to that Laurel woman himself. There were a lot of things eating away at him, things from his past that he couldn’t bring himself to share with Ginny, Potter or anyone else. The only problem was that without Potter’s charity, Draco was broke and couldn’t pay for her services. Regardless the fact that the Ministry had frozen Lucius’s accounts in Gringott’s, he had no money of his own and no property other than the few possessions he’d brought with him from school. He hadn’t been in his own house since just after Cho’s hearing, and would probably never be able to go back there again. As far as he knew, his mother hadn’t even tried to contact him so no financial aid would be coming from her. He chose to believe that it was too dangerous for her to try and communicate with her son. It was better than knowing she probably didn’t care enough. Though Narcissa had been kind to him, she still hadn’t been mother of the year.

So now, his only option was to stay on Potter’s good side. If he was being honest, that thought didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would. He’d been putting his trust in Potter and his people for awhile now, and he hadn’t been let down yet. It was a totally different life than the one he’d been living, being able to depend on someone’s word. Very few people lied here, and of those that did, most weren’t very good at it. In fact, aside from himself, he thought Potter and Fred Weasley were the only ones truly capable of deception of any kind. It was almost funny when Lovegood or Granger tried. So here he was, surrounded by absurdly honest people who had promised to take care of him. Push come to shove, he trusted them all with his life. This was the thought that bothered him. It was all well and good to be okay living off Potter. But to actually trust the enemy…yet… no. Upon deeper reflection his trust in them wasn’t what bothered him, he’d been searching his whole life for people to rely on. It was the damage he could do to them that was the real fear. And he was thinking beyond his affliction with the werewolf curse. It was his past that could ruin them. Already his knowledge of previous events had pushed Lovegood into something. Something big and dangerous if the way they were all acting was any indication.

What else did he know that could help and hinder them so much? He’d already gone to Mr. Weasley and laid out what he knew of Cho’s possible connection to Sarah through Pansy. Of course, he still had to tell Potter, who would be furious if he were kept out of the loop. But should he tell him? He already regretted letting Ginny know, but she’d been there when he’d made the connection and his excitement at the recovered memory had gotten the best of him. Well, he’d better tell Potter, before she did. Draco still didn’t fully believe Ginny was past whatever she’d felt for the other boy, but he tried to believe she would be someday. But to bring him a missing piece of this giant puzzle; that might be an offering she couldn’t help but give. So while she was tucked away in her room with the healer, he began searching for Potter. But he was nowhere to be found.

Finally making his way to the backyard he scanned it quickly. "Potter?" he hissed out and thought he saw movement under the big tree in the corner. Making his way over, he parted the leafy curtain and found…nothing.

"Something you wanted?" a voice called out of nowhere as he’d turned to leave, startling him so badly he nearly fell over. But survival instincts took over and swiftly regaining his footing, he turned and brandished his wand at the empty space in front of him.

"Who’s there?" He asked steadily.

He jumped back when Potter’s head suddenly appeared, floating in midair. "It’s me. What do you want?"

Of course, the invisibility cloak. "Sorry. Didn’t know you were out here hiding."

"I’m not hiding, I’m avoiding." He returned, shrugging off the cloak and rising to his feet. "A lot’s going on and I’m not really in the mood to discuss it with anyone."

"Well, I only wanted to tell you something I remembered while you were gone. It involves Cho, Sarah and Pansy. But if you’d rather not talk about it…" He turned to go and smiled in satisfaction when Potter called him back. He relayed the whole of the situation; Sarah being Pansy’s cousin and living in the same village as Cho’s family.

"What did Arthur say?" he asked when Draco was done.

"That they’d start looking into it. I guess he’s going to send some people to the village to see what they can find out."

Potter looked him over carefully. "So your memory is working pretty good right?"

"I guess. Why?" He asked suspiciously.

"Do you remember an old gardener that used to work for your family? His name was Bowen Roseblood."

"Of course I remember him. He still works for us. Why do you want to know about him?" He wasn’t a fan of many of the people who worked for his family, but Old Bowie was a different story. Despite the fact the man was a squib, he been friendly and funny when Draco was younger and a good listener as he grew older. Of course, he’d formed an attachment to the man before he was old enough to understand that he was supposed to look down on him for what he was. So after Lucius had forced those thoughts into his head, he’d kept his acceptance of the gardener a secret, fearful of what his father would do if he learned that a squib had befriended his son.

"We found out he was the witness who told Kane that Julian was in the house." Potter explained.

That certainly sounded like something Bowie would do. He never liked his employer, often claiming Draco was the only one worth anything, as long as he turned his life around. If only he’d listened to the man sooner, had been happy with his approval and not constantly seeking his father’s. But the older he got, the less time he spent out in the garden, instead wanting to be in the action with the Death Eaters who were constantly coming by.

"Well? What can you tell me about him?" Potter prodded as Draco silently reflected on the mistakes in his life.

He felt guilty, for thinking Bowie’s opinion wasn’t worth anything because of who he was. He wanted to do better by him now. "First you tell me. Why does he have to become involved? Lovegood let me read those reports, I know he wasn’t mentioned by name. It was for a reason. Do you know what they’d do to him if they found out he’d tipped off an Auror?"

Potter looked taken aback. "Wow. I didn’t think there was anyone you cared about at that house."

"I didn’t either." Draco admitted. "But he was nice to me when he had no right to be, so the last thing I want to do is get him killed. His life already means nothing to them."

"So Bowen is a good guy then? Do you think he’d help us now?"

"What are you going to do? Have another wing added to the house? Because I’m telling you right now, the only way I’ll let him become involved is to be guaranteed of his and his family’s safety. But you can’t take in everyone, Potter. You can’t save everyone. So let him live in the relative safety he has now. I’m sure there are other ways to find out what happened."

"What if we could arrange something for them? Wouldn’t it be better to get them away from your house? Look, after we have enough to go on without telling all the adults that we broke into…that we went somewhere we weren’t supposed to, then we’re going to go to Arthur with what we know to get the ball rolling."

He made a good point about getting the Rosebloods away. And he’d caught the slip Potter had made. Time to make the best of the situation. "Okay, I’ll give up Bowie and let him decide to help or not, once you make arrangements with Mr. Weasley. In the meantime, I want to know what went on this weekend. You’re asking me to involve the one person worth anything at that house, you keep plucking out pieces of my memory, and what’s more I live here and am obviously a part of all this now. I have a right to know. I can keep things to myself. I’ll keep the secret, I promise."

Potter appeared to think on it. "Okay." He said finally. "But let’s get the others. I only want to go through this once."

(BREAK)

The argument wasn’t bothering her, they had so many she was used to it. Besides, Hermione had made the decision that she wouldn’t back down. They could take their time out, but she wouldn’t change her stance on anything she’d said. Her nerves couldn’t handle much more of all these secrets anyway. No what was actually upsetting her was Harry’s desire to avoid his situation. She understood it, but she worried all the same. Knowing him she realized that as devastated as he was, there was a part of him that truly believed it would be alright as soon as they found Gabriella. She wasn’t so certain.

With a sigh, she’d decided to save it for their next conversation and went to find Ron. After sending him to round up the others so she could tell them to lay off the telekinesis topic, she scoured her shelves for the book. She’d read it weeks ago, it had a brief history of telepathic phenomena relating all the way back to the coven. Something had been picking at her memory since learning of Harry’s predicament, something she’d merely skimmed through and suddenly she had a strong feeling it was information she’d read there. A knock on the door interrupted her perusal of the relevant chapter, but she set it aside with a smile. She felt she had an answer to something waiting for her, and to be able to finally help when Luna couldn’t was very satisfying.

(BREAK)

"And then I broke up with Dean, and haven’t been in a relationship since." Ginny concluded shortly.

"Okay, that takes care of the minor relationships. What about Harry? Or now Draco? Neville, the boy you feel so guilty about? Or how about that boy you took to that dance, you know, the one you glossed over thinking I wouldn’t see?" Laurel prompted.

"What about them?"

"Well, they are the ones that seem to have impacted your life. It’s all well and good that you can talk about the normal relationships you’ve attempted to engage in, but these four boys are different."

"Gem wasn’t different. He was just a nice guy that I wish I liked more, but I didn’t."

"Gem. He’s the one from the dance?"

Ginny sighed and decided to let it out. "I asked him to go because I didn’t want to go alone. I shouldn’t have gone at all."

"Because Harry was there with his girlfriend?"

"Yes, okay. That was a big part of the reason, but also because everyone else was having fun while I was just pretending. Ron and Luna were off being goofy together, Harry and Hermione were sickeningly involved with each other, Fred and George always had fun wherever they were, and there I was, with a perfectly nice guy and wishing my life was completely different. But I kept the smile on my face until Cho freaked out and attacked Harry. They all ran off to take care of it and I was left alone with Gem and suddenly I just wanted to be anywhere but in the Great Hall. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. So he and I left, we went to the room of requirement and I was feeling so lonely…" she trailed off, certain the healer could pick up the narrative.

"And sometimes, when we feel out of control and lonely, we make decisions we normally wouldn’t." Laurel finished with a kind smile. "Did you ever see him again in a romantic fashion?"

"He tried to talk to me a few times but I really wanted nothing to do with him. It wasn’t anything he did, he just wasn’t what I wanted, and being with him made me feel so empty and cold inside." It felt so good to finally talk about it. Her chest felt lighter as some of the tension released. She’d always felt guilty about what she’d done with Gem, and until the partial admission to Draco she hadn’t told anyone anything about it.

"So what is it about Harry that so caught your fancy? Why is he someone who has impacted your life in such a profound way?"

Ginny thought about it for a long time, debating whether or not to answer. Draco had asked her to admit that talking to Laurel was helping. Okay, maybe she couldn’t tell him, but she had to start being honest with herself. "I grew up hearing Harry’s name. We all did. He was some mythical figure, the child who brought down Voldemort. The first time I saw him he was trying to figure out how to get onto the train platform, but we didn’t know who he was right away. And later when Ron told us all he’d actually befriended Harry Potter, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Then one day when I was eleven, there he was, standing in my house. What’s more, he was going to stay with us until school started. That whole time I could barely stand to be in the same room with him, he seemed larger than life. But then I had the diary, the bad one. Harry saved me that year, saved my life. He had literally become my hero, you know?"

"I may not know from experience, but I understand. It’s very easy to form a strong attachment to someone who has rescued you." Laurel explained. "And to be so young, it wasn’t wrong of you, it was more or less expected. What went wrong is that your attachment formed a sort of obsession. From what I saw, you were finding other parts of your life lacking, with your brothers moving out and growing apart from you and the horrible danger you all seem to always find yourselves in. The one constant you could count on was Harry, and that gave you a reason to focus on him."

Ginny was silent for a moment. "You know, Ron wants to believe Harry led me on the whole time, that using me last year was the final breaking point. Maybe it was, but I know he wasn’t inappropriate. All year he’d made it clear it was Hermione he was after, I was seeing things I wanted to see. I feel like I let myself be fooled, more than that he used me." It was a strange thing to admit, something she’d barely let herself believe. But she knew it was how she felt and if she couldn’t tell anyone else, she may as well tell Laurel.

"When we feel foolish, we do many things to try and hide it." She offered. "Sometimes, we even act out in other ways to hide just how bad we feel. But you seem to have a firm grasp on it all now. So may I ask, is that because you’ve actually found something worthwhile in a relationship with Draco?"

"We aren’t in a relationship." She answered quickly.

"Okay, then how would you describe him, if not as your boyfriend?"

"Well, he’s….it’s more like….we’re just friends who are there for each other."

"Really. You feel nothing deeper than friendship?"

"Look, there’s a lot of past between us, not to mention the fact that my brothers aren’t too happy that we’re spending time together."

"Both of those sound like they are problems arising from the life Draco used to lead. Forget your brothers disapproval for a moment, do you believe he’s changed for the better? Do you trust him?"

"Sometimes." Ginny answered honestly. "And I know there are times he doesn’t trust me fully either, because of what I’ve done. We’re both kind of messed up, I think that’s why I wanted to get him on my side so badly. And then, it was just so easy to be around him, and he started displaying all of these sides to him that I didn’t know he had. I figured I’d already missed out on trying to be with one guy who actually wanted to be with me, so why miss out again."

Laurel appeared to think on her response. "Two questions I get from that. One, are you referring to Neville when you talk about missed opportunities?"

"Yes. I knew he’d developed a crush on me, but I was hoping Harry would give up on Hermione. And then Neville died and we found these notes he’d written…"

"Okay. We don’t have to talk about him right now if it will make you sad. The more important question raised is, do you even like Draco? The way you speak of him is so blasé, but when you were describing Harry, you used words like ‘mythical’, ‘larger than life’, and ‘hero’.

"I do. I like him very much. I think the problem is, I like who he is now. But it’s hard to separate him from who he used to be. Only I’m starting to think he was this person the whole time, and was only pretending to be as cold and heartless as he’d been. But then if he was so good at pretending that, then how do I know he isn’t pretending now?"

"So maybe you trust him less than you thought?"

"Maybe. But I don’t trust myself either. And Draco may not be everything Harry is, but in his own way, he’s more. Harry was always supposed to be the hero. Draco is working very hard to be one, going against everything and everyone he’s ever known."

"It sounds like you look up to him." Laurel smiled.

"Well, maybe. He’s trying so hard to turn his life around, and he’s had to go through so much to do it, but he’s still determined. I want to be with him, I feel better in his company, not so alone. And I mean even in the little moments, where we’re both just lying there reading together."

"But you aren’t in a relationship?"

"I don’t know. We haven’t really talked about it." Ginny answered softly.

"Does it scare you to bring it up?"

"I worry about what it could mean. Right now, if it isn’t serious, then it isn’t anything for my family to worry about. But Ron already went to confront Draco, and they wound up getting into a fight which Draco provoked. I don’t want to be the reason everyone is at each other’s throats. Not anymore."

"What do you want Ginny?" Laurel held up a hand to stop her response. "No, I don’t want you to tell me now. I want you to think about it and when I come back I want a real, truthful answer. What do you want right now, and what do you ultimately want out of life?"

"So we are going to meet again?"

"You don’t have to make it sound like an execution!" she laughed. "I think I’d like to talk once more before you head off to school next week. After that, I’ll give you my contact information and you can talk to me anytime you want, about anything. Does that sound fair?"

"Fair is when you get a choice. I don’t really have one, do I?"

"You are a very observant young woman. I’ll see you in a few days."

After seeing the healer out, she tried to find Draco. He wasn’t in his room, and the door was firmly closed so she couldn’t get in to wait. "Ginny!" she turned to see Ron and Fred coming up the stairs followed by Luna.

"What’s going on?" she asked.

"Meeting in Hermione’s room. She wants us all up there."

"Me too?" she was surprised.

"I asked and she said yes." Ron answered.

"Okay. I guess I have nothing better to do than find out what you were all up to this weekend." She started towards the stairs.

"How do you know that’s what it’s about?" Fred asked as they followed her.

"What else could she have to talk about?" Ginny answered simply.

(BREAK)

Harry went into Hermione’s room and was surprised to find everyone already gathered. "What’s going on?" he asked as he and Draco entered.

"I was just telling them about what you asked me to do this morning." Hermione answered softly.

"Oh right, thanks. Look, I think Luna and I should tell you guys exactly what happened." He nodded to Luna who came to stand with him in front of the group while Draco took a seat next to Ginny. "Okay, let us get this out as best we can, we promise no secrets if you all promise no questions until the end."

They all nodded their agreement and he let Luna start. "Some of you know parts but to start at the beginning, when I was eleven my brother died during an investigation. He was an Auror and had gone to the Malfoy mansion to find out about Julian Heath, a ministry worker who’d gone missing. From Draco’s recollection of that day and from reports I found in the ministry, I know Lucius murdered Kane. It was six years ago, I had just gotten my letter to Hogwarts. But I put off school for a year to stay home and help my family as they grieved. So yes, I’m actually seventeen and a year behind at school."

Harry watched as Ron shook his head, bewildered by the things he hadn’t known.

"Anyway," she continued, "in the reports about his death, I learned there were two unnamed people involved, a witness who had tipped off my brother, and an expert who had ruled the death as accidental. The only name I did have was Willem Fritz, the lead Auror on the investigation. Realizing he was probably related to Edmund, I went to Mr. Weasley and he told me that Edmund had Willem locked up on suspicion of taking bribes. More importantly, Willem proclaimed his innocence, claiming a truth suppression potion was keeping him from being able to name the mysterious witness who ruled so many suspected murders as accidental deaths. I knew I had to talk to him."

Harry took up the narrative. "She came to me with everything she’d learned and a plan to get to Willem. We asked Fred and Hermione to make up every counterpotion to every truth suppression we knew of and then maneuvered our way from Mrs. Lovegood’s house to Azkaban. We snuck in and thanks to Fred’s distraction, spent enough time with Willem to learn quite a few things. The witness turned out to be the Malfoy gardener, a squib who’s identity was kept anonymous for his protection."

"And the expert was a personal friend of Fudge’s named Jayalina Delamora. Apparently she’s post cognative and can see into the past, but whether she can and lies or lies about the ability altogether he wasn’t sure. But he said she also had some connection to his brother, because once he started looking into her is when Edmund turned on him."

This is where the story became difficult. But better they know the truth than speculate. "By that time we had to get out, so Fred led us through the prison to a secret tunnel. It just so happened the entrance was directly across from Cho’s cell. We thought most of them were sleeping, so our guard was down I guess. Anyway, Cho got a hold of Luna and was trying to strangle her. Damn near succeeded too, I was fighting her trying to make her let go when all of the sudden she did. All by herself. Of course I threw her back, I was upset so I know it was with enough force to knock her out. But…"

"But as we were leaving she was there at the bars again, staring at us strangely." Luna picked it up when he faltered. "She said something and we both turned and then faster than is even possible, she threw this small dagger-like piece of wood at him. He fell back into the tunnel and I closed it. I tried to help as best I could and got us out onto the island but was too worn out to bring him back so I called Fred for help. We took him to Drake who gave him a potion. Turns out Drake was friends with Willem and in return for helping Harry and keeping it quiet, we agreed to let him in on the investigation we were doing."

"The only thing is…the wood that stabbed me, it had some kind of poison infused in it…" Harry tried but couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. Luna looked just as helpless, paralyzed by her guilt.

"It’s called Psychohemia." Hermione cut in and continued in a detached clinical manner. "The poison invades the blood working it’s way to the heart, but Drake was able to stop it. However, the secondary effect is harmful only to those with wandless powers. It destroys the link made by the mind to tap into the psychic ability and there is no counterpotion for that. In Harry’s case, it ruined the telekinesis, but not the telepathy."

"Don’t forget the best part." Fred interrupted. "Snape created the stupid potion in the first place!"

"And he also helped create the cure." Hermione quickly added.

"Not a good enough one." Ron grumbled.

Harry cleared his throat. "Hermione and Fred decided to send a letter to Gabriella, to see if she thinks she can help, and I asked Hermione to tell you all that until we hear from her, I’d really rather not talk about the whole powers thing. Okay?"

"So…what about all the other stuff? What should we do about that?" Ginny asked.

"First things first. We need to talk to the witness who started this whole thing. But first, Draco has asked that we talk to Arthur about arranging protection for the gardener and his family." He answered. She looked pleasantly surprised.

"I swear I know the name Delamora." Fred was thoughtful. "Maybe George can remember. Can I borrow the ring real quick?"

"Luna still has it." Harry said. He hadn’t remembered until he’d stepped in the room and felt the energy. She actually had it with her at that moment.

"You can use it while I talk to Harry about something, but then I need it when you’re done to talk to a few people myself about something I saw."

"I thought you guys promised no secrets?" Ron said suspiciously.

"And there won’t be. But I need to discuss it with him first. Besides, it has nothing to do with any of this." Luna answered shortly. But underneath he felt her uneasiness. Something she’d seen had upset her. "Actually, on second thought Ron, you and Hermione might be able to help too. Come on." She pulled the ring from her pocket and handed it to Fred before leading the way to Harry’s room through the bookcase.

He looked at his two best friends before they all followed her. "What’s wrong Luna?"

"Something bad is coming. Someone made a decision that set wheels in motion. And we’re going to be fighting again very soon." She answered.

"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked impatiently.

"Harry, do you remember the warning I got on the way to my grandmothers?"

"About Hedwig, that house and Sarah?" He remembered and was suddenly very worried.

"Hedwig?" Ron asked suddenly. "What’s she got to do with it?"

"Why?" he asked, his feeling of dread growing.

"Well when Fred and I went to send the letter to Gabriella we wanted to use Hedwig, because we could trust she’d get there and back. But we couldn’t find her anywhere. Hagrid said he hadn’t seen her in a few days."

Harry instantly looked to the corner of the room made up for his pets. Robin was looking at him expectantly from the cage, but there was no sign his owl had been there recently. "What did you see, Luna?"

"I’d rather show you guys. Maybe you’ll recognize something or someone. It’s all familiar, but nothing and no one I’ve ever met before." She closed her eyes and within a moment he was flooded with images from her vision. He instantly recognized the boy writing at the desk, and the house situated so normally among all the other normal houses. He knew the entire family that Sarah was terrorizing. Luna stopped the show just as he’d entered to fight Sarah. He stared at Ron and Hermione with tortured confusion, knowing they’d recognize the people and the house. Their eyes shared his agony.

"So who are they?" Luna asked.

"What you saw was Sarah attacking Number 4, Privet Drive, the house I grew up in. And the people, they were the Dursleys." he answered grimly.

(BREAK)

"That’s quite a story." George said, after Fred relayed everything he knew.

"So where do we know the name Delamora from?"

"Have you forgotten already?"

"Apparently I have." Fred answered.

"Remember that pretty little girl who used to be at school? The one that made us all drool into our preteen laps when she walked by?"

"Elanya!" Fred cried in sudden remembrance. "Oh, I remember now. She was a grade ahead of us, but left after her third year."

"That’s the one. Word was she left because her mother died and having no other family here, she went to live in Europe somewhere with her grandparents. I can’t believe you don’t remember her, we all sat around sad for days after hearing she wasn’t coming back. We all thought we actually had a chance with her." George shook his head and smiled.

"Do you think she’s related to this Jayalina person?"

"Maybe. It seems a common enough name though. Hey if you go looking for Elanya, good luck!"

"I didn’t have a chance when I was twelve, I don’t have one now. Besides, who knows what side of the war she falls on. Better to not get your hopes up."

"Wow, very mature. So things with you and your Patil twin going well then?" George teased.

"You know very well Padma and I had our fun but after you were gone she wasn’t exactly the comfort I was looking for anymore." Fred answered carefully.

"And who’s comfort are you seeking?" His brother asked slyly.

"My own. Are you done?"

"Touchy, touchy. Well, that’s all I can tell you about Elanya. That and I had some great dreams about her." George laughed as he faded out.

"You’re so helpful." Fred muttered, removing the ring.

(BREAK)

Molly had called lunch, interrupting all the occupants of the house from whatever business they were engaged in. Ron now sat at the table, the wheels in his head turning overtime. In the past two days, he’d received quite a bit of information, and he still wasn’t sure how to process most of it, let alone how to feel about it.

"You’re all very quiet." His mother noted. Besides herself the teens were the only ones at the table, Lupin and Hagrid having gone to eat lunch with their respective sweethearts.

"You haven’t seen Hedwig lately, have you? I mean I know she was here before I left for the weekend, but now no one can find her." Harry said, his voice heavy with concern.

"Why, no, I can’t say that I have seen her recently. Crookshanks I find all over the furniture. But I’m sure she’ll turn up dear." She answered. "Maybe this will be her now." They all heard the flapping of wings as Orion appeared. Harry looked disappointed, but Ron had to hold in his excitement. The owl stopped in front of him and held out his leg for him to take the letter attached.

"May I be excused?" he asked and grabbing the letter, ran upstairs before anyone could answer. Once safely in his room, he locked his broom cabinet and put his desk chair under the doorknob. Then he settled on the bed and tore open the letter. It was written in another language, probably Greek. So he waved his wand and watched as the words resettled themselves, forming an English translation.

To Mr. Ron Weasley,
I have read your letter several times before sitting down to write my own. It unnerves me to have anyone else know of the powers I possess, it is a secret I carry very close as have my ancestors before me. You were right that there will be others like your friend who know nothing of their heritage, but I assure you I know where I come from and that Alexandra Nikas’s blood is a part of my line.
The only reason I return your letter at all is because I do know the name Harry Potter. Your friend, in addition to being a member of this coven you are all trying to put together, is famous among most magical communities all over the world. In the past and now in the present, news of this Lord Voldemort has spread quickly as his followers invade our lands looking for allies. Unfortunately there are many who think like they do. I find the things they do a great injustice and will only say here that I have personally been affected by their terror. For these reasons, I will hear out your friends Harry and Luna, the other two descendants. But I promise nothing, Mr. Weasley.
In closing I will add that my situation here in Paris is not the greatest and would ask that you not contact me again. I will be in touch with you as soon as I am able.
Sincerely,
Jacinda Nicolau

Ron felt relief. Ever since deciding to try and begin contacting coven members, he’d been worried that he’d overstepped and ruined their chances. But now he’d received a response and what’s more, she was willing to listen. He’d started with her because she was the first one they’d discovered, and she was also descended from Mykele. Hopefully she’d know something about the ring that could help Harry and Fred from getting those headaches when they used it.

Now, Gabriella had been contacted for him and he debated whether to try again with Zachary or Hasani. Maybe that would be pushing his luck. He’d at least gotten them started and he couldn’t wait to share the news, to show them all he was useful too. Of course it would have to wait until they figured out what was going on with Harry’s horrible relatives. Ron was of the mind to let them suffer, so he could only imagine how his friend was feeling. They all knew he wouldn’t let them come to harm, but the temptation must be high.

They were only waiting for his father to come home, Hermione having been adamant that they involve the adults in this. After all, as she pointed out, Luna’s vision had showed them all there, not just Harry. And besides, the vision had also shown the fight going down at night. Ron just hoped Luna wasn’t holding out on them like she usually did. When they all finally had a chance to sit and breathe, he definitely had a few things to say to her about her secrecy.

(BREAK)

"So, what’s so exciting?" Harry asked following Hermione to her room.

"I wouldn’t say exciting, more like informational." She replied picking up a large book. "I know you said you didn’t want to talk about your powers, but I found a bit of an explanation for why things happened the way they did."

He sighed and sat on the bed. Of course he was eager for information, but he was also tired. Just so very tired of it all. "Okay, I’m all ears."

"This is a book on the history of telepathy. According to this, it was the first power created by the coven, and was the only one they all shared. It is inherent to them and their lines beyond the normal connections the brain makes to the psychic force one is capable of. It means that no matter what, you will all still retain that power because it’s part of the way your brains function, not just an untapped awareness like the other powers."

"So that’s why the poison didn’t affect that part of me. And also why Luna and I can both read minds. So the others will have the power too?"

"According to this, yes. The link the coven formed between their minds created a special energy source in their brains and they have passed it on to all of you."

"So, do you think Gabriella can help me?" he asked desperately. She said she’d read everything she’d found on their powers, he was eager for her opinion.

"I don’t want to get your hopes up, Harry. But-" she picked up another book, "that being said, I think it’s possible. It appears that the way the poison was engineered to work was to destroy the synapse the brain had created to tap into the power. If she is capable of repairing the damage, well, from what I’ve read about her supposed abilities, it could work."

It could work. It would work. It had to, he felt very exposed without his power. And now he was supposed to go help save his family from Sarah whom, previously weaker than him, now held the advantage. So she didn’t have a wand or the skills to wield one, at least not that they knew of. It didn’t matter, she still had the advantage. She could whip things around at lightning speed- Wait. "It’s not possible is it?" Harry asked absently.

"What? I just told you it was." She looked at him in confusion.

"No not the healing, I’m thinking of Azkaban. When Cho threw that piece of wood it was so fast we barely saw it. I know she doesn’t have the ability to do that, but Sarah does."

"But Sarah is telekinetic, not an influential telepath. She can’t invade and take over people’s minds, if that’s what you’re thinking."

"Influential telepath?"

"Like Isamu Shao and that line." Hermione responded.

"Then there’s some other way. She had to be involved, there’s no other explanation. We have to find out who’s been visiting her lately."

"Then you’ll have to figure out a way to ask Arthur without raising suspicions." She countered.

Before he could answer there was a soft tapping at his window. Turning, he was excited to see Hedwig waiting to be let in. But when he saw the letter clutched in her beak, a sense of dread rippled through his body. Luna, Hedwig is here with the letter. He let her know her vision was rolling. He quickly moved to open the window, and the soft white owl landed lightly on his shoulder, dropping the envelope into his hand. He instantly recognized Dudley’s uneven and sloppy writing.

He had been expecting the knock on the door and Hermione went to let Luna in as he sat down and opened the letter. They both sat on the edge of the bed and waited for him to begin reading outloud.

To Harry, wherever you are:
It’s me, your cousin Dudley. Look, your stupid owl has been flying around the house for a long time now and it’s making dad plenty mad. At first we ignored it and it flew away, but it’s been here all weekend now and keeps tapping at my window. I opened up to throw something at it, but the stupid thing flew in and started knocking over pens and paper so I guess it wanted me to write you a letter. Now that I’m doing it, the thing seems calmer anyhow. Well, maybe it wants me to tell you about those people who’ve been lurking around the house lately. I see them a lot, but mum and dad think I’m making up stories. They stand down the street but by the time I get anyone’s attention, they disappear. If they’re friends of yours will you tell them you don’t live here anymore already? It’s getting pretty annoying. Anyway, make sure you don’t come around here, not that I’m against you or anything, so don’t curse me, but dad is mad at the thought of you and I’d rather you not curse him either.
Dudley Dursley

"Well at least one of them has enough smarts to be scared." Hermione said.

"Yeah, I just wouldn’t have imagined it would be Dudders who had the smarts. You know who those people he’s been seeing are?" he asked Luna.

"Not for sure, but I’m guessing they have something to do with Sarah. But how would they find the Dursleys? And wouldn’t they know you weren’t there?"

"They’re obviously trying to flush him out." Hermione answered crossly. "And using those horrible people to do it… I wish we could just let them suffer."

"An eye for an eye. I like the sound of it. But I can’t just leave them to their fate, no matter how willing they’d be to do it to me." Harry protested. "I’ll save their lives this once, and then, I never want to see them again. Not ever."

(BREAK)

They were all over Arthur the minute he got home. Harry thrust the letter in the man’s face and shoved Luna forward to share her vision. He listened to their story with a grim face. "Okay then. Let’s get moving." He said when they were done.

He sent Tonks to gather the Aurors with instructions that arrests must be made and to try and keep the damage minimized. Then, with the sun just about completely set, every occupant of Number 12 Grimmauld place gathered in the living room so Arthur could give them last minute instructions. Luna sat apart from the others, feeling more anxious than any of them. After all she knew more than they did, she’d seen Harry’s fate. At least his fate unless someone stepped in. And to make it worse, none of the adults knew that Harry had lost his power or nearly died two days before. How could she have not figured out how she knew that house and those people in her visions? How many times had she seen them in Harry’s head? Of course, the images had always been distorted in his mind, twisted the way he pictured it all.

She thought hard about what to do. If only there were a way for Harry to gain the advantage back…. maybe with the ring? No, it would be far too dangerous to bring it there, even if it supposedly gave the wearer wandless powers. Besides, which one or ones had never been specified beyond telepathy. And if what Hermione had read was true, then that made sense, since Mykele had been a coven descendant and thus possessed the inherent power himself. But did that mean the psychic ability held within the ring was his own?

(BREAK)

Ginny watched Luna slink out of the room and up the stairs and wondered what the girl was up to now. But she couldn’t worry about that. She had her own battle to fight. After giving them all very strict orders to go nowhere alone and to try and not start fighting until the Aurors got there, Arthur had turned to her and declared she would not be coming with them. His argument had been that he couldn’t get approval for a minor side-along transportation just to take his own daughter somewhere that danger is expected. Of course, she didn’t want to make trouble for her father, but she also didn’t want to be left behind. Draco still wasn’t completely healed and she didn’t trust the others to watch his back as well as they did their own and each other’s.

Looking around, she tried to decide who would be the most likely to disobey orders and give her what she wanted. Instantly, she zeroed in on Fred. "Hey." She sidled up to him.

"What do you want?" he asked suspiciously.

"Dad doesn’t want me to come. Says he can’t ask for authorization to apparate me there."

"And?" he pressed.

"Will you please take me?" She pleaded.

"And how is that supposed to keep dad out of trouble?" He grinned at her.

"Come on, Fred."

"No I mean it. We’re going through a lot to help keep dad in office you know."

"So you really expect me to sit here all by myself? Even Hagrid is going!" she protested, not caring how whiny she sounded.

Fred grinned wider and threw an arm over her shoulders. "Come on baby sister. You don’t think your big brothers would really forget about you like that, do you?"

"What do you mean?" it was her turn to be suspicious.

"Well, a while ago I found out dad had some port keys made in case we ever needed them. Most of the places I hadn’t heard of but there were a few I did recognize. Though until Harry told me, I hadn’t put the address together with his old house when I overheard dad talking about all the locations. He keeps them all in his room."

"How is that supposed to help then? The port key to Harry’s old house is locked away in mum and dad’s room!"

"Have a little more faith in me, would you? Ron and I had Harry open the door right before dad came home from work and Luna told us which one it was." He pulled a statue from his pocket. It was of a fat, ugly, mean-looking gargoyle and Ginny smiled at her father’s sense of humor. He would pick something like this to represent Harry’s uncle.

"Thanks, Fred."

"Thank Ron and the others too. We all want you back to normal, and if you want to be around us, I think it’s great. I’ve missed you Ginny." He pulled her into a tight hug.

"I’ve missed you too." She said quietly, feeling her chest grow tight with emotion.

"Okay, remember, wait until we all go before you use that thing." He instructed once they parted. "Wouldn’t want the parents catching on too quickly."

She looked up at him and asked, "Will you wait and go with me?"

"It would be an honor." He bowed gallantly, making her smile.

(BREAK)

"They aren’t here yet." Luna assured the group. They had all just gotten to Privet Drive, having apparated into the more deserted end of the street. When Fred and Ginny materialized a few moments later clutching the small statue, Harry smiled to himself. Arthur and Molly were of course a little more upset.

"Well, she’s here now." Fred argued with their silent glares.

"How long?" Arthur ignored his children and turned to Luna and Harry.

"Any time now." She answered quickly.

"Okay, let’s hide and wait them out." They scattered into various hiding places around Number 4. Taking Hermione’s hand, he led them to the shrubbery along the side of the house. Carefully, they peeked into the parlor and viewed the family inside sitting in front of the TV and having a snack. It was a scene Harry had witnessed and been excluded from many times in the past.

"They have no idea what’s about to happen." Hermione whispered as she glared in at the Dursleys.

"Who cares, as long as they survive it." He responded, turning his attention back to the street. The night was clear and still, no birds, no crickets. A sudden chill ran down his spine as he watched Arthur, Molly and Lupin walk from house to house, putting protection spells and enchantments around them. If everything went well, the other occupants of Privet Drive would never know what went on outside their doors.

The adults had just returned to check on and hide with the teens when the air began to crackle around them. Sarah appeared first, scanning the apparently deserted street. Within a few seconds, several hooded figures stood behind her and began heading toward the house. "That’s far enough, Miss Elaine." Arthur came out and approached the group with his wand out. "I am here to place you under arrest."

Harry and the others came out to stand with him, though their number was no where near as many as the enemy they were facing. "You are here to try." Sarah countered. Harry saw what she was about to do and cast instantly, shielding Arthur as she tried to throw him across the yard. Gritting his teeth, he held the spell as her mind pushed against it and Arthur wound up only being forced a few steps back.

And that was all it took before everyone was moving at once. Thankfully, it was only a few minutes that they had to hold their own. Tonks, Kingsley and an army of Aurors had arrived and joined in the fight. Harry kept his eye on Sarah as he fought his way toward her. He wanted to keep Luna’s vision from coming true, he wanted to stop the woman before she even had the chance to enter the house. As he dueled a pair of Death Eaters, he watched as she used her power to uproot the neighbor’s front gate and hurl it toward Fred and the Aurors standing with him. Fred! Heads up! His friend turned quickly and ducked, throwing himself at the adults and dragging them to the ground. Stop her! Harry screamed out as he brought down one of the foes standing in his way. Horrified he watched Sarah slide through the fights going on around her and kick in the front door of his childhood home. Fred made to go after her but was stopped as the Death Eaters closed ranks. Harry had a feeling he was the only one that would get by them, that this had been set up to bring him here for this showdown with Sarah. They were counting on the poison to have worked it’s secondary evil, if Harry overcame the first. They wanted Sarah to go against him, just in case. The only question was, had she been given the order to kill or capture? Finally dropping his second adversary, he put his theory to the test and ran at the house. Sure enough, he had no trouble getting by and didn’t bother to look back.

(BREAK)

Together Hermione and Ron brought down the three Death Eaters who had been coming at them, though it had taken awhile. Looking around, she began to feel anxious. She’d lost sight of Harry almost instantly, and she didn’t see him anywhere among the fighters now. "Do you see him?" she asked anxiously.

"No." Ron replied, his voice grim. "I don’t see Sarah either."

"Damn it!" She stomped her foot. "Why does he have to try and do everything by himself!"

"Well, come on, let’s go find him. They’re probably in the house, according to what Luna saw." Ron grabbed her hand and they ran toward the fray to begin fighting their way to the house. But the Death Eaters were protecting the entrance as if it were their own fortress and every time they took out one of them, another appeared to take his place.

Hermione already felt tired, wiped out. It had been a long weekend with very little sleep and this was not how she’d envisioned spending her Monday night. Fear spurred her on, and her need to find Harry. But they added to her fatigue as well. Refusing to give up, she kept at it, throwing out spells as fast as she could. She only hoped this ended soon.

(BREAK)

Luna had kept her eye on Harry the entire time, determined to keep him from going into the house. But it was harder than one would think to interfere with the future. As they were all hopelessly locked in their own battles, Harry had been left free to walk right past the enemy and follow Sarah. It was obviously what they had wanted, because now they were doing everything in their power to keep anyone else from going in after them.

What could she do? She knew what was going to happen in that house and it wasn’t anything good. Quickly she made a decision and thrusting her hand in her pocket, she pulled out the ring. Clutching it tightly in her hand, she took a deep breath and ran through the fray, making her way towards the back of the house, hoping none of them had blocked off the back door.

(BREAK)

As he and Ginny fought side by side, Draco studied the masks around them. Was one of them his father? How many of them were the parents of his former friends? How many of them were people he’d known his entire life but would only be too happy to kill him now? Trying not to dwell on those thoughts, he focused in on keeping Ginny and himself safe.

Finally bringing down the last hooded figure they’d been dueling, he saw Lovegood head around to the back of the house, and the three Death Eaters who were stealthily following her. "Come on!" he shouted to Ginny running to intercept the enemy before they could take Luna by surprise.

They cast as they ran drawing the attention of Luna’s would-be pursuers. Two of the figures stopped, but the third kept after the prey. "I’ll get him!" Ginny yelled as Draco was forced to duel.

"Ginny! Stop!" he shouted after her. But she quickly disappeared around the back of the house. Waves of panic ran though him and he battled desperately with the two people blocking him from chasing after her. He brought them down quickly and desperately went around the corner scared of what he would find.

Ginny was dueling the man who’d followed her, both looking agitated with the difficulty they were having with dispatching the adversary. He stunned the man in the back, letting her bind him in place. "Luna made it into the house." She said. "Should we go after her?"

"I think we’d better try and keep them from going after her." He raised his wand as five Death Eaters rounded the corner. Ginny stood tall beside him. They had breached the house, and were now ready to protect their position.

(BREAK)

Harry crept down the short hallway, listening as Sarah destroyed the house and his aunt begged her to stop. Peeking around the corner, he saw the family huddled together next to the fireplace. Catching Dudley’s attention, he sent his mind out. Stay calm Dudley. It’ll be okay, we came to help. He watched his cousin’s eyes grow in terror as his thoughts invaded the boy’s mind. He could only nod, not even attempting to answer back.

"You think I don’t know your type!" Sarah was screaming at his uncle. "Not even Potter deserved you! And I didn’t deserve the people like you!"

Harry drew back trying to decide his best course of action. Sarah obviously had a few screws loose and that made her all the more dangerous. Although if what she implied was true, then the screws might have been knocked loose for her. It didn’t matter to him at the moment though. After all, he hadn’t gone crazy after being raised by Vernon and Petunia.

"Sarah." He called for her attention, stepping into the doorway.

"Harry." She turned and faced him….and he nearly dropped his wand in shock. Her eyes, her hard, hazel eyes. He’d seen them before, in someone else’s face.

"It was you!" He couldn’t believe it even as he said it. Even though he’d already thought it somehow possible.

"It most certainly was." Her smile was sinister. And then before he knew it, the couch came flying at him. With seconds to spare he cast and threw it back at her. With a flick of her eyes, she sent it crashing through the wall into the kitchen.

"How did you do it?" he asked, making his way across the room. She followed, moving away from his family.

"That’s for me to know and you to discover." She laughed wildly. Taking the opportunity, he pointed his wand and sent her hurtling back against the wall. She recovered quickly and ducked away from the binding he’d thrown, at the same time sending the many picture frames displaying Dudley’s image shrieking in his direction. He ducked as best he could, but one exploded against his shoulder, spraying glass into his face. He twisted away but felt a sting as a large shard caught his cheek. Instincts firing on all cylinders, he ignored the pain and rolled to the side as the television crashed against the wall he’d been leaning on. He screamed out his spell, sending her once more hurtling across the room. This time she must have felt the landing as she was struggling to get back to her feet. Again he took his chance and flung her across the room another time, his wand directing it’s target. She crawled quickly into the kitchen through the newly made hole from the couch. Harry rose to follow her until he heard the sound of a drawer opening and the rifling of cutlery.

"Come on! We have to get you guys out of here." He yelled at the Dursleys. But they were staring past him at the doorway. He turned quickly and saw Sarah, standing very still, her arms behind her back. He’d seen that stance before, only this time, she made no attempt to hide her weapon. Or weapons, as the case appeared. Hovering in midair around her were several very large, very sharp kitchen knives.

He raised his wand, trying to hide the nervousness he felt. They stood staring at each other, neither daring to move. "This isn’t about them." He said finally, moving so that his family was no longer behind him. She followed him into the room never removing her eyes from his. The knives followed her.

"Maybe part of it is. Tell me that deep down you don’t want them to suffer some retribution, Harry."

"Not like this." He answered slowly, waiting for any sign that she was going to make a move. He didn’t know what would happen if he tried to cast, and wished desperately that he had his power back. But she’d been the one to take it from him.

"Who are they in the great scheme of things anyway? Nobodies. They mean nothing to no one, not even you."

"If that were true, I wouldn’t be here." His argument felt hollow.

"Let’s not kid each other, Harry. We are cut of the same cloth, or at least we used to be." She laughed again as her jibe reminded him of the power he’d lost, but the knives never wavered. "We both know it was your sense of duty that brought you here, not affection."

"Why does it matter? Either way I won’t let you hurt them." He said angrily. He was letting her get into his head, but he refused to allow her any further. Instead he used the one power he did have and pushed his way into her mind.

Just stop. He thought to her. End it now.

Make me. She challenged him, but he felt her sudden fear as he invaded her thoughts. Pushing deeper, he began looking through her memories, pulling out the most painful ones for her to view.

"Stop! Get out!" she screamed losing control. Harry hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly and scrambled to get out of the way as she hurled knife after knife at him. One nicked his arm, causing him to stumble. His wand flew from his hand and as he reached out to try and catch it, the last knife sliced straight through his palm up to the handle. The force continued forward until the tip buried itself into the wall behind him, pinning his hand and forcing him to stay put. He grit his teeth against the pain and tried to pull on the handle. It was wedged in tight. "Got you now." Sarah took a step toward him, raising her arms to reveal the two knives she still had clutched in her fists.

Help. He called out weakly to anyone who might hear, unable to focus on someone specific. He had nothing to do but stare helplessly at his wand where it had stopped rolling halfway across the room, and so far out of his reach. He tried to make it move, to have it fly into his free and undamaged hand. It was utterly useless.

Looking up into Sarah’s eyes, he saw the delight she was taking in all of this. She raised one of the knives high above her before letting it go and allowing it to float in the air. He waited for the impact, wondering where she would strike. Would she go for the kill or draw it out. The sting came a second later and he screamed in agony. He looked down to see the handle buried in his leg. Blood bubbled up around the wound as more dripped down the wall from his now numb hand. Apparently it was to be the long drawn out way. He watched as she repeated the performance, the knife dancing in the air in front of him. Closing his eyes, he waited for the pain and instead felt sudden and extreme heat.

Wrenching his eyes open, he saw Sarah jump back from the sudden fireball that had exploded in front of her. The knife clattered harmlessly to the floor. Turning to the doorway, he saw Luna brandishing her wand in one hand and the other thrust out bearing the ring. He watched in amazement as another spout of flame burst from his friend. Sarah leapt back again, screaming as she rolled out of the way.

"Luna look out!" he screamed as the coffee table went flying at her. Luna dived back into the hallway as the piece of furniture exploded against the doorframe, cracking the wall. She was back in an instant, flinging spells and fire faster than Sarah could dodge them. The woman screamed in terror as her sleeve caught fire and she desperately tried to pat it out. Harry pulled frantically at the knife pinning his hand to the wall, trying to free himself. His adrenaline was pumping and with a burst of strength, he ripped it out, letting out his own howl of pain. "Harry!" Luna called out to him.

"Watch her, not me!" he screamed back, dragging himself toward his wand.

(BREAK)

Luna had tried to run directly in the house, but just as she reached the back door, someone had grabbed her around the waist and thrown her back into the yard where she landed hard on her back, knocking the wind out of her. The Death Eater approached as she struggled to breathe and she weakly raised her wand. "No!" Someone yelled drawing the man’s attention.

Rolling onto her elbows, she had looked up to find out who had saved her and was surprised to see Ginny now dueling with the man who’d followed her. Forcing herself to her feet, she made to help her friend but she shook her head. "I’ve got this. Go help him get Sarah!" she yelled, blocking the man’s attack and continuing to draw his fire. "It’s fine! Draco’s right behind me! Go!" Ginny screamed.

Help. Luna heard Harry’s weakened cry and she didn’t wait any longer. She entered the house and was startled by Harry screaming in pain. Slipping the ring on her finger, she shifted into plan B. She’d initially intended to give the ring over to him, but from what she was hearing certain things had already come to pass. Peering into the parlor, she took in the Dursley’s still huddled together and staring in horror at the scene before them. Leaning a little farther, she was able to make out Harry and Sarah, positioned exactly as she’d seen them in her vision. Her stomach tightened and she felt sick at the amount of blood around her friend.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward and cleared her mind of all but her desire, letting the ring work through her. An explosion of fire erupted, forcing her to stumble. Seeing Sarah was still on her feet, she tried again. Then Harry shouted out a warning and she instinctively dove backwards into the relative safety of the hall, covering her head as splinters of wood showered her. Scrambling to her feet, she didn’t allow herself time to think, instead rushing back into the room and throwing as much at Sarah as she could. She felt satisfaction when the woman’s clothing caught fire and she desperately tried to put herself out. Harry’s agonized scream startled her and she turned to make sure he was okay.

"Watch her, not me!" he yelled and she turned to see a chair flying straight at her. She dodged it, falling to the ground where she smashed her elbow. She sat up cradling her injured arm and found Sarah smiling wickedly at her. "Luna!" Harry screamed and she turned her head quickly, the knife missing her face by inches as it dug into the wall. The ring! Get the ring! She heard him now screaming in her head. Her arm had gone numb when she’d landed on it and she hadn’t realized the large ring had slid off her finger. She saw it a few feet away between her and Sarah. They stared at each other.

"Dudley! NOOO!" The large man lunged towards his son as the boy rose rather swiftly for his size and grabbed up the lamp laying at his feet. He shattered it over Sarah’s head and the woman went down, but wasn’t out. She turned on the muggles, and Luna watched in horror as Harry’s cousin flew across the room and landed in a heavy heap.

"My son!" The woman cried.

"I’m sure he had enough padding to prevent much injury." Sarah said cruelly as she rose to her feet.

Gathering everything she had, Luna lunged for the ring. And then her vision went black as her face exploded in pain and she flew backwards. Raising her hand, she gingerly touched her nose and knew it was broken. Sarah had kicked her in the face, and as Luna struggled to open her eyes and watch the scene before her, the woman bent down and picked up the ring.

 


A/N: What a place to leave things, but I must. Next chapter we find out what happens at the Dursley’s, Edmund makes a move through the newspaper, we learn what Bowen knows, Ron and Luna have a talk, news arrives about Snape, Cho Chang makes another appearance and we learn a lot from her about several characters. Still so much more to come, so stay tuned. And for those of you who don’t know, I’ve started a new story and the first chapter has been posted. It’s an alternate universe story, where the characters of Harry Potter step into the world of Sherlock Holmes. If you’re a Holmes fan like I am then check it out, and it you aren’t check it out anyway. The full summary will follow this note. Thanks for reading thus far and don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts!

 

NEW STORY:
Title: A Study in Slytherins
What happens when the characters of the HP world step into the shoes of the classic characters of Sherlock Holmes? A group of evil wizards calling themselves the Slytherins are stalking through London, drawing the attention of super sleuth Harry Potter. Along with his trusted friend, Dr. Ron Weasley, Harry sets out to solve a case that brings him directly into the path of the one person who had ever bested him, the intriguingly intelligent Hermione Granger. With news of her comes word of Harry’s arch nemesis, Professor Voldemort who may be behind the terror spread by the Slytherins. Can Harry find a way to bring them down and capture the one man who had the ability to equally match wits with the master detective? And what of the one woman who had managed to slip her crime through his fingers once before?


Chapter 23: Explorations of a Twisted Mind

A/N: This one won’t be as long as some of the more recent ones, it went differently than I’d imagined and I need to regroup. I know the last one ended in a tight spot so without further adieu, Read, Review, Enjoy!




Hermione dispatched another enemy and turned to see who needed help. As she scanned the lawn, she glimpsed five Death Eaters running around the side of the house. "Where are they going?" she asked aloud.

"Who?" Ron and Fred asked together. They’d been standing near her and had just taken down another three people.

"Come on!" She shouted not bothering to explain. During her brief look around, she’d realized that Luna, Draco and Ginny were no longer in the battle. They must have tried to go in through the back and probably needed help.

Sure enough as they rounded the corner, they saw Ginny and Draco fighting for their lives while trying to keep anyone from going through the door. "Hey!" Fred angrily yelled at the two Death Eaters attacking his sister. He went quickly to help her deal with them as she and Ron ran to help Draco fend off the other three.

"Where’s Luna?" she yelled over the fighting.

"She made it inside to help him!" Draco shouted back. "Now we’re trying to keep these bastards out!"

"Traitor!" One of the Death Eaters shrieked at young Malfoy. The masked figure cast quickly and Ginny’s scream pierced Hermione’s eardrum. But Ron had been quick and dove to tackle Draco to the ground and out of the way of the unforgivable. The second time he’d been saved from the killing curse. Hermione quickly threw a shield around them both.

Ginny and Fred had gained their senses quickly and turned on the attacker, stunning and binding him instantly. Hermione quickly cast and stopped the last Death Eater who’d been preparing to take her out.

"Thanks." Draco mumbled to Ron as they helped each other to their feet.

"Whatever." Ron replied walking back over to Hermione.

"You did a good thing." She whispered.

"We’ll see about that." He answered moodily, though he couldn’t hide a small grin of satisfaction. She knew he liked when he did something heroic and liked it even more when he received accolades for his actions.

"Are you okay?" she heard Draco ask Ginny.

"I’m fine, are you okay?" She responded throwing her arms around him despite her brothers looking on.

"Now what?" Fred demanded, deliberately looking away from the display of affection.

"Now we go help Harry and Luna." Hermione said. Just then they heard Luna scream in agony from within the house. Ron ran toward the door without hesitation, she and the others close on his heels. Hermione’s mind was in a panic, she knew Harry wouldn’t let anything happen to Luna, so if the girl was screaming like that, where was he? Ron reached the door just as it exploded, a firestorm blowing them all across the lawn. She felt herself thud to the ground before everything went dark.

(BREAK)

Harry crawled toward his wand, trailing blood as he went. But his mind blocked out all pain as his eyes were locked on the ugly scene before him. "Luna!" He yelled her name trying to ascertain if she was still conscious. She weakly raised her head, and he saw that her face was a bloody mess.

Sarah stood tall over the girl, the ring now firmly upon her own finger. "Cho was right. You just like to get in the way. I should have let her kill you." Harry moved as quietly as possible, trying desperately not to draw her attention. "I think Miss Lovegood, that I shall rectify the situation now." She let out a maniacal laugh.

His leg was a dead weight, and his strength was waning fast. But with one last surge of energy he stretched as far as he could past the last few inches separating him from his wand. He grasped it firmly and rolled to face Sarah.

She had raised her hand and was pointing the ring directly at Luna. SARAH!!! He screamed with everything he had. She winced, grabbing her head. Then she turned on him. But he never gave her the chance. He cast quickly flinging her back against the wall before binding her. "Expulso!" He cried quickly as the ceiling above her exploded, burying her in debris.

"Get Dudley and get out!" He ordered his Aunt, who had actually begun to reach out for him. He wanted none of her sympathy, not now and not ever. Vernon who had no trouble leaving his nephew in such a weakened state pulled his wife to her feet before hefting his son and scrambling into the hallway and out the front door. Harry hoped they weren’t walking into another ambush but felt he’d done his part and was willing to do no more for them. They were Arthur’s problem now.

He crawled over to Luna who was trying to sit herself up. "Lay still." He ordered before glancing in Sarah’s direction. He could see her foot sticking out of the rubble. Turning his attention back to his friend he noticed her arm was twisted at a weird angle and wondered just when it had been broken. "Ferula" He said quietly creating a splint so that it wouldn’t get any worse. Then, though he could barely stand to look, he examined her face.

I think my nose is broken. Her voice whispered through his head as she felt him touch her skin.

Okay, hold still. "Episkey." He pointed the wand at her, using the same spell he’d seen Tonks use once to fix Kingsley’s nose. She grimaced against the icy heat the spell produced as her features righted themselves. Then he tried to do the same for his hand. It worked to slow the flow of blood, but apparently the wound was too severe for such a simple spell.

"Let me see it." Luna said, using her shirt to wipe some of the blood from her face. She grabbed the blanket that had been on the couch and used her wand to cut it into pieces. He placed his hand in hers as she tightly wound one of the strips around the injury. Then moving quickly, she tied another around the gaping wound in his leg. Satisfied that they were both patched up as well as they could be, they helped each other to their feet and limped over to get the ring. They both flew back as the rubble exploded in a burst of flame.

"Aguamenti!" Luna screamed as she scrambled to her feet, protecting them both from the sudden wrath Sarah hailed upon them as she rose to her feet. But the steady stream of water her wand produced wasn’t holding up to the fire the other woman spewed from the ring.

"Aguamenti!" Harry cried after struggling to his feet. Push the spell outward with your mind! He instructed Luna wildly taking her good hand with his, using the bandaged one to brandish his wand. Together they focused their energy along the same wavelength and strengthened their spells, the stream of water now an unstoppable geyser shooting from their wands. Harry was glad his sudden instinct had proved correct. Unable to keep up with them, Sarah began whipping things around the room. He pulled Luna to the side as the TV stand crashed against the wall where they’d been standing. With the same thought in their head, they both turned and threw everything they had at her, sending her crashing against the wall with bone-crushing force. Harry watched in horror as it finally gave way and began to crumble, blocking off the hallway and their path to the door.

"Harry!" Luna shouted his name, tackling him out of the way as a large piece of ceiling that had still been on fire came crashing down. He landed hard on his injured leg, but forgot the pain as soon as she let out a bloodcurdling scream. Turning to her quickly he saw that part of the smoldering flames had jumped to her pant leg and begun crawling it’s way up. He quickly produced another jet of water and extinguished the danger before climbing unsteadily to his feet.

"You okay? Can you stand?" he asked bending down to help her get up. "Well we have two good legs between us." He said taking stock of the damage done to them. As another piece of ceiling crashed down in the corner, he realized that they needed to get out. Now.

Looking around quickly for the best exit, he shoved Luna toward the couch hole and they climbed through to the kitchen. They made a mad scramble for the back door but Harry felt the heat at his back and dragged Luna to the ground with him as a fireball exploded over their heads, destroying their way out.

Looking through the flames, he saw several bodies strew across the yard but in the darkness couldn’t make out who they were. Flipping quickly onto his back, he took in the sight of Sarah, bloody and broken as she tried to crawl into the kitchen after them. "Expulso!" he yelled again and watched with a horrified gleefulness as she was swallowed once more by the house. But as the floor began to shake beneath him, he realized they’d broken one wall too many.

"We have to get out!" he screamed to Luna over the sound of the house falling down around them. He tried to get to his feet but his body had finally given out on him and he had nothing left to draw on. He was too weak, had used too much, had lost too much. Luna was trying desperately to help him, throwing his arm over her shoulders and wrapping her good arm around his waist. But she had nothing much left either and couldn’t bear his weight.

"Just go." He told her weakly.

"I didn’t leave you two days ago, I won’t do it now." She promised. "It’ll work out, it has too. We changed it, it has to be different."

"What are you talking about?"

Before she could explain, they heard someone screaming his name. In the kitchen. Luna yelled for the person in her head, neither one of them having the strength to shout any longer. Within an instant, Lupin had burst through the flames licking around the doorframe. "Oh god. What happened to you two?" He knelt delicately beside them.

"Get the ring." Harry limply pointed in the direction Sarah was buried.

"Sarah has it. She’s under there." Luna explained further.

"ARTHUR! THEY’RE IN HERE!" Lupin yelled into the yard before quickly moving to the remains of the wall. He dug furiously until he was able to pull the woman’s body free. After feeling for a pulse, he slipped the ring from her finger and returned to the teens as Mr. Weasley made his way past the fire.

"This house is done for. Let’s get them out!" And without hesitation, Arthur leaned down and carefully grabbed Harry up in his arms, helping him hobble out. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Lupin simply scoop Luna up and carry her out behind them. The two men brought the teens a safe distance into the yard before setting them down and running back in. A second later, Harry watched them emerge once more, Sarah’s body between them. Looking around, he saw the other bodies lined up beside him.

"What happened!?" he yelled, forgetting his own torturous pain and crawling over to Hermione and Ron who were passed out a few feet away.

"They’re fine, Harry!" Arthur quickly came to his side and forced him to sit still. "They are all going to be okay, they got knocked out from the last blast I think, but they are all breathing and they’ll wake any time I’m sure." Harry watched as Arthur reached out and grabbed Ron’s hand, which like the rest of his body was covered in serious looking burns. "I know they’ll be okay. They have to be." Harry reached out and squeezed the man’s shoulder feeling his hopeful sorrow.

Looking Hermione over he saw that she hadn’t received anything as bad as Ron. Her forehead and cheeks were scorched and small burns covered her arms and legs. Fred, Ginny and Draco appeared with no more damage than reddened skin, as if they’d stood too long and too near a bonfire. He shook his head in grief, finally beginning to feel the intense stinging in his hand and leg as his adrenaline died down.

"Here, Harry." Lupin came over to hand him the ring.

"No!" Luna shouted suddenly. "Don’t give it to him now! He isn’t strong enough!" She began crying hysterically, the torment of the past few days finally catching up with her. In order to keep her calm, Harry shook his head at Lupin and his friend put the ring back in his own pocket. He reached out to Luna and put an arm around shaking shoulders, pulling her close in comfort.

"What’s going on now? Is it over?" He asked Arthur, as she clung to him.

"For now, Harry. It’s over for now." He answered gravely.

(BREAK)

Hermione woke in the hospital. Seeing Harry in the chair next to her bed, she smiled at him. "Well this is different." She joked. "Usually it’s me waiting for you to wake up."

"Believe me, it’s the way I would’ve rather had it." He reached out and squeezed her hand. "At least you’re the first one awake." He gestured to the other beds where Ron, Fred, Luna, Ginny and Draco were all still sleeping. The bed directly next to hers was empty.

"Are you supposed to be out of bed?" she demanded. She hadn’t seen him at the end, didn’t know the extent of his injuries or what he’d gone through. Instantly she looked him over, taking in the deep gash across his cheek and his heavily bandaged hand and leg.

"Probably not but I couldn’t lay there anymore listening to everyone else sleep." He said simply. "Besides, I feel fine."

"You don’t look fine."

"I could say the same to you." He said looking at her with concern. For the first time since waking she began to take stock of herself. There was no pain, she assumed she’d been given some sort of potion for that. Looking down she saw her arms and legs were wrapped in some sort of soft linen. Shifting her head, she was able to determine that the same soft linen was bandaged across her forehead and cheeks.

"What happened?" she asked quietly.

"From what Arthur and I pieced together, you guys were trying to come through the door at the same time Sarah was using the ring. You got knocked back by the blast and debris, but it looks like Ron got the worst of it." He worriedly glanced in Ron’s direction. Focusing in better on her friend, she saw that his entire head was wrapped in the white linen along with most of his body.

"Is he going to be okay?" her tears came suddenly.

"According to Drake, we’re all going to be okay. Arthur asked him to be in charge of everyone, they’re trying to keep our involvement as quiet as possible. You should have seen him when they brought us all in, I thought poor Arthur was going to lose it. And he was injured too you know. A lot of people were."

She studied him closer and saw the far away glassy look behind the fevered excitement in his eyes. His face was ragged and his entire body was hunched over in exhaustion. "Have you rested at all?" she demanded of him.

"I pretended I was asleep the last time Drake came to check on us. I’ve tried but I can’t turn my brain off to let the rest of me relax." He confessed.

"What happened in that house?"

"I’m still not quite sure."

(BREAK)

Luna lay awake listening to Harry quietly tell Hermione of the horror they’d faced in the house. He’d sensed she wasn’t sleeping she knew, but he was letting her pretend, giving her time to herself. There was so much to process that she too felt her brain just refused to shut itself down. She felt so alone and suddenly wanted her father, someone who loved and understood her to sit here, to hold and comfort her like when she was a little girl having a bad dream.

But she was a big girl now and this was no dream. She just successfully helped change the future, no matter how close it had brought her to her own demise. The thought that weighed so heavily on her was that the entire thing had been unnecessary. Had Harry been able to tap into his powers, there probably wouldn’t have been much of a fight at all. After all, armed with both wand and wandless power rival to hers, Sarah wouldn’t have stood a chance. Luna had seen the panic in the woman’s eyes when she’d first entered the room brandishing the power of Alexandra’s line. It was only the woman’s quickness and the injuries she had caused them that gave her a chance at all after that point. And her insanity, that definitely added to the woman’s strength, driving her far beyond the point where most others would have given up.

But again Luna had screwed up. In Azkaban, she’d let her guard down and been taken as a sort of hostage causing Harry to let his own guard down and bringing the injury that stole his power. This time, she’d let the enemy get a hold of the ring and it had almost killed them both. If it wasn’t for Harry’s fortitude and willfulness, well, she knew not many people would still be going after what Sarah had done to him. But he’d remained strong until it was over, keeping them both alive. Guilt ate away at her.

And then there was Ron. While pretending to sleep like Harry, she’d heard the adults who were uninjured discussing what had happened while checking in on the teens. Ron had heard her scream and ran to the door only to have that last blast from Sarah, explode in his face. She’d peeked over at him to find that he was delicately wrapped in white linen, looking like some sort of modern mummy as the herbs restored his skin and healed his burns. Her friends had come out of this with their lives, but at what cost? She felt as if someone had placed a huge weight on her chest and she found it difficult to breathe. But she remained calm, not wanting to draw Harry or Hermione’s attention. She felt like pretending to be asleep forever, to never have to open her eyes and face them all with their questions and accusations.

Her entire body ached; the pain potion must have begun to wear off. That meant Drake would be back soon. She knew the bones in her arm were mended by now, but the soreness that remained was almost unbearable. Her face was tender, though Drake had said Harry’s spell had properly repaired her nose. He’d given her ointment to take care of the bruising, but at this point she really didn’t care much what her face looked like. The stabbing pain in her head was worst of all, but she made no indication of discomfort. It felt as if her brain her on fire, completely overheated from use.

She didn’t know how long she lay there, but she heard Drake come, administer potions to them all and leave. Harry had quickly jumped back into his own bed upon sensing the healer and she knew he had resisted the sleep potion as she was doing now. Hermione’s spark died down, indicating her descent back into unconsciousness. Luna knew she should rest as well, but refused to let herself. There was too much to think about, too much to feel and she just didn’t feel she deserved to escape into the nothingness sleep provided.

Luna. Harry was calling for her. I know you aren’t sleeping.

Yes? She answered.

Are you alright? She felt his concern and it was overwhelming. Until that moment, he hadn’t even attempted to talk to her and she felt she deserved his coldness. But now, with everyone else gone or sleeping, he’d found the time to check in with her.

No I don’t think I am. My head doesn’t feel right. She admitted.

Then stop blaming yourself. He answered simply.

Are you okay? She ignored his response.

Well, you heard them say I’ll live. That’s as okay as any of us will be I think. You feel up to taking a walk?

A walk? She knew that if any of the adults saw them out of their room, they would freak out. But at the same time, she felt she owed it to Harry, Ron and everyone else to do whatever they asked of her. A walk to where?

To get the real story so we know who really is to blame for all of this. Maybe once we find that out, you can stop beating yourself up about everything. He answered mysteriously.

She opened her eyes to find Harry looking over at her with that "I’m about to do something I’m not supposed to" grin. I suppose you want to do this now, have us hobbling down the hallway where anyone could see us.

Would it make you feel better to know I have Arthur’s permission?

Slightly. Though I doubt he figured you’d be trying to do anything right now. Where are we going? She threw her covers off and carefully rose from her bed. The pain potion had taken effect and the tense soreness and agonizing pain was gone. For now.

Harry also rose easily from bed, obviously feeling the effects of the healing potion. To talk to Sarah. He said simply.

But, Harry. They said she was in coma. Luna answered uneasily.

(BREAK)

Harry made his way confidently down the hallway, Luna close behind him. He knew she didn’t think this was the greatest idea, but he had decided it was their best way to get the truth. And if he’d learned anything in that house last night, it was that when he and Luna focused together they were stronger. It gave him great hope for when all twelve coven members finally came together.

"How do you know this is where they’re keeping her?" Luna asked, a hint of nervousness to her tone as they stepped into the elevator.

"Arthur brought me to her room before. I wanted to see with my own eyes that she was completely incapacitated so while you were all sleeping he took me to see her. I told him what I wanted to do and that I needed your help and he gave me permission. As long as we tell him everything we learn."

"I never fell asleep." She protested.

"You sure did. You were upset when we got here and Drake gave you something to calm you down and take you out of shock. It wound up putting you right to sleep." He smiled as she struggled to remember.

"Must have been a good potion." She finally muttered as the doors slid open. The elevator had stopped at the basement and he led the way down a long, brightly lit corridor, ignoring the heavy steel doors lining either side. "What is this place?" she asked after awhile.

"Drake said it’s where they keep the dangerous patients. Just don’t get too close to the doors. That’s what they told me." He shrugged and went on, eager to carry out their task. Rounding the last corner, they found the last room, which was surrounded by Aurors though Kingsley was the only one he recognized. The man was worse for the wear after last night’s battle, all of his exposed skin covered in wounds and bruises.

"Have you gotten those looked at yet?" Harry asked his friend in concern.

Kingsley smiled. "Merely flesh wounds. I’ve had more important things to attend to. I was about to go check in with Drake in a few minutes, he’s handling all the injuries from last night."

"I know. Did Arthur tell you what we wanted to do?" Harry asked, looking suspiciously at the other Aurors. He didn’t feel like trusting anyone he didn’t already know.

"He did. And he asked me to sit in with you kids in case anything goes wrong." Kingsley smiled again before turning to his group his tone suddenly all seriousness. "No one, and I mean no one but Healer Drake and the Minister are allowed in this room after us."

Feeling anxious, Harry went into the room and once more laid eyes on the woman who had caused so much destruction. She was completely still in her bed, eyes gently closed and looking peaceful. Had he known nothing about her, he would have thought her a very pretty woman, but even in rest her mouth was twisted downward scarring her possible beauty with an evil intent.

"I’ll just sit over here out of the way." Kingsley said quietly, seating himself by the door.

Harry and Luna approached Sarah. She looks like she could wake up at any moment. Luna thought uneasily.

They’ve assured me that isn’t the case. He offered.

She doesn’t even look that badly hurt, after all that. Luna marveled as they continued to stare at the woman.

Drake had said that by the end almost every bone in her body had been broken. He answered.

Luna shook her head in wonder. She didn’t act like it.

"You ready?" he whispered aloud.

"I guess." She said, taking his hand. Together they reached into Sarah’s mind, looking for answers.

Starting with her most recent memories, Harry leafed through them stopping only once he saw Voldemort’s face. He hesitated, but Luna urged him on, taking the lead and opening the memory for them to view.

***

Sarah was sitting in a large armchair listening intently to Lucius Malfoy, all the while not once moving her eyes from Lord Voldemort. She knew which was the more dangerous. "This is what your father wanted for you, Miss Elaine."

"Perhaps. But why should I?" she leaned back, smirking at the serpent faced man before her.

But again it was Malfoy who spoke. "Because you have no choice."

"Says you. Harry Potter is nothing to me, I’ve long since repaid the men who cornered my father and murdered him. London has nothing that holds my attention except for bad memories." She rose and gestured to the door of her small apartment. "Thank you for stopping by."

"Insolent beast! Do you know who you deny?" Malfoy raised his hand as if to strike her. With an amused giggle, she simply flicked her eyes sending the man across the room.

"That was very good Sarah." Voldemort remained seated, looking both pleased and unconcerned. "I’ve been looking for someone like you."

"Well I haven’t been looking for you." She looked down as a large rat ran across her foot. Though startled, she didn’t jump. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. She didn’t do anything for anyone but herself.

When the rat began writhing and transforming into the shape of a very unattractive little man she simply smiled. "Master, the seer has news. A decision has been reached and the future foreseen. It’s about Snape and Lairmore." The swarmy man looked pleased.

"I should have known a big snake would play with a little rat." She sneered.

"Watch yourself my dear. Your usefulness can only outweigh my disdain for so long." Voldemort warned.

"Have I proved useful?" she inquired with a smug smile.

"Not yet. But you will. And I can prove useful to you."

"How?"

He held up a hand to pause their conversation. "Both of you, get out." He ordered Lucius and Peter. The snarling blond man rose from where he’d landed in the corner and without a word followed the little shifty eyed one out. Then Voldemort turned his attention back to her. "I’m curious Sarah. What makes you so unafraid of me?"

"I’m curious as to why I should be afraid. I already know each and every way you can make me suffer and have made my peace with it." She crossed her arms, still smiling as if having a relaxed conversation with an old friend. "Besides, I know what my father did for you, so I’d hope if you decided to kill me, you would do him the honor of making it quick."

"Your father proved himself beyond a doubt. It is you who now has something to prove."

"To you? I don’t think I do. Your people didn’t prove themselves to me after you disappeared! I was left to rot with the enemy!"

"You think I don’t know what really happened to you Sarah? I know why you really destroyed all those homes, why you really ran away. After all, it was easy to pick on the foster child, especially the daughter of a Death Eater. Who better for all those self-righteous people to take their fear and anger out on? But you showed them. Destroyed their whole world didn’t you? Ripped it apart without ever once lifting a finger. You proved you were no punching bag. Unlike Potter, who let those people of his do the same to him for years, always going back for more. And they were muggles no less. Don’t you see how much stronger you are than he is?"

"What I don’t see is why I should care."

Voldemort finally rose, towering over her short stature. "Because he is in my way. And to be in my way is to be in your way, if you want what I can deliver to you."

"I’m listening." She remained calm, refusing to be intimidated even as he stalked closer.

"I have their new names, Sarah. The families who were hidden safely away for protection after you ran away. My friend in the newspaper business has many helpful sources, and we know who they are now and more importantly, where they are. You spoke of having taken revenge for your father, wouldn’t you like to take some for yourself?" He stood right before her, his voice dangerously friendly.

She was definitely intrigued by the proposition, time to settle the terms. "And to get this information, I have to do what exactly? Kill this Harry kid? That seems like something you should be more than capable of."

"It does, doesn’t it. Unfortunately that hasn’t proven to be the case. He is one of yours Sarah, he holds your power. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I need you to dispatch him of this power. But you don’t have to kill him unless it’s necessary. I’d prefer you bring him to me, along with whatever annoying little child he is with at the time. One of the red heads is preferable. Someone who’s life he would give anything to save. Luckily he’s weak and the selection is a wide one to choose from."

"And then once I bring him to you, you’ll give me what I want? I know I’m not all there, but I’m not quite ready to be shipped off to the funny farm yet, my lord." She gave a dramatically sarcastic bow and noticed the fury in his eyes after her last statement. She knew he wasn’t angry with her tone, so it had to be the words. Interesting, something she would store away for future contemplation.

But the horrible man got control over himself, and his features twisted themselves into what could resemble a smile. "I would never expect your trust, I will never give you mine. But I will give you the names. After all, it would take so very long to track all those people down with just a name. The locations I’ll give you when you bring Potter to me."

It was something she’d dreamed of for years, making those bastards pay for thinking she was so weak. Fifteen years had passed since she’d escaped London, perhaps it was time to go back. It could be fun, bringing a little destruction to her old stomping grounds. "One question, if he’s like me and also as skilled with his wand as I’ve heard, how should I be expected to get the upper hand? They tell me I’m crazy, but I know I’m not stupid."

"We are working on a plan for that. I have a traitor in my midst it seems, only to be verified once I speak to my rat. Luckily he is very skilled at potions and we only have to force him to concoct the one we need and then find opportunity to use it."

"So until then? I’m not the most patient of people."

"Come to London. Stretch your legs a little. As a good faith payment, I’ll give you the address of the one person still living there."

"Who is it?" she leaned forward, eager to hear who would finally be seeing justice.

"The Auror." His deformed smile widened.

***

"I didn’t like that at all." Luna muttered, breaking off the link.

"What happened?" Kingsley asked from his chair.

"We got some really good information. And we’re going back for more." Harry answered, looking to Luna to be sure she was ready for round two.

***

The house was dark, the mailbox bearing the name Marshall. But Sarah knew the truth now. The man living here like a hermit was Auror Oden Hillby. He was the one who kept moving her from house to house when she was a little girl, each time telling her it would get better and never really caring whether or not it did. She’d thought a lot about him over the years.

She took a step toward the house and felt the protection charms pushing against her. She smiled, but she didn’t stop. Voldemort had been right, his traitor was a talented potion maker and the new one he’d been forced to brew for her worked incredibly well. She sighed contentedly once she’d breached the last charm, the occupants of the house none the wiser as they slept comfortably in their beds. Her entire body was warm from the potion and she felt relaxed and happy.

Picking the lock on the front door had been nothing. To compensate for her lack of wand ability, she’d learned a lot of useful muggle tricks over the years. They may take a bit longer, but they were effective none the less. She’d learned a lot of other tricks too, but she wouldn’t need those tonight.

Once inside, she crept up the stairs and opened the first door she came to. Inside a small boy slept peacefully, tightly squeezing a stuffed dog to his chest. She smiled and closed the door, deciding for his sake, she would keep her revenge clean and quiet. After all, she had nothing at all against him, he hadn’t even been born when she’d suffered her injustice. Though the thought that Hillby had the chance to create a son angered her. Well, if someday the boy wanted to seek her out to avenge his father, she’d welcome the challenge.

A loud snore drew her attention to a door down the hall. At last. Opening the door she took in the sight of Hillby and his wife, sleeping with their backs to each other. Sneaking to each of their nightstands, she found their wands and threw the woman’s out the window, putting his in her pocket. After all, she did know how to use it for one spell, it was the only one her father ever taught her and he’d had her practice it a lot over her younger years, openly defying the law against use of magic by underage witches and wizards. He had said it was the most important spell to know. And she was sure with practice she’d figure out a few more. Then she kicked the edge of the bed, startling the couple awake. "Quiet now, think of your child." She said bringing a finger to her lips as they focused on her.

"Sarah?" Hillby leaned forward as sleep left him completely and panic set in.

"So you do remember. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to go over why you’re going to die tonight. What a relief!" she laughed.

"What’s going on? Who are you?! What are you doing here?" His wife cried clutching his arm.

Sarah furrowed her brow. "I believe I very clearly stated why I’m here Mrs. Hillby. This is no concern of yours, you have nothing to do with it. If you would kindly step into the bathroom over there and close the door, I’ll be as quick as I can." The woman sat frozen in place. Sarah began tapping her foot impatiently. "I don’t have all night you know. Let me put it in terms you can understand. As long as you don’t make a problem for me, you and your son will live. Now you can walk into the other room all on your own or I can place you there, the choice is yours."

The woman looked at her husband who nodded weakly. Softly crying, she quickly got out of bed and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. "Good choice!" Sarah called gleefully after her. "He’s a horrible man and definitely not worth your life." She turned her attention back to Hillby and found him frantically searching his nightstand. "Oh, did you really think I’d let you have what you and your people denied me? No wands, Oden, tonight we use what nature gave us. You can understand why I feel so confident." She gave him a sinister smile.

"Don’t do this Sarah." He raised his hands as if to defend himself.

She laughed. "That’s it! That’s your argument for your life? I’m both amused and disappointed." She flicked her eyes, sending the man crashing into the wall and crumpling to the floor. Another push and the heavy wooden dresser came hurtling at him, pinning him against the wall. He desperately tried to push it away, but she was stronger and she smiled in satisfaction hearing the bones in his legs snap. He screamed in agony, intensifying her pleasure. Once more focusing her mind she sent the nightstand at him, smashing it against his face. He came out of it spitting up teeth. Then hearing someone yell in terror, she turned to find the woman witnessing the scene before her. "I told you not to give me problems. You did this to yourself." She politely informed her before drawing the wand. "Avada Kedavra!" she screamed pointing it directly at the woman’s chest. She dropped lifelessly to the ground. Just as she had practiced with dear old dad all those years ago.

"NO!" Hillby screamed. Sarah turned to him and smiled once more, ensuring her face would be the last thing he’d ever see before handing him the same fate as his foolish wife. Then she dropped the wand, she hadn’t liked the feel of it and would wait to find a better one. Walking back into the hall she saw the little boy standing outside his door rubbing sleep from his eyes.

She once more smiled and raised a finger to her lips. "Go back to sleep." She whispered.

"Where’s my mommy and daddy?" he whispered back.

"They’re sleeping. They were very tired."

"Who are you?"

"I’m… the Tooth Fairy!" she laughed wildly.

"I didn’t lose a tooth."

"No but your daddy lost a few." She smiled at the image. "I have to go now. Lot’s more people to visit. You be a good boy, okay?"

"Okay." He smiled up at her. She patted his head affectionately as she slipped past him down the stairs and skipped out into the night.

***

"That was horrible." Harry shook his head. He’d never seen someone so confusing, so all over the place.

"I didn’t watch most of it." Luna admitted. "But I listened and I don’t think she knows where she stands with herself on the crazy line." He felt dizzy and slightly disoriented and his legs felt weak. "Whoa!" Luna reached out to steady him as he swayed on his feet.

"Maybe that’s enough for today." Kingsley said in concern, coming to stand beside them.

"No, one more. I just want to see what happened with Cho." He protested, trying to clear his foggy head.

"What are you talking about?" the Auror asked suspiciously.

"Please, one more." Harry ignored his question, kicking himself for revealing anything at all.

"Fine, but I want you both to at least sit down." He raised his wand and produced two chairs. "Arthur would kill me if after all that you fell and cracked your head open due to exhaustion."

"Your concern touches me." Harry joked as he sank gratefully into the chair. "Ready?"

"For this one, I certainly am." Luna answered, just as eager as he was to find out how Sarah had worked through Cho to poison him.

***

Voldemort entered the small apartment that had been provided to Sarah. She barely glanced up from the book she was reading. "I am tired of sitting in here all day hiding." She complained.

"Your wait will be over soon. My seer has brought me news, Potter and his friends have made a decision that will place them directly in our hands. They will be visiting Azkaban." He seated himself across from her looking pleased. "Tell me Sarah, how long has it been since you spoke with the Changs?"

"I was in the village a few weeks before you found me. I heard they were on the run and their daughter was in prison."

"You are lying to me." He smiled.

"Okay, so maybe I’ve been writing to an old friend for awhile."

"And using you cousin’s name. That was foolish."

"Your opinion means very little."

"Who were you working with when you were writing her?" he demanded.

"I’m allowed my secrets." She answered stubbornly. After all, her plans had been in the works long before he came to find her.

"You do know I could just reach into your feeble mind and take the information." He threatened.

"You are welcome to try." She invited with a smile as things began rising off the floor around her and circling the room. "Maybe you should just tell me what you want from me."

"You push your limits with me. You won’t always be as needed as you are right now." He reminded her.

"What do you want me to do with Cho?" she asked, still floating things dangerously around the room.

"I want you to pay her a visit. I have someone here that you can travel through." He offered, turning and blasting the door open with his wand. Waiting patiently on the other side was a tall, raven-haired girl with big bright honey colored eyes. She was very beautiful and couldn’t be more than twenty. Sarah made no indication that she knew the girl, not wanting to give anything away. She simply turned to him with a questioning gaze. "No one will question her at the prison." Voldemort answered her stare.

"I question her here and now. And you. What exactly is the plan?" Sarah inquired.

"We need you to use your other talents, with astral projection. My young friend here is willing to be placed into unconsciousness so that you can move yourself in and safely talk with Cho. Once there, I want you two to set up a plan. Potter and his seer are planning to go to Azkaban and they will find themselves in her way."

"What is it you exactly want to happen there?"

Voldemort produced a sharpened piece of wood and handed it over. "Be careful with that, the tip is covered in something quite dangerous to your kind."

"Psychohemia." She recognized the green potion that stained the weapon. "I remember, my father was nearly injected with it once. Quite lethal, isn’t it? I thought you wanted the kid alive."

"Preferably." He reminded her. "Right now I simply wish him out of the way by whatever means necessary. If the killing agent in the poison gets to him before you can bring him back here, then so be it. But if you can, bring back his seer. From what I’ve heard, she’s much better than the old man we are stuck with." He handed over a picture of a smiling blonde girl in school robes.

"Another child? My confidence in you is waning if you need outside help to kidnap a couple of kids." Sarah threw the picture aside.

"They are not ordinary children." He answered angrily. "Bring them both to me, dead or alive. And if at all possible, bring the ring."

"What ring?" she asked, leaning forward in interest.

***

Harry kept his eyes closed, not wanting Kingsley to know that they had moved on to another memory. He’d just heard how she’d done it, now he wanted to see it, through her eyes. Peeking slightly, he could see that Luna was following his lead. He took a deep breath and prepared to watch his own attack.

***

"It’s time." The old man told her. They had told her his name was Jasper, and all Sarah knew was that she didn’t much care for him. Unfortunately until they could get their hands on Potter’s little blonde seer, they needed him.

She opened the communication device they had rigged, knowing the other piece was directly in Cho’s ear. "Let yourself go, I’m coming."

Instead of Cho’s voice, she heard another girl, pleading. "Please!"

Then Cho’s voice came through "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." Cho threw back.

"If you kill her, how does she suffer? It’ll just be over, nothing more. Some punishment." She heard a boy say. It must be Harry.

"Cho! What are you doing? We have a plan!" Sarah demanded. But the girl ignored her.

"Really, you think reverse psychology is going to work?" Cho responded to Harry.

"I don’t think any sort of psychology would work for you. I was just going off your words. Death makes those left behind suffer, not the person themselves." She heard Harry say.

"That depends on how slowly they die, wouldn’t you agree?"

"CHO!" Sarah tried to get her attention.

"Stop!" she heard Harry cry. "Let her go!" he yelled.

Whatever Cho was doing, she was obviously hurting the seer that Voldemort wanted so badly. "Cho, let her go! I swear to you that if you mess this up for me I will kill you slowly and painfully." Friend or not, she wouldn’t let the maniacal teenager ruin her chance for revenge. Suddenly she heard a thud and realized the girl must have been knocked unconscious. Quickly focusing her mind, she let go of her body and it fell to the floor, an empty shell. Then flying rapidly through time and space she was in Cho’s cell, staring down at the girl as she lay sprawled on the floor. Taking a deep breath, she dove into the girl’s body, pushing out her consciousness and taking it over for herself. A trick she was glad now to have mastered.

She opened Cho’s eyes and saw through them. Instantly she reached for the weapon Cho had smuggled into the cell. Feeling it firmly in her hand, she rose and moved to the bars, smiling as she hid the wood behind her back.

***

Harry didn’t need to see anymore. He knew what had happened next. "Have you ever heard of anything like that?" he asked Luna.

"Well… once daddy was interviewing a man who claimed he had mastered astral projection. It was our most popular article ever, but I didn’t see him do it and neither did my dad. But I believed he could." Luna shrugged as if to say she believed anything possible.

"What was it?" Kingsley asked anxiously. "What did you guys see?"

"Let’s go find Arthur. Then we can tell you both." Harry answered.

"He had to check in at the office. He said he’d be back as soon as he could." Kingsley replied.

"Well, I think it’s best if we wait for him." He looked at Luna slyly knowing she was having the same thoughts. They had time to get their stories straight and now they had a way to tell Arthur everything without incriminating themselves. If he questioned the information they brought him, they could just say they’d seen it in Sarah’s head; it would also explain away anything about Cho. They didn’t have to tell him Harry had been injured or about Sarah taking over the other girl’s body, simply knowing they were up to something together long before Voldemort came into the picture was enough. Harry was happy as they walked back to their room. Finally things would start rolling.





NOTE: A lot of answers coming from all different directions next chapter, prepare yourselves now for a super long read on the next one. See you all then!


Chapter 24: Finding Truths and Exposing Secrets

A/N: Read, Review, Enjoy!

Fred, Hermione, Ginny and Draco were discharged the next morning and brought directly to Grimmauld place. A few hours later, Arthur came to bring Harry to Drake’s office to talk, leaving Ron alone in the room with Luna. So far he hadn’t said a word to anyone beyond answering questions about his health. Now, finally healed enough to be free of most of his bandages, he found himself with a golden opportunity to talk to the one person he most wanted to speak with. Ever since waking, he’d put his shields back up, not wanting a single thought of his to slip out for Luna to see. All he had to do was figure out how to begin.

"Why didn’t you ever tell me anything about yourself?" He looked at her figuring his best bet was to be direct.

"Why didn’t you ever ask me anything about myself?" she returned quietly.

"That’s not good enough, Luna. I told you so many things about me, and you got to see everything else for yourself."

"Yeah, you told me a whole lot, because I asked. I asked about your childhood and your family. I asked about your dreams and goals. I was actually interested." She returned huffily.

"Maybe I would have asked more if I actually gotten answers when I did try! You hid everything from me last year. And now you have everyone else hiding things from me! Come on Luna! How was I supposed to know to ask about a brother you never mentioned having?"

"I’m sorry, okay. I really am. You’re right, I should have told you more and I shouldn’t have kept you out of the plan to go to Azkaban. I feel horrible. But it doesn’t change the fact that had you not spent half the time we were together thinking I was weird maybe I would have been in a more sharing mood."

"You are weird! And you know I loved you."

"I know you did. And I loved you too. I really did Ron." She looked at him earnestly, wanting him to believe her. He decided that he did.

"It hurt a lot, to know that you kept so much from me. It hurts even more knowing you can influence not only my best friends, but my brother to do it as well."

"What is it you’re looking for, Ron? I can’t feel any more sorry than I already do."

"I want to know why. And not this whole I couldn’t tell you because you never asked bull." He answered steadily.

"Because I didn’t want to admit that I had kept it all from you, okay, because to bring you in on it would have meant opening this whole can of worms. Because of a whole lot of other little silly reasons Harry and I came up with to keep as few people from knowing as possible. Kane belonged to me and I had a right to share him with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted. If I never felt comfortable enough talking about him with you then I guess that proves we really weren’t a good couple."

"Why does it feel like you’re breaking up with me all over again? Every time we’re alone I feel like I’m getting broken up with." He grumbled.

"I’m sorry for that too." She looked down. "And I’m sorry that you rushed into the house and got hurt so badly." She added quietly.

So that was it. She had heard about his attempt to rush to her rescue. But she was reading way more into it than she should be. Or was she? He had recognized the pain and fear in her scream and his brain had kicked into instant action. But he would have done the same had he heard any of the others yell like that, wouldn’t he? She raised her eyes to his once more and he saw how guilty she was feeling. "I’d do it again, just so you know, only next time, let’s do it without the flames." He smiled trying to hide the tension he felt.

She smiled back. "Let’s aim for there not being a next time."

"Even better." They were silent, each lost in their own thoughts. "Your dad and Harry are on their way back with Drake." She announced a bit later.

"Luna, will you promise me something really quick before they get here?" he asked.

She thought hard, obviously upset she couldn’t see his request beforehand. "I can try." She said finally.

"Don’t intentionally keep me out anymore. I can accept that we aren’t together, I really can. But I can’t be your friend if you’re always keeping secrets, and especially if you go around getting everyone else to keep them from me too. I’m not saying that I need you to tell me everything. Just the big stuff, you know like if you have anymore brothers or are planning to break into prison again. Things like that." He waited breathlessly for her response. He hadn’t let out as much anger as he thought he would towards her, hardly any at all in fact. Perhaps he wasn’t as angry as he thought, maybe on some level he did understand. This must be what Hermione meant by them all growing in maturity. He wasn’t sure he liked it, he had wanted to yell at Luna, to scream at her how hurt and upset he was. Maybe he should have waited until he had more energy.

She was quiet, thinking hard. "I promise I can try." She said at last. "It’s the only way I can promise anything without going back on my word."

"Then I guess that will have to do." He replied wearily as Harry and Arthur opened the door.

(BREAK)

"See! I knew it! I knew Willem was innocent." Drake said happily to Arthur once Harry had finished the story he and Luna had put together. They’d managed to get all of the important information in there without exposing their own misdeeds while obtaining the facts; thankfully Drake didn’t contradict any of it.

"Now we just have to put everything together and prove it." Arthur said thoughtfully. "If done the right way, this could solve so many problems."

"Including freeing an innocent man." Drake declared. "Willem was… is a good man. And Edmund has gotten his way for far too long. It was always that way with them, even when we were all boys. Edmund did the evil, and Willem paid the price."

"There must be more to it than covering up the false reports, Willem must know something that Edmund didn’t want him talking about. As much as I’m sure they wouldn’t want him to reveal their psychic, there was a bigger reason to give him that potion I’m sure of it." Arthur speculated.

"Ron told me that Fred had guessed something like that too." Harry answered.

"Glad to see my son is thinking like a bureaucrat." Arthur smiled.

"When we watched Sarah talking to Willem, she asked why Edmund had turned on him and he’d said it was after he’d began investigating Jayalina." He offered further

"But why did she go to see him at all?" Arthur mused.

"I don’t know, it must have something to do with her plans with Cho." Harry shrugged, giving their catch all answer to any questions.

"That’s another thing that worries me. If she was writing Miss Chang before Voldemort found her, then what are they planning and how does it involve you kids?" Arthur put his head in his hands. "It’s always one step forward, two steps back isn’t it?"

"The first step is talking to Willem now that Sarah gave him the counterpotion." Drake suggested. Harry felt himself panic. Would Willem hold up the lie for them? How would he even know to do so? Harry had admitted to the man that he was friends with the minister, so why wouldn’t he tell them who had actually come to see him.

Luckily Arthur unknowingly saved him. "We have to wait. I know it’s horrible to let him keep sitting in there. But we can’t let Edmund, or anyone else, know that we’re looking into this. We start with the gardener. As Draco requested, we will arrange a safe place for the Rosebloods and see what he knows. In the meantime, I’ll have Moody start researching Ms. Delamora, see if we can find whatever it was Willem was about to find."

"Moody? Don’t you think him a little overqualified for research?" Drake asked.

"Not in this case. I believe he’s the only one who could successfully find everything we need in secret. There are very few people I can trust at the ministry right now. And very few trust me." Arthur shook his head. "Edmund’s campaign has certainly been successful."

"It’ll end soon." Drake put a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. "And when the time comes that we can approach Willem, I’d like to be the one to go talk to him and get his side of the story." He winked at Harry who felt an instant sense of relief. Drake of course already knew of their outing to the prison, so it didn’t matter what he was told.

"I think I can arrange that. It might be better that way anyway, to have a friend of his and someone unassociated with the ministry."

"Well, not associated anymore. Not for a very long time anyway. I lost my faith in them when Fudge came into power and broke away completely once Willem was imprisoned." Drake answered. "Though I’d gladly come back now if you all needed me."

"I appreciate it. But you already know where you are needed." Arthur said mysteriously, shooting an amused smile in Harry’s direction.

"Ah, yes. A new adventure I’m looking forward to." Drake answered just as mysteriously.

"What are you talking about?" Harry finally asked, unable to control his curiosity.

The two men looked at each other as if sharing a private joke before Arthur responded, "All will be revealed in good time."

"We should head back. It’s about time for pain potions if Harry is any indication." Drake said after studying him.

"I’m fine." He protested.

"You say you are, but your body says different and I know the signs to look for. Come on, I’m sure Arthur wants to check on Ron anyway." When they reentered the hospital room, Ron and Luna were both sitting up, neither looking at the other. But a quick glance in Luna’s direction told him that everything was fine between them. "How’s everyone feeling?" Drake asked as Harry climbed back into his bed.

"Sore and hot." Ron answered shortly.

"I’m fine." Luna responded quietly. "When can I go home?"

Drake looked her over, testing for soreness in her arm and examining her eyes closely. Then he looked at her leg, which was red and raw but no longer displaying evidence of the severe burns. "I’d say tomorrow morning. I’d let you go today like the others, but I still see some left over signs of shock and I’d like that leg to look a little better."

Then he made his way over to Harry and Ron, inspecting each of them. While he did this, Harry reached out to Luna. Hey. You akay?

She was lying back with her eyes closed, but he could see tears glistening on her eyelashes. Just really tired.She answered without moving.

I know the feeling. He offered kindly. I definitely know that point you get to where everything is so hard and mixed up and you feel like it’s never going to get fixed or get better. That’s when all you want to do is give up because you feel like you’re alone and drowning and it would be easier than continuing to struggle.

I’m sure you do. She answered bleakly. And I’m sure you understand the constant guilt and doubt and fear. I know you think you know what I’m feeling. But it’s all so much more wretched when you really are alone, Harry. When no one is there for you to turn to and hug you tight when things are tough. I don’t have a Hermione to hold my hand and tell me its okay because she loves me no matter what I do. And I don’t have Arthur and Molly to hug me and worry about me. I don’t have Ron and Fred to act like my brothers. My brother is dead, and so is my mother. Sure my father loves me, but he is usually traveling the world looking for things most people think ridiculous nonsense. You’re the only one of my friends who can even stand the sight of me right now and Ron and I are on such different pages in our life even if we had still been together it would be a tragic mess. I’m just so tired of seeing how things are going to be while suffering through how they are now. I’m tired of feeling responsible for not getting visions in time. I’m tired of watching everyone blame themselves for everything and I’m certainly tired of blaming myself. I just want it all to stop!

I know, I want it all to stop too. We all do. He answered feeling more than a little worried. Luna, I am always here for you.

Until you can’t be. It too much right now, Harry, can’t you see that? I’m sorry I started this whole thing in the first place.

Don’t be! Because of your search for the truth about Kane, we’ve discovered so much more!

And lost a whole lot too. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter against the tears he knew she was fighting.Please, stop worrying about me, it only makes me feel worse. I’d prefer it if you let yourself be mad at me, to just forget about me for awhile. Go home, enjoy your last week with Hermione before school starts and help with Willem and Sarah. My dad should be home by now certainly-

So wait. He interrupted. When you asked to go home earlier, did you mean back to my house or back home with your father? He asked feeling worried. He didn’t like the thought of Luna being separate from their lives, even if it was only for a week or so. He very much liked having everyone he cared about under one roof where he could keep an eye on them. He was especially nervous now that he knew Voldemort was after her for her abilities.

I don’t know. She answered softly. I just want to feel comforted and where else is one more comfortable than in their own home with someone who loves them? It’d just be until school starts anyway.

Luna, I- but his response was cut off as Drake finished looking the boys over. "Well, Harry, I think you’ll be able to leave in the morning with Luna. Your hand needs one more treatment tonight, but the leg is nicely healed. However I also see some residual signs of shock so I think one more night of observation is called for. Ron, unfortunately, you may be here a couple more days. The burns on your face have begun to clear, but it seems the rest of you, is in a bit more trouble. I’m just going to apply another round of the herbs before I go." Harry watched his friend begin to be wrapped as a mummy again and felt bad for him. But his mind was back in that moment only minutes ago. Luna had told him she wanted to be around someone who loved her, and before Drake had interrupted him, he’d been about to assure her that he loved her. But he’d been caught up in the moment and was glad to have been stopped. He had never said those words to another girl besides Hermione and though he saw Luna as nothing but his friend, he felt that somehow it would have been wrong to say. And that’s the feeling that gave him pause. Why would it be wrong for him to say something like that to Luna? After all, he’d told Ron he loved him.

Please, don’t leave. Don’t go home. He begged her, pushing aside his thoughts to focus on the problem at hand. Anything else could be reasoned out later. It’s too dangerous. You saw Voldemort tell Sarah to take you. You can’t leave!

And I doubt Arthur would let me go anywhere without guards. I’ll be just as safe with my dad I’m sure. Besides, I have to leave sometime, Harry. I can’t live with you forever.

I know that. I know you all have lives outside Grimmauld Place and that someday you will all go back to them. But please, just stay now. If you want I can guilt you into it. In fact, I am mad at you and I blame you for everything, so to make it up to me, you should give me what I want and stay.

He saw her smile from across the room. You’re a more convincing liar when the person you’re lying to can’t see that you are in fact lying.

It’s true! I’m so mad at you that if you left now I don’t think we could ever repair the damage. But if you want to risk that then go ahead. I guess I see how important this friendship is to you! He put false anger in his tone and he saw her smile widen. So he went on. I personally think it extremely selfish of you to want to leave in the middle of this huge fight we’re having and not want to work through it.

Well, I guess if I leave that’ll make me a pretty horrible person, won’t it. She returned finally.

The worst! He agreed. Better you just stay so we can work out all these anger issues I have toward you.

Okay, you win. She answered quietly. I’ll stay. But I can’t do this much longer.

Okay. He agreed, not fully knowing what he was agreeing to. What exactly was it she wouldn’t be able to handle? He was a bundle of confusion, but his head and heart where at ease knowing she’d still be with them in his house. Everything else could be sorted out later.

(BREAK)

Draco and Ginny were lying in her bedroom together trying to nap away some of the effects of the many healing potions they were given when the front door slammed open and they heard Mr. Weasley calling up the stairs for him. Feeling nervous he threw a troubled glance at Ginny who rose with him to go see what her father wanted. She looked just as nervous.

They entered the parlor and were surprised to see him smiling. "How are you both feeling?" he asked pulling his daughter into a tight hug.

"Just fine dad, better if I could breathe!" Ginny gasped.

"Sorry." He laughed releasing her and pulling her to sit next to him, gesturing for Draco to join them. He chose the chair across from the couch and looked at him expectantly. "Harry just finished telling me about everything they saw in Sarah’s head, and it’s wonderful news. Now Draco, I understand he’s already spoken to you about Mr. Roseblood?"

"He has. I told him that I wouldn’t let anyone ask him anything while he’s there."

"So he told me. Well, I stopped by to see Albus and he’s agreed to find a suitable place for them by the time we have them in custody. You understand we must do this with as little attention as possible. We will be going to your house, and arresting all servants you have working there, they will all be placed safely away of course after determining where they stand." Arthur paused and looked at him carefully.

Draco shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. "I don’t have a problem with any of that if that’s what you’re wondering." He finally said.

Mr. Weasley smiled. "I didn’t think you would. I was actually wondering if it would be wise or foolish to allow you to come along. What do you think?"

He caught the troubled glance Ginny shot him and he looked away wanting to decide for himself what he really wanted. Part of him never wanted to go back there. He feared there would be too many memories too many influences, too much provocation back into the life he knew better. But…there was that other part of him that wanted to go back, for the closure. For the chance to get some of his things and possibly see his mother, maybe even have a private conversation with her. He wanted the time to sit in that cold house and remind himself why he’d given it all up. "I want to go. It could be the stupidest thing either of us have ever done, but I want you to take me there." He finally answered.

"I thought so." Mr. Weasley nodded. "I have to go to the office and arrange a secret Auror squad. I should be back in an hour. We’ll leave shortly thereafter. Sound good?"

"Sounds as good as it can I guess." He answered. "Thank you." He swallowed hard, still finding those words difficult to express.

Mr. Weasley rose and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t thank me yet." He said seriously.

After he left they returned to Ginny’s room where she stood glaring at him with her arms crossed. "What?" he asked feeling irritated.

"This is the worst idea ever and I’m ashamed my father suggested it."

"You didn’t exactly voice that opinion in front of him." He returned angrily. He’d wanted support, not an argument.

"I’m voicing it to you. You can still change your mind." She sighed and took his hand. "Look I think it’s really admirable that you wanted to protect the Rosebloods. But what do you have to prove by going back there? We all went to Harry’s old house and you saw how that turned out."

He pulled free and sat on the edge of her bed. "I guess we all have to go home again sometime. Now it’s my turn. I have my own demons to face Ginny. You should be able to understand that, you’re facing yours in therapy. Well, this will have to serve as my therapy. Besides, I think I’d like to see my mother. And it’d be nice to have some of my own things here, might make it more comfortable."

"We go back to school in a week. You’ve gone without all that stuff this long, and besides, I’m sure they can arrange a meeting with your mum."

"I’ve made up my mind. I’m going." He answered decisively.

"Fine. Just… remember whatever you feel there, whatever thoughts you have… I know who you really are now. So just come back so I can remind you." she sat next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.

So she did have the same fears he did. Putting his arm around her shoulders, he turned and rested his lips against the top of her head marveling at how different her thinking was from a few short weeks before when she’d wanted him to give into his darker side to get him away from the others. He smiled. Well at least one of them was starting to be sure about where they stood. He would have to reserve judgement on himself until after he’d re-immersed himself in his old life.

(BREAK)

Ginny felt uneasy before, but after Draco left with her father she felt downright anxious. She didn’t know why she was so worried about him going home, maybe some fear deep down that he wouldn’t want to come back. After all, it had to be easier to be with one’s own family. She didn’t know much of his relationship with his mother, but she knew that had she been thrust into a whole new life where everything was going wrong, she’d relish the idea of returning to Molly and the comfort of her arms. Narcissa seemed to be a different kind of mother, though she had been with Draco every day in the hospital after Ginny had stabbed him. She shook her head. She didn’t want to think about it anymore, he had to come back. Surely her father wouldn’t allow him to stay; it was too dangerous.

With a sigh she decided to pass the time by finding a way to go see Ron; she had a lot to say to him. Going downstairs she found Lupin reading through reports on the couch in the parlor. "Sorry to bother you, but can I ask a favor?" she asked quietly from the doorway.

He looked up at her and smiled warmly. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I was kind of wondering if you could take me to St. Mungo’s to visit with Ron for awhile?"

"I don’t see why not. I can read all this just as well there." He rose and gathered his things. "Let me arrange a car from the ministry and we can be on our way."

She thanked him and went to arrange her thoughts until he called for her. The ride over was comfortably silent as some nameless ministry driver took them to their destination. Lupin walked her all the way to the room before breaking off and heading for the waiting room, giving her privacy with Ron, Harry and Luna. Though she greeted them all when she entered, she was really hoping for some time alone with her brother. Letting that thought out into the open, she saw Harry catch it and look over at Luna. They both carefully got out of their beds. "We’ll be back in a little while." He announced.

"Where are you going?" Ron asked them.

"For a walk." Harry answered looking meaningfully at Ginny. She appreciated the gesture and nodded a thank you in their direction as they headed out, closing the door behind them.

"Hey, how are you feeling?" She asked, pulling a chair up next to Ron’s bed.

"Like I took a walk on the sun. What are you doing here?" he looked at her suspiciously. She couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it based on her past actions.

"I just wanted to talk to you." She looked down, unsure how to express her feelings. "I know you don’t like Draco very much. And I know you hate that I like him-"

"You got that right. You can do way better." He interrupted.

She glared at him. "Putting that aside, I wanted to thank you. For saving his life back there at Harry’s house."

"Yeah, well. It doesn’t mean I approve, it just means I don’t want any of us to get killed." Ron grumbled.

"I don’t care if you approve. I really don’t Ron." She returned. "I love you, but I make my own decisions now. I’m starting to get a grasp on who I am. And more than that, he makes me happy. I don’t know how or why, but it’s true and I just want you to understand he’s important to me. That’s all. I want your understanding, not your approval."

"How about a little understanding in return, Ginny? He tortured us for years; it can’t all be water under the bridge just because he changed his mind. Harry may be sympathetic towards him, but I can’t be. Maybe my childhood was too happy, who knows, but I don’t operate on the same emotional tide as they do. I feel bad for everything he went through but that’s as far as it goes. I’m sure he wasn’t sitting around all those years feeling bad for us. And no one really changes as much as he says he has, and certainly not in half a year. You want to tangle yourself up with him, fine. It’s one more thing for you to talk about in therapy."

"Why are you so mad right now?" she asked, hurt by his words.

"Because you expect everyone to do what you want them to and get mad when you don’t get your way and I refuse to be held hostage by your moods any longer! I’m entitled to feel any way I want about any given subject the same way you are, you know! If I don’t want to like Draco Malfoy, I don’t have to! If I don’t want to walk around pretending you didn’t hurt us all with the way you were acting and the things you did then I don’t have to! I was so scared to upset you that I let it all get as out of hand as it did. So now I won’t let that stop me from telling you when I think you’re making a mistake, not anymore. Sure I saved Malfoy’s life, and I’d do it again if I had to. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still curse him myself if I wanted. He’s no friend of mine, and when the day comes that he turns on the rest of you, I’ll be the only one left to say I told you so."

"Yeah, you’ll be the only one left alright." She muttered rising and pushing the chair back. "I’m sorry I thought we could have a real conversation here, that I could talk to you like my brother."

"And so in order to have a nice conversation the first thing you do is tell me I have to understand your desire to have a relationship with our former enemy!? Trust me Ginny, by not sitting here telling you what you want to hear I’m being more of a brother to you than I have in the past few months. In fact, why don’t you go try this conversation out with Fred? I’m sure he’s not going to be very understanding either."

"I’ll do that. And in the meantime, why don’t you just go to hell?" She yelled stalking out the door. In the hallway, she paused to lean against the wall and collect herself. The scene that had just played out hadn’t been exactly what she’d expected. She’d wanted to open up to Ron, to explain herself and her feelings so that maybe someday everything would be okay. She wasn’t sure how she’d messed it up, or even if it was all her fault. Ron seemed to be in a touchy mood to begin with. Stupid Laurel, tricking her into thinking talking was a good thing.

With a heavy sigh, she pushed herself away from the wall and went in search of Lupin. Now that she’d managed an impromptu fight with her brother, the only thing left to do was go home and wait for Draco to come back. She had a feeling he’d need the support.

(BREAK)

"I’m not so sure this is a good idea." Luna said as she and Harry stepped into the elevator. "I mean last time we had Arthur’s permission."

"How do they know we don’t now? Aren’t you curious as to what she’s up to with Cho? I know I am and we may never have a better chance than this to literally look through the enemy’s mind." He answered.

"You know I am. She just makes me nervous. There’s something not normal about her, and I just feel like she’s going to wake up at any time. And if we’re there rooting around in her head when she does, I don’t think it’ll make her very happy."

"I don’t think we have to worry about that." He smiled as they stepped off the elevator.

"Yeah, well, I do." She was nervous, anxious and scared. She may not have received any visions about Sarah waking, but it didn’t stop her from having a bad feeling about the idea.

They rounded the last corner and saw several Aurors still positioned outside the door. The only difference was Tonks being there instead of Kingsley. "Hey you two, taking a little stroll?" she asked with amusement.

"Did Kingsley finally get to go rest?" Harry asked as they approached.

"None of us get to rest right now. I take it you two want to pay a visit."

"Want isn’t the word I’d use." Luna said stubbornly.

"Well, come on. Let’s get you guys out of the hallway. The rest of you, no one else gets in except Healer Drake or Minister Weasley. I mean it, no one is to follow us in." she looked at her Aurors meaningfully before following the teens into the room.

Luna took in the sight of Sarah, still resting peacefully in her bed. She didn’t like the look of the woman. Truthfully, this was the last place she wanted to be. She wanted to be back in the room, trying to sleep away some of the emotions raised during her conversations with Ron and Harry. But she had these powers and they gave her responsibilities. And if they could go in and get answers that everyone needed, then she had no right not to try.

"So where is Kingsley then?" Harry asked when Tonks closed the door.

"Arthur wanted him at the Malfoy mansion. He was only taking the Aurors he trusted to get the Rosebloods."

"Why didn’t you go then?" Luna asked.

"Because he also needed someone he trusted here. Kingsley is far more physically impressive than I am and so he wanted him there in case anybody chose to give them a hard time." Tonks smiled. "I’ll just let you do whatever it is you two do and sit over here quietly."

Luna followed Harry over to the bed, both of them staring down at the comatose patient. "Are you ready to do this again?" he whispered.

"I guess." She whispered back. Then closing her eyes, she linked her mind up with his and watched as he searched Sarah’s memories, looking for familiar faces.

***

"It took you long enough." Sarah complained as she let the girl in. It was the same Raven-haired, golden eyed girl Voldemort would later bring to her apartment.

"Well your friend’s letter was a bit unclear as to the exact location of your place." The girl shot back.

"That’s because she uses that idiot Marietta. I told Cho long ago that girl is worthless." Sarah said harshly as they sat together. "So I haven’t been told much more than your name and your little mind power. How exactly are you going to fit into our plans?"

"It’s a- you help me I help you- situation. I want revenge against my father, Cho wants revenge against those stupid kids and you want whatever it is that you want that’s making you help her."

"And she and I already have a plan." Sarah was sure not to reveal her intentions. After all, they concerned no one but herself. "What I fail to see is the benefit of adding you to the mix."

"And that’s why I’ve brought a friend. If it’s okay with you, I believe she knows you back from your life in London."

Sarah felt conflicted. She already wasn’t agreeable to the idea of adding more players to her game but her curiosity over who actually remembered her was overwhelming. "I suppose." She finally answered.

The other girl rose and went to open the door calling someone else in. When the woman entered, Sarah rose, feeling excited for the first time in a long while. She took in the dark hair so similar to her own, the eyes like hers only with more green and the small star tattoo right below her left eye. "Elise McKinney!"

"Hello Sarah." Elise answered as the women embraced each other. "I’ve been looking for you since you disappeared all those years ago! And now here under these circumstances I finally find you. It’s a bit chilly in here thought isn’t it?" She pointed at the fireplace where a roaring fire blazed to life.

"I had thought you turned against me like the others." Sarah said taking a step back from the sudden warmth. Elise’s power was one she envied, such a more definite way to bring destruction.

"Of course I didn’t. I was dealing with the fallout of my own parents death." She responded.

"I’d heard of that. I’ve also heard that he’s back."

"He is. Voldemort has been resurrected apparently by the same brat that took him down in the first place." Elise shook her head. "I’ve been told that you are helping someone take care of that kid and his annoying friends. I have no interest in that, but I think all of our separate problems revolve around each other. So I think the four of us should work together."

"And what is it you two are after? Because Cho and I have things in motion already." Sarah responded.

It was the dark haired girl who answered. "Think how much more quickly you can get things done when you have allies outside a prison cell. Not to mention that as twisted as little Cho has become, she’s no where near as powerful as the three of us."

"Lord Voldemort has approached me already to join his forces." Elise added. "I’ve an in with that side. And I can easily mention you. I know he’d want to add you to his psychic menagerie."

"Why would I want that?" Sarah asked.

"Because he can get you the information you’re after much more quickly than Cho’s little puppet Marietta can discover." she answered. "You think I don’t know what you’re after? We all want revenge Sarah."

"And once we get what we all want? I remember you well, Elise. You always had something else going." She responded.

"As did you." She smiled wickedly. "The way I see it, if you and I have an in on the evil side, we need someone on the other side, which is where my new friend comes in. She knows one of those kids always with Potter from back at school. She’ll position herself in their lives and then we’ll know what’s going on in both sides of this war. I want us all to come out on top. I want them all to suffer. Think about it, we can’t blame it all on the ministry for what happened to us and our families. Lord Voldemort and his followers were men after power and influence. I want us to achieve what they never could. I want us to take them all down." Elise finished.

"And why would you want to spy on those kids?" Sarah turned the other girl.

"Because they get me closer to my father." She answered simply.

"And what did dear old daddy do to make you so angry with him?"

"He denied me as his daughter and killed my mother." She again answered simply.

"So what do you say Sarah? Are you ready for a new game?" Elise prompted.

"I don’t see why not. Especially since we get to make up the rules. How long before I can expect a visit from the almighty Voldemort?" she asked, still keeping her own plans to herself.

"I’ll tell him about you as soon as I get back. After what happened at the Leaky Cauldron yesterday, I think he’s going to love finding out about you."

"Why, what happened?"

"That Potter kid, it seems he has a few extra talents of his own." Elise smiled. "Maybe if Voldemort doesn’t want us to kill him, we can use him as well."

***

"Wow." Luna said after the memory grew dark.

"What? What did you see?" Tonks asked eagerly from the chair.

"A whole new problem." Harry answered grimly.

(BREAK)

Draco looked out the darkened window of the ministry car, watching as Arthur and his Aurors approached the house. "Dobby thinks Young Master is sad." Said the little house elf sitting next to him. At first when Arthur had showed up with the elf, they had stared at each other for a long time before deciding they were okay with each other. The last time he’d actually seen the house elf, he’d still been in service to his family and Lucius was abusing the little thing. He’d since heard that Dobby had been taken in by Dumbledore to work in the castle. Beyond that, he hadn’t really thought of the elf since.

"I’m not sad." He answered still watching as the adults all disappeared into the house.

"Dobby isn’t sad to be back here either. Dobby is glad Harry Potter tricks master into giving Dobby clothes." He insisted as if Draco were trying to force him to go back.

"I’m sure you are." He answered wearily. All he wanted was to go in the house and get this over with. Being trapped in the car with Dobby was not part of what he had agreed to.

"Young Master is now friends with Harry Potter? Professor Dumbledore told Dobby you was and Professor Dumbledore never lies to Dobby."

"Well I guess it’s true then isn’t it." He didn’t hide his irritation.

"Dobby protects Harry Potter. Young master doesn’t wants to hurt Harry Potter anymore?"

"Not at the moment." Draco answered, excited to see Mr. Weasley, Kingsley and Mad-eye return to the car.

"Dobby, you can go right in and find those files we talked about." Arthur said opening the back door.

"The ones Master makes Dobby steal from the ministry a long time ago?"

"Those are the ones." He smiled kindly at the creature. With a snap, the small house elf disappeared, presumably to wherever he’d hidden the documents within the mansion. "You ready?" Mr. Weasley turned to him and handed over the invisibility cloak. Draco had to wear it into the house so no one would see him entering.

"As much as I can be I guess." He answered, settling the silky folds around himself. He followed them up the familiar walkway, the entrance looming in front of him, much bigger and more menacing than he recalled. Narcissa was in the parlor, sitting stiffly as Aurors went through her things. It was the same way she sat every time the ministry had invaded their home. Draco was strangely comforted knowing certain things stayed the same.

"Hello mother." He said from the doorway, letting the cloak fall to the floor.

She turned quickly, her eyes flashing love, concern and excitement before they hardened. "Draco. What are you doing here?"

"I came to get some things. And to see you." He answered quietly.

"You came to get some things?! And you brought the Minister to help you move?" she asked rising to face him.

"I’m here on official business. I offered him the chance to come with." Mr. Weasley answered in a hard voice.

"May I have a moment alone with my son?" she asked angrily. But suddenly, Draco didn’t want to be alone with her. There was something in her stance, in her look. She seemed to feel just as betrayed by him as everyone else.

"I don’t think so." Mr. Weasley answered, obviously picking up on Narcissa’s attitude. "I’ll stay right where I can see him, and you."

"You act as if I intend to kill my own son." She said angrily. "I’m not my husband, I do have some shred of decency. We have many things to discuss, my son and I."

"I will issue a cone of silence for you both, but I will not leave the room." The minister insisted.

"Fine." She agreed through clenched teeth, upset at being told how things would be conducted in her own house. Mr. Weasley waved his wand and suddenly all the sounds around them disappeared. It was disconcerting, seeing so many people moving and talking around him and not being able to hear any of it. "Draco. Why did you do this?" Narcissa asked, the anger gone now that no one could hear her.

"What I don’t understand is why you didn’t all those years ago!" he shot back, letting his own anger and disappointment overwhelm him. "Why did you stay with him?"

"I couldn’t leave. You know it wouldn’t have been that simple. And truth be told I didn’t want to leave, Draco. This life has given us everything we’ve ever wanted. We’ve never had to struggle, never had to go hungry, never had to go without anything."

"And all we had to do was sell our souls." He answered miserably.

"And what has finding your soul done for you, love?" she looked pointedly at his arm, still missing the wrist and hand.

"Yeah, well, you can thank your husband for this." He raised his stump of an arm. "He’s the one who tried to kill me. I wouldn’t be here right now if Potter hadn’t pushed me out of the way, and my own father would have been the one to end my life. And you know what else? You can thank the minister and all the rest of them for finding a way to fix this and undo the damage. And my new werewolf curse, yeah, that was dear old dad and Voldemort, working together to send Harland to my room. You remember Harland, don’t you mother?"

She shivered involuntarily. "Of course I do. I never wanted that man to live with us all those years."

"But I thought you got everything you wanted out of this life?" he shot back. "Was it worth it? Abandoning me to stay with him?"

"You abandoned me as well Draco. Look around, Lucius isn’t here. He’s never here anymore it would be the first place they’d look for him. I wasn’t given a choice of sides to take, you both left me."

He was unmoved by her attempt at guilt. "You really think I don’t know better? How many safe houses do we have all over the country? You really expect me to believe you haven’t been to see him wherever he’s hiding?"

"You haven’t told them about those have you?" she asked worriedly.

"No, not yet." He answered darkly. "But I can at any time. I know all the places he would go to hide, don’t I mother. Just because I gave this life up doesn’t mean I don’t remember it."

"So if you blame him so much, why not just turn him in? Admit it, Draco, you made a mistake. It’s not too late to fix it you know. I still love you. I will always love you, you are my son, my one and only. And if you want to come back, I will be here for you." She stepped forward and reached out for him, pulling him close.

Had he not finally seen what true affection between parent and child was supposed to be he might have fallen for her display. But thanks to painful observation of the Weasley family over the last few months, he’d seen how a hug from your mother was supposed to feel, and the thin cold arms now wrapped around him were anything but warm and loving. He pulled away. "There is no coming back, not to this side. Even if I wanted to, they’d never trust me again."

"So you’re just going to continue with this madness?" she cried.

"Why not? You’re continuing on with yours. At least now I’m around people who care about me and don’t just want to use me. Since leaving I haven’t been asked to spy on anyone or plant things on people. I haven’t been instructed to harass anyone or make people miserable. Turns out, I like not doing those things."

"You act as if you had the worst childhood ever. You know it’s not true. We care about you, we love you." She insisted. "I just want my family back!"

"Well you can’t have it." he answered harshly. "I almost believe you, you know. But I refuse to believe Lucius loved either of us. Face it, if he loved you as much as you think, he would have taken you with him when he went underground instead of leaving you to face his public ruination. I won’t be apart of any family that involves him."

"So I’m supposed to choose between you and your father?"

"I wouldn’t ask you to do that. It took a lot for me to break away from him and for you it would be much harder I’m sure. But someday, you may have to choose and I wonder, would you let him take my life?"

"Never." She answered vehemently. "I haven’t seen hide nor hair of since he attempted it at Hogsmeade, or he would have already felt my wrath."

"I wish I believed you. Maybe someday, I will." He stepped further away from her and gestured to Mr. Weasley who once more waved his wand releasing the spell. Voices and sounds filled his ears again.

"Draco, why don’t you go gather whatever you’d like to take with you. We’re about done here." The minister suggested.

Before he could move, Dobby appeared in the parlor, startling Narcissa who hadn’t been aware the creature was once more in her home. "Dobby finds the papers, sir!" He exclaimed excitedly, handing several files over to Mr. Weasley.

"What papers? What is that thing stealing from us?"

"Stealing back you mean." Mad-eye said coming through the large French doors leading to the garden. "Those are files your husband had stolen from the ministry several years ago madam. We are simply regaining our property. Arthur, we are ready to start taking the servants."

"Taking the servants?! What is going on? What exactly are you all here for?!" Narcissa demanded. "You obviously brought my son as a distraction, so what is it you’re looking for?"

"We’ve already found it." Mr. Weasley held up the files. "We are taking the servants to ensure they are not helping hide their master."

"That’s ridiculous. Of course Lucius wouldn’t rely on them for his safety." She snarled, losing some of the regal composure she was known for. Draco had to admit to himself, he liked seeing his mother with her feathers ruffled. She had looked the other way for so many years, seeing, hearing but speaking no evil. Now things were falling down around her and he felt a sick satisfaction.

"That’s not for you to decide." Kingsley said, coming in with Bowie shackled behind him. The old gardener saw Draco but he shook his head, trying to tell the man to give nothing away. He must have taken the hint because he remained quiet.

"Dobby, will you please go help Draco pack his things? We should be leaving soon." Mr. Weasley said to the house elf.

"Sir, Dobby is honored to help the Minister and is happy to be asked and not told to do something." He bowed, glancing at Narcissa before snapping his fingers and disappearing. Without a word, Draco left the parlor and headed up to his room. The stairs seemed higher, longer. He ran up them, feeling the childish fear that something was chasing him. He ran all the way down to his room and closed the door behind him, shutting out the demons.

Dobby was in his closet quickly and carefully packing all his clothes. Draco picked up his dress robes, left where he had haphazardly threw them over his chair after the last awful function his mother had forced him to attend. "Dobby packs that now sir." He reached for the garment.

But Draco shook his head. "That’s okay. I don’t want to take it. Bad memories." He threw the clothing aside and began walking around looking at all of his things. He’d randomly reach for an object and Dobby would anxiously reach to take it from him. But every time Draco would change his mind and decide he didn’t want whatever it was.

Finally tired of following him around the room, Dobby declared, "If Young Master wants to tell Dobby what Young Master wishes to take Dobby will packs it."

Draco looked around and realized there was nothing he wanted to take back with him. Every single thing in the room had a memory attached to it and he felt bringing any of it back would somehow taint Potter’s house. "None of it Dobby. I don’t want to pack any of it."

"What of Young Masters clothes, sir?" Dobby looked horrified at the thought of leaving something so precious behind.

"I’ll make a deal with you. Stop calling me that and you can have any clothes you want to take with you."

He appeared uncertain. "Young Master lets Dobby have any clothes Dobby wants?"

"As long as you stop with the "young master" stuff. You said yourself that Potter tricked my father into freeing you, so you don’t have to call anyone master anymore right?" Draco felt annoyed, wanting no reminder that he had been the master of anyone or anything.

"Dobby is glad Draco Malfoy is friends with Harry Potter. Draco Malfoy is much nicer now. Dobby thanks you sir, for the kind gift." The elf’s eyes grew wide and he smiled. "Dobby very much likes sock sir."

He went to the appropriate drawer and opened it letting the elf root through its contents. Finally, he came up with a garish pair that Draco had never worn. They were Christmas socks striped red and white like a candy cane with bells on the cuff and had been a gift from his grandmother in her more senile years. Clutching his prize tightly, Dobby followed him back down to the parlor and he was glad of the little guy’s company, the hallway and stairwell feeling less foreboding with a companion; especially one with elf powers.

"Everyone’s packing up, we’re just about ready to go." Mr. Weasley announced when they entered the parlor together. He had been seated across from Narcissa and now rose to meet them. "Where are your things?"

"I changed my mind." Draco looked pointedly at his mother. "There’s nothing here I want."

(BREAK)

"We’ll tell Arthur as soon as he comes back." Harry told Luna as they hurried back to their room. It was late and they had spent longer with Sarah than they had intended. Though they searched every memory they could find of the three women, nothing more had been said specifically about their plans. It seemed that they were all working separately yet somehow together. Whatever they had planned, it was nothing good, he was sure of that. And though he found them less menacing than Voldemort, at the same time they were somehow more terrifying.

They’re like the three witches in MacBeth, predicting the rise and downfall of everyone. Only these three are the ones planning to ruin everything. Luna answered his thought. He stared at her blankly and she shook her head looking amused. "Hermione would have known."

"I don’t doubt that." He said as they entered the room. Ron was alone. "Ginny take off?"

"Do you see her here?" he answered moodily.

"Okay then." Harry said deciding to let it go. He climbed into his bed and pulled the covers up, hoping tomorrow would be a better day.

(BREAK)

Draco felt exhausted and was glad when they decided to put Dobby back at Hogwarts. He had feared they planned on bringing the house elf home and he’d certainly had his fill of the creature for the day. When they finally pulled up in front of Potter’s house, he actually breathed a sigh of relief. There was nothing sinister about the outside, and he knew the inside was bright, cozy and comforting.

"Thank you. For taking me with you today." He said to Mr. Weasley once they were in the entryway.

"I only hope it helped you in some way." He answered with concern. "And I want to thank you, for doing so much to help us."

"I’m trying to make up for some things." Draco said, feeling a stab of guilt. After all, he wasn’t being as helpful as he could be. He hadn’t given up his father… yet. First, he had to figure out why he hadn’t told them about the safe houses, why he had continued to protect his father even that far.

"I’m aware of who you used to be and who you are now. They are still one in the same Draco, the only difference is the decisions you’re making. And if it means anything at all, I’m proud of you for taking a stand and choosing for yourself."

He looked away, unable to meet the man’s reassuring gaze. "It means a lot actually." He said quietly. Mr. Weasley placed a hand on his shoulder before walking past him and into the kitchen. Draco turned and made his way upstairs, walking straight to Ginny’s door and knocking softly. She opened it eagerly, her eyes full of worry. Without a word he threw his arms around her pulling her as close as possible. She returned the embrace, clinging to him tightly and he felt the affection, the care, and the concern she felt for him. It was worth far more than the stiff hugs and awkward displays of affection he’d received growing up. And her father’s words had touched him more than anything his own father had ever said to him. This was certainly where he wanted to be. There was no doubt of it.

(BREAK)

"Arthur is checking in with the Aurors downstairs, and then you two are free to leave." Drake announced to Luna and Harry the next morning.

"And me?" Ron asked.

"I’m afraid you still have at least one more night here with us." Drake said apologetically.

"Isn’t there anyway he can recover at home?" Harry asked. He felt bad leaving his friend behind.

"Unfortunately I’m unable to leave the hospital at all for the present moment. I have so much to do before-" he broke off and grinned at them. "Well, nevermind, I just have a lot to do and won’t be able to get away. And you still require a bit of observation Ron."

"Whatever." Ron grumbled as the healer left. Luna went to the bathroom to change back into her street clothes leaving the boys alone. Harry dressed quickly trying not to look too excited about leaving.

"You want me to come back later? I can stay overnight with you." He offered.

"Thanks, but I think I can manage." Ron said still moody. Then he sighed and changed his attitude. "I’ll let you know if and when I change my mind though. Thanks."

"No problem." Harry answered quietly.

"You know Ginny thanked me for saving Draco’s life?" He said suddenly out nowhere.

So his talk with Ginny was what was bothering him. "Well, I heard all about what you did, good job. But no I didn’t know anything she said, we weren’t eavesdropping or anything, we let you guys have your privacy."

"Well she did. Told me she wanted me to understand her desire to be with the jerk, didn’t care if I accepted it or not." He huffed.

"Ron, have you noticed that Draco is still a jerk only to you? You bring it out in each other actually. He treats everyone else pretty well considering. And in return, we treat him pretty okay. It keeps the peace, you know."

"Easy for you to say. He’s not trying to date your sister."

"I don’t think there’s any trying about it." Harry grinned even as Ron’s face turned more sour. "Face it, they found each other and decided it works for them. It doesn’t mean it’ll be forever, right?"

"I don’t know. I guess I’d have to ask Luna. She’s the one with the big picture." He said angrily. "And I’m sorry, but I can’t just shove aside years of resentment towards Malfoy just because he’s having a hard time now and I feel bad for him. And I do feel bad for him, but those feelings are separate from the loathing I’ve felt for him over six years. And I don’t have a bad childhood to bond with him over."

"Whoa, I have never made excuses for the things he’s done, I simply pointed out I understood what drove him. I’m empathetic about his past, not sympathetic. I don’t like knowing about the things he’s done and been part of, all the ways he hurt us and tried to destroy us. But I also know of all the things he’s done and been through since and I believe he wants to change, I really do. That doesn’t mean I think he’ll be successful, it only means that I trust his efforts." Harry defended himself and Draco. "Besides, you don’t see Fred getting himself all worked up over this, he never went looking for a fight."

"I didn’t-"

"Yes you did. I know you better than that. You can say you only wanted to talk to him all you want, but I know you were hoping for things to get out of hand. I’m sure the only thing you didn’t expect was for him to get the upper hand that day."

"No pun intended." Ron grumbled.

"Either way, he’s around for now so you might as well get used to it. We’ll have to live with him at school too, remember?"

"I don’t want to like him."

Harry smiled and shook his head. "No one said you had to. You only have to get along. For Ginny’s sake as well as the rest of us."

"Yeah, yeah." He crossed his arms.

Luna came back a few minutes later, leading Harry to believe that she had been giving them time. "Mr. Weasley is right behind me." She announced just in case.

Sure enough, Arthur came in moments later looking cheerful. "Well Ron, looks like you and I are camping out here tonight. Not quite the family vacation I was hoping for, but it’ll have to do."

"You don’t have to come stay with me dad." Ron said looking embarrassed.

"I know I don’t have to. Doing things I have to do never makes me this happy. I want to do this, think about it; a night away from that crowded house, just us guys sitting up here being guys. Maybe I can convince Fred to come along. Maybe even get Bill and Charlie to stop by, have a meeting of the Weasley men!" Arthur laughed at an idea that also seemed to thrill him. "It’s been so long since we had a boys night. And Harry could come along too of course, as an honorary Weasley, let him see us all at our worst."

"Really, dad. I’ll be fine." Unlike Arthur, Ron looked horrified at the thought of them all gathered around his sick bed. Harry understood the opposition.

"Either way, I’ll be here." He assured his son before turning to the others. "Are you two ready?" They nodded eagerly. "Then let us be off!"

They made their way down to the car lot. "Can’t we just apparate home?" Harry asked.

"We aren’t going home. We’re going to see Bowen Roseblood." He answered as the ministry car pulled up in front of the door. Draco was sitting in the backseat with Lupin and Tonks.

"How’re you two feeling?" Lupin asked as they settled in.

"As good as I can be I guess." Harry answered.

"And you, Luna?" Tonks prompted.

"Fine. I love when the sky is this shade of blue. Such a happy color." Luna answered and Harry turned to her sharply. The random statement hadn’t startled him, it was pretty normal for her, it was her voice which had held the same dreamy quality it used to, back when she had been closed into herself not sharing anything with anyone. He realized how quiet she had been since he’d convinced her to stay and felt it was his fault that she was acting strangely. She was staying because he wanted her to, not because she wanted to. Deciding he needed to make it up to her, he had a sudden stroke of genius. It was a plan he’d have to discuss with Arthur because there was no way he could get away with this idea in secret. He only hoped Arthur agreed that it was as good an idea as he did.

They arrived at a small cluster of houses, all of which shifted out of the way upon their arrival to reveal another hidden in the middle. A short man with a mane of graying hair and a big, bushy, gray mustache greeted them at the door. "Hello again Minister. Master Draco! It is certainly a pleasure to see you again, especially after all of the things I’ve heard of you recently. I always said you were the only one worth a damn in that mansion of misery." He ushered their group into the house.

"Hi Bowie. Just Draco, okay?" He said with embarrassment.

"Certainly! Anything you want." Bowie answered. They all settled comfortably in the small living room. A sturdy woman entered bearing a tray with tea things, a young boy of about five and a girl of not more than eight were hiding shyly behind her. "May I properly introduce my wife, Bethany Roseblood. And these are our children, Angelica and Tobias."

"My name’s Toby." The boy offered with a shy smile from behind his mother’s skirt. Introductions were made, the children’s eyes growing wide at the mention of Harry’s name. "They don’t like you in the big house." Toby told him with all the seriousness of a five-year old, while glancing nervously at Draco.

"We don’t have to worry about the people in the big house anymore. We live here now, lovey." Bethany assured her son.

"I wouldn’t go so far as to say your worries are over." Lupin reminded the woman.

"Oh of course not, we’re just much better off now thanks to all of you." She smiled gracefully. Harry found that he liked her very much, all of them, and couldn’t picture them at the Malfoy mansion.

"Mr. Roseblood-" Arthur began.

"Bowen. Or Bowie." He was quickly interrupted.

"Very well, Bowen, I trust Kingsley explained to you our reasons for moving you and the things we wish to discuss."

"He did. And I remember the incident very well, Beth here nearly tore my head off when she found out what I had done, speaking to that Auror."

"Well, I worried that what happened to him would happen to you." His wife protested.

"He assured me he could keep my name out of it! And so did the one who came to investigate the poor fellow’s death." Bowie let out an argument he had probably used many times over the last six years whenever this topic arose between them.

"I don’t care. It was still one of the most foolish things you’ve ever done, and when we had little Angie to think of and Toby on the way!"

"It’s in the past, woman!" He said in exasperation. "What’s done is done and now it’s brought us here."

Arthur cleared his throat. "Luna here was that Auror’s sister and she would very much like to know what you can tell us about all." He brought them back on point.

"And I’ll gladly tell you young lady. Your brother, I’m told his name was Kane, well he came around the house, at first I thought he was a trespasser the way he was trying to look in the windows. I went to confront him told him I’d alert the house. That’s when he told me why he was there and held up a picture of a man asking if I’d seen him. Well, I hesitated of course, knowing what dangers come with opening your mouth. But he assured me that he’d keep me out of it so I told him I sure had seen the man, that he had been brought into the house and not of his own free will either. He went around to the front and rang the bell and I left it at that hoping he’d find something to stick to Master Malfoy. Couldn’t have been ten minutes later, I was back to planting in the garden when I heard a horrible cry. I turned and saw the poor lad as he hit the ground below that balcony, had to shut my eyes against the horror but I could still hear his scream ringing in my ears."

Harry noticed the tears in Luna’s eyes and cleared his throat, indicating to the man that certain details could be left out. He caught on and quickly moved ahead in his story. "Anyway I hid myself, and saw the Master looking out the window, checking to see if anyone witnessed anything. When the second Auror came I told him everything, again after being reassured that my name wouldn’t be brought up. He seemed to believe me, and I thought for sure that would be it. The Master would be caught and sent away and I could finally leave safely with my family. But a few hours later, the Auror came back with some woman who claimed she could see into the past. Must been something to her, because she walked right to the spot Kane fell without anyone showing her. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she fell to her knees. No one could shake her out of it. And then suddenly it was over and she looked directly at the Master and said it had all happened exactly as he described. Now I didn’t see the boy get pushed, but I know he didn’t fall on his own. He would’ve had to been leaning so far over the side, there was nothing for him to see to warrant his leaning so far. Plus I knew that I had told him the man he was looking for was inside, why would he have looked out at all? But by then Beth here got wind of what I’d done and told me to keep my mouth shut. She said they’d never take my word over anybody else’s, and I guess they wouldn’t have, me being a squib and all."

"Can you describe the woman?" Tonks asked, her tone all business.

"Tall and slender, very pretty- what they asked!" he turned away from his wife’s stern gaze and continued his description. "She couldn’t have been more than thirty-two and had light skin, dark reddish brown hair and the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen."

"What do you mean?" Tonks pressed.

"Well, they were a light golden color, like fresh honey and they pierced right through whatever she was looking at." Harry and Luna looked at each other in horror. They’d seen eyes like that before, in someone else’s memory. Apparently Sarah’s new dark haired friend was Jayalina Delamora’s daughter.

(BREAK)

Fred watched the cauldron bubble, waiting for the right time. "And….now!" he dropped the large piece of moonstone into the concoction.

"Okay. Now what?" Hermione asked, flipping through Drake’s notes.

"Now we wait for the stone to turn blue. Then we pull it out and add Drake’s special little tonic here."

"I can’t believe this could actually work." She said with a twinkle in her eye.

"Well don’t get too worked up, it’s only the first trial. Things rarely work out on a first attempt." He cautioned.

"Still, it feels like we’re close to something, doesn’t it? I think it’s all very exciting." She gushed moving closer to look into the cauldron for herself.

Her closeness made him feel nervous but he maintained his cool exterior. However, before he could reply with something clever and witty they heard the front door open and Harry call out. She squealed with excitement and ran out to meet him. "Guess it’s not that exciting." He muttered to himself as he followed her out. He had at least an hour before he had to worry about anything happening with the potion. Might as well go see how the visit with the gardener went.

(BREAK)

Hermione had never been so relieved in her whole life. Finally Harry was back home where he should be and soon they’d be back at school where it would be harder for him to get in life threatening trouble. Not impossible as history proved, but harder. Arthur gave them all a little time to freshen up before they were all to gather in the living room to discuss all that had happened. She and Harry raced up to his room to relish the short time they would have alone.

As soon as the door closed they were in each others arms, clutching onto each other tightly. Their emotions came in a rush and they hurriedly discarded their clothing, crashing together in a tangled mass of relief, need and desire. Afterward, they lay next to each other, trying to catch their breath. "Suddenly, I don’t feel as sore." He smiled at her, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"Suddenly I don’t feel so tense." She answered, stretching luxuriously before propping herself up and looking at him regretfully. "They’ll be expecting us down there pretty soon."

"Then let’s get it over with so we can lock ourselves in here for the night." He rose and began pulling on fresh clothes. As soon as they both felt they were presentable, they hurried down to the parlor. She was embarrassed to discover everyone else was already assembled.

They sat quickly and Arthur began filling Molly and the others in on what was happening and what was being planned. Just as Harry was beginning to tell them what he and Luna had seen in Sarah’s head the day before the front door slammed open and Kingsley came rushing in. "Urgent news Arthur. The Changs have been caught!"

(BREAK)

Harry sat in the kitchen staring at the plate of food he had put together. It was very late and he had left Hermione sleeping peacefully in his room to come and try to eat his own way to sleepiness. But now looking at it all in front of him, his stomach turned in disgust. He wasn’t hungry at all. Hearing footsteps, he sighed in frustration. Even in the middle of the night he couldn’t find a moment alone. "Hey, Draco." He said wearily when the other boy entered.

"Oh, hey." He said awkwardly. "I didn’t think anyone else was awake. Just wanted a drink." He moved carefully around the kitchen, getting a glass and filling it from the water pitcher in the refrigerator, watching Harry as if waiting for something to happen.

"I heard about the Changs. That’s good news, right?"

"I suppose. I doubt they’ll admit to anything, Cho never has."

"Maybe I can help." Draco said hesitantly. "I know a little about them. Not much though, I wasn’t told much."

Harry pushed out the chair next to him and gestured for him to sit. "Every little bit helps right?" he said as the other boy took a seat with his glass of water.

"Well, like I told you before, I was surprised to find out that Cho was going to be my accomplice last year. Before that I had no idea she or her family had anything to do with any of that."

"She told us that she only found out herself that summer." He added.

Draco laughed. "She lied to you. From what my father said, the Changs were deeper underground than we were during the whole time Lord Voldemort was gone, completely off the radar. The reason being they hadn’t moved to London until right before you got rid of him. They were followers from afar, safely hidden in their own village and had only planned to move after they saw his rise to power. Cho was about two years old, I think, when they did come here. Lucius said he knows for a fact they were two of the others dressed in Death Eater robes with him at three different attacks. And then it was over, the Dark Lord was gone and you had been taken and hidden away while his followers were rounded up. New to town, no one from the ministry knew the Changs, and no one on our side mentioned them."

"And since? Have they continued going to the meetings since he returned?"

"According to my father. But I don’t know anything specific beyond what I’ve already disclosed about my part with Cho. I don’t know what they’ve done and I don’t know how involved they are in everything their daughter did."

"Arthur plans on going to Azkaban to find out for himself. Can I ask you a favor?" Harry asked reluctantly. It was something that had been stirring in his mind, but he was hesitant to admit his reasons for not wanting to do this himself, especially to Draco Malfoy.

"I guess." He answered suspiciously.

"Will you ask to go with him? I need someone to talk to Cho, privately, about what happened that night we were there and the things we’ve since learned from Sarah’s memories. Ron’s in no shape to face her, and Arthur would never agree to let him or Fred and Ginny go. And I can’t ask Hermione and especially not Luna to go."

"And that leaves me to be the spy." He looked disappointed, making Harry feel bad.

"You can say no. It’s an option, you know."

"Is it? If I say no it makes me ungrateful and useless. Not to mention suspicious. If I say yes then I have to go see someone who very much hates me and who I’m not too fond of myself."

"I asked as a favor. Favors can be turned down with no hard feelings." Harry swallowed hard and decided to be honest. "I understand why you wouldn’t want to. Why do you think I’m asking? I can’t make myself go and face her. She got me, she and Sarah both got me good. I can’t sit across from her and see her gloat when she has no right. She’s the one locked away and still she managed to ruin part of me. I’m scared that if I go, I’ll do something I can’t take back."

"So it’s really gone, then. The power is really gone?" Draco asked. Harry was surprised to see pity in his eyes.

"For now. Hopefully Gabriella is as good as we think she is."

"Yeah, hopefully." He looked away and took a long drink from his water, his other arm resting on the table, still unfinished.

Harry had a sudden thought, remembering a conversation he’d walked in on days ago. "When we hear back from her, do you want us to ask is she can speed things up with your arm?"

Draco studied his limb carefully and finally shook his head. "No, I want Drake to finish. He said I’m the first person this has worked for, and he has been successful. It’s almost done anyway."

"Wow. It’s strange to hear you thinking of others so much lately. I like it." Harry assured him, hoping to help him see he was making good progress.

Draco reddened but ignored the comment. "Do you think there’s anyway she can fix the other thing? You know, take away the curse?" He turned to Harry looking for an honest opinion.

"I don’t know. All we can do is ask." He answered supportively.

"Okay. I’ll go talk to Cho. Tell me everything you want to know and I’ll do my best to get the answers, but I can’t guarantee she’ll be all that cooperative. She probably wants me dead almost as much as she does you."

"You don’t have to." Harry told him again.

"I know, it’s my choice, and that’s why I’m choosing to go." He answered decisively.

Harry thanked him feeling more than grateful. He only hoped he wasn’t making a big mistake.

(BREAK)

"This is stupid." Ginny said as Draco once more prepared to leave with her father. Only this time they were going somewhere far worse.

"Look, I’m not one hundred on this either. But I told Potter I’d do it so I will." He answered stubbornly.

"I don’t see why. And I can’t believe he asked you in the first place!" she threw herself down on the bed in exasperation. "I can’t believe my father agreed to it. You were right, they’ll all do anything to make him happy."

"I told you, he gave me his reasons and I agreed with them. Besides, it’s really the only thing he’s asked of me since I got here, it’s the least I could do to show a little good faith."

"Bull. You’re going so he’ll like you more. It’s the same reason you used to do the things your father told you to do." She pointed out.

"Maybe, the difference being Potter asked, gave me the option."

"Oh please. He knew you’d never say no."

"Yeah, well who are you anyway to lecture me on doing things to get people to like you!" he said angrily.

She sat up in shock. "Excuse me?"

"What, I’m just supposed to sit here and listen to you tell me how weak and easily manipulated I am?"

"That’s not what I said at all!" she argued.

"Isn’t it? I’m going, I have my reasons for doing so beyond the ones Potter listed so deal with it or move on." He stormed out leaving her alone in his room.

What had just happened? She had no idea where the sudden anger had come from, and she really hadn’t meant what he thought. She had simply been worried that he’d let his gratitude get him in trouble. Even Harry and Luna hadn’t been safe from Cho, why would Draco fair any better? There was something else eating away at him, she was sure of it. What it was that he couldn’t discuss with her she couldn’t imagine, but the thought of anything he’d need to keep secret terrified her. It couldn’t be anything good.

(BREAK)

Draco sat alone in the room waiting for them to bring Cho in. It had taken a lot of convincing to get Mr. Weasley to agree to let him have a private conversation but he had and decided to allow them a cone of silence. Meanwhile, Tonks and Kingsley were to remain in the room with them while Mr. Weasley, Mad-eye and a few more Aurors interrogated Cho’s parents. Draco had of course promised to relay any information that he gathered relevant to any of the things they were currently investigating. But that wasn’t what he was worried about. If his sudden argument with Ginny was indication, he was nervous about the other things they were sure to discuss.

The giants had arrived at the prison a few days before, and he could hear their lumbering steps as they patrolled the hallways. Finally Cho was brought in and chained to the chair across from him. She said nothing, simply glared at him with an evil smile plastered across her face. Draco nodded to Tonks and she waved her wand, giving them privacy while they watched on.

"Did they tell you they arrested your parents?" he asked.

"I could care less. I’m beyond them." She replied.

"Yeah, because now you’ve teamed up with Sarah, Elise and the other one, right? You really think you all can take on both sides?"

"I have no idea what you’re talking about."

"Of course you do. You just don’t know how I know. Well, we all know, from me and Potter right up to the minister. We know what you are all four up to now."

"You’re fishing. Why else would they send you to talk to me? Thought maybe you could rekindle old flames between us?" She sneered.

He steeled himself. "There was nothing to rekindle and you know it. All there was were a couple of drunken mistakes."

"Oh sure, you made the same mistake more than once. We had something Draco, it may have been wrong and perverse but let’s not start denying history."

"I know what you’re doing. You trying to get in my head and make me upset. I won’t let you. Tell me when you met Sarah."

"I’ll tell you nothing. How’s Potter and Lovegood? Last I saw them, they were having a few problems." She cackled.

"I can tell you how Sarah is." Draco countered. "She’s in a coma."

"Like it matters. You can’t stop anything now, it’s too late." She said. "There is nothing that can disrupt my plans."

"So how much do you know about their plans? Because I’m betting they’re only stringing you along until they get what they want out of this whole mess. It would be easy with you being locked away here."

"You act as if I’ll be here forever." She threw back.

"You killed Longbottom and nearly killed Ginny, Luna and Potter as well. Not to mention making threats against them all right here in front of the minister and Albus Dumbledore. You won’t be out for a long time." He pushed, hoping she’d reveal more. Her simple statement had been enough to assure him that at some point, the plan was to break her out.

"Maybe. But you better watch yourself and your friends if I do. Don’t think I don’t know who’s responsible for getting me sent here in the first place. If you hadn’t opened your big mouth at the trial… tell me, did it even work? I know why you turned on me. I used to see the way you watched that crazy little Weasley when we spied on them last year. I know it upset you that she got caught up in my plan to get rid of Luna and keep Ron from testifying. So have you won her heart with this big change? Was she worth turning on us all? I hope she was and I hope you two cherish the short time you have together."

"You don’t know what you’re talking about." He said, careful not to reveal his fear or anger. She was poking at him, the way she did Potter. But he wasn’t like Potter, he didn’t wear his emotions out on his sleeve and he didn’t want Cho knowing the best buttons to push.

"Of course I do. I’m no idiot." She smiled again. "Did you tell her about us? I bet you didn’t. I bet if she knew the places you’ve been before her she’d be disgusted. Now I certainly don’t consider myself all that repulsive, but I bet she thinks differently."

"Whatever Ginny Weasley thinks is nothing to me, so of course I wouldn’t tell her or anyone else how desperate I was to think you a viable option for company." He said sternly. "Apparently it’s you who’s having trouble forgetting about all that."

"Don’t flatter yourself. I have very little to do in here besides remember all the things that made me decide to destroy you all."

"Again, I’d be a little more worried if I wasn’t visiting you in prison."

"But you are here, meaning something has you worried." She pointed out. "I’m sure Harry at least is feeling the effects of my reach beyond my jail cell."

"Perhaps, but it wasn’t really you who hurt him, was it? They know it was Sarah, and they know how she did it."

He saw the indecision and slight surprise that crossed her face, but it passed quickly. "I don’t care what they think they know about what happened. I know what will happen and that’s enough for me."

"I’m sure one of your allies being put in a coma wasn’t planned. And by the way, you know who put her in that hospital bed? Potter. Even after what you all did to him he still got the upper hand. Maybe you should re-evaluate things a little."

"I think we’ll be fine. It’s yourself you should be worried about. Neither side of the war is safe anymore."

"And you four are the ones threatening everyone? I’m terrified."

"No, not yet you aren’t. But just wait for the action to really begin. Jail, comas, nothing can stop us. We’ve seen to that. So why don’t you just go back and enjoy the girl you worked so hard to impress for the short time you’ll be able."

"I will. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful." He stood and motioned to Tonks who released the spell.

"I haven’t said anything." Cho said with no indication that she cared whether or not they were heard now.

"It’s what you didn’t say Cho. I’ve lived this life too, I know the doublespeak." He grinned at her as a large giant lumbered in and took her back into custody.

"I’ll see you sometime soon, you can count on it Draco. We have a few things to settle, you and I." She said as she was unchained from the chair and put in walking shackles.

"Then keep it between us." He warned her. She shot him an evil smile as she was led away.

"I don’t know exactly what they’re planning, but I think you all should up your security around her and Sarah." He told the two Aurors. "I’m positive a prison break is planned, and I’m almost just as sure that they intend to retrieve Sarah."

"They as in the girls or they as in Voldemort?" Kingsley tried to clarify.

"Does it really matter?" Tonks asked as they headed back to the main office.

"I think they want to get Sarah before he does." Draco speculated. "It doesn’t seem like Cho has been working with anyone but those women since she got here."

"I’ll go check on Arthur and Moody." Kingsley said as he left them at the office door.

"Let’s wait inside." Tonks suggested as another giant walked past them. The entered the Warden’s office which now belonged to Basillion, Gurg of the giants. Thankfully he wasn’t in. The giants seemed to make him feel as anxious as they did Tonks.

She took a seat in the small waiting area while he walked around inspecting things on the desk. There was one more thing Potter had wanted him to find out. "Well, that seemed to be a pretty intense conversation." She said trying to fill the silence.

"Cho is a pretty intense person lately." He answered finding what he was looking for. "Can I look through this? See if I recognize any of names of the people who visited her?"

"I don’t see why not."

He flipped through the visitor log, looking for Cho’s name. Each time he found it, the same name appeared next to it. Except of course for today and the one other time he had come here. He wasn’t sure how it was possible, but he certainly recognized the name. Apparently, the person who had been visiting Cho was Jayalina Delamora, or someone using her name.


NOTE: Okay, moving along nicely now that most of the set up is out of the way and we can start unraveling everything that’s been set up. So much more coming up, so stick with me. I’m working hard on it.




Chapter 25: Transitioning

A/N: I know this took a little while to get out, but I’ve had an unfortunate accident with my laptop and nearly lost everything I had written for this as well as my own work. Thankfully I have friends who are very good with computers and they were able to recover the hard drive. My laptop is still messed up though so I have to find time to write borrowing my roommate’s computer, so postings here may become more sporadic than I’d like until I can afford a new laptop. Anyway, back to the story. I’ve kind of lost my train of thought as to where I was going with this after so many days away from it, so I guess we’ll all just have to see what happens next. Read, Review, Enjoy!

 

"It’s impossible. She’s dead." Mad-eye said after Draco had finished telling them of his prison visit and whose name he’d found on the visitor’s log. They were back at the house and he felt worn down by the persistent questioning he had received while giving his impressions and opinions on what had transpired with Cho. And of course, little else had been learned from the interrogation of the Changs.

"Are you sure Alastor?" Mr. Weasley pressed.

"As sure as I can be. Of course I didn’t see the woman killed myself, but according to ministry documentation Jayalina Delamora was the victim of an unsolved murder nearly six years ago." Mad-eye answered gruffly. "It seems her death was barely investigated according to what little paperwork I was able to find. The case was marked unsolved and pushed aside and that’s about the extent of what is known about Ms. Delamora. No record of her birth, nothing to say she was married or had children, nothing but a death certificate and vague Auror reports left unsigned. Even the autopsy report was missing."

"What does it all mean?" Potter asked.

"It means we have a lot of problems in the ministry." Mr. Weasley replied, shaking his head. "Too many things are coming up missing, but…" he trailed off.

"But if you start an investigation, it’ll have to become public knowledge who has been in the archives and records and then everyone would know that you allowed us in there and would want to know why." Granger, always the observant one, picked up his thought. "Plus if Edmund gets wind of it, he’ll use it as one more example for how you are letting kids run the ministry for you. I found some of those articles." She admitted, lowering her eyes.

"Precisely." Mr. Weasley answered with a sigh, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "And I’m already stretched thin on Aurors I can trust- between guarding Sarah, guarding all of us and watching that place they think Severus is being held. How am I supposed to investigate this without drawing more attention?"

Mad-eye turned to his Auror counterparts with a determined snort. "Tonks, Kingsley, is there anyone else in the department that either of you feel we can depend on? Personally I’m against the lot of them, all clueless twits who I wouldn’t trust with the simplest of tasks. But I’m told my standards are a bit higher than most."

They smiled but neither offered comment on Mad-eye’s characterization of himself or their peers. "I would say I’m one hundred percent sure of Apollo Addams." Tonks answered the initial question after a quick glance at her coworker.

Kingsley nodded in agreement still wearing an amused grin. "I would add Althenia March and Magnus Grover."

"Okay," Mr. Weasley rubbed his hands together, getting himself in planning mode, "I want you three to approach them, have them join a secret investigation into the life and eventual fate of Ms. Delamora and why we don’t already have that information. Then find out just how many documents the ministry is missing and, if at all possible, who is behind their disappearance. Alastor, you are the lead on this so keep me updated as things progress."

"Hopefully they do." He answered taking a swig from his flask.

"You know dad, I’m not heading off to school or anything, I could help with an investigation." Fred offered.

"I appreciate that, but it would be impossible to get you clearance at this point. Both my office and the Auror department are being watched very carefully." Mr. Weasley replied.

"Well what are Bill and Charlie up to then? I could help them." He pushed.

"Charlie has been given a very special assignment, and Bill is with the Aurors trying to get to Severus. Neither of them needs your help right now. And as much as I might need it, I can’t take it son."

"There must be something I can help with. Come on, everyone else has something to do and this lot is about to head back to school where I’ve already done my time. I need something to occupy me and I’m trying to make it something productive for once." Fred answered crossing his arms angrily as Granger shot him a strange look. Draco shook his head disinterested in the conversation now that his part in it was apparently over.

He excused himself amid the argument brewing between Weasley father and son and saw many of the others do the same. Quickly climbing the stairs, he headed straight for Ginny’s door. She hadn’t come down with the others when he had returned from Azkaban and he was worried their fight was a lot more serious than he’d thought. He knocked for several minutes but she didn’t answer. Well, he wasn’t going to stand in the hallway and beg. He went to his room and slammed the door shut behind him.

"Hey."

He jumped at Ginny’s greeting. Apparently she had stayed put when he’d left her there that morning and was now lounging on his bed. "Well, I’m back from the big bad prison. Nothing horrible happened." He said with irritation, upset to have his space invaded and that he had stood so long knocking on the door to an empty room moments ago.

"So I see." she raised an eyebrow. "Am I supposed to apologize for worrying?"

He sighed and let it all go. He wasn’t mad at her anyway, he was frustrated with himself. "No I’m supposed to apologize for jumping down your throat. I kind of like that you worry about me, it’s just…" he found he was unable to put his thoughts into words.

"It’s just what?" she pushed encouragingly, reaching out to take his hand and pull him down to sit next to her.

"It makes me feel weak suddenly, to have someone to care about; you have a lot more practice at it. I mean looking back I wouldn’t have batted an eye if something had happened to Pansy or Crabbe or Goyle. I would have wanted to swear to avenge them naturally, but it would have been hollow, just something I was supposed to do. They were a part of my life but their lives didn’t mean much to me. But now it’s all so different and there are so many people I don’t want to see hurt…" He trailed off again.

"What did Cho say?" She asked quietly.

"Nothing I didn’t expect." He answered honestly while keeping the girl’s actual words to himself. "I just never really believed it when they would tell me that Potter’s feelings for those around him made him weak. Now I guess I not only believe it, I get to understand it."

"I think you’re putting yourself through too much, Draco." She said quietly. "You didn’t have to face your entire past this week you know. I mean first going back to that house, seeing your mother and then to go and talk to that psychopath they partnered you up with, and in a few more days you’ll be face to face with all the kids from school. It’s got to be hard on you."

As much as he liked that therapy was helping Ginny, he almost hated that she was so open to conversation lately. Ever since starting to see Laurel, she was always trying to talk things out, analyze every emotion and comment anyone had. He didn’t want to talk about any of this with her, not when she was just starting to come out of the darkness she had buried herself in. How could he now drag her down into his? "Hey, at least I won’t be seeing my father any time soon, right? It’ll be fine eventually I’m sure." He squeezed her hand.

"Meaning it’s not fine now." She looked worried.

"Meaning it is what it is and I’ll have to take it as it comes." He sighed. "I’m really not in the mood to talk about anything right now Ginny. I’m feeling really tired."

"Aren’t we all?" She smiled weakly. "I just don’t want you to think… I don’t know… that just because something is from your other life that I don’t want to talk about it with you if you need to. I mean you never did say anything about how it was to see your mum, or how being at that house affected you. And I know it did, from the desperate look in your eyes when you came back."

"I’m not your client, Ginny. You don’t have to play therapist with me." He said edgily. He didn’t like the picture of himself she was painting, it weakened way he wanted her to see him.

"You know what? You’re right. You aren’t my client, so what are you to me exactly?" She asked suddenly, looking him very directly in the eye. This was something important to her, something she’d obviously been stewing on for awhile and was therefore very sure about bringing up in conversation. He, however, felt it unfair to be so blindsided. "What are we to each other Draco?" she pressed.

He met her gaze, keeping his just as steady, wanting to be clear; wanting more than anything in the world to not screw this up. "I can only tell you what I think you are to me, and I think you might just be my first ever best friend. I think you might be the first person I ever wanted to be better for. And I think you’re the first person I’ve ever felt anything real with. To me that means you’re pretty much the most important person in my life. I don’t know what exactly you’re looking for, some kind of title or way of defining things-" she cut him off by placing a hand over his mouth.

"I think you’re what I was looking for, no definition necessary." She leaned in and kissed him.

(BREAK)

Luna snuck from the parlor as soon as Fred had showed signs of wanting an argument with his father. She had been avoiding everyone as much as possible since returning to the house and still wanted time to herself. Unfortunately, she realized someone had taken notice of her departure. But sensing who it was, she decided it would be alright and continued on through the kitchen. Quickly slipping out the back door, she stepped into the late afternoon sunshine, tilting her face towards the sky. Closing her eyes, she felt the caressing warmth of the sun’s rays against her skin as the scent of fresh cut grass and earthy musk invaded her nose. She breathed deeply, trying to release the tension she’d been feeling but sensing Lupin before he even opened the door took away all the pleasure of being out in the fresh air. She turned to face him- with as much friendliness as she could muster- as he stepped out into the yard.

"I assume you want to be alone, but I need a moment of your time." He said apologetically.

"I know you do." She answered with a heavy sigh. "What did Sirius and his parents have to say about everything?" She knew he wanted to discuss the ring, her reaction when he’d tried to give it to Harry and the things he’d since learned from the souls no longer among them. Secretly, she felt relief that she could get someone else’s opinion on what to do.

"They think you did the right thing. Lily especially had been worrying about his constant use." He held her in his steady yet always friendly gaze. "What do you know about all this? Did you see something?"

"I saw them going to pieces over that ugly piece of jewelry." She burst out. "I saw it draining their energy, turning them into deviants who would fight each other to get one more fix of the ring." She admitted freely, finding it was much easier to tell Lupin than Harry or Fred about any of this. "After I talked to Healer Drake about the effects of long term exposure to something so powerful, I decided to try and keep them from using the ring so much. But I can’t keep pretending to use it myself, eventually Harry is going to want it back, though I think Fred may come and ask for it first, he seems more influenced than Harry does. But the ring, it likes Harry better, it calls for him constantly."

"Well, that’s probably because his own energy output is a bit higher than Fred’s." Lupin said before regarding her with a warm smile. "I think I’ll take over protecting them for you. It’s my fault they have the thing in the first place."

She nodded gratefully. "I know they’re going to ask about it very soon."

"Then send them to me." He reached out to squeeze her shoulder encouragingly before heading back inside to give her the time to herself she had been seeking.

Well, one weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Protecting the others from the ring was no longer her responsibility and she relished in the thought. Now she was only responsible for everyone’s future. She wanted to go sit under the willow tree, but she knew it would be the first place Harry would look for her once everything settled down inside. She wished she could go nowhere for awhile, someplace no one would be able to find her, somewhere she could sit and wait. For what she wasn’t sure, but at least she would have time alone, to think, to reason out everything that was now scrambled together in her head. Walking around the yard, she found an area off in the corner behind some bushes. Once settling herself behind them, she was happy to see she was unable to view the house through the foliage. That meant no one could see her either. Laying down, she stared at the crystal clear blue sky, closed off her mind to Harry and lost herself inside her thoughts.

(BREAK)

"I wonder where Luna went." Harry said again as he followed Hermione back into the house. He was sure they would’ve found her in the yard.

"Well we looked everywhere, maybe she doesn’t want to be found." She suggested. "Everyone needs time to themselves once in awhile."

"I guess." He knew Luna wouldn’t have left the house altogether, so the only other option was that she was hiding from him. Well, fine. He’d forced her into staying, he’d let her have her space. "Let’s go find Arthur before he leaves for the hospital."

"You go ahead, I’m going to help Fred with the potion since I assume you’ll want to go with him to get Ron." Hermione said as they started towards the parlor.

"You could come too." He answered pointedly, strangely upset that she’d rather spend time with Fred working on potions than go with to bring Ron home.

"Well it’s nice to be invited along for once." She shot back before softening and wrapping her arms around him. "It’ll all be fine, I’m sure Arthur will agree to everything, it’s a great idea."

"Well, you helped inspire it. After all, you had a similar idea back in fifth year, remember." He reminded her as he returned the embrace and kissed the top of her head.

"I’m your muse!" she joked.

"Always." He kissed her again before she headed upstairs. "Hey, will you send Draco down, he should probably be a part of all this."

"Sure." She smiled encouragingly and continued up.

Taking a deep breath he strode confidently into the parlor. Arthur looked up from the couch where he’d been going through his briefcase. "What can I do for you?" he asked with a wide smile though his eyes showed he was still upset by the small argument he’d gotten into with Fred.

"Well, I was thinking-"

"You wanted me for something?" Draco interrupted from the doorway.

Harry gestured him in and they sat across from each other and Arthur. "I had an idea." He started off nervously. His audience of two stared back at him expectantly. "Well, we need a good way to start spreading the word about Lucius. With Edmund running the paper, we’ll never be able to make an announcement there. And Arthur, as minister you can’t reveal something that the ministry covered up in the first place. So, I thought maybe we could invite Mr. Lovegood here. Luna is missing her father right now anyway, and having a story like this to chase for his magazine would be sure to bring him. Plus, by having the Quibbler break the story, your hands would be clean and no one could stop the publication or circulation. Not to mention the believability factor for Quibbler articles will really get people talking, might have some of them start looking into things on their own. The more people we can get to give the other side problems the better, right?"

Arthur appeared to consider the arguments carefully for a long while. "It sounds okay." He said finally before turning to Draco. "What do you think? It must be done, your father must be exposed, but is this way okay by you?"

He looked at them with total confidence. "However you want to do this makes no difference to me. I know it’s a smart move to throw him under the bus and I’m absolutely fine with it."

Arthur looked Draco over closely before turning back to Harry. "Okay. You can write to him. But you better make it quick. Only six days until you leave for school."

"Really, you’re okay with it too?" He pushed.

"Not entirely. But I don’t have a better idea other than continuing to sit on the information and that isn’t doing us any good. Draco is right it’s a smart move. My only concern is the backlash the Lovegoods could receive from this, but if Xenophilius wants to take the chance, and I know he will, then that’s up to him. Luna in the meantime will be safely away at school where Albus, Remus-" he paused, "and the rest of you kids can keep an eye on her." Arthur finished with a sly grin. He had caught himself before revealing information that he clearly enjoyed keeping secret from them.

"So was that all?" Draco inquired.

"That was it. I didn’t think it would be so easy." Harry replied honestly.

"Few things are these days." He grumbled as he headed back upstairs.

"Well, I’m on my way to bring Ron home. Healer Drake has finally released him, should be home in time for dinner. I assume you’re coming with?" Arthur said with a grin.

"Absolutely." Harry answered.

(BREAK)

"I don’t understand why you’re mad at me." Fred declared, feeling his agitation grow as he tried to keep his hands steady to pour out the proper measurements.

"And I don’t understand why you are trying everything in your power to avoid doing something with your store!" Hermione returned.

"What do you care what I do with my store? It’s mine to do with as I please."

"And so you’ve just decided to quit?" she asked incredulously. "It was your dream! Yours and George’s! We all believed you could do it, Harry even financed it."

"Well, I’ll have to figure out some other way to pay him back." He replied angrily, slamming the beaker down on the table. "Besides I never said I was going to quit. Lee’s down there now still putting everything back together."

"Oh please. We both know that by now he’s gotten everything looking the way it did before. The problem is he has no products to put on the shelves."

"Yeah, well I think what we’re doing here is a bit more important than making jokes and candy." He grumbled.

"Of course it is. But so is having a life to go to after this is all done. And trying to immerse yourself deeper into the Order isn’t the way."

"Yeah?" He turned on her. "And what is it exactly you’ll be doing after you graduate? What life will you be preparing for? You aren’t part of the coven, you don’t need to go looking to unite all those people. You could go start teaching somewhere, or go on to more school or a million other things where your talents would be better served. Instead, you and Ron are both going to chase Harry around the world as he attempts to gather our one in a million chance of ending all this for good. So what do you care if I find a way to do the same?"

She was silent, obviously taken aback by his argument. "I’ll be preparing for the life I want." She finally answered. "Harry and I… we plan to have a life together some day."

"So you’re practicing what? Being a happy homemaker? Carrying his cloak as he runs around saving the world? Let me ask this, if it was you who needed to make some grand pilgrimage that he really didn’t need to be a part of, would he give up becoming an Auror or whatever he’s planning to follow you?"

"What are you doing?" she asked suspiciously.

"What are you talking about? I’m not doing anything other than what you’re doing to me, attacking me about my decisions about my future. It doesn’t involve you the same way yours doesn’t involve me, but if you insist on putting your two cents in then I feel it’s only fair that I get to do the same." He let out a shaky breath, unsure where his anger was coming from.

"By suggesting Harry isn’t supportive of me or doesn’t love me?" She crossed her arms. "I think you’re trying to be hurtful on purpose."

"You know what? I think I’ve got this potion thing on my own for awhile. Why don’t you run off and find your boyfriend, keep planning that life together." He answered grumpily, turning his back on her.

"I would but he went with your father to bring your brother home from the hospital. I came to help you because, yes, Harry and I can actually spend time apart. But if you’re going to be a jerk about it then I have plenty of ministry documents to go over still, a few more coven members to learn about. Better know it all since according to you I’ll be following Harry around the world as his bag carrier."

Hermione slammed the door behind her and he instantly felt like an idiot. He’d felt under attack by her concern, hadn’t wanted to talk about why he was avoiding reopening the store, so he’d attacked her instead. Sure there was some truth to the way he felt about what he’d suggested about her relationship with Harry, but it hadn’t been his place to say anything. After all, he didn’t know what went on with them when they were alone, he only knew what he could see. Or maybe it was what he wanted to see; that Harry, as great a guy as he was, wasn’t the right guy for Hermione. He shook his head violently. Even if it were true, it made no difference to him, he’d only been trying to be a friend to the girl… hadn’t he?

He shook out his limbs, deciding the whole train of thought was silly. Returning to his worktable, he tried to concentrate on the mixture in front of him but focus was impossible. Maybe he should talk to George, a real talk, which in recent weeks they hadn’t been afforded. Turning everything off, he decided to go find Luna.

(BREAK)

"So I can really go home today?" Ron asked eagerly as Drake performed one last examination.

"I stick by my word, you’ll be going home as soon as your father arrives." The healer answered with a grin.

"No offense but one more night camping out in here with dad may have killed me." He said as he jumped from his bed and began pulling on his street clothes.

"Well that wouldn’t have been good for the hospital’s image, so it’s a good thing we’re getting you out before any serious injury can occur." Drake joked before handing over a bottle of lotion. "Now remember to keep applying this, even if you think you’re all better. Use it until it’s all gone, got it?"

"Anything to not have to come back." Ron answered as he eagerly grabbed the bottle.

"Hey, looks like we’re right on time!" Arthur said brightly as he and Harry entered the room. "What’s the word Roscoe? Can he apparate or should I send for a car?"

"I think he’s well enough to go without the car. Just take it easy, muggles would be down for weeks or months with the burns you sustained." Drake warned.

"Then boy am I glad I know you!" Ron replied, his happiness to finally be leaving completely overtaking him and making him feel almost giddy.

"Alright." His father smiled. "I guess it’s time to get going, your mum will be awfully mad if we’re late to the enormous meal she’s planned this evening."

"Would you like to stop by?" Harry offered an invite to Drake. "You’re always welcome."

"I appreciate it, but I have so much to do here. I’ll be taking a trip in a few days and may have to be away for awhile so I must get everything in order."

"Where are you going? What about Draco’s treatments?" Harry asked and instantly Ron felt his good mood darken. He didn’t like that his friend cared anything at all about Malfoy.

Drake simply smiled in return. "Arrangements are being made. Neither you nor Draco need to worry."

"That reminds me. Boys, would you mind waiting a few minutes longer while I discuss some things with Healer Drake?" Arthur asked and then without waiting for a reply, the two men walked out into the hall leaving the two teens to themselves.

"Guess he’s not that worried about upsetting Molly." Harry joked, though Ron could tell that he was annoyed to be left out of whatever little meeting was going on behind the door.

He knew Harry didn’t like being kept out of the loop, no matter how often he did it to others. A stab of guilt went through him, thinking of the letters he’d exchanged with Jacinda. He decided to come clean while they had a moment alone. "So, I have some news and I wasn’t sure when the best time would be to tell you. But here we are, so what better time right?" He stumbled out.

"Okay, I’m all ears." Harry assured him.

(BREAK)

Ginny flipped over on her stomach and reached for her nightstand. She was sure Draco would come by soon, he’d wanted to shower before dinner, but even her fear of being caught with the picture couldn’t keep her from feeling the need to look at it. Pulling the framed photo from the drawer she lay it in front of her and studied the woman captured on film. Her long, sleekly elegant, ice blonde hair was flowing down her back, her pale skin appeared luminescent against the dark dress she wore and her chilly blue eyes pierced through the two dimensional plane. As a whole, Narcissa Malfoy was a coldly beautiful woman, and though she shared so many similar features with her son, Ginny found they were actually far more different. Draco certainly no longer appeared as menacing or hateful; and as defiant as his mother looked in the photo, it was he who now stood taller and more self-confident. She wondered what she would have seen had she studied this photo a year or two before that moment.

She really hadn’t meant to snoop when he’d stormed out of his room that morning, but he’d left her alone and she hadn’t been able to resist the urge. He had been too secretive, so closed in on himself, she’d decided it was best she look for clues. But the room was nearly barren of personal belongings and the only thing she’d found was this photograph of his mother, stuffed away in a drawer. Without thinking, she had run it straight up to her room and hidden it before going back to wait for him. After he returned, no more willing to talk about what was bothering him, she’d decided she had made the right move. If he wasn’t going to tell her what was wrong, then she’d figure it out on her own.

Now looking at the picture, she knew why she’d kept it. She had wanted to see how long it would take before he knew it was missing. It worried her that he was feeling isolated from his family, no matter how dysfunctional a relationship he had with them. She hoped if he did discover the picture missing that he would come to her for help, that it would open a dialogue between them so she could offer her support. Of course, if that didn’t happen, if he wouldn’t talk to her, then she’d see to it that he talk to someone. After all, he was the one who had convinced her to give Laurel a try.

Hearing footsteps in the hallway, she quickly stuffed the picture back in her drawer and slammed it shut. Of course she worried that he would be upset to learn she was playing games again, but she really did have the best of intentions this time. So as she rose to answer his knock, she had nothing to hide and greeted him with nothing more than a warm smile.

(BREAK)

"So you know about the whole coven thing?" Ron asked swallowing nervously.

"I believe I’m familiar with the concept. Just spit it out, Ron." Harry encouraged while feeling his back grow tense in anticipation.

"Okay, well, I know we need to find them all as quickly as possible and I know you guys didn’t think writing to them would be a good idea but I did. I wrote to one of them just to see and she wrote back! She knew all about her lineage and agreed to hear us out about the coven. I convinced her!" he finished excitedly.

Harry was struggling with himself. He knew Ron was proud to have made contact with the coven and after being kept at bay by them all, he knew his friend needed to feel the accomplishment. However, the horror and anger at what he had done was outweighing his need to be a supportive friend. Who are you to condemn anyone on doing anything in secret? A voice, which sounded strangely like Luna’s, asked quietly. He knew she wasn’t actually in his head, but that didn’t stop him from agreeing with the argument. So swallowing his feelings he turned back to Ron calmly. "Who was it?" he asked.

"Jacinda. The fire one. I figured she’d be the best to contact because she may know something about that stupid ring, her also being descended from Mykele and all."

"Ron, I’m glad this worked out, but you can’t do it again. Anyone could have intercepted your letter, anyone!" Harry emphasized.

"I understand it was risky. But so is everything everyone else is doing. I just wanted to help too. She agreed to come to us, so we don’t even have to search for her. I’ll let you read the letter, it’s at the house."

He was silent for a moment, trying to find a diplomatic way to express himself. "I really appreciate your help, Ron. I really do, but you can’t do that again. There’s no guarantee it’ll work out as well the next time. We all have to learn from the rash decisions we’ve been making and start being a lot more careful."

"Okay." Ron agreed. "But I’m not sorry I did it."

"Okay." Harry echoed, still arguing with himself. At least it was one less person for them to find. At least it had all worked out. And at least it wasn’t as dangerous a deception as the one he and Luna had pulled. On the other hand, he felt indignant that Ron, who had nothing to do with the coven, would do something like that without consulting him. He was at war with himself, deciding it was best he not let Ron or anyone else see just how upset he was. He was tired of feeling like a hypocrite.

Arthur returned a few minutes later indicating that it was finally time to go. During their discussion, Ron had lost a bit of the excitement he’d been feeling just before they’d arrived. Now it was back in full swing as they prepared to apparate back to the house agreeing to aim for the parlor. Within moments they were there, listening to Molly call up the stairs for everyone to gather for dinner. She caught sight of them through the doorway as she turned and squealed in delight, running in and scooping Ron up in her arms. "I’m so happy you’re back!" she exclaimed, squeezing her son tightly as he towered over her.

"Careful mum! I’m still a bit sore you know." Ron winced against the onslaught of affection but was incapable of doing anything other than take it. Harry was just glad that it wasn’t him for once. Ron deserved a little fussing over, it was just too bad he had to be nearly set on fire to get it.

Everyone else gathered quickly, welcoming Ron back home before settling down to eat dinner. Harry noticed Luna come in from the backyard and shook his head. So she had been hiding from him. He decided not to push for the reason, but he desperately wanted to know if she was mad at him. However, Hermione was sitting right next to him and he had been trying very hard to keep his promise and not communicate silently with Luna in front of her. Well, fine, he’d let it go for the evening since his attention should be on Ron at the moment anyway. Besides, he had to write to Mr. Lovegood right away to ensure he arrived in enough time to both write his story and comfort his daughter. As soon as dinner was over he ran off to take care of everything, promising the others that he would join them in a few moments. He was dismayed to discover Luna had shut off her mind completely, her shields as high and mighty as the ones Hermione and Draco threw up.

Something was eating away at her, something she wanted to keep private. Well fine, she could have her secrets, but Harry feared something he had done had upset her and he planned to find time to discuss it with her the next day. Finishing his letter, he sent Hedwig on her way and went to Ron’s room to hang out with the others. Luna and Fred were both absent but he decided to let it go and listened with amusement as Ron recounted his version of the battle leading up to the heroic rush toward the house which resulted in his injuries.

(BREAK)

"Hey Luna!" Fred called as she hastily tried to slip into her room.

"I thought you were going to go hang out with your brother and everyone else." She answered with a sigh already knowing why he was seeking her out.

"And I will, but I’ve been looking for you. I need to use the ring." He said quickly, his eyes shining in anticipation.

She shook her head. "I don’t have it anymore. You’ll have to go ask Lupin for it."

"Why does he have it?" Fred asked looking confused.

Luna shrugged her shoulders and went with as much truth as she felt comfortable giving. "He wanted to talk to Sirius, James and Lily."

"Oh, right. Okay then, thanks." He answered absently as he turned and went in search of Lupin.

She quickly went into her room and closed the door before anyone else came along. Sitting at her desk she contemplated writing to her father, or maybe her grandmother. There had never been a time in her life when she felt so completely lost. She’d been nine when her mother died and eleven when Kane was killed, but even then she’d had direction, she’d known the path she was on was the right one. Somehow, somewhere in the past few years she’d lost something of herself by opening up her life to so many others. Now so many other paths crossed hers it was all so muddled and the future she saw wasn’t even one she knew she could deal with.

Without really thinking about what she was doing, she rose and moved to her still half-packed trunk. She had to dig down to the bottom to find what she was looking for. Finally her fingertips brushed the dull metal edges and she pulled out her necklace made of butterbeer caps. She smiled in remembrance, how she and Kane had sat with their mother and made these crafts for each other and putting it around her neck she instantly felt closer to them. And that settled that. She no longer cared about how weird her friends thought she was. She hadn’t even realized she’d been slowly changing herself to make it easier for them to accept her. Well, if they really were her friends, they’d accept her and the strange things she wore or did or said. She wasn’t happy at the moment, but she had been in the past. So the only solution was to return to the person she had been and abandon this attempt at composure and normalcy. Screw what everyone thinks.She thought, smiling widely as a sense of freedom washed over her.

(BREAK)

Fred knocked impatiently at the door to Tonks and Lupin’s room. She opened the door looking irritated and he suddenly felt guilty and a bit embarrassed, wondering what he had interrupted. After all, it was getting late. "Hey, I was looking for Lupin."

He appeared behind Tonks looking far more amused than his wife. "What can I help you with?"

"Well, Luna said you were using the ring and I was wondering if you were done?" he asked eagerly.

"Actually, Sirius and I are working on something together, but I can let you use it right now. I’ll need it back first thing in the morning." Lupin responded readily, turning to procure the ring from somewhere in the recesses of the room.

"No problem." He agreed quickly snatching up the ring as soon as it was visible in Lupin’s hand. He saw husband and wife share a concerned glance and he realized he was being ridiculous, acting like a junkie or something. "I haven’t gotten to talk to George for awhile." He tried to explain.

"Well, as long as you give it back right away." Lupin said quietly.

"Absolutely." He agreed once more before hastily thanking them and apologizing for the interruption.

He ran back to his room and closed the door, ensuring privacy before jamming the ring on his finger and conjuring up thoughts of his twin. George was before him in a matter of moments. "What’s up with you?" he regarded Fred suspiciously.

"What are you talking about?"

"You’re all sweaty and your eyes are all wild." He answered with concern.

"It’s nothing, I’ve just been running around looking for the ring. I really wanted to talk to you." Fred admitted freely.

"Need more suggestions for your potion?"

"Actually, I need suggestions for my life." He said taking a seat on his bed.

"Hmm, sounds like we’re about to get deep here." George smiled encouragingly.

"Please be serious, I’m really struggling here." He said earnestly, abandoning the witty banter he and his brother enjoyed so much.

"So sorry. Please proceed." His ghostly twin crossed his arms and leaned forward putting a very serious and focused expression on his face, eliciting an involuntary grin from Fred.

"It’s like I’m in some sort of holding pattern only I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. Then today Hermione got on my case about not doing anything to get the store going again and I kinda of got into this stupid fight with her where I wound up questioning Harry’s devotion to her just to make her feel bad."

"Well, you always were one to avoid talking about what really upset you." George pointed out.

"Yeah, but now I feel bad that I said what I said just because I didn’t want to talk about the store." Fred admitted.

"I didn’t realize you and Ms. Smarty Pants were on such close terms to be discussing much of anything." George grinned. "I’m sure she’ll be fine. The real question is why aren’t you working on reopening the store? My name’s on there too you know, I’d hate to be remembered as a failure."

"We didn’t fail, we were sabotaged." He grumbled feeling that stab of guilt that came any time he thought about how he had let his brother down. "And I just don’t see the point. If I reopen, it’s just a target again. And besides, who’ll be shopping for those kinds of things during times like these?"

"So change the product." George suggested.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, find something to make that people will want to shop for right now, it can always be a joke shop again when the war is over. And in the meantime you’ll be providing a valuable service."

"What kind of service?"

"What, do I have to do everything for you? How about applying some of your own genius here? Think on it, I’m sure something will come to you. And if you crawl back to Miss Granger and kiss her feet, begging her forgiveness, I’m sure she’ll help you. And I’m sure you wouldn’t mind the extra help." George said slyly.

"I’m sure you’re starting to annoy me." He returned.

"Really? This is the way you speak to me after seeking me out for my help?" George asked feigning outrage.

"How about being helpful then? Let’s brainstorm here, figure out some ideas for this store of ours."

"So we’re done talking about the Hermione situation?" he asked suddenly serious.

"There is no situation." Fred answered very matter-of-factly. "I hurt her feelings when she was only trying to be supportive. All I can do is apologize."

"So why didn’t you just tell her why you didn’t want to reopen? You explained it so well to me what with you worrying about not providing a sellable product, and I’m sure she could have come up with a similar solution."

"Because that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve barely been in that store since you died! And until the battle in Hogsmeade, I hadn’t so much as looked at that location. I left it all to Lee. Truth is, I don’t want to have the store without you." He answered without thinking. "And the last thing I want is to talk to anyone about how much I hate that you aren’t here."

"You think I’m happy about it? But you have the chance to follow through on our dream and I don’t want you to give up on it just because I can’t be there to share it with you."

Fred roughly wiped away his sudden tears with the back of his hand. "I don’t know that I want it without you." He said quietly.

"So what do you want?" George asked floating closer.

"The impossible!" he answered jumping to his feet. "I want you to not have been murdered! I want to live the life we planned! I want this all to be over, for everyone else to finally be safe!"

"You can’t have it!" George yelled back. "Get over it and take what you do have and make it work for you already! The longer you sit in this ‘holding pattern’ the harder it will be to do anything at all. You’ll let it all go down the drain and then what? What will have been the point?"

"What’s the point in anything that happened?" Fred threw back.

"I don’t have an answer for you. We don’t get some giant book of answers up here you know. I don’t want you to struggle for the rest of your life just because Percy screwed up mine! Don’t let him get us both."

Fred was silent, stunned that his brother would bring the conversation to such a place. Finally he managed to get his brain to create a thought. "I don’t want to fail you and I certainly don’t want to fail myself."

"I know you don’t. And you know I’d never feel like you failed, not unless you gave up completely."

"Right." He said softly. "Okay then. So what can I sell until the war is over?"

"Why don’t we save that for another time. Talk to me, I know a lot happened since last we talked. I know all about what happened at Harry’s old house, how’s Ron?"

"He’s back home now and looking good, just a little raw. They say his skin will be sensitive for awhile but Drake gave him some lotion for it."

"And Harry and Luna? They got it pretty bad from what I can tell up here."

"They’re fine now, I think they’re still taking pain potions but otherwise all healed."

"Well, what about Elanya?"

"What about her?" Fred asked feeling confused.

"Well last we talked you were asking about her. Has anything else come up? I’m very interested to know what’s become of her."

"I hadn’t really thought about her…." He trailed off.

"Wow, someone else must be weighing on your mind if you’re able to forget Elanya that quickly."

Fred was no longer listening. He suddenly felt like the biggest idiot in the world. "Long dark hair, tall and thin, with bright honey gold eyes."

"That would be her." George sighed in remembrance. "She’d be about nineteen or twenty now. I wonder how well she grew up."

"Elanya Delamora." Fred said absently.

"Yeah, what’s wrong with you."

"She’s the one Harry saw when he and Luna went searching Sarah’s head. She’s the one who’s been going to visit Cho which means she’s the one who’s been using Jayalina’s name."

"Hmmm, interesting. Guess that means she’s not part of the good guys after all. Too bad. Maybe you could change her mind." George said with a wink.

"I doubt I’d want to. According to Harry and Luna, she’s as bad as Sarah and that Elise woman, and she has some kind of wandless power."

"Well, I remember you saying that Jayalina was supposed to be post-cognitive, right? That probably means Elanya can do the same, if she is related."

"Well, that’s something we’ll definitely have to look into."

(BREAK)

Harry knocked quietly on Draco’s door hoping he hadn’t already fallen asleep. The other boy answered looking inquisitive. "Yeah?"

"Sorry, I know it’s late, but I just wanted to let you know that I wrote to Mr. Lovegood. I was wondering, well… how much if any part you want in this article." He asked as delicately as possible. Draco appeared taken aback by the question. "We already appreciate that you’re letting us do this, it’s more than enough cooperation from you." He quickly added.

"I’d really rather not talk to Mr. Lovegood." He answered slowly. "I’d really rather not have anything to do with it. Luna may be past the fact that Lucius killed her brother, but I don’t think I could stand looking into the eyes of Kane’s father."

"And you don’t have to." Harry assured him. "But you do know you have no reason to blame yourself for Kane, right?"

"So says you." Draco grumbled. "Was there anything else?"

"No. I’ll be sure to make it clear that you are to have no involvement in this whole Quibbler thing."

"Thank you." He said quietly before closing the door.

Harry climbed the stairs back to his room, determined that this article wouldn’t blow up in their faces. He could only hope Mr. Lovegood would agree that safety had to come before a compelling story.

(BREAK)

Hermione let out a long sigh and tried rolling back over to her other side. It was no use, she couldn’t get comfortable. Giving up on sleep, she carefully sat up and glanced at Harry who was for once sleeping peacefully next to her. Well, of course he was able to rest, he had taken steps to diminish the issues in his life that would keep him up at night. She knew he was upset that Luna seemed upset with him and he’d already written to Mr. Lovegood placing the responsibility for her happiness on her father where it belonged. What’s more, things were finally coming together, more and more clues were surfacing about what the enemy was up to and it was soon going to be a matter of putting it all together. And after she had reassured him that Gabriella may just be able to fix his head, he’d stopped worrying about that altogether.

No, she was the one with problems now, and the one first and foremost at the center of her thoughts was her fight with Fred. She couldn’t understand why he’d wanted to hurt her so badly, but he had certainly tried. All she had done was try and give him that push back into the direction he’d wanted his life to take and rather than talk about it, he had turned it all around on her. Looking over at Harry once more she wondered if there was any truth to what Fred had insinuated. Would he follow and help her the way she was for him? His eyelids fluttered as he dreamed and he unconsciously reached out for her, placing a hand on her knee in his sleep as if to reassure himself she was still there. Could he read her mind even when he was unconscious? Could he sense her uneasiness and uncertainty? She hoped not, but she liked that even while sleeping he seemed to know when she needed comfort. Shaking her head she decided she was being silly. Of course Harry would do anything she asked of him, that’s why she was very careful in her requests. Unfortunately Luna and the others weren’t nearly as careful and he had suffered the consequences.

Feeling new confidence in her relationship with Harry, she turned her thoughts back to Fred. Something was obviously bothering him and the fact that he had started a fight rather than open up led her to believe it had something to do with George. He rarely talked about his dead brother, either one of them. George and Percy were topics never really brought up around any Weasley though she was sure they were always thinking of them. Some part of her that had gotten to know Fred realized he probably was having a hard time facing the store without his twin, after all it was a goal they had shared. But it still didn’t make it okay that he turned on her so quickly. She had only wanted to help him.

She sighed again knowing that there would be no end to her restlessness until she could talk it out with Fred, though she was confused as to why their little spat bothered her so much. Maybe she was just tired of fighting with her friends and her enemies. It had to be one or the other and her efforts were better spent going against outsiders than those closest to her. Picking up her wand, she lit the end with a dull glow and grabbed the parchments she’d left on the nightstand. She wouldn’t be able to fix anything until morning, so she might as well make the most of her insomnia and try and find some more coven members. That would certainly make Harry happy when he woke and so she settled in, pleased to be of assistance regardless of what Fred had said.

(BREAK)

"Jie Chen and Nanami Aoki." Hermione said as soon as Harry opened his eyes.

"What?" he asked still half asleep and very confused. He rubbed his eyes and reached for his glasses finally able to focus on her. She was sitting at the end of the bed, papers spread out all around her.

"Careful!" she scolded as he tried to sit up and nearly knocked half of the files to the floor. "Jie Chen and Nanami Aoki, they’re two more coven members I was able to trace."

"That’s great… how long have you been working on this?" he asked still unsure exactly what was going on.

"A few hours. I couldn’t sleep." She answered absently. "Jie is 25 and an afterlife communicator, or Medium as some of them like to be called. He’s descended from Mun–Hee Xing and is Chinese."

"Okay." Harry answered shaking his head to get rid of the last feeling of sleepiness. Apparently he had to be ready to start his day immediately.

"And Nanami Aoki is 19 and an influential telepath. She comes from Isamu Shao and is of Japanese descent."

"And an influential telepath is what? I know you told me once already but I’m a little behind here." He admitted still wondering what had prompted her sleeplessness and the resulting push to find information.

"It’s a more advanced form of what you and Luna and the rest are inherently able to do. An influential telepath can reach into someone’s mind and influence their thoughts, feelings and behavior. Basically it’s like a wandless way of imposing the Imperious Curse." She patiently explained.

"So we definitely want Nanami on our side."

"And we also should hope Voldemort doesn’t find one to add to his little psychic menagerie. You said he already wants to replace the seer he has with Luna."

"Yeah, except I’m not so sure they are his psychics. I think those girls are running more of the show than we suspect and I think Voldemort believes his own power and ability will keep them in line. We may all be surprised by them."

"Well, we’ll just ensure we have the best of the best and keep what we’re trying to do secret." She said as she gathered all the papers and began putting them away.

"So where are we going to have to go to find these two?" he asked as he rose to dress for the day.

"Nanami is currently attending university in Tokyo. Jie is living in Los Angeles with his parents and his wife, apparently he has some job in the muggle entertainment industry."

"Great. They couldn’t all just all be in the same place?"

"That would be too easy." She replied with a grin walking over to kiss him before heading toward the door. "I heard Molly get up a little while ago, I’m going to see if she needs help with breakfast."

Once alone in his room he tried to get his mind working. He hadn’t expected to be bombarded with important information first thing in the morning. Obviously there was something driving Hermione and it seemed Luna wasn’t the only one he was going to have to talk to that day; both girls were acting strangely.

Giving himself one more shake, he proceeded down the stairs only to be stopped by Fred at the second landing. "Hey, I think I have something to tell you."

(BREAK)

Ron opened his eyes to an intense soreness all over his body. He likened it to a bad sunburn he’d received years ago when his family had gone to the beach. He’d been ill for days then and in almost as much pain as he was now. He reached out weakly for the lotion Drake had given him and slathered it generously all over. Instantly he felt a soothing coolness invade him, dulling the soreness and relieving his dry skin.

He lay back letting the healing agents do their work. He reminded himself that he had wanted this, to heal at home away from the hospital and it’s knowledgeable staff. Now was the time for him to be strong like the others, like Harry and though he was loathe to admit it, like Malfoy too. If they could suffer the injuries they did and still go on, then he certainly could endure this. It wasn’t even that bad now that he had applied the lotion. He only felt tired, extremely worn out. That was something he could easily hide, all he needed was a few more moments to just lie still, then he’d could go down and face the assault of affection and worry his mother was sure to bestow on him.

(BREAK)

Fred was nervous though he didn’t know why. For some reason he felt guilty when he was alone with Harry, but he had to shake that off and tell him what he and George had connected about Elanya. So he relayed it all before realizing Harry was shaking his head in agreement. Apparently he’d already pieced most of it together for himself. Well, Fred had only himself to blame, he’d let himself become distracted recently and therefore wasn’t as focused as he should be.

"Do you know anything about her father?" Harry asked.

"Not really. I don’t think anyone knew much of anything about her at school. She kept to herself, seemed really unapproachable, though she was really pretty so that may have been part of the intimidation factor. All George and I could remember was that she left right before you all started at Hogwarts and it was rumored to be because her mother was dead and she had no other family around here. We think we remember hearing she went to France where her grandparents lived. I really can’t recall any mention of a father at all."

"Well according to Sarah’s memories, Elanya is a part of their plot because she thinks her father killed her mother, so I guess the next step would be figuring out who that is. We can ask your dad to talk to Mad-eye, he can check the Hall of Records for us and it will give him a reason to go in there and investigate some of the documents that have gone missing." Harry reasoned as they both turned to head downstairs for breakfast.

"I wish I could be more helpful. I remember I used to want to know everything about that girl back when I was twelve. But then she just faded from my memory, I think she must have made a bigger impression on George and Lee." Fred grinned before being struck by a sudden thought. "Hey, Lee! He might remember something, he always knew way more gossip than we did."

"Well when are you planning on meeting up with him next?"

Here Fred faltered a bit. He still wasn’t sure about what to do with the store, and Lee had actually been trying to get a hold of him for a while. Well, now he had another reason to face the inevitable so it was time to face the music. "I’ll head over sometime today. I need to do an inspection of the store anyway, now that he has the place all cleaned up. He probably wanted to be paid for all the work he did too."

"Yeah, that’s the funny thing about employees, eventually they want a paycheck." Harry joked as they entered the kitchen where most of the household was already gathered.

Hermione was assisting his mother at the stove and Fred caught her eye, offering a grin of apology as he took a seat. She appeared unimpressed, looking away as she placed a tray on the table and sat herself between Harry and Ron. Okay, so she was still a little mad at him, but at least her eyes weren’t shooting daggers of hatred, it was all fixable. He suffered through breakfast and let everyone scatter, waiting for Harry to corner Arthur before searching out Hermione. He found her about to enter her room and called out.

"What?" she asked impatiently.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"I don’t know, if I say anything will I be attacked? Am I allowed to have an opinion or would you rather just talk at me instead of to me?"

He rolled his eyes at her dramatics. "I’m sorry okay."

"Well that was heartfelt." She muttered, turning to lead the way into her room. He followed quickly, closing the door behind him.

"I am sorry, I know you were just trying to help me figure out the store but I didn’t want to talk about it and rather than say that I turned childish and went off on you. I didn’t mean all that stuff I said about Harry, of course he’s devoted to you." He smiled encouragingly though he knew he was lying a little. But his thoughts on their relationship were no business of his and he had no opinion to offer about it from then on unless specifically asked.

"I figured you didn’t want to talk about it. Have you talked to George?" she asked delicately.

"Yeah. We discussed it a little." He admitted, looking away. They actually hadn’t gotten back to the topic of the store after Elanya was brought up. He had hoped to call on George that morning, but Lupin had been at his door bright and early to retrieve the ring. Begrudgingly, Fred had to admit that whatever Lupin and Sirius were discussing was probably more important than his store and so he had given it up, though it had been difficult to do so. He intended to try to get some more time with the ring later that day, regardless the fact that a slight headache had already returned.

"Is there anything I… or the rest of them can do to help you?" She offered.

He thought about it and decided that maybe it would be better to ask her opinion. Her thoughts tended more towards the necessary while he and George had always valued the unnecessary. She might be able to provide better insight into what exactly he needed to do to help the store succeed at this turbulent time in history. "Well, we were thinking of changing our inventory until the war is over. So do you think people will need to buy right now that isn’t already being offered elsewhere?" He asked as he took a seat at her desk, ready to brainstorm.

(BREAK)

Harry made sure to keep tabs on where Luna disappeared to after breakfast. He watched from the corner of his eye while she tried to stealthily slip out the back door. Somewhere out there, she had found a place to hide and as soon as he finished telling Arthur about Elanya’s probable connection to Jayalina, Harry made a beeline through the house and straight into the yard. He surveyed his surroundings already knowing she would be nowhere near the willow tree. Along the high fence on the other side, there was a row of bushes nestled low to the ground and remembering his own days of hiding in the shrubbery outside of Number 4, he knew that’s most likely where he would find her. He also knew her mind was switched off but that didn’t necessarily mean he could sneak up on her- Luna had a funny way of sensing things and people even without the telepathy; he assumed it was some part of her other ability to see the future. He strode confidently over to the bushes not bothering to try and hide his approach.

"Luna I know you’re back there. I gave you some time but now I really need you to talk to me." He said loudly.

"But what if I don’t need to talk to you?" she shot back from her hiding place. He could definitely hear anger in her voice.

"Why are you mad at me?" he asked incredulously. He’d thought it was the case but to now be confronted with it was another matter.

He felt her shields go down though he was polite enough not to go searching. He would only see what she wanted him to, it was the least he could do. Her heavy sigh filled his head as she begrudgingly rose to her feet. "I’m not mad at you." She answered while staring him down. Her voice seemed detached somehow and he had noticed at breakfast that she had taken to wearing her bottle cap necklace again. Luna was regressing and he didn’t know whether or not it was a bad thing. He’d long felt she was doing things, changing to please the rest of them and he’d felt guilty for it. Of course he hadn’t known in the beginning that she could see their thoughts and he hadn’t understood Luna when he’d thought her to be weird. He had to admit, there was some part of him that missed the dreamy Luna. He had admired that she could wander a room in her own world all the while being sharply aware of what was going on around her. He missed her telling them of all the outrageous and ridiculous things she believed possible and how she saw the world completely different than they did- from reading things upside down to believing the best of most people, including Draco. And then there were all the other little things he used to think odd about her that he know thought of as endearing.

"I don’t believe you." He said finally. "I never thought I’d say that, but you’ve been lying to me and everyone else for awhile now about a few different things. I let it go figuring you’d tell us, or me, eventually. But I’m going to call you on this one, you are mad at me and I want to know why."

"I can’t tell you what I don’t know myself." She said sternly. "Of course I’m mad at you! I’m mad at me and Ron and Hermione, I’m mad at everyone in that house and everyone outside it! I’m mad at the world Harry, no different than you. Why am I not allowed to go off and feel it every once in awhile the way everyone else does? Why do I always have to be the positive one?"

"You don’t." he answered simply. "No one said you had to."

"They don’t have to." She countered, tapping her head to indicate no one needed to tell her anything, she knew it anyway. "And you’re out here now, demanding I talk to you so that this can be settled quickly and I can be back to ‘normal.’ But I don’t think I know what’s normal for me anymore so let me be so I can figure it out and then things can go back to the way they were and you can rest easy."

He saw her attempt to step over the bushes and reached out a hand to assist. She brushed him off and made her own way over. "Things can’t go back to the way they were." He blurted out as she walked past him toward the door.

"What do you mean?" she turned.

What did he mean? He wasn’t sure- it wasn’t a statement he had thought, it had come out of nowhere. "You aren’t happy. None of us are and we all have to figure out why I guess. Having things go back to the way they were won’t solve anything." He reasoned out.

"What if the changes needed are drastic?" she countered.

"Then eventually they’ll have to be made, right?" He was suddenly nervous. She knew something she didn’t want to share.

"Maybe. Maybe not." She looked pained as if it were a topic she thought on often. "Are we done here?" she asked impatiently.

There was only one other thing he’d wanted to talk to her about. "Luna, you’ve been acting so differently lately, and not just the lying, but your whole attitude changed and it seemed to start when you took possession of the ring. How often do you use it?"

"I’ve never used it. Not once." She said.

"What do you mean? You’ve had it all this time…"

She shook her head. "I took it because I was worried about you- and Fred. Those headaches you guys had were getting worse and then…" she looked away. "And then I had a vision about you guys going to pieces over the ring so I took it and lied about the reason and kept you both from using it as much as I could. But I never wore it until we were fighting Sarah and I haven’t used it since. Lupin has it now. He saw how upset I was when he tried to give it back to you and so I told him almost everything and he said he’d keep it from then on, so if you want to use it, you have to go talk to him."

"Why didn’t you just tell me you thought there was a problem? Why did you have to lie to me?"

"How could I be the one to tell you not to contact your parents or Sirius so much? It wasn’t a responsibility I wanted to bear so I was going to let Lupin do it. But since you’re so worried that I let myself be influenced by the stupid thing, there you go; the whole truth about it."

She was so angry so suddenly that he was taken aback. This had to be about more than the ring and more than her realization that she didn’t know who she was anymore. She really was mad, and she was mad at him. "I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I forced you into staying here."

"I make my own decisions, Harry. If I had wanted to go home I would have." She answered darkly.

"Then why did you stay?" He threw his hands up in exasperation. "If you’re just going to be upset the whole time why didn’t you go home?!"

"Because you asked me to stay!" she yelled back at him.

"Well I didn’t think you’d be like this!" he shouted taking a step closer to her. "If you really wanted time to yourself then you should have known this wasn’t the right place to be!"

Her cheeks turned pink in her anger and she took a few steps closer herself. "I tried to say I wanted to go home! You were the one who wouldn’t let me! Why couldn’t you have just let me go like I said I wanted? You had to push and plead for me to stay! Why?!"

"Hey, hey!" he yelled. "You’re the one who just said if you had wanted to go home you would have! My asking you to stay shouldn’t have any bearing! Of course I want you here, but not if you’re going to be this unhappy! You’re the one who decided so maybe I should ask you why you’re staying?!"

"I asked you first!" she yelled back. They were inches apart and both breathing heavily as they tried to get themselves under control. Someone’s coming. She said suddenly and they each took a few steps back, turning away from each other as Molly opened the back door.

"Here you two are!" she said happily, oblivious to the tension between the two teens. "There’s someone here to see you both."

Luna looked at him inquisitively but he merely shrugged his shoulders. He knew who their visitor was and was glad with the haste in which his letter had been answered, though he had pictured the moment when he arrived differently. Following Luna inside he hoped this at least would brighten her up a little. Molly led them to the parlor where a strange looking man with slightly long white hair stood waiting for them, a small suitcase on the floor next to him.

"Daddy?" Luna appeared to have the wind knocked out of her. Then she ran forward and threw herself in her father’s arms and Harry felt a momentary pang of jealousy. It was the same way he felt every time he saw one of the Weasley children have a family moment with their parents and it passed quickly. "What are you doing here?" she asked, pulling away to get a better look at the man.

"I got Harry’s letter and rushed right over." Mr. Lovegood answered with a friendly smile as he shot his slightly cross-eyed gaze in his direction.

"Harry’s letter?" she asked incredulously, turning to look at him in confusion. He simply grinned in reply.

 

NOTE: Sorry again about the delay in chapter posting. It may keep up this way for awhile but I’m not abandoning the story so keep checking for updates. I’ll write and post as often as I’m able until my laptop is replaced. Thanks for reading, leave a review if you please, it pleases me when you do and I am still answering all reviewers. See you all next time, when the characters all finally head off to school!




Chapter 26: Blurring the Line Between Friend and Enemy

A/N: Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me through these long periods between postings, I’m hoping to have a better computer soon. In this chapter the gang finally heads off to Hogwarts after some nervous and tense anticipation by quite a few of the characters who will have much to face while away at school. Perhaps I’m being hopeful, but I’d say we’re about halfway through the story and well on our way to the next and probably last sequel. But to get to the end we must learn of the middle so without further rambling, Read, Review and Enjoy!

 

Coherent thought was nearly impossible. Luna had walked into the house not really knowing what to expect. Perhaps she hadn’t realized how completely she had turned off her mind because thinking back, she remembered how something had been poking at her, wanting her attention, some small intuitive vision she’d been forcibly pushing off. To enter the parlor and see the funny little image of her father was something she’d been wholly unprepared for. It took her a few seconds to believe her eyes before running to him and throwing herself into his embrace. How had he known that she so needed to see him, to feel that connection to someone? Had he received his own vision and come to rescue his floundering daughter?

She pulled back, studying his face as he did the same to her with pride shining in his slightly crossed gaze. In that moment she was very happy. "What are you doing here?" she couldn’t help but ask.

"I got Harry’s letter and rushed right over." He answered, looking past her to the doorway.

"Harry’s letter?" She didn’t understand. Turning to get some answers, she found Harry merely grinning at her in response. "What letter?" she asked cautiously, suddenly certain her happiness was about to be tainted.

"It’s right here." Xeno pulled out the envelope and handed it over. "He told me that you were wanting a visit and explained the danger of you traveling from the house. And then of course I couldn’t refuse the exclusive for the Quibbler! Exposing Lucius Malfoy, it’ll be quite a feather in our cap. Possibly bigger than the story we ran on Harry a few years ago. Luna, you never told me how excitingly dangerous things have been getting." He scolded, summarizing the letter before she could read it.

"The Quibbler is going to break the news about Lucius?" She was astounded, hurt and angry. What exactly had Harry been planning without her that should have involved, at the very least, her opinion?

"We certainly are!" Xeno answered proudly. "Shall we get down to business?"

Luna nearly snorted with laughter at the confused look on Harry’s face. He had apparently expected a parent more like the Weasleys, who were about family first. She never doubted her father loved her, but she did know he had certain priorities. "Um, sir, wouldn’t you like a bit to rest first? You know to settle in, spend some time with Luna?"

"There’ll be plenty of time for that young man, you all aren’t leaving for days. I want to get things rolling on this article as quickly as possible."

"Xenophilius," Mrs. Weasley interrupted from her spot next to Harry, "this may be something you want to think over very carefully. It’ll bring dangerous attention your way and possibly to your family."

"That hasn’t stopped you or Mr. Weasley from anything." Luna said with a sigh, already knowing the argument that would be ensuing.

"Exactly. Besides, my little Luna is very capable and I trust that she can not only look after herself but will be well looked after at the same time." Her father replied as he put an arm around her and pulled her close. "So shall we start? I’m going to need to hear everything you all know about whatever it is and see any evidence you’ve collected. I won’t trust this story to anyone else; it’ll be my reporting, and my eyes will be the only ones to see whatever you have on the bloke, I promise."

Harry was looking to her, waiting for her take on the situation… a bit too late now. Just give him what he wants, he won’t settle down unless he gets this out of his system. She thought to him, trying to hide the irritation she felt. After all, Harry didn’t yet know he’d done anything wrong. "Okay, where do you want me to begin?" he asked hesitantly.

"Actually, I was hoping to start with Young Malfoy-"

"No." Harry cut Xeno off. "I asked him last night and he doesn’t want to talk to you about any of this. And no one is going make him do it, either my word and the ministry documents will be good enough or you won’t print anything." He finished firmly, obviously realizing that delicacy didn’t get you far with Xenophilius Lovegood.

Unfortunately, her father was just as stubborn. "Of course that will all be good enough, but imagine the spin it’ll put on the article, if the father is outted by the son."

"I have imagined it and I think Draco has a big enough target on his back. Why push his image as a traitor any further into the minds of the Death Eaters? He already agreed to let us do this, I think we’ve asked enough. And as a guest in my house, I would hope you would respect my other guests and not pressure him to speak to you about this, despite your feelings about his family however justified they may be. Furthermore, as a condition of you being allowed to release the story, there must be no mention of Draco or anyone else, print my name if you must, but the others should really have no part in this."

"I’m sure daddy can find a way to write the story excluding everyone, even you." Luna said apprehensively. She wondered just how Harry had maneuvered all of this; he had to have convinced Mr. Weasley it was a good idea- and Draco too. She didn’t see how he had justified it when it was so dangerous. And to drag her father into it as well… she had to remind herself that Harry didn’t know the single-minded focus her otherwise scattered father could achieve when it meant something great for his magazine. How many times had she heard reporters complain when they hadn’t received payment for their work, only to hear Xeno say that it was an honor to write for the Quibbler and therefore their payment was the privilege of being printed? And besides his normal zealous pursuits, he had been looking for a way to get revenge on Lucius for a long time.

"I don’t know, I’ll need some kind of name to lend credibility and if Draco Malfoy is off limits then Harry Potter will certainly draw people in." Her father answered thoughtfully.

"Honestly, Xeno! Isn’t it enough of a draw to expose a Death Eater?" Mrs. Weasley scolded. "Lucius Malfoy should be all you need! That’s the whole point of doing this, as Arthur asked me to remind you. We aren’t trying to put the kids under more scrutiny. If you can’t think of Harry or Draco then think of your own daughter. She is in constant company with the others, her safety is as much in question as theirs."

"Something you’ve certainly come to terms with for your own children." Xeno shot back, always upset to have his unconventional parenting called into question.

"But I don’t go out looking for ways to make them a target." She angrily replied as Harry placed a hand on her shoulder. Luna felt for her, knowing the guilt she always carried for letting her children become so involved in this war. But they had done so against her wishes, she had always made her displeasure with their actions clear.

"I’m sure you can both understand that I want to make this man suffer for what he has taken from me and mine. I’ve lost a son as well Molly, and now Harry here has given me a way to get even. I don’t care how uncomfortable it makes things for Lucius’s son or family, we’ve been suffering for six years because of him!" Xeno replied more darkly than she’d ever heard him speak before.

"Harry, why don’t you get the files so my dad can go through them? That way he can get the whole backstory first so he’ll know exactly what we have on Lucius. Then daddy, if you need to talk to Harry about something you’ll have a better idea of what direction to ask your questions. And then we can all talk about how best to present the information once Mr. Weasley comes home, since it would be best to have the Minister’s input." Luna worked hard to strike a compromise and end the sudden tension.

"Sounds good." Harry said slowly, taking her lead and heading upstairs to get the files from Draco.

"I think I’ll go start on lunch." Mrs. Weasley said with false cheer, leaving for the kitchen.

The room suddenly felt bigger. "I’ve missed you Luna!" Xeno said once they were alone, pulling her in for another hug. "I didn’t think you had planned to stay here all summer. And with that Malfoy boy under the same roof!"

Luna was torn between being extremely happy and horribly upset. She missed her father terribly when they were apart, but whenever he had a big story she’d long ago learned that she’d rather not be around him. And this story was something he was predisposed to obsess over, since it involved his son’s murderer.

"Draco is fine, he wants his father exposed as much as the rest of us. Lucius tried to kill him too you know, his own family. Anyway, I stayed because things have been so hectic."

"So I’ve heard! Why didn’t you tell me about any of this? I hate having to hear about your life through reports from friends and the newspapers. You never talked about any of it in any of your letters."

"And you never wrote back." She accused. She hadn’t expected him to, not because he was neglectful but because it wouldn’t have occurred to him. Still she hated to be accused of not being responsible- he was the parent after all. It was up to him to show interest in her.

"Because you always said you were fine!" he argued with his backward logic. If nothing is wrong then there’s no need to write, was what he had meant. She was used to the way he thought, usually found it endearing- except when he used it against her.

"It doesn’t matter. You’re here now and I’m happy to see you." She said, pushing everything else down as she sensed Harry returning. Sure enough he rumbled down the stairs and reentered the parlor, thrusting the file in Xeno’s direction. It was clear he was unhappy that her father hadn’t been exactly what he was expecting and that made her more angry. Maybe now he would learn not to meddle in things he doesn’t know anything about.

"You sit here and read, I’ll bring your things up to my room." She said, wanting a few moments alone to let herself begin processing what was happening. He sat without a word barely looking to be sure there was a chair behind him he was so engrossed in the documents.

"I’ll help." Harry offered reaching for the suitcase.

"I don’t need your help." She answered stiffly, pulling her wand from behind her ear where she’d begun to keep it once more and waving it briskly. "Accio luggage."

She felt him follow her up the stairs and her anger and frustration grew. Once in her room, he closed the door and they stood staring at each other for a long time, the argument interrupted earlier between them by Xeno’s arrival still unresolved and new feelings now thrown on top. "I thought it would make you happy, to have him here." He explained slowly.

"And who’s idea was it to tell him about Lucius?"

"Mine. I figured it would take care of two problems at once." Harry answered helplessly.

"I’m not your problem, you don’t have to take care of me." She replied more coldly than she’d intended. "I wanted to see my father but not like this! I wanted him to come see me, not chase down another story! And especially this one!"

"I didn’t invite him here for the story!" he said heatedly. "I invited him here for you, at the end I told him that while he was here we could conduct the business of an article, but I made it clear how much you needed to see him."

"I can’t believe you wrote the letter at all!" she threw her arms up in exasperation. "Don’t you think this is something you should have gotten my opinion on? You obviously thought enough ahead to talk to Draco about it."

"I cornered him last night before everyone turned in for bed and we discussed it a little. But I was trying to surprise you! I thought it would be a happy surprise!" He defended himself.

"You thought wrong. My father and I are close, we love each other, but in our own unique way and it works for us. Bringing him here with the promise of a story like that isn’t going to make me feel better because he isn’t really here for me! And to now have to have you all sit in judgement because our relationship is different from what is expected- it’s mortifying, Harry! I never cared what anyone thought but I guess no one can make you feel quite as self conscious as those closest to you."

"I meant it to be a good thing you know; I did it for you, exposing Lucius was secondary, and who better to release it than your dad? I was trying to help you both find a bit of closure against Lucius, in case we aren’t able to reopen Kane’s case. If you read that letter you’ve still got clenched in your hand, you’ll see that you were at the forefront of my thoughts." He said quietly.

"I’m sure you had the best of intentions." She sighed. "You always do, don’t you."

Without another word he left, slamming the door shut behind him. Luna didn’t care if he was mad at her, she was too hurt by him. Looking down at the envelope that she indeed still held tightly in her fist, she crumpled it up and threw it, not wanting to know what he had said to bring her father here. But his words- that he had done it for her- kept swirling in her mind and her curiosity got the better of her. She picked it up and smoothing out the wrinkles, settled into her desk chair to read.

Dear Mr. Xenophilius Lovegood,
We haven’t met but I’m a friend of Luna’s. My name is Harry and as I’m sure you know, your daughter has been staying with me and our friends at my house. What I’m not sure of is how much you know of her time spent here. I suppose it’s best to let her catch you up on the details but I am pressed to admit that it has been a difficult summer to say the least. As supportive as we all are of her, I think Luna may be needing her family, especially around this time of the year. It must be a difficult time for you as well and I hesitate to remind you, but I’m worried for Luna. And as much as I’d like to say it would be easy to part with her and let her return home until school starts, it is more than our affection for her that makes that impossible. You see, sir, we have discovered that Voldemort knows of the abilities Luna possesses and I, as well as Minister Weasley believe it would be foolhardy to have her leave the relative safety we can provide here. So it is a pleasure to invite you to stay with all of us until it is time to head off to Hogwarts. I know you are very busy, but I think it would help Luna a lot if she were able to see you, at least I hope it will.
There is another matter, which we can discuss in detail after you arrive, but I will say here that we require yours and your magazine’s assistance. You are perhaps aware that Draco Malfoy is also living with me. Well, he has recently learned of some very damaging information about his father Lucius. After a discussion with him and the minister, we have decided to ask that you be the one to break the news to the public.But as I said, this is a matter to be more fully discussed in person sometime during your anticipated visit.
I look forward to meeting you, sir. Luna speaks highly of you and she is very special to us- and a very good friend to me in particular. I am glad to be given the opportunity to try and return the favor as I can find no other way to help her right now. I’m sure you are as eager to see her as I know she is to see you and so this should be an easy invitation to return. I beg that you respond quickly as there is a very short time left before we must leave.
Sincerely,
Harry Potter

So many thoughts tumbled around in her head, each begging to be the most important. One stood out among the others as she reread Harry’s words. It must be a difficult time- meaning the end of the summer… when Kane had been murdered. Had that been why she’d been struggling with things so much lately? Had she been subconsciously thinking of the dreaded anniversary? Six years ago she’d been days away from leaving for her first year at Hogwarts when they’d heard of her brother’s death; and now here she was once more days away from going to school. She realized that while perusing down memory lane the last few days, she had been trying her hardest not to think of Kane’s death- not until it was solved properly. Apparently Harry had made one connection to her sudden and deep unhappiness while she had not, instead choosing to focus her desire for closure on the things he couldn’t know. He’d been right when he told her he’d thought only of her when writing the letter, the stuff about Lucius had the appearance of an afterthought- something he’d thrown in just to give Xeno a hint that there was something else of less importance that also needed his attention. But was the letter enough to ebb her anger? She wasn’t sure.

(BREAK)

Ginny was on edge waiting for Laurel to show up. She had never wanted to see the woman more than she did that day, though her own mental health was far from the reason. When the doorbell finally sounded, she rushed to the door letting in the obviously startled woman. "Well, this is a greeting I didn’t expect."

"I’ve been waiting for you." She answered quickly as she hurried up the stairs to her room, not even taking the time to check that the healer was following her. Once ensuring their privacy, they sat together and the woman looked at her expectantly. But suddenly, Ginny wasn’t sure what to say or how to begin.

"Has something happened?" Laurel asked, obviously thrown off by her patient’s behavior.

"Yes and no. I mean a lot happened since I talked to you last, but nothing that is a set back for me or anything. At least I don’t think so." She hesitated, wondering if stealing the picture of Draco’s mother was indeed a slip backwards.

"Well, what has you so anxious then?"

Ginny took a deep breath and gathered her nerve. "I was hoping to ask a favor. You see Draco is really struggling with some things right now, and with us all headed back to school I worry that… Well earlier this summer he was so stressed out it made him sick, and he’s still not fully recovered and there’s certainly a lot more stress to come- for all of us. I was hoping maybe you could see if he’d talk to you, get some of the burden off of him and get someone else’s perspective, you know?"

Laurel paused for a moment, trying to process the request. "May I ask why you don’t talk to him about it?"

"I’ve tried." She quietly admitted. "I think he’s worried about upsetting me or putting more weight on my shoulders. Worse, I think he might worry that his past is going to come between us because it was after he went to see his mother that he stopped talking to me about anything of importance."

"And do you really think he’ll want to talk to me?"

"I didn’t want to and yet here we are. Look, if it’s a matter of money I’m sure if we went to Harry he would take care of everything." Ginny answered impatiently. She had put herself out on a limb and was tired of waiting for a real answer.

Laurel sighed and sat back, deep in thought. "Okay." She said after a long while. "All I can promise is to try and see if he’ll open up. It’s the same promise I made to your parents."

"Thank you, I really appreciate it."

"I know you do, and I know it took a lot for you to ask. I’m happy to see you put so much effort into caring about someone else. And don’t trouble your friend about payment, if Draco is willing to talk to me, I’ll take him on as a pro bono patient."

"Thank you so much. Do you think you could talk to him today? He’s napping now, but I’m supposed to wake him when we’re done here."

"I can try." She promised again. "You were lucky and caught me on a light day, you were supposed to be my last visit." She smiled encouragingly. "Now that we have that all settled, let’s get on with our time together. Have you thought at all about the question I asked you last time- about what you want out of your life?"

"Sort of. It’s a hard question to answer."

"Why is that?"

"Well, everything is so uncertain right now, with the war and all. It’s hard to plan for a future that I may not get to experience." Ginny admitted. "I just think it’s better to focus on the present and stay alive until things finally settle."

"I see your point. But don’t you think it would help you get through this time if you have a goal, something to strive for?"

"Maybe. It’s hard to think life will be anything different from what it is now. We’ve been going through all of this for so long and it only gets harder and more dangerous the longer it goes on. I mean, Fred and George had a goal…" she trailed off not wanting to feel the deep despair this sort of topic instilled in her.

"They had a goal that one of them was unable to enjoy because of this war. But it didn’t stop him from trying for a better life, right? What I want you to think about is how you are holding yourself back by letting these negative thoughts consume you. One cannot experience life if they are afraid of death."

"I’m not scared to die." Ginny protested.

"Then what are you scared of?" Laurel pushed.

"I don’t know." She confessed.

"Well, think about it for a moment."

She sighed and put down her defenses, wanting for once in her life to be honest with someone, especially someone so invested in helping her. "I guess I’m scared to think about the future because I don’t know what I want it to be. I’m not worried about dying because I guess I don’t think it would be such a bad thing, you know, at least things would finally be permanently settled."

"I realize change can be difficult, especially when faced with as much of it as you have, so the need to have things settled one way or another is understandable. But don’t you think you’ll have a better outlook if you take the time to know yourself and figure out what it is that will make life better for you? Isn’t there anything you want to do, to see, to experience?"

"Quiet." She answered without thinking.

"Quiet?"

"I want a whole day where everything is quiet and peaceful, where no one has to worry about anyone else and I can lay still and breathe. Sometimes I want to go nowhere at all, someplace like space that stretches on in eternal silence, where no one can bother me."

"I see. You’re looking for a bit of solitude and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially during these years of your life, when we all begin trying to understand who we are. It doesn’t make you a bad person to want some time alone when you are constantly surrounded by people. But I want you to think long term. Imagine there is no war, what are you heading towards? What would you like to do?"

"Leave." She said simply. "I want to leave London, I want to leave this whole bloody planet sometimes. When I was trying to get Draco to run away with me I imagined this whole life for us, living as far from everyone as we could in someplace beautiful and remote. At the time I only wanted him along because I was scared to go on my own, I needed someone and he was there, but now…"

"But now?" Laurel pushed a little more.

"Now I guess I’m not sure which one of us needs the other more. But I still think about going away and living some kind of life away from everything I’ve ever known."

"And do you still want him to go with you?"

"Sometimes. And sometimes I picture myself alone." Ginny looked away shyly, afraid to have the healer think she was a bad person.

"There’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have real feelings for him." Laurel assured her. "You’re overwhelmed, everyone in this house is from what I’ve gathered during our talks. Wanting space, time to yourself, it doesn’t mean your are cold or unfeeling. It means you’re pretty normal." She smiled kindly. "Everyone needs to close in on themselves once in awhile Ginny, take time and explore their feelings. It’s how we grow emotionally. The important thing is not to lose yourself, not to push away those who are important to you. And wanting a life completely separate from everything you’ve known thus far doesn’t mean you’ve given up. I think it’s a big step in the right direction that you fantasize any sort of future, and the fact that it’s one of peace and tranquility, well I don’t see anything wrong with that at all."

"Really?" she wasn’t sure. "I wouldn’t just be running away?"

"That depends on your reasons for going. If you leave during a time when everything is settled and without abandoning those who care about you, then it would just be you moving on in your life. But if you leave when others are depending on you, when there are still things that will weigh on your mind, then you would be running away and I have a feeling you wouldn’t be any happier. I’m not recommending that you take off in the next few days, I just want you to begin planning for something, striving for something, even if it is just to grow up and move out on your own."

Ginny nodded in agreement, feeling more secure after the conversation. She found that she did like talking to Laurel, the woman was good at her job and made her feel like maybe she wasn’t as crazy as she and everyone else had thought. "So is this it? Are we done?"

"That’s up to you. I think you’re seeing things a lot more clearly now, and if you want to continue our talks, I could find a way out to the school whenever you need me to. It’s something that’s already been discussed with your parents and headmaster. I told them that at this point, the choice is entirely yours."

(BREAK)

"That will totally save the store! It’s brilliant!" Fred exclaimed. "Of course it would be coming from you." He added with a smirk as Hermione blushed slightly at the compliment.

"It just makes sense." She replied, uncomfortable with the accolades. After all it wasn’t like she’d cured the werewolf curse or anything, she’d simply reasoned out the problem at hand.

"Quick Cures! I love it!" Fred laughed, and she was glad to see he was finally letting a bit of his stress go.

"We’d still have to talk to Drake about it." She reminded him, not wanting him to get his hopes too high.

"Not a problem. Dad said he’ll be here in a few days to see Draco and Ron one more time before school. And we need to talk to him about the wolfie potion anyway."

She scrunched up her nose in displeasure. "We really need a better name for it."

"We should probably wait until we actually have something to name." He shot back. "Meanwhile, I bet he’d be glad to help out. It’s a great idea, affordable quick and already brewed cures for the minor ailments that people would normally have to go see a healer for."

"The only problem I see besides talking to Drake is the Ministry. You’ll have to get approval by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Potions and Poisons." She warned.

"I’m sure dad could help with that. Plus doesn’t Drake hold some position in that office?"

"I’m not sure." She answered thoughtfully. There was a lot she didn’t know about the healer, having simply taken Arthur’s word that the man was trustworthy. A sudden knock interrupted their discussion.

"Hey, what’s up?" Fred asked casually as he opened the door to reveal Harry.

"I was wondering if I could borrow Hermione for a minute, if you guys weren’t in the middle of a potion or something." He said looking uncomfortable.

"Sure." She readily agreed figuring her job was done as far as Fred was concerned, he was back on track and she’d helped him come up with a feasible idea, even if he did still have some red tape to get through.

His face however revealed that he had thought differently. "Okay, so we’ll talk more about this later?" he asked with a slight frown.

"Sure. I was helping him think of things to do to help out the store." She quickly explained to Harry, though he seemed less than interested.

"Well let me know if I can help." He offered absently.

After a brief adieu to Fred they headed upstairs to his room where she was surprised to see Ron waiting. "So what’s up?" he asked as they entered.

"I think I may be too close to this whole thing and I could really use your guys’ perception on what to do." Harry answered.

"About what?" she asked hesitantly.

"Well, you know I told you how I wanted to invite Mr. Lovegood here to try and help Luna snap out of this slump or whatever she’s in?"

"Yeah, and you said dad was allowing him to break the whole Lucius story in the Quibbler." Ron answered. "I thought we agreed it was a good idea?"

"Well that was before he actually showed up." Harry answered miserably.

(BREAK)

Draco knew instantly that whoever was knocking on the door wasn’t Ginny. He’d begun to worry slightly, having woken and realized she hadn’t yet come by. Was she still talking to Laurel? Curiosity got the better of him and he quickly made his way to see who was there. Surprisingly he opened up to find the healer standing before him.

"Hello. You’re Draco?" She asked with a kind smile. He merely nodded, confused into silence. "My name’s Laurel Honeywick. I’m sure you’ve heard as much about me as I have about you."

"Can I help you with something?" He asked, unsure what was going on.

"Actually, I was hoping to help you. Can we talk for a few minutes?" Her smile was still plastered across her face though he felt it was genuinely friendly.

"Um, sure I guess." He gestured her in and closed the door, feeling a sudden sense of dread. "Is it something about Ginny? Is something wrong?"

"No, I didn’t mean to alarm you. My visit has nothing to do with Ginny other than she asked if I would attempt to speak to you." Laurel answered, taking a seat at his desk.

"She did what?" he sat on his bed taking in the information. "Why?"

"You’ll have to talk to her about that, she is still my client and I can’t reveal what we spoke about. It’s the same privacy I would afford you, if you decided you wanted to talk."

"There’s nothing for me to talk about." He answered stiffly. "Thanks for the offer and all, but Ginny really shouldn’t have asked you to do this."

"It’s a pleasure, Draco. When I see someone suffering, I want to help them. And I didn’t need her to tell me that you are struggling, I can see it written all over you."

"No offense, I’m really glad you’re able to help Ginny, but this whole therapy thing really isn’t for me. I don’t need to talk, I’m figuring it out all on my own."

"And I’ve no doubt you are more than capable of doing so. But sometimes, it helps to have someone wholly unconnected to you or your situation listen and weigh in with an unbiased opinion. We all need reassurance every once in awhile that we are on the right path. I’m not here to push you into doing something you don’t want to, I’m simply here to listen if maybe there’s some problem you are having a bit of trouble looking at objectively." She seemed truly concerned and willing to help. "And anything you tell me, Ginny would never have to know." She assured him.

He thought hard. There were so many things he could probably use a second opinion on, but he feared that if he spoke them aloud to anyone then they would all see him as the bad guy again. "I don’t know." He said, now nowhere near as certain that he didn’t want to talk to the healer.

"We can start slow. Is there something weighing on you right now? Something you maybe are having some trouble figuring out or moving past?"

"Of course." He answered, looking at her suspiciously. "But I don’t want to do that mind thing you did with Ginny." It was the main thing holding him back from talking to the woman, the thought that he would have to let her so deeply into his mind.

"I never said you had to. I never said she did either, I asked her permission, I didn’t just reach out and steal her memories." Laurel answered with an amused laugh.

"Right. I still just don’t know." He felt helpless and hated the Ginny had put him in this position.

"Well, I’m not going to force you." She said rising from her seat. "I just want you to know that if you ever need someone separate from all this to talk to, I am more than willing to help. Ginny knows how to contact me." She gave him one more kind smile before turning towards the door.

"Why would someone protect someone they hate?" he asked suddenly, stopping her exit.

She turned back to him. "I’m sure there are a lot of reasons, first and foremost being that maybe the someone doesn’t hate the someone else as much as they think they do."

"But what if there’s no reason to protect them? What if they tried to hurt you, kill you even? What kind of person would still go so far as to protect at least the location of the other person?"

"I take it you’re that kind of person." She said, once more sitting at his desk. "I admit that before I started coming to this house, I knew your name and who you’re parents were. Can I assume you are speaking of your father?"

"Sure." He answered tiredly. "I just want to know why I can’t turn on him completely."

"For all the perceived evil he has been a part of, he is still your father and as children, we all want that no-strings-attached love that is our right to receive. Some parents fail to give it and sometimes, that can make the child all the more eager to get it. Perhaps despite all that you two have been through, there is some part of you in there still looking for his love. By protecting him in any way, you are trying to display that desire, even if he doesn’t know you’re still keeping his secrets."

"It just seems stupid." He muttered.

"But it isn’t. And it doesn’t make you a bad person either. Protecting your father doesn’t make you a Death Eater and it doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of this life you’ve carved out for yourself. And what’s more, you aren’t betraying your new friends just because you don’t want to tell them where your father may be hiding."

"Well, you seem confident. I’m not quite as sure." He answered despondently.

(BREAK)

"You’re asking me to explain her? Don’t you think if I had a better understanding of Luna that I’d still be in a relationship with her?" Ron asked tiredly after Harry had finished his tirade about how confusing he found her reaction to her father’s arrival.

"I don’t know about that one." Hermione answered. "I think you two were too different to make a go of it."

"Thanks for the support." He shot back.

"What support do you need? You two aren’t together and most likely won’t get back together as she herself has told you, so what do you want me to do, lie to you and say you have hope?" she returned with her hands on her hips.

As much as Harry enjoyed the familiarity of their bickering with each other, he wasn’t in the mood to referee such a ridiculous argument. "Who cares about what could have or should have happened? I’m worried about now. I really thought seeing her father would perk her up."

"You said yourself that it’s a hard time of the year for her. I agree and I think once some time passes she’ll be fine." Hermione said soothingly. He sensed her own concern for their friend, despite her recent anger towards Luna.

"We all know it’s a bad time, and that’s why I thought bringing Mr. Lovegood here would help her get through it. But he seems far more interested in the Quibbler article."

"Maybe it’s his way of dealing with the memories." Ron suggested. "Kane wasn’t just Luna’s brother, he was also someone’s son. I mean think of how mum and Dad were right after George- well, all I’m saying is we’ll all probably be just as upset when it gets closer to Christmas."

"That was perceptive." Hermione marveled.

"I’m not stupid you know." He responded angrily.

"No, not stupid, just usually emotionally stunted." She returned.

"Guys, this really isn’t the time." Harry once more interrupted their infernal arguing. "I never saw her as mad as she was at me today." Of course, that also probably had something to do with the fight he’d had with Luna right before her father arrived, but he’d kept that much to himself, feeling somehow that it was an argument meant to stay between them, and one that would just upset Hermione and Ron anyway. He wasn’t sure why he felt that way, but he did and acted upon it accordingly despite his ‘no secrets’ vow to Hermione.

"Maybe just give her some time." Ron suggested. "Once we’re back at school, maybe she’ll even out."

"You mean when she has to basically be there by herself while we’re all sequestered away because of our special schedules?"

"You make it seem like we’re leaving her to fend for herself. What do expect next year when she has to spend the whole time there without us?" Hermione asked.

Harry faltered. He hadn’t thought about that too much, preferring to leave it as some far off possibility. But now with his emotions running high, it was suddenly all he could think about. How would next year work? How could Luna help the coven if she is away finishing school? How could he ask her to give up her last year? And if she did, how would he live with himself for letting her put her life on hold when he hadn’t? It was too much to think about at the moment with everything else going on. Besides, those were all questions he had time to find a way to discuss with Luna and possibly Arthur and Dumbledore. After all they’d worked something out for him, maybe next year they could do the same for her.

(BREAK)

After dinner that night, Harry, Luna, Arthur and Mr. Lovegood assembled in the parlor to discuss the article and decide exactly what would be printed. Ron left them to themselves, really wanting no part in the scheme. It was something wholly between them, what with the entire Lucius murdering Kane fiasco.

Instead he sought out Hermione who was standing at her desk, looking over Fred’s shoulder as he wrote furiously. She pointed out some error as Ron silently made his way through the bookcase. "Okay already! Can’t you wait until the end to tell me what’s wrong with it?"

"So I’m just supposed to let you keep making the same mistake over and over? If we catch each one you’ll be less likely to do it again." She answered him impatiently.

"What are you two doing?" Ron asked, startling them both.

"A knock every once in awhile would be nice Ronald." She scolded him. "I don’t just barge into your room unannounced."

"Sorry." He muttered. "So, what are you doing?"

"I’m trying to draft a proposal to the RCPP department." Fred answered. His voice heavily irritated.

"RCPP… Regulation and Control of Potions and Poisons? Why would you need to write to them?"

"I don’t yet. I’m trying to have something ready to show Drake when he visits in a few days. I have a new direction for the store and I want to be as professional as possible when going through the channels to make it happen." His brother grinned, looking to Hermione who’s influence this obviously was. Always the organizer that girl.

"You’re interrupting our train of thought. What do you need?" she asked testily.

"I was just bored and looking for something to do. And what do you mean ‘our train of thought’? What does this have to do with you?"

"I asked her to help. And if all goes well, I may just ask her to be my new business partner." Fred said seriously.

"Whoa. You can’t just throw out thoughts like that. Let’s just get you through the first few steps and then you can start having wild ideas." Hermione protested.

"It’s not a wild idea. I want to reopen the Hogsmeade branch too and when I do I’ll need help. Lee will be manager of course, but it’s your idea that’s saving my ass right now." Fred argued. "It wouldn’t be right away anyway, so you’d still have time to go find all the coven people if that’s what’s stopping you."

"What’s stopping me is that you just brought this all up two seconds ago and you never even thought to ask if I even wanted something like that to be offered to me!"

Ron wasn’t sure what he was witnessing, but it was making him uncomfortable as he felt there were a few more layers beneath the fight. "Can you guys cool it? You’re arguing over something you just came up with."

"If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to leave." Fred countered.

"Why don’t you just fill me in on whatever your business plan is and I can help too. And you don’t even have to make me a partner or anything." He taunted his brother.

"Fine, as long as you shut up and do what you’re told." He answered.

"We’ll settle the terms later." Ron said evasively as he looked over Fred’s shoulder. "Just tell me what the hell Quick Cures is."

(BREAK)

Luna was tense. Her father had been there for four days and he hadn’t spoken of anything but the article. She was supposed to leave for school the next day and he had gone to hand deliver the finished story to the printer himself, once more cutting into the time they could have spent together. Harry had been trying for days to speak with her, but the more she became part of the background to Xeno, the less gratitude she felt for him being there at all. She knew someday soon she’d have to talk it out with Harry, but her anger at the moment was too great and so she took to avoiding him, this time without bothering to hide.

She was helping Mrs. Weasley with dinner when she heard the front door open and hallway fill with Xeno’s voice. A childish joy fell over her as it always did and in that moment her anger and irritation where gone, filled only with the anticipation of seeing her father. She ran to greet him and he threw his arms wide when he saw her. "It’s all over, fate is in the reader’s hands now." He said reassuringly, though she felt his disappointment under the relief.

"Why don’t you two relax in the parlor until dinner?" Mr. Weasley suggested kindly. She hadn’t noticed that he had come in with Xeno.

"Thank you, Arthur. That’s a wonderful idea." He guided her in and they sat together on the couch. "What’s bothering you love?"

"Nothing." She answered not meeting his eyes.

"You can’t fool me." He quietly reminded her, reaching out to tuck her hair behind her ear. "You’ve been walking around a gloomy mess, but you’ve also been working very hard to shield it. Is it about your brother?"

"Partly." She answered honestly. "Part of it is a whole bunch of things I can’t change about the people I care about and part of it is these stupid visions of my future and I’m not even sure it’s something I should want."

"Because it’s something you don’t think you should want, or something you don’t think you deserve to want?" he asked seeing right through her but knowing better than to ask what she had seen. That was one area they hadn’t ever discussed- what they each saw in their own personal futures- not unless it directly involved the other anyway.

She ignored the question. "Do you think fate is really unstoppable? I mean I’ve seen things and managed to change the future, but it always comes back to that point again."

"I’m not sure I understand."

"Well, like with Harry. I’ve seen him in mortal situations and someone has always managed to make it different enough that he gets away with his life. But then it just happens again in a different situation. I mean, as much as the visions help to prevent horrible things it doesn’t stop those things from coming in a different form. So is it really possible to fight destiny?"

"Well, it seems to me that you’ve proved it possible. However it also seems you’ve proved that you can’t fight it off forever." He smiled, throwing an arm around her and pulling her close. She rested her head on his shoulder as she had done many times when they discussed such topics. Breathing heavily, she was comforted by the familiar smell of paper and ink that always permeated from him.

"So everything is fated, it’s only a matter of how long it takes to catch up with you?" she wasn’t sure she liked the idea that nothing was really in her control.

"It’s a hard concept, especially for those in our position of being able to know what’s coming." He sighed heavily. "But I find peace in the idea. Especially when thinking of the circumstances which have now brought us full circle with Kane. I told you then that Malfoy would answer for him crime someday, that your brother wouldn’t be just another of his faceless victims."

"I know you did." She said quietly.

"I miss him." Xeno whispered.

"I miss him too." She turned and hugged him close, neither able to bring the tears they wanted to shed. It bothered her that they couldn’t cry for their loss.

Maybe it’s because deep down we’re both too full of hope right now, hope that closure is on the horizon. He answered her thoughts. She smiled, liking the idea and wanting it to be true.

(BREAK)

Harry felt lost as they all sat for dinner. Where returning to school was normally a happily anticipated event, he was actually sad to be leaving his home and the people who would remain behind. He couldn’t imagine Hogwarts without Fred, it had been hard enough to adjust without George and Neville. And leaving Arthur and Molly was becoming harder every time he had to do it. And though she was rarely around due to her workload, he’d gotten used to Tonks being within easy access as well and would miss her company. The other thing bothering him was that he still hadn’t received a reply from Gabriella, and he worried that being away from home would delay any communication that did come from her. He hadn’t told anyone else about his fear that she wouldn’t respond at all and his only chance to be made whole again would disappear. It was something he couldn’t think about for too long. So while everyone else chattered nervously about heading off the next day, he closed in on himself knowing only one person dreaded the return to school more than he did.

Looking at Draco he noticed the other boy pushing food around on his plate, head down and shoulders slumped. Harry could only imagine what he was feeling, since Draco’s mind was a steel fortress with walls twenty feet high and five feet thick. As soon as they finished eating and Molly began bustling around making sure each of them was properly packed, he cornered Draco and beckoned for him to follow outside before he and Ginny could sequester themselves somewhere for the night.

"Something you wanted?" he asked tiredly.

"I just sort of wanted to check in with you I guess. See how you wanted to handle things tomorrow on the train and the entire time at the school." Harry said delicately.

"What do you mean?"

"We’ll all play it however you want it, however you think it’ll be easiest for you. And I want you to know that even if you want us to leave you alone, pretend we don’t actually kind of like you now," they smiled at each other, "even if you want that, we’ll still have your back if you need us."

"You certainly have a way with words, make it seem like someone has an option when they don’t, kind of like when you convinced me to talk to Cho. I mean if I tell you all to stay away from me that would make me pretty ungrateful wouldn’t it?" Draco looked unhappy and Harry felt for him knowing it was going to be hard no matter what he chose.

"Look, we understand. I understand, Draco. They’ll be horrible to you if they see you with us, they’re already suspicious I’m sure after what you did to Cho in front of them all. But they are just kids and after everything we’ve been through this summer alone, I think you’ll survive it. And any way that will make it easier for you, well it would make me pretty ungrateful if I didn’t offer, right?" He argued.

"Well, after this summer, it would pretty silly to turn on each other now, even if it was just pretend." Draco shrugged obviously uncomfortable with the friendly way they were conversing. "Or maybe I just firmly believe in strength in numbers."

"Whatever the case, I want you to know I’m not going to turn on you at all, not unless you give me a really, really good reason."

"Well then, I guess I’ll do my best not to give you one." Draco said with a small smile.

(BREAK)

Fred had accosted Drake as soon as he left Ron’s room. Despite protests to the late hour and his need to still check on Draco, the healer agreed to give him a few moments of his time. Fred made his presentation quickly, having practiced it repeatedly with Hermione, Harry and Ron as his audience.

"I think it’s a fine idea. But what exactly would you need from me?" Drake asked after he had finished.

"Ah, that brings us into the shorter second part of this meeting. Firstly, I’ve done my research- or at least one of my helpers did- and I would like to ask that you put in a good word when I present to the RCPP administrators, since you are head of the department."

"I can tell them what I honestly think which is that it’s a good idea, but I won’t bribe them or anything." He answered with a smile.

"Duly noted. The second thing I would need is, well… your expertise I guess. Cures are a new branch of potionmaking for me, and while I may catch on quickly, I’d really rather have someone knowledgeable as a consultant."

"On one condition." Drake said after a brief hesitation.

"Okay, what is it?"

"You take me on as a silent consultant. It’s probably best that the big bosses at St. Mungos don’t find out exactly how thin I’m stretching myself beyond their walls."

Fred hesitated. He had counted on using Drake’s name in the promotion of his new products, knowing his own reputation may make consumers skeptical of the medicinal value of what he was selling. But what mattered more was having a good product and so he decided he’d figure out marketing later. "Alright then." He said with a wide smile, reaching out to shake on their tentative agreement.

(BREAK)

"So everything looks good. Though I’m sorry to say you’ll have to grow the hand while at school." Drake said as he ended his exam.

"That’s the least of my worries to be honest." Draco replied. He felt anxious and tired, scared and assertive. More than anything, he was consumed with an overwhelming sense of dread. He didn’t know what was going to happen the next day, or how he would be expected to react, or how he was going to feel.

"Well, medically speaking you are ready to go off to school. You’ve put on a healthy amount of weight, your sleeping patterns are no more irregular than anyone else’s in this house and with the exception of the work we still need to do on your arm, your wounds are all healed." He said encouragingly.

"I guess that’s all good news." He thanked the healer and walked him to the door before once more enclosing himself in his room.

He’d shut himself up in there for most of the last few days, ever since Laurel had left. He didn’t know how to feel about Ginny sending the woman to talk to him and rather than face it, he’d shunned her, ignoring her knocking at his door and sitting far from her at meals while refusing to meet her eyes. But at that moment, with everything that was looming before him, he couldn’t justify staying away from someone who could offer him comfort. He had to put everything else behind him and ensure that he still had a strong ally in Ginny. As much as he appreciated Potter’s pledge of friendship, it wasn’t really his company that Draco was seeking. Undoubtedly he would need them both in the coming months, but it was Ginny who he'd come to rely on for his emotional stability, as ironic as that may be.

So swallowing his pride, he made his way to her door and knocked softly. Her face flashed irritation, then surprise when she saw it was him. "I’m sorry I’ve been kind of distant lately." He said without preamble.

"I’m sorry I didn’t ask if you wanted to talk to Laurel before I sent her to you." She answered quietly. Then without a word, she gestured him in and they climbed into bed as he settled under the covers with his arm around her. Sighing in satisfaction, he closed his eyes, ready to for once last night of peace before he confronted what the reality was in the world beyond these walls.

(BREAK)

"I’m too excited to sleep." Hermione whispered.

"So why does that mean you have to keep me up?" Harry grumbled, taking his pillow and pulling it over his head as she leaned over to turn on the bedside lamp.

"It’s our last year! Aren’t you even a little excited?" she prodded.

"It’s half a year." His reply was muffled.

"Still! Then it’ll be over and a whole new part of our lives will begin." She smiled at the thought, knowing things would be different once they were all out on their own and without restriction.

Harry came out from under the pillow with an aggravated sigh. "Yes, it’s all thrilling. And you know what? It’ll still be exciting in the morning, probably more so because I won’t be as grumpy…"

She laughed but was cut off from replying by a loud banging from three floors below. "What was that?" she asked, grabbing his arm.

"I think someone’s at the door." He answered cautiously, suddenly wide awake. He put on his glasses and grabbed his wand from the nightstand before swiftly rising from the bed and hurrying to see what was happening in his house.

Not wanting to stay alone but knowing he’d be mad if she followed, Hermione was unsure what to do. Finally deciding that no matter what she’d rather not be anywhere alone at the moment, she grabbed up her own wand and scrambled out the door and down the stairs, running right into Fred and Luna. All three crashed together, falling in a heap as they tried to catch each other. "What’s going on?" Fred demanded in a whisper as he helped the girls to their feet.

"I don’t know. We heard someone banging at the door and Harry ran off to see who it was." She answered shakily, worried that she didn’t hear any sounds from below.

"Are you sure it was someone just knocking at the door? It sounded like they broke through it." Luna said as she glanced nervously towards the stairs.

"Well, let’s go find out." Fred suggested, leading the way downstairs and into the parlor where they found Harry, Arthur, Lupin, Tonks and Edgar Crescent, who must have been the late night knocker.

"What’s going on?" Hermione asked, feeling a sudden tense anticipation.

"It’s about Snape." Harry answered, worry in his eyes.

"What about him?" Fred turned to his father.

Arthur shook his head. "It seems Severus has escaped the fortress where they were holding him. But Bill and the others haven’t intercepted him. We don’t know where he’s gone."

(BREAK)

The morning was a mad scramble for everyone in Number 12, Grimmauld Place. When they were at last fully packed, dressed, and fed, Molly led the way to the ministry car waiting for them outside by the curb. Hagrid, Lupin and Arthur were loading the last of the luggage and Harry rushed forward to help. Fred and Hermione were off to the side, talking quietly to each other about something while Ron listened in. Luna and her father were at a second car, preparing to drive to King’s Cross separately from the rest so as to get a bit more time together.

Ginny watched it all in a daze, reflecting that it all felt unreal as if she were in a dream where colors were too bright, the sky was too perfectly blue, and everyone was moving in slow motion. Draco stood next to her, tightly holding her hand. She knew this was going to be hard for him, and so she had pushed aside the hurt she’d felt by him rejecting her after the whole Laurel fiasco. Although, he must have talked to the woman since she had been in his room for a good half an hour, and Ginny was dying to know what they had discussed. But at this sensitive time in their… whatever they had, she knew better than to ask. Besides, what bothered her more was that he apparently hadn’t noticed she’d taken the picture of his mother. Or worse, he had and decided not to come to her for help.

As they all climbed into the cars and began the drive over to the train station, she felt Draco grow more tense beside her. They hadn’t said much to each other this whole week, but that morning when she had asked whether or not he wanted her to be seen boarding the train with him, the floodgates had opened.

***

He had looked at her in anguish. "I want to not care what anyone sees or thinks, but I just don’t want to give them a reason…" He had sat on the bed and dropped his head into his hand.

Seeing how much he was struggling with himself she had knelt before him and smiled encouragingly. "Draco, it’s up to you, it’s what you want that matters. Pansy, Crabbe, Goyle- I’m pretty sure I can handle whatever they want to try and dish out."

"I bet you could. I’d bet big on it." He had smiled back weakly. "I just hate not knowing what’s going to happen."

She’d chuckled a bit. "Yeah, you and everyone else. Why not go track down Luna if it’ll make you feel better, see if she has any ideas as to what to look forward to?"

"I’m not so sure I really want to know." He’d whispered, leaning to rest his forehead against hers. "I can’t decide which is better, knowing or not knowing."

"Well, as long as you let me, we’ll face it all together, whether we see it coming or not." She had whispered back.

***

"We’re here! Everybody out!" Molly announced, bringing Ginny back to the present.

They crowded together while Arthur, Lupin and Fred went to find enough carts for all the bags and the three animal carriers; Hagrid and his pets would be traveling by a different means. Ginny giggled at the animals before her; Robin was tucked deep inside his shell while Hedwig was sitting proudly and regally in her cage, but Crookshanks wore the unmistakable expression of a very upset kitty upon her squished face. Apparently Hermione still hadn’t found the time to get a bigger cat carrier and so the poor thing was crammed in there, glaring at everyone who dared flaunt their freedom. Seeing where she was looking, Hermione had smiled with a wince. "I’m going to let him out as soon as we’re on the train."

"I think he’d appreciate it." Ginny grinned. Then the two girls turned from each other awkwardly. It had been a small moment, but at least they weren’t at each other’s throats.

"Well, are we ready to go in?" Arthur asked happily.

(BREAK)

Hermione watched with amused despair as Molly said goodbye to Ron, Ginny and Harry. She wished her own parents had been there to see her off, but after the way she left things with them, she wasn’t sure they wouldn’t try to grab her and run off, away from all of this and back to their world. "Hey, why do you look so sad? I thought school was like a sort of utopia for you." Fred teased, coming up beside her.

"Of course I’m happy to be going. I was just having a moment I guess." She said quietly.

"You know, my efforts on the wolfie potion are really going to suffer with you gone." He nudged her.

"Well if you do nothing else, come up with a better name by the time I come back." She rolled her eyes.

Fred looked down and shuffled his feet, obviously nervous. "So I was sort of thinking, maybe I could write to you for ideas, or if I need help… I mean I know you’ll be plenty busy while you’re up there, but I like having you for a sounding board."

"Of course you can! It was silly that you felt you had to ask." She said with a small laugh.

"I just didn’t want to burden you."

"You’re annoying, but far from a burden." She grinned as the Weasley clan descended on her.

"You make sure to keep Ron and Harry in line." Molly instructed her as she pulled her in for a crushing hug. "Oh I just miss you all so much when you’re gone!" she sobbed, reaching out to pull her children and Harry in for a crowded group hug.

"Molly, they’ll miss the train." Arthur said gently, trying to disentangle the teens from his wife.

"You all be careful up there. Especially you." She turned and grabbed up a very surprised Draco who had been standing silently on the sidelines and trying hard to be invisible. "I’m so proud of you for going, but you make me worry!"

"I’ll be careful." He promised, looking extremely uncomfortable when she released him.

"Relax mother, it’s not exactly an empty nest. I’ll be there." Fred threw an arm around his mother.

"For whatever little comfort that may provide." Ron joked, rolling his eyes as they all turned to get on the train. Hermione was last and reached to take the hand up Harry offered. Looking back to the platform she saw Fred waving after them with his parents and she waved back, feeling sad that he wouldn’t be coming with them this time.

(BREAK)

"I’ll send you and Harry a preview copy of the magazine. It should be on the shelves in a matter of days." Xeno said as they waited for the others to stealthily slip through the barrier to Platform 9 ¾.

"I just hope this all works out well. It’s dangerous for so many reasons." She answered sullenly.

"Well I haven’t seen anything recently that’s made me worry and neither has your grandmother. Have you?"

"Just a few faded but troubling dreams. I’m sure it’ll all come once the Quibbler comes out and people start reading." She sighed.

"Yes, I’m sure quite a few people will start making decision once they learn the truth." He said happily.

"Well, hopefully those decisions don’t include shooting the messengers."

"You worry too much and I worry too little. Somewhere in the middle, we’re safe." He smiled and pulled her into a tight hug.

"That logic only works if we’re together." She answered quietly as they started calling for everyone to board the train.

"How about if I promise to write? Hmm? One letter in return for every one I receive from you, how’s that sound?" He asked walking her to the door.

"Like you’re placating me." She said with a wry smile.

"Well, anything for you my little Luna." He laughed pulling her in for one last hug.

(BREAK)

"Harry, would you mind coming with me for a few moments? I want to talk with you about a few things." Lupin asked as Harry and his friends looked for an empty compartment. "I promise I won’t keep you long."

"Ron and I have to go to the prefect meeting anyway." Hermione said when he glanced her way.

"Okay." He answered with a shrug and followed Lupin, glancing out the window and catching a glimpse of Luna and her father, still saying goodbye to each other on the platform. He was happy to see that they seemed to be getting along and hoped that once Luna settled in at school, she’d start opening up again and let him help her through whatever was troubling her so deeply.

They entered an empty compartment near the end of the train and Lupin closed the door, taking out his wand and using several spells to ensure their discussion was private. Then he settled himself across the way wearing a very grim expression. "I’ve been waiting for a time when we’d have a few real moments, without interruption."

"It isn’t anything bad, is it?" Harry asked anxiously.

"That depends on you." He answered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the ring. Harry had known it was there, had felt it’s energy calling for him, but since his continual use had ceased it was getting easier to ignore. "We need to talk about this." Lupin said very seriously.

(BREAK)

Draco was nervous as he and Ginny boarded the train. His hand was cold and clammy inside her strong, comforting hold. Stuffing the other arm into his pocket to hide it and lowering his head, they followed the others down the crowded pathway, searching for a compartment. He tried to ignore the faces of the kids they passed, and felt irritation when Lupin stopped them to pull Potter away; he wanted to get out of public view as soon as possible.

They began moving as Potter walked away with Lupin when someone suddenly grabbed his arm stopping their whole group. "Draco?" Pansy asked, her face a mask of disgusted confusion.

"What?" he asked harshly. Well if he was really going to make a stand on which side he was on now, he might as well start.

"What are you doing?" she asked glaring the unlikely trio that made up his company.

"Looking for a place to sit." He answered coldly.

"Well, there’s a place for you in my compartment. You don’t have to go with them." She insisted, too dense to understand what was happening.

"I’m choosing to go with them, get it?" he said trying to turn away.

She grabbed his arm once more. "No I don’t get it. What are you doing?"

"I think he was pretty clear, he’s coming with us." Ginny said taking a step between them and forcing the other girl to release him.

Pansy appeared ready to make a move and Weasley pushed his way forward, putting an end to the fight before it could happen. "You guys get moving and find us somewhere." He instructed with an air of authority. They moved to do as he said while he stayed behind to force Pansy back into her own compartment. He joined them again moments after they found a completely empty space. Draco was grateful when Granger pulled the shades, keeping passersby from gaping at the fact that he was in such strange company.

Shortly after the train left the station he was given a small heart attack when the door slammed open. Thankfully it was only Luna, but his heart was beating triple-time none the less. "We were wondering what happened to you." Granger said as she and Weasley prepared to leave for their prefect meeting.

"It took me some time to focus in on you guys. I forgot what it’s like to be around so many open minds, I had a lot of strange thoughts to search through before I found Ron."

"Thanks for reminding me." Weasley grumbled as he presumably put his mind shields up.

"We’ll be back as quick as possible." Granger said moving to the door. "I can’t wait to see who they made Head Girl." She muttered under her breath as they headed out.

"So where’s Harry?" Luna asked as she settled in across from them.

"Talking to Lupin about something." Ginny answered with a shrug. "Guess it’s just us three for awhile."

Unfortunately, she had spoken too soon. Once more the door slammed open, only instead of the friendly face of an ally, there were three stony faces of rejected minions. "Draco, we need to talk." Pansy said angrily as Crabbe and Goyle stood menacingly behind her.

"I don’t think we do." He answered steadily though inside he was all nerves. These three may not be the brightest, but nothing was more dangerous than stupid.

"Step aside." Someone instructed from behind his former friends. They parted to reveal a tall boy with wavy black hair and stormy gray eyes. He was dressed in Slytherin robes, as transfer students were presorted before coming to the school. Draco knew this kid and was worried for the reason he’d been sent here. "I was hoping we’d meet under more agreeable circumstances." The boy said quietly as he came forward into the compartment.

"Funny, I was hoping we’d never meet." He answered. "What are you doing here?"

"It seems there are some people who think you need to be taken care of. What kind of care is completely your choice, so maybe you might want to rethink where you want to sit on the ride." The boy suggested with a friendly voice and an evil smile.

 

NOTE: Well, I guess we now have a new villain. It was an idea I was playing with, having to have someone fill the antagonist position left vacant by Draco’s change of heart, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. Anyway, next chapter we learn this new guy’s identity, lot’s of surprises and an unexpected visitor. Stick around, it’ll be up as soon as possible.


Chapter 27: Welcome to Hogwarts

A/N: Back again and at last our characters will reach Hogwarts. On thinking about it, I may have been way too optimistic when I said we were halfway through the story, maybe more like a third. So moving right along, Read, Review and Enjoy!
 
 


Harry listened as Lupin listed the dangers Luna had forewarned about the ring. He didn’t care that his friend was requesting that he not use the stupid thing as much. Since being able to speak to his parents, Sirius, George and Neville he had reached a sort of peace within himself, as if knowing that he could contact them was enough. After all, none of them had been in his life for long so adjusting without them actually present in physical form wasn’t as hard for him as he knew it to be for everyone else. So making a promise to not abuse the ring’s power wasn’t difficult. No, what bothered him is that the conversation directly reminded him of the fight he and Luna had gotten into days before. Nothing was resolved between them and while he wasn’t entirely sure why either of them was mad at the other, he knew for a fact that being on the outs with Luna, was the worst feeling that he’d ever experienced.

He felt both disappointed and disappointing as if their illusions of each other had finally shattered. He’d always viewed her as this sort of mythical sprite, playful, delicate and innocent, almost fragile in a way- a creature unlike any other being. He also knew that Ron had looked upon her in a similar fashion and he absently wondered if there was veela blood somewhere in her line. Despite the off-putting weirdness, Luna certainly had a way of drawing people in; even Draco had warmed to her before he did with the others, except Ginny of course. But all summer she had proven that she wasn’t all that delicate, that she was strong, capable and determined and it had only made him think more highly of her and their friendship. But lately, watching her deteriorate before his eyes into an ordinary girl who happened to also have extraordinary powers he’d felt helpless, wanting to maintain that image he had of her. As it turns out she was just as easily manipulated by her emotions as Hermione, Ginny or any other girl he’d come across. She wasn’t the wise and stoic oracle, she could be broken and she didn’t know everything. He saw her as human now, no longer some idol on a pedestal that he stood in awe of. He felt strongly that it was his fault, that somehow he’d been the one to break her. He just wished he knew how. And what’s more, he wished he knew what he’d done to finally make her look at him as she had that day they’d fought, a look that silently asked him why she had wasted her time befriending him. That look had hurt him more deeply than he cared to admit, as had her words. They’d never spoken harshly to each other before, other than his threat to bind her when she’d threatened to tell Hermione and Ron about his plan for Hogsmeade last year. And even then they had made up quickly as he hadn’t had much force behind his words. So what had changed? Or perhaps the better question was, what was in the process of changing?

"Harry?" Lupin had reached out and grabbed his arm to gain his attention, knocking Harry out of his hectic thoughts.

"Sorry, what where you saying?" He shook his head to bring himself fully into the present moment.

"I was asking if I could trust you if I gave the ring back, but maybe you just gave me the answer." Lupin looked at him in concern.

"No, its- I was thinking of something else entirely. Sorry, there’s a lot on my mind lately. Which is why you can trust me and give it back. I understand the danger and I can discuss it with Fred, Ron and Ginny too, so that we can all still use it, but responsibly. I’ll make sure Luna’s warning doesn’t come true."

Lupin still looked unsure, but he handed it over none the less. "Okay, but I will be checking in with you regularly about this. I don’t like having one more reason to worry about you. But as I said, after a long conversation with Arthur, we decided it’s best to trust you with this ring, now that you know the danger."

Harry assured him that all would be well before excusing himself, suddenly anxious to get back to the others. Apparently, Ginny had lowered her walls enough to send him a message, they needed his assistance. He had known it was a bad idea to leave Draco alone on the train and silently cursed himself under his breath as he hurried down the hall.

As he approached their car, he saw Ron and Hermione through the door as they shooed away Pansy, Crabbe, Goyle and an unfamiliar boy. He was tall, with dark hair and extremely pale skin and he was smirking at his friends in a manner that Harry definitely took as threatening. He threw open the door and hurried his pace to a run.

(BREAK)

Draco held his ground as the other boy glared him down. "I’ve made my choice. I’ll stay here." He knew he had just drawn his line in the sand and hoped he had the fortitude to stand behind it.

"I see. I find that very disappointing."

"No one cares. Get out of here!" Ginny demanded, rising to her feet.

Draco saw the boy take a step forward to tower over her and scrambled to his feet to get between them and diffuse the situation before it got bad. Corralling Ginny behind him, he found that he stood eye to eye with the boy; he hadn’t realized he’d grown so much over the summer. Luna rose to also stand behind him, somehow sensing that was the safer place to be.

"She said get out." He repeated Ginny’s words in a strangled growl, trying to control the beast swirling beneath his skin. From the moment the other boy had made his threatening move toward her, Draco had been fighting himself, holding back the new animalistic instincts he’d recently gained. The human side of him knew that he was probably no match for this guy if it came down to a fist fight, but the wolf in him knew that if he had to, hell, if he wanted to, he could tear the kid’s throat out.

"What’s going on here?" said a cool, stern feminine voice, breaking into the intense staring contest the two boys had been engaged in. He looked past his adversary to find Granger and Weasley, both holding Pansy and the goons back.

"Nothing at all. Just introducing myself to the son of a family that is good friends with mine. I was hoping to find a friendly face in a new school." The boy shot them a charming grin.

"So sorry to disappoint you, but you’ll find no friends here." Draco spat out, still trying desperately to keep from reaching out to end this threat before he had a chance to do any damage. But that wasn’t the way they did things on this side, he reminded himself.

"Get out of here before we report you." Weasley said angrily. "You’ll be out of here in no time if you insist on causing trouble before we even get to the school."

With one last evil look at Draco, the boy turned and exited the compartment. "Nice to meet you, Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley." He smiled at their surprised looks before glancing past them and grinning wider. "Ah, Harry Potter! And now the picture is complete. Lovely to see you all!" and before Potter could reach them, they retreated back down the train to their own car.

They all gathered in the compartment and after settling themselves, they turned to stare at him. "Who was that guy?" Potter demanded.

"I’ve never met him before, only heard about him, but I believe that was Tristan Macnair, new transfer student from Durmstrang." Draco answered with a sigh.

"Macnair… As in Walden Macnair?" Granger asked.

"He was Tristan’s uncle."

"Well what’s he doing here? And why now?" Ginny wondered.

"I don’t know, but it’s not for anything good." He answered miserably.

(BREAK)

Luna sat in silence, letting the others discuss this new potential enemy. She had been shaken to her core when she’d first seen the boy, as he had been in many of those disturbing dreams she had told her father about. Since no actual vision had come to her, she hadn’t paid much attention to the terrifying image of the horrid person she now knew as Tristan. Now she wished she had told someone about it, had given some warning as to what they could all possibly be in store for. It seemed that even Draco, who had heard of the boy, didn’t seem to be fully aware of how scared he should be, considering that even had they not been on opposite sides of this war they would be natural enemies now that he’d become a werewolf. Well, it wasn’t to late, she could still speak up. "Tristan Macnair is a horribly dark creature." She blurted out.

"What are you talking about?" Ron asked.

Draco answered for her. "She’s probably heard the rumors about him." He explained, glancing at her nervously. So maybe he did know something.

"What rumors?" Harry pressed.

"That he’s a vampire." Draco said with a small laugh, as if making it a joke made it untrue.

"Even if he was, what difference does it make? Vampires don’t hold the same stigma as werewolves since they have control over themselves. Draco would be considered more dangerous out in society." Hermione pointed out.

"I’ve known some wonderful people who also happened to be vampires." Luna interjected. "And I wasn’t just referring to the fact that he was a vampire. Draco was wrong; I’ve never heard any rumors about Tristan because before today I’d never heard his name. But I’ve been seeing him lately… in my nightmares. He was always this dark, shadowy figure, with the smell of death and decay about him, and I was always scared, terrified as soon as I sensed he was near. It was the same every time and I was expecting a vision about it any day. But he showed up first."

"So what does that mean?" Hermione asked.

Luna shrugged. "That it was only ever meant to be a warning that he was coming, that nothing has been decided yet where he is concerned."

"Great, werewolves and vampires." Ron groaned. "Why not throw a demon or two on for good measure?"

"Bite your tongue!" Ginny scolded.

Luna ignored them both, turning to Draco anxiously. She was happy to learn that he knew something about this mysterious boy. "So what have you heard about him?"

"That he is the first pure vampire in the Macnair family. Apparently both his parents had been turned long before they met each other and both were from pureblood wizarding families, so their union wasn’t as problematic as it should have been. So when Tristan was born he was a full blooded wizard and Vampire." Draco answered.

"Great pure vampires are more powerful than normal ones." Hermione groaned.

"Have you been reading ahead in our school books again?" Ron teased.

"Of course!" She answered seriously. "And in Defense we’re going to learn, in more depth, the abilities and rights of all non-human creatures and human-like beings."

"Great, learning more about things they’ve already made me learn." Ron grumbled. "Next time keep the lesson plan to yourself."

Luna tired of the exchange and once more captured Draco’s attention. "What else do you know?"

"Just what I’ve heard. Apparently he and his family have spread terror among the muggles for years, taking all the silly things from their literature and showing them that vampires do exist. While I don’t think they’ve ever turned anyone, I know they are responsible for countless muggle deaths. The good news for us I guess, is that they don’t hunt their own. It’s even been said that except in battle, they never attacked wizards or witches no matter what side of the war they were on."

"Well, at least they seem to have some kind of morals." Luna said hopefully, not wanting to connect the somewhat dashing boy she’d just met with the horrible thing that haunted her at night.

"Are you kidding?" Harry asked her incredulously. "Even if they don’t use us as prey, he said they do go after muggles with no remorse."

"It could be argued that it’s all part of the food chain." Draco debated on her behalf. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to believe this new person in their lives was as threatening as he seemed. Of course, the others hadn’t seen what she had or heard the things Draco obviously had.

"A lot of things can be argued, it doesn’t make it okay. From the little we have studied about vampires, I remember that there were several options available to modern ones. There are vampire run blood banks all over the world, wherever they are en masse. Right?" Harry turned to Hermione to confirm what he thought he remembered.

"Right. But not all of them chose to use donated blood. Just like not all werewolves take wolfsbane and seclude themselves away for their change." She answered, giving a nod of acknowledgement toward Draco. "I think what we can all agree on it that is doesn’t matter if you’re a witch, wizard, werewolf, vampire or any other being- some are good and some are just bad."

"So the question is how bad is Tristan?" Ginny asked.

"Well, if his family likes to go muggle hunting I can’t imagine they’re the greatest people in the world." Ron said snidely.

"Okay, everyone relax." Luna said. She felt trapped in the compartment with them all arguing, like she was suffocating. "It’s silly to argue about it now. The best thing to do is watch him closely and make sure he doesn’t have the chance to prove what a bad guy he is."

"Agreed." Ron said quietly.

(BREAK)

Harry felt a bit sad as he got off the train with the others. He had half expected to hear Hagrid calling out to the first years, but instead Lupin stood before them, corralling the young students into the boats that would take them to Hogwarts as the older students filed into the carriages. He gave a heavy sigh as he climbed in after Hermione; not having Hagrid waiting at the station was just the first in a long line of ways that this year would be different.

Although as they approached the castle, his heart leapt a little and he enjoyed the moment of childlike awe that spread over him. It was how he had felt when he was younger, escaping from the Dursleys into this world of magic, Hogwarts being the ultimate symbol for his transformation.

"Well, I guess this is where you guys leave us." Ginny said regretfully as they all stood in the entryway.

"We’ll see you again soon." Ron promised as they left her and Luna to follow the other students into the Great Hall. Harry, Hermione, Ron and Draco all made their way to McGonagall’s office as their letters had instructed.

Hermione knocked lightly on the door. "Ah, Miss Granger, keeping the others prompt as usual." McGonagall greeted them as she opened up. Gesturing them in she urged them all to sit for a moment. "We just have to wait for the other students."

"What other students?" Harry blurted out.

"Albus didn’t tell you?" she looked surprised. "Well, unfortunately word leaked out of the testing office about what we had set up for you four and in order to keep things fair, we’ve had to offer the accelerated program to other students whose academic record met the requirements."

Harry felt disappointed. He had sort of liked the idea of his classes consisting of just the four of them. "From all the houses?" he asked, shooting a glance at Draco.

"To be fair, we had to." McGonagall grumbled. "We’re waiting on one more Gryffindor, six from Ravenclaw, three from Hufflepuff and two from Slytherin."

"Professor?" A pair of voices called from the doorway.

"Ah yes, Misses Padma and Parvati Patil. Come on in." she invited them in and they sat next to the others with friendly smiles. Harry felt relief that the twins had taken up two of the spots, they were familiar and what’s more, they were friends.

Slowly other students filed in, some he knew and some he didn’t. Finally they were only waiting on the two Slytherins and knowing his luck, Harry had a feeling about who one of them was going to be. Sure enough, Tristan sauntered in, followed closely by Millicent Bulstrode. "So kind of you both to join us." McGonagall glared at them. "You are new here Mr. Macnair, but rest assured that tardiness will not be tolerated in this program. That will serve as a reminder to the rest of you as well. This will be a fast paced course of study and to be late to class is to forfeit your chance to be in class that day as we cannot stop everyone else’s learning to accommodate those who are unable to read a clock."

They all stared back at her in silence waiting to see what other restrictions were to be placed on them all for the privilege of graduating early. "Alright, here’s how this will work. A private living quarter has been set up for you all and while you will maintain your house status you will each have your own rooms and share a common room with each other. This is not an invitation to argue, fight or cause problems for each other. You are all expected to act like mature young people. Remember, being in this program is a privilege, not a requirement. If you cannot maintain appropriate behavior or good grades, you will be kicked out and sent back to normal classes."

(BREAK)

Ginny was miserable sitting by herself at the Gryffindor table. She couldn’t wait for the others to get back as she felt very exposed, being the only member of her group to be there, she felt all eyes were on her. Then she remembered, she wasn’t the only one. Looking over to the Ravenclaw table she met Luna’s gaze and both girls smiled, comforted by the other’s presence, even if they couldn’t be near each other.

"Well, if it isn’t my favorite person in the whole world." Said a quietly amused voice behind her.

She whipped around and her mouth dropped open in shock. "Charlie!" she threw herself in her brother’s arms and they held each other tightly for a moment before pulling away to take a good look at each other. "What are you doing here?"

"All will be revealed in good time baby sister." He grinned his charming lopsided grin and she felt truly happy, not realizing the full extent to which she was missing her two older brothers.

"Is Bill here as well?" She looked around eagerly, hoping to see him.

"No, I think he’s still out looking for Snape." Charlie answered quietly. "So, any idea when they’re going to get this show on the road?" he glanced at the Head table where the professors were assembling. Still no Dumbledore and no McGonagall.

"The first years will be here soon." She answered. "I assume it’ll all get going in a few moments."

"Charlie?!" Ron came running up to them at that moment, followed closely by Harry and Hermione. They all greeted each other warmly but Ginny was unconcerned with them any longer.

She caught Draco’s eye as the other students filed into the Great Hall and he shot her a look of misery as he joined the Slytherin table, sitting far from the others. "Why can’t he sit over here?" she angrily demanded of Harry, as if he could fix this.

"McGonagall said that outside of class we maintain our house status. He’s a Slytherin Ginny, we can’t change that." Harry said regretfully, also glancing at Draco in concern.

"It’s stupid." She grumbled as she sank back into her seat.

"I agree, but it’s not like they’ll be able to do anything to him with all the professors in the room." Hermione said kindly. Ginny appreciated the other girl was trying hard to get along, but her own misery kept her from responding, not wanting to say something she would regret.

"Well, I must be getting up there. Looks like we’re ready to get rolling." Charlie gave them all a mysterious smile before going and joining the professors at the Head table.

(BREAK)

"Hey! Look!" Ron pointed to where Dumbledore had just entered with the very familiar form of Healer Drake. "What’s he doing here?"

Harry was startled by the man’s presence. "I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with why Charlie’s here."

"Maybe he’s here to check up on Draco. The full moon is coming again next week you know." Ginny offered as an explanation.

Thankfully they weren’t left to wonder for long as McGonagall took up her post at the front of the hall next to the sorting hat. Immediately the giant doors swung open and the first year students were ushered in, their eyes wide and mouths set in determination. McGonagall cleared her throat and the hall fell silent as the hat began it’s song. Shortly after, the new students were all sorted into their appropriate houses. Harry watched the ceremony with impatience, wanting nothing more than the explanation for Drake and Charlie being there.

At last, Dumbledore rose to address the hall. "Welcome to those of you returning and especially to those new to our halls. I would like to begin by saying that, while we will never forget the tragedy that plagued our school last year, we must put it behind us and move forward. This year, I expect Hogwarts to be a place of enlightenment and peace as any school should be. And so this will serve as notice to all, troublemakers will not be tolerated any longer and punishment for interrupting the peace of this institution will be severe."

He looked out meaningfully at the sea of students in front of him before continuing. "Now, there are a few beginning of term announcements. The Forbidden Forest is out of bounds to all students as is the bit of swamp in our upstairs corridor. The list of items and actions banned from the school can be found in Mr. Filch’s office and will be gone over during your first classes on Monday so that every student understands what they can and cannot do. Finally, as to Quidditch, the entire sport is on probation this term. After the terrible incidents that occurred last year, I warn all players that if anything at all happens on the field other than a well played game, the sport will be discontinued at Hogwarts."

Harry glanced around at all the players he knew and saw they all looked worried. Since he was unable to play this year, he was unconcerned. Besides, without him playing, the pitch was probably safe. Finally, Dumbledore reached the part of this whole speech that he’d been waiting for. "Now, with happier news, I would like to introduce some new members of our staff. Professor Hagrid, while agreeing to come back as our gamekeeper, has recently found other responsibilities that will keep him from teaching Care of Magical Creatures, but I believe we have a very suitable replacement. Charlie Weasley was been working many years with many magical creatures, but his special field of study is dragons." He gestured to Charlie who shot out a brilliant grin across the hall, causing a few girls to begin whispering excitedly. Harry rolled his eyes. "As a former student, I’m sure he is glad to be back and bestowing his wisdom on a new generation."

Dumbledore paused as the students clapped politely for their new professor, a few girls whistling. Harry couldn’t be happier to have Charlie there. He knew it would be good for Ron and Ginny to have him so near when the rest of their family couldn’t be. Clearing his throat to bring the noise down, the Headmaster continued. "Now some of you may have noticed that Professor Snape is not here. He is on assignment right now and cannot be here to teach, therefore I have asked a good friend and very talented potionmaker to take the position until Professor Snape can return. Meet your new Potions Professor, Healer Roscoe Drake." Soft and polite clapping filled the hall and died down quickly as not many of them knew the healer and he certainly didn’t have the charisma Charlie did.

"On a personal note," Dumbledore continued, "I would like to welcome back Professor Lupin for his second consecutive term teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. It appears someone has finally broken the "curse" on that position." Laughs and clapping filled the hall and this time the Headmaster didn’t try to quiet them, instead speaking loudly to be heard over the din, "That is all. Tuck in!"

"Well having Drake here will certainly come in handy." Ron said as he began piling his plate with everything he could reach.

(BREAK)

I would like to speak with you privately for a moment, sir. Luna thought out. She saw the Headmaster look directly at her and nod ever so slightly. As discreetly as possible, she stood and left the Great Hall, the happy voices of her classmates echoing off the walls of the empty corridor as she made her way to Dumbledore’s office. "Fire spritzers" she named off the password that he’d mentally sent her and smiled as she stepped onto the stairway. Those were candies made by Fred and George, apparently the Headmaster had been a fan of their merchandise.

She entered the office feeling nervous and determined under the gaze of the former Headmasters. But glancing at the portraits, she saw that those who weren’t sleeping, were absent from their frames. She breathed a tiny sigh of relief, it was much easier to stand and make a request of one powerful person rather than a whole legion of them. "Miss Lovegood?" She jumped as Dumbledore came in behind her. He smiled kindly and took a seat at his desk. "What can I do for you?"

She remained standing, feeling too anxious to sit. "Well, I know it’s a bit late to ask, but I was hoping you could get me entered into the same program as the others, so that I only have to be here one semester. You know that after they are done, Harry intends to go looking for those coven members we haven’t yet contacted. Well, as a member of the coven, I think it’s only fair that I get to go with. And I would be in my seventh year, if Kane hadn’t been killed, so I am of age and able to decide whether or not to stay in school, but I would like to finish. I have excellent grades, I’m a good student in class and I’ve never really caused any trouble." She let out a breath after unleashing every argument she’d come up with.

Dumbledore merely stared back at her thoughtfully. "And then next year?"

"Next year?"

"Yes, Miss Lovegood. Say it is possible to set this up for you, what happens next year, when Harry and your coven are off doing who knows what? Will you return for another short semester to complete your seventh year?"

"I don’t know. I can only take things as they come to me." She said honestly. "Sometimes I can know things that will happen years from now while I’m ignorant of tomorrow. It’s frustrating. So all I can do is handle one thing at a time and right now, I’m trying to figure out how not to get left behind."

"I understand your plight and the reasons for your request, but I just don’t think it’s possible. I’ve no doubt that next year you will qualify for the program, but right now, accelerated classes are only being offered to seventh year students." He looked at her regretfully. "I have no desire to hold you back, Luna. And I understand the importance of your place in this war."

"Then can’t you figure out something?" she pleaded.

Dumbledore was quiet for a long time. "The main problem I see in accommodating you is that with the small group of seventh year students as well as all their normal classes, the professors are stretched too thin already. I couldn’t ask them to also take on an accelerated program for a sixth year student as well. The second smaller problem is that if I did find a way to help you, I would have to open the class to other sixth year students in order to not be accused of favoritism. The least troubling issue would be getting permission from Griselda Marchbanks this close to the beginning of classes."

"Okay, so what if you taught the classes, sir?" she suggested wildly. She hadn’t expected him to take her seriously of course, she simply wanted to show that she was dedicated to finding a way to make this happen.

Surprisingly, he seemed caught on the idea. "I suppose it could work. Yes, that might just be the answer."

"Sir, I didn’t mean it." She certainly didn’t want him to have to put himself out that much for her.

"I know you didn’t, but it’s a good idea none the less." He smiled at her in excitement. "It’s been so long since I was a real teacher, I think it’s a wonderful plan. I will set this up immediately with the appropriate boards and by morning, I should have this resolved."

"Are you sure?" she asked still feeling bad that she had suggested it at all.

"Positive, Miss Lovegood. It seems we can all help each other here."

(BREAK)

Towards the end of dinner, Harry noticed Filch come up and whisper in McGonagall’s ear. It must have been important because she rose immediately and hurried to follow him out of the hall. It was then that Harry noticed the Headmaster had also left. Looking around wildly and wondering what was going on, he noticed Luna was absent from the Ravenclaw table. Turning quickly in his seat, he checked on Draco, but he was sit sitting by himself, far from the rest of the Slytherins who were apparently throwing taunts at him. Harry grew angry; Ginny was right, it was stupid that they made him go anywhere near those kids. He intended to talk to Dumbledore about it, of course, that was if he could find him.

"Hey, what did we do now?" Hermione grumbled as a note appeared at her elbow.

Looking down the table, he saw that he, Ginny and Ron had also received one. Glancing behind him once more he saw Draco reading the one that was in front of him. Reaching for his own, Harry felt hesitant, sure that they hadn’t done anything wrong. Could it have something to do with why Luna and the Headmaster were missing?

Come to my office immediately.
Professor McGonagall

Without a word, they all rose nervously to their feet and joining Draco by the door, they made their way down the corridor. As they passed the Gargoyle leading up to the Headmaster’s office, Harry felt a tug, had caught a sense of Luna’s presence. "You guys go ahead. I have to see Dumbledore about something." He waited for them to round the corner. But rather than head up, he turned off his mind and waited for her to come down, he didn’t have to wait long.

She exited the stairway and began walking away from him, but apparently he wasn’t as good at shielding himself from her as she was at shielding from him. "What do you want, Harry?"

"What’s going on? Why were you up there?" he asked, taking a few steps toward her.

"For reasons that have nothing to do with you, okay?" She answered impatiently.

"What is your problem with me?!" He demanded.

"I don’t have one." She answered crossly.

"Harry! Luna!" Ron rounded the corner, running up to them all out of breath. "You guys have to come see this!" he gasped out.

"What is it?" Luna asked.

"Come on! In McGonagall’s office!" Was all Ron would reply before running back the way he’d come. With an angry look at each other, he and Luna followed.

They ran after their friend but Ron’s long legs carried him faster than they could keep up. Once they reached the office door, Harry’s heart felt like it was going to explode with the mixture of adrenaline from the exercise and anticipation for what he would find. "Mr. Potter, Miss Lovegood. You both have a visitor." McGonagall said as they entered.

Next to Hermione, Ginny and Draco stood a tall, thin woman, with sun-browned skin, long dark hair and deep chocolate brown eyes. "Hola." She gave them a dazzling smile.

"Hi. I’m Harry." He said, taking a step forward to shake her hand.

"Me llamo Gabriella." She said in a lilting voice before shaking her head with a small laugh. "Lo siento que olvidé." Pointing the wand at her throat, she said some strange word in Spanish. "Ah, this is better, yes? I forget that no everybody speak Spanish." She continued in English covered with a thick accent. "I Gabriella Hernandez, you wrote to me, yes?"

 

 

NOTE: Sorry this one is a bit shorter than what I’ve recently been cranking out, but I figured better short than not at all. Anyway, coming up in the next few chapters we find out if Gabriella can heal Harry’s mind and Draco’s werewolf curse, Tristan begins approaching Harry’s friends, Harry and Luna get some things off their chest, Dumbledore reveals news important to Luna and Ginny, a tense first day of classes, news arrives about Sarah, Luna has some disturbing visions, Neville makes an appearance again, Draco deals with the fallout of his actions last year, Snape reappears, another strange visitor shows up and oh so much more. Stay tuned.




Chapter 28: Healing Hands

A/N: Welcome back again. Lots to cover, so everyone read, review and enjoy!

 


"Gabriella?" Harry couldn’t believe it. Just a short time ago he’d been worried that heading off to school would delay word from her, and now here she was right in front of his eyes, standing in McGonagall’s office. It all felt surreal.

"It is very nice to be meeting you, Mr. Harry Potter." She said politely in a thick accent that the translation spell couldn’t quite fix, rolling her R’s in a way that was nearly musical. He didn’t care that the woman’s translation into English wasn’t the greatest, he had no trouble understanding her. And even if he did, just having her there was enough to let him believe this whole coven thing could really work. "I know that I should have written first, but I was not having the opportunity. This Voldemort is sending his Death Eaters all over. My husband and I, we have to flee from our home in the Canada."

"We’ve heard they’ve been to France and a few other places in Europe and Asia but I didn’t realize they’d already jumped the pond." Harry answered, feeling uneasy that while he was going to be wasting time in school before going to look for recruits, Voldemort was already busy searching for his. At least one of them was finally here in person, making this whole plan feel more real to him.

"They’ve been spotted nearly everywhere." McGonagall informed them all. "The Order has been trying it’s best to keep up, but…" she trailed off. They didn’t need her to tell them that their numbers would never be as great as Voldemort’s. It was much easier to join the spreading evil than fight it.

"They destroyed the small municipality where we live." Gabriella added. "My husband Hector goes to our home in Spain, but I came to here first to give help." She smiled in Harry’s direction. "And to talk about the coven, yes?"

"Yes." He happily answered.

Harry. He heard Hermione’s voice as she opened her mind so he could see her thoughts. Have you checked inside her head, tried to see her intentions? You can never be too careful.

Unfortunately, she was right and so with a quick glance at Luna, they went into Gabriella’s mind together, wanting to be sure they could really trust her. The healer was an open book, whether she felt them searching he didn’t know, but assuming she did, he saw that there was nothing she tried to hide from them. Feeling extra relief, he turned to smile in satisfaction at Luna. She simply nodded that she agreed Gabriella was cleared before looking away and wandering over to inspect the books on McGonagall’s shelves, as if none of what was happening truly interested her. He knew different. When they had joined together just now, her mind had been partially open so that certain thoughts she couldn’t contain leaked out. He had seen how excited she really was to meet another coven member and how hopeful she was that Harry would now get his power back. He knew she still felt guilty about him losing it in the first place and would have eased her worries about him blaming her, but she was intent on deliberately ignoring him. Apparently she could let go of whatever was in trouble between them long enough to cooperate when he needed her, but the entire situation wasn’t enough to lessen her confusing anger towards him. His stomach felt uneasy, a mixture of relief, hope and nerves related to what was about to happen as well as despair over a fight he didn’t know why he was having.

"I am thinking it is best to try for the healing first." Gabriella smiled, filling the brief silence that had fallen over the room. No one was certain of how to proceed.

"Healing?" McGonagall asked looking at him in confusion. He couldn’t quite meet her eyes, wondering just how he was going to explain all this.

Gabriella looked equally confused, having figured that knowing so much already, the professor was a close ally. She was of course, but Harry and the others hadn’t shared the fact that he’d lost his power with any of the adults. He hoped word wouldn’t get back to Arthur, he couldn’t stomach the idea of the man being disappointed in him again for keeping secrets. "Yes, in the letter they say Harry is needing my help." She said uncertainly.

The professor raised an eyebrow as she surveyed her students. Harry saw that none of the rest of them were able to meet her eye either. "Perhaps we should go to the Headmaster first. I’d be far more comfortable if the rest of this meeting took place under his supervision. We are in Hogwarts after all, if anything were to go wrong, the school is liable." Her voice was stern, heavy with frustration. Apparently the adults hated it just as much when he kept things from them.

"Oh, I am very good at what I do. The best in the whole world." Gabriella responded proudly and without vanity. Harry didn’t doubt she spoke the truth and as his chest tightened in anticipation he felt everything else fade away; his trouble with Luna, his fear that this wouldn’t work, how he was going to explain his situation to Dumbledore- it all rocketed to the back of his mind.

"Even so Mrs. Hernandez, all of these students as well as their guests, whether the visit is sanctioned or not, become our responsibility the moment they set foot on our grounds. No one is exempt from our care, not even Mr. Potter." She said this last directly to him, as if to remind him that as much as they had bent over backward for him this year, he was still expected to behave in the same manner as everyone else.

He was tired of this, simply eager to get on with it and figure everything else out later. "Well, then let’s go see Dumbledore." He said. For the first time in a long while, he was completely willing to head off to see his Headmaster.

(BREAK)

Hermione watched in total fascination along with the others. They had relocated to Dumbledore’s office and now Harry was spread out on a couch while the mysterious healer woman prepared to lay hands on him. "I have never done nothing like this before." She warned them all in her rough translation.

"We all trust you, Mrs. Hernandez." Dumbledore assured her. While the Headmaster had made it clear that he hadn’t been pleased to learn that they’d kept Harry’s problem from him, they managed to get away without having to explain how it had happened. That was a lie for Harry to handle later, she knew she’d never be able to pull any kind of explanation off convincingly; especially not enough to fool Dumbledore. For now, the wise wizard had decided that the more pressing matter was trying to restore Harry’s power, leaving explanations and stories for another time, presumably after their guest left the castle. She didn’t know how Harry had managed to put off the hail of questions she knew McGonagall and especially Dumbledore wanted to rain down him; he was so good at putting off those things he didn’t want to talk about, it was a gift he probably wasn’t even aware of. She knew for a fact he’d done the same with her a number of times, leaving her to realize only after he was gone that she hadn’t gotten the answers she had gone looking for.

"I am just being nervous." She smiled. "I am knowing that this is very important."

"I’m not worried at all." Harry assured her from his prone position, anticipation gleaming in his eyes.

Hermione wasn’t so sure. She had witnessed Harry and Luna use their talents and believed in them strongly despite the doubts she still often vocalized, but Gabriella was another story. It was one thing to research and know what the healer was probably capable of, it was quite another to put it into practice. She didn’t want this to go wrong, she wasn’t sure Harry could handle it. He had been forcing himself to be so strong about all of this, working harder than he probably knew to not let this tear him apart. But she knew him very well, and was able to see all the things that he tried to hide. As the healer leaned forward to place her hand in the middle of Harry’s forehead, Hermione held her breath and prayed that this would work.

(BREAK)

Luna watched Gabriella closely. She could see the aura of white-hot energy the woman was tapping into and wondered if any of the others could see it. Glancing at them each in turn, she knew they didn’t. Maybe it was something only other coven members could see… but then Harry had never been able to in similar circumstances. Looking on at the scene before her, she realized she’d been holding her breath and slowly let it out so the others wouldn’t notice how intently she’d been watching. She was worried, but hopeful. She wanted this to work. Both she and Harry needed this to work. He may not have been aware of his powers for long, but now that he was without them she knew how much he was struggling, or at least how much he was trying to hide that he was struggling. She wasn’t comfortable being around him at the present moment, upset about things she didn’t understand and things he couldn’t understand right now. But the part of her that was still very much his friend had finally prevailed and her heart was nearly bursting out of her chest it was beating so fast in anticipation of whether or not this was going to work.

"I see it!" Gabriella said suddenly as she broke off contact with Harry. "But I do not know how to reach it." She looked helplessly from Harry to Luna. They had been formally introduced a short time earlier and the healer had been overjoyed to meet another coven member. Now it was to them only that she was directing her attention, looking meaningfully at Luna in particular, as if she were expecting an answer from her specifically.

She was overcome suddenly, as an image- a quick flash of a picture invaded her head, disappearing as quickly as it had come. She felt herself sway on her feet and leaned against the wall until the dizziness left her. "You should try third eye contact." She told the woman shaking her head to clear it from the intensity of that bolt of a vision. It had never come to her like that before, an answer to a direct if unspoken question. She began to wonder… when she’d begun to be in constant contact with Harry, she’d felt her powers strengthen, and his seemed to be stronger around her. It seemed now that Gabriella was here, her powers had once more strengthened. Would their abilities continue to grow as they gathered more of the coven? Was this why she was able to see auras, to sense energy so strongly lately? She felt a sudden certainty that the answer to her second question was going to be far more complicated.

"It is the stronger way, I know this but it is not always the best way. It is very dangerous to play with the way the brain functions." Gabriella said hesitantly.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, though it was apparent that he intended to do whatever it took, no matter the risk.

It was Dumbledore who answered startling Luna, who’d momentarily forgotten there was anyone other than her, Harry and Gabriella in the office. "When two minds try to engage the direct energy portal that third eye contact produces, sometimes the stronger source of energy can overwhelm the weaker mind if it cannot process the output. It can happen by accident, without the stronger of the two intending any harm if they aren’t very careful and knowledgeable about what they are doing." He looked very serious and extremely concerned.

"I know everything about what I am doing and I am always having care." Gabriella replied, a bit indignant. Then she turned back to Harry. "But I am not wanting to…" she struggled for words, "to break you. I am having fear because this is the first time someone is asking something like this from me."

"I fully trust that you know what you are capable of." Harry said supportively. "Personally I believe you can do this."

Luna realized he was unwittingly letting his intensely felt hope float to his surface. Gabriella however appeared to remain unconvinced. She scanned the woman’s thoughts and saw that she was worried that the energy required to repair the damage she had found was too much for Harry to take, coven member or not. "He can handle it." She kindly assured the healer.

Are you sure? She heard Hermione think.

I wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t. She answered the girl’s thought with impatience. She was tired of Hermione always doubting them.

"Maybe…" Gabriella trailed off, staring at her thoughtfully. "Maybe if you give help…" she once more trailed off.

"Okay, great! What do you want me to do?" Harry asked eagerly, trusting that Luna would aid him no matter what was asked of her. She liked and hated that it was true- knowing it was good that her friends knew they could depend on her but feeling resentful that Harry just assumed she would agree.

"You will sit up and be very still." The healer commanded.

"And me?" Luna asked with a confused sigh.

"You will please be coming to sit here next to him." She said, her tone all business as she began gathering her concentration. "I am wanting for you to try and to protect the parts of his mind that I do not need to have access."

"Okay." She agreed without emotion.

"You can be helping her with the shield of your mind." Gabriella instructed Harry as she placed her hands on either side of his face. Luna reluctantly reached out and took his hand, surprised to feel the fear that was emanating from him as he squeezed hers tightly in return. He shot her a sideways glance filled with so much hopeful terror that she felt herself melt and let go of everything- past and future- that had been causing her to have such friction with him lately. Nothing existed before or beyond this moment for the three of them, this was a world only for them. She squeezed his hand back just as tightly, as she felt him put his shields up. Waiting patiently for him to finish creating the stronghold around his mind, Luna then sent half of her consciousness in to strengthen and support his structure. She knew in her soul that Harry was capable enough to withstand whatever Gabriella could give, but was unwilling to take the chance that something could go wrong. However, she refused to send in all of herself, not wanting the kind of raw intimacy that comes from being so closely connected mentally to someone else. She didn’t want her mind to be an open book to him, and so she kept the other half of her consciousness focused on what was going on in front of her and shielding her own mind from him.

She watched with rapt fervor as Gabriella carefully brought her forehead to Harry’s. The two of them closed their eyes as one entity, and Luna saw a sparkling bridge of light whip through his mind as the healer bridged the gap between their awareness of each other. As if viewing a split screen in her mind’s eye, Luna was able to see both Gabriella’s venture into Harry’s brain as she tried to repair the connections that allowed him to tap into his higher self, and the external effects of so much pure energy being thrown around. Luna was fascinated by what she was currently a part of, that was until the brilliant burst of light that suddenly engulfed them nearly blinded her. As she blinked away the blurry spots of residual light that floated in her burning eyes, she realized that no one else had appeared to see the same thing she had. Except for Dumbledore it seemed, as he quickly met her eye with a knowing smile.

(BREAK)

Harry felt Gabriella enter his mind and allowed her access to whatever she needed while he attempted to help Luna protect his sanity. He felt so many emotions bubbling up inside him, his only thought being that this just had to work. And then a sudden rush filled his entire body, making him feel stronger, healthier and more energized than he ever had in his entire life. It was quickly followed by a pleasurable, searing pain that grew more intense the deeper she delved into his head. As the feeling amplified and vibrated throughout his entire body, growing steadily in potency, he began to fear that this might soon become too much for him to bear. Mantenga su foco. He heard Gabriella’s soft articulation lilting through his head with stern determination. Keep your focus. Luna translated for him, sounding just as determined. Their voices filled his head, seeming to echo all around him in a soothing buffer against the unrestrained charge of Gabriella’s power as it tried to delightfully consume him.

And then without warning, it was as if someone had suddenly plugged something into an electrical outlet. He felt a surge rise up within himself as some connection was made and made permanently. Instinctually he knew that he was now in control again, that he could turn the switch on and off whenever HE wanted. He felt the girls withdraw but clung to the feeling of Gabriella’s presence as her power invaded every part of him, leaving its glorious mark. He felt like he was glowing so brightly on the inside that it must be shining through for everyone to see. "Wow." was all he could manage to say when he was finally able to open his eyes. Everything seemed in sharper focus, brighter somehow. He was dreamily euphoric yet keenly exhilarated, felt blissfully sanguine about everything that was taking place and was happily surprised to find that he was content in a way he hadn’t been sure existed.

"These are the effects of having extreme exposure to healing energy that is mine." Gabriella smiled at him, knowing full well how he was feeling. "They will be going away in time."

"Well did it work? Are his powers back?" Hermione asked anxiously as she came to sit on his other side so that she could inspect him for herself, to be personally sure that he was still completely in tact.

"He can try it and we will see." Gabriella offered with a noncommittal shrug. "Everything I can do, I did for him." She added for reassurance as they all turned their attention on him.

Harry never really liked being the center of attention, especially when there was such a big chance that he would fail in front of everyone. But they were all waiting expectantly with bated breath, hoping almost as deeply as he was that Gabriella had been successful. Trying not to force anything, he let nature and instinct take him over as he focused in on a lone blue vase full of summer wildflowers. It was placed innocently to his left and had been the first thing he’d really seen when he’d opened his eyes, drawn in by the plethora of bright colors. He had meant to move it from the table it currently sat on and gently place it on Dumbledore’s desk, certain that even that may be too much exertion for his unpracticed mind. Instead he found that the result of attempting to use his telepathy was a bit too successful. The absurdly lightweight vase flew across the room faster and with far more force than he’d intended, smashing against the wall and shattering into millions of pieces. For a moment the entire room was stunned into stillness.

Dumbledore was the first to make a move, calmly waving his wand and repairing the broken vase before actually picking it up and walking over to return it to its original place. "Well, I guess the crisis is over." He said in a delicately neutral tone as he once more waved his wand to replenish the water that was currently soaking into his floor.

"Scourgify." He heard Luna mutter under her breath as the large saturated stain, fallen petals and dead leaves magically disappeared, leaving the place they had been looking as good as new. He realized his mind was still completely open and that she must have heard his regretful thought about the mess he’d made. He was taken aback to realize that the moment she had felt Gabriella’s presence leave him, Luna had also abandoned him, instantly withdrawing back into herself and just as quickly closing off the small portion of her that she’d had to open in order to help protect him. He felt distressed and more than a little hurt as he wondered whether she would have done anything at all for him had she not felt so guilty, so responsible for the reason he had needed help in the first place.

"I am so happy!" Gabriella exclaimed, reaching to shake Harry’s hand. "Now we talk about this coven you are wanting to put together? And this Voldemort that these Death Eaters follow, you will tell me all about him?"

Here McGonagall held up her hand. "It has grown very late, Mrs. Hernandez. Perhaps this is a conversation that can wait until morning?" She looked to the Headmaster for assistance in presenting a united front.

"Professor McGonagall is quite right." Dumbledore nodded tiredly before turning to the castle’s guest with a welcoming smile. "It would be my pleasure to ask you to stay the night with us in our guest quarters." He bowed his head politely while extending his hand in a gesture of open hospitality, emphasizing the pleasure he felt at being in a position to provide her with such an essential but happily rendered invitation.

"I am happy to be accepting." She smiled kindly in return as she reached out to clasp his hand.

"Wonderful. In the morning you may again meet with Mr. Potter and Miss Lovegood while I personally arrange safe transport for you whenever you are ready to return to Spain." He added.

"Oh, I do not know how to show how deep is my appreciation for you!" She quickly rose from her seat and threw her arms around the suddenly flustered headmaster standing before her.

Harry stifled a giddy laugh when he saw Dumbledore blush ever so slightly when she reached up to plant a kiss on each of his bearded cheeks. "Well, it is most certainly my pleasure to have you here with us, Mrs. Hernandez." The older wizard said with a flattered smile.

Harry had rarely been as relieved as he was at that moment. With every part of him buzzing uncomfortably yet pleasurably with heightened awareness, he was able to sense that most of his friends had the same feeling coursing through them. Especially now that evidence of the potential success of all their time spent trying to put together the coven had literally been presented before their eyes. But as he looked around at them all, he was reminded that there was one of them still needing reassurance. "Gabriella?" He reluctantly but resolutely called her attention from the Headmaster who had been boasting of the beauty of Hogwarts during the daylight hours.

"Please call me Gabby." She smiled with radiant enchantment. "It is a name for my friends to use."

"Okay, Gabby." He helplessly smiled back at her before remembering why he had rudely interrupted a conversation between two adults. "I was wondering, well you see Draco over there…" but he trailed off unsure if he was overstepping his boundaries.

Apparently he wasn’t. She turned and was instantly captivated by Draco, who had been standing off in a far corner with Ginny as if they were almost trying to hide from the rest while watching the show. "Yes I am sensing a lot there. It is your hand?" she asked with concern.

(BREAK)

Draco was mortified, suddenly having all attention on him. He much preferred keeping to the shadows these days. "My hand?" he asked, feeling confused and overwhelmed as his eyes met the Healer’s and a feeling of serene relaxation fell over him, quieting his nerves. But whatever hoodoo she was able to do with just a look, it wasn’t enough to calm his racing thoughts.

"Let me see it, I can try for you to fix it." The woman stumbled out in her broken English, taking a confident step toward him.

"No!" He said quickly, pulling away from her. As his back hit the wall and he saw that he had literally backed himself into a corner, he realized how rude he was being, not to mention ridiculous. He straightened up and quickly got a hold of himself. "I mean no thank you. I’m already getting that taken care of."

"I can heal it completely for you now. This is something many others have asked for me to do, to restore amputated parts of the body." She argued her case.

"I really appreciate the offer, but I’ve come this far with Drake’s treatments… I guess I just sort of think I need to stick it out and do it the harder way." He tried to explain his reluctance for the instant restoration of his lost limb. He wasn’t sure that his reasoning even really made sense to him, but he knew that it was just something he had to go through the hard way, in order to complete his transformation into whoever he was now. Taking the easy road when there was another way that offered to build character was something he would have done in the past; it was something he was determined to avoid from then on.

"I understand. But there is something else that is causing trouble for you. Something much bigger." She replied gently. "I have sensitivity to these things."

He glanced at Potter who nodded his head encouragingly. Then feeling Ginny take his hand tightly in hers, he shook off his uncertainty, took a deep breath and tried not to hope for anything at all. "Well, I was wondering… I was bitten by…" but he couldn’t go on.

Without warning, she quickly reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder and he felt a sudden comforting warmth spread through him, overwhelming the indignation he had first experienced by her abrupt invasion of his privacy. Just as he felt the most relaxed he’d probably ever felt in his life, she opened her eyes and looked at him with a soft gaze full of compassionate pity. "Ah, yes. The curse of the howling moon." She said knowingly as she stepped back just as quickly as she’d come forward. He felt instantly less without her touch and craved the feeling of the euphoria he’d felt in the moment they were connected. "I was visited once before to try for removing this curse."

"So you can do it?" Potter asked eagerly.

But Draco knew, before the woman sadly shook her head. She had said it all with her eyes the moment before she’d broken contact with him. He had seen the knowing defeat she had tried to hide. "I am sorry, but no. I only can restore a person to what they were. I can not change who a person is."

"But he wasn’t a werewolf before." Potter protested on his behalf.

"But he is one now." Gabriella told them. "It runs in his blood. There no is energy work for me to do, I can not change his genes."

"No energy work, but it could hypothetically be done with a potion?" Granger inquired.

He wasn’t sure why she cared about potions all of a sudden, but he’d had enough. He couldn’t stand there silently and let them all speculate on his behalf anymore. Especially when he wanted to pretend that the last five minutes, when he’d received the expected but still surprisingly devastating news that he couldn’t be cured, had never happened. "It doesn’t matter. Drake said there wasn’t any potion to fix it. Someone who earlier billed herself as the best healer in the world just said she can’t fix it either, so it is what it is. Let’s just be done talking about it, okay." He didn’t care if he sounded moody or rude, he felt what he felt and didn’t think he should have to be the only one to hide his feelings when the others let theirs run rampant.

"Why don’t we call it a night. It’s been a long stressful day for everyone I’m sure." McGonagall said in an authoritative tone that clearly meant she hadn’t made a suggestion.

"Absolutely." Dumbledore agreed, rising from his desk. "There will be plenty of time for conversation tomorrow." Draco caught the meaningful look the Headmaster shot Potter. He sure didn’t envy the other boy, having to come up with an excuse for why this whole little scene that had just played out in this office had been necessary. "Mrs. Hernandez, I would be delighted to show you to your chambers."

"Thank you. Good night to everyone." She said with a small wave as she took his arm and allowed the Headmaster to lead them out of the office. Their happy chatter slowly died away with distance.

"Okay." McGonagall turned on them. "Miss Weasley, Miss Lovegood you may go ahead to your common rooms. The rest of you, follow me to your new dormitory."

Letting the professor and the others go before them, he and Ginny walked down the stairs together, hanging back until everyone had moved on down the corridor. "I’m sorry." She said quietly, her eyes full of concern.

"It was nothing I didn’t expect." He answered calmly, not wanting her to worry that this was going to break him. Everything else he was thinking and feeling might, but this, well he’d never really let himself hope after Potter had first brought up the idea of Gabriella trying to cure him. It was more like an intangible daydream, a what-if game that he had never let himself play for too long. Something he thought would be great if it worked out, but nothing that he’d ever really let himself believe would happen.

They parted quickly, leaving him to feel bleak and lonely as he hurried to catch up with everyone else. After the months they had spent living together in such close quarters and after so many nights spent sleeping in the same bed, whether it was his or hers, he felt uncomfortable knowing there was so much distance put between them now… being back here. It wasn’t only the fact that they were in different houses, or even that they were in different grade levels and therefore would not be sharing classes. It was the memories of the things said and done in this place, that he was certain he felt already trying to push their way slowly into their relationship. Or maybe it was all in his head.

"Hurry along Mr. Malfoy." McGonagall scolded him from down the hallway. Pushing his concerns aside until he could be fully alone with them, he sprinted after the others.

(BREAK)

Harry wasn’t sure what to expect when they were led into their common room. He found that what he saw, he liked a lot. An enormous round fireplace sat in the middle of the room with scattered couches and chairs set comfortably around the homey blaze. The large room was scattered with single desks, work tables and tall bookshelves stuffed full with a variety of information. Soft globes of light dotted the golden walls giving off an aura of serene contemplation. Four wings broke off from this main room, each labeled with the crest of the four houses. Gryffindor was set off to the east, Slytherin to the west. McGonagall pointed in both directions. "You three will find your rooms through there, Mr. Malfoy yours is that way."

Draco immediately set off to close himself up inside his room. Harry couldn’t say he blamed him. If Gabby hadn’t been able to help him, he didn’t know what he would have done. Thankfully she had successfully fixed him and as McGonagall bid them all goodnight he felt lighter and happier than he’d expected now that particular weight had been lifted off of him. He knew he hadn’t let himself feel the true depth of his despair over the loss he’d felt within. Instead he had taken those fears and feelings and shut them up tightly in his head, figuring it was better to pretend it wasn’t as bad as it was until he was told otherwise. He knew it had made him a lot more irritable and frustrated than he normally was, but that was all over now that he had his ability back. He followed Ron and Hermione into their wing, stopping just past Parvati’s room.

"Well this is me I guess." Hermione said as she opened the door bearing her name. Inside they found a smaller version of the regular dorms, complete with one of the huge four poster beds.

"I’ll be back." He whispered to her as he and Ron continued down the hallway. She simply grinned in reply.

The boys quickly found that their rooms were the same as Hermione’s. Although he hadn’t wanted to get caught up talking to Ron at the moment, Harry felt a twinge of hurt when his friend quickly said goodnight as he turned to barricade himself in his own room.

"Okay, well goodnight then." Harry answered uncertainly.

"I’m happy for you, you know, that you have your powers back." Ron added with a tight smile before closing the door. Harry knew there was something upsetting his friend, but at the moment he was too relieved, too overjoyed to be able to focus on anything like that. He let it go, deciding it would be best to wait for morning to try and talk to him about anything serious. He knew he wouldn’t be a very good friend at the moment, as distracted as he was by the miracle he’d just been given.

He rushed into his room, quickly ensuring that his things had all arrived and that Robin was safely purring away, knowing that Hedwig was already making her home in the owlery. He changed clothes with such excited anticipation, the energy rushing around inside him in excess, that he was jumping around the room as he attempted to first rid himself of his clothing and then redress himself for bed. He was certain that with all the times he fell over and ran into things, he’d have quite a few bruises to remind himself of how frustrated he was with the mundane task he was trying to undertake. Finally decent enough for anyone at all to lay eyes on him and not be scandalized, he scrambled from his room and nearly raced back to Hermione’s. She opened the door with a greeting already on her lips but he didn’t give her the time to say anything at all. He simply scooped her up in his arms and crushing his mouth to hers, eager to celebrate his now-perfect health. And so they spent their first night on Hogwarts grounds christening her room, engaged in the best activity he could think of to expel some of the excess energy that was now surging through his body.

(BREAK)

Earlier in the office while watching Gabriella and Harry sitting with their heads together, Ginny had been reminded of her first healing session with Laurel and how resistant she had been to speak to the woman. Now, alone in her room she almost wished her healer had come along with them to school. But coming to terms with the fact that Laurel wouldn’t always be around, she knew she’d have to learn to get through things on her own. It wasn’t an idea she was completely comfortable with, having come to really rely on Laurel’s helpful opinions and thoughtful way of looking at life.

She tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable way to lay, but quickly discovered it was no use. Listening to the other girls in her dorm sleeping so peacefully only made her feel more anxious and alert. She knew where she wanted to be and saw no good reason as to why she couldn’t go. So as soundlessly as possible she moved to her trunk, glad that she’d displayed such foresight in packing the thing that would help her get what she wanted. At first when she’d been helping him pack to leave for school, Draco hadn’t wanted to bring his invisibility cloak saying that it was only one more way to get into trouble, one more thing that tied back to his family. But she had been convincing, knowing how useful they had found Harry’s cloak in the past and at last he had given up, ending the argument by yelling that if she wanted to bring it so badly she could pack it herself. And so she had. Pulling the silky fabric free from her other things, she slipped it around her shoulders in front to the mirror, enjoying watching herself disappear into the night.

She crept down to the common room and through the portrait, not letting the fact that she wasn’t exactly sure where the new dorms were deter her from her journey. Walking the castle alone at night gave her a little thrill of excitement, as did most of the small things they did when disobeying orders… and some of the big things if she was being honest. The bigger the deception and the greater the danger, the more intensely she reveled in the rush of adrenaline that flooded her senses. After wandering nearly an hour however, the small bit of enjoyment she’d felt by breaking the rules had disappeared completely. Still unconcerned with being discovered, her excitement at being out alone past curfew was now replaced by frustration. She didn’t understand why the castle had to be so big!

Finally, and very much by accident, Ginny found the new wing. She tried to open the entrance, and wasn’t surprised when she was unable to gain access. Pressing her ear to the door she began to wonder just how she was going to complete her plan. She couldn’t hear much, and wished more than anything that she had a pair of her brothers’ extendible ears. She could just make out the soft sounds of footsteps echoing lightly against the hard stone floor, they seemed to be coming towards her and she strained to listen better. Sudden movement directly on the other side of the door startled her into jumping back and out of the way just as it swung open.

Stepping into the shadowy alcove surrounding the entryway, she marveled at her good luck. Apparently someone else was preparing to break curfew which would allow her to sneak into the common room. She held her breath as a tall figure in a dark cloak emerged, quickly gliding down the hallway in the opposite direction without a glance backward. Although, there was no way she could be certain, she was overcome by an intensely strong, instinctual certainty that the unknown figure had been perfectly aware that she was there, but simply hadn’t cared. An involuntary shiver went down her spine but she decided it was best that she didn’t attempt to see who it was that made her feel like prey to a predator who had better things to do and had therefore given her a stay of execution. Besides, she had a pretty good idea of who that person was and she had no desire to meet him alone in a dark, deserted hallway. Quickly sticking her foot in the door before it could close, she stealthily slipped in and glanced around to be sure the room was really empty. It was.

The dying fire set a soft glow about the fairly large room and she was just able to make out the house crests above four different entryways. Finding the Slytherin wing, she crept down the dim hallway until she found the door bearing Draco’s name. She knocked lightly, hoping that no one but him would hear her. Ripping the cloak off just as she heard him opening up, she let loose the excited smile that seemed intent on plastering itself across her face. "Hi!" She greeted him in a cheerful whisper.

His eyes widened with surprised pleasure. "How did you get in here?" He whispered back as he stepped back to let her in.

"Luck and determination." She grinned. They settled together under the covers and at last, with his arm around her and his soft breath on the back of her neck, she felt comfortable.

She closed her eyes feeling content as he leaned over to kiss her cheek. "I’m glad you’re here." He whispered.

She felt a shiver of affection run up her spine. "I guess I can’t sleep without you anymore." She whispered back with a smile. He pulled her closer and as he let out a troubled sigh, she realized something was deeply bothering him. "What’s wrong?" she asked, turning to face him.

"Nothing that I haven’t brought on myself I guess." He said, looking at her mouth rather than meet her eyes.

"Is it about Gabriella? Are you upset she couldn’t help you?" She reached out to brush the hair from his eyes.

He took her hand, interlacing their fingers. "Not really. I didn’t really expect she could. Things like that only work out for people like Potter." She felt bad for him, but was at a loss for what to say, so she simply squeezed his hand and waited for him to go on. "I really don’t want to talk about what’s bothering me."

"Why not?" she asked softly. "Is it that Tristan guy?" Although she refused to cower before anyone, she had felt like she’d instantly made a mistake when she’d stood up to the boy on the train. She’d actually felt horribly afraid when he’d taken steps toward her, frozen in place as he came closer. It was an instinctual fear that she later learned was related to what the boy was. When Draco had stepped in front of her, the relief she felt had been overwhelming and as Luna had stepped up to also find safety behind him, the girls had grabbed hands. While connected to her Ginny had caught her thoughts, whether accidental or intentional she didn’t know, but it had seemed that Luna had been attempting to reassure at least herself. She’d been convincing herself that the two boys were natural enemies, wolf against vampire, and that with the full moon closing in, Draco was strong enough to protect them.

When they’d later been with Gabriella, and he was hoping so hard without realizing it that the woman could fix him, Ginny had tried to show that she was supportive. But a large part of her had been relieved that he couldn’t be cured. She had never been scared of the dangers that so concerned him about his condition. And after seeing him so readily stand up to protect her, she only felt safer with him. A slight wave of guilt rode through her, realizing she had wanted the healer to fail in curing him when he so desperately wanted to be cured.

"Well?" She nudged him as he remained silent, trying to focus on him rather than herself. After all, he was in for a much harder time here than she was, she just had to keep reminding herself of that, hoping Laurel would be proud that she was trying so hard.

"I guess it’s sort of about him." He finally admitted.

"He is a bit more impressive than Pansy and the moron twins." She answered. "But I doubt he’ll cause too much trouble beyond what we’re all used to. Like you said, he and his family are known for not attacking magical people unless they have to."

"Yeah, well, people change." He grumbled. "And that’s not really what I was talking about. I mean I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I’m in for hell this year, and at least it’s only for a few months. The only thing that’s going to get me through this is you I think." He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her and resting his forehead against hers. "How’d I get so lucky?" He whispered before leaning in to kiss her deeply.

"You’re good with the flattery." She said seductively when they broke apart. Then she pushed him back and sat up. "But if you think I’m going to let you change the subject that easily you’ve underestimated me." She grinned before turning serious again. "Come on, if you really believe I’m the one who’s going to help you get through all this then let me actually help you."

He sat up too, looking away so as not to meet her eyes. "Sometimes, I think the things that bother me, well… I can’t tell you about them because I don’t want you to think about who I used to be. Because then you might come to your senses, I guess."

"You’re silly." She smiled. "I don’t know who you were, only who you pretended to be, because let’s face it, with who you are now, there’s no way that was the real you back then."

"You make my head spin sometimes." He smiled back.

"The point is it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve been trying to put my past behind me, why can’t yours be forgotten as well?"

"How can you forget? How can I?" he asked sadly.

"Well, I guess Laurel would say something like, we keep the lessons we learned and forgive ourselves for the actions that taught us."

He shook his head. "Today on the train, when Pansy and the others burst in, when Tristan came forward… I guess it made me think of myself doing the same thing, coming to you all just to show my face, to threaten, to torture you guys. Sitting on the other side of it, I thought about how it was for you all every time we came and got in your faces. How annoying and horrible it was to be taunted for no reason…" he trailed off, looking down as he absentmindedly rubbed the bandage that covered his stumped wrist.

She reached out and once more took his good hand. "Draco…" She said his name softly trying to gain his full attention. He still wouldn’t look at her. She shifted so she was kneeling in front of him, gently grabbing his chin and forcing him to look her in the eyes. "I hated what we went through together when we were on opposite sides. I can’t deny that. But now, we’re both beginning to understand what it was like for each other during those times, looking back through each other’s eyes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing."

"I just can’t believe how different it is, from just a year ago." He said sadly. "I mean exactly a year ago, it was me that was bursting in on you guys on the train because Cho had told me she was already having trouble with Potter. I said the most horrible things I could think of to you all and then Longbottom hit me with that stupid spell. We were all enemies, and now… it’s just so different."

"So you knew it was Neville and not Harry that cursed you?" She was surprised.

"Yeah, well I figured he was pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things and it was Potter I was after anyway so I let it go when he wanted to take the blame." Draco shrugged.

She felt a tug at the place in her heart where she held all her guilt as they talked of Neville. Sharp tears stung the back of her eyes out of nowhere, and blinking them away she put on a smile. "If you want, we can still go cast that spell on Tristan, draw a real parallel and have him be the one spewing up worms."

He smiled back. "That’s okay, I think the more we stay away from him the better." He suddenly turned serious, moving so that he was also kneeling, eye level with her. "That reminds me, I know you like to stand up for yourself and all…" he paused, obviously trying to arrange his words so they would best be received by his audience. "I would appreciate it if you just stayed away from him altogether, you know, if he says something to you that gets you mad, just walk away."

She was moved by his concern and fear for her safety. "Okay." She said simply, deciding no argument was necessary. She didn’t want to be anywhere near Tristan. She leaned in and kissed him passionately, putting her thoughts of Neville and everything else aside. Tonight she was determined to focus on relieving him of the weight of his demons, she had plenty of time to concentrate on her own.

(BREAK)

Ron paced his room for hours unable to ease his mind enough to even lay down and attempt sleep. The thoughts he had tumbling around in his head were making him feel lower than low, but he couldn’t stop himself, couldn’t turn off his brain. Of course he was happy that once more things had worked in Harry’s favor, he argued with himself. He was his best friend after all. But the deep aggravation swirling in his chest darkened all the relief and joy he was trying to imitate, even as he wanted to feel it for real.

He really had felt it at first, back in the office as soon as the vase flew across the room. He had beamed with happiness that his friend had been once more made whole. But after the sobering reality that Malfoy couldn’t be helped, Ron had crashed back down to earth. There was no part of him that liked or wanted anything to do with Malfoy, but even he had to admit that the guy deserved a break. But he hadn’t been given one, instead it was once again Harry who came out on top. He’d been lucky enough to have these special abilities and had been doing something foolish when he’d lost one, whereas Malfoy had simply been trying to help when his misfortunes befell him. Why was it Harry who was able to get yet another chance?

Ron shook his head in frustration, he knew he just had to start accepting that this was just the way things were. As Luna might have said, Harry had fate on his side. It was his friend’s lot in life to lead the attempt at victory for their side of this war; it had apparently been prophesized to be that way. And it must be true, for him to have survived this long after the kind of trouble he’d stumbled into and especially the kind he’d gone looking for. He couldn’t be mad at Harry for living his life; he couldn’t be mad that because of his disappointment in the situation, he’d for a moment been made to take Malfoy’s side on anything. And he couldn’t be mad that the universe appeared to have big plans for Harry’s future and was therefore content in giving him every advantage the closer he got to the moment when he faced his destiny. But making these realizations still did nothing to lessen the vexation he felt.

He felt flushed; the room was stuffy and seemed to be closing in on him. Despite the familiar-esque surroundings, it still felt strange being expected to sleep elsewhere in the castle. Taking great care so as not to disturb any of his fellow Gryffindors, he opened his door and made his way down the corridor to the common room. The embers from the dying fire burned a dazzling red-orange, giving off enough light to cast a glow around the center of the room. He didn’t know how long he sat there, watching the light fade and the shadows encroach. At some point he must have dozed off, because he shot up with a start when he heard the sound of a door closing.

"Relax, Mr. Weasley." Tristan came forward, sitting casually on the couch across from him before regarding him with a sinister smile. "May I call you Ron?"

"You can go straight to hell." Ron responded, rising to his feet. He wanted to be as brave and confident as he had felt when Malfoy used to confront him, but inside he was growing cold with panic. It was obvious his senses were reacting to an instinctual knowledge that this threat was far worse.

"Well that’s not very friendly." The other boy responded with an air of disappointment.

"I’m not in a friendly mood." He said as he forced himself to calmly turn and walk steadily away, not wanting to show his fear. He was careful not to fully turn his back on the threat behind him as he headed toward the Gryffindor wing.

"I suppose that’s your loss." Tristan called after him. But it was the next thing he said, so low and menacingly Ron was barely sure he heard it at all, that really chilled his blood. "Or maybe it’s your worst mistake."

 

 
NOTE: Next chapter they finally have their first day of classes- a lot is about to be learned in and out of the classroom. Thanks for sticking around between these long posts!


Chapter 29: The Last First Day

A/N: Enclosed in this chapter: some internal exploration by our characters, wrapping up Gabriella’s visit, and we finally begin to get into all the Hogwarts business. So much to get through, and a lot to discover, so away we go… Read, Review, Enjoy!

 


"But you aren’t sure you heard him say it?" Hermione asked Ron. It was just before breakfast Sunday morning and they had all gathered in a corner of the Great Hall where Luna had cast a charm to ensure their conversation remained private.

"Does it really matter? Either way the guy was slinking around the castle at night!" Ron said, obviously still unnerved by his encounter with Tristan the night before.

"But who knows the reason for it. It could be something harmless." Harry said, but even in his ears the suggestion sounded weak and he knew what was coming.

"A vampire who slinks around in the night without a malicious intention? Come on, you don’t really think he wasn’t up to something?" Ron asked him.

"This isn’t like in the books and muggle movies Ron." Hermione said defensively. "Vampires don’t need to sneak out and hunt at night if that’s what you’re thinking Tristan may have been doing. They are perfectly capable of going out in the daytime as you saw him do yesterday and like you’re seeing him do today." She nodded her head toward the door, where the subject of their conversation had just walked in and directly through the bright ray of sunlight streaming through the high windows, remaining perfectly unharmed. Though he had known this fact about vampires, Harry decided he definitely needed to do some brushing up on what was truth and what was fiction where those particular beings were concerned.

"Well, just because he doesn’t have to sneak around in the night doing nasty things that he could do in the day doesn’t mean he isn’t." Ron argued, crossing his arms and pouting slightly as they continued to debate his story and essentially question his ability to know and understand what takes place right in front of his eyes. Harry felt bad, but at the same time he knew that the reason they were harping on this so much was because none of them wanted to believe what Ron was telling them, himself included.

"It doesn’t mean he is either." Ginny quietly added.

"But we was! I saw him come back into the common room, meaning he had leave at some point! He was out doing who knows what in the school!" Ron stubbornly returned.

"But it could be for something completely innocent." Ginny argued.

"And besides, you said he was nice to you up until the end when you may or may not have heard him say something threatening." Hermione added.

Listening to his friends discuss and argue this new possible danger left Harry feeling unsure about what exactly they should do about it. Even considering how things had turned out last year, with Malfoy not being the threat they had all thought him to be, he still didn’t believe things were handled properly when they had brought their complaints to Dumbledore. And he wasn’t sure that he had any more faith in the Headmaster’s ability to control the villains presently wandering his school, though at least Harry now had a better understanding as to the reasons. Here at Hogwarts, there was so much red tape to go through, so many channels that must be explored in order to keep the appearance of compliance between the school and the ministry above suspicion. According to Hermione who had actually read the articles, Edmund’s attacks through the Daily Prophet have so far all been directed toward Arthur and his management of the ministry. Harry knew it was important that no one have a reason to be able to suggest that Arthur, nor anyone associated with ministry, has given free reign to Dumbledore to run the place as he pleases. Especially considering what an obvious target the old wizard has been in the past for Death Eaters to use in an attempt to gain control of the school.

But what did that leave them to do in a situation that may actually be dangerous? Was Tristan as horrible as they were all thinking? After all, Ron only thought he heard a threat and he had admitted that he’d been sleeping when the other boy had come in. Perhaps it was a combination of sleepiness, nerves and a predetermined dislike of the new boy that caused Ron to hear what he thought he did. Well… just because Tristan was a vampire, just because he was sorted into Slytherin, just because he’s related to Walden Macnair, and just because his family is known to have sided with Voldemort in the past- that didn’t necessarily mean he was an enemy. After all, Draco was a werewolf in Slytherin and the son of the Malfoys. Harry didn’t want to make the wrong move, and he didn’t want to have to involve Dumbledore or any of the adults who all had their hands tied by rules and public perception, not until they were sure of what they had.

He didn’t know what to do, so he turned to the only two people he could think of with enough experience and knowledge to gauge whether Tristan was truly a threat, Draco and Luna. "What do you two think?" He asked suddenly, interrupting the conversation that had been taking place while he’d checked out and focused on his increasingly alarming train of thought.

"Me?" Draco appeared surprised that his opinion was being considered. He glanced at Luna, and Harry was able to determine that they were having some sort of silent conversation. At last he said, "I think everyone should just stay away from him. Not that I’m scared of him or anything, but… well, yeah, okay so I guess maybe I’m a little worried that he’s here. I’ve heard of the things his parents did the last time Lord Voldemort tried to take over and while they may not have been so fierce since he was vanquished-"

"Except with muggles." Hermione interrupted quietly.

Draco glanced at her before quickly looking away. Some undecipherable emotion that seemed deeply rooted in guilt passed across his face before he continued. "Okay you’re right, despite the horrible things they are rumored to have done to countless muggles and a few squibs over the last sixteen years, they have been totally celibate when it comes to attacks on our kind. However, when they were fighting with Voldemort, they were ruthless against anyone or anything that stood against them. The only good thing was that they never turned those they attacked, never passed on the curse."

"Oh good, they only killed and mutilated their victims." Ron rolled his eyes as Ginny elbowed him.

Harry found the point a thoughtful one. "But if we know that Harland is going around turning people already, that he most likely is trying to build up his own army to offer up in servitude to Voldemort… well why wouldn’t they try to convince the Macnairs and anyone like them to do the same. I mean what’s more terrifying than being forced to face down an army made up not only of powerful and evil wizards, but vampires and werewolves who support their cause?"

"Lupin said Harland had tried to build an army before, so of course he’s likely to do it now. But according to what Draco knows of them, Tristan’s parents have never tried to do anything like that, right?" Ginny asked hoping for the best one could hope for in this situation.

"As far as I know the only person they passed their curse onto was their son, and that happened the moment he was conceived." Draco shrugged casually, though Harry noted that the boy’s eyes held the weight of the concern he felt about the topic under discussion. "But really that means nothing. Lord Voldemort can be very convincing when he needs to be and if what he ultimately wants is a dark army of vampires, then I guarantee you that’s what he’ll get. Even if the Macnairs refuse to turn anyone, meaning they deny the Dark Lord, he would just destroy them and find someone more willing to do as he asks."

Harry didn’t need convincing that Voldemort would do whatever he had to do if it meant that he had the most horrifying dark army of loyal followers that he could gather. Who would willingly want to stand up and face beings and monsters from their worst nightmares? And what’s more, he was pretty sure that the enemy’s idea of terror didn’t include mere muggles, so if he really intended to have Harland and the Macnairs out "recruiting" in a sense, then he doubted their targets were non magical. The thought of a bunch of evil, hate-filled vampires and werewolves armed not only with their own natural strengths and extra abilities but also brandishing wands with malicious accuracy, it definitely made him uneasy. As Harry pictured the dark brood all descending on him and the small band of resistance warriors foolish enough to stand with him, he struggled to control the sharp, instinctual shiver of fear that suddenly ran up his spine. He nearly succeeded, taking the feeling that had rattled him so badly and outwardly showing no more than a small shudder as if responding to a mysterious draft.

He wanted his friends to think he was in control- of himself, if nothing else. He wanted them to believe he was capable of keeping them safe… that he could face any danger that threatened them with his head high and the certainty of victory so firmly fixed in his own mind that any other outcome was impossible for them to envision. Shaking at the mere thought of the idea of what the enemy may be up to was not the way to inspire that kind of confidence. It was time for him to really be serious now… to really be the grown up he wanted all the adults in his life to see him as.

"So what would be the worst case scenario?" Harry asked outloud against the inner discussion he was having with himself.

"Well like werewolves, those people turned by a vampire have an instinctual drive to seek out and obey the one who created them. Only the strongest and most willful minds are able to resist the natural bonds of creator and creation. " Hermione delicately reminded them, obviously aware of the sensitivity such a topic may create for Draco, who none of them held in the same category as Harland regardless of their individual feelings for the boy. But that didn’t stop Draco from feeling like they did and they all knew it. "I guess it’s good in the sense that it ultimately wouldn’t be Voldemort actually controlling the hordes that would be created, but I don’t think it’s much better to have Harland and the Macnairs in control. Especially since they don’t seem to have much of a problem following his orders."

"Yet." Draco answered seriously. "People like them, with that exact right amount of skilled ability, touch of insanity, sly cunning and untamed hatred, those are the ones who are never satisfied with fulfilling the desires of others- even if they want the same thing. I mean eventually, playing second string will get to them, it did with my father. He hated being under the Dark Lord’s thumb, probably still does. Now our gardener Bowie has been with the family for longer than I’ve existed, and from the things he used to tell me growing up, Lucius had some kind of devious plan to eventually overtake his master and put himself at the head of the cause. But you got the Dark Lord first Potter, and so before anything big could happen at all, everyone had to go underground to protect their identities and images from the harsh punishment that the public was demanding for those who had helped disrupt their lives. Although, according to old Bowie, he never thought Lucius had it in him to actually succeed in whatever he’d planned. Said even though he never overheard whatever it was Lucius had actually concocted, he always figured my dad would just get himself killed by his ambition and then he’d get his chance to escape the mansion."

"Well, these days, I’d put my money on Elise, Sarah and Elanya’s little alliance to beat out Voldemort before Lucius could. Even with one of them in a coma." Luna scoffed, crossing her arms and beginning to look very frustrated by the conversation.

"Either way, if Lord Voldemort wants someone to lead an army of horrors in his name, then he couldn’t have chosen better than Harland and the Macnairs." Draco shook his head. Harry could tell they were all feeling a similar overwhelming disbelief over the ridiculous topic they were discussing with such seriousness.

"But there’s no certainty that’s what he’s planning right?" Ron asked nervously.

"Regardless of whether they intend that or not, it’s nothing we can stop, especially if it already began. Besides I’m sure it’s something the Order had already thought of the moment Harland showed his face again, especially since we were able to stumble onto the idea almost by accident and especially since they all knew he’d done it before. As for right now in our immediately present situation, I agree with Draco that we stay away from Tristan." Luna broke in, bringing the conversation back to the main point. "I haven’t been given a vision of anything to do with him yet, except for a few bad dreams that probably were just meant to warn me that the possibility of danger was coming. The less we have to do with him, the better the chances that we get through this time we are forced in his company without incident."

"Or the better the chances we don’t get a warning before he strikes." Hermione said.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked her. He had noticed Luna stiffen with discomfort.

"Well, from my understanding of Luna’s precognition, the more involved someone is in her life the more visions she’ll receive that pertain to that person. Like you told me once before," she turned to Luna, "you didn’t see us all in your visions until we became closer friends, until our lives started impacting yours."

"So what, you want me to go make friends with him? Go spend time with him and endanger myself so that maybe I might get a warning for the rest of you?" She answered with a demanding harshness.

Hermione appeared taken aback. "Of course not. I just don’t think avoiding him altogether is the answer, especially if he is starting to threaten people our first night here. If he is up to something…well, isn’t this why you guys have these powers? To help get the upper hand?"

"Ron isn’t even sure of what he heard!" Luna threw up her hands, garnering the attention of some nearby students who had come down for breakfast. Of course they couldn’t hear her because of the spell, but Harry knew the snarky things the rest of his classmates thought of his little ragtag group of friends who could only be perceived as silently yet dramatically arguing among themselves in the corner.

"At this point it seems that the only thing we can all know for sure is that none of us like even the idea of Tristan being here." Ginny said, stepping between the two girls to relieve the sudden tension, most of which was coming from Luna. "And the only thing Ron can without a doubt tell us is that the guy was out walking around the castle at night for some possibly secret and possibly devious motive; which is something every one of us has done many times in the past. Let’s just agree to be on guard and see what happens."

"I agree completely. It’s the best, and really the only thing we can do right now." Harry said supportively, wanting to reinforce the positive behavior she’d been displaying lately. Secretly, he was proud of the progress Ginny had made and wanted to be sure she kept going in the right direction. After all, he did care about her very much, as he did every Weasley. Even after everything they’d been through and done to each other, he’d never stopped caring about Ginny. "Besides, we don’t have anything near convincing enough to take to Dumbledore, we can’t even convince ourselves of what’s going on. There’s no point in arguing when there isn’t anything to argue about yet."

"Whatever. Consider me on my guard." Luna grumbled, breaking the charm and walking away to take a seat among her fellow Ravenclaws without a backward glance at her friends. Harry watched as she folded her arms over the table before gently resting her face upon them and closing her eyes. Apparently she’d decided to keep her head down until it was time to eat which effectively allowed her to ignore the faceless students nearby.

Lumps of panicked anxiety rose in his throat as Luna willfully extended her cold indifference of those around her to include him. Harry had never in his life felt so completely shut out by another person as he did in that moment. A resounding emptiness overran the place in his mind where once he’d always carried the comfort of her consciousness, constantly keeping company with his. A strong desire to stride over to the table overwhelmed him. He wanted to pull her up out of her seat, to take her aside and have it out right there, to demand to know what was wrong and how to fix it so that he could have the real Luna back. His Luna, the one he knew and would be able to recognize with his soul a hundred years from now, even if he never was able to totally understand her.

It bothered him to no end that she was so distant from them all in every respect and more so, that she seemed content to stay there for now. Harry knew he couldn’t let things remain this way, that he couldn’t lose her- he had become aware that until she had started to pull away, the now horrifyingly real fear that she would abandon him had never crossed his mind. All of these whispers now assaulting him with snippets of primal knowledge carried messages of a faintly familiar if yet unrecognized awareness from a place of intense truth kept permanently suppressed deep within him. These inklings of feelings were making him fully aware of the intense and heart-wrenching loss he would feel should Luna decide to completely turn her back on him.

But that well hidden place within him that was currently sending echoed warnings through his head was a part of him that Harry rarely let himself explore, and therefore he willfully kept the knowledge confined to the dark recesses within the deepest trenches of his mind. He was unsure that he wanted to go searching within for enlightenment on the many thoughts and emotions he’d shoved back there; especially since he had pushed those musings and feelings aside almost before they had actually formed in a semi-successful effort to not have to deal with them. Of course they were subjects already known and explored in the lowest levels of his subconscious where they’d already been processed and accepted… Purely honest thoughts and emotions that would remain buried and unnoticed by his conscious mind until he was mentally ready to accept them as a factual reality for himself.

Perhaps it was his own lack of desire that was standing in the way to some form of self-actualization, maybe he was too content with what he had and what he knew. But Harry also felt he’d never really been given a proper opportunity to take the amount of time necessary to focus as intensely on his self-reflection as would be required to confront and accept the truths he could possibly find there. And looking around now at the rest of his classmates scrambling to take theirs seats as McGonagall rose to address them, he felt no small relief in the fact that the present moment would also be an inappropriate time to forage so deeply into his subconscious.

The stern professor stared disapprovingly at Harry and his friends as they all hurried to take their seats as quietly and with as little notice as possible… Although Ron did have to practically drag Ginny behind him in order to keep her from fulfilling some previous threat she’d made of sitting at the Slytherin table so that Draco wouldn’t have to be there alone. McGonagall cleared her throat and bid all the students before her a good morning, taking over duties normally carried out by the Headmaster. But Harry knew that Dumbledore was presently delighted to be busy entertaining the castle’s secret guest until he and Luna arrived to take over as host and hostess. The thought of being so close to a conversation with Gabby brought a moment of bright happiness to his darkening mood.

As McGonagall went on and on about last minute notices concerning classes the next day, Harry argued with himself whether he had good enough cause to break his word to Hermione and finally decided that even if he didn’t, she wouldn’t have to know as long as he was careful. So while staring absently at the empty plate in front of him and pretending to listen to McGonagall with his usual bored indifference, he did what he’d been specifically asked not to and made an attempt to reach Luna for a secret conversation right in front of Hermione. There was absolutely no reply.

Harry tried apologizing for things he wasn’t sure he did, but Luna apparently wasn’t interested in explaining what exactly he’d done to make her so angry with him. He tried reasoning with her, explaining how badly it was affecting him that they were fighting. He tried telling her how much it hurt him to know she was so unhappy and about how more than anything he wanted to help her in any way he could… Even going so far as to confess that even if she accepted his help and still wanted to hate him for whatever reason, that he’d be happy just knowing she was happy. He tried flattery, reverse psychology, anger, pleading and downright begging in order to get her attention. All he received in return was an icy dark wall that she had very decidedly placed between them. He knew she could hear him and was therefore deliberately ignoring him.


Well, fine then. Harry argued with himself. If she wanted it to be this hard, then she’d just have to wait for him to have more time to put in a more extreme effort. But if she thought just because she didn’t pay him any attention that he’d give up so easily… or… maybe that was it… Maybe she knew that if she made it harder for him to be able to fix the problem between them as well as whatever else was going on with her, the more time and attention he’d put into the whole thing, and into her. He mentally shook his head, refusing to believe Luna was capable of playing such games with him, no matter how humanly fallible he now perceived her to be. Besides, what aim would she have in such a game?

No, he decided it was much easier to believe Luna’s actions were the result of the complexity of whatever problems she was having rather than that she had some deceitful alterior motive. He couldn’t ever see himself believing her capable of anything truly devious because as human as she may be, she was filled with too much positive light. It was a naturally warm glow emanating from her core and he’d seen it felt in varying degrees by everyone who came in contact with her. That kind of illuminating inner beauty and pureness of character couldn’t be faked. Even now, as dark and gloomy as her exterior portrayed her, he was able to tell that it was just a fragile shell that would inevitably burst when the light she was shutting up inside herself finally overwhelmed her. Turning to look directly at Luna, Harry took in her slumped over shoulders and the exhausted frustration marring her normally shining face with a twinge of gray. Try as he might, he couldn’t make her meet his eyes and he began to wish desperately for that moment to come when the false visage his friend currently wore upon herself would shatter and release the girl trapped within.

As McGonagall wound up her announcements and the repetitive warnings to those thinking of displaying inappropriate behavior, Harry let himself rest on the assault of thoughts related to Luna’s mood and their obvious yet undefined problems with each other. Just as he boxed it all up in his mind to be opened again at a more appropriate time, a note from the Headmaster suddenly appeared before him, informing him of the arrangements made for the remainder of Gabby’s brief visit. As he read, he allowed himself to fully revel in the nervously excited anticipation rapidly bubbling up inside him. As soon as breakfast was served, Harry gobbled his food down as quickly as he could without choking, eager to get to the meeting that had been set up for him, Gabby, and Luna. Dumbledore had apparently decided to allow them use of his office while he busied himself making some mysterious arrangements elsewhere.

Harry still wasn’t sure what he would tell the Headmaster when the time came that he had to explain how he had lost one of his abilities. Ultimately, he decided it was in his best interest not to be too prepared. He did his best work in the moment and didn’t want to sound rehearsed anyway. So in his mind, he visualized the problem into it’s own separate and much smaller box, placing it next to the larger one he’d just filled with concerns of Luna. He didn’t want to think of or feel anything other than the actual hope and real joy he was experiencing now that things were happening, now that the idea of the coven was becoming real. You ready? He thought to Luna as he gulped down the last of his juice.

I suppose. She coldly answered back. The fact that she had answered him this time only enforced Harry’s believe that she was willfully and deliberately keeping herself cut off from him.

Shaking off her attitude, he leaned over to kiss Hermione’s cheek before rising. "See you guys later." He said happily as he walked off. Luna was behind him, purposely dragging her feet to keep them from walking together, so he didn’t bother to slow his speed or wait for her. He was determined not to let anything dampen his mood and/or ruin this short time they had with their coven’s healer. Unfortunately no matter how many times he said the password once he reached the gargoyle, it just would not spring to life and allow him entrance until she was at his side. Apparently the stone guardian had been told to expect a pair of students. When it finally moved, they hopped on the first stair together though Luna was sure to keep herself as far as possible from him. They took the stairs up to the office in complete and extremely uncomfortable silence, entering just as Dumbledore and Gabriella were finishing their meal.

"Harry! Luna! Good morning!" She greeted them with a smile, rushing over to grab them both up in her slender arms. He liked the openness and warmth exuding from her and couldn’t help but grin as he politely hugged her back, swept up in her friendliness. Apparently the feeling was catching because as she pulled away, he caught the honest smile crossing Luna’s face.

"Good morning to you." He happily returned the greeting.

(BREAK)

"Who are you writing to?" Ron asked as he plopped down next to Hermione on the couch. She had returned to the common room after breakfast while he’d gone with Seamus and a bunch of other kids down to the quidditch pitch. Ginny and Draco had disappeared to who knew where and were doing who knew what. They all had found ways to keep busy while Harry and Luna spoke with Gabriella, preferring activity to sitting around waiting.

When Hermione had first walked in, she’d been thrilled to discover her entire dorm was deserted for the morning as she had actually been looking forward to some time alone with her thoughts. But apparently Ron had changed his mind about his own plans. "No one." She answered as she rolled up the parchment and stuffed it in her pocket, feeling irritated by the interruption. "I was just writing some notes to myself, to remind me of what I want to ask about in my classes tomorrow."

"I think there’s a point where one can love school too much." He teased.

"Isn’t there someone else you can go bother?" she shot back without worrying about the harshness in her voice. She had been in the middle of something after all, and he’d just sat down uninvited. "Very mature." She responded to the face he made at her. "I thought you were going to go play with Seamus somewhere."

"Quidditch. I was going to go play quidditch with Seamus but his broom broke and the other guys decided to head in rather than wait for him to fix and recalibrate it. So I came to find you, but if you’d rather be alone I can happily go take a nap." He rose and stretched his tall, lanky form. "Have fun writing your notes." He rolled his eyes in a purposely over-dramatic fashion before heading off to his room.

Once certain she was alone again, Hermione pulled out the parchment with a confused sigh and looked over the only two words she’d managed to get down on paper. Dear Fred. She had wanted to write to tell him about Gabby not being able to heal Draco and to check on whether he needed her to research anything for their cure while she was here with access to the massive library. But as soon as she sat to write, the words wouldn’t come. She hadn’t wanted to sound annoying, like she was bothering him or pushing him to get this cure moving, and she wasn’t sure sending a letter about that very topic the day after they had parted company was as laid back and casual as she’d first thought. And then when Ron had come in, she’d felt a sharp stab of guilt in her gut, like she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t. The feeling had surprised her, but not as much as the lie about writing out notes, and how easily it had come out of her mouth. She didn’t know why she hadn’t wanted Ron to know that she intended to write such a harmless letter to his brother, she and Fred were friends after all and had every right to correspond with each other.

Feeling stupid and irritable, she willfully put pen to paper, wrote out a letter and after careful consideration signed it, Your friend and collaborator, Hermione Granger. Reading it back to herself, she saw that it was concise and to the point, nothing at all to feel guilty about. Harry knew they were working on this cure and now that they weren’t able to collaborate in person, mail was one of the only other ways to go. However, she decided last minute to put in a post script, wishing Fred well on reviving his store and expressing hope that he wasn’t going crazy being on his own. She felt it added a bit of friendly warmth to the directness of the main part of the letter and was glib enough that any of his friends could have written it. Once satisfied that her letter contained nothing special or outstanding –certainly nothing that would give her a reason to feel guilty- she made her way to the owlery.

At first, she’d intended to use Hedwig as Harry always allowed his friends to send her if they needed to mail something. But as the graceful creature soared down to land on her shoulder, she began to have second thoughts. She stared deeply into the owl’s enormous, round eyes with all the appearance of holding some secret and ancient wisdom and suddenly felt it was wrong somehow to use Harry’s pet when sending a letter to Fred. While stroking Hedwig’s silky white feathers and eliciting several soft, satisfied hoots from the animal, Hermione selected one of the school’s public mail owls to tie her note to.

As she sent the happy little thing on it’s way, Hedwig tilted her head and seemed to question the decision to send another owl in her place. But unable to explain it to herself, she certainly wasn’t going to attempt to explain it to a creature incapable of understanding most of what she said, no matter how intelligent and special Hedwig appeared to be. Instead, she simply pulled out the box of owl treats Harry kept in one of the lockers and gave her a few as a bribe to forget seeing her up there. Satisfied that all was well, she made the trek back down to her room deciding Ron had the right idea. Surely a nap would clear her head a bit.

(BREAK)

"How much time before you go to find all the other people?" Gabby asked after Harry and Luna had finished telling her of their plans and progress thus far in assembling their coven.

"Well, we’ve already made contact with one other besides you. Our friend Ron wrote to Jacinda and she has returned a positive response. As for the others, we intend to go looking right after the semester ends since mail isn’t the safest way to contact anyone about anything of importance these days." Harry quickly explained what Jacinda had said about the danger of sending letters to her. He made a mental note to himself not to send Hedwig anywhere, not wanting harm to come to her should anyone try to intercept her. He felt that he’d convinced Ron in the danger of mailing things, and he was positive the warning was unnecessary for the rest of his friends.

"Yes, to mail a letter, to travel, to simply sit safely in one’s home, so many things that should have innocence are becoming dangerous these days." She said sadly.

"Hopefully we’ll all be able to change that." Luna softly offered.

"When you are leaving to go find the others, I am to go with you?" Gabby asked, looking to them both.

Harry was surprised and glanced at Luna who merely shrugged, looking just as thrown by the question as he was. Apparently neither of them had thought of the possibility that anyone besides their friends would want to go searching with them. "If you wanted to I suppose." He answered. "Otherwise we could set up some place and time for us all to meet. I know there are usually loose ends to tie up and not everyone would be able to leave immediately." I wasn’t able to, he thought to himself, feeling a slight hint of bitterness.

"I am supposing this will be dangerous." Gabby looked thoughtful, but not necessarily concerned.

"Extremely. As you know many people have already lost their lives over the span of many years because of Voldemort and his movement." Harry paused to gather the courage he needed to admit what he needed to tell her. "I can’t guarantee that this will go in our favor-"

She raised a hand to stop him. "Harry, I am not afraid to die. I am scared only of living my life with fear. If our ancestors were once to be brave enough to risk sacrificing themselves for the rest of the world, then how could we not now follow their example? We are having to carry on their legacy."

"Hopefully the rest feel the same way you do." He answered, moved by her certainty.

"Some will and some won’t. They won’t all be as agreeable as Gabby here." Luna said suddenly. "I’ve seen us arguing with some of them, distant visions with unfamiliar faces. But there’s so many decisions not made that I still haven’t seen a clear outcome for the coven as a whole."

"But it must work out in order for the vision you do have of the future to happen, right?" He argued.

"What vision is this?" Gabby asked.

Luna looked down. "A happy one, where we and our friends finally find peace among ourselves. But that could be any time, before or after this war is over; it had nothing to do with winning."

Harry felt a bit of disappointment. Of course he wanted them all to finally reach a place where everything was going right within their group, but he had always hoped Luna’s vision had that other meaning as well, that they had beaten Voldemort. He didn’t think true happiness could be obtained otherwise. Are you sure about that? He heard Gabby’s voice whisper through his mind. Real happiness is not to be measured by our successes, I do not think, but by the memories we have, the path we’re on and the people traveling life with us.

Maybe. He responded though he wasn’t sure he agreed. Surely everyone would be more pleased to be able to live out their lives safely rather than find some kind of inner happiness.

No one can be safe all of the time, Harry, death comes in many forms whenever it pleases to. So how could the end of any war bring anything other than simple relief? War has been existing since we, the humans, decided to distinguish ourselves from the rest of nature; I have no knowledge of one that ends and solves all the problems that had been the cause of it. Where in history does it say to us that victory has the guarantee of happiness? I think true peace within us all, which only can be gained by collecting and accepting of the moments and the people who make us the best we can be, is far more highly prized. I have lost the home I made for myself in the Canada and now I must flee back to Spain where I will have nothing. But I am not sad because I still have my husband, my talent and my life. I want for nothing more. I am happy and still we have not won the war. She argued silently with him as she turned to Luna with a supportive smile. "I hope that vision you had comes true for you all, whether it means the end of all this fighting or not."

"Either way, it doesn’t matter right now." She shook her head.

"Right," Harry agreed, sensing both he and Luna were becoming uncomfortable with the topic of her vision. "One thing at a time, and our first goal is to research the last few names we need. Once we get out of here in a few months, we’ll go find them all and then we’ll worry about convincing anyone to join us."

"When you get out of here." Luna reminded him looking a bit anguished by the idea. "As of right now, I’m in school for the year."

"That may change, Miss Lovegood. Have some faith." Dumbledore said with a wide smile as he entered the office. "Please forgive the interruption, but Professor Sinistra has just informed me of some rather severe weather coming our way from the north. Unless you leave soon, Mrs. Hernandez, you may be stuck here another night."

"Why can’t you just apparate home?" Harry turned to Gabby.

"I am not knowing what you tell me." She shrugged helplessly at her lack of understanding.

"He means physical transport-displacement." Dumbledore explained kindly.

"Ah yes!" She said with excitement before turning somber. "Your Headmaster and I were discussing this possibility to, how do you say, apparate? Yes, but because of my mother’s low standing among the small wizarding society where we are from, I was not allowed to be licensed."

"I don’t understand." Harry said. "What does your mother’s standing have to do with anything?"

"Well, it is my father’s line that goes back to our ancestor of the coven, Hermelinda. But my mother, she was a squib." Gabby appeared grieved by the admission.

"There are places in the world were certain people are looked down on even more than they are here. In some of those places, prejudice extends to include the person’s family and therefore their rights and privileges are less than those who consider themselves to be the picture of their society’s perfection." Dumbledore explained. "And before you jump on the idea," he turned to Harry, "I am fully capable of teaching her and I am sure she is more than capable of learning as quickly as you and your friends. But if Mrs. Hernandez were to apparate without a license, especially from here, it will draw the kind of attention to her that none of us want. It is safest to use the travel plans I have already secured."

"And I am glad to be going to my husband, but I am very sad to be leaving such wonderful new friends." Gabby said, rising to take Dumbldore’s hand and reaching up to place a kiss on his cheek.

"Well, we were delighted to have had the pleasure of meeting you." The Headmaster humbly returned. "Our gamekeeper will be the one honored with the task of taking you all the way into Spain and directly to your home. Of course I’ve also arranged a private escort for you both from the ministry and they will secretly meet up with you outside our school’s grounds. Mr. Potter, why don’t you escort Mrs. Hernandez down to Hagrid’s and introduce them to each other."

"I thank you very much." Gabby replied. "I am hoping only that no one was too put out by my unexpected visit."

"Not at all. Hagrid was delighted to offer his assistance; he is a wonderful personality and a perfect escort. I’m sure the two of you will get along pleasantly in the short time you will be in each other’s company." Dumbledore assured her. "I only caution that you not let his rather substantial size alarm you." He said with a smile.

Gabby nodded but looked to him in confusion. Harry smiled as he tried to think of the best way to describe Hagrid before she actually laid eyes on him. "Then I suppose it is time for me to be going?" She asked, now with a bit of uncertainty.

"Unfortunately for us, it seems that way." Dumbledore bowed his head slightly as he led her to the door. "It was a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Hernandez. I look forward to seeing you again sometime in the future."

"The pleasure has all belonged to me. Until we are to meet again." She hugged him before planting one last kiss on him.

"Yes, well." Dumbledore replied with a grin. "Miss Lovegood, if you wouldn’t mind staying back to speak with me a moment as there is something I must discuss with you, I think it would be best if you also said your farewell now."

"Thank you for coming." Luna said quietly. "And thank you for making things right with Harry again, I don’t know what any of us would have done if you hadn’t been able to fix him."

"Oh Luna, my new little moonbeam." Gabby pulled her in for a tight hug before pulling away and resting their heads together. Harry knew they were speaking to each other, but it was something meant only for them and despite the amplification of his powers while in the presence of an additional coven member, he was unable to break through their barrier. Gabby pulled back and smiled down at Luna before gently kissing the girl’s forehead and turning to him. "We are ready to go?"

"I suppose we are." Harry said slowly. He shot a confused glance at Luna who was busy staring thoughtfully at the floor with a distracted air that seemed to suggest she’d forgotten anyone else was around her. Feeling himself tense up in anticipation of the things waiting to be dealt with, he sighed heavily before turning and leading the way down to Hagrid’s hut. Now that it was time for Gabby to be sent away and for him to get back to reality as he knew it, Harry became aware that the frustrated befuddlement which had recently plagued him was slowly creeping back through his senses.

(BREAK)

Luna watched them walk out of the office with mixed feelings. Gabby’s last silent words to her were tumbling around in her head, turning things she’d thought she’d become certain of inside out and leaving her to question all over again. But before the healer’s carefully considered message could really sink into her soul, Dumbledore cleared his throat in an attempt to get her attention. "Please, take a seat." He offered as he sat himself behind his desk.

"Is this about my classes?" She settled stiffly on the edge of the chair, feeling too tensed up with her thoughts and emotions to be able to relax- even anticipation for the topic they were surely about to discuss couldn’t garner all of her concentration.

"It is. Late last night, I sent a request for an early meeting with Griselda Marchbanks, as she was so instrumental with helping us get everything approved for the seventh year advanced classes. Sure enough we were able to meet in the fireplace and discuss the arrangements necessary to carry out your request before breakfast. I am happy to inform you that after careful consideration, she has agreed to help set up an inaugural advanced placement class for the sixth year students and upon review of everyone’s school records, you have been selected as a participant- along with only six others."

"I can’t believe the ministry actually agreed." Luna was amazed that for once something was happening so easily.

"Well, technically, only Ms. Marchbanks and Arthur are aware of the situation. But by the end of today, they will have worked to make your request a reality. I am to inform you and ask the other five if they would like to participate. By dinner, you will be moved to the new dormitory with the seventh years and tomorrow morning you and the other sixth years wishing to participate will report to me for your classes." He smiled kindly at her.

"And you’re sure this isn’t going to be a burden or inconvenience to you?"

"The education of my students is never a burden. And being given the chance to once again have a more direct contact molding young minds, it is a challenge I welcome."

Behind his earnest smile, she could tell he was holding back. There was something, some other reason he had for doing all of this. But though his mind held no walls, it was so thickly fogged up in there that she’d need a map to get out again, were she to attempt to go searching for answers. Besides, she was too thrilled to be getting what she wanted to worry too much about alterior motives, especially since she doubted that whatever the Headmaster was hiding, it was hardly malicious in intent.

After making her aware of the remaining changes to her class schedule, she was excused and left to roam free until lunch. Dumbledore had suggested she gather all of her things and prepare them for the house elves to move for her. But she hadn’t unpacked a single item since arriving the day before, unable to bring herself to accept the permanence of her situation. Apparently she’d been right, now that everything was being fixed. The fear of being left behind by Harry and the others had been overwhelming and one of the major things affecting her altered thinking and behavior. As she exited the office, she breathed a huge sigh of relief. One giant weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Now all she had to worry about was whether she’d already pushed Harry so far that he was ready to give up.

Not wanting to admit so many things to herself, she’d already begun distancing herself from him… and the others… figuring it was only a matter of time until they all left her. Her confidence in her own vision had been wavering as she wondered whether it really was the best future for everyone, and especially for her. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized why she’d been saying, doing and feeling the things she had been lately… It was because she was tired of having to be vigilant in keeping the others on the path, of waiting for things to align the right way and of questioning herself and her motives. Of course, with Gabby’s last silent words to her still circling in her head, she knew that it also wasn’t as easy as all that.

(BREAK)

Harry had never felt as grateful or pleased to meet anyone as he had with Gabby. And now, he’d never been more sad to see someone leave. They had said their good-byes after she’d been introduced to and charmed by Hagrid, forming a fast friendship between them. He only hoped the rest of the coven was as friendly and open as she was, but he doubted they’d be so lucky. After thanking her over and over for everything she’d done, Gabby and Hagrid had taken off as large drops of rain began sprinkling the ground. Harry walked back to the castle feeling melancholy, dragging his feet and not wanting to accept that he now had a whole semester to wait before he could go find the others.

Everything in him wanted to go find Luna, to force her to have that talk he felt they so desperately needed to have. He held himself back, knowing that he needed to do so when he was calmer, more in control of his emotions regarding whatever they were going through. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer; he was entirely uncomfortable having Luna remain so distant. If she didn’t come to him within the next few days, even just to at last scream at him and tell him what he’d done, then he’d have to force the issue. Today, he decided to let things be, to let them both adjust to being back at school before immersing themselves in problems left over from home. So he walked back to the castle, determined to find Hermione and enjoy the last free day before his life became consumed by his studies. That was, until he saw that Dumbledore was at the front door waiting for him.

"Why don’t we take a walk, Harry?" the Headmaster said. He had used his name familiarly as he was want to do in more intimate moments, but his tone wasn’t exactly friendly as he made it clear that he hadn’t made a suggestion.

"Okay." He agreed, knowing his day of reckoning had arrived. Now he would have to weave a tale about losing his power so convincing and with such believability that Dumbledore may only suspect it was untrue. But just as he opened his mouth to spin his yarn, he received a big surprise.

"I do not wish to know, Harry." Dumbledore said quietly.

"Excuse me?" He was unsure he heard correctly.

"I do not want to know how or why you lost your powers. At this moment it is inconsequential." He explained. "Obviously you and your friends have decided that you can all handle whatever problems you face without help, and in this instance, you were right."

Harry felt like this was somehow a trap. There was no way Dumbledore would make it so easy. "It’s not like we were doing anything bad." He defended himself against accusations that had yet to be put forth, but he couldn’t help it. While they may have been doing something they weren’t supposed to when Cho and Sarah had teamed up to take his power, they certainly weren’t doing something bad. In fact, going to Azkaban had garnered a lot of useful information for them as well as what they were able to share with the adults.

The old wizard brought them to the edge of the lake, raising his wand and shielding them from the rain as it grew heavier and more persistent. Then he turned to him with a heavy sigh. "Harry, none of you are ever doing bad things when you all get hurt or placed in peril. I would never think any of you capable of doing evil things, I recognize that you all proceed in your actions with the best of possible intentions. The problem is that your friends, and you especially, are doing dangerous things. You all seem to think that either we wouldn’t want to help or wouldn’t understand your reasoning. I don’t want to put you in the position to lie to me, Harry. Not ever again. So I won’t ask you to tell me what happened and will only be glad that this time, you were able to handle and survive the fallout of your decisions."

He hung his head, feeling slightly shamed. Of course he knew that this man had wanted to be there for him, and that he would always try. He’d saved Harry’s life, overtly and in secret, many times over and yet Harry had come to almost look at him as one more opponent in life. How had it come to this between them? Where had the trust gone and who was most responsible for breaking it? "So now what?" He asked aloud.

"Now, we begin again, from this point on. Your friends, the team you’ve put together for yourself, and the Order, my team- they must become one in the same. I ask that you never again lie to me, that you come to me or someone else in a better position to help you rather than continue to risk all your lives in order to prove you can do it alone. In return, I promise you that I will keep no secrets and I will answer your questions directly. I will not only acknowledge that there are things you can handle on your own, but that there are things I cannot help you with at all."

Harry was quiet for a while, watching as the pelting rain struck and slid down the invisible barrier between him and the elements. "I can agree to that." He finally answered.

"Very good." Dumbledore nodded.

Harry knew better than to think they were now equals. The older wizard had lived many more years, had been given much more time to practice, experience, and learn. Perhaps some sad day in the future, when he was as old and Dumbledore was gone… maybe then he could think himself equal to the great, if secretive, man beside him. But until then, Harry felt more comfortable now that he thought they could move past student and mentor to respected friends. They stood side by side for a long while, each contemplating the future as they stared through the rain and out over the choppy lake.

(BREAK)

"So?" Draco asked as he rose to meet Ginny who was just leaving McGonagall’s office. He was glad she’d finally finished her meeting, having begun to feel very exposed waiting for her in the hallway. "What did she want?"

Ginny looked a bit shocked, but her smile was wide and excited. "I don’t know how it happened, but I guess Luna convinced them to create an accelerated program for sixth years. My grades qualified me, just barely, but I’m in. We’re going to be moving to the dorm with you guys by dinner."

"Really?" He was more surprised by his surprise than by the news. When would he learn that Dumbledore would do anything for a certain group of students? Them getting their way here, it was something he should be used to by now. And despite the fact that he was now a part of that elite group, he still didn’t feel comfortable.

"Guess that means I won’t have to sneak around in the night to see you. I think it takes away some of the excitement." She said, clearly teasing. They made their way outside, standing under the roof to avoid the rain.

"Well, I’m glad. I wasn’t too thrilled that you snuck out last night." He admitted.

"You seemed pretty thrilled to me." She said in a flirty manner, batting her eyelashes at him.

He smiled involuntarily. "You know I was happy to see you, it was what you had to do to get there that I had the problem with. I mean what if you had run into Tristan out there?"

She waved off his concern. "But I didn’t. He walked right by me."

Draco was taken aback. "You mean you saw him out there?" He felt an angry yet protective surge of emotion toward her. He hated that it was so close to the full moon, knowing it was harder not to give into the more instinctual and less civilized side of himself.

"Relax, either he didn’t know I was there or he didn’t care. It was just outside your common room, I wasn’t even sure it was him until Ron said something this morning."

She reached out and rubbed his shoulder affectionately, hoping to soothe the sudden tenseness gripping his body. "Why didn’t you tell me last night? Or everyone else this morning when we were all talking about it?" he asked carefully.

"Because it wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t want to make it one. I figured you’d get upset about it and it’s not worth it."

"I don’t want him here." He said through clenched teeth.

"Neither do the rest of us. But he’s just someone we have to put up with while we’re here." She shrugged helplessly.

Something in the matter-of-factness in her tone, the total acceptance she seemed to display over being forced to coexist with someone threatening to her, it struck a guilty chord deep within him. He brushed her hand from his shoulder and took a step away. "So it’s no different than when it was me you were all not wanting to be around. Just one more bad guy to take my place now that I’ve defected to the other side."

"Draco, of course it’s different." She tried to reach out to him but he stepped further away.

"Right, because this guy is actually dangerous instead of just playing at it." He made to move past her. "I’ll see you later, okay? I have to go meet Drake before dinner."

"Draco…" she called after him, but thankfully decided to let him go. There was no meeting set up with Drake until after classes the following day and he didn’t want her to follow him and find out he’d lied just to get away from her. He didn’t want to be near anyone at the moment, feeling he wasn’t in the right frame of mind and could say something he wouldn’t be able to take back. Instead, he wandered the grounds out in the rain, skipping dinner and the rest of the evening altogether.

It was just before lights out that he returned to the common room, noting that there was now an extra room in the Slytherin hallway. Figuring it belonged to some sixth year who had made it into the accelerated program, he ignored it and went directly into his own room. He’d half expected Ginny to be waiting there for him, having found some way in, but the room was mercifully empty. As he collapsed on his bed, he felt numb and lonely. He could hear faint sounds from the room next to his, Tristan’s room, and felt a sudden territorial response.

Without a second thought, he got up and made his way across the common room to the Gryffindor wing. He marched right up to Ginny’s door and knocked softly, not wanting her brother to know that he was out here trying to gain entry. She let him in and with a nod, the little episode that happened between them was put in the past. They lay together in her bed, ready to fall asleep together so that they could face the next day in the same manner. He sighed in false contentment. He had so wanted time alone, to not have to think of how different things were now. Instead, he’d come to protect what he felt was his, deciding it was better she was where he could always see her rather than leave it up to chance. He couldn’t wait for the full moon to come and go, hating that the instincts of the wolf in him seemed so much stronger as it was overtaking his own learned and desired behavior.

(BREAK)

Harry had spent all night tossing and turning in his bed, though he was careful not to disturb Hermione who was sleeping peacefully next to him. It was last night’s announcement and the implications thereof that had kept him awake. He’d been shocked to be told that not only had a new sixth year program been started, but both Luna and Ginny had been accepted. Apparently imitating Hermione last year had been of some benefit to the youngest Weasley, not that she wasn’t intelligent in her own right. But it wasn’t Ginny’s admittance into the program that was bothering him. It was Luna’s. He was happier than he’d expected, knowing she would be able to leave with them at the end of the semester. At the same time, he was tense, knowing she was just a few rooms from him when she may as well have been countries away.

He sighed as the clock rolled around to the waking hour, feeling both restless and exhausted. Hermione stirred next to him, turning to him with a sleepy smile. "Happy last first day." She said as she stretched.

"We’ll see about the happy." He answered, feeling grumpy as he rose to find his school robes.

"Ugh, it’s still raining." Hermione buried her head under the pillow.

Until she’d said anything, he hadn’t even noticed the heavy rain pelting his small window. It had become white noise, almost comforting in a way. "Well, you can’t have sunshine everyday." He said as he dressed.

"Wake me when the world looks better." Was her muffled reply.

"Come on." He gently shook her before pulling her up. "You’re the one who’s supposed to be convincing me to go to class remember?"

She sat back down on the bed with a pout. "I was excited yesterday…"

He caught a thread of something she must have thrown out for him to see. Upon further reflection, he saw that it was because she was embarrassed to admit it. "Really, Mione? You’re that upset that you’re almost done with school?" He smiled at her, liking what he thought of as the absurd part of her personality. Of course maybe he thought that because he never took school all that seriously himself.

"I know it’s silly, but I like the idea of going to school each year; of having new books and classes and supplies. I’m just feeling a little melancholy now that this is the beginning of the end of our time at Hogwarts."

"You could always come back and teach someday when the world is normal, if you wind up missing it that much." He teased.

She hit him with her pillow before rising and moving to the door. "You’re so very helpful. I’ll meet you in the common room."

(BREAK)

Ron had no idea why he felt so nervous. He hadn’t expected today to feel any different than any other first day of school. But after meeting up with Harry and Hermione and seeing how they were trying to hide their blatant nerves, he decided he felt more anxious now than he had his first year. Once Ginny, Luna and Draco entered the common room, they all made their way down to breakfast, making small talk to break the silence.

Though his stomach was rumbling, he found it hard to eat. Every bite felt like a lump of lead traveling through his body, and in his tense state everything tasted bland. He was so intent on forcing himself through his meal that the mail owls took him completely by surprise, nearly startling him out of his seat. As they delivered their parcels and flew off, he caught the disappointed look that crossed Hermione’s face.

And apparently so had Harry. "Were you expecting something?" he asked suspiciously.

"Not really." She answered looking down at her plate.

Before either boy could puzzle it out, Luna approached them holding a large rectangular envelope. "Look what I got." She pulled out an advanced copy of the Quibbler. Ron was delighted to see a rather unflattering picture of Lucius Malfoy on the cover with the headline, Muggle Hater Malfoy Actually Born of Muggle Parents.

"That is amazing." He reached for the magazine, flipping through it to the article as the others gathered around to read over his shoulder.

"Well Mr. Lovegood certainly didn’t hold back." Ginny said when they had all finished. "I hope this is going to be okay for him. And Draco." As one, they all turned to look at the Slytherin table where Malfoy was once again sitting by himself. Ron hated that he felt pity towards him, all he wanted was to hate the guy. Was that too much to ask for? Why did things have to keep happening to make him want to defend his former enemy?

"I’ll show him the article and talk to him about it between classes today." Harry offered, as they all knew Ginny wouldn’t have much time to see anyone but her classmates that day and she was the one normally expected to talk to Malfoy.

They were all surprised when Luna moodily grabbed up the magazine. "No, I’ll talk to him. You’ve done enough, getting both him and my father involved in this in the first place." She stalked back off to her own table, leaving the rest of them to stare questioningly at Harry.

"Whoa, what did you do to piss her off so badly?" Ron asked.

"I wish I knew." He replied glumly.

(BREAK)

Ginny was excited and curious as she walked into Dumbledore’s office with Luna, and the other four kids who made it into the classes- Alvis Addy from Ravenclaw, Della Chandler from Hufflepuff, Troy Mason from Slytherin, and Colton James also a Gryffindor. None of them were kids she had associated with much beyond sharing some classes in the past and so she was unsure whether or not she was going to like being cooped up with this office for the next few months. For this reason, she stayed close to Luna. She’d never been of the shy sort, and shyness wasn’t the problem now. She realized she actually didn’t want to get close to anyone else, didn’t want to know them, talk to them, or trust them. She no longer found any interest in anyone beyond her own circle of friends and family, feeling she had enough people to worry for.

Dumbledore greeted them all warmly, gesturing them to take seats in the desks he’d provided for them. "Welcome, let me start by saying this is a new experience for me as well and so we shall learn how this class will work together." He regarded them with a confidently gracious smile. "I am glad you all have chosen to participate in the opportunity granted to you and we will hope as one that this little experiment in education will be a successful one."

Alvis raised his hand. "Sir, what is our schedule? How will our classes work so that we can learn everything we need in order to make it to next year?"

"Relax Mr. Addy. I assure you that I will not skimp on lessons. You will learn everything you need to know and hopefully much more. As to your schedule, I think that is something we shall also work out together. For now, why don’t you all pull out your wands and your transfiguration books. We can start there."

Ginny happily unpacked the necessary items, feeling completely at ease with her education placed securely in Dumbledore’s hands. She found herself thinking positively- that maybe this year wouldn’t be as bad as she’d thought it would be.

(BREAK)

Hermione walked into Professor Binns classroom with the others and took a desk in the back, expecting Harry to share it with her. Instead, she saw him take in the pitiful image of Draco as he slumped into his own desk, looking horrified at the thought of who would sit beside him. Harry glanced at her and she gave her silent consent as he pushed Ron into the seat next to her and sat himself by Draco. It warmed her heart to see him thinking of others so much lately. Apparently everything he’d gone through had forced him to grow up and mature a bit and she was glad of it, hoping he’d start thinking more before acting. She knew when she’d hitched herself to his wagon that she’d always be scared, worried that he’d be injured or killed. Other than the few short months when he’d been trying to push them all away, Harry had always been himself with her, had never hidden any part of his character. She’d always thought it’d be that way- that she’d never be able to rest easy while they were together. But it had been something she’d thought she was prepared for, until lately when all the fear for him and herself had begun to eat away at her. Now she felt new hope that by learning from his experiences, he’d become more careful and considerate of his own life.

"Are you joking?" Millicent’s annoying voice interrupted Hermione’s pre-class musings. She came out of her reverie to see the other girl hovering over Draco’s desk looking incredulous. "I really thought this would turn out to be some weird sick joke, Draco. But here you are sitting next to Potter like you’re best friends! What are you thinking?"

He appeared almost uncomfortably shamed at first and then something like quiet fury seemed to bubble up within him. And then it was gone and he sat back in his chair looking extremely casual with the old Malfoy grin across his face. Hermione held her breath in anticipation, noting that Harry and Ron were also tensed up, waiting to see what would happen- as were the other students who had filed into the room. At last Draco responded. "It’s not a matter of what I’m thinking but how. And right now, I’m thinking for myself."

"Nicely said, Draco." Tristan said as he suavely entered the room. "It is always better to know the decisions you make for yourself are your own. Too bad you’re making the wrong ones."

"Says you. We’ll just have to wait and see on that." Draco replied, keeping his easy demeanor and devious grin. But his eyes now held a bit of horrified contempt.

"We certainly will." Tristan said, wearing a malicious smile. He turned and took a seat next to Millicent as Professor Binns floated into the classroom and took a seat behind his desk.

"Please open your books to chapter one." He started his class without notice of the dark atmosphere filling the room as his students glared at each other. With a sigh, Hermione opened her book, choosing to look at this encounter as a win. Neither Harry nor Draco had lost their temper and so at last it seemed cooler heads were prevailing.

(BREAK)

A swift knock on the door interrupted Dumbledore’s rather amusing lesson. Luna had been thoroughly enjoying learning in such a small group and had been reflecting on what a good choice she’d made in going to Dumbledore for help. But almost a full five minutes before that knock came, she’d been overcome by the feeling that something bad was coming. She knew it was McGonagall at the door before the woman entered, asking to speak with the Headmaster in private.

As he excused himself, she looked to Ginny and signaled her distress. There was no holding back the vision that was coming and the last thing she wanted was to have it in front of so many witnesses. Ginny caught on and gratefully created a distraction, pulling out the pair of extendible ears she’d stolen from her brother and getting the easily moldable minds of their peers onto the idea of eavesdropping. Luna took the opportunity to duck under Dumbledore’s desk, laying herself down just as her sight blurred out. And then she waited to be shown the outcome of whatever bad news was being delivered to the Headmaster.

(BREAK)

Harry was thrilled by the interruption of someone knocking on the door as Professor Binns had nearly put him and everyone else to sleep. Well everyone except for Hermione who was furiously taking notes on information he was sure she already knew. He grinned at the absurdity of her devotion to school. They all looked up expectantly, but Binns carried on as if he hadn’t heard the knock.

"Excuse me, Professor?" McGonagall opened the door and walked in, as used to Binns behavior as his students were. "I apologize for the interruption, but I must borrow Mr. Potter for a moment."

Binns simply nodded his consent before continuing on in his lesson and Harry had never felt so thankful to be pulled out of class. He followed McGonagall down the hallway but despite how much he asked, she refused to tell him anything, simply informing him that the Headmaster would tell him everything as she had to get back to her classes. She left him at the gargoyle, giving him a look of concern before hurrying off down the hallway.

He climbed the stairs and entered the office, finding Dumbledore behind his desk and Luna seated before him. "Please have a seat Harry, I’ve suspended my class until after lunch so that I may take care of a few things that have come up. I wanted to take a moment to inform you and Luna of what’s occurred. " He paused, looking uncomfortable with the information he had to give them. "I’m afraid we’ve received some news from home."

"About what?" He asked as he sank into the chair, his heart rising to his throat.

"About Sarah." Luna answered quietly while staring at the floor looking pained.

Dumbledore regarded her with a small, sad smile but Harry knew she must have had some kind of vision and at this point probably knew more than anyone else. "Is she awake?" He asked hesitantly.

"I’m afraid we don’t quite know. She’s missing." Dumbledore answered uncomfortably.

"What do you mean she’s missing?" He demanded.

"He means she’s been stolen." Luna said angrily. "Right out from under their noses."

"That’s not exactly what happened. According to initial reports, about fifteen minutes ago two young women attacked the prison ward of St. Mungo’s. One was throwing fire from her hands at anyone who tried to stop them as the other brandished her wand expertly, breaking through the charms placed around the room. In the confusion and out of control fire they started, they made away with Sarah, though according to a witness she appeared to still be unconscious." Dumbledore paused to look at him expectantly over the top of his glasses. "You know what happened, Harry."

"Yeah, Elise and Elanya broke in to get their friend. And if they find a way to wake her, there’s no telling the trouble and chaos the three of them could cause." He answered as an unanticipated shiver of dread went through him.

 

 

NOTE: Okay, we’re still moving along, and I again apologize for the snail’s pace at which posting are happening. It seems the world is against me getting this finished. Anyway, next chapter a little less drama and a little more action so stay tuned!

Chapter 30: Fire and Brimstone

A/N: Sorry for the delay in chapter posting again, it’s getting really hard to find time to write but I’m trying. So without further rambling… Read, Review, Enjoy!

 

 

"May I ask what it was that you saw Luna?" Dumbledore asked gently.

He was one of the few who had never breached any confidence, never even attempted to ask her to give him the answers. He’d always been the one happy to take her questions and she was grateful for it. And now here he was, one more person not understanding how much she’d begun to hate her visions and the responsibilities they placed on her. Of course she had to tell them, why else would she have received the warning? But then what if things were meant to happen the way she saw and by stopping them she was making things worse down the line? It was a debate she was tired of having with herself.

"Sir, maybe now isn’t the time." Harry said carefully. He was studying her with a strange expression on his face and she felt herself magnified tenfold under his gaze. It made her uncomfortable and at the same time pleased that he was so intensely trying to figure her out.

"It’s fine." She assured him with a sigh. "I saw Sarah awake." She simply added, feeling there was no need to say more. After all, she hadn’t seen anything specific- she’d been thrown into the white room and assaulted by Sarah’s demented gaze. The rest had been unclear to her- a flash of an envelope addressed to Fred and then a quick glimpse of his store. What Fred had to do with anything involving those girls she didn’t know, but she didn’t want to sound the alarm until she knew more. The only problem was how she would be able to talk to Fred, considering the distance separating them and the very possible danger of mailing him anything. There was a way she was sure, and the answer was something that had appeared in a split second within her vision, something small and shiny that she had been unable to focus on at the time. All she had to do was figure out what it was.

In the few long months since they’d become close friends, she’d always gone to Harry for help in figuring out these sorts of things. Obviously, that wasn’t an option this time. Of course if she did ask, she was still fairly certain he’d drop everything to help her, just as she was certain she would help him if push came to shove. Although she had more answers than he did, she still didn’t fully understand her reluctance to end their fight. But she did know that somehow it was easier to not be around him than struggle with the uncertainty of being in his presence. Therefore she had continued to push at the distance between them.

As she sat there wrapped up in her own head and mulling over her concerns, she answered the Headmaster’s questions with little emotion, placing their conversation on a different level. She wasn’t interested in sharing anything more than she already had and therefore no longer felt she was needed in the discussion. She would let them sort out the consequences of Sarah waking. Her main focus after being allowed to leave the office was going to be maintaining her distance from Harry until…well, until she couldn’t anymore. In the last two days, circumstance had thrown them together and she intended to ensure that wouldn’t happen anymore. But a stealthy look at his thoughts on the subject told her that he intended the opposite. True to his take-action mentality, she saw that now that he knew of her newest vision, he planned to accost her and hash out their problems as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Knowing she’d have to work extra hard at dodging him, she sank down into her chair with a heavy sigh. Already this was shaping up to be the longest first day of school ever.

(BREAK)

By the end of class Harry still hadn’t returned. Hermione began to worry that something bad had happened, that he would once more be pulled into some dangerous situation. The sudden fear that gripped her whenever she thought of the worst possible outcome to any horrible event Harry was pulled into vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving her feeling exhausted. She was tired of worrying about whether or not he was going to be seriously injured or worse, killed. Sure it was the life she’d signed up for and she knew she could get through it, but she missed the days when things between her and Harry had been easy. And then she realized- since they’d become more than friends, things hadn’t been easy at all. First there had been Cho and Ginny to stand in their way and then Harry himself had nearly destroyed their relationship, and since then, their own insecurities and feelings had shaken them. Add to that the fact that her parents strongly opposed their coupling as well as Ron being put in the awkward position of being in the middle whenever they fought, and it made their future seem difficult and bleak.

As she followed the others down to the dungeons for Potions she reflected that despite it all, being with Harry was still the most natural feeling in the world. Under all the doubt plaguing them as a couple, they still trusted each other as friends and knew that no matter how much anger there was between them, they could always depend on each other when it counted. Hermione had always known she’d love Harry forever, it wasn’t a difficult promise to keep. But she had vaguely wondered before whether or not they’d have been better off as friends and now the thought was becoming clearer, more well-formed. Especially since Harry had developed his fast attachment to Luna through their link to the coven and her own focus had so recently shifted to helping Fred. However, to clearly consider breaking off her engagement to Harry for any reason was something she just couldn’t picture. Even with all the obvious problems laid out before her, a future without him was simply unfathomable. But then, why was she thinking about their relationship so much? Why couldn’t she stop reasoning and arguing with herself every time her mind had a free moment? She became determined to stop, to just live life as it came to her and accept her relationship as it was.

Once in the classroom, she settled into a worktable and following the good example Harry had displayed earlier, she motioned a forlorn looking Draco to sit with her. Knowing the third seat at the table was for Harry, Ron shot her a dirty look as he sat with the Patil twins at the table across the aisle. She ignored him and gave Draco a warm smile before awkwardly looking around the familiarly dark classroom- it felt odd knowing that Snape wouldn’t be there. She knew there was still no news on their missing professor and she hoped he was still alive. No matter how much she disliked the man, she didn’t want anyone else she knew to die. Perhaps it made her selfish to think that way- that as long as it wasn’t anyone in her life being killed, then the problem wasn’t as bad. Well, if it did make her selfish then so be it. Losing Sirius had been bad enough, but Neville and George had nearly torn her and everyone else apart. Snape may not hold a place in her heart like they had, but she still wouldn’t want to deal with the emotional crippling that would make waves through their group should any of their allies fall, even Snape.

With minutes to spare until class started, Harry walked in and the sight of him instantly brightened her dark train of thought. Sliding into the seat between her and Draco he mentally told his friends what he’d learned in Dumbledore’s office. Although horrified that those horrible girls had broken in and stolen their comatose comrade, she wasn’t all that surprised. Separately, those girls were bad but together they were evil. And the fact that Luna had received a vision of Sarah waking, well that was just the cherry of top of the worst sundae ever. Hopefully they didn’t have plans to break out Cho as well, though she couldn’t imagine anyone who would want to go against the giants.

We thought of that. Harry answered her unspoken concern. Especially after what you said about your visit with her, Draco. Although Dumbledore doesn’t think Cho is as important to them anymore, he’s still alerted Arthur to get word to Azkaban and warn them of what may come.

Before any of them had time to respond, Drake strode confidently into the room, ready to begin his first class. Wondering if he’d yet heard the news of what happened at his hospital, Hermione pulled out her wand wanting to be a model student for their new friend. Her worries weren’t exactly quelled, but all any of them could do was wait. If the enemy made any sort of decision, hopefully Luna would get a vision in enough time. If she didn’t, then they were all simply waiting for the next wave of destruction.

(BREAK)

Fred looked happily at all the cauldrons bubbling around him, glad that his room at Harry’s house provided him with so much space. Since the others had all left a few days before, he had been making great headway in the production of his quick cures using some of the notes Drake had given him. He’d have Lee busy stocking the shelves in no time and had to admit it felt good to be focusing on the store again even if it was in this capacity, though he hated that Hermione had once more been right when she’d suggested it. Couldn’t the girl ever be wrong about anything? And what’s more, George was becoming just as big a know-it-all having also pushed him to reopen the store.

Just as one of the brews hit the right temperature, someone knocked on his door. With an aggravated sigh, he went to answer it and found his mother on the other side. She pushed her way in as soon as the door was opened, crinkling her nose at a smell Fred had long since gotten used to. "What are you doing in here?" Molly asked, waving a hand in front of her nose as she examined his potions.

"Trying to earn a living. Was there something you needed, mother?" He asked as he switched off a burner and poured the contents of the cauldron into a beaker to cool. Then when it was ready, he would pour it into small vials and have his first batch of product.

Molly held up an envelope. "The mail arrived a bit late today. You received a letter." She handed it over and gave him a skeptical look before heading out. "Just don’t burn down Harry’s house." She said as she left, closing the door behind her.

Since he’d decided to leave home and come to Grimmauld Place at the beginning of the summer, things between himself and his parents had been tense. At first he understood, but then they had closed up the Burrow and moved into Number 12 themselves. So now that they had what they wanted and they were all living together again, he couldn’t see why there was still a problem. After all location shouldn’t matter.

A glance at the envelope in his hand decidedly pushed all concerns of his parents to the back of his mind. Of course he instantly recognized Hermione’s handwriting, having seen it over and over on several roles of parchment containing her notes on their progress with the Wolfie potion. He grinned, remembering how much she hated that name and decided if they did succeed, he wasn’t going to change it. A strange excitement rolled around in his stomach as he opened the envelope and began reading. However what he found was a terse letter meant only to relay specific information. He was thrilled that Gabriella had shown up and fixed Harry, and just as disappointed that she couldn’t do the same with Draco. Although her message was very deliberately stark, he had to smile at her insistence that they continue their progress towards a cure. Noting the letter had been sent the day before, he realized she hadn’t waited more than 24 hours after their separation to write and hound him about his work. He shook his head, a large grin across his face as he recalled the above average zeal with which Hermione conducted herself in any academic pursuit.

And then something struck him about the date. She had written him yesterday morning and posted it shortly thereafter… so why was the owl only showing up now when he knew his father had set up a night delivery to the house as well? He knew it was an important question, but he couldn’t make himself focus on it. So what if someone had intercepted the letter and read it before sending it on? There was nothing of importance contained in it, unless they were interested in the fact that he had vague plans to reopen his store and was working on a cure. And even if they were interested, Hermione had been smarter than to mention what or for whom the cure was intended. She hadn’t even mentioned anyone’s name in the letter, simply referring to Harry, Draco and Gabriella in terms he’d recognize as pertaining to them.

Still, he knew it was for the best if they didn’t correspond through the mail anymore, despite his embarrassing moment of asking to do just that before she boarded the train. Besides, he’d already known his impatience for letter writing and had planned ahead for his separation from his newest lab partner. But having been so distracted by his feelings on the actual event of them all leaving, he’d forgotten to tell her about it before she took off. Well, one more letter back to her, just to tell her about the little surprise he’d packed for her- what could it hurt? He quickly wrote out his note and with a skip in his step, went to find an owl to deliver it.

(BREAK)

Draco felt like the whole world was upside down and it was making him feel overwhelmed and a bit light-headed. Although he’d almost always been on Snape’s good side, he’d still rarely seen the man in a good mood. So in addition to sitting with Potter and Granger as an ally rather than a tormentor this year, he also had to force his mind to match up the familiar and comfortably dark surroundings of the dungeon classroom with Healer Drake, standing before them with a wide, welcoming smile. So much was so different so quickly.

To top it off, he could feel the wolf inside him just below the surface, waiting impatiently for it’s time to be free in only a few short days. Tristan had taken a seat in front of him with Millicent and Goyle, and as Draco glared at the back of his head he felt the wolf rise up even more as it perceived it’s unnatural enemy. He had the sudden desire to take care of the boy right then and there, to rip him to shreds before the vampire had a chance to do harm to anyone. Relax. He heard Potter’s gentle reminder sweep through his mind. In his heightened state of instinctual awareness, Draco must have lowered his shields.

Thankfully he managed to make it through the entire class, forcing himself to focus on the potion Drake was trying to teach them. Although the healer proved as adept at the skill as Snape, Draco found he preferred the real professor’s teaching method. Drake was far more hands on, and rather than just put instructions on the board and leave them to work, he insisted on going through step by step with them. While it was sure to be said that due to the more teacher-like approach Drake adopted everyone was able to do much better, no longer fearing to ask questions for a better understanding of the material, but he didn’t care for it. Wanting nothing more than to be left alone, Draco had to work hard to hide his annoyance and was rewarded by finally getting to leave. "Mr. Malfoy, can you stay after for a moment?" Drake asked.

With a frustrated sigh, he approached the front of the room. Noting the others were waiting for him just outside the door like his own personal guards, he felt his frustration grow. "Yes?"

"I’m sure you’ve been informed of the situation at the hospital." He started. Draco merely nodded allowing him to continue. "Well, I’m afraid I’ll have to go there right after my last class tonight. Which means I won’t have time to do your healing later. Now I still want to do this today in hopes it will all be over before you have to leave, so if you’re willing to meet me in my office in a few minutes we can still try to complete the process."

"Absolutely." Draco answered, unconcerned with the fact that he’d have to go through the painful healing while in class rather than alone in his room for the night, just as long as it happened.

"Great! Just give me a few minutes to get everything together then come on down." Drake said with a smile as he led them out into the dungeon corridor, leaving Draco alone with his new friends.

They had an hour before lunch and then two more classes after that before this miserable day could end. Granger, ever the overachiever, didn’t have a break with them though. Apparently she had a whole other class to attend and she ran off quickly as soon as he assured them all was well. That left him alone with Potter and Weasley.

They stood together awkwardly in the hallway, unsure what to do or say. "Well, I guess I’ll be off to Drake’s office then. I suppose I’ll see you guys later." He finally said to break the silence.

"Want me to go with you?" Potter offered.

"I don’t need a chaperone everywhere I go." He responded more harshly than he’d wanted. But the thought that Potter had seemed to take it upon himself to be Draco’s protector was just too much for him to deal with- too much change, too much humiliation, and too much self-loathing for feeling like he wanted to be protected.

"A simple thanks but no thanks would’ve sufficed." Potter said, looking upset.

Draco sighed, remembering how sensitive some of his new allies were. Of course, he did feel he was being a bit ungrateful considering Potter’s willingness to stand up for him. "Okay, thanks but really, no thanks. I mean you aren’t always going to be there when something happens, right?"

"Maybe, but might as well take advantage of the body guard while you can." Weasley taunted.

"Ron, please don’t start." Potter sighed. "Now is not the time. I’m sure Draco is perfectly capable of taking care of himself." He then turned to address Draco directly. "I just figured with this being the last treatment and all, maybe you’d want some moral support."

And he did want support- from Ginny. But she was locked away in her own classes at the moment and Potter wasn’t the kind of stand-in he had in mind. "Thanks, but no thanks." He answered politely. After a moment he once more said, "I guess I’ll see you guys later." Then with nothing left to say he turned and headed toward Drake’s office.

He hated that Potter’s continued attempts to make him feel more at ease seemed to have the opposite effect; but he just couldn’t bring himself to trust that anything good could last. He had similar fears on a much grander scale about him and Ginny, but for her he’d been willing to put himself out on a limb figuring he’d at least be happy for a little while. However when it came to Potter’s friendship, he just couldn’t trust it. He knew that of all of the great savior’s friends, he’d be right near the bottom of the priority list. Granger, Weasley and Lovegood we the top three of course, and the number of people between them and him was too large a number to ever make him feel comfortable. Of course, Potter wasn’t exactly near the top of his list either even if it was much shorter.

As he approached the office door, he pushed everything else away. He wanted to be fully aware of the joy this meeting was going to bring him, to enjoy the moment so that when he was finally whole once more, he’d appreciate that even more. Had he allowed Gabriella to instantly fix the hand for him, he knew the happiness and relief he’d have felt wouldn’t have been able to compare to even the anticipation of seeing this through the hard way. He’d argued with himself that he needed to do it this way to complete the journey he was on and opening the door now, with his heart nearly bursting with hope and anxiousness, he knew it was completely the truth.

He greeted Drake and instantly began rolling up his sleeve, eager to get the show on the road. Hopefully he’d have his hand back before he had to leave with Lupin. He watched with intense focus as the healer worked his magic, spreading the herbs and infusing his energy. When it was over, Drake handed him the pain pills knowing how difficult it would be to regenerate so many bones at once. This time Draco took them without hesitation, not wanting anyone to be able to tell he was struggling, not even Ginny.

(BREAK)

"He could be more grateful. That’s all I’m saying." Ron argued as he and Harry set up the wizard’s chessboard in their common room.

"And I think it’s fine. I mean would you want to have him following you around to make sure no one tries to curse you? I’d certainly be annoyed by it, so if he wants space I’m willing to give it to him." Harry returned, moving his knight.

Ron shook his head, reflecting that often people played chess like they lived life. Harry always started out with a bold move, usually losing his major pieces quickly in his eagerness to attack with everything he had. Instead of countering with his own knight as Harry clearly intended him to do, Ron pushed forward his pawn, planning quite a few moves ahead as his friend predictably went after the offered piece. "Say what you want, if he’s serious about not wanting to get cornered and beat up then he should be more willing to have help around." He pushed forward another piece, trying to tempt Harry to take it with his bishop.

"I think he wants to prove to himself that he’s capable of protecting himself. And maybe I think it’s important to let him try. That way not only will he know he doesn’t have to worry, but we’ll know it too." He responded. And then he truly shocked Ron. Rather than go for the easy capture which would have ensured his bishop be taken within two moves, Harry instead brought out one of his own pawns, forcing Ron to either take it with his rook or risk his queen. He’d foolishly brought her out early, used to the way his friend played and knowing Harry was loathe to send out a pawn for sacrifice, in the game and in life. Hermione had told him how much it was bothering him that he’d had to leave Willem in the prison once they knew he was innocent. More than that, Harry was always willing to put himself out there first, to draw the fire in hopes that the others would be saved. Yes, he very much played by the same rules no matter the situation, and so to see him now playing with more consideration and finesse was unsettling, in a good way.

Abandoning their conversation of Malfoy, both boys leaned into the game, intensely focused on the battle laid out before them. Ron was forced to give up his own plan and readjust, impressed that Harry seemed to have so quickly grown a better understanding of how to play. He just hoped it continued to translate into their real lives as well. It would certainly keep them all alive a lot longer.

(BREAK)

Hermione was having trouble concentrating, her mind intent on so many things she deemed more important than Ancient Runes. Part of her almost wished she didn’t have this subject, that she could have a period free with the others to relax and sort things out. Normally she liked the class, and Professor Babbling. Today they were the worst things to happen to her.

Only Padma and two others in the advanced level had this class and they were intent on their readings. Knowing she should be doing the same, she turned to her stones with a heavy sigh and cast them, clearing her head to keep them free of her influence. As she began to read them, her breath caught in her throat. This couldn’t be right. "Professor?" she raised her hand tentatively, unsure if she really wanted to call someone else’s attention to this.

"Yes, Miss Granger?" Professor Babbling came over to study the stones, and gasped in shock. "Oh my."

"What do they mean?" Hermione asked desperately.

But the professor seemed to shake herself out of it and remember she was an educator. "You tell me, Miss Granger."

She took a deep breath. "Well this first one here is Thurisaz, the rune of chaos, evil and temptation."

"That is correct." Babbling replied tensely.

"And this one is Raido, the traveler’s rune." The professor simply nodded so Hermione continued. "This one is Tiwaz, the warrior’s rune. And this last one is Ihawaz which is the rune of defense." These three made sense to her, considering their plans after finishing school. But the first rune, Thurisaz, was making her heart beat double time in anticipation.

"Very good." Babbling nodded.

"But what do they all mean together?" Hermione pleaded not liking what she was reading and hoping there was some other meaning.

She paused. "That you have a very interesting and possibly dangerous path ahead of you, Miss Granger." She turned to dismiss her class. "That is all for the day. I will see you again tomorrow." Then she hurried out of the room ahead of her students.

Hermione was left feeling concerned and confused. But as she made her way to the Great Hall for lunch, she decided not to tell Harry anything about it. After all, she wasn’t really a rune caster, she only had learned enough in order to pass the class with an O despite her interest in the subject. Besides, they had Luna for cryptic messages about the future, no need to add in her own inexperienced opinion.

"I beat Ron at chess!" Harry said proudly as she took a set next to him.

"Did you let him win?" She grinned across at Ron, who looked less than amused.

"No. Apparently he’s decided to start using logic." He grumbled. "But we played three games and he only beat me the last one." Ron added with insistence.

"But I came close the other times." Harry taunted. "Until you slaughtered me that is."

"Whatever. I already congratulated you on a well played game, what more do you want?" Ron asked, a slight smile starting to emerge.

"Hey guys!" Charlie greeted them as he walked up to the table. "Ron, could I borrow you for a moment? I have a fifth year class after lunch and I could use some help setting up."

"It’s not anything that’s going to bite me, is it?" he asked hesitantly.

"Of course it could bite you! Anything with teeth could you know." Charlie answered cheerfully. "Come on little brother, make me feel welcome here and help me out."

"Can’t it wait until after lunch? I barely ate this morning and I’m starving."

"It’ll take ten minutes tops. I just need help moving the cages. Hagrid is helping too so it could go even faster." Charlie prodded.

"Whatever." Ron said sourly as he rose to follow his brother.

"I’ll help too." Harry offered.

"That’s okay, you two relax. Ron could use a little extra work." He teased his brother, putting an arm around his neck. They watched the brothers walk away, pushing and hitting each other as they playfully bickered. It felt good to see Ron getting so much attention and Hermione was glad Charlie had come to Hogwarts.

She and Harry settled into random conversation while waiting for Ron and Ginny to show up. She was actually in the middle of a sentence when he grabbed her hand and got that far away look in his eye that told her he was using his power. "What is it?" she asked.

"It’s Ginny. Something to do with Tristan." Harry rose and leaned in close to her. "Look, if Ron comes back try not to let him know about this. I can’t help Ginny if I have to worry about him doing something stupid. And the last thing we need is Ron making a vampire angry."

"Okay." She answered without argument. In fact, she couldn’t agree more.

"I’ll be back as soon as I can." He promised, kissing her cheek before rushing off. She was only slightly surprised that he stopped by the Slytherin table to tell Draco what was going on. Of course, the look on Draco’s face as he jumped up and ran out of the hall with Harry struggling to catch up told her how bad it would have been had they tried to keep him in the dark about it. With Ron, they could simply claim he hadn’t been there and there hadn’t been time to find him, but not telling Draco would have obviously been a mistake. She smiled to herself, finding it amusing that not only had the impossible happened and Draco had actually truly learned to care about someone else, but that it was Ginny he’d fallen for. She had no doubt that whatever the problem was, the two boys could solve it and only wished they’d bring Ginny back before Ron returned. Meanwhile, her Runes reading had been effectively shoved to the back of her mind.

(BREAK)

Ginny sat with Luna and the others in her class, listening to Professor Binns drone on and on. Since Dumbledore had to be called away and the professor had ended his only class for the morning, he’d been called in to substitute until lunch. Though in Ginny’s opinion, he wasn’t much of a substitution as the Headmaster had been far more interesting when presenting his lesson. Finally they were released for lunch and as a group the students nearly ran from the room in their haste to escape.

"I’m not really hungry. I think I’ll go take a nap instead." Luna said uncertainly as the girls began walking down the hallway. In the moments between classes, she had filled Ginny in on what had happened at St. Mungo’s, and so Ginny understood the other girl’s reluctance to be around people. She didn’t feel much like socializing either.

"Well I’ll walk there with you. I forgot to grab my defense book this morning." She had planned on using all her free time that day to spend with Draco, and had therefore kicked herself when she’d discovered she’d forgotten a book. She’d rather be a few minutes late to a meal than use up any free time later and so she ran to her room and grabbed everything she thought she’d need during the rest of the day, stuffing it all into her bag. Then leaving Luna to go to her own room, she hurried up towards the Great Hall.

As she passed a small hallway, she heard harsh voices that slowed her pace. Glancing to her left, she was able to see Tristan, Crabbe, Goyle and surprisingly Troy Mason, the Slytherin in her class. Taking a few steps forward, she saw that they were surrounding some younger and much smaller boy who couldn’t be older than third year. It seemed they were taunting the poor kid, terrorizing him for what they’d heard about his family. "We can smell the muggle on you." Troy sneered, giving the kid a shove.

"Please! Please just leave me alone." The kid cried.

"Hey! Leave him alone!" Ginny yelled before realizing she was doing anything at all.

All five boys turned their attention toward her, but it was Tristan’s glare that was causing her to struggle with her fight or flight reflex. Instantly she wanted to run away, but her willfulness and pride wouldn’t let her. She had promised Draco that she wouldn’t go near Tristan, but her newly returned sense of decency couldn’t allow her to pass this kid who was sorely outnumbered by bullies. She mentally kicked herself for caring when she’d just earlier convinced herself she didn’t want to care about anyone else, let alone some kid she didn’t know.

"What’s it to you?" Crabbe asked menacingly. He and Goyle stepped forward as Troy grabbed onto their victim who had been attempting to slink away.

"Nothing, but I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to the headmaster." She said, holding her ground. She refused to be intimidated by these morons, but she wouldn’t be stupid enough to act alone against them. She remained at the opening of the hallway, where she could still easily flee if necessary.

"Gentlemen." Tristan stepped forward, placing his hands on Crabbe and Goyle’s shoulders. "There’s no need to be rude, after all, there is a lady present." He smiled widely at her, his eyes sparkling dangerously. Her head screamed at her to run, but his

gaze seemed to hold her in place as he continued forward, stopping just in front of her.

"Leave me alone." She said uncertainly. She was starting to feel scared and decided it was time to call Harry for help. She sent out a silent plea, praying he heard her.

"Now Ginevra – May I call you Ginny?" He smiled wider. "Ginny, I’m sure we can settle all of this in a calm, mature manner. Wouldn’t you agree?"

She felt lost in his eyes, staring helplessly into the stony grayness she found there. "Stop." She whispered, knowing how vampires were able to mesmerize their victims.

"Come now, Ginny. I’m sure if you give me a chance, we could be great friends." He answered softly.

"Leave me alone." She said again with more conviction, channeling her rage at his attempt to influence her into her willpower. "And let that kid go."

His smile never wavered as he stepped closer. Forcing her feet to move, she retreated until her back hit the wall. She tried to slink past him and run for help, but she couldn’t break away from his eyes. He leaned in close, forcing her to push herself further into the wall. "Or what?" He whispered harshly.

But she was saved the trouble of coming up with an answer. "Hey!" Someone shouted from down the hall. And then, in one fluid motion, Tristan was yanked back and thrown hard against the opposite side of the hallway. Ginny watched on in amazed horror as Draco pinned him to the wall, pressing his arm firmly against the other boy’s throat. They were both glaring and snarling at each other.

Are you okay? Harry’s voice filled her head as he stepped up next to her.

Fine. They were bothering that kid over there. She responded, worried that Draco had been forced to take a stand against Tristan on her behalf- especially since it seemed to be exactly what the vampire had wanted. What kind of feud was this going to start? She shuddered to think about it.

"Draco!" Harry tried to get his attention. They could see Tristan struggling against the hold, and growing angrier as the hidden wolf refused to back off.

"Do you know how easily I could kill you?" Tristan choked out against the pressure on his throat, though he didn’t sound any less threatening.

"Prove it." Draco growled out with a sinister smile.

"Draco! It’s over. We’re here and she’s fine." Harry tried again.

"Is it? Is it over?" he asked his captive.

"With her, it could be." Tristan answered slyly. "But this, between us, oh it’s just beginning Draco."

Draco nodded and stepped away, releasing the other boy. "I can live with that." He placed himself between them and the vampire.

"For now you can." Tristan threatened, refusing to show that he’d been shaken by the attack.

"Okay, now that you two are done playing, let that kid over there go." Harry demanded, stepping up beside Draco.

"Why?" Troy grinned, yanking on the kid’s shirt.

"Because otherwise, we’ll make you." Draco growled out, obviously done with his patience for all of this.

"Oh, I’m shaking." Crabbe’s annoying laugh was cut off as he went flying down the hall, crashing to the floor. Harry hadn’t moved a muscle, but Ginny knew he was responsible.

Goyle attempted to shoot stunners at them, but Harry had been expecting it. He pulled out his wand and shielded before shooting a binding at each of Tristan’s cronies. The young kid, released from the now bound Troy, came up to them with awe in his eyes. "Thanks." He said shyly, pulling on the hem of his Hufflepuff sweater.

"Steer clear of these creeps." Harry suggested, sending the boy on his way. Then he turned to the Slytherins before them but addressed only Tristan. "I’m taking them to McGonagall, you know, see if we can start getting you all kicked out. You can walk along with us, or you can get the same as them. I don’t care either way."

"What exactly are you going to tell McGonagall? You two are the ones pushing people around and cursing them." Tristan answered with an easy smile. "We were simply having conversations with both young Mr. Smiley as well as Miss Weasley until you two showed up. And you have no proof to the contrary.

"You were pushing that kid around because his parents are muggles!" Ginny protested, eliciting a glare of disapproval from Draco.

"Prove it. Because if I’m kicked out of this school based solely on your word, well that shows a bit of favoritism don’t you all think?" Tristan looked at the three of them politely. "It would definitely suggest that perhaps a change in leadership is needed after all."

"They tried that once with Umbridge. It didn’t last." Draco returned before Harry could. He appeared outwardly unsettled by Tristan’s threats but Ginny could tell he was seething underneath.

"Umbridge was a bad dream compared to the nightmare they want to replace old Dumbledore with this time." Tristan grinned. "So go ahead turn us in and get us expelled based on your word alone. All they’re waiting for is something like this and your precious headmaster will be without a school to run." He looked extremely pleased with himself.

Harry thought for a moment. "Okay. Go. But we’re watching you, and by the time we spread our story, everyone else will be too. I won’t let you get away with anything here."

"I am unconcerned." Tristan smirked as he began to casually walk away.

"Don’t you want to take your friends with you?" Harry called after him.

"I am unconcerned with them as well." He called back without turning around.

They all three turned to look at the three boys still bound on the floor. "Get lost." Harry commanded as he released them. They simply glared as they ran off, far less threatening without Tristan to rally behind. "You sure you’re okay?" Harry turned to her.

"Yeah, nothing happened. I just called for you guys in case, you know." She replied uncertainly, looking at Draco who appeared to be struggling at hiding his emotions.

"I better go let Dumbledore know what happened." Harry said. "Why don’t you guys head back to lunch, let the others know what happened. Oh and make sure you ask Luna if she’s seen anything yet."

"Luna went to the dorm to lay down." She told him.

For a moment, concern flashed in his eyes before he shook his head. "Nevermind, I’ll go talk to Luna after Dumbledore. Let Hermione know for me, would you?"

"Sure." She agreed. "Thanks, for coming."

"No problem." He grinned before heading off to the headmaster’s office.

"And a big thanks to you." She said to Draco as she carefully stepped up to him. She tried to put her arms around him but he stepped away.

"Come on." He said angrily stalking past her down the hall. She followed, unsure what to say or do to make this better. She wasn’t sure which was worse in his mind, that she seemed to have gone against her promise and put herself in Tristan’s way… or that she’d had no choice but call Harry for help.

"I’ll see you later." He said once they reached the Great Hall.

"You aren’t coming in?" she asked.

"I don’t feel much like being around people at the moment." He said coldly.

"Well, let me go tell Hermione what’s going on and then I’ll go with you. We don’t have to be around anyone." She tried to take his hand but he once more pulled away from her.

"Right now, you’re anyone." He replied, turning and walking away.

Ginny felt her knees buckle but she didn’t call out to him, instead letting him go. It was as if everything inside of her was crumbling as she realized she might have just screwed up big time, even if it wasn’t totally her fault. She always felt lonelier now when he wasn’t around, but knowing he had left because he was so angry with her- there were no words to describe the harsh emptiness invading her. She felt that old pull, the tiny part of her that whispered to her to do something reckless to make herself feel better. And there were so many reckless things she could do here, and many dangerous people to do them with.

She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to imagine what Laurel would tell her. But the advice wouldn’t come; she was too distraught. But working hard, she pushed everything aside and focused on the fact that eventually Draco would calm down, eventually she’d be able to talk to him and make her case. She was determined not to screw up any more than she had already and ignored the instinct to do something stupid and dangerous- this time anyway.

(BREAK)

It had been a long time since Harry had been willing to go to Dumbledore with a problem. But as he laid out the incident that had just taken place and the threats Tristan had made, he felt better knowing there was someone to share the burden of solving the problem. It was almost as if since reaching their agreement yesterday, Harry had been able to let go of the feelings sitting as the roadblock keeping him from looking at the man in front of him with the respect he’d felt when he was younger. "Do you know who it is they want to replace you with this time?" He asked eagerly once he’d reached the end of his story.

"I’m afraid I do not. This time they aren’t being so bold as to send someone to infiltrate like they did with Dolores Umbridge." Dumbledore sat back in his chair and brought the tips of his fingers together as he settled into his thoughts. "Although I suppose there are only a few viable candidates to choose from."

"Like Edmund." Harry replied, plucking the idea from the headmaster’s mind.

"Perhaps. If they continue to be unsuccessful in their attempt to turn the public against Arthur and take over the ministry, then taking over Hogwarts- where you and many Order members are known to be- would be a nice consolation prize. And it would put him one step closer to the ministry."

"But-" Harry’s thought was cut off as the office door crashed open. Dumbledore was on his feet in an instant and Harry spun around to see Luna stagger into the room, shaking badly as she stared at them, her eyes wide with fear.

(BREAK)

Luna had woken from her nap in a cold sweat, haunted by the shadows of her nightmare. Taking a deep breath, she got out of bed and nearly stumbled from dizziness. Her stomach growled loudly and she realized she’d been skipping out on too many meals in her determination to avoid Harry. That morning at breakfast, she’d been too upset by the Quibbler article to focus on eating, but if she hurried she’d make it for the last ten minutes of lunch.

She had just grabbed her backpack when the horribly familiar sensations overcame her. She fell to her knees, slowly lowering herself the rest of the way to the floor as her vision clouded over. There was no white room this time- this was not a warning. She watched in terrified anguish as Elise received her orders from Lucius before the scene changed and the firestarter stalked the very familiar building housing the Quibbler offices, right out in the middle of the day. Within moments the evil girl had set the entire structure ablaze, and then walked away laughing.

Luna was on her feet and running before she was fully out of the vision. The hallways were thankfully deserted and she made her way to the headmaster’s office in what felt like a matter of seconds. Giving the password between gasps for air, she pushed her way past the gargoyle before he had the chance to open fully and raced up the stairs, not bothering to wait to them to move on their own. Bursting in, she realized Dumbledore had been in the middle of a meeting- with Harry. She didn’t care, her father’s life could be at stake. Elise’s decision had already been made and hopefully Xeno had received a vision of his own in time.

"Luna! What’s wrong?" Harry was on his feet the moment she appeared. He rushed over to her and grabbed her shoulders to steady her. She hadn’t realized she’d been shaking so badly, or that she’d begun to cry.

"It’s Elise!" She sobbed, wanting to throw herself into the comfort of Harry’s arms but instead shoving him off of her. "She’s going to destroy the Quibbler offices! We have to get word to my father, he practically sleeps there when I’m away!"

"Stay here, I will see to this immediately." Dumbledore ordered as he hurried off, never once questioning her.

Waiting was something she was becoming very bad at and as much as she wanted to sit on the couch and attempt to gather herself, she could do nothing but pace and wring her hands as she pictured every possible outcome of this. Though she tried very hard not to look at him, she knew Harry was staring at her. His anguish was nearly palpable, he felt torn between the overwhelming desire to comfort her and the frustration of everything between them that kept him from doing so.

"I can’t just wait here anymore!" She said more to herself than to him. She knew what she wanted to do and the only thing left to do was go through with it. But she didn’t want Harry’s help. The last time she’d involved him in her problems, it had turned out horribly for him and while he may be restored now, she refused to put him or herself through anything like that again. And so without giving him a clue as to what she was about to do, she focused in on the building and concentrated hard. She heard him call her name just before she was whisked away, apparating herself to the Quibbler offices in hopes that she could arrive before Elise.

(BREAK)

Draco waited for the others inside Professor Flitwick’s classroom, preferring the dark solitude to the bright, noisy Great Hall. There was still about twenty minutes before class was scheduled to begin, but he was anxious to get on with it, to get through the rest of this day and hopefully wake up tomorrow to a better one. He couldn’t believe Ginny had gone and put herself in danger on the very first day… well, actually, he could believe it, he was really just disappointed that her promise to him had meant so little.

Lupin had once told him that now that he had this curse, the wolf inside would be the biggest part of him- that it would affect him even when the moon was dark. But when he and Potter had raced around that corner to find Ginny cowering against the wall with Tristan mere inches way, he’d made the conscious decision not to cage the wolf. He didn’t regret it, other than that it was hard to once again harness that part of him that so craved to be free. The things the wolf had felt were intense and basic, and his anger and hatred for Tristan had instantly transferred to Ginny when the vampire was no longer immediately before him. He’d instantly felt betrayed, though the human part of him could reason out that he shouldn’t feel that way. But it hadn’t mattered, he had been so far out of touch with his humanity at that point that he didn’t have room to feel anything other than the angry betrayal. He’d had to work hard to hold himself in check with her afterwards, to not say something he would regret later when his senses returned. He’d walked away from her wondering how he was supposed to live like this, feeling like a wild animal trapped in the wrappings of civilized society.

In the present moment, he didn’t feel any more normal and his hurt feelings had simply festered inside of him. Trying to find a way back to something that felt more like the real him, Draco used his time to reason everything out. The first thing he dismissed was the small amount of agitation he’d felt with Potter. After all, it wasn’t his fault that Ginny had called to him for help and at least he hadn’t left Draco out of it. As for her once more turning to Potter, what else could she have done? If she hadn’t taken advantage of Potter’s ability, there was no one else to come to her aid and he shuddered to think of what could have happened. Although knowing this was true didn’t make him feel any less hurt, he could at least view it with a clear head. He took a deep breath, feeling more normal as the wolf faded away… resting until it was once more going to be allowed freedom.

But no matter what way he tried to view the whole reason Ginny had needed saving in the first place, he couldn’t justify her actions. Kids got bullied all the time, hell he was constantly being taunted- he just ignored it. There was no reason to involve herself, especially knowing Tristan was a part of it. If she really wanted to help the kid, she would have alerted someone who could have done something about it. Really, what did she intend to do? What had she expected- that she’d ask them to leave the kid alone and they would? He knew those guys- Goyle, Crabbe and Mason- they would never back down unless they truly felt threatened, like once they were left alone with him and Potter. Tristan was another matter and Draco really couldn’t tell how far the other boy would go to intimidate someone.

Finally his solitude was ended as Granger, who probably didn’t know how not to be on time, arrived five minutes before class with Weasley trailing behind her. They sat down next to him, already in the middle of a small argument about not telling him Ginny had been in trouble. Draco wondered where Potter was, if he was still talking to the headmaster about what had happened. And just what could Dumbledore do about it? He sighed and shook his head, certain of nothing other than that the wolf was finally asleep.

As a couple of more students filed into class, Granger and Weasley broke off their bickering as she finally snapped at him that he hadn’t been there and that was why he hadn’t been told. Draco noticed that Granger was beginning to look worried. "I wonder what’s keeping Harry." She said quietly as Tristan sauntered in with Millicent. He shot Draco a friendly yet sinister smile, waving as if they hadn’t been at each other’s throats less than an hour ago.

Professor Flitwick finally hurried in and quickly quieted the class. They began with a review of the harder charms they had learned last year, and still Potter didn’t show. Peeking over to see how the unexplained absence was affecting the others, Draco saw that Weasley’s concentration was obviously shot as he kept glancing at the door rather than focus on his wandwork, sending things flying all over the classroom. Granger’s work on the other hand hadn’t suffered at all; but if she continued to chew on her lip like that it was going to start to bleed.

After ten minutes, and several wicked grins from Tristan, Draco felt himself start to worry. After all, they had set up this whole special classes thing for Potter in the first place. So what had happened that would have them keeping Potter from his classes?

(BREAK)

"Luna!" Harry tried to grab hold of her, only catching her intention at the last moment. He hadn’t made it in time. "What the hell is she thinking!?" He shouted to the empty room.

"Hey now young man! That language is inappropriate in this office." One of the portraits scolded him, reminding him that the room wasn’t so empty after all.

"And keep it down!" Another portrait yelled out as the others grunted in agreement.

"Sorry." Harry grumbled. Panic was slowly settling in his stomach. He’d seen people apparate outside the school, but never once had he thought it possible within Hogwarts walls. But he’d just witnessed Luna do what he’d believed impossible and worse, he knew exactly where she had gone.

Whether or not to follow her was never a question in his mind. The only problem was that he’d never been to the Quibbler offices, and had no idea how to get there. His best shot was to get himself as close as he could, and so knowing the general location of the building on Diagon Alley, he pictured the closest business which happened to be the flower shop. He’d been there once with Neville a few years back and had noted the Quibbler sign halfway down the street. He closed his eyes and aimed for the alleyway behind the store, not wanting to be seen by the general public.

He was there within moments, stumbling as he tried to gain his bearings. After figuring out the magazine would be to the left, he headed that way while sending his mind out to search for Luna. He hoped she hadn’t expected him to follow her and therefore her shields would be down- and he got lucky. He caught a glimmer of her and immediately set out to hunt her down.

He found her in a small side street running between two buildings. It was barely wide enough for him to walk through and so he couldn’t exactly sneak up on her. "Luna!" He called out to her.

She turned, looking horrified. "What are you doing here?"

He finally made is way up to her and firmly grabbed her arm. "Did you really think I wouldn’t follow you? Come on, let’s get out of here."

"No! Don’t you see? There’s no fire yet, Elise hasn’t gotten here. I just can’t get this stupid side door open. You go back, there’s no need for you to be here, Harry. I’m just going to warn my father and then we’ll leave too." Though her words were innocent, her tone seemed to indicate that she was truly angry with him.

He sighed loudly in frustration. Leaving wasn’t an option for him and surely she must know it as well as he did. It hurt badly that she’d go this far to push him away, to let him know she didn’t need or want him there. "Okay, so what’s wrong with the door?" he asked, ignoring most of what she’d said and figuring they’d get out of there faster if he helped.

"I don’t know. I think daddy fixed it again." She said, frowning at him. She must have figured it would be easier to cooperate rather than argue with him.

"What do you mean he fixed it? Shouldn’t it work then?"

"Not exactly. He locks it up from the inside when he’s in the middle of a big story because he worries about spies. Otherwise it’s left open for reporters. But if he fixed it then, no spell will open it." She banged her fist against the door in frustration.

"Well are there any other ways to get in?" Harry asked, looking nervously up and down the tiny street.

"Only the front door." She pushed past him and ran back to the alley. He followed as she went around the back of the building to a wider side street on the other side. They crept up to the Diagon Alley, crouching low behind some trashcans. "It looks clear." She whispered, more to herself than to him. There were few people on the street, and none of them looking their way. Luna crept out, heading for the front door and Harry started to follow but someone caught his eye and he quickly grabbed Luna, pulling her back behind their hiding place.

She struggled to free herself but Harry held her in place. "Look." He whispered.

They peered over the tops of the garbage cans and took in the unwelcome sight of Elise, practically skipping towards the Quibbler building with a look of demented joy across her face. Daddy! Harry heard Luna scream for her father. Get out of there!

There was no reply. "We have to stop her somehow!" She whispered violently to Harry, unwilling to speak to him in her head.

"Are you sure you father is in there? Shouldn’t he have heard you?"

"He’s probably blocking out right now." She shook her head in frustration.

Harry was desperately trying to figure out what to do. Peering around the corner he was able to see Elise, staring up and studying the building. Then she kicked in the front door and walked in, drawing the attention of a few people across the street.

"No!" Luna tried to run after the woman but Harry held her back.

"Luna! Look!" He pointed out her father, who had raced from the building the moment after Elise entered. She tried to go after him, but again Harry held her back. "No, we have to go back to Hogwarts before someone sees us." They were now assured of her father’s safety, it was time to ensure their own.

Before she could open her mouth to argue, the front of the building exploded in flames as the windows shattered, showering the street in sparkling glass. He threw himself over Luna before raising an arm to protect his own head. Looking up, they saw the fire spread quickly as several people on the street hurried forward, their wands up and shooting streams of water in an effort to stop the flames.

Harry grabbed Luna’s hand and headed back toward the alley behind the building. Thankfully, she didn’t struggle this time and he could tell she was starting to get scared. At least we know your father made it out.He thought to her in an attempt as consolation. She didn’t respond. He stopped just short of the alley, feeling another presence near.

Together they peeked around the corner in time to see a chair fly through a back window. Then came Elise, making her escape. Harry felt that familiar feeling rise up within him, that rush of adrenaline and the need to do something, to conquer. This time it was Luna who made a grab for him, to keep him from doing something stupid. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quick enough.

Harry leapt into the alley, his wand out and throwing a binding before he even realized he’d moved. Luna was at his side at and instant, already expelling water from her wand as Elise attempted to rain down a fiery storm on them. He saw the woman’s wild eyes focus to her right and he threw up a shield around them just a stack of boxes burst into flames a few feet away from where they stood.

Glancing to his right, Harry used his own powers to slide the large metal dumpster across the alley placing it between them and Elise. Then he turned and tried to put out the fire raging around them. But in an attempt to thwart the effort, Elise continued to produce balls of flame, setting everything that she could see ablaze. Harry reached out and caught Luna’s hand and together they focused their energies to strengthen their water spells as they had done before with Sarah. This time it was different, they were facing someone who had the pyrokinetic ability naturally and a lifetime to perfect it. "It’s no use! She just keeps lighting things on fire!" Luna shouted.

"We have to go!" Harry yelled back desperately. Though he didn’t want to leave without ensuring Elise’s capture, it was getting too risky to remain in the alley. There was too much for her to work with and if they continued to keep her cornered, she’d wind up setting the whole block on fire and possibly wind up killing people. And though he was willing to go for it anyway, the fact that Luna was there and wouldn’t leave without him was something he couldn’t ignore. Some sacrifices had to made- he was beginning to understand that, but her life was too big a sacrifice. He was sure they’d have another chance at Elise, he’d just find a way to make it so the next time was someplace more open and with less civilian collateral damage around. Without having to communicate with each other at all, he and Luna closed their eyes together and apparated back to Dumbledore’s office.

The cool, clean, quiet of the office was startling compared to the hot, fiery roar they had just left behind. Looking over at Luna, he saw she was covered in ash and soot. From what he could see of himself, he was just as messy. There was no way Dumbledore wouldn’t know that they had left the school. "Scourgify." Luna said with a sigh, pointing her wand directly at him before doing the same to herself. They were now back to looking like themselves rather than two people who’d been trapped in fire filled alley. Now all they had to worry about was the former headmasters telling on them. But a quick look around reassured him that those in their frames were asleep. At least, he hoped they were.

They stood together in uncomfortable silence, each waiting for the other to speak and yet neither wanting to be the first to say something. Harry didn’t even know what to say, things between the two of them had been tense for more than a week- ever since the hospital when he’d begged and convinced her to not go home, to not leave him. He may not understand what was going on, but he knew it couldn’t continue this way.

(BREAK)

Fred hurried his pace down Diagon Alley, following the dark, billowing smoke. When he finally made his way through the crowds he saw several Aurors and ministry workers sifting through the remains of a fire charred building. It vaguely reminded him of what the inside of his store had looked like after it had been broken into. "What happened?" He wondered aloud.

"Someone burned down the Quibbler offices." A woman standing next to him answered as she watched the scene before her.

"The Quibbler?" Fred felt the small bit of dread in his stomach grow.

"Yeah, someone must not have liked what they were printing." The woman answered again.

"Or what they were about to print." Fred grumbled.

"Well, if that’s the case then whoever did this failed." Said a man answered from behind them. "I saw the truck pull up this morning to pick up the magazines. I figured Zany Xeno had to have found something big to print a special issue."

Fred’s heart fluttered with hope. "Well, I’ll have to make sure to pick up a copy. See what it was someone didn't want us all to see." he said slyly. Everyone around him started talking about the magazine and he walked away wearing a smile of satisfaction. Glancing at the Aurors, he finally found a few he recognized and luckily Tonks was among them. "Hey! Hey Tonks!" He called, pushing his way through the crowd. He was stopped at the edge of the street by a few guards, but seeing him Tonks told them to let him by.

"What are you doing here?" She asked as he walked over.

"I had a meeting set up with Lee over at my store. I saw all the smoke and came to see what happened. Where’s Mr. Lovegood? Did he make it out?" Fred felt nervous on Luna’s behalf.

"Yes, he did. He alerted us right after Albus." Tonks answered absently before yelling out instructions to her team.

"Dumbledore told you this was going to happen?"

"Apparently Luna had a vision, the same one her father had a few moments later." She said with a slight smile. "It’s only too bad we weren’t in time to save the building."

"It’ll be okay. It can be rebuilt. The real target is safe." He assured her.

"What real target?" She looked at him suspiciously.

"The article about Lucius." He answered before saying goodbye and heading back into the crowd to ensure more people picked up a copy of the magazine.

(BREAK)

"Luna-" Harry began, finally breaking the long tense silence between them. But thankfully the headmaster’s return prevented him from saying anything more.

"Come with me, Luna." Dumbledore placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and led her to the fireplace. "Go ahead, we’ve secured the connection. It is safe for right now but that could change in an instant."

She eagerly knelt before the flames as Xeno’s face appeared within them. "Daddy!" tears fell freely down her face.

"I’m okay, love. I promise. I saw it in time to get out, but the building couldn’t be saved." He said sadly, telling her what she already knew.

"I don’t care! I only care that you’re alive." She cried.

"I know. Rest easy little Luna, I am alive and well." Xeno answered soothingly. "I’m with your grandmother right now in our secret place." He looked at her knowingly. She of course knew he meant they were at the safe house. Her father had set it up right after Kane died, since he knew from that moment on he would be involved in the war.

"Aurors have already been sent to your offices to assess the damages." Dumbledore told Xeno. "They are searching for Elise as we speak."

"They won’t find her." Xeno said angrily, looking to his daughter for confirmation.

"Not this time they won’t." Luna agreed sadly. Though she and Harry had left the woman bound in the alley, she knew Elise had gone by the time Tonks and her Aurors arrived, possibly with Elanya’s help. She couldn’t imagine those girls would go far from each other, not unless it served some personal purpose.

"But at least she didn’t accomplish her goal!" Xeno said, his mood instantly brightening. "The magazine was sent out for circulation today. By tomorrow morning, the Quibbler and the article about Lucius will be in stores all over the country."

It was the last thing she wanted to think about, the reason her father had become a target in the first place. "Oh, daddy." She shook her head and offered him a sad smile. Although it explained why he had so easily walked away from the building- he’d already accomplished his mission.

"We mustn’t keep this line open too long my love. I promise to find a way to contact you again soon."

She smiled wider. "Okay, now promise you won’t forget you promised."

"I love you. Be safe." Xeno answered as he disappeared from the fire.

Luna rose unsteadily, but only made it as far as the chair in front of the desk. She slumped into it with a mixture of exhausted relief and frustrated anger brewing in her gut. Dumbledore came forward and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Arthur is sending Tonks here tonight after she is done with the investigation. She will be able to tell us then what exactly happened."

"I know what happened." She said darkly. "Lucius somehow found out about the article and sent Elise to try and destroy everything before it could come out."

"Lucius did? Why would Elise take orders from Lucius?" Harry asked.

"I don’t know." She answered through clenched teeth, trying to keep control on the wild emotions running rampant through her. She couldn’t, it came out of her in an explosion as she leapt to her feet. "Why don’t you go find out? It’s your fault anyway! You should have never involved my father in this! You had to have realized it would have made him a target, that it was something he’d never walk away from! You heard him! He’s still determined to ensure the magazine goes out, he could have died tonight!" She stormed out of the room not really knowing or caring what she’d just said, certain her sentiment had been made clear- she was mad: at Harry, at her father and at the world.

"Luna!" Harry called after her and she knew he was following her. She ran as fast as she could wanting to be as far away as possible. Couldn’t she go anywhere alone anymore? Throwing open the front doors she ran outside, ignoring the hard rain that had instantly soaked through her school robes. She stumbled, slipping on the wet grass but caught her balance and ran on, her legs burning and her side cramping as she pushed herself to move faster. It felt good, to be moving so quickly, to feel the cold rain on her hot skin, to be out in the open with freedom stretching out in all directions.

Finally her legs simply gave out on her, unable to keep up with her desire to go. She fell to her knees and leaned forward, resting her head against the soft grass as she struggled to catch her breath. The sobbing came quickly and violently, racking her whole body. There was so much she’d been holding back, so much she shoved down deep inside herself, that at last she couldn’t hold back the release she’d so desperately needed. She let herself cry even as she felt Harry come up behind her.

"Luna, please!" He said breathlessly as he collapsed next to her. He put his arms around her, pulling her close and for a moment she let herself cling to him crying into his shoulder as he tightened his hold, trying desperately to offer comfort.

But reason over took her and she shoved him away. "Leave me alone." She demanded coldly.

"Why Luna? I’m sorry! Okay, I’m sorry I involved your dad, I didn’t think it through. I mean I knew it would be dangerous, but you were willing to break into Azkaban to solve Kane’s murder, I figured you’d think the risk was worth it." He reached out to wipe her tears- a gesture only considering the rain, but she knew he was trying to show that he wanted to take care of her.

He had no idea his words stabbed her through the heart. She knew she had no right to be angry with him for his plan resulting in what could have possibly inured her father, considering her plan to go to the prison had actually nearly killed him. She knew he hadn’t said it to make her feel guilty, that he’d simply reasoned out his own logic for taking the actions he had. But it didn’t stop her from feeling the wave of guilty shame that swept over her. She shoved his hand away, wanting to rise to her feet and walk away. But her legs felt like jelly so she settled for turning from him and crawling away. "Leave me alone Harry."

She sat up and brought her knees to her chest, hugging herself as she prayed that he would do as she asked. But of course he didn’t. He came around and knelt in front of her, taking her hand. She looked up into his eyes searching for his intentions. They were shimmering greener than the lush scenery around them and held only concern for her. "Please, just leave me alone." She begged once more.

He shook his head sadly, drops of rain streaking down his face. "I can’t." he said softly, just loud enough to heard over the storm.

Her breath caught in her throat as Gabby’s final words to her once more invaded her mind. "Why not?" she demanded, waiting for…something, some answer that would finally bring relief. Harry stared back at her blankly, as if the question had never occurred to him, as if he hadn’t considered that there had to be a reason.

And then he shrugged, as if the solution was the easiest thing in the world. "Because I love you." He said simply.

 

 

 

NOTE: This may be the last chapter I’m able to get up before they close the queue for a break. But fear not, this story will continue to update. Coming up: Harry and Luna finaly hash out the fight between them, Hermione and Fred find a way to communicate, Draco and Lupin leave for the full moon, news about Willem, and Fred sees some strange people outside Harry’s house… Stay tuned!
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