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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 31: Exposing the Enemy

A/N: Welcome back! Lots to learn, so away we go!

 

Harry’s words hung in the air between them, full of intentionally unintended emotion. Luna had asked him why, had needed a reason for why he couldn’t just let her be as she was begging him to do. And so he had given her one that had stunned them both into silence. He felt he had somehow put one foot too far over the edge- of what he wasn’t sure. But he had to find a way to fix it. "I could never just leave you like this, I couldn’t leave any of them if they were as distressed as you are, Luna. So there it is, I love you, I love all my friends! What else can I do?"

"How about doing what we ask?!" she exploded, jumping to her feet. He saw her stumble as her legs buckled a bit but she quickly recovered and turned to him as he also stood. "If you love me so much, then why can’t you just do what I want and go away!" she actually reached out and shoved him.

"No!" He shouted, refusing to back down any longer. "Not until you tell me what’s wrong! What did I do, Luna?"

She threw her hands up in the air. "What have you done?! What haven’t you done?! It’s all one in the same."

"But what does that mean!" He practically screamed at her, frustrated beyond anything he’d ever felt. "Just talk to me already, please! I’m sorry for it all, for everything that brought us here. I’m sorry about the article, but I only did it as part of the reason to bring Xeno around because I felt bad for making you stay at my house when it was so clear you wanted to leave. I wanted to bring your dad to you, I didn’t know it was wrong!"

"Of course you didn’t. Because you just expect everything to work out the way you want it to. Haven’t you realized yet that nothing ever happens the way you plan- the way any of us plan!" She stared at him earnestly, as if there was something very specific she was referring to- some plan he had that was somehow wrong. He regarded her blankly, perhaps purposely refusing to interpret her words. She shook her head, blinking the rain from her eyes. "Of course you haven’t."

As she started to walk away he felt himself become desperate and angry, reaching out and grabbing her arm to halt her retreat. "Hey! You were fine involving your father and the Quibbler back when Umbridge was around! Or have you forgotten the article Rita Skeeter wrote?"

She angrily shook him off. "Of course I remember, but I’m not talking about the article anymore Harry. And until you’re ready to realize that, I have nothing more to say to you. I told you in the hospital, remember… when you were begging me to stay… I said I couldn’t do this much longer. I meant it."

He recalled the conversation, it had been the first time he’d felt the need to assure Luna that he loved her. But he hadn’t then, feeling it was somehow wrong. Now that he had uttered those words it still felt wrong and the argument now brewing as heavily between them as the storm surrounding them was proof of that. "Well, I can’t have things like this anymore either. So what do we do about it?" The question was heavily loaded, and made him realize what they were both doing- they were each trying to goad the other into being the first to admit to some things. He tried to tell her without telling her, through his eyes, that he needed her to go first.

She shook her head. "We give it time." She said softly. Harry felt a warm, soothing sensation invade him, calming his nerves and making him feel completely at ease.

And then he realized it was her doing it and he snapped out of it, pushing her presence so violently from his mind that she actually stumbled a few steps in the physical world. "What are you doing?"

She actually sneered at him. "Trying to help. Sorry I didn’t ask first."

Harry faced away, emitting a loud growl of frustration before turning to shout at her. "You are the most frustrating person I’ve ever met in my life!"

"Me!?" She yelled back. "I’m the frustrating one! You’re the one who’s always been able to willfully ignore whatever you wanted!"

She tried to walk past him but he blocked her path, refusing to let her have the last word in all of this. "And you’re the one who’s always been able to willfully withhold whatever you wanted!" He threw back at her.

She once more tried to shake him off her, but this time he didn’t dare let go, seeing she had the intention to run again. Her eyes were filled with a sorrowful fury as she pushed against him. "If I do it’s because none of you are ever ready to hear anything I have to say! You think I want to be the one to mess it all up for everyone? I don’t!"

He took her by the shoulders, peering at her through the rain. He didn’t know what to say, wasn’t sure where to go from here. Anything he could say would put both feet out over the edge and leave him tumbling in free-fall as everything circled in chaos around him. Apparently she had realized it too, they were both at a precipice but neither was willing to take such a dangerous leap. He saw her eyes fill with tears once more; without thinking and despite her continued attempt to get away from him, he pulled her to him and wrapped his arms tightly around her. At first she struggled, and then she gave in, grabbing the back of his shirt in her fists as she buried her head in his shoulder.

Standing there so close, he could feel the release of emotions surging through her. He opened his mind completely to her as she unconsciously unloaded so much of the burden she’d been carrying. The despair over her brother and the anniversary of his murder… the fear for her father and everyone else in her life… the exhaustion derived from trying to catch up with the future and the secrets she had to keep as a result… the impatience for the present and having to wait for things to come to pass- he felt it all. He took it on himself, hoping to offer her a bit of relief for a short time. But when he touched on her anguished frustration with him they both pulled back, releasing and stepping away from each other.

Lightening ripped through the sky above them followed by a resounding boom of thunder. Harry could feel the electricity in the air, crackling around them as they stared breathlessly at each other. "Luna…" He choked out her name, still not knowing what to say, but words hadn’t always been necessary for them.

"I know." She answered his unspoken struggle. There’s too much in the way right now. Her voice whispered sadly across his mind.

So what do we do about it? He asked again. The wind was picking up, whipping hard drops of rain into his face.

As she struggled for an answer, another bolt of hot white lightening slashed through the clouds, striking a tree less than twenty feet from them. Harry pulled Luna back a bit as they watched splinters fly through the air while the ruined branch fell to the ground, scorched by nature’s fire. The enormous clap of thunder that followed seconds later startled them both, and they reached out to grab the other’s arm in support as the ground seemed to shake beneath their feet. Turning to be sure she was okay he met her eyes, once more finding himself too comfortably close to her. He felt drawn in by the mystery behind her eyes, which were now regarding him with a sparkling clear blue intensity. This time he felt the crackling electricity invade him, coursing through him and heightening his senses. He watched her expression become uncertain, and then pained.

He felt the very careful control he’d been keeping slip away as lost himself in her eyes, which were telling him so much. He gently reached out to cup her cheek, caressing her soft skin with his thumb as she rested her face against his palm, each of them giving into this small moment. But as he leaned in even closer she dropped her gaze, placing her hand over his and pulling away. She shook her head. "Now we wait. Harry. For it to be right. Until it’s time." She said softly, still looking at the ground. "Until then, please leave me alone, okay?"

He knew she was pleading with him and this time he didn’t have the fortitude to deny her. It was all too much, too important, too heavy. "Okay." He quietly nodded his agreement.

Without another word she walked past him, back toward the castle. Harry didn’t stop her, but he’d wanted to. Instead, he turned and made his own way back to school, being sure to take the long way around the lake so as not to run into Luna. By the time he made it back he was soaked through to his bones, his fingertips wrinkling from so much time spent out in the wet afternoon. He half-heartedly waved his wand behind him to clean the trail of water he left as he made his way to the dorm, praying Luna was already safely locked away in her own room. A brief scan with his mind as he stood outside the door told him she wasn’t in the dorm at all. He wasn’t sure where she’d gone, but he knew better than to go looking for her. Instead he pushed his concerns aside feeling confident that if she were in trouble she’d let him know. With a heavy sigh he pushed open the door and entered the common room where he was dismayed to find Hermione and Ron waiting for him.

"Where have you been? You’ve missed an entire class!" Hermione instantly scolded him. He turned away, unable to look her in the face.

Ron scoffed. "Well obviously he’s been outside. Unless you decided to go for a swim?" He grinned at Harry.

"I was outside." He answered shortly before turning to the Gryffindor wing and hurrying to his room.

They quickly followed. "Well, why were you out in this weather?" Hermione demanded.

"I was looking for Luna." He answered truthfully.

He caught the glance they threw each other. "Yeah, we heard about what happened." Ron admitted. "We went to Lupin looking for you and he told us about Elise and the fire and the Quibbler offices."

Harry didn’t want to admit that he and Luna had actually been there to see it all unfold for themselves. There was a lot he didn’t want to admit. "So then you know that Mr. Lovegood made it out. Well, Luna got a little scared and a lot angry and she took off out of Dumbledore’s office. I wanted to make sure she was okay."

Ron shook his head. "Man I remember how I felt when dad was attacked by that stupid snake. It was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone."

"Exactly." Harry agreed. "If you don’t mind guys, I really need to change clothes. And I think I need to lay down for a little bit too." He pulled off his sopping school robe, wringing it out in the water basin before grabbing fresh clothes and beginning to strip down.

"But we have another class in twenty minutes." Hermione protested.

"I just don’t feel so great right now. My head hurts and it’s all stuffy." He answered, pulling on his refreshingly dry T-shirt and throwing his school clothes in the corner.

"You probably caught a cold, running around out there." Ron said with a small bit of concern. "Luna will probably get sick too."

Harry saw Hermione’s face darken and knew what she was thinking- once more he’d followed Luna only to suffer the consequences, though catching a cold was nowhere near as severe as the Azkaban fiasco had been. He couldn’t resent her for the thought, but it stung none the less. "Will you please just cover for me in Herbology? Just so I can get a nap and I promise I’ll be up and ready for Defense."

"Of course that’s the class you’ll risk your health to make it to." She rolled her eyes.

"It is the most important one." Ron said on his behalf.

"Please, Mione?" He once more begged, just wanting to be alone.

She regarded him suspiciously for a moment before shaking her head with an aggravated smile. "Fine, but only because I know I’ll take better notes for you than Ron will."

"You’re right about that. I’ll be in class but you won’t be the only one napping, mate." He grinned.

"Thanks guys. I appreciate it." Harry answered, climbing into his bed.

"No problem, see you in a bit." Ron replied, walking out to gather his books.

Hermione remained, still looking at him suspiciously. Though almost certain he didn’t have a reason to be, he felt extremely guilty under her gaze. "So, is she okay?"

"Who?" He was genuinely confused, taken off guard by the question.

"Luna, you followed her out into this storm… is she okay?"

His heart thumped in his chest but he forced himself to remain calm. "Oh, I have no idea. I couldn’t find her. I came back because the lightening was starting to get really close."

Now she looked really suspicious. "And you left her out there wandering by herself?" her tone was skeptical.

"I ran into some Ravenclaw girl and asked if she’d seen Luna and she said she’d seen her come in ten minutes earlier. She’s in the castle somewhere." He tried to sound nonchalant, as if knowing she was safely indoors ended his worries about Luna.

"Well, if you see her before I do, let her know I’m here if she needs me, okay? It’s just terrible about what almost happened to her dad, and I can easily imagine how she feels."

He blinked in surprise, hearing real concern in her words. Had he imagined the suspicion? Was he feeling guiltier than he’d thought? He certainly hated lying to her.

"She’ll probably turn up at dinner." He assured her, though he was nowhere near sure himself.

"Well anyway I have to get to class, I’ll make sure to come wake you before Defense." She walked over and leaned down to kiss him good-bye and he instinctively turned his face.

Seeing her confused and hurt expression, he quickly fumbled out an explanation. "I might be ill, can’t risk you catching it too. You’d kill me if you had to miss any school."

She offered up a small grin. "Well, you’re right about that." Then she leaned over once more, placing a light kiss on his cheek. "I’ll be back in a little while and unless you’re about to die, you’ll be going to class."

"Yes ma’am." His smile faded as she walked out, closing the door behind her. He turned over on his side, staring at the stone wall as he thought. He wasn’t sure why he’d chosen to lie to Hermione, he felt horrible about it and all it had done was make him actually feel guilty. He closed his eyes with a deep sigh, trying to figure out his life.

(BREAK)

Luna reached the Room of Requirement just in time. As she closed the door behind her, the intense anguish she’d been carrying for more than a week overwhelmed her. It had started after Azkaban and continued to grow until it had become an unbearable driving force, boring into her soul. Today had been too much, between her father’s near escape and Harry’s confrontation with her, she felt like she’d been put through the ringer- although she’d already considered and thought she’d been prepared for both situations.

Dropping to her knees she let the tears come, sobbing with an uncontrolled freedom. Her wet, tangled hair fell into her face and she shivered in her damp clothes. Finally able to pull herself together, she waved her wand, drying herself off and lighting a fire in the small fireplace that had been in the room when she’d entered. As she held her shaky hands out to the flames trying to get warm, she felt Gabby’s private words to her once more push themselves into her mind. It wasn’t anything she wanted to think about, nothing she wanted to hear at the moment, but the entire scene overtook her memory.

Closing her eyes, she was once more in Dumbledore’s office saying good-bye to the healer. She had just thanked Gabby for fixing Harry when the woman regarded her with a kind and knowing smile. "Oh Luna, my new little moonbeam." She had said before pulling her in for a tight hug. And then she had pulled back, resting their foreheads together before the woman’s soothing voice had swept through her like a cool breeze. It is important to know that the head is fooled easily but the heart never is because it sees more clearly. The heart never questions as much as the head because it knows more. But you must always remember Luna, the heart can be quieter than the head because it already knows what it wants. Sometimes, it simply takes longer for some to hear the truth they already know.

Luna opened her eyes, bringing her back to the present. She shook her head to clear the words out, feeling that was all well and good- but what Gabby forgot was that sometimes no matter what the heart knows, lives can be too complicated to disclose that knowledge. That sometimes, it was better to ignore the heart and listen to the lies the head tells. After all, it lies for a reason… doesn’t it?

(BREAK)

Ginny was pretty worried by the time Luna completely missed a second class. Dumbledore had pulled her aside and informed her of what had occurred when she’d expressed her concern for her absent friend. Thankfully, the headmaster took pity on them and finally let them have an hour break before their third and final class for the afternoon. She hurried to the dorm, rushing down the Ravenclaw wing to Luna’s room. She knocked for awhile just to be sure the other girl wasn’t in there.

Walking back into the common room, she was just in time to see Ron and Hermione walk in with a few other seventh years. "Hey, have you guys seen Luna?"

They shook their heads. "Harry went after her but he lost her. She’s somewhere in the castle though." Hermione answered.

Ginny found it odd that Harry would just give up once he set out to find Luna, he never gave up on anything or anyone. She realized he had probably lied to his girlfriend, making her very interested to know what he and Luna had actually discussed. Deciding to let Hermione keep believing the lie she so obviously wanted to believe, she pushed on. "Well what about Draco? Where did he go?" She’d noticed right away that he hadn’t walked in with the others.

Ron’s face darkened a bit as he answered her. "He took off right after class. Said he wanted to be alone for awhile. I guess he needed time to go be all moody."

"He has a lot to be moody about." Ginny shot back.

"Oh yeah, almost time for him to leave for a couple of days. I can’t wait." Ron said, collapsing into the couch.

"He also had his last treatment today, you could be nicer you know." Hermione scolded him. He merely scoffed in return.

But Ginny was taken aback. They hadn’t really had a chance to talk that day and after his anger over what had happened with Tristan earlier she hadn’t seen him at all. She was a bit hurt that Draco wouldn’t tell her that he’d had his last treatment, it was a big moment in his life and he hadn’t shared it with her. "Well, where’s Harry? I need to ask him something." She had made the plan instantly, and then realized Harry was also no where to be seen. Why was everyone coming up missing?

"He’s not feeling well, but I have to go wake him up for Defense in a little while." Hermione offered.

A little while wasn’t good enough… "So he’s in his room then?" She walked down the Gryffindor wing, the others jumping to follow her.

"You can’t just barge into someone’s room." Ron argued.

"I’m not barging in anywhere, I’m knocking." She said as she reached Harry’s door and raised her arm to do just that.

He opened the door, his bleary eyes widening as he took them all in. "What’s going on?" he asked cautiously.

"I need to borrow the map." Ginny blurted out.

He appeared confused. "Why?"

"To find Luna and Draco." She answered, insinuating with her eyes that was all the information he’d get out of her.

With a sigh he turned and dug through his trunk, producing the Marauder’s map. "Is it time for class already?" He asked the others as he handed it over to her.

"You have about half an hour." Ron assured him.

Having what she wanted, Ginny thanked Harry and went on her way, knowing that since she had considerably more time before her next class than Draco did she had to hurry. She followed the dot representing him until it disappeared off the map. But that was okay, she knew where he was heading- Fred had taken her there once before.

(BREAK)

Fred walked into his store feeling satisfied. He’d gone through the entire crowd, exciting people to the idea that someone was trying to keep the Quibbler from releasing an important story. He was sure that after tomorrow, it would be the best selling issue ever. "Hey, you’re late." Lee said, coming out of the back office.

"Yeah, sorry. I got caught up using a near tragedy to its best advantage." Fred grinned, putting down his sample case. "Where are the test subjects?"

"Only one agreed to come back, guess he’s really hard up for the money." Lee answered with a twinkle in his eye. "Oh hey, before I forget- I asked around about Elanya liked you asked the other day."

"And?"

"Seems no one knows who her father is or how her mother died. No one knows where she went after she left London and no one is really sure about where she is now."

"She’s standing right behind you." A soft feminine voice said from the doorway. There was a hint of some kind of exotic accent in there, making her tone nearly musical in Fred’s ears. "Hello boys." Her lips curved into a lusciously tempting smile as they turned to take in the image of her. Her long dark hair glowed red against the sun streaming through the window and her warm golden honey eyes regarded them with seductive amusement. She stood before them in a bold red dress that accented her body in all the right places, her body language telling them she was inviting them to look... and they did. In a word, she was breathtaking.

"Elanya?" Lee sputtered out.

"The one and only. It’s been a long time boys, but I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced. Elanya Delamora." She reached out a long slender arm, offering to shake hands in greeting.

Lee actually stepped forward, looking quite eager to greet the evil beauty. Fred grabbed his arm to stop him. "Get a hold of yourself, man!" he scolded in a harsh whisper before turning back to their visitor. "What do you want?" he asked her rudely, wanting to show that her wiles had no effect on him- even if it was a lie.

"I was in town and just wanted to drop in on a couple of old school friends." She shot them a dazzling smile.

"You didn’t even know our names back in school." Fred shot back. Harry had told him what he and Luna had seen in Sarah’s head; he knew of the girls’ plan to have Elanya get close to someone. Well he sure wasn’t going to be that sucker and he wasn’t going to let Lee fall for it either.

"But I know them now. Fred Weasley and Lee Jordan, I am pleased to finally meet two of the many people I’ve been hearing so much about." She tried another smile.

"From your friends Sarah and Elise?" He prodded, seeing what she’d admit to, what her aim was.

"Maybe. Maybe I just remember you more than you thought." She answered coyly. "Maybe I noticed you and your brother more than you realized back in school. You should really think more highly of yourself."

"What I think it that you’re full of it." He countered. "If you think I’d believe a word you say, you’re as crazy as your pal Sarah."

"She’s not so crazy. She’s just been severely wronged. As have I." Elanya slunk loser to them, swaying her hips as she moved in such a mesmerizing way. "As soon as we right those who’ve wronged us, we’ll be done. We aren’t after world domination you know." She pouted. "I take offense that you think I would just want to hurt you, someone wholly unconnected to my situation. I’m not a monster. None of us are, we don’t want to hurt any of you."

Fred willfully crossed his arms. "Funny, Sarah sure seemed intent on hurting Harry and Luna. Cho wants to destroy all of us. And Elise just had a little barbecue over at the Quibbler offices that nearly killed Xeno Lovegood and destroyed half the block!"

"Sarah, Elise and I are caught up in circumstance. Those two incidents had nothing to so with us or our goals, we were following orders. We have nothing against this Potter kid or any of the rest of you." She protested. "As for Cho, Sarah is the only one involved with her."

And here Fred also sensed she was lying, remembering Draco’s certainty that they intended to break Cho out after his visit to the prison. But perhaps it was better to play along… "Okay, so if you really don’t want to involve us, then I ask you again, why are you here?"

"Because…" she looked down, struggling for words. He found it a convincing act. And then she once more looked up, her golden eyes full of grief and uncertainty. He was caught up in her gaze, wondering just how she could fake the sincerity he saw there. "Because I need help."

"Hey! Are we going to test products or what?" Someone said from behind them. Fred and Lee glanced at each other before whipping around to find Zander Bradford, one of their more eager test subjects. They’d forgotten he was there.

"What products? Are you reopening your store?" Elanya asked innocently.

Zander, having spotted such a pretty girl eagerly came forward, desperate to gain her attention. "They sure are, and I’m helping them test their new products! Taking the place in a whole new direction they are, going to help a lot of people-"

He was cut off when Fred grabbed him as he walked by, placing a hand over his mouth to stop the outpour of information. Then still holding onto the other boy to ensure his continued cooperation he turned to Elanya with a hard glare. "Yes, we’re reopening. Had to do a lot of renovation after Elise set fire to the place. But that was probably her just following orders, right? Destroying the shop I built with my brother, it was just business, right?"

"I’m sorry for that and I wish I could say she was too. I don’t always agree with their methods, but as I said- I have a score to settle and they are the best people to help me achieve it. Or so I thought. I had hoped you and your friends would agree to help me so that I could… well, so I could start breaking ties with them." She hung her head, lowering her voice as she continued. "They frighten me sometimes."

Fred hoped he had enough righteous anger to hold out because this girl was certainly dangerous. Glancing at the other two boys, he saw how eager they seemed, how much they wanted to reach out and comfort her. He held steadfast, thinking of how disappointed Hermione would be in him if he fell for something so obvious. He would be strong and aware, and he wouldn’t let his eyes or his hormones trick him into something he knew he couldn’t trust. "I don’t see how we could help."

She simply nodded, regarding him sadly. "Perhaps this was the wrong time. I should go."

"I think that’s a good idea." He answered stonily.

She shot him one more troubled glance, still silently asking for his help. He remained impassive. "Okay then. I’ll see you all around I’m sure." She said shooting a small smile over her shoulder as she exited.

Fred let out the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, also releasing Zander. "Hey, what was the problem? She seemed nice enough."

"Yeah, that was the problem, right?" Lee turned to him.

"Right." Fred answered, still staring out the door. He couldn’t wait for the first Hogwarts visit to Hogsmeade. He had vaguely planned it before, but now he was going to insist that Harry meet up with him so he could use the ring. He needed to talk to George. "Let’s just get back to work, alright?"

"Whatever you say boss." Lee said with a shrug and a smirk.

Fred watched as his friend grabbed the sample case and led Zander back to the office… assuring him the whole time that they’d already tested most of the products on themselves. He was left alone in the front of the store, watching people walk by through the clouded glass. He couldn’t decide what to do- should he tell the others about the visit he was just paid or hold out to wait and see what happens?

If he told them, he worried about how they’d take it, what their reactions would be. They were a bunch of rash thinkers, with Harry topping the list. And the last thing he wasted was for them to worry about his safety while they had so much to concern themselves with up at school. And if he told his parents, well his mother would insist he keep the store closed and he couldn’t do that- George and Hermione were counting on him to succeed. But he couldn’t keep something like this to himself, could he?

(BREAK)

Draco was a man without an island. He didn’t know where to go that wouldn’t be filled with any number of other people. He shot out of the Herbology classroom and just kept walking, going further and further down into the school. He remembered having been spying on Fred one day last year, and seeing the other boy disappear behind a certain statue. He hadn’t followed then, but he’d been sure that Fred had gone through one of the many secret doors that the Weasley Twins had been rumored to know about. He went there now, opening the door and staring down a dark earthy tunnel that seemed to slope downward. He went without hesitation, not caring where it led, not caring if he missed his next class, not caring about much at all.

He lit his wand as the tunnel grew darker, feeling no fear but a ton of curiosity. Eventually he caught a dull sparkle a little farther ahead and raced toward it, eager to see where he was being led. He stopped short when he entered the cavern, awed into stillness. Cloudy daylight broke through a crevice, hitting the sharply beautiful crystals growing all around him. He felt extremely peaceful for once, the wolf put comfortably to rest as he was invaded by a sort of cleansing wave of energy from the stones. He felt his mind relax and for the first time in days he was able to think clearly.

"Hey." Ginny said quietly from behind him, though her voice echoed around him.

He closed his eyes, preparing for whatever happened. "Hey." He returned, waiting for her to continue on. He wanted to feel as angry as he had before, but he couldn’t, the crystals wouldn’t allow anything but serenity.

"How mad at me are you?" She asked shyly as a slight grin of apology emerged.

"I don’t know." He answered honestly.

"I couldn’t just walk past that kid. It wouldn’t have been right. I never would have stood for it before and I want to be that person again, who I was when I was younger." She explained slowly, as if reasoning it out for herself as well.

"And therein lies the problem, Ginny. I could have walked by him, he wasn’t anything to me. And that’s who I’ve always been." He felt ashamed by the admission, but he refused to look away. If she expected him to accept her completely, then she needed to do the same.

"But you got involved for me." She pointed out.

"Because you aren’t nothing to me." He countered. "But you know that. What is it you want me to admit?"

"Nothing you don’t want to." She said crossing her arms. "But I’m willing to admit I don’t like that you wouldn’t have helped that kid. I also hate that you’re mad that I tried."

"And so that means what?" he asked calmly.

"I don’t know, I don’t intend to change and I suppose it’s only fair that I not expect you to either. But I can live with it… as long as you can deal with the fact that I’m not the kind of person who backs down." She took a few tentative steps toward him, shuffling her feet as she waited out on the limb she’d just placed herself on.

He offered her a smile. "I think I forced myself to accept that way at the beginning of this… whatever this is between us. You know, back when you refused to change your mind about giving the ring back?"

"If we’re going to start reminding each other of our mistakes, we’ll be here all day." She warned him. "So… am I forgiven then?"

"I suppose. I guess I’ll just have to make sure I stick close to Potter, in case you keep getting yourself into trouble." He teased, feeling much lighter now. His arm began to throb dully, his mind able to take in the pain now that his mind had been relieved of the pressure of fighting with Ginny. It had been awhile since he had taken the pain pills and so he reached into his pocket, where he’d kept them loose so he wouldn’t have to fumble with the cap. He saw her displeasure as he swallowed one down. "Something wrong?"

"Yeah. Now it’s your turn to ask me how mad I am at you." She answered, standing taller and placing her hands on her hips in mock anger.

He grinned. "Okay, how mad at me are you?"

"Pretty mad." She said smugly. "How come you didn’t tell me you were having your last treatment?"

"I had wanted you there." He admitted. "It wasn’t supposed to happen until tonight, but Drake had to go take care of some things tonight, so he surprised me by moving it up. You were in class."

"A likely story." She grinned, slinking a few steps closer. "You really wanted me to be there?"

"I really did." He smiled back at her, opening his arms as she threw herself at him, wrapping her own arms tightly around his neck. They were both relieved to have so easily gotten past yet another brief fight. He wondered if they were just priming themselves for the tougher issues yet to come.

She pulled back far enough to quickly yet passionately crush her lips to his. He had expected the wolf to rise up, but it remained asleep and he was grateful- though a wave of disappointment rolled through his body when she broke contact. "We better get you to class. Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble already."

"Are you going to walk me there?" he teased, stooping to pick up his book bag.

"If you’re nice to me I will." She shot back with a sly and seductive grin.

Hand in hand they began the long walk back up to the school hallway. "So how did you know where I was?"

She pulled out a folded up parchment. "I had a map." She answered with a grin. He listened with amusement as she told him about the history of the map, from it’s original creators- Lupin, Sirius, James and Peter- to the many ways the current generation had found it useful. Though he still felt relaxed, the further they grew from the cavern the more he felt the wolf stir up within him. Had he somehow found a way to contain the beast? He intended to find out, planning to experiment by coming back and taking a piece of crystal with him when he and Lupin left.

As they reached the entrance, he gasped, falling to his knees as he was gripped by a sudden and terrible pain. "What’s wrong?!" Ginny asked, remaining calm though her eyes were frenzied with concern.

He could almost feel his hand lengthening as the potion worked it’s magic. He gripped it tightly with the other, hugging the injured part of him to his body as the hot fiery agony spread through his body. "I guess one pain pill wasn’t enough." He answered through gritted teeth.

"Where are they?" She asked.

"In here." He reached with his good hand but it was shaking so badly he couldn’t make it into his pocket.

She batted his hand away, digging into his pocket and coming up with several pills. "How many?"

"Two." He choked out. Although Drake had assured him that the pain potion produced no side effects, the healer had also been sure to warn him that taking any more than three in an hour could upset his stomach.

She tried to put them in his hand, but he kept shaking and dropping them. She held the pills out and he tried to grab them from her but again he found it impossible. "Oh, open your mouth already." She said with frustrated pity. Having no other choice and not being able to stand the pain of regrowing his bones he obliged, letting her feed him the pills. She quickly waved her wand, producing a cup and filling it with water. He drank it as if he’d never tasted liquid before, and she quickly refilled it twice more for him before he was able to slow down and catch his breath. "Well that was scary." She said once he’d returned to normal, the searing pain had returned to a dull throb and was well on it’s way to disappearing all together.

"So you glad you were there for it?" He asked, gulping down one last cup of water.

"Not really. But I’m glad I was able to be there for you." She brushed his hair back and ruffled it before kissing his cheek. "You need a hair cut. You’re getting awfully shaggy and unkempt. It’s so unlike you."

"That’s why I kinda like it." He said, allowing her to help him to his feet. He appreciated that she had moved past that mortifying moment, acting now as if it hadn’t happened.

She walked with him all the way to the Defense classroom where he was dismayed to find that class had already started. He was more than ten minutes late. Remembering McGonagall’s warning that tardy students wouldn’t be permitted to stay, he decided to press his luck and see just how much a part of Potter’s group he was. After all, he was sure an exception would be made for any member of the Golden Trio- not that Granger would ever permit the other two to keep her from making it on time to anything. Ginny squeezed his hand before he turned and walked into class with his head held high.

"Mr. Malfoy! Thank you for finally deciding to join us." Lupin said in a stern tone, though his eyebrow was cocked and a small smile played around his lips.

"Sorry." He said taking a seat next to Weasley, who looked less than pleased with his chosen seat. Potter and Granger regarded him curiously but he shook his head at them, implying it was nothing he wanted to discuss.

"Okay, now that the interruption is over let’s get back to our lesson." Lupin moved to the board, but Tristan’s hand shot into the air.

"Excuse me, sir? I believe Professor McGonagall told us that there were strict rules regarding lateness… shouldn’t Draco be forced to leave?" He asked, sneering at Draco and Potter. "It doesn’t seem fair that an exception be made for him."

"I was already aware of Mr. Malfoy’s intended tardiness. It was due to a medical condition and there is nothing more you need to know. I don’t have to explain my actions to you Mr. Macnair. Please remember that in the future." Lupin scolded while covering for him with an extremely accurate guess.

"Medical condition… oh that’s right, the full moon is coming. Why don’t we jump ahead to werewolves in honor of Draco, so we can all gain a better understanding of what the two of you go through, Professor." Tristan goaded, stressing the last word with a malicious grin.

Draco looked around the room nervously. Everyone knew Lupin was a werewolf, but Tristan had just outted him to his classmates. They were all staring at him with that horrid mixture of awe, fear and disgust. It was what he had most feared and he clutched the edge of his desk to keep from fleeing the room. He had to appear strong. Weasley must have noticed his struggle, because when Draco glanced over he saw the red head working his jaw angrily. Then Weasley turned and let his words explode out of him. "Lupin already taught us about werewolves before you came here, but now that you’re here, maybe we should start refreshing ourselves about vampires- that way we know how to handle you!"

His outburst had been effective. Those who hadn’t known or suspected Tristan’s affliction appeared shocked, and all eyes were now on the other boy. Draco was amazed that Weasley had actually stood up for him and decided not to write him off completely.

"Everyone settle down!" Lupin tried to regain control of his class. "We’ll go over both of those subjects when we come to them. For right now, let’s get back to discussing advanced disarming spells."

Everyone returned to their books and the lesson, though every once in awhile nervous glances were thrown at him and Tristan. Potter, Granger and Weasley pretended not to notice, acting as if everything were normal. He tried to follow their lead but was finding it difficult. It was taking everything he had to remain calm, to not stir the beast beneath his skin. He shot a pleading glance at Lupin who nodded slightly. As soon as class was over, he asked Draco to stay. "You okay?" the professor asked when the room was empty.

"I was wondering if Drake already gave you any of the wolfsbane yet?"

Lupin offered an empathetic smile. "Having a hard time holding on to yourself here, huh."

"Yeah, a really hard time." He admitted.

"I know exactly how you feel. I actually had him brew it as soon as Albus made me aware that Mr. Macnair would be in my class… just to be safe. Vampires are our unnatural enemies, you know." He reached into his desk and produced a vial. "I already took one earlier today, it was how I was able to hold myself when he started up trouble earlier. I had hoped to give this one to you before class started, but you just had to show up late and instigate things." He grinned as he handed the potion over.

Draco drank it down without hesitation. "I was with Ginny when Drake’s treatment caught up to me really bad." He explained.

"Ah, I thought it may have been something like that after I heard you’d already been given the last dose." Lupin smiled. "I had hoped it wasn’t anything related to the curse. And hey, don’t worry about the wolfsbane, okay? Drake is already brewing more for us to take with in a few days."

"Good. Thanks for getting this round. I’m glad you thought ahead."

"I wish I had thought to warn you about Tristan Mcnair being here. But there was so much going on before we left for school, it slipped my mind as soon as I’d made arrangements with Drake." He said apologetically.

"Don’t worry about it. Like I said, at least you thought ahead enough." Draco shrugged, not sure that knowing before the train would have made much of a difference.

"Well, I’ll see you tomorrow." Lupin grinned.

"Same time, same place." He agreed, saying goodbye and heading out into the hallway where he wasn’t surprised to see the others waiting for him.

"I’m sorry he told everyone." Granger said right away, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"It’s fine." Draco said easily, as if it didn’t bother him.

"If you say so Malfoy. But the whole school will know by the end of dinner." Weasley pointed out unnecessarily.

He held back the sarcastic comment that had instantly risen up in him and instead nodded in agreement. "Which is why I think I’m going to opt out. I’d rather face them all in the morning, I’m too tired to put up with it tonight."

"Maybe I shouldn’t go either. I feel like punching Mcnair in the face." Potter said quietly but menacingly.

"That won’t help anything." Granger replied.

Potter shrugged. "It would make me feel better."

"Thanks, you know… for the support and all." Draco said uneasily to them all at once.

"No problem." Granger answered.

"Yeah, really really don’t mention it, okay?" Weasley grumbled, shuffling his feet.

Draco parted company with them in front of the Great Hall, choosing to just hole up in his own room for the rest of the night. About a half an hour after changing clothes and setting in bed, he heard the tapping at his door that he’d been waiting for. He immediately got up to let her in. "They told me what happened." Ginny said instantly as she just walked in right past him.

He closed the door and turned to her. "And?"

"The whole school is going to know, doesn’t that bother you?"

"Does it bother you?" He asked, peering at her carefully.

She smiled easily, wrapping her arms around him. "Not at all. Maybe now they’ll just decide to leave you and us alone. Ignorant fear does have it’s upside I guess."

He hugged her back, glad that she felt that way. It was along the same lines he’d been thinking and he hoped it worked.

(BREAK)

Hermione awoke feeling lonely yet serene. Harry had insisted they sleep in their own rooms, for fear of her catching whatever bug he thought he caught out in the rain. She was sure there was more to it, but even though it was the first night they were to spend apart in a long time, she hadn’t pushed. She knew there were things he was holding back from her because she knew him too well to fall for his lies, but she played along anyway deciding to ride it out and see where it went. Knowing if she was to survive life with Harry in any form, she’d become aware that she’d have to grow a bit more easy-going and a lot more crafty.

She stretched widely in bed, enjoying the freedom of space, of so much room to herself. Part of her terribly missed having Harry next to her, but another part was luxuriating in his absence. She finally rose feeling rested, dressing for the day in a calm daze as she took her time making herself presentable. Finally feeling she was ready to face the world and with a set plan for the day, she made her way to first Harry’s door and then Ron’s, knocking loudly to ensure they were properly roused had they failed to awaken themselves. She heard a thump as Ron threw something at his door, then his muffled reply. "Alright already, Hermione! I’m up!"

Harry however answered the door pretty quickly, completely dressed, with the books for his morning classes packed safely in his bag. "Well aren’t you the early bird today. Feeling better?" she asked.

"Yeah. Just needed to sleep it off I guess." He answered with his boyish grin, but she saw the discomfort he carried beneath it. Again she reminded herself that she was going to wait him out and pushed the need to confront him back down.

Instead she smiled back, accepting what he told her. "Well I’m glad it wasn’t a serious cold or anything." She knocked again on Ron’s door, eager to get down to breakfast.

"What’s the bloody rush?!" Ron yelled through the door. Harry also looked at her inquisitively.

She didn’t want to admit the reason she was so eager to get downstairs and so she wouldn’t. If she was going to allow him his secrets, then he’d have to do the same for her whether he knew it or not. "I don’t know, I just woke up starving." She grabbed her stomach, which had just given off a very well-timed rumble of hunger. Of course, she hadn’t eaten much the night before, disgusted by the chatter of her peers as they engaged in hushed discussions about Draco all around her.

In actuality, her rush was ensure that she be there as soon as the mail arrived. She knew, just knew Fred’s response would be here today. Of course, she wasn’t thrilled that she’d eventually have to tell Harry so as not to appear suspicious, but she was enjoying the sense of secrecy their work on the potion evoked in her. They were trying very hard to keep Draco or Lupin from learning of their efforts, not wanting either to get their hopes up.

With a sigh, she waited two more minutes before once more rapping on Ron’s door. This time he opened it, his school robe half on and his books spilling from his arms. She smiled, knowing on most other days Harry would have looked just as frazzled. "Okay, I’m ready oh mistress timekeeper." He said sourly. "Let us follow your masterfully prompt clock down to the Hall!" He stood tall and offered a salute before marching into the common room.

"Oh so dramatic!" She taunted, hurrying after him. As they made their way down, she glanced out every window she passed, hoping to see the arrival of the mail owls. But seeing nothing except an overcast but empty sky the entire way, she was disappointed. She hoped the same wouldn’t be true once they actually did show up.

(BREAK)

Ginny woke slowly, languishing in the comfortable warmth of both Draco and the blankets. She smiled as she felt him rouse and wrap his arm more tightly around her, leaning in to kiss her shoulder. He nuzzled the back of her neck, sending shivers of excitement running through her. "Alright, don’t start something you don’t have the time to finish." She said, turning over to face him.

"I can make time." He answered, shooting her what could only be described as a wolfish grin as he reached for her.

She allowed herself to give in for a moment before reminding herself they were already on their way to running late. Playfully shoving him away, she quickly rose out of his bed to prevent thoughts of any more fun. He simply grinned wider, lunging across the bed and grabbing her around the waist. She emitted a surprised squeal of laughter as he tackled her back down, pinning her to the bed before trailing kisses down her neck. She squirmed beneath him in delight, only halfheartedly trying to get free. Leaning up to bite his ear, she was swept away with hot pleasure as he gave a low growl in response, roughly capturing her lips with his as his arousal heightened. All thoughts of time, breakfast and anything coherent left her as they quickly went through a brief performance of the much longer passions they’d shared the night before. By the time they reached a crest together and separated, she was left breathless and sublimely satisfied.

Last month when he’d been this close to the change he’d been so much more unwilling to be around her… of course they hadn’t exactly been on as intimate terms then. She knew he didn’t trust that part of him not to hurt her and he’d told her last night that Drake had brewed him an extra potion to help keep the wolf at bay before the change. And she was so glad he’d taken it, that it made him confident enough to trust himself with her- because what she’d just experienced a few moments before and almost all last night was the most exciting, thrilling, fun, passionate and animalistic thing she’d ever been party to. Not that she had any complaints during the rest of the month, but she now knew that however he may feel about it, these few days where he was caught between man and beast would be her favorite to spend with Draco.

"I suppose that now it’s definitely time to get up." He said a few minutes later, still a bit breathless.

"It certainly is." She answered with a disappointed sigh. She wrapped her arm around his bare torso, resting her head on his chest as she breathed in the softly sweet sweaty smell of him. Then she sat up, suddenly self-conscious as she realized she too was all sweaty and wondered what she smelled like to him with his newly heightened senses.

"Something wrong?" He asked, also sitting up. He appeared so fearful and concerned she had to giggle, knowing he was worried he’d somehow hurt her.

"Yeah, with me." She smiled, leaning in to kiss him seductively.

This time he broke contact. "Okay, let’s not start that again. We’d be in here all day if I had a choice."

"I’m sure we would." She teased.

Going to her own room to dress, Ginny reflected on how happy she felt. But, did how she feel now make up for the times when Draco made her feel stressed, worried, disappointed and doubtful? She decided it did, because even though there were those times when she questioned them as a couple, the feelings were never as strong and never lasted as long as her certainty that she wanted to be with him. She grinned to herself, thinking of what a long strange month it had been and how quickly things had changed.

Meeting up with Draco in the common room, they realized everyone else had already gone down. A glance at the clock told them the meal had started five minutes earlier. They hurried down to the Great Hall together, but she noticed that the closer they got the tighter he gripped her hand. It had slipped her mind in all the activities they’d engaged in the night before but now it all came flooding back to her and a bolt of anger shot through her. She hated Tristan more now than she had instinctively at first sight since she now had a really good reason. He’d had no right to expose Draco’s affliction with the werewolf curse, but it was probably exactly the thing he’d been told to do- possibly by Lucius himself. The bright spot in it all was that he’d also been exposed as a monster, and she felt a sense of pride in Ron, despite the current tension between them because of her choice to be with Draco.

"You okay?" She whispered as they rounded the last corner.

He stopped short just outside the giant doors and took a deep breath. "I guess we’ll see." He answered as he slowly exhaled. She squeezed his hand back as tightly as he was gripping hers and as one they entered the Hall. It had been oddly quiet before they walked in, and after it was silent. And then flutters of whispered conversations flowed through the air around them as she watched kids at all four tables lean into each other with their hands over their mouths. "I’ll see you later." He said quietly before dropping her hand and walking quickly over to the end of the Slytherin table where he sat alone. Looking at the other students, she noticed Tristan wasn’t there. Apparently he’d chosen not to face the school that morning.

As she walked to her own table, a few eyes followed her but most attention remained focused on Draco and as she took her seat between Harry and Ron, she watched as Draco tried to remain sitting tall, with his shoulders back and his head high. She knew he didn’t want to show weakness in front of the others, but she also knew how much this was killing him inside. "He wasn’t here last night either." Harry said quietly.

"What?" Ginny turned to him, confused.

"Tristan- he didn’t show up to dinner last night either. He’s probably waiting to show his face for the first time in a less crowded arena, like class." He explained. He must have picked up her thoughts from earlier and she made sure she strengthened her shields.

"We kind of thought Draco was going to do the same." Hermione added, shooting a pity filled glance in his direction.

"He wanted to show everyone that it didn’t bother him." Ginny explained. Her heart actually hurt watching him try to be so strong when she knew that if she were in his shoes she’d want to do nothing but run. "This is stupid!" she erupted, no longer able to contain herself. She rose and began making her way over.

"Ginny! What are you doing?" Ron called after her.

She ignored him and walked right up to Draco, gesturing to the chair across from him. "Is this seat taken?" She asked in a flirty manner.

"What are you doing?" He asked, looking around with worry.

"Keeping you company. I guess I’ll just have to sit uninvited." She pulled out the chair and settled herself comfortably before reaching for a plate and beginning to fill it with food.

Draco regarded her with a shocked expression. "You’re incredible." He said at last shaking his head.

"I’m not sure if that sounded like a compliment or an insult." She took a bite of her toast and smiled.

"Good, because I’m not sure which way I meant it." He smiled back.

"Miss Weasley! Please return to your own table." Ginny cringed as McGonagall’s voice rang out across the Hall.

Draco looked concerned as she stood and faced the Head table. "If it’s okay, I’d rather not." She replied in a steady voice though her insides were churning. She had just reached a level of defiance she’d never thought to achieve by denying a Professor in front of the whole school.

Once more the Hall was silent as all eyes turned to the front, waiting to see how McGonagall would react to Ginny’s insolence. But before she could speak, Dumbledore rose and took a step in front of his quietly seething professor. "May I ask why, Miss Weasley?" His voice held waves of disapproval for her actions, but his expression clearly stated that he was willing to hear her out.

She took a deep steadying breath, feeling both Harry and Luna sending her their silent support from their separate tables. "With all due respect sir, it seems silly that we all be split up this way when our interactions with each other aren’t restricted at any other time during the day. You expect us all to get along peacefully and work together as a school to make it through the year successfully, yet you separate us during three of the most potentially socially interactive times of the day- meals. Meanwhile we are expected to co-mingle during classes and between them, why shouldn’t that extend into breakfast, lunch, and dinner?"

The student body seemed to hold their breath as one while Dumbledore studied her thoughtfully. "Well, it seems you’ve made a valid argument. Now what is there to do about it?"

"Desegregate the tables!" Harry suggested, also standing. "Let us really be one united school."

"A notable suggestion, Mr. Potter." Dumbledore answered. "I’d hate to set up a precedence for going against authority- so let me make myself clear to all of you. While the way Miss Weasley made her stand was unfavorable to say the least, her message is a relevant one. From this moment on, the tables in the Great Hall are no longer divided during meals. And Miss Weasley, I will be seeing you before class to discuss the proper forum to bring up any concerns you may have for how the school is run. That is all, everyone return to your breakfast and please, feel free to change seats."

He returned to his chair as she and Harry slowly sank into theirs. No one moved except to look around expectantly at everyone else. Ginny turned to look at Draco, unsure that she had gained any sort of victory. And then, ever one to be the stand up guy, Harry once again rose. He grabbed his plate of food and walked over to the Slytherin table, pulling out the chair next to Draco’s and settling himself comfortably… as if every eye weren’t on him. She whipped around at the sound of shuffling chairs and saw that as Ron and Hermione rose to join them, Parvati had also abandoned her table to join her sister who was sitting with the Ravenclaws. Slowly the Gryffindors proved they were courageous trendsetters, as each of them moved to join friends and/or siblings at other tables. She looked to Luna, waiting for her to join them as well, but the other girl seemed determined to remain where she was. Come on. It’ll be fine. Ginny assured her, becoming worried for her friend.

Maybe next time. Luna answered sadly. I’ll see you in class, okay? And then she slowly and discreetly made her way out of the Hall without notice. Well, almost without notice. She watched Harry’s eyes as he followed Luna’s exit, gazing at the doorway long after she’d gone. She smiled inwardly, glad that someone besides Hermione had finally turned his head, and had been turning it for some time if her intuition meant anything. That vicious little part of her that she now kept on total lockdown gave a little shudder of glee at the thought of Hermione finally being pushed aside- though she was very careful not to let it show.

As everyone around them began talking, the mood in the room returned to almost normal. There were still quite a few people very obviously talking about Draco, but as she turned and smiled at him across the table she found that all the others were easy to ignore. "You know you just put a big target on your back for so decidedly standing up for me." He said quietly.

"I’m sure it’s not much bigger than it was before." She grinned. "We’ll just take it as it comes, okay?"

"Do we have a choice?" He answered.

(BREAK)

The mail owls arriving were usually the most exciting part of breakfast, but today it was simply the icing on the cake. Harry watched the owls swoop over his head, delivering letters and packages to their lucky participants. He was amused as they fumbled around in the air, trying to figure out the new seating arrangements. He recognized the small brown owl that landed in front of Hermione as Orion, Arthur’s owl. As she reached for her letter, he saw how her eyes turned a luscious chocolate brown and sparkled with excitement. He hadn’t seen her so bubbly in a long time, at least not in his presence. "Who’s that from?" He couldn’t contain his curiosity.

She looked up, almost guiltily from the envelop now in her hand. "Oh, it from Fred." She answered casually. Then shooting a meaningful sideways glance at Draco, she added, "I’ll tell you later."

He nodded his agreement, finding that he wasn’t as jealous as he’d have thought. He was happy more than anything, glad that something and someone was able to bring back that sparkle he hadn’t even realized she’d been missing. And more than likely, Fred himself had influenced her to be a bit more laid back, after all he knew best how not to worry. Of course, her influence could be found in Fred’s newfound tenacity concerning his business. This project the two of them were working on seemed to pull them both out of a slump and if they were able to help each other and cure the werewolf curse then all the better.

Breakfast ended much more quietly than it began and leaving Ginny outside Dumbledore’s office, they continued on to Professor Binns class. Tristan sauntered in a few minutes later, looking unconcerned with the stares he received. It was apparent the other boy had decided it was best to slowly integrate himself in with his peers after being exposed for what he was, whereas Harry felt Draco had taken the more showy and braver direction. He certainly respected Draco more than Tristan for how he handled the situation, especially since Tristan had been the one to start things.

As Binns floated in, several kids groaned, opening their books and preparing their mind to check out for the next hour and a half. The ghostly professor took his place behind the desk and immediately went into his lesson plan. It took even Harry a moment to realize Hermione had her hand straight up in the air, waiting patiently to be called on. Soon the only one not to realize that someone was trying to get his attention was Binns himself. Hermione cleared her throat. "Excuse me, sir?" she finally asked politely.

The professor was startled to be interrupted as he always was when something derailed him from his routine. "Yes, Miss-"

He faltered, having not bothered to learn the names of his students, even his best ones. "Granger, sir. Hermione Granger." She filled in for him before continuing. "I was sort of wondering if it would be alright to jump ahead a little in our lessons? I mean most of the beginning of the book is a recall of the brilliant things you taught us last year and I’m sure you would rather not repeat yourself." Harry wasn’t so sure, thinking that the only thing the ghost knew how to do was repeat himself over and over, year after year.

All attention was now on Professor Binns as most of the students present were eager to see how this second slight yet public rebellion of the day played out. "And may I ask Miss Granger, where you feel would be a more appropriate place to start?"

Hermione looked to Harry nervously. He silently urged her on though he had no idea what her aim was. She took a breath and turned back to their teacher. "Well, I thought maybe we could move right up to chapter 6?"

"Ah yes." Binns leaned back in his chair as best he could in his condition, bringing his fingertips together as Dumbledore often did. "That would be the beginning of the detailed account of the ancient battle against Marquees. It is certainly more interesting material I suppose." This time Harry was the one to hold his breath, hoping against hope that Binns would agree. He desperately wanted to learn about how the coven had defeated their horrific foe. "May I ask Miss Granger, why you wish us to start there?"

"Well, with the current situation out in the world, I think the material more relevant to our present lives. After all, we can only hope to learn from history in order to avoid repeating it’s mistakes."

"Oh there was no mistake with Marquees my dear." Binns leaned forward, losing his stoic boredom for the first time. "Our first Coven of Warriors took good care of him and hopefully you all learn a thing or two from them in order to repeat their successes."

"So you’ll teach us about it now?" Harry couldn’t help but ask.

Binns looked around at his class thoughtfully, perhaps really seeing them for the first time. Then he stood and leaned over his desk, peering at them all intently. "Okay, I’ll teach you all about it. And I’ll tell you the real story, not just what the history books want you to know."

"How would you know any real story? That all happened eons ago." Tristan scoffed.

Binns lips twisted into a very superior smile. "Because, what few people know is that I was there. Get ready to learn how to defeat evil my innocent little students."

 

 

NOTE: So once more I’m changing a bit of canon and re-imagining Professor Binns backstory a bit, but not too much. All will be explained about that next chapter along with a lot of other happenings. See you then!


Chapter 32: The Ancient Coven of Warriors

A/N: A short but very informative chapter enclosed. Please… Read, Review and Enjoy!

 

 
"Sir, how could you have possibly been there?" Padma Patil asked. Harry waited breathlessly for the answer along with the rest of the class. Everyone knew the ghostly professor’s story, Binns had died at the school and despite this little setback, had gotten up and continued attending his classes, teaching hundreds of students in the years since. This had certainly occurred a long, long time after the original coven had lived.

Binns smiled. It was unsettling to see him come so alive, considering he was most certainly dead. "I wasn’t always what I am now, my dear. I’ve lived many lives, as have most of you. Whether fortunate or not, I am one of those rare few able to recall my previous reincarnations."

"A past life regressor." Hermione said unexpectantly, looking embarrassed that she’d spoken out of turn. Harry smiled- that must have been one of the other forms of psychic ability she’d come across during their research of the coven. He was amused that even without thinking about it, she instinctively had to prove how much she knew.

Binns also regarded her with a smile. "Very good Miss Granger. Ten points for Gryffindor."

"So were you one of those people who helped defeat Marquees?" A Ravenclaw Harry only knew as Tyler asked eagerly. They were all attentive now, amazed that after six whole years, they were seeing their professor actually interact with them.

"Oh no, those were special people, the very first of our kind. As I said, I was not always what I am today, and I have lived a few different lives as a muggle." Binns answered.

"Was it horrible to have to live like that?" Millicent sneered in Hermione’s direction, as she was the only one present with two muggle parents.

"Not at all. Quite interesting as a matter of fact, trying to do things the longer, harder way. I will admit there were times when I remembered what it was like to have a wand in my hand and I missed it. But those are all stories for another time, right now there is something more important to discuss." The professor actually rose, moving to float in the middle of his class where all eyes were firmly locked on him, their attention focused and eager. Harry listened intently as Binns began his story, opening his mind so Luna could listen through him. While he didn’t want to break his promise to leave her to her peace, he also didn’t want to miss out on her hearing any of this. To his surprise, he felt her listening.

"No one is certain where Marquees came from, even back in those times, stories of him were wide and varied. I’d first heard of his existence when a young girl stumbled into our town square, the only survivor of a massacre he’d arranged in her nearby village. Her name was Gwendolyn Crowley, was only about thirteen at the time, shaking as she stood before us- covered in blood and dirt, her eyes wide with the horror of what she’d witnessed. She was begging us to bring Ashford Deveroux to her, that she had seen that he was one of the people to help her. Although we all thought her pitifully strange, old Ash actually came to the girl and they spoke privately for a long time. Ash was ancient in terms of lifespan for the time at the age of 49. But there was something that drew him to that young girl and together they left our village. As the head warrior I was told to go with them. Ash was very important to us and we wanted to be assured of his safe return. But I never imagined the places I would follow them to. Working together, each with special abilities, they scoured the earth looking for people like them, each one adding their own abilities as they joined the search. I heard beautiful languages I’d never known existed and that are long extinct in today’s world, met with people so different from me that I had begun to question everything I’d ever known. I saw the whole world, along for the ride as were a few others like me who had merely come along as protection or support. When at last there were twelve, including Ash and Gwen, I was witness to the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in that lifetime or any other."

"What was it?" Parvati asked anxiously.

"I could never describe what I saw or heard in that moment, I could never fully express the feelings evoked by what I’d witnessed." He stared off for a moment before shaking his head and continuing. "It was their awakening, the moment when they bonded together and formed their coven and created the first group of witches and wizards. Using their knowledge of the world around them, they forged their weapons, creating the very first magic wands through which they could focus their energies. In the meantime, Marquees had been making a name for himself in the ancient world, though reports of him were inconsistent. In some parts of the world he was a vengeful god, in others a devious monster- but one thing was the same in every account, he wasn’t being regarded as human. And what’s more, he was starting to gather followers, people who wanted the power and protection he offered them."

"Like Voldemort." A girl in the back said quietly. Harry didn’t bother turning to see who it was.

"Like many others throughout history my dear!" Binns said loudly. "Make no mistake, history will continue to repeat itself until the end of time. Every story has already been written and can only be lived out again with different players."

He felt Luna’s uncertainty, her unwillingness to believe that. But with everything happening lately and the parallels he could draw, he was willing to agree. "And is it always the same outcome?" Harry asked hopefully, knowing the coven had been victorious.

Binns appeared amused. "Of course, lad! There’s always a winner and a loser in war, isn’t there? It never much matters which side wins either, does it? There’s always another one waiting to start."

"So the only variables are the players on either side, like chess." Ron nodded eagerly, following the lesson with everyone else.

"Precisely. Ash and Gwen had gathered the best of the best and even then it wasn’t certain they would succeed. Make no mistake, children, the battles they fought against Marquees’ spreading evil went on for many bloody, weary years and many lives were lost on both sides. But it all came down to that last fight, that one moment when everything aligned perfectly for the unbalance created in the world to end one way or the other. You see, the earth beneath our feet is indifferent to good and evil because nature is always at once both and neither. No matter who won, the earth would eventually ensure it’s own survival, whether it be to purge the victor with natural disaster or aid them along in harmony- I have seen both."

"But the coven won." Draco pointed out.

"Precisely. And that is why for many years after the world was at peace. But just like war, peace cannot last forever- it creates it’s own unbalance. In other words, history progresses." Binns answered. "As for those ancient battles, they were the first of their kind. Never before had humans witnessed the magic in the world harnessed so expertly by the coven and Marquees."

"So there were no other wizards in the world before the coven?" Tristan seemed skeptical.

"Of course there were, don’t be stupid boy!" Binns turned on him. "There were hundreds of people displaying those attributes associated with magic, but they weren’t well received. Still aren’t, are we?" He laughed. "No, what I mean when I say the coven members where the first is that they elevated the use of magic to what we know it as today, creating spells using special abilities inherent in them. Every spell you cast today can find it’s source from one of the twelve psychic abilities they possessed. They were the strongest of our kind then and their direct descendants have been the strongest in every generation since."

"So what happened in the actual final battle? How did they beat Marquees?" Harry asked eagerly. While he found all of this interesting, what he really needed to know was how they had won.

"It happened at night." Binns answered in a low voice, once more getting a far off look. "We had set up camp, it had been nearly ten years since that day Gwen had entered my village and I remember reflecting on how surprised I was that old Ash was still alive after so many battles and so many years. But he was still going strong and that was probably due to his constant contact with the others, especially the healer- Hermelinda Aguilar. A breath of fresh air that lady was, and mighty adept at her skill too. I’d seen her actually bring one of the others back to life a few months before, so I was sure she was the reason Ash’s heart was still pumping. We were around the fire, well most of us. Gwen and the Greek one, Thanos Romanos had taken to going off by themselves. I never understood a word the others said, but somehow they all managed to communicate with each other without any problem. But none of them were anything but nice to those of us who fought with them. I even eventually picked up a few different useful phrases in all their native tongues."

Binns sighed, settling himself on the edge of his desk as he so clearly pictured his past. Harry wondered how many times and in how many lives this particular night had played in the man’s mind. "We had just finished dinner and a few people started playing music while others got up to dance. No matter what, the mood in our camp was always kept light and positive. There hadn’t been a battle in weeks and so everyone was relaxing when suddenly Thanos ran up, yelling words I didn’t understand. We all followed him to find Gwen on the ground, having some sort of vision. When she woke out of it, she told us all that we had very little time to prepare ourselves, Marquees was on his way and ready to end things. No one questioned her. I’d never seen so many people move so quickly, packing up and readying the weapons we had. Somehow, we all had a sense that this time was different, that something definitive was about to occur."

"And then…?" Ron prompted when the professor grew silent.

"And then the world was ripped apart in front of my eyes." Binns answered quietly. "It seemed like seconds before the enemy was on us, bearing down. Those of us not in the coven knew our role- protect the twelve that were. There were a few on Marquees side with the same strong abilities as our coven, but they were nothing to them and were the first targets destroyed that night. We thought that would lessen the enemy’s resolve but they kept coming. I hadn’t realized just how many people had joined Marquees."

"I had just brought down another adversary, when suddenly it all grew quiet. I turned to find everyone staring in horror at Marquees himself. Even I, who had been traveling with the coven from the beginning, hadn’t seen the man, only his followers. He was terrible to behold, his height towering over us all and his eyes glowing red with his hatred. In a booming voice, he demanded the coven face him. Before any of the rest of us could move, the earth shifted beneath our feet, rising to form a thick barrier between ourselves and them. Followers on both sides tried to breach the dirt wall, but each time we tried a large gust of wind blew us back. Eventually we had nothing to do but continue fighting each other and wait to see which side emerged victorious."

They were all at the edge of their seats, already knowing the outcome but desperate to have it told to them anyway. "And then what happened?" Harry asked.

Binns shrugged. "And then the earth once more opened, revealing eleven coven members, horribly injured but still alive. Ash lay dead at their feet and Marquees was nowhere to be seen. Gwen told us all it was over as she and the others demanded Marquees’ followers surrender. They never told any of us what occurred in that earthy cocoon, but they allowed me to take Ash’s body back to our village and back to his wife and son, who had only been a child when his father left. The other coven members scattered back across the world, returning to lives they had abandoned nearly a decade before. I lived the rest of my life in that village only to be reborn a few centuries later to find the magic started by the coven and Marquees had spread and developed within more people, that the current life we know was on it’s way."

Everyone was quiet, taking in his words. Hermione once more raised her hand. "Sir, forgive me but why are you a ghost now? Why haven’t you continued on to be reborn?"

Binns shook his head. "Because I wasn’t going to be reborn. I had reached the end, my soul had traveled all it was supposed to. But I wasn’t ready. So I pretended I hadn’t died, I just wanted to stay in the world and continue watching." He nodded in Harry’s direction. "It’s interesting to watch history being made. Gives me a purpose."

(BREAK)

At first Luna had intended to ignore Harry poking at her mind, trying to get her attention. Instinct told her to at least hear him out and she was glad she did, deciding to tune out her own lesson and listen in on his. When it was over, she immediately closed up into herself again feeling it too risky these days to stay linked with Harry’s consciousness for too long. But she knew he must be feeling as upset as she was that Binns hadn’t been able to give them the real answer they’d been looking for.

Dumbledore graciously gave them a half hour break between classes to stretch their legs and rest their minds. Luna used the opportunity to fill Ginny in on the brief history lesson she’d received. They discussed what Binns had said and compared it to what they had learned from the ministry documents. The entire time, something was tugging at Luna’s mind, begging for her attention. Something the professor had said… she was sure there was some knowledge in his words that pertained to her, something she needed to know.

As they made their way back to the office and settled in for their next class, she found it impossible to concentrate. Instead, she replayed Binns’ story over and over in her head trying to find the clue. Nothing jumped out at her. Figuring if it really was something to do with her that it would involve her ancestor, she played it again this time omitting anything not having to do with Gwen. And there it was, the two sentences that had unconsciously given her pause. "We were around the fire, well most of us. Gwen and the Greek one, Thanos Romanos had taken to going off by themselves." Thanos, the energy senser, had been spending inexplicable amounts of time alone with Gwen, the seer.

Luna’s own questionable ability to sometimes sense or manipulate energy and emotion had left her unsure as to why she seemed to have these extra powers. Had there been some romance way back then- something that mingled two coven bloodlines together? It was definitely something she’d have to look into and decided this time, she would go on her quest for the truth alone.

(BREAK)

Hermione could see that Harry was disappointed as they walked out of class. "You okay?" she asked delicately.

"I just wish he’d been able to tell us how they did it." He sighed.

"What does it matter? Voldemort sounds like nothing next to this Marquees guy." Ron replied.

"If that were true, then we wouldn’t have a problem at all would we?" Harry answered. "After all, Voldemort’s already come back from being vanquished once, hasn’t he."

"It’s not like you were trying to get him back when you were a baby though. I’m sure whatever happens this time will be more final." Hermione assured him.

"That’s why I was hoping to find out how they got Marquees for good." He said. "But the ministry documents didn’t say anything, and Binns who says he was there couldn’t even tell us."

"We can’t be told something no one knows, Harry." She insisted. "All anyone knows for sure is that it was twelve against one and they won."

"I wonder if that Ashford guy was killed by Marquees, or if his heart just gave out or something right after it was over." Draco added to the conversation thoughtfully.

"What does it matter?" Ron snapped at him. Hermione shot her friend a dirty look for his continued rudeness to their newest ally.

Draco shrugged. "Just curious I guess. I mean the guy lived longer than anyone expected him too, remaining strong until the last battle when he dropped dead. I supposed I was really wondering if… I don’t know, if fate or whatever you want to call it kept him alive until this last showdown and only after it was over, did it let him rest in death."

"Again, what does it matter?" Ron asked, though this time his tone was more inquisitive and less hostile. They were all waiting to see where Draco was going with this.

"Well, I was thinking, if Ash was meant to be a part of the coven, was that the reason why he lived when so many others thought he wouldn’t? And if that’s so, is that why you’ve survived so long, Potter?"

Harry appeared thoughtful. Finally he shrugged. "If it is then it is. I suppose that’s why Gwen was the only survivor of the attack on her village all those years ago, and why Hermelinda was able to bring one of them back to life. It has to be why Gabriella was unharmed after the attack near her home and why Luna and I keep scraping by year after year."

Draco nodded with a smile. "I like that a lot, knowing that no matter what Lucius tried all these years and what he’s probably still plotting, he will never be successful. I like that he can never win."

"He can win Draco." Hermione quietly reminded him. "Lucius isn’t only after Harry anymore." She watched the other boy lower his head and wondered how she would feel knowing her own father wanted her dead. From her understanding of what Draco had said in the past, his relationship with his dad had never been good. But jumping to one plotting to murder the other was near unfathomable- in her world anyway. She supposed things like that happened a lot among Death Eater’s, what with everyone being so suspicious of everyone else on that side.

"I guess I’ll have to get him first then." He finally said as they walked towards the Transfiguration classroom.

"That’s the great thing about you switching sides, Draco." Harry said, putting a hand on the other boy’s shoulder. "We’ll make sure he doesn’t get you, what you decide to do from there is your choice. But you won’t have to do anything alone." He promised. Draco looked unconvinced but grateful as they all took their seats, waiting for the rest of the class to enter.

Hermione could barely stand to sit through her lesson with McGonagall. Binns for once had proven interesting, capturing her attention fully. Now that she was back in a comfortable mode of education, her mind began to wander back to the letter from Fred, still unread in her pocket. She felt it burning a hole there and wanted nothing more than to tear it open and find out what he had to say. But she forced herself to focus on class, knowing they would have an hour break after.

As soon as they were dismissed, she excused herself from the boys and ran off to her room, quickly closing the door and settling herself on her bed before pulling out the letter and hastily letting her eyes devour the words.

Dear Hermione,
Have no fear, I am fast at work getting things together. I’m not sure what else to look for, so I can’t say where you should even begin looking up things for us to try. But I know how much you like the library so if you simply must find something to occupy yourself feel free to look up anything you think may be useful. I trust your judgement.
I don’t want to say too much here, your letter got to me a bit too late for my liking, making me a bit too paranoid that we aren’t the only ones reading these notes. Luckily my brilliance planned ahead for such a situation. Unfortunately my stupidly neglected to let me tell you before. Check the pocket near the bottom of your trunk, I’ve left you a little gift.
Your friendly collaborator,
Fred
P.S. It was great to hear from you so quickly, absolutely made my day.

By the time she’d read it through a second time, she couldn’t stop smiling. Curious, she moved to her trunk and began pulling things out, throwing them over her shoulder and cursing herself for not unpacking sooner. Finally able to find the bottom, she thrust her hand in the small pocket and grabbed something smooth and circular. Pulling it out she stared at the compact mirror in her hand. Knowing he was carrying the other one, she realized with pleased horror that they could now speak to each other whenever they wanted.

 

 
NOTE: Lots more coming up, trying to squeeze as much time in for writing as I can. Keep checking in, I’ll keep updating!

Chapter 33: Trying to Become Whole

A/N: And now back to the long chapters. Read, Review, Enjoy!



"Ron!" He turned to find Parvati rushing up to him. "You haven’t seen Padma have you? We were supposed to meet up for lunch."

He shook his head. "No not since we got out of class a bit ago. Didn’t you two leave together?"

"Yeah, but she went to write a letter. And now she’s not in her room or anywhere else!" She looked worried and he understood her concern. After all, students had gone missing in the past and wound up found later as the victim of a basilisk. How badly had it affected him and Harry when Hermione had been attacked then? He could imagine every horrible thing Parvati was thinking now.

"Sorry, I haven’t seen her. I’ll help you look though." He offered, knowing he’d be going out of his mind if he couldn’t find one of his siblings. They walked the halls together, asking several people if they knew where Padma was. It seemed the girl hadn’t been seen for more than an hour.

"Do you hear that?" Parvati grabbed his arm as they passed a large tapestry. Calling out to her sister, she pulled back the heavy fabric only to reveal someone else entirely. "Lavender? Are you okay?" She asked, kneeling next to her friend.

Lavender Brown was huddled against the wall, crying softly to herself. Her eyes were red and puffy, her face slick with tears. "She’s dead!" The girl wailed uncontrollably.

"Who?" Ron asked softly, also kneeling beside her. She was unable to say more, simply shaking her head and thrusting out her fist, which was tightly closed around a crumpled piece of paper.

Parvati gently took the letter and read it. She looked to Ron, her gaze full of pity and horror. "It’s her older sister. Apparently she was an Auror…"

"They killed her!" Lavender moaned, reaching out and clutching them both. "Murdered doing her job!"

Ron’s mind instantly went to Luna who had lost her brother to similar circumstances years ago. "It was a dangerous job. I’m sure she was great at it." He said, rubbing her shoulder in comfort.

"Not good enough obviously." Lavender answered bitterly before once more erupting in tears.

"We should take her to Dumbledore." Parvati slowly suggested, neither of them really knowing what to say or do to help the situation. Ron knew there was nothing he’d wanted to hear from anyone after George had been killed and so he had no clue as to what would make Lavender feel better. He hoped the headmaster had a better idea of how to help.

They each took an arm and cradling the girl between them, he and Parvati practically carried her to the office. Once he’d been apprised of the situation, Dumbledore had immediately sent for Madame Pomfrey and Healer Drake both. Now that Lavender was in the somewhat more capable hands of the adults and desperate to separate themselves from so much misery, they hurried back down to the hallway.

Without a word, they continued their search for Padma with renewed vigor- Parvati because her concern had tripled after what they’d just seen and Ron because he saw how it had affected her. Deciding to check the Great Hall and see if maybe her twin had gone to lunch early, they finally found her. Padma was just walking back into the school with Susan Bones and the moment she laid eyes on her, Parvati ran forward and grabbed her in a hug. "Where were you?!"

"Susan wanted to go for a walk, I was just coming back to meet you. What’s wrong?" Padma asked, pulling back to look at her sister.

Leaving them to talk among themselves, Ron hurried into the Hall, searching desperately for his friends and his own sister. Harry, Hermione and Luna weren’t there yet, but Ginny was once more sitting with Draco. Surprisingly Charlie was with them. He hurried over, more happy than he cared to admit that he was able to verify that at least two of his four remaining siblings were still alive. He hid the anxiety he’d just been feeling, not wanting anyone to know just how irrationally scared he’d been learning of some else’s sister dying.

(BREAK)

Ginny walked right up to Draco and sat across from him with a large grin. "You look pleased." He said.

"Just waiting for lunch to start." She answered cheerfully, still slightly amazed that just that morning she’d taken a stand and actually changed things.

"So I take it you didn’t get in too much trouble with Dumbledore."

"Detention with McGonagall." She replied, wrinkling her nose at the thought. If anyone were to be unhappy with her over this whole thing, it would be the professor she’d actually chosen to disobey.

Draco chuckled. "Have fun with that."

"Glad to see you’re so supportive." She shot back making a face at him before grinning.

"Sorry to interrupt." A voice said behind her. She turned to find Charlie and felt her stomach drop. Standing up to Ron and Fred about her decision to date Draco was one thing, but there had been a reason she’d continued to keep it from her older brothers and her heart fluttered nervously as he pulled out the chair next to her. "Mind if I sit here for a few moments?"

"Shouldn’t you be with the other teachers?" She asked tensely.

"Well, rumor is some rude, loud mouthed girl made it so we can all sit wherever we like during meals." Charlie answered with a smirk.

She sighed, wishing he weren’t doing this in front of Draco. "If you give me a lecture now, will you please let mum know so I don’t have to hear it again?"

"Relax Gin. Nothing you could do would ever measure up to the defiance the twins put everyone through when they were here." He smiled, but thinking of George had given them both pause. He shook his head, reaching out a hand across the table. "Hello by the way. I’m Charlie, one of Ginny’s older more fearsome brothers."

Draco hesitantly shook his hand. "Draco Malfoy." He introduced himself simply.

"Yeah, I know." Charlie was studying him hard, to his credit Draco remained calm under the scrutiny, refusing to be shaken. "Been hearing a lot about you for a long time now. Years in fact."

"Charlie…" Ginny’s tone warned him he was starting to overstep his boundaries.

"Relax baby sister." He grinned at her. "I always reserve my judgement until I decide for myself… can’t always trust what people say you know."

"Hey guys!" Ron came up to the table and took a seat on her other side. "What’s up Charlie?"

"Just taking a moment to officially meet our sister’s new boyfriend." He answered casually.

"Yeah, he’s a peach isn’t he?" Ron said sourly.

Feeling the heat rise to her face, she hated them both in that moment. "Why don’t you both just go away."

"Well, I do have to be getting back to my own friends." Charlie said pleasantly. Then he leaned over the table bringing his face closer to Draco’s. His voice came out low and menacing. "Don’t make me find a place to bury your body- got it?" He rose and walked away without another glance.

"Well said!" Ron called after him.

"Go away!" She told him harshly.

"Fine! I’ll see you later." He got up and walked over to the Ravenclaw table where Luna had just settled herself.

"I’m so sorry." She whispered once they were alone again, too embarrassed to meet his eyes.

"No problem at all. Let me just ask, how many more brothers have I not ‘officially’ met?" Draco asked.

"Just Bill, why?" She nervously looked up.

"Just wanted to know how many more times I could expect to be threatened." He answered with an amused grin.

(BREAK)

It had been a long day and Hermione had spent a great deal of it forcing herself not to call Fred right away. After all, she really didn’t have anything to tell him and she was certain he would contact her if he needed to. She had put the compact under her pillow just in case he tried to call sometime during the night, though she couldn’t see a reason for it. Of course, he may not know that she’d already received his letter and was waiting to hear from her first…

She sighed and turned to face the empty space next to her where Harry would normally be. He’d started complaining of a sore throat and headache before dinner and once more insisted they sleep separately to spare her own health. She didn’t really believe him but another night to herself wasn’t exactly a disappointment… there was something wrong and she did her best thinking when she was alone.

But for some reason, she found herself not wanting to think too deeply on anything in particular. Some part of her was scared to try and sort out her life and find out why nothing felt right lately. But the effort of keeping her mind blank required far too much attention, leaving her feeling wide awake. She couldn’t just stare at the ceiling all night…

With nothing better to do, she allowed herself to reach under her pillow and grab the compact. Flipping it open before she could change her mind, she felt it grow warm in her palm while waiting for Fred to answer. She hated how nervous she felt and hoped she wasn’t waking him. Relief flooded her when she finally heard his voice- alert and amused. "Isn’t it a bit late for a school night?" he teased.

"Everyone else is asleep. I guess I just can’t turn off my head to do the same." She explained. "Thought I’d see if you needed my help with anything."

"I see. You just figured I’d be awake and having no life, was just sitting here working on potions?" He sounded insulted.

"I guess that’s exactly what I thought." She teased.

"Well you’re right." He answered quickly, amusement in his voice. "But I set the wolfie potion aside since it’s too late to help them right now. We have a whole month to try and get it right again."

"So what are you working on?" She asked, deliberately ignoring the pleasure he took in torturing her with that silly name.

"Stuff for the store." He answered quickly.

Having nothing else to focus on other than his voice, she heard the drop in tone and knew there was something bothering him. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing. Why would anything be wrong?"

"You sound weird all of a sudden."

"Oh." He paused for what felt like forever. "Something strange happened at the store, nothing to worry about."

"You don’t sound so sure about that."

"What are you, a voice analyst?" He shot back. "It’ll all be fine."

"So it isn’t fine right now?" She guessed, interpreting his words.

"You make my head hurt." Fred complained loudly before carelessly changing the subject. "On to other things, how are Ron and Ginny?"

"That was smooth." She teased. "They’re fine. They both seem happy about Charlie being here."

"Charlie’s there?" He seemed surprised.

"Your parents didn’t tell you? He’s taking over Care of Magical Creatures for Hagrid. Drake’s here too, teaching Potions until they find Snape."

"Well I like that. Finally get to leave school and now I’m completely out of the loop. Who knew Hogwarts actually had a purpose?"

"You mean besides providing a top notch education of course." She answered, rolling her eyes.

"If you say so." He laughed.

"Well, it also has its drawbacks here." She said, quickly filling him in on everything involving Tristan Macnair.

"Figures." He said when she was done. "We finally get Draco acting right -sort of- and this guy shows up. Those snaky Slytherins, cut off one head and another just grows in it’s place. Doesn’t anything good happen there anymore?"

"Well, Binns practically blew our minds today."

"Oh? Do tell!" He demanded. Hermione told him all about the unusual class and the things they learned about both the coven and their professor. "I find myself completely amazed." He said after a lengthy pause.

"Imagine having been there." She replied, glancing at the clock. She was shocked, they’d been talking for nearly two hours though it had only felt like minutes since she’d opened the compact. Feeling slightly guilty, she decided it was enough for tonight. "Hey, it’s getting pretty late and I have class early."

"Alright egghead, I’ll let you get some sleep." He hesitated slightly. "Hey, make sure to keep me updated on what’s going on out there, okay? You can call me up as often as you like."

"No problem." She promised.

"Sweet dreams, Hermione." He said, wrapping up the conversation.

"Goodnight Fred." She replied.

"And hey! Make sure you stay away from that Tristan guy. And keep Ginny away from him from now on if you can." He added quickly, a note of concern in his voice.

"I plan on it." She assured him. "I’ll talk to you again soon."

"I look forward to it." He sounded pleased.

Closing the compact, Hermione once more slipped it under her pillow before laying down and closing her eyes. Though no more tired than when she’d first gone to bed, she at least felt less anxious now that she’d gotten a conversation with Fred out of the way. All she had left to do was fix everything else going wrong in her life… she just had to figure out exactly what those things were and what she could do about them.

(BREAK)

"Three days is too long!" Ginny once more protested.

Draco smiled, seeing the effort she was putting into pouting as she sat on his bed with her legs pulled up to her chest and her chin resting on her knees. "We have to. It’s safer that way." He reminded her again as he stuffed a change of clothes into his bag.

"For who? Anything could go wrong and it would be just the two of you out there!"

"Don’t you trust Lupin? He’s been doing this for years, he knows where to go." In truth he wasn’t so nervous for himself. It was her safety he was concerned with, not liking the idea of Tristan remaining at the school while he was gone. "You just make sure that if you decide to do anything stupidly heroic, you don’t do it alone."

She made a face at him. "One man’s stupidity is another man’s genius." She replied, sticking her tongue out at him.

"Okay I admit it, you’re a genius… when you actually use your head." He teased, laughing as he had to duck the book she threw at him.

"And you’re brave when you actually use your spine." She shot back.

"There’s my sweet girl." He smiled, leaning down to kiss her forehead before sitting and putting an arm around her, pulling her close. "It’s three days and they will be the longest of my life. But I have to go."

"I know." She answered with a sigh, resting her head on his shoulder. "How’s your hand?"

"Hasn’t hurt since yesterday. I’m supposed to go have Drake remove the bandage and take a look after I finished packing. You want to come with?" he asked nervously.

She tilted her face up and gave him a deep kiss. "Let’s go." She said, standing and moving quickly to the door, as if waiting too long would give her the chance to change her mind.

They made their way down to Drake’s office, his nervousness growing the closer they got. He hadn’t felt anything at all in his hand since yesterday and wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not. They knocked on the door and went in as Drake called out an invitation. "Draco! I was about to come looking for you."

"Sorry, I was just getting my things."

"Not a problem at all, but we have to get moving. You and Remus are supposed to leave soon. Let’s take a look at that hand."

Draco obediently held out his arm, watching with anticipation as the bandage was unwound. He sensed Ginny next to him, holding her breath as she also waited to see the outcome. When all was at last revealed, they all three were staring down at his fully formed hand, the skin soft and new. Drake reached out and began inspecting, moving his fingers and flexing his wrist. That’s when Draco’s heart plummeted to his stomach- he couldn’t feel anything the healer was doing. "It’s numb or something, is it okay?" He asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

"You can’t feel this?" Drake asked, bending his fingers back.

"Not even a little." He answered miserably.

"What’s wrong?" Ginny asked worriedly.

Drake closed his eyes, lightly taking Draco’s hand between his as a burst of energy shot through his arm and invaded his body. "It seems there some nerve damage, this may burn a bit." The healer warned. Draco grit his teeth as he watched his skin flush from the fire traveling up and down his arm. Just as he thought his flesh would burst into flames from the inside out, a relieving, icy sensation shot through, quelling the burn. "Okay, try moving it."

Draco could almost feel the order from his brain traveling down his body and at last he was amazed to see his fingers wiggling in front of him. "It worked." He said quietly, still unsure if he was willing to believe it.

"Can you feel this?" Drake asked, pressing down on his hand in several places.

"Yes."

Drake smiled at him. "Well, you’ll have to be careful with it- but I think we can safely call this a success."

"Really?" Ginny squealed, wrapping her arms around the healer before turning to hug him.

Draco held her tightly, taking in every moment of how it felt to run both his hands down her back, through the silky texture of her hair. Looking over her shoulder, he met the healer’s eyes and felt overwhelmed with gratitude. "Thank you." He said, for once not struggling with the words.

"Hey a positive review when I write about this new process is all the thanks I need."

"I don’t think that will be a problem." Draco smiled, still not quite believing it was really over, that he was once more whole and without the dark tattoo that had bound him in allegiance to a master he’d never really wanted to serve.

"Okay then. I officially declare you well enough for this little field trip you and Remus will be taking." Drake rose and moved to his desk, grabbing two vials of potion. "Make sure you guys pack these carefully. I’ve put an anti-breaking charm on them but you never can tell what’s going to happen." He handed over the vials. "Now if you’ll both excuse me, I must be getting up to the Hall."

He left them just outside his office, hurrying off to dinner. The plan was for Draco and Lupin to slip out unnoticed while everyone else was in the Great Hall and under the watchful eye of Dumbledore and his staff. With Tristan here, it seemed the headmaster was nervous that someone may try to follow them and wanted to do everything in his power to ensure that didn’t happen.

"Well, are you ready?" Ginny asked with a melancholy sigh.

"I guess." He hated that he had to leave now when all he wanted to do was celebrate the intense happiness he felt.

"You have those crystals?"

He’d told her of his idea and she’d been more than happy to go along and help harvest a few for him to take with. "I didn’t know how they would affect things with Drake so I gave them to Lupin already. He should be waiting just outside that secret passage you showed me on the map."

Ginny smiled. "He would know the best way to sneak out of here." As they walked, Draco instinctively reached to take her hand with his right one. "No." She said moving to his left. She grabbed his formerly wasted arm and carefully interlaced her fingers with his new ones. He savored the feeling and still holding her hand, her pulled her close and kissed her deeply. He’d never been so grateful to have someone in his life and in that moment he was more certain than ever before that he’d made the right decision when he’d betrayed Cho and turned his back on everything he knew.

(BREAK)

Harry felt completely alone with his misery as he closed himself up in his room just before dinner. Luna had specifically asked him to stay away and for the last two days he’d done just that. But that also meant he had lost one of the few people he’d felt he could always turn to… and because of the situation the other two, Hermione and Ron, were also unavailable for him to talk to. He didn’t know what to do and he didn’t know whose advice to seek. Of course Lupin had sprung to mind as a confidant, but he and Draco would be leaving that night and he felt the man already had enough on his plate getting them through their difficulties without adding someone else’s problems. But he couldn’t just wait for Lupin to come back, he was running out of viable reasons to remain distant from the others and especially from Hermione- though her lack of suspicion had begun to make him a bit suspicious of her.

Knowing he needed someone to help him figure things out, he stared at his trunk where he’d hidden the ring after Lupin had given it back. They had decided to trust him with it and he knew Dumbledore had set it up as a test. He hadn’t felt resentful though, he knew it wasn’t a test for him to prove anything to his headmaster- he was supposed to be proving something to himself. He hadn’t touched the ring once since putting it away, but now with no one to turn to in the realm of the living, perhaps this was his only choice.

Getting up, he went over to his trunk and carefully pulled out the ring, trying to decide what to do. Everything in him wanted to call James, to get that fatherly advice he’d been denied for so long. But at the same time he was afraid of what his father would think of him, so uncertain and scared. Putting on the ugly piece of jewelry, he focused his attention on George instead, figuring he was the one who knew them all best anyway. The ghostly figure of his friend materialized within seconds.

"You rang?" He asked with an amused smirk.

"Just checking in." Harry answered casually.

"I see you’re back at school. Can’t say I miss the place but I can’t really say I don’t either. I bet Fred feels the same way. You probably will too once you graduate." George said, looking around. "But I’m sure you didn’t call me up to talk about school."

"Not really…" he was hesitant, unsure what to disclose and what his friend already knew from his lofty position.

George grinned. "Let me guess, girl trouble?"

"Just how often do you spy on us?"

"Relax, not as often as you think. I just know that anxious, confused look in your eye- used to see it all the time in Fred and Lee. Saw it a couple of times when I looked in the mirror if I’m being honest." He laughed. "But I do know that you’re fighting with one lovely lady and avoiding the other. But I only know that because that’s how it’s been since the beginning of this little triangle."

"What are you talking about?" Harry demanded, knowing this was what he’d wanted- an outsider’s point of view.

"I mean, since little Luna joined the group you’ve either ignored her or fought with her depending on what was going on with you and Hermione… and vice versa. Your relationship with one has always affected your relationship with the other and now you’re at the point where it’s driven a wedge between you and Hermione and strained your friendship with Luna. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming."

"So now what do I do?" He asked desperately.

"You expect me to know? You’re the one who’s supposed to be in love."

"I am!"

"Yeah, but with who?" George teased. "Of course, that’s the problem isn’t it. And I certainly don’t know the solution… but you do. And maybe now that you have the right question, you can answer it."

Harry wasn’t so sure. He’d made promises to Hermione, they were engaged to be married… someday. Neither of them had talked of it much and they certainly hadn’t started making any serious plans. "And supposing there is no answer?" he thought out loud.

"Of course there is. Harry, you can love hundreds of people… but you can only be in love with one."

"What are you, some kind of guru now?" He asked, unnerved by George’s forwardness.

"Well, between you and Fred I’ve gotten plenty of practice handing out advice." He grinned. "I find it amusing how similar both your problems are… though Fred isn’t ready to admit it like you are."

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked, getting a strong feeling that his friend was trying to hint at something.

"You both want someone who is virtually unavailable to you at the moment." George answered honestly. "It’s about time someone did something about it."

"Hermione is not unavailable to me." He replied sharply.

"No, she isn’t is she?" He asked meaningfully.

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation as Ron called through the door. "Hey Harry! Time for dinner, you coming?"

"Be out in a minute!" he called back. "Hey, thanks for talking to me." He turned back to George.

"No worries. But this decision will affect more than just you, so make sure you figure it all out soon, okay?"

"I hope to." He answered, though he was perhaps more confused now than before they’d talked.

(BREAK)

Draco woke feeling rested and relaxed. Stretching out, he enjoyed the feeling of the sun on his face and the soft grass under his body… strange since normally he hated sleeping outside. Then he sat up quickly as it all came flooding back to him. Taking in his naked body, covered with dirt, bruises and scratches, he immediately began searching for his bag. Finding it a few feet away, he quickly treated the more serious looking of his minor wounds before throwing on his clothes and going in search of Lupin. He was strangely comforted knowing the man wouldn’t have slept far from him, that someone actually respected him enough that they were willing to give him space yet cared for him enough not to desert him completely. It was the same reassurance he felt around Ginny, though on a completely different level.

Coming to the river they’d agreed to meet at, he found the professor busily filling bottles and purifying the water. "Hey there!" Lupin greeted him, handing out one of the bottles which Draco gratefully accepted. "How’d you sleep?"

"I guess two hours are better than none." He answered, gulping down the cold water to soothe his dry, scratchy throat.

"We can sleep plenty tonight, make an early start back to the school tomorrow. We should get there by late afternoon." Lupin pulled out a small pouch he’d been wearing under his clothes. "How did this affect you last night?" He spilled the shard of crystal into his hand.

"Well, it certainly didn’t stop me from turning." Draco answered. "But I don’t know… it almost seemed like everything changed into a wolf except my brain."

He nodded in agreement. "Almost as if it enhanced the Wolfsbane. I was fully the wolf and fully me at the same time. It’s never been like that before."

"I guess it’s better than nothing." Draco shrugged. He was ready to give up hope that anything would ever help him, but at least now he had the best way to control himself. And if the crystals continued to prove a positive influence on them, then maybe next month they wouldn’t have to be gone for so long... it was the only thing he could hope for anymore.

(BREAK)

"I think I’ve got her!" Ron exclaimed excitedly.

"Who is it?" Harry edged closer, eager to see who the newest coven member would be. He, Ron and Hermione were sitting out at their tree by the lake, enjoying the slight break between storms during the short time between their Friday afternoon classes. Always one to want to fill her time usefully, Hermione had insisted they bring the ministry documents with them.

"Okay, let’s see." Ron scanned the documents once more, trying to register all the relevant information. "Her name is Kavita Singh and she lives with her family in Bangladesh. Apparently her ability is animal communication."

"That could come in handy." Hermione said thoughtfully. "Able to send out animals to spy and gather information… or getting help finding food and shelter."

"Um, guys… it says here she’s only thirteen." Ron added hesitantly.

Harry simply shrugged. "Think of what we did by that age."

"Yeah, but Harry her family may not let her come with…" Hermione answered carefully.

He considered the problem, knowing the only solution was one that allowed Kavita to join the coven. "We’ll go after her last, give us some time to figure it out."

"Whatever you say." She replied. They were all quiet, unsure where to take the conversation from there. Any real planning for this scouting trip around the world seemed surreal, a distant future that almost felt like it would never come. "So… have you guys heard anything about Lavender?" Hermione asked just to break the silence.

"She’s not coming back until next semester, according to Parvati." Ron offered. "I’d believe it though, she was a mess when we found her… understandably of course."

"I wonder how her sister died?" Harry mused. They’d all been curious about that when Ron had first told them of his and Parvati’s discovery of a distraught Lavender. He wished Tonks were around, certain she would know and tell them all about it.

"You could always ask Dumbledore." Hermione suggested, rising to her feet. "I have to get going to Ancient Runes. I’ll see you guys later."

She walked away without waiting for a response, though it was clear she wasn’t angry with either of them. Turning back to Ron, Harry caught the suspicious look plastered across his friend’s face. "What?"

"Are you guys fighting or something?"

"Not that I’m aware of, why?" He asked nervously.

"Because lately I haven’t felt like strangling you two because of how annoyingly together you are and then I realized… it’s because you two are barely around each other these days. And when you are, it isn’t like it was before." Ron answered, trying to piece it together as he attempted to explain his unease.

"Well I’m sorry, should we just lay down and go at it with each other right in front of you?" Harry answered defensively. "I didn’t know our public displays of affection were grading us on how well our relationship is going.""

He raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Everything is great between you…"

"That’s right. In fact, I need your help with something involving Hermione." Harry insisted. It was a plan he’d been thinking on for awhile and saw no reason why he shouldn’t go through with it now. He told Ron exactly what he wanted to do and his friend immediately agreed to assist any way he could. They had until the next night to pull it off… but he was more nervous of how he’d handle success rather than failure.

(BREAK)

Ginny had just gathered all the appropriate books and found a table in the library when Colton James walked up to her. "Hello lab partner." He said with a wide friendly smile.

She felt annoyed already. "Let’s just get this done, okay?" They had been assigned to create a potion together. She had wanted Luna as her partner, but Dumbledore had been the one to choose and had probably purposely split the girls up sending Luna to work with Della Chandler, while she was left with this cocky jerk. Though to be fair, she didn’t know anything about him, she was simply going off her own impression of him which could just be biased against all people unknown to her. After all, he seemed nice enough, though she didn’t care to find out more.

Colton settled his books on the table before sitting across from her. "Well, aren’t you just a little ball of sunshine."

"I’m not looking to make friends, only potions." She replied rudely.

"Whatever you say." He muttered. "You know, I heard you used to be a lot nicer."

"What do you mean you heard?" She asked sharply. "Why would anyone be talking about me?"

"Are you kidding? You must be deaf or something not to know that you and your boyfriend are all anyone talks about lately." He answered with a smirk. "I remember how you used to be you know. And after seeing you in class this year, I asked around and turns out the general consensus is that before you got involved with the little worm, you were actually far more human."

She felt thoroughly insulted. "And if I’m so coldly unhuman why would you care to ask about me at all?"

He shrugged. "I always like to find out what I can about pretty girls. Of course, you’re a lot prettier when you aren’t scowling like that." He grinned, obviously liking that he was getting under her skin.

"Luckily your opinion of me means absolutely nothing." She shot back.

"Why on earth did you pick him anyway? How depressed were you to think Draco Malfoy your perfect mate?"

Ginny grit her teeth, feeling angry enough to grab her wand and curse him. "I don’t see how anything about me is any of your business."

"I’m just trying to figure it out. I mean the guy is a total jerk to everyone, he’s dark and moody all the time and his father is a Death Eater! And now the rumor is he’s a werewolf… how in the world could he manage to convince you to date him?"

"What’s your point Colton?"

"I just don’t understand why you’d be with someone like that when you could be with your own kind. I am in Gryffindor, just like you." He reminded her. "Leave the Slytherins behind and come back into the light."

"What a tempting offer." She rolled her eyes. "But what you fail to realize is that whatever charms you think you have aren’t near as powerful as you think them to be."

"Maybe not yet…" He grinned.

"Definitely not ever. And haven’t I turned you down before anyway?" She tried to remember, forcing the memory until it came flooding back to her. "That’s right! Last year you were one of the few who asked me to the Costume Ball and I decided to go with Gem instead." She laughed.

"And what a great decision that was, considering his failure at capturing your attention helped push you into the arms of the snaky wolfman." Colton returned easily.

"Better the snaky wolfman than the conceited lion." She answered, closing her books. She grabbed the parchment on which their instructions were written and tore it in half. "Here, you do your part, I’ll do mine and we’ll meet again long enough to put it together before class. Other than that, don’t talk to me."

Without waiting for his response, she walked away making sure to keep her head high and her shoulders straight. She hated the way Colton thought of Draco and knew that a lot of others felt the same way he did. More than that, she hated the way they all saw her because of how they thought of Draco. She tried to think of what Laurel would say and the words came easily, Why is it that you care what anyone thinks as long as you know you’re okay? Ginny had no answer to give herself and therefore decided she was just being silly, letting other people get under her skin. Until he gave her a reason to think otherwise, she was happy being with Draco.

(BREAK)

"You’re sure you were able to get a hold of him?" Harry asked nervously.

"Yes, he’ll be here." Ron answered, annoyed by his friend’s anxiousness. They had spent their entire Saturday morning decorating the Shrieking Shack. They’d snuck away right after breakfast, eager to put Harry’s plan into action. He had reservations after realizing something was off between his friends, but perhaps the focused drive Harry was putting into this was a good sign that things were about to even out.

"And you told Luna right?"

"Yes, she’s coming as well, though she didn’t seem too thrilled." He said. He hadn’t questioned why Harry hadn’t gone to invite her himself, he found it best if he didn’t question anything anyone was doing these days.

"Okay, so everyone’s been invited, we have everything set up here… and Draco and Lupin will be back any time now. I think that takes care of everything."

"I also arranged for us to have these!" Ron proudly produced several bottles of liquor before seeing the horror on Harry’s face. "What? We’re older now and this is supposed to be a party."

"And you think lowering everyone’s inhibitions is a good idea right now?" He looked truly concerned, leaving Ron to realize that Harry was worried about letting himself go.

"I think it’s a great idea, especially now. It’s been one disastrous nightmare after another for months now, we could all use a night off. You don’t have to, you know... though I think you should considering how tense you’ve been lately. I know I sure intend to enjoy myself."

"If you say so. I just think it’s a bad idea."

"Noted." He answered, decidedly placing the bottles in an old tub and waving his wand to fill it with ice. With a sigh, Harry came over and waved his own wand, casting a spell to ensure the ice wouldn’t melt. "Good to see you’ve come around to the idea." Ron clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

Harry simply shook his head. "Mark my words… bad idea."

(BREAK)

The others barely had a chance to greet Draco upon his return before Ginny dragged him into his room, presumably to welcome him in her own special way. Hermione couldn’t help but be amused by the disgusted look on Ron’s face, but she hid it well to save herself from having his anger turned on her. It was her birthday after all, no one should be yelling at her.

She’d once more slept in her own room without Harry, but this time she’d felt extremely disappointed. Never before had she had a boyfriend on her birthday, nevermind a fiancé. She had expected to feel different this year, but yet again she found herself alone. Her spirits had risen as she dressed, believing without a doubt that Harry was waiting to surprise her with something wonderful. But he hadn’t been waiting outside her door, wasn’t in his room, and by the time she got down to breakfast she’d discovered that both he and Ron had already come and gone. In fact, she hadn’t seen Harry once all day. Here it was late afternoon, and not only could she not find her unusually flaky fiancé but not one of her friends had even acknowledged that they knew it was her birthday.

She looked expectantly at Ron as they sat in the common room, but he simply stared back at her in annoyed confusion. "What?" He finally asked.

"Nothing." She sighed, wishing she could just tell him how horrible she felt that they had all apparently forgotten what day it was. But there had been and still was so much going on, it was understandable that it would slip their minds- it still hurt.

"Can you believe my sister?" He asked, rising and pacing the room angrily.

"What, that she’d miss her boyfriend and want to spend time with him immediately? How dare she!" Hermione answered with mock offense.

"The guy just got done turning into a monster!" He protested.

"Right, done, as in finished until next month. He’s as human as we are right now."

"I wouldn’t go that far." He grumbled.

"You’re being ridiculous!" She scolded him, frustrated that she had to be in this stupid argument when she really wanted to scream what a horrible friend he was being to her.

"Yeah, yeah." He said quietly, realizing she was getting upset. "I need to go for a walk, get out of here for a bit. Will you come with me?"

"Wouldn’t you rather think it out on your own? I’m kind of tired." She protested, not wanting to have to listen to him complain about Ginny and Draco anymore.

"Come on, you look miserable in here too. Some fresh air will do us both some good." He insisted, grabbing her hands and pulling her to her feet. "I don’t want to be alone right now."

"Fine." She let out an aggravated sigh and let him lead her through the halls. She followed him outside and had to admit, it did feel better being out in the hazy, drizzling world. It was just cool enough to feel wonderfully comfortable and the rain had let up enough to keep them from being drenched. Realizing where they were heading, she grew apprehensive. "Hey, you’re getting awfully close to the Whomping Willow." She warned.

"It’ll be fine." Ron smiled. He made a noise and surprisingly Crookshanks appeared out of nowhere, dodging branches rather gracefully for his bulk until he reached the secret lever and pushed it. "Thanks!" Ron grinned at the cat, who meowed in reply before simply walking off.

"Where did he come from?" Hermione asked, finally overcoming her surprise and finding her voice.

"He was just walking over there, didn’t you see him?" He looked amused. "You should really look after your pet better." He moved to the entrance and began crawling through.

"Where do you think you’re going?" She demanded.

Turning back around, he regarded her with annoyance. "I said I needed to get out of here. I meant away from the entire school. Come on already."

Deciding a bit of doing what she wasn’t supposed to would help distract her from her unhappy thoughts, she shrugged and followed him down the tunnel to the trap door leading into the Shrieking Shack. Together they shoved it open and took in the dark, deserted house. It was quiet… too quiet as if the whole place where holding it’s breath.

Ron didn’t seem to notice, heading down the hallway without her. Realizing she wasn’t following, he turned in confusion. "You coming?"

"What’s going on?" She asked apprehensively.

"What do you mean? Nothing’s going on except you acting weird. It’s not like we’ve never been here before." He answered, now looking at her suspiciously.

Shaking her head to clear it of doubts, she decided to relax. "You’re right. I’m just a little jumpy I guess… expecting something bad all the time, you know?"

His eyes softened and he hurried back over, wrapping his arms around her. "I know exactly how you feel."

"I know you do." She returned the hug, not realizing how much she had been wanting to be held.

After a few moments he pulled away, grabbing her hand and pulling her down the hall. "But we just have to remember that sometimes when you turn a corner, a good surprise is waiting."

"Rare though, isn’t it?" She scoffed as they approached one of the closed off rooms.

He grinned. "Luckily, this is one of those times." Before she knew what was happening, he threw open the door in front of them and shoved her through.

"Surprise!" Several voices shouted at her. Blinking against the light she found Harry, Luna, Draco, Ginny, Parvati, Padma, Dean and Seamus, along with a few more classmates, and to her excited horror, Fred. They were all standing in the middle of a brightly decorated room wearing huge grins and staring at her expectantly.

"What’s going on?" She asked through her shock.

"It’s your secret birthday party, silly." Ron laughed, giving her another hug. "I’d have thought you’d have been able to put that together by now."

"Happy birthday!" Parvati and Padma yelled, both looking amused by her total surprise.

"I’m sorry, I just really wasn’t expecting…" She smiled, trying to explain her behavior.

"You weren’t meant to expect or suspect anything. That’s the point." Fred joked.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione turned to him, unnerved by his proximity. They had spoken to each other every day since she found the compact and to have him here now in front of her eyes… she wasn’t sure why it made her feel so flustered.

"Well, it’s nice to see you too. Harry invited me, he set this whole thing up." He answered.

Now she really was surprised- Harry had not only set up this party, he’d invited Fred as well? She was conflicted about that, though the reason was beyond her forcibly ignorant comprehension. Still she felt moved by the gesture and turned to him, her heart swelling with emotion. "You really did all this?"

Harry looked down shyly, shuffling his feet. "Yeah, well, I know things have been weird, that we haven’t spent much time together this week, but I just wanted to let you know I care…"

"Let’s get this party started!" Dean shouted, turning on music. Everyone broke off into groups, either dancing or breaking into the food and drink.

Hermione walked up to Harry and threw her arms around him. He felt stiff at first, but quickly relaxed, returning the embrace and resting his head on hers. "You’re wonderful sometimes." She said quietly.

"Yeah… sometimes." He replied. She chose not to ask what he meant, instead deciding to ignore everything and just enjoy the moment she was in.

(BREAK)

Fred had been delighted when Ron had contacted him to invite him to Hermione’s birthday party. Not only would he get the chance to talk to her face to face rather than through the compact, but he’d also get an opportunity to use the ring and contact George.

He desperately wanted to talk to his brother and had been eagerly making plans to head to Hogsmeade when Hogwarts had their first weekend there. To be able to do so early had made him extremely happy and ready for a party.

Though he’d known of his intended visit last night when they’d last spoken, he’d been very careful not to mention anything about it and was rewarded by an appropriate amount of surprise when Hermione finally walked into the room they’d all been hiding in. Having worried about whether or not she’d want him there, he’d been happy to recognize that beneath her shock, she’d been pleased to see him. Deciding to wait until later that night to approach Harry about the ring, he grabbed three glasses of whatever concoction Ron was handing out and walked up to the birthday girl ready to join in the festivities.

"Hey, there." He said, handing a glass to Harry and Hermione each before raising his own in a toast. "To pulling one over on the genius on her birthday!"

She smiled as they all drank, grimacing against the strength of the liquor. "Whew, not too many of these tonight."

"Yeah, what is Ron thinking? Does he want everyone out of their minds within the first hour?" Harry asked taking their empty cups. "I’m going to go talk to the self-imposed bartender, I’ll be right back with another, gentler round."

Fred could have sworn he saw relief pass his friend’s face, as if he’d been looking for a way to extricate himself from Hermione’s attention. "So, are you pleased? All of this just for you."

"I thought everyone forgot." She admitted, looking ashamed.

"Then why didn’t you say anything?" He laughed. "You really should learn to speak up when you’re unhappy."

"I suppose you all had a plan ready if I did say something." She grinned.

"Harry did. Told everyone to act surprised and apologize but to give nothing away. At least that’s what Ron said, of course… it seems none of them know that we’ve been talking too. You didn’t tell them about the compact?" He’d been wondering about that and with Harry off chastising Ron about the amount of alcohol he was dispensing, it seemed as good a time as any to bring it up.

She looked down. "No."

"Why not?"

"Well, I guess it’s like with you guys and the ring. It’s a way of contacting someone on the outside, away from all this and I didn’t want to share just yet." She refused to meet his eyes.

"I see, keeping me all to yourself…" He said in a low voice.

Her eyes shot up. "You never asked to talk to anyone else." She accused.

It was a valid point. He looked around the room, seeing everyone else was a safe distance away and decided to continue the intense honesty of the conversation. "I didn’t really want to talk to anyone else." He instantly saw the discomfort his words caused her. "I mean, you tell me everything that’s going on anyway, it never crossed my mind to ask to talk to anyone." He quickly added the explanation with a casual shrug.

"Here we go, these should be a little better." Harry said walking up to them with three new cups.

Fred and Hermione each took one, neither quite able to look at the other. They toasted and drank again and though this round was definitely less intense, he was beginning to feel the dazed warmth of slight intoxication fill his head. Better he talk to George before he got more drunk and therefore, more honest. "Hey, did Ron talk to you at all?"

Harry grinned, reaching into his pocket and producing the ring. "He told me you wanted to use this. Not too long though, okay? Remember what Luna saw."

The last thing Fred wanted was to be controlled by anything, let alone an inanimate object, so when Harry had told him of the vision he’d instantly decided he was okay with the ring going to Hogwarts. But the time away had been difficult and to finally have the prize once more in his hand filled him with such fulfillment that he knew Harry’s warning was well warranted. "I’ll be right back, don’t want to miss too much of seeing Ron once he’s drunk. That should be amusing." He grinned at them, pointing out his brother already dancing freely in the middle of the room before walking off.

He made his way downstairs to the rundown old parlor, casting a silencing charm before putting on the ring. There were things he needed to discuss with George that he really didn’t want the others to overhear. Within moments, his twin hovered before him and Fred felt his heart swell with joy and longing. "Hey you."

"Well, well. Look what the sick cat dragged in." George grinned. "How’ve you been Freddie?"

"Busy. I wanted to talk to you about a strange visitor I had." He cut right to the point, eager to get his brother’s advice on how he should proceed. "Elanya came by the store."

"Yeah? Well, despite what I said before, I wouldn’t buy what she’s selling right now." George answered seriously.

"No kidding. I’d like to think I’m a bit smarter than you give me credit for. I wouldn’t trust anything she said even if she were given the most powerful truth serum in the world." Fred insisted, though he knew he’d wanted to believe her… of course, her appearance had a lot to do with that. "The problem I’m having is deciding whether or not to tell the others about it. I mean, I know I should, but there’s so many reasons not to."

"Like mother freaking out about you being at the store from now on? Or Harry, Ron and/or Ginny running off to try and help? Or Hermione worrying unnecessarily that there’s nothing she can do to help you? Or Luna fretting about not getting any visions that would shed light on this whole thing?"

"To name a few." Fred shrugged.

"Okay, so you’re worried about what they’ll all do if they know… but if they don’t know and something happens, what will they do then?" George asked.

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning if something happened to you, or if somehow Elanya and her shrew friends manage to get you incorporated in their plans and no one has any idea that there was trouble to begin with… Well, how would they know to help you… or that they were possibly being led into a trap? You don’t want to be bait, do you?"

"I wouldn’t let that happen." Fred answered, feeling insulted.

"Yeah, well… Harry didn’t intend to let it happen to him that day in Knockturn Alley, and you see the consequences." He gestured to himself in his current ghostly position. "All I’m saying is it’s better safe than sorry these days Freddie. I miss you and all, but I don’t want you or any of the others coming to join me." George looked at him with such a sadly serious expression that Fred instantly felt hurt, angry that his brother would take the conversation to such a place.

"That was low." Fred muttered.

"I need to get your attention so you understand. If I can’t be there personally, then I’m going to do everything I can in this way to help you all get through this. It’s all I can do!" George cried.

"I know." Fred sighed. "Okay, so I’ll tell them. But not today."

"Right, there’s a party going on. So what are you doing down here?" George grinned.

"Trying not to miss you as much." He replied honestly.

George laughed. "Go drink another one."

"You’re the boss." Fred smiled back. He’d already known exactly what his brother was going to tell him, but actually hearing it from him made all the difference. They quickly said their good-byes and feeling a bit lighter, he rushed back upstairs eager to rejoin Hermione and her party.

(BREAK)

Ron was having a great time. He danced and danced, not caring what anyone thought including himself. He was freer than free thanks to the daze induced by the liquor he’d been consuming and for once wasn’t weighed down by all the fear, doubt and concern that normally ran his life. Stopping for a breath and another drink, he found the Patil twins laughing heartily at him. He grinned in return, unfazed by their amusement. "Come on!" He held out his hand to Parvati. "Let’s have fun!"

She shrugged at her sister and took his hand, shrieking in surprise when he twirled her out into the middle of the room. "What’s gotten into you?" She breathlessly laughed as he dramatically dipped her.

"Hey, it’s a party isn’t it?" He smiled widely.

"That it is!" Dean shouted from nearby, raising his glass in celebration. Then he and Seamus came to join them on the impromptu dance floor. Ron laughed when he caught sight of Hermione practically dragging Harry out with everyone else. The pained expression in his friend’s eyes reminded him of the Yule and Costume Balls and he was glad he’d drunk his own insecurities away. He noticed Fred walk in and fade into the wall to watch the others which wasn’t like him.

"Excuse me." He said to Parvati, dramatically bowing before walking over to his brother. "What’s wrong with you?" He asked, noticing a slight slur in his words.

"Nothing at all. Just taking a moment before jumping back in. I wasn’t expecting a dance marathon."

"I started it." He replied proudly.

"Congratulations Ronniekins. I knew you could let loose." Fred clamped a hand on Ron’s shoulder, which caused him to stumble a bit. "On second thought, maybe you should slow it down a bit. You’ll be passed out in an hour at the rate you’re going." He laughed.

"Maybe you should speed up." He shot back, certain he’d made a very valid and well-formed argument. "It helps with forgetting." He added.

Fred studied him closely. "Well, mum always said you can’t argue with a drunk. Lead the way little brother."

Ron was instantly thrilled, wanting his brother to feel the same relief that he was feeling. "Come on." He gestured wildly in the direction of the refreshments, blissfully ignorant of everything and everyone around him. If only he could carry this feeling with him forever…

(BREAK)

Hermione had thrown herself into the party spirit from the moment she’d realized what was going on. Even Harry had loosened up after a few drinks and things between them began to feel a bit more normal, though she noticed that they both weren’t drinking as fast or as many as some of the others. Obviously they both wanted to keep their wits about them- which led her to believe that she’d been right, he was hiding just as much from her as she was from him… possibly more. Still he humored her by dancing and talking to everyone, laughing and joking as if he weren’t feeling miserable underneath it all. She smiled gratefully at him from across the room where he was stuck in some conversation with Ron and Seamus.

Suddenly feeling the stuffiness of the room and the fog in her head, she decided to go get a moment of fresh air. Quietly slipping out and down the stairs, she stepped through the front door and onto the shabby porch. The rain had picked up again along with the wind, which showered her with a gentle spray. She closed her eyes to fully be in the moment, feeling the comforting warmth of drunkenness swirling through her. Was she happy? Fred had asked her that question and she hadn’t really given him an answer. She certainly was happy that her friends hadn’t forgotten about her like she’d thought, but what about everything else? Perhaps it was too big a question to ponder on her birthday, but she knew she’d have to address it eventually.

With a heavy sigh Hermione made her way back inside and up the stairs. Muffled music filled the dark hallway and she could see the light from under the door where all her friends were still celebrating. Not quite ready to rejoin them, she veered off into one of the abandoned rooms on the left. She just needed a few moments to gather herself and prepare for the long night of festivities ahead of them.

Suddenly the music grew louder and then softer again, indicating someone had exited the party room. She quickly hid among the shadows, not exactly eager to meet anybody one on one at the moment. Footsteps stumbled down the hallway and Fred tumbled into the room. Slumping down on a chair he let out a relieved sigh. She was about to try and sneak past him when she heard the door open again and another pair of more eager yet equally unstable footsteps coming towards her. "Here you are!" Padma declared as she gripped the doorframe for balance.

"Really? You followed me?" Hermione heard Fred mumble. She knew he’d had something going with Padma last year but had thought he’d ended it after George died. Perhaps the other girl was trying to rekindle flames and if that where the case, it was nothing she wanted to witness. She was desperate for a way out that would keep them from knowing she’d been there in the first place. ""I was looking for some time alone." He said aloud.

"I just wanted to say how good it is to see you." She said, obviously fueled by liquid courage.

Fred shook his head, standing with a sigh. "And you’ve told me, several times now. So why don’t you just say whatever it is that you really want to say?"

Padma straightened her shoulders as she gathered her nerves. "Well, I was just… You see I’ve always wondered… Well, do you think things would have ended differently between us if…" She shrugged uselessly, unable to force the rest of her thought.

"You mean would we have still broken up if George hadn’t died?" He asked in a neutral voice. "Probably. It was fun and all but you have to admit, there wasn’t much more to it than that."

"I suppose." She replied looking thoughtful. "I guess I just always wondered if it was because of… the situation, or if it was me."

"Are you kidding? You’re awesome." Fred assured her. "We just weren’t going to go anywhere, you know."

She nodded, looking more pleased than Hermione would have expected. She was surprised even more when Padma smiled before replying. "Yeah, I know. But it was fun while it lasted."

Fred grinned back at her wickedly. "It certainly was."

"I don’t suppose you’d be up for one more night of fun, for old times sake?" Padma asked, looking at him through her eyelashes as she ran her finger up his arm. Hermione turned away, feeling awkwardly intrusive for watching as much as she had. She wished she were anywhere else in the world.

Fred hesitated, leading Hermione to believe he was considering the offer and forcing her to double her efforts at finding an escape route. "It is certainly tempting… but since I still have a few brain cells firing right now I’m thinking it wouldn’t be such a great idea. No one likes getting stuck in the past." He answered at last. Hermione slowly let out the breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding.

"Well, the offer stands. You know where to find me." Padma cooed.

"I certainly do." He flirted back. "And I’ll definitely consider that the option exists."

Hermione slowly turned back in time to see Padma slink back down the hallway. Once more the music swelled and then quieted as the other girl rejoined the party. She waited impatiently for Fred to follow but to her shock he turned with an amused smile, looking directly in the corner where she’d hidden herself. "You can come out now."

Feeling uncertain, she stepped into the middle of the room. "You knew I was there?"

"Only right after Padma came in. I saw your drink over there." He gestured to the table by the door. Sure enough, her cup was sitting there, though she hadn’t remembered setting it down when she’d come in.

"Oh, well…" She shifted her feet, unsure what to say. "Sorry if knowing I was here stopped anything from happening with her."

"Hey, better I know you’re there and do nothing than not know and do something I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see anyone doing." He grinned.

"Well, I’ll leave and I’m sure you can still convince her." She offered uncomfortably.

He studied her closely before replying. "I’m sure I could. And if I really wanted, I could have just led her to a different room. There’s a reason I turned her down- I didn’t want anything to do with her."

"Oh." She said lamely because she had nothing else to say. "Well, I should be getting back, it is my party after all."

"Yeah, I’m sure Harry’s wondering where you got off to." He said carefully as he grabbed her cup and handed it to her.

"Maybe." She quietly answered. Before he could ask more, she purposely strode from the room and down the hall, throwing open the door and jumping back into the excitement. She was going to make sure that no matter what, for the rest of the night she would keep her distance from Fred.

(BREAK)

Harry didn’t know where Hermione had disappeared to earlier, but since she’d come back she’d been all about her party. After forcing several dances out of him, she’d dragged him over to join some silly drinking card game a few of the others had started. Though glad she seemed to be having a great time, his head was pounding and he felt incredibly hot and sweaty. They hadn’t been able to take down the boards covering the windows for fear that the villagers would see the light, which meant there was no fresh air getting to the room. He knew a few others had been sneaking out for a break and decided he deserved one as well. "Deal me out this time, I need some air!" He called over the music as he stood and stretched.

"Want me to come with?" Hermione asked, smiling up at him.

"No, you stay and keep kicking everyone’s ass at cards. I’ll be right back." He smiled back. Swayed by the moment, he leaned down kissed her cheek before heading outside. Leaning on the porch, he allowed the rain to hit him, cooling his skin. Hearing strange noises behind him he turned to find Dean heavily making-out with some girl from Hufflepuff that he’d brought along. Smiling to himself, he made his way along the porch around to the side of the house where he hoped to find a bit more privacy. Unfortunately he was wrong.

"Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were over here." He told Luna who was now standing before him looking nervous.

"I was just talking to Parvati." She answered slowly, indicating the other girl who Harry hadn’t noticed.

These were the first words they had spoken to each other since days ago in the woods. It was also the first time they’d been this close to each other. His heart pounded loudly against his chest in anticipation for how this would go. "I was just trying to get some air, but…" He shrugged helplessly.

"Oh Dean and his little girlfriend have been there for awhile now." Parvati laughed, drunkenly unaware of the tension between the other two.

"Well, I’ll just slip back past them and let you guys get back to whatever you’re talking about." He answered, feeling his own drunken stupor and hating himself for having given in to Ron. He wanted a clear head at the moment and that wasn’t going to be possible.

"No, you stay out here and catch your breath." Parvati insisted. "You’re face is all flushed and we don’t want anyone passing out. I’m going back for another drink, I’ll bring back a round for all of us." She grabbed their cups from their hands and walked off before either could stop her.

He and Luna stood staring at each other, both uncomfortable and neither willing to say anything. "Nothing serious with Parvati?" He asked at last, just to break the silence.

Luna shook her head and finally smiled. "She wanted to ask me if it was okay for her to ask out Ron."

"She didn’t?" He laughed along with her.

"I told her it was fine with me, but the poor girl has no idea it’ll never work out."

"Why not?" He thought Parvati and Ron wasn’t too out there an idea.

"Because she isn’t meant for him any more than I was." She answered, before once more growing silent and thoughtful. "I should head back in." She finally added.

"This was okay, wasn’t it?" He asked desperately as she made her way past him.

She turned. "What?"

"This, us just now talking to each other. It was okay, right?"

"I suppose." She said slowly.

"I just can’t keep going with the way it has been Luna, I’m miserable not being able to talk to you. Can’t we find some kind of truce… some way to…?" He struggled for the words, not sure exactly what he wanted from her- or rather not sure how to explain what he wanted from her.

"Okay, truce. I won’t avoid you and vice versa, but it’ll never be like it was Harry. It can’t be." She said. He realized she must have been equally unhappy to have so quickly agreed and without argument.

"I know." He replied. "Someday this will be better, won’t it?" He was desperate to know that a solution was possible, that there was a way for the truth to set them all free. If not, he knew he had to be dedicated to living the lie, but there was still a small hope that this tangled mess could be sorted out.

She sighed, looking down and shaking her head. "That depends on so much else, Harry. I’ve seen it better and I hope to get there someday…"

"Someday…" He repeated, not liking the implication.

"Someday is all any of us have anymore." She said sadly. "I’ll see you later I guess." And without waiting another second, she turned and fled from him.

He was able to breathe easier once she was gone. Leaning against the porch railing, he bent over and turned his face up allowing the gentle rain to pelt his skin. He didn’t want to go back inside where everything and everyone was hopelessly complicated. Out here alone it was simple, just him and nature. With a sigh, he stepped back, wiping his face on his shirt. Then straightening his shoulders, he made his way back, slipping past Dean and his date and heading back up the stairs. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and entered the party room, heading straight for Ron who was once more busy making drinks. "Make it a double this time." He instructed.

Ron grinned. "You’re the boss!" He slurred out happily.

Harry chugged it down in one gulp and ignoring the burning in his throat, held out his cup for another. "Hit me up again barkeep." He smiled.

"Whoa, what happened to worrying about everyone losing their minds?" Ron asked though he didn’t hesitate to fill the cup.

"Well, it’s too late for that now."

"If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em." He agreed, toasting him before downing his own drink.

Harry laughed. "I suppose so. And it appears I have a lot of catching up to do."

(BREAK)

Ginny had never seen Draco actually let go of his careful control before. It seemed everything he did when not under the influence of the wolf was well thought out and carefully considered. She hadn’t blamed him, knowing he often felt everyone was against him- but she sometimes wished he could be more spontaneous. Well, tonight was the night she got to see it. Between the mixture of alcohol and residual traces of the moon’s influence, he actually became sociable, friendly even. He laughed and joked with the other kids, smoothly glided her around while dancing, and even took part in some card game, losing gracefully when Hermione won nearly every hand.

She knew he was happy and seeing it made her happy. He walked over to her with another round of drinks, a wide sincere smile across his face and she couldn’t help but smile back, wishing this was the side of him that Colton and everyone else could see. "Your drink." He bowed slightly as he handed it to her, making her giggle.

"Well thank you." She curtsied back, stumbling slightly.

"On second thought, maybe you’ve had enough." He remarked, playfully reaching to take back her cup.

She turned, drinking it down in one gulp as her movement forced him to tumble into her. Quickly tilting her face, she captured his lips. "Come on." She whispered, leading him out the door and back to the trap door.

"So we’re done with the party then?" He asked with a mischievous smile as he followed her through the tunnel.

"We can go back if you want."

"That’s okay, it was a bit crowded back there." He replied quickly.

She grinned confidently, crawling through the tree and quickly leading the way back into the castle. They made their way to their common room and she headed toward the Gryffindor wing. "Everyone is back at the Shrieking Shack, we’ll have this whole side to ourselves." She explained, opening the door to her room and allowing him to walk past her.

No sooner had she closed the door than he had her pressed up against it. He lifted her in the air, bringing their bodies as close together as possible. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she let go of everything and allowed him to take the lead. Time escaped them, passing by in a whir of pleasure and exploration that left them lying next to each other out of breath and extremely contented. Feeling drifting off next to her, she kissed his forehead and turned on her side to go to sleep herself. She smiled when he threw his arm around her and pulled her close, kissing her shoulder. Nestling in closer she interlaced her fingers with his, studying their clasped hands. She’d taken his left one, the one that had just finished healing and she was still amazed by the soft new skin. Impulsively she brought his hand to her lips and kissed it, once more feeling happy that he was happy. She felt his lips curve into a smile against her shoulder. "I love you." He said sleepily.

Ginny stiffened at his words, waiting for more. But all that followed was him snoring softly in her ear. Suddenly wide awake, she lay there wondering if he’d really meant it in his half-drunk, post coitus stupor. No other boy had said those words to her, and she doubted whether Draco would even remember he’d said them in the morning. But she knew he had, and now she had to figure out what it meant to her. There was something she’d been putting off, something that she knew was holding her in the past… now that Draco had foolishly uttered those words -whether he knew it or not- she would have to force herself to face her demons.


NOTE: See you next time!

Chapter 34: Turning the Tides of Change

A/N: Moving right along… a touch more action and a lot of set up for coming events in this chapter so as always, Read, Review, and definitely Enjoy!

 

Harry woke with a pounding headache. The ability to see clearly as soon as he opened his eyes had him confused until he realized he’d fallen asleep with his glasses on. Glancing around, he realized that he and several others had simply passed out wherever they were standing the night before- the floor and dusty broken furniture of the Shrieking Shack were covered with sleeping students. He’d wound up on one of the couches, Hermione peacefully knocked out next to him. Gently reaching out and shaking her, he wondered what time it was and just how much trouble they would all be in if they didn’t get back to the castle.

Hermione bolted awake, startling him so badly he nearly fell off the couch. "What’s going on?" She demanded, at once alert. And then reality sunk in and she grabbed her head, closing her eyes against the soft daylight creeping through the windows. "Ugh, I feel horrible."

"You can thank our bartender, Ron, for that." He smiled.

"What time is it?" She asked in a panic.

Harry shrugged. "I have no idea, but the sooner we wake everyone up and get out of here, the better I think."

And so they went about rousing their friends. Everyone looked worse for the wear after last night, but they were all accounted for except Ginny, Draco and Luna. Harry knew they had all gone back to school the night before and wished he’d done the same. Fred stayed to help secret the kids back through the tunnel, ensuring they each found different ways into the castle and using the Marauder’s Map so that no one would be caught. At last the only ones left in the Shrieking Shack were Harry, Hermione, Fred and Ron. They quickly cleaned up their mess, not wanting to leave any trace of evidence that they had all defied so many rules. Once everything was more or less normal, they said their goodbyes and Fred apperated back to Grimmauld Place.

Harry thought he detected a hint a sadness from Hermione after Fred left, but he wrote it off as a general sadness that everything was so different this year. After all, every one of them had been through a lot together and now being forced to be apart from each other was a bit gut-wrenching.

After quickly sneaking to their rooms to change clothes and make themselves presentable, Harry walked into the Great Hall with his friends, glad to see that every single guest of the party had forced themselves to do the same. He’d stressed to them all how important it was that no one realize they’d been out of the castle and they’d gratefully taken his warning to heart. Sitting down to breakfast he felt satisfied that he’d successfully thrown his very first party. The fact that nothing else in his life was settled was something he tried not to think on too much, especially in his current hung-over frame of mind. Smiling at Hermione, he glanced past her to the Ravenclaw table where Luna still chose to sit by herself. With a heavy sigh, he turned to the food in front of him, trying to decide what wouldn’t instantly turn his stomach… after all it was a much easier decision to focus on than the one he knew he’d eventually have to make.

(BREAK)

The knock on her door jolted Luna out of her nap. Wearily wary, she slowly rose from her bed and went to see who was coming to bother her. To her surprise, she opened up and looked down to find tiny Professor Flitwick, head of Ravenclaw House. "Please excuse the intrusion Miss Lovegood. I hate to interrupt your Sunday."

She smiled at him, having always liked the strange and polite little man. "Think nothing of it. What can I do for you?"

"Ah, but it is what I can do for you!" He smiled back, producing an envelope. "As you know mail for certain students is being very closely screened and this has made it’s way through the process. I’m happy to deliver it to you."

Taking the letter, Luna was excited to see that it was from her father. He’d actually remembered to keep his promise! "Thank you." She said with sincerity, stooping to hug the flustered professor.

"Yes, well, I hope it contains good news." He replied, adjusting his jacket.

"You and me both." She said quickly, before returning to the solitude of her room. Settling herself back in bed, she tore open the envelope, eager to see what her father had to say. Mostly it was reassurances that he was okay and currently with her grandmother in their safe place. He of course bragged about his record magazine sales after finally being able to release the latest Quibbler issue, making her sure that by the time mail was delivered tomorrow, several students would also have a copy. Vaguely she reminded herself to give Draco some warning as she continued reading.

The last part of the letter gave her pause. He mentioned his dreams, something he rarely did which she greatly appreciated. She read the words again, trying to make sense of them. So you see love, I’m doing wonderfully. Except… well I must confess I haven’t been sleeping well. Dark, dangerous things are haunting my dreams making me certain something is coming. I wouldn’t mention it at all, but felt compelled to do so and you know what your granny says about following our instincts. Perhaps the warning is meant for you my darling, and if that is the case then I must confess myself scared. Keep yourself open and aware and I’ll do the same. Don’t doubt yourself, Luna. Doubt is the sword that can bring down even the greatest of men. All love and devotion from your doting father, Xenophilius Lovegood.

It was so unlike him, so… coherent. And the fact that he was actually admitting to being worried and even scared… well it was enough for Luna to be left completely unnerved. Something was definitely brewing, just waiting to be realized. Something big enough that even Xeno had to give in to fear and promote caution.

Once again she found herself wishing her power worked more like Harry’s telepathy, able to be called on any time she wanted. Instead she was left with feelings and vague warnings until everything aligned to tell her more. Glancing out the window, she saw that it was still raining as it had been for more than two weeks. She desperately wanted to go for a walk out in nature, to clear her head and make it easier for anything to come to her. But after her fight through the stormy woods with Harry, she knew better than to tempt getting sick. They’d both been lucky not to catch pneumonia that day and she wasn’t willing to test her luck twice. Putting the letter in her desk drawer, she once more laid down and pulled the covers up over her head, determined to spend the rest of the day not thinking about anything so that her mind would be free to receive even the smallest message.

(BREAK)

Though he wasn’t hungry, Harry went down to lunch anyway figuring it was better he spend his time in company rather than continue thinking himself crazy all alone. As he sat between Ron and Hermione, he caught the strong scent of the honeysuckle centerpiece, countered with the sweet smell of vanilla from the tiny cakes to his left. He instantly looked to the Ravenclaw table, but Luna wasn’t there and he realized the combinations of smells had reminded him of her, sweet and flowery. Even though he’d thought he’d closed himself off to noticing anything about her, she was still somehow able to invade his senses.

A tap on his shoulder startled him out his daydreams and turning he found a small familiar looking boy standing nervously and expectantly behind him. "Hey, you’re the kid Tristan and the other boys were picking on." Ginny pointed out, addressing the boy.

"Devon Smiley." He nodded, introducing himself.

"What do you want?" Draco asked suspiciously.

"Well, um, Harry? I was… well I was wondering if, maybe you were… well are you going to restart DA soon?" He stammered out. Harry stared at him, completely bewildered by the question. Devon must have noticed his surprised and reluctant reaction because he continued on without waiting for an answer and all in one breath this time, as if he’d practiced the speech exhaustively. "It’s just that I was in it last year, in Ron’s group, and it really helped me. I felt like I could finally stand up for myself and I guess I lost a bit of that feeling this summer and I was hoping that being in the DA again would bring it back. I just don’t want to be pushed around anymore and I think even knowing that I could take care of myself, just having that confidence would be enough."

Harry didn’t know what to tell the kid. Vaguely he’d realized last year that restarting the club would help others, but he’d mainly done it for his friends and for himself, so that he could feel he was making some sort of progress against the other side. It never occurred to him how important it could be to anyone else and he felt foolish for it. He wanted to start DA again, just for Devon… but there wasn’t any way. He had class at all hours everyday not to mention a multitude of other things to concern himself with. Plus he planned to be out of school and in the world within a matter of months. "I hadn’t thought about it." He finally answered, unable to offer more than the truth. "But I’m not sure I would be able to. Because of my academic program I had to quit quidditch so I doubt they’ll allow me to run a club."

"Oh." Devon said, looking disappointed.

One thing Harry hated was to feel that someone was disappointed in him. "Hey, I’ll see what I can do about it though." He promised.

"Harry, you won’t have time." Hermione cautioned.

"Maybe not to do it myself, but maybe someone else could take it over, so long as it continues."

"But it wouldn’t be the same without you leading it." Devon protested.

"Well you can’t have everything." Draco replied meanly. Apparently he was blaming Devon, still upset that because of him Ginny had tried to stand up to Tristan only to force Draco himself into a confrontation with the vampire.

While Harry could understand the line of thinking and the need to blame someone, he also knew Devon Smiley wasn’t really responsible. "I’ll see what I can do." He said again, hoping the kid would take that as enough and get lost.

"Thank you! I’m really sorry I bothered you, but I just had to find out about DA." He smiled and then with a happy wave, ran off to join his own friends.

Harry turned to Ron. "Do you remember him?"

He shrugged, returning to his meal. "Yeah, he was a bit clumsy, but determined."

"Just like his teacher." Ginny joked. Ron merely stuck his tongue out at her before deciding to ignore her completely.

"And just who are you thinking should run DA in your place?" Hermione asked.

This time Harry shrugged. "That’s a detail to be sorted out later. I told him I’d look into it and I will."

"Yeah, he never promised to actually start DA." Ron added in his defense. "Besides, you were the one who was all pushy about him running the club last year."

"Yeah, and I still think the DA is a good idea- but between school, research for the coven and… everything else… I just don’t think it’s a good idea for him to be involved in it."

"He’s still sitting right here guys." Harry interrupted their bickering, always annoyed when their fighting took the tone of talking about him like he wasn’t in the room. At the same time he wondered if the others had picked up on her hesitation when listing the reasons he couldn’t run the club. When she had said "everything else" he knew instantly that she was talking about their relationship and how turbulent it was at the moment- though they weren’t fighting and hadn’t even so much as suggested to each other that something was different or off.

"I know where you are." Ron grinned. "But unless you can be in two places at once you can’t run DA… and I doubt they’ll give you a timeturner just for that."

(BREAK)

It hadn’t been easy, but Ginny finally managed to ditch Draco. She’d at last convinced him to give into the need to start the mountain of schoolwork that had been waiting for him after he got back with Lupin. Although she also had her own work to get to, there was something else far more important that she had to attend to first. And so ignoring everything around her, she strode with purpose into the Forbidden Forest.

It wasn’t something she wanted to admit, but Draco had scared her last night with his drunken confession. She’d been relieved to learn that he had no memory of it that morning, but it hadn’t been enough to let her forget the moment. All through the day she’d been arguing with herself, saying that it didn’t matter if he admitted to loving her… even if it was during a time when one is often at their most honest- while drunk. Of course no other boy had uttered those words to her, even Harry who had tricked her into believing he wanted her hadn’t stooped so low… of course, he hadn’t needed to. She wanted to talk to someone, she needed to sort out all the twisted things in her head and heart so that she could answer the most important question- Did she love Draco back?

She knew who she wanted to talk to, who she had to talk to if she ever wanted to move past her guilt into a happy healthy place. But she hadn’t had the courage to ask Harry for the ring, fearing the things Neville would say to her after seeing her actions since his death. But if she really wanted to move on in her life and in her relationship with Draco, she knew she’d have to face his ghost eventually. Instead of going straight to the source however, she’d decided to take baby steps. And the first thing she had to do was properly honor his memory, something she should have done last school year but had been unable.

Neville had given her a gift -that book and those Bubble Flower seeds- and rather than appreciate the beauty of it after he was gone, she’d instead looked upon them as devices left behind to torture her. Now as she walked to the spot she’d buried them a few months before, she was determined to dig them up and plant them properly- to care for them and enjoy them as he’d wanted her to.

She’d been so focused on her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed the large bubbles floating past her until one literally exploded in her face. Wiping away the sweet-smelling, sticky wetness, she stood in breathless wonder as she took in the sight before her. Large, beautifully surreal, purple flowers were nearly bursting from the ground, their long vines twisting up the nearby trees. The deep violet petals danced in the breeze, emitting multi-sized, perfectly round, iridescent bubbles. The surrounded her, floating on the wind and swirling around her as if trying to carry her away with them. Reaching out, she touched one, watching it burst before her eyes in such a grand splash, she felt it against her skin. She let out an involuntary giggle, awed by this simple magic all around her.

"Okay, Neville." She whispered into the woods before lifting her eyes to the sky. "It’s about time we talked."

(BREAK)

Leaving Hermione to finish up her weekend homework, Ron dragged Harry away from his and led him outside. "Where are we going?" He asked.

"The Hufflepuff team is practicing, I want to watch." Ron answered, heading towards the Quidditch pitch.

"Why?"

He sighed. "I don’t know, so maybe it’ll be easier when we have to sit in the stands and watch the games with everyone else." He had planned early on in the summer to make this year his very best, that he would be not only a great student but a great keeper in quidditch and he would finally have a year of school where he felt successful. But he’d had to give up half that dream in order to be able to go on to greater things with his friends. He couldn’t read minds, but he didn’t have to in order to know that Harry was struggling with giving up the game as much as he was. Glancing at his friend, he saw a wistful sadness come over him… understandable considering his extraordinary skill at the sport.

"I guess there’s always a time to put away childish things and become a grown up." Harry reflected sadly as they approached the stands.

"Quidditch isn’t childish." Ron protested. "It’s a serious sport."

Harry smiled. "You know, Seamus and Parvati are frantic to replace us all for Gryffindor."

"Yeah, I know. It’s all he could talk about at the party last night." He grumbled, catching sight of someone already seated in the stands. "Hey, who’s that?"

Harry squinted, peering ahead of them. "Draco, I think."

"What’s he doing here?" Ron felt Malfoy had already completely invaded his life, in school and at home. Couldn’t there be one place where he didn’t have to see the jerk?

"Let’s go find out." He answered, walking over to the other boy. "Hey Draco, not up to no good I hope." He called in a light tone.

"Haven’t decided yet." Malfoy shot back. "Couldn’t focus on homework so I was just taking a stroll down memory lane." He looked out over the field where the Hufflepuff players were zipping through the air as they practiced their moves.

"Us too." Harry answered, taking a seat two benches lower than where Malfoy was sitting, obviously knowing Ron wouldn’t want to be too close.

He sat by his friend feeling much grumpier than when they’d first headed this way. Ron just couldn’t understand how everyone else was just so accepting of Malfoy now- the guy wasn’t that different, at least not as far as he was concerned. If anything he was just more pitiful. Glancing behind him, he saw the sad longing in Malfoy’s face as he watched the players and realized he was missing the game as much as they were… and he hadn’t been allowed to play last year either. Looking down, he was dismayed to discover that there was in fact a part of his former enemy that he could actually relate to.

The three boys sat in silence for a long time, sometimes commenting on something one of the players did wrong. At last Ron saw that the Hufflepuffs were ready to pack up and head in. "Hey!" He stood, calling out to the team captain. "Could you guys leave that stuff out?"

"As long as you put it away!" The tall, blonde girl shouted back.

"No problem!" He yelled before turning to Harry and Malfoy. "Come on."

"What are you doing?" Harry asked, rising to follow.

"What are we doing?" He smiled. "Let’s grab our brooms and have some fun."

"Really?" Malfoy looked skeptical.

"Yes, really. Unless you think you’re too rusty to get the quaffle past me." Ron taunted, seeing the gleam return to the other boy’s eye.

"Like that would be any sort of challenge." Malfoy returned with a small, determined smile.

"Then let’s go!" He grinned with vicious amusement. "I can’t wait to make you eat your words."

(BREAK)

Harry was proud of Ron, making an effort to get along with Draco. The three of them stayed up in the air for hours playing the game, goofing off and generally enjoying the freedom of being in the air. Eventually Hermione came to call them to dinner, taking the opportunity to scold all three boys on making no progress with their actual schoolwork. For just a little while, it felt like a normal day and he relished in it, realizing how much change had been occurring within them all.

Quickly washing up, they hurried down to the Great Hall to join Ginny and Hermione. Luna of course remained at her own table. He was grateful no one was questioning her choice but knew eventually that they’d realize more was going on that Luna just being odd. He made a conscious effort not to even glance in her direction, hating that he felt so fragmented and longing for a few more hours up on his broom.

"Harry?" Healer Drake had walked up to their group and was indicating that he wanted a private word.

"Be right back." He told his friends before rising and following Drake out into the deserted hallway. To his surprise the healer kept going, continuing on down to the dungeons and all the way to his office.

He closed the door behind them, pulling out his wand and casting a silencing charm on the room before settling himself behind his desk. "Sorry for dragging you all the way down here but I wanted to be assured we had some privacy."

"Of course, no problem." Harry answered, sitting across from him and extremely curious to find out what was so secret.

"I wanted to let you know that I’ve received word from Arthur. He’s finally managed to get me into Azkaban to see Willem." Drake began. "Now since no one knows about you and your friends’ little excursion there, I figured it was up to me to keep you apprised of what’s going on. I’ll of course let Willem know not to mention your visit to him, but I was wondering if there was anything in particular I should be asking about?"

"Jayalina Delamora." He automatically responded. "He said he didn’t know much about her, but then we didn’t really have time to jog his memory. If you could get him remembering everything he found out about her back when he was investigating her, I think he might be able to give us something useful."

"If only I could look through his memories." Drake smiled, reminding Harry of the horrible trip he and Luna had taken through Sarah’s head. "I’ll see what I can find out. I will also be assuring my friend that we are working on a way to get him released without notice."

"I’m glad. He’s been there too long already, I felt horrible leaving him behind." Harry hung his head, remembering how useless he felt having to abandon an innocent man.

"I’m sure he would have felt horrible if you and Miss Lovegood had been caught trying to help him, considering the domino effect that would have created if the public got wind of it." The healer returned, standing and coming to sit in front of him on the edge of the desk. "Harry, you didn’t put Willem there and you didn’t abandon him. If anyone failed him it was me, who was his childhood friend and knew better than to take Edmund’s word. Six years I knew he was imprisoned under false pretenses, but until now, until you and Arthur came along, there was no one to go to with my suspicions. At least, no one who wouldn’t also throw me in Azkaban just for questioning… so don’t feel badly. You and your friend are the reason he’s in the process of being freed now."

"I just hope it all works out."

Drake smiled. "You and everyone else. I’ll be going tonight, when there’s less chance anyone would notice. I’ll let you know what happens after our next class together. Wouldn’t want to draw more suspicion than I already have seeking you out this once."

"Thank you." Harry smiled back, finding himself liking the healer more and more. At last someone who understood how frustrating it is to be kept in the dark!

He left the office wanting to immediately run off and tell Luna. After all, this could have a big effect on Kane’s murder case… but he knew he wasn’t supposed to be bothering her. Sure they’d found some middle ground last night at the party and agreed to a truce and sure this was pretty important… but he somehow felt she wouldn’t be as open to conversation. He decided to wait until after he talked to Drake again, to see if there was even anything to tell. Then he’d gather everyone to tell them as one… that should keep Luna satisfied that he wasn’t seeking her out… shouldn’t it?

(BREAK)

"I wonder what Drake wanted." Ron mused a little while after Harry left.

"I’m sure Harry will tell us." Hermione answered as she pushed food around on her plate.

But by the time dinner was over, he still hadn’t returned so they all retired to their dorms. Except Ron that is who went off to find Seamus so they could discuss the new Gryffindor quidditch team. Hermione had no interest in that and so instead she made her way to the common room, laying on the couch in front of the circular fireplace to work on her Ancient Runes essay. It wasn’t due for a few days, but she figured her time was better spent productively. She was trying to concentrate, she really was… but as Ginny and Draco walked by, her ear caught a thread of their conversation that she found extremely interesting.

"I just can’t believe they didn’t work at all!" Ginny was saying, holding up two familiar looking crystals.

"Well it sort of worked. Lupin and I both felt it was different this time and I believe his opinion even more than my own. He’s been doing this longer." Draco replied.

Before she even realized she was speaking out loud, the question escaped Hermione’s lips. "What are you talking about?" She sat up

They both turned in surprise, alarmed to find they weren’t alone. Both seemed to relax a little to see that it was someone they could trust. "These stupid crystals." Ginny replied, showing them to her. "Draco thought maybe they’d help stop him from turning but it was useless."

"Not useless." Draco corrected. "Lupin and I each carried them and we both felt like they enhanced the wolfsbane, kept our minds more human even if our bodies were still wolves."

Hermione took the stones from Ginny and studied them closely, knowing at once where they had come from. "Why did you think they would help?" She asked breathlessly.

"Well, I sort of knew about this cavern under the school back from when I was spying on you all, I saw Fred go down there anyway. Well I was looking for somewhere to be alone a few days ago and went down there and I don’t know…" He paused, trying to put his feelings into words. "It was just peaceful I guess, I felt more grounded. Something just told me to try taking some of them with me."

"So you got these from Rowena’s Cavern?" She wanted to be sure.

He shrugged. "If that’s what it is."

"Why are you so interested?" Ginny asked suspiciously.

"I’ve been down there and I thought I recognized these when you were holding them. I was just wondering where they’d come from." She answered quickly.

"If you say so." Ginny replied, still looking at her strangely.

"Hey, I have to go get something from the library. I’ll see you guys later." She said, handing back the crystals and practically running from the room, not caring what they thought of her hasty departure. She was too excited.

Rushing through the halls she made her way to the entrance to the cavern, dashing through the tunnel and bursting into the crystal filled room. Though it was evening and though it was rainy and gloomy outside, she was still surrounded by softly gleaming sparkles. Feeling the excitement bubble within her, she pulled the compact from her pocket where she’d been carrying it.

"You summoned me?" Fred’s voice echoed around her after a few seconds.

"I think I figured out what we’ve been missing from your wolfie potion." She answered, smiling in satisfaction.

(BREAK)

Luna woke up feeling like she never wanted to go to sleep again. Her dreams had been darker than they’d ever been, full of shadows forewarning the future. But it wasn’t the images she had a problem with –she wanted them to come- it was the frustration of not being able to see them clearly. Something was brewing and lots of decisions were on the brink of being made on both sides of the war… but until one was made, things would never become clearer to her. There was nothing she could do to force the visions other than remain open to them.

Glancing out the window, she was pleased to discover the first pleasant day since they’d arrived at Hogwarts. The sky still had touches of pink from the rising sun but was well on it’s way to a clear, comforting blue dotted with white fluffy clouds. Not a touch of gray to be seen anywhere and she actually felt uplifted as she got out of bed to take in the lush, emerald scenery and calm sparkling lake. Dressing quickly, she grabbed her books and shoved them in her bag. Then quickly running a brush through her hair, she quietly crept through the common room and into the hallway, eager to get out in the fresh air before the rest of the school awoke.

Finally stepping out into the courtyard, she breathed deeply as the earthy scent of a world after rain filled her nose. Feeling light and airy, she decided to take a walk around the lake before going back in for breakfast. She reached out her hand as she walked, letting the soft leaves of the trees bordering the water brush her fingertips. Stopping to scoop a clump of dirt, she felt connected to nature in that moment and remembered telling Ron last year that she’d read it was good luck to carry the earth with you. She knew he’d thought it strange then and probably still would… without hesitation she shoved the dirt in her pocket not caring who thought what about her anymore. Continuing on, she watched small animals scamper through the woods in search of food, listened to birds greet the morning with a cheerful tune and let her mind go blank as she forced herself to stay in the moment, to fully feel the primitive joy she was experiencing.

She had wandered in a happy daze, but when she finally found herself on the other side of the lake her stomach suddenly dropped. Tuning back into the real world, she realized the birds had stopped singing and the woods were still and silent… there was a predator near. Despite knowing she should turn back, she was compelled forward taking care to make as little noise as possible. Flashes of images from her dreams flashed through her mind, making her certain of who she would find.

Sure enough as she crept through the trees, she moved aside some branches and saw Tristan standing menacingly close to another boy. Cautiously moving closer, she tried to hear what they were saying but their voices were too low and she didn’t dare try to get closer. Tuning into their thoughts was proving difficult and she realized Tristan was protecting both boys’ minds from outside tampering. They must have warned him about her, Harry and Dumbledore before they sent him here.

Just as she decided to be smart and turn back, swift movement caught her attention. Tristan had reached out and grabbed the other boy’s arm, expertly flipping his wrist and bringing the flesh to his mouth. Luna covered her mouth to hide the gasp of horror that had tried to escape- but it was too late, she’d done enough to give herself away. Tristan dropped his hold, the boy crumbling to the ground at his feet. "Don’t worry, he’ll be alright." He called out to her. "Just a little snack, you know, and from a willing donor."

Luna stayed silent, trying to figure out what she was going to do. "Come on, I know you’re there Miss Lovegood." He taunted.

Slowly she emerged from her hiding spot making sure to keep a large distance between them. Glancing at the boy on the ground, she saw that he was in fact still breathing. Taking in his Slytherin robes, she realized she was looking at Troy Mason, the boy in her class. "Is he okay?" She asked quietly.

"Do you really care?" He returned, studying her carefully. "You really do, don’t you? Interesting, Miss Lovegood. Very interesting."

"Well?"

Tristan laughed deeply. "He’ll be fine. You’d be surprised how much blood one can lose and still remain alive." He nudged Troy with his foot, soliciting a groan from the other boy. "See, he’ll make it. Like I said, he knew what he was volunteering for." He turned back to face her wearing a pleasant smile, but his eyes betrayed the threatening anger underneath. "Now you aren’t going to do anything stupid like report us, are you?"

"I’m not sure there’s anything to report." She answered slowly, unconsciously taking a few steps back.

He remained where he was, keeping his gaze locked on her. "Of course there isn’t. We haven’t done anything wrong. I’d just hate to have to explain myself to people who couldn’t possibly understand…"

"I won’t tell Dumbledore." She promised, wanting nothing more than to run away. But she was reluctant to turn her back to him.

His smile instantly turned sinister. "How specific of you. You won’t tell the Headmaster… but you would tell Harry, Draco and the rest of your little ragtag group of friends."

"No." she answered instantly.

"You know, I’m always looking for new donors…" He still remained where he was, though Luna felt he could be on her in an instant if he chose. She could see his muscles tense slightly, as if preparing to pounce.

"I’m not volunteering." She answered steadily, ready to flee.

"I didn’t expect you to. But I can’t exactly trust your word that you won’t tell anyone."

Reaching in her pocket, she searched for her wand and instead felt the gritty dirt she’d shoved in there earlier. "What does it matter? Everyone already knows what you are." She tried to reason with him.

He hesitated… and then she knew. It was about more than just him going around biting people- something else was going on, something he really didn’t want them to know about. He must have seen the realization in her eyes because without warning he was in motion. Before clearly knowing what she was doing, she pulled out her hand and threw the dirt in his eyes before dodging swiftly to her left. She began running full speed toward the castle, certain she’d be safe once inside it’s walls. She didn’t dare look back, fearing even that half second would slow her down enough to be caught. Breaking through the trees, she saw the courtyard in front of her and beyond that, the large front doors beckoning her to the sanctuary waiting behind them.

With her heart hammering against her chest, her pulse pounding in her ears and her lungs on fire, she propelled herself forward, pushing through the door and crashing right into someone else, bringing them both to the ground. "Luna? What’s wrong?!"

She looked up and recognized Jasmine Sinclair, a fellow Ravenclaw. "He’s chasing me!" She gasped out, struggling to her feet. Jasmine grabbed her shoulders, trying to calm her.

Damia Liu, the girl she’d actually knocked over angrily picked herself up off the floor. "Who?" She demanded.

Luna turned to point out Tristan who she was sure was just seconds behind her… but the courtyard as well as the grounds beyond it were empty. "But… he… he was right there!" She stammered out.

"There’s no one there, Luna. Maybe you were dreaming." Jasmine said condescendingly as she shared a smile with Damia.

"I knew she was strange but really." The girls were saying as they walked away.

She paid them no mind, still searching outside for Tristan. Everything in her had screamed that she was being chased, but had she been wrong? She had to be, after all it was unlikely she’d really be able to outrun a vampire. And if he hadn’t chased her… well had she somehow misinterpreted what had happened? Could it be possible she’d made the whole thing up in her mind? No, she was certain Tristan had been out there… but perhaps she had mistaken the situation. Maybe he’d just been messing with her, trying to get in her head. As she stood there attempting to rationalize what she’d just been through, she kept her gaze on the trees, waiting for him to burst through and carry out his threat… or possible threat… she wasn’t so sure now. But despite her uncertainty, she walked backwards into the Great Hall, refusing to ever again turn her back on Tristan Macnair.

Being alone was suddenly the last thing she wanted, and so she quickly made her way over to where her friends were sitting, trying to hide her nerves. Swiftly pulling out the chair next to Ginny she sat down attempting to look nonchalant.

"Well, finally got tired of sitting by yourself?" Ron asked.

"Okay, sure." She answered distractedly. Tristan had just walked in, and he quickly moved past them, ignoring her completely- Troy was nowhere to be seen. Her heart leapt into her throat and she swallowed hard. Turning back to the others, she noticed Harry studying her out of the corner of his eye and she knew he’d realized something was off.

Breakfast stretched on forever and when finally they were able to make their way to class, Luna made sure to stay close to Ginny. "Hey? Still being chased?" Damia asked with a laugh as she and Jasmine walked past them all.

She instantly shut down her mind, already feeling Harry trying to invade her thoughts. He knew she was keeping something important and was determined not to let their truce stand in the way if he felt there was danger… and he was pretty good at sensing danger. But the last thing any of them needed was Harry making any kind of stand against Tristan. It was exactly what the vampire and those pulling his strings wanted, having already forced Draco to do so through Ginny.

"What was that about?" Hermione asked.

Luna shrugged. "I have no idea. I tend to ignore people who like to tease me. We better get going." She grabbed Ginny’s arm and practically ran towards Dumbledore’s office, wanting to put as much distance between her and Harry and Hermione as possible. They were the ones most likely to put two and two together.

"What is your problem?" Ginny asked once they were on the stairs.

"I wish I knew." She answered with a sigh. It was the easiest answer to give and only slightly a lie.

They entered the office and sat together, Ginny distracted by worried thoughts of Draco while Luna nervously watched every face that came through the door. Dumbledore arrived and took his place behind his desk, ready to begin his class. Just before the clock struck the appropriate time, Troy finally sauntered in. Luna studied him closely as he took a seat across the room from her. His skin was pale beneath the slight flush of his cheeks and forehead. Deep shadows covered his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in days, making his entire face appear hollow. No one else seemed to notice that the boy appeared to be in poor health and only she knew it was due to blood loss. Feeling her gaze on him, Troy slowly turned his head and shot her a wide, sinister grin.

For a moment, Luna had expected to see fangs… but his teeth were normal if slightly crooked and she let out a deep sigh of relief. Quickly switching her focus back to the headmaster, she still felt Troy looking at her and smiling. A shiver went down her back and she realized that she was actually really scared. Perhaps this was something she would have to share with the others after all.

(BREAK)

At first Draco thought he was imagining things. By the end of his second class he was sure he wasn’t. Whether in class or in the halls, kids were staring at him and whispering behind their hands… more than usual. But it wasn’t until he sat down at lunch and actually caught sight of two kids across the room passing a copy of the Quibbler that he realized why. "Well, I guess the new issue finally came out." He said sullenly, staring at his plate, unsure how to feel.

"Oh, Draco!" Luna reached over Ginny who she’d again chosen to sit by and grabbed his hand. "I’m so sorry I forgot… I was going to tell you that my father had finally found a way to circulate publication."

"It’s okay. I knew it was coming sooner or later." He squeezed her hand and then quickly pulled away, not liking the emotions he felt swirling through her when they’d made contact. Something was bothering her bad enough that she couldn’t contain it like she normally would and that paired with her strange behavior that morning and her desire to suddenly sit with her friends effectively distracted him from his own troubles. Something definitely had this girl spooked.

"Though a little warning would have been nice." Ginny mumbled. He elbowed her, shooting her a disapproving look.

"Sorry." Luna quietly repeated. "I got distracted."

"By whatever was chasing you this morning?" Potter asked sharply. Draco looked at her, interested to see how she’d answer.

"I already told you all, I have no idea what those stupid girls were talking about." She once more went with the lie. But Draco could see the anxiety in her expression, the doubt as to whether or not she was doing right by not telling the truth. And if he could see it, then it was certain Potter could see it.

"Hey Draco, enlightening article." Troy taunted as he walked by. "Guess you’re hanging out with the right crowd after all."

"I wonder what this is going to mean for your dear old dad." Millicent laughed as she added her two cents from the next table.

"Ignore them." Granger suggested. "They’re just ignorant morons."

"True but that doesn’t make them any less right. This is going to be really bad for my father."

"Do you really care?" Weasley asked surprised.

"I really don’t know. But what’s done is done." And nothing was more truthful than that. Lucius had left his son for dead after being the one to curse him and had threatened to finish the job a few times after- he could never take it back even if Draco was now physically restored from the ordeal. And now he had taken the proverbial shot back at his father, igniting the flame of truth and leaving Lucius to his fate.

After lunch, they had an hour between classes and Draco rushed to his room eager to drop off the crystals. He was sure he’d put them in his pocket this morning, hoping their calming effect would help him get through his day. But now that he was experiencing the side effects he wanted nothing to do with them. They were making him more aware of other people and their emotions, more sympathetic, more empathetic… and all of that made him far too uncomfortable. Rushing into his room, he dug deep into his pockets, searching for the offending objects. But all of his pockets were empty. Looking over at his dresser, he saw that he hadn’t actually remembered to pick them up this morning… the only thing driving him had been himself. He found that fact wholly disconcerting.

(BREAK)

Before the seventh year students went back to class, Ginny had cornered Harry, asking to borrow the ring. He’d gone to his room and handed it over without argument, though his eyes flashed concern. "Don’t worry. I won’t run off with it." She snapped, angry more with herself than with him. After all, his suspicious unease was due to her previous actions.

"Okay." He said simply before walking off with Ron, Hermione and Draco.

Having and hour or so until her next class, she figured this was as good a time as any other to talk with Neville. But closing herself up in her room, she found she couldn’t bring herself to put on the ring. She knew the others had assumed she was going to call up George, and part of her wanted to. But her brother wasn’t the one who could offer her redemption and what scared her was that perhaps Neville couldn’t either. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and thrust the ring on her finger, clearing her mind and focusing on every memory she had of the boy.

It took some time, but at last she felt his presence in the room. "Hi, Ginny." He said shyly as she opened her eyes.

"Hello Neville." She returned uncertainly.

"I had kind of hoped you’d eventually want to talk to me again." He looked down, twisting his hands together nervously.

"The Bubble flowers have bloomed." She blurted out to cover the bolt of guilt that suddenly struck her. "They’re beautiful. I wanted to thank you for giving them to me… I never got the chance before."

Lifting his head to at last meet her gaze he smiled warmly. "You’re welcome."

Feeling tears stinging her eyes she was unsure how to proceed and just opened her mouth to let the words that needed to be released come out however they would. "Am I an idiot?" The question surprised her as much as it did him.

"I never thought you were. I have no reason to think so now." He answered steadily. "Why do you ask?"

"It’s just… you know what, nevermind." She shook her head, deciding she was being unfair. "I shouldn’t be coming to you with any of my problems, let alone this one."

"I don’t mind." He answered quickly. "I really don’t Ginny. I get to know about all of you from up here and I’m happy to give my perspective. I know you were seeing that healer, just close your eyes and pretend I’m her."

If only Laurel were here, but she wasn’t and unlike her, Neville wasn’t an unbiased observer. "I can’t. You’re just you."

"Then just talk to me." He said gently. "I really want to help."

"I’m sure you do." She began pacing, unable to contain her agitation.

"Look you don’t have to be uncomfortable… It’s something to do with Draco, right?" He guessed, smiling earnestly to put her at ease.

She stopped in her tracks, feeling her chest grow tight. "I can’t talk about this."

Neville floated a bit closer. "He’s a lot different than he used to be." He said softly.

"And in certain ways he’s completely the same." She shot back.

"But only in the important ways. His character hasn’t changed, only his values have shifted."

"I thought for the longest time that he killed you." She whispered.

Neville nodded. "And nearly killed him as a result. But he didn’t do it, Ginny."

"But he used to be the kind of person that made it easy to believe he had!" She cried. "And that was less than a year ago!"

"Almost a year ago." He quietly reminded her. "Who are you trying to argue with, me or yourself?"

"Both!" She answered truthfully.

"Well stop it!"

"I just don’t know!" She threw her hands up and started pacing again, feeling herself getting worked up. "Am I just so desperate to have someone love me that I’m looking past some very obvious flaws? I mean not one of my brothers is happy about it, though Fred’s come around a bit and I think part of him even likes Draco now. And the others- Harry, Hermione and Luna- they’re completely supportive… but what if they just want so badly to believe Draco’s changed that they too are being blinded?" She looked at him with desperate anticipation, as if he held the all the answers she sought in life.

"I think you’re as sure as Harry and the others that Draco has chosen his side, you just don’t want to admit it." Neville answered, studying her carefully. "And I think you know he chose it because of you, and long before that day you stabbed him in the alley."

"So what’s wrong with me then?"

He shrugged and smiled at her. "You’re scared."

Her entire body felt warm and tingly, her legs weak… but she ignored all signs that the ring was draining her, desperate to understand herself through Neville’s eyes. "Of what?"

"Of being happy of course. And of how everyone else will feel about it."

"That doesn’t make any sense." She sighed, feeling her face flush and sweat bead across her forehead.

"Are you kidding?" He snorted. "You said yourself that your brothers aren’t thrilled with the relationship. And no matter how many times you tell yourself that you don’t care, it’s still something you can’t help but focus on. And why wouldn’t you want your family’s approval? There’s nothing wrong with that. But you’re scared that if you go ahead and have your relationship they’ll turn on you. And you’re certainly scared of what I’ll think which is why you came to talk to me in the first place. You were worried that if you let yourself be happy with Draco then your guilt would eat you alive."

She took in his words, focusing on him rather than her exhaustion. "I suppose it’s good to hear someone else say it outloud." She answered at last.

"Look, I’m fine with whoever you’re with as long as you’re happy, and if you aren’t, then get out. That’s all it comes down to."

"I’m not sure that’s exactly what Laurel would have said." She grinned.

"Well, like you said, I’m me." He grinned back. "I have to go now, the connection is growing too weak." He quickly added.

"It was good to see you again Neville." She said, wishing she could reach out and hug him.

"You too Ginny." His smile was sad this time. "Don’t be a stranger."

"I won’t." She promised. "I won’t forget about you."

"I know you won’t. See you next time."

And then he was gone and she was alone in her room, left only with the remnants of their conversation. Though she knew she had class in a matter of minutes, she couldn’t bring herself to leave. Instead she climbed under her covers, staring at the shadows move across the wall and thinking of everything and nothing. Several hours passed until her rumbling stomach told her that it was time for dinner. She’d been expecting the soft knock at her door and eagerly climbed out of bed to answer it.

"Hey, everyone already headed down to eat." Draco said as soon as she opened the door, stepping into the room and looking her over carefully. "Luna said you missed your afternoon classes, are you sick or something?"

"I love you." She said quickly before she lost her nerve, throwing her arms around him and crushing her lips against his.

He pulled away, capturing her face between his hands and staring intently into her eyes. "What did you just say to me?" He demanded.

She was as determined not to cry now as she had been when talking to Neville, and so she met his gaze steadily, placing her hands over his and allowing herself to soften in sincerity. "I said I love you. And I mean it. I don’t need you to say it back… I don’t even care if you can’t. I just needed to tell you."

He desperately reclaimed her mouth, kissing her with such passion that she was tingling from her lips to her toes. Breaking apart so they could catch their breath, he rested his forehead against hers and she could feel them both shaking in anticipation. "I love you Ginny." He whispered and she instantly felt the truth of his words as they flowed through her. Forgetting dinner and his final class for the day, they spent the rest of the night together in her room celebrating that they had taken such a large and vulnerable step in their relationship. She’d been asking herself if she was happy and today Neville had also brought up that question. So was she happy? As she lay in his arms in the early morning hours, she was certain that she was.

(BREAK)

"But I’m tired!" Ron protested as Hermione tried to drag him off the couch where he was laying.

"I don’t care! You have to go to class!" She argued. He refused to budge so she turned to Harry who was currently standing uselessly beside her and yawning. "Well I’m not letting you make me late for class. Talk some sense into him will you?"

Irritated she scooped up her bag and stormed out, disappointed with them and Draco too. She’d gone to rouse him for class as well only to discover he wasn’t in his room and when she’d tried to find him in Ginny’s room, the noises she’d heard from within kept her from even attempting to knock on the door. And so as the lone scholar among her peers she headed to the Astronomy tower, eager for class. Tonight they were scheduled to study the different moon goddesses throughout different cultures, and it was a topic she found interesting if a little silly. She was about to climb the last set of stairs when someone came out of the shadows on the landing, startling her as they moved to block her way. Looking up, she came eye to eye with Tristan. "What do you want?" She asked, crossing her arms and forcing herself not to show her fear though she longed to take a few steps back.

"Just a few moments of your time, Miss Granger." He replied, casually throwing out his arm and leaning against the wall.

"For what?"

"To flatter you." He smiled dangerously. "I’ve noticed what an intelligent creature you are. So smart, you wouldn’t just take someone at their word, right?"

Now she did take a few steps backward, feeling horribly uncomfortable and wanting whatever this was to be over. Her hand brushed her pocket and she felt the compact. It comforted her somewhat, knowing she had a sort of lifeline should things go wrong. Of course, she could always use her mind to call out to Harry who was much closer, but she worried that he would endanger himself for no reason… simply out of anger that Tristan was bothering her. She was torn about how to handle this and figured it was best she play along for as long as she could. "What are you talking about?" She angrily demanded.

"I mean if one of your friends came to you with some ridiculous story, you wouldn’t just believe them outright, would you?" He pushed himself away from the wall and took a few steps closer, forcing her another few steps back. "I mean you’d investigate, get both sides of the story before you made a decision about whether they were telling the truth, right?"

She could feel the edge of the stair behind her and knew that one more step backwards meant a tumble down the lot of them. "Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about." She nervously reached out and grabbed the railing.

He stopped, studying her very hard. "You really don’t, do you…" He smiled widely. "How wonderfully unexpected. Tricky little thing that girl is."

Hermione was beyond confused but knew she wanted to be away from the situation. While meaning to step down on the next lower stair, her heel caught the edge and she nearly flung herself backwards, losing her grip on the railing as she struggled to catch her balance. Faster than she could imagine, Tristan reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back onto the landing and close into his body. "Careful Hermione." He whispered, capturing her eyes. "We wouldn’t want you to crack open that lovely head and spill those big brains all over."

"What’s going on?!" Someone angrily demanded from behind her. She felt herself pulled away from Tristan’s grasp and shook her head violently to clear it of the influence he’d tried to infect her with through his eyes. Only then did she realize that it was Harry who had freed her from the vampire, shoving her behind him and into Ron’s protective embrace.

"Just saving your girlfriend’s life. I would have expected a bit more gratitude." Tristan sneered.

"I almost fell down the stairs." She heard herself blurt out and once more mentally cleaned out her head of all traces of him. "Because he had me backed into a corner." She quickly added.

"Really? And what exactly did I say that was so intimidating?" Tristan asked innocently. "I had nothing but pleasant things to say to you."

"Why don’t you just keep all conversation, pleasant or otherwise, to yourself." Harry growled out. "That’ll save any mistakes or accidents from happening."

"Excuse the interruption!" Professor Sinistra called from the top of the stairs. "We’re about to start class up here if anyone is interested." Shooting them all a disapproving glare, she turned and swept back out into the night.

Tristan appeared truly disappointed when Harry took a deep breath and stepped away, putting off any sort of confrontation. Taking her hand, he brushed past their enemy and with Ron bringing up the rear they headed up to class. Tristan may not like how Harry had chosen to walk away from the fight, but she’d never felt prouder of him.

(BREAK)

Harry’s blood was still burning as he, Hermione and Ron took their place among the other students. Tristan stood across from them and stared only at him while wearing a vicious smile. He tried to ignore the other boy, but he kept feeling something, as if Tristan wanted him to read his thoughts. Though he didn’t want to hear what the vampire had to say, the fact that it was obviously something meant only for him had him intrigued… and certain that it was something he needed to hear. So reluctantly, he sent out his mind, searching for Tristan’s thoughts.

Hey Harry. The boy’s voice filled his head. Don’t worry about Hermione. She’s not the one I’m after.

He wanted to ask, but terror held him back. He refused to give in to Tristan’s game, to let himself be visibly rattled and so he ignored everything in him that was demanding he ask for more information. Knowing Tristan was still staring at him wearing the terrible grin, he instead focused on Professor Sinistra who had taken to the middle of the floor to begin her class. "Unfortunately, because of the sudden change of scheduling to accommodate these new classes, our lesson plan isn’t quite matching up with the skies." She smiled apologetically at her students. "Recently we’ve had the full moon, but even when not visible, the moon has great effect on us and the world around us. It was a very important celestial body in nearly all ancient cultures and though it’s importance in not held in such high regard these days, it doesn’t stop the moon’s continual influence from reaching us. Tonight we’ll begin by discussing the several cultures who worshipped the moon, often giving it a female presence through the personification of a goddess."

Tristan raised his hand. "Professor? I must confess a special interest in one ancient culture in particular and was wondering if you could humor me by starting with the Romans and their moon goddess?"

Professor Sinistra smiled warmly. "Of course! In the case of the Romans, you’d be referring to the Goddess Luna, whose name literally means moon."

Harry sharply turned his attention to Tristan who was smirking at him, daring him to make the connection. He forced himself to show no reaction, shifting back to the lesson though he didn’t hear a word the professor was saying. How in the world was he going to get them out of this without just taking Tristan out? And why couldn’t he just kill the guy… before he had the chance to do anything they’d all regret? He’d considered the vampire to be dangerous since the moment he’d laid eyes on him, but suddenly the threat felt a lot more real. Could he live with himself if he killed Tristan for nothing more than his words and implied threats? Perhaps… after all, better he do it before Tristan gave him a better reason. Besides, it would eventually come down to that- having to kill him or be killed or worse… having to watch others be killed. It was why they’d sent the vampire here, to challenge him and probably Draco too. So why drag it out? Why let horrible things happen when he could just stop it before it started? So what if Tristan wasn’t guilty of anything yet –that he knew of- he would be guilty eventually.

As he sat there arguing with himself, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to kill Tristan without the boy having committed a crime… it wasn’t in him, which was why he was fighting with himself so badly. But he sure as hell intended to ensure Tristan wasn’t going to use Luna to give him a reason.

 

NOTE: Coming up: Drake tells Harry what Willem had to say, the first trip to Hogsmeade arrives, Ron receives an offer, Draco has trouble with some old friends, Tristan and Luna have a discussion, and Fred once more gets a visitor at the store. It’s starting to pick up so stay tuned!

Chapter 35: A New Hogsmeade

A/N: Lots going on in this one, including a bit of violence… Read, Review, Enjoy!


 
Harry could barely contain his excitement as he waited for Potions to end. It was the first class he’d had with Drake since the healer had gone to speak with Willem and he knew that as soon as it was over, he would learn everything that had passed between the two men. Willem had to have known something useful… he just had to.

Glancing to his right, he saw Tristan sitting casually at his desk acting as if he weren’t going around threatening people in his spare time. Harry was sharply aware of the warning Tristan had given him last night, that it was Luna and not Hermione that he was after. He was especially weary since he had the sneaking suspicion something had already happened based on Luna’s odd behavior and her sudden need to be near someone else at all times. But at the same time, he just wasn’t sure that he trusted that Hermione or anyone else was safe just because Tristan suddenly had some reason to go after Luna.

"Mr. Potter?" Drake was calling for his attention as the other students were bringing up their finished potions, signaling the end of class. Harry quickly filled a vial with his potion, not really caring what grade he received as he walked eagerly up to the front. "Would you mind staying after a moment?" the healer asked in a very business-like tone.

"Sure thing." He answered as everyone else gathered their things. Looking meaningfully at Ron and Draco, he ensured both boys walked out with Hermione so that none of them would be left alone.

"Let’s head to my office." Drake suggested, leading the way and closing the door tightly before casting a silencing charm and turning to him with a smile. "Well, I was able to visit Willem, though he looked quite a bit different from how he was six years ago. I suppose that’ll change once he gets out and I can take a proper look at him."

"Was he… okay?" Harry asked, remembering the way the man had wailed to draw attention in order to help him and Luna escape.

"As good as can be expected there. At least he isn’t suicidal or completely hopeless." Drake shook his head sadly.

"Well, the dementors have been gone from there for awhile. Maybe their influence is dwindling."

"Maybe. Some people are just stronger willed than others. As you well know." He smiled again. "I guess you’re wondering what we talked about?"

"I’m a little curious." He admitted, straightening up in his chair and leaning forward eagerly.

Drake’s smile widened as he took a seat behind his desk. "Yes, so I see. I won’t bore you with the more mundane reunion talk… I asked him all about Jayalina. Apparently all he knew of the young woman was that she claimed to have the wandless power of post-sight, or post-cognative abilities… basically the opposite of what Miss Lovegood can do… but you already knew that. He also knows she was somehow important to Edmund because he found out that his brother was the reason Fudge had put the woman on the Ministry payroll in the first place. He also knows that when he asked about her, Edmund claimed not to know her. I mentioned that Jayalina had died and Willem seemed convinced that his brother was somehow involved in her death. When I mentioned the possibility that Jayalina had a daughter named Elanya who would be close to twenty in age now, he claimed that he’d never heard of the woman having a child, had never seen one with her."

"So what does it mean? I’m convinced Elanya is related to Jayalina, the similarities in appearance are too great to ignore." Harry mused.

"Arthur felt much the same. I’m sorry, but I did have to report to him before telling you."

"Of course." Harry waved off the apology, not caring when he was told as long as he was kept in the loop. "Does Arthur know when we can get Willem out?"

This time, a truly happy smile spread across his face. "We’ve arranged a secret release with the giants for next week. And that brings me to the important question Arthur wanted me to pass on to you. Would we be able to house Willem at Grimmauld Place until we find somewhere equally safe for him?"

"Absolutely." He instantly agreed though he wished he could be there also, to have a real conversation with the man and take a look through his head himself to see if there was anything Willem was forgetting that might be important. He knew there was… and he had a strong feeling it had to do with Edmund’s relationship to the mysterious woman… and… there was something, some other piece of this just on the outside of his mind… something he knew but couldn’t quite recall…

"I had a feeling you would be agreeable to the situation." Drake said, standing and coming around to pat Harry’s shoulder proudly, interrupting his train of thought.

"My home is everyone’s home." He joked, also rising to his feet and grabbing his backpack. Now that he knew there was nothing more to learn from Willem until he could interrogate the man himself, he was eager to get back to the current problem at hand… Luna and Tristan.

"You’re a good kid, Harry. And not at all what I was expecting if I’m being honest. It was a pleasant surprise." Drake said, walking him to the door.

"What were you expecting?" He asked, feeling both insulted and complimented at the same time.

Drake simply smiled at him again. "Not you. Let’s just say, it’s much different knowing the person behind the stories."

(BREAK)

"Mr. Weasley, please follow me." McGonagall said briskly as she accosted Ron in the hallway. Not wanting to upset the professor, he scrambled after her down the hall to her office. He slumped down in the chair as she closed the door, wondering what he had done to get himself in trouble. She sat behind her desk and folding her hands she stared at him. And then she did something truly unsettling… she smiled. "Weasley, I would like to ask for your help with the quidditch team."

He was flabbergasted. His help? "Excuse me?"

"More specifically," she went on, ignoring his surprise, "I would like you to help Finnigan pick new players and when there is a team assembled, I would like you to step up as coach for the team for the remainder of the time you are at school."

"But… but…" he certainly didn’t want to argue his way out of his one chance to be a part of quidditch, but he felt there was some mistake being made and he didn’t want to be heartbroken if it was discovered later. "What about my classes? They’re the reason I can’t play."

"It wasn’t your classes, but the fact that you would only be here half the year that kept you from playing. And this offer comes with strings attached Mr. Weasley." McGonagall answered, always businesslike. "Should your studies suffer in any way for any reason, your temporary position as coach would instantly be revoked."

"But surely this should go to someone else, someone who’s a better player… Harry, or Ginny? Ginny was team captain last year, and let’s face it, since he started playing first year, Harry’s usually the reason we win."

McGonagall took off her glasses and stared him down very seriously. "Your sister may just get the job next year. As for Harry… he’s a natural up in the air just like his father was. And he’s determined, willful to the point of folly. For those reasons, he is an excellent player. But he doesn’t understand the logistics of the game the way you do Ron. Maybe you didn’t stop every quaffle they tried to get by you, maybe you don’t have the statistics the other players do… but you, you know the game inside and out. I’ve never seen you study anything more than this game, which is a problem when we’re in class…" She gave a small smile, "… but in this case it makes you the perfect man for the job."

Ron felt lighter than air. Someone was actually telling him he was better than Harry at something! No, not someone, McGonagall- the professor of professors! He could barely contain his excitement, or his disbelief. "I’d be more than happy to." He answered, smiling widely back.

"Alright then. Finnigan has set up the last round of try-outs for this Sunday. Be there and help him decide on our new team and then I’m leaving it up to you to set the practice schedule around your classes and theirs. Remember, our first game is just over a month away… thank goodness Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw drew the first match of the year." She shuffled through some papers and handed him a letter. "Carry this with you should anyone question your authority in this matter. And remember Weasley, this depends on you keeping up with your studies." She warned, handing him a letter granting her permission for him to do oh so many things.

"I won’t let you down." He promised, gathering his things and rising, eager to go share the news with all his friends.

She gave him one last smile before regaining her expressionless composure. "I know you won’t. I’m counting on it."

(BREAK)

Draco was sitting in the library trying to study. But with Ginny sitting across from him, running her foot up his leg and shooting him a sly seductive smile, he was finding it quite impossible. He still couldn’t believe she’d told him that she loved him, and even more he couldn’t believe he’d put himself out there and confessed his own feelings in return. Ever since they’d been nearly inseparable and the times they were together were almost always spent in one of their rooms. Now that it was Friday and they were both sufficiently behind in their schoolwork, they’d decided to take their studying to a more public place where they’d be less likely to allow themselves to become distracted. Apparently it wasn’t working like they’d hoped… and if he was being honest, the thought of her attempting to turn him on in public was only making him want her more.

Leaning across the table, she took his hand and in a soft voice said, "I forgot one of my books back in my room. Come help me look for it?"

"If you insist." He grinned, as they both quickly gathered their things.

Just as they were about to rise, some tall, dark-haired boy in Gryffindor robes walked up to their table, ignoring him completely and addressing Ginny. "Here you are! I’ve been looking all over for you, our Potions project is due today. Do you have your part done?"

Now Draco recognized him. He was one of the kids in Ginny’s advanced classes… Colton something. From the look on her face, Ginny wasn’t pleased to see him. "Yes. Can we just meet up before class and put it together?"

"Uh, no we can’t. In case you didn’t realize, there’s more to it than just mixing together our separate ingredients." Colton replied in a condescending tone Draco didn’t like.

Ginny sighed, glaring at the other boy. "Fine. How long is this going to take?"

"As long as it takes." Colton crossed his arms smugly.

Sighing again she turned to Draco with a smile meant only for him. "Raincheck?"

"Sure." He readily agreed, getting up and grabbing his bag. Honestly he was glad to leave since he suddenly had a strong urge to punch the other boy in the face. And since he wasn’t sure how Ginny would react to him clocking her Potions partner for no really good reason, he was careful to hold back his displeasure.

"Thanks for understanding." Colton slapped him hard on the shoulder before sliding into the seat he’d just vacated. Again, Draco had to work hard to hold himself in check, wanting instantly to break the boy’s arm.

He met Ginny’s eyes and they each indicated their unhappiness to each other. A large part of him didn’t want to leave, but he knew acting like a jealous jerk wasn’t the way to impress her… at the same time, it almost seemed as if she didn’t want him to go either and that made him uncertain as to what to do. He shot her one more questioning look and she nodded, indicating that it would be alright.

Walking out of the library, he felt highly conflicted. He’d instantly disliked Colton the moment the boy had approached them… after the brief exchange he downright hated him and leaving Ginny behind felt wrong. He felt Colton had alterior motives but he certainly couldn’t prove it, not with any concrete evidence anyway. And no one could be convicted based solely on a feeling… at least not on this side and he was working hard to change his thinking to fit his new allies.

He reached the deserted corridor leading to the dorms and decided he didn’t want to just go sit and wait for his next class. It was still a good half hour until he was supposed to be there and so he decided to stretch his legs a bit and enjoy the nice weather that had been sticking around lately. Though he felt nervous wandering alone, he knew that Ginny, Potter, and the others wouldn’t always be around to provide help. Eventually he’d need to know that he could take care of himself and a walk around the school grounds alone was the first small step towards gaining that sort of confidence. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Students fought and cursed each other all the time (usually the Slytherins) but it’s not like they would get away with using one of the unforgivables. Cho certainly hadn’t when she’d used the Imperious curse… of course she might have if he hadn’t turned on her.

Taking his usual path along the lake, he tried to let go of the tenseness he was holding in his shoulders but he just couldn’t relax out here in the open all alone. He was no coward, he’d proven that to himself a few times during the summer while fighting along side Potter. But he was no idiot either and he realized he’d be a fool not to be a little scared. It’s what would keep him sharp and aware… as he was now. He felt suddenly that he wasn’t alone and worse, that more than one person had come to disrupt his stroll. Straining his ears, he actually found himself wishing it was closer to the full moon, so that he’d have better use of his heightened senses. As it was, they were better than a normal human and he was able to hear at least five different sets of footsteps carefully coming at him from three sides. They were circling and closing in around him, giving him no way past them… the lake was at his back and turning to dive in and swim away suddenly seemed a plausible idea.

Quickly pulling out his wand, he tried to decide what to do. Of course he wanted to stand and fight, but he was out in the open while his opponents in the woods were still hidden and quite possibly using cloaking spells. They already knew where he was, had probably been tracking him for awhile from afar. He wouldn’t be able to see the attack coming. He could always use his senses to try and sneak his way past them, but weighing his chances of pulling that off successfully in the less graceful human form he decided it would be suicide. Of course he still had the option of going for a swim, he was a strong swimmer after all… but the thought of being caught out in the water where they could aim and hit him with any spell they wanted sent a shiver of horror down his spine.

Apparently he had stood in his indecision too long, feeling his wand ripped from his grip as a strong male voice called out, "Expelliarmus!"

Standing tall and refusing to show his fear, Draco braced himself as Troy, Crabbe, Goyle and two other boys he vaguely recognized by the names Denny and Liam came out of the trees and surrounded him. "You’ve lied to us, Draco." Goyle said menacingly.

"I’ve lied to a lot of people." He replied coolly. "As have all of you."

Troy stepped forward, looking a bit bigger than the last time Draco had encountered him… stronger despite his haggard appearance. "We can’t let you continue to betray us all. And we certainly can’t have a little half-breed puppy running around the school." He shoved Draco so hard he felt himself fly off his feet, landing hard on his back.

Instantly his blood was pumping and he could feel that piece of wolf always carried with him awaken in hungry anger. Rolling to his side, he quickly climbed back to his feet, crouched and ready to fend off an attack as he willfully ignored the sharp pain shooting up and down his spine. The other boys laughed at his display of courage, probably thinking him as stupid as he did himself for not attempting to flee. But with the wolf awake, he couldn’t force himself not to face down the challenge.

Catching movement out of the corner of his eye he turned just as Crabbe came at him with a heavy swing. Catching his former lackey’s fist in one hand before it made contact, he squeezed, feeling bones crack and break as Crabbe howled in pain, falling back and clutching his hand. Liam took the opportunity to lunge at him while his back was turned, but Draco felt him coming. With a burst of fury, he reached out and caught the boy around the throat before he could swing on him, tightening his grip as the kid clawed to be released. "Relashio!" Goyle yelled and once more Draco felt himself fly through the air as he was forced to let go of his foe.

This time the other boys didn’t give him a chance, mobbing him before he could even attempt standing. He struggled fiercely as Goyle, Denny and Liam grabbed hold of his arms and lifted him to his feet. Troy stood before him, grinning madly as he carefully gave his and Draco’s wands to Crabbe, who was still cradling his injured hand. "Don’t worry, no wands anymore. We want this at least a little fair." He laughed wickedly.

"Let me go and I’ll give you all a fair fight." He growled out, still trying to pull free of his captors. He managed to shake them off one arm and instantly he swung at the person closest to him, who happened to be Denny. His fist made contact with the side of his face and the kid went down, knocked out cold before Goyle and Liam were able to grab him again. Denny shook himself back into consciousness before rising to once more help the others hold him as he struggled.

"I bet you could." Troy answered, studying him carefully before swiftly pulling back his fist and swinging, making contact with his gut. Draco felt all the air leave him and he struggled to breathe as his knees buckled under him. He only had a moment to comprehend what had happened before Troy’s fist once more came flying at him, this time in the face, causing an explosion of pain.

He tried to gather his wits for another try at freeing himself, but this time Crabbe took a shot, knocking him in the jaw so hard with his good hand that Draco thought he felt his teeth come loose… it was apparent payback for breaking the boy’s other hand. They were all laughing and as he tried desperately to figure some way out of this, Draco couldn’t help but wonder how bad it was going to get.

(BREAK)

Luna was in the common room waiting for Ginny to return so they could walk to class together when the vision hit her. Luckily she’d been sitting at the time because it came on so swiftly she would have surely injured herself. She watched first in curiosity as Draco walked out of the castle, then a deep sense of horror washed over her as she realized along with him that he wasn’t alone. The assault that followed was brutal in it’s unfairness… not only had they taken his wand and outnumbered him, they’d further showed their cowardice by restraining Draco and giving him no chance to defend himself.

Returning to consciousness in a panic, she opened her mind and searched desperately for Harry, shouting at him to meet her in the courtyard. In favor of their truce she’d remained true to her word and had stopped avoiding him. But she’d also made sure not to be alone around him at all, still unsure whether she should tell him of her encounter in the woods with Tristan- especially after learning of how he’d also approached Hermione. But that all meant nothing at the moment as the present situation transcended all of their other problems. Though she hadn’t seen the ending to the fight, she knew some of those boys were capable of beating a person to death with their bare hands… and worse, Troy had been among them and after what she’d witnessed, she found him as unsettling as Tristan himself.

Racing out into the courtyard, she saw that Harry was already there, pacing in agitation as his adrenaline was already pumping because of the tone of her voice when she’d sent her message. The moment he saw her he stalked forward, grabbing her by the shoulders and demanding to know what had happened.

"It’s what’s about to happen, come on!" She answered, shaking off his grip and taking hold of his wrist to pull him after her and get him moving. As they ran she explained what she had seen and with a burst of angry energy he pushed to move faster, now being the one to drag her stumbling after as she tried to keep up. She had hoped they would make it in time, but as they finally rounded the curve, she was able to see they hadn’t. Draco was on the ground as the other five boys surrounded him, each taking their turn to assault her newest friend.

Harry hadn’t even attempted to reach for his wand, instead using his mind to throw Troy, Crabbe and Goyle to the ground pinning them in place as he strode up the remaining two boys who had instantly frozen in curious fear when they’d realized who had come to Draco’s rescue. The one closest to Harry, his name was Liam or something like that, had deep finger-shaped marks along his throat. Without breaking his stride Harry reached out and punched the kid in the face. The other one, Denny she thought his name was, jumped on his back causing Harry to stumble a bit and fall to one knee. Luna had her wand out and the spell uttered before she even knew what she was saying. The boy stiffened and fell to the ground as her "Petrificus totalus!" rang through the air.

As Harry pulled his own wand to actually bind their enemies and free up his mind, Luna rushed to Draco who was trying to sit up. His lip was split open and his face bruised… she could only imagine the unseen damage the attack had caused, especially after seeing the savagery with which the boys had been hitting and kicking him. "Are you okay?" She asked softly.

He turned and spit blood onto the grass, raising his arm and wiping his mouth before replying. "I’ll live."

"Now what?" Harry asked, coming over and offering a hand. Draco gratefully accepted and along with Luna’s help was able to struggle to his feet. She pulled his arm around her shoulders, allowing him to lean on her which after Harry released him seemed to be the only thing keeping him standing… well that and his desire to show his attackers that he was stronger than the abuse they’d doled out.

"Now I suppose we get him to the hospital wing and them to Dumbledore." She suggested, wrapping both arms around Draco’s waist to support the increasing amount of weight he was placing on her as his own energy left him.

"I don’t want to go to the hospital wing." He protested.

Harry looked him over and shook his head. "I understand the feeling but you have to go. If you could only see yourself right now..."

"Whatever." Draco replied tiredly, turning to once more spit out blood.

"Can you get him there alone?" Harry asked her.

Adjusting his weight once more she evaluated her ability to carry him herself. "Probably." She answered uncertainly.

"Hold on… it doesn’t matter, help is finally on the way." He replied with a far off look in his eye.

Sending out her own mind, she felt Ron and Hermione’s presence rushing toward them. Harry must have been calling for more help when they were rushing out here. They finally crashed through the trees, stopping short at what they saw. "What the hell happened?" Ron asked, his eyes moving from Draco to the five Slytherins magically bound and gagged on the ground.

"They had a little party with my face." Draco replied.

"So I see… are we going to return the favor?" Ron roughly nudged Goyle with his foot.

"Not here we aren’t." Harry answered. "But we won’t all be in school forever and they won’t always be able to get someone with their back turned." He walked over to address their captives directly, studying them and the apparent injuries Draco had doled out before becoming overwhelmed. "Good thing you cheated, because if given a chance, I think Draco would have come out on top here."

"You go on and think that of your new puppy, Potter." Troy sneered.

"I don’t think it, I know it." He responded confidently before turning back to his friends. "Luna and Hermione, you guys get him to Madame Pomfrey. Ron and I will take them to Dumbledore… hopefully their time here at Hogwarts has finally come to an end."

(BREAK)

Ginny was really beginning to hate Colton. She tried several times to wrap up their project and leave but ever the perfectionist, he kept finding reasons to continue working… as if he were actively trying to keep her from going after Draco. "So is this the last step then?" She asked impatiently as he slowly and carefully poured their mixture into a cooling rack.

"This is it." He replied with an easy smile.

"You said that two steps ago."

"You’re awfully impatient. This is for your grade too you know. You should show a little more interest." He scolded.

"And you should show a little less." She returned, crossing her arms angrily.

"Relax already. You have a boyfriend I get it." He rolled his eyes. "If you want to stick by your choice that’s your problem. Draco will get his."

She sat up suddenly suspicious. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what I said." He turned his attention fully on her. "He’s made a lot of people angry, up to and including the entire Slytherin house. Do you really think there aren’t going to be consequences for him to suffer?"

"Not that you deserve to know, but he’s suffered enough for what he’s done." She replied coldly.

"If you say so." He smiled, handing her a vial filled with their potion.

"So is this done? Are we finished with this stupid project?"

"Yes, feel free to go follow your obsession." He snidely replied.

"I am not obsessed!" She passionately denied, remembering last year and her misguided attempts to be with Harry. Draco was different, he wanted her back… she wasn’t obsessed… was she?

"Ginny!" Hermione came rushing into the library, eliciting Madame Pince’s displeasure. She ignored the librarian, running right up to them with pity in her eyes. Though still not on the best of terms, the girls had reached a silent agreement towards civility a while ago. But the depth of caring in Hermione’s eyes reached Ginny on a deeper level and she realized instantly that something serious had happened.

"What, what is it?" She asked desperately, taking Hermione’s hands.

"It’s Draco. Troy and some others, they surrounded him down by the lake. Come on, we took him to the hospital wing, Luna’s still with him." Hermione tried pulling her along but Ginny refused to move.

Something wasn’t sitting right with her, she turned to Colton who was wearing an expression of amused surprise… she hated that slight smile playing at the corner of his mouth. Without warning, she pulled out her wand and grabbing the front of his robes, pushed Colton up against the bookshelves hard enough to knock a few books to the floor. She pointed her wand directly in his face as it all came together in her head… he’d prolonged their project, keeping her from going to look for Draco… there had to be a reason. "You better hope I don’t find out you had something to do with setting this up or I swear I’ll make sure you’re sorry."

"I didn’t do anything!" He protested, gently but firmly pushing her away.

"Ginny, come on. There will be time to figure out what happened later." Hermione reasoned, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her back from Colton. With one last glare, Ginny turned and together the girls raced toward the hospital.

Out of breath by the time she got there, Ginny tried to prepare herself for the worst before entering the room to find him laying on the bed, stripped to his waist. Taking in Draco’s bruised and swollen face and the bandages wound around his torso, she realized she hadn’t prepared enough. "It looks a lot worse than it is." He said as soon as he saw her.

"Really, because it doesn’t look good." She countered, fully aware of the embarrassment he felt at being in the position he was in… but she didn’t care whether or not he lost the fight so long as he came out alive. She turned to Luna. "What’s the real story?"

"Three broken ribs, broken nose, two chipped teeth and a split lip, a fracture in his right arm, another fracture in his shoulder, two dislocated discs in his spine and a shattered knee. Hermione and I had to practically carry him in here." Luna reported. "Madame Pince and Healer Drake both said he’d be mended by tonight but really sore and all the scrapes and bruises will go away in a day or two if he keeps applying the herbs."

"They even said I could still go to Hogsmeade tomorrow." Draco added, sitting up a bit taller and taking her hand. "So you see, Troy and the others weren’t as successful as they’d hoped."

"Not as successful as we’ll be when we get payback." Ron declared as he and Harry walked in.

"I didn’t think you would care." Ginny snapped at him.

"Hey, Malfoy may be my least favorite person, but he’s still on our side now." Her brother shot back. "Messing with him is like messing with any of the rest of us, wouldn’t you agree, Gin?"

"Dumbledore is up there now deciding what to do with everyone. If he doesn’t handle it properly then we’ll decide what to do." Harry interrupted as he came to stand by Draco. "How’s everything here?"

"Already on the way to being better." Draco answered, throwing his legs over the side of the bed and reaching for his shirt. "I would very much like to leave here now."

"You can’t. None of us can." Harry said, taking a seat next to Hermione and Ron on the next bed over. "Dumbledore is coming here to get the full report on what happened from all of us. I could only tell them what Luna said she’d seen and what happened once I actually got there."

"What did happen?" Ginny asked, sitting next to Draco and helping him pull on his shirt over his aching shoulder.

"After I left you and Colton in the library, I decided to go for a walk until class started. It was stupid." Draco muttered, shaking his head and wincing in pain from the movement.

"Hey, we should all be able to walk anywhere we want here without having to worry." Luna answered quickly.

"But some of us can’t." Draco replied miserably. "I heard them before I saw them, but I guess it wasn’t enough. They disarmed me and then I guess it was a free for all. I tried but…"

"But five on one are hard odds to overcome." Hermione said quietly. "Especially when they all cheat."

"Indeed." They all turned to find the Headmaster standing in the doorway. "I would like to inform you all that the five boys in question are claiming not to have been in control of themselves."

"Bull!" Harry shouted, jumping to his feet. "There’s no way they were under the Imperious Curse."

"Relax, Harry. I didn’t say I believed them." Dumbledore raised a hand against his student’s outrage. "But you know what using that particular defense means."

"It means you can’t prove they weren’t." Draco sighed. "It’s how Lucius escaped persecution all those years ago." He reminded them.

"It also means in the eyes of the education department of the ministry that I have no viable grounds on which to expel them from Hogwarts." Dumbledore added with a hint of anger. "The most I can do without drawing negative attention is put them on probation for suspicion of their misdeeds. They won’t be allowed to go to Hogsmeade and Troy has lost his position within the advanced classes. He will be returning to the normal sixth year schedule. They are all also not allowed to leave the school and so should they be found out by the lake again, expulsion would be immediate."

Ginny saw that Luna was happy to hear Troy wouldn’t be in class with them anymore and knew that for some reason, her friend had been on edge around the boy for the last week. However no one else seemed to share her joy. "This is ridiculous." Ron grumbled.

"I agree." Dumbledore smiled thinly. "But we must do what we must to maintain the control we do have in this war. We cannot chance losing Hogwarts to another, smarter Dolores Umbridge."

(BREAK)

At last Draco was granted permission to return to his own room, though Madame Pomfrey had strongly suggested he stay there for the night. She insisted he come see her in the morning before leaving for their first Hogsmeade visit. After he’d demanded to be allowed to walk without aid, they followed Draco to his room and bid him goodnight as he was to spend the remainder of the day resting. Ginny locked herself up in there with him, deliberately intending to skip the rest of her own classes.

Harry turned to the other three as they reentered the common room. "I can’t believe that all just happened."

"I can." Ron said, slumping down on the couch. "And we all thought it would happen long before we actually came back so I can’t see how you’re so surprised."

"I don’t know, I just thought…" he trailed off, unsure exactly what he had thought.

Hermione placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You can’t protect everyone all the time, Harry. He chose to go out alone."

"It shouldn’t matter!" Luna threw her arms in the air before collapsing next to Ron. "We should all be able to go for a walk safely within school grounds."

"What fantasy are you living in?" Ron asked her. "When has it ever really been safe to walk around here alone?"

"You know what I mean." She replied darkly. "It’s unfair that he can’t just take a walk."

Harry felt the conviction behind her words, making him even more certain that she’d had some sort of run in with Tristan. He knew that he’d have to find a way to corner her… and soon. In the meantime, he put himself back into the debate. "He could have been just fine you know. I really think had he had his wand and had they not held him down… he would have taken on all five. He had his wolf up."

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

"One of the guys there… Liam? He nearly had his windpipe crushed." He told them. "The kid nearly passed out in Dumbledore’s office while we were telling him what happened. He had to call Drake up to take a look at both him and Crabbe whose hand was broken into nearly a million pieces."

"Draco did that when they first tried to attack him. That’s when the others hit him with a spell and then held him down." Luna added, recalling her vision.

"They probably knew he could be that dangerous… they may have won by playing dirty but I bet most of them will still think twice about bothering him again." Harry nodded, agreeing with himself as he spoke.

"Except Troy." Hermione said. "He seemed pretty invested in taking Draco out."

"That’s because Tristan is invested in it." Luna crossed her arms, folding into herself a bit. "Those two have become the best of friends."

"Whatever the case, it’s clear they’ll never go after a fair fight. So maybe we should all seriously consider the buddy system while we’re here." Ron suggested. "None of us go anywhere alone."

"Well, let’s start now. We all have class." Hermione interrupting as she noticed the time.

After walking Luna to her class and ensuring she would wait for them all to return for her before dinner, they quickly made their way to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry spent most of his class time glaring at Tristan who he was certain had ordered the attack on Draco. Ron had said it best for all of them earlier… Draco may not be their favorite person, but for now he was part of group and going after him was like going after all the rest of them. He wanted justice just as much as he was certain Draco wanted revenge and sat there trying to plot a way for them to get both.

The rest of his evening, from classes to dinner to bed, was spent in thoughtful reflection as he tried to tackle the jumbled mess of problems in his head, putting the pieces together as best he could. By the time he laid down to sleep, he was certain only of one thing. If he wanted to solve everything, he needed to talk to two specific people- Luna and Willem. Only one was available to him here and he was determined to find a way to get her alone tomorrow while they were all in the village.

He’d left his door open a crack, as he had been doing all week, so that Hermione could come in whenever she pleased. While they still had been unable to revive the passion and regain the physical part of their relationship, both had found relief in the comfort of lying next to each other… of having someone to hold and be held by while surrounded by so much unspoken uncertainty. She came in then, putting a stop to his frenzied thoughts as she silently climbed under the covers with him and nestled close. He wrapped his arms around her as she clung to him, resting his head against hers with a heavy sigh.

"Do you feel sad?" She asked out of nowhere.

"Sometimes." He answered honestly. "Usually though, I feel angry and confused I think."

"That’s not what I meant exactly." She said, interlacing their fingers. "I didn’t mean in life… I meant with me… with us… do you ever feel sad?"

It was the first time either of them had verbally addressed that something could be wrong with their relationship and he struggled to give her an answer she deserved… a truthful one. "Sometimes." He repeated quietly, gently kissing her forehead.

"Me too." She whispered, pulling herself closer into him. "Do you ever feel happy anymore?"

"Yes… when I think back… when I remember certain things we did or said." He struggled to remain honest, even if it hurt.

"It all seems so long ago… and so different now." She remarked, staring at their tightly clasped hands.

"A lot has happened since this time last year."

"Yes, but…" She shook her head slightly, as if she didn’t want to continue her thought.

"But?" He pressed.

"But… I guess I didn’t expect us to change so much that we wound up so separate from each other." She answered, looking up at him with open earnestness.

He had nothing to add, no answer to give. "I know." He said at last, watching as she brought his hand to her lips and gently kissed his fingers.

"I do love you. You know that don’t you?" She asked, once more looking up at him.

"Yes." He whispered. "I love you too, Hermione… then, now, and forever…" He wasn’t lying, he couldn’t do anything but love her… but somehow, somewhere the way he loved her had seemed to change. Or maybe it was always the same love and they had mistaken it for something else. Either way, she was still the last person in the world he wanted to hurt. After what he’d done last year, he’d sworn to himself that he would never hurt her again and he was determined to hold true to that promise.

"I know. That’s exactly how I love you." She smiled. Impulsively he leaned down and gently captured her lips, both savoring the sweetness of the kiss.

Turning out the light, they cuddled against each other and settled in to sleep. They’d come close, but neither had actually brought up their problems with each other, instead choosing reassurance over uncertainty. Harry listened as her breathing grew deep and even, unable to find rest himself. But with her there in his arms he reflected that if he had to live out a lie, he couldn’t ask for a better partner.

(BREAK)

Fred woke early, feeling excited. Though he hadn’t told his mother where he was going that day, he had set up his travel plans days ago with the others through Hermione, who apparently still wasn’t admitting to the others that she had the compact. Instead she’d claimed they had made the plan at her party. Whatever the circumstance, he was looking forward to stepping off the train at the Hogsmeade station and seeing his friends and siblings waiting for him. By the time he’d get there, the Hogwarts students should have had a good half hour to wander the village.

After dinner last night, Hermione had found the time to call him up and fill him in on the despicable events that had unfolded that day. He felt bad for Draco… and for Ginny who also had to deal with the Malfoy stigma now that she’d attached herself to one. Of course, that was her decision, but Fred found himself once more wishing he were still at school. Not for the classes of course, but to be around the others who all seemed to be having a hard time up there. Although, he hadn’t been having an easy time himself.

For the past week he’d been nervous while at the store, jumping every time the door opened and a delivery man came in. He hoped he’d be over it by the time they reopened… he didn’t know if he could stand leaping out of his skin every time a customer entered. He knew that today was the day he had to take George’s advice and tell his friends about Elanya’s visit to him. After that, they would decide whether or not his father needed to know and hopefully he’d achieve some sort of peace of mind.

He dressed quickly and made his way downstairs, breezing through breakfast with his parents without giving a hint that he intended to go anywhere other than his store. The ministry driver arrived on time and he and Arthur said their goodbyes to Molly before climbing in for the usually silent drive into work. It seemed he and his father didn’t have much to say to each other lately, and they certainly didn’t agree on much. Sneaking a good look at Arthur as they rode, he saw how tired and stressed the man was, working to protect his family and every one else’s day after day. This was a man who was fighting the quiet battles of war, the ones made from business and bureaucracy that keep the right people in power and attempt to maintain the support of the very people they were trying to protect. For now Arthur was winning but there was so much, so many building up against him… Fred wondered how long it would be until his father broke under the pressure. They rolled up to the Leaky Cauldron where an Auror was waiting to walk him the rest of the way to his store. Normally he hated that he couldn’t go anywhere unsupervised, no matter how much he understood the reasoning. Today, he decided since he intended to ditch the man anyway that he would give in to circumstances.

Hesitating before reaching for the door handle, he turned to his father determined to show that despite the fact that they didn’t always get along… he wasn’t anything like Percy. He didn’t want to be one more thing for Arthur to have to worry about. "Have a good day, Dad. We’re all proud of you, you know." He said with a grin.

Arthur looked surprised, and then touched with emotion that he struggled to hide from the ministry worker driving the car. "Thank you son. You have a good day too."

"See you at dinner." He opened the door and began to get out, but Arthur reached out and grabbed his arm.

"I’m proud of you too, you know. We both are."

Fred nodded, unable to find words strong enough to show his appreciation for the sentiment… and the guilt that derived from it, especially since he was about to deceive them all. He watched the car pull away before turning and walking to the entrance to Diagon Alley, the Auror close on his heels. Once at the store, he told his escort what time to be back for him that evening before closing and locking the door behind him.

"Hey there." Lee greeted him, coming from the back office.

"Hello. Ready for a train ride?" Fred asked with a mischievous grin.

(BREAK)

They had all known that this trip into Hogsmeade would be unlike any other. Harry and his friends who had actually seen the damage done during last year’s battle couldn’t imagine exactly what they’d find now, while everyone else was left to wonder whether there’d be a village to visit at all. Many things were different, starting with more than half the professors coming along as chaperones. In the past most had stayed behind with the younger kids. But today a majority of the staff crammed themselves into the carriages with their students… though Harry found this a bit unnecessary considering quite a few parents had revoked their permission for their children to go into the village this year.

The next major change was the group of Aurors waiting just outside the gates to the school grounds, obviously sent to escort them along the way. Thankfully Harry and his friends had all managed to get one carriage together, he didn’t think he’d be able to deal with all the gossip and speculation circulating among their peers. Glancing at Draco, he knew that the added security and the reasons for it weren’t the only topics under discussion.

News of the fight yesterday had spread quickly throughout the school and other than the Slytherins account, Harry was surprised to find out that most of the details being talked about were actually accurate. More than that, despite their personal feelings for Draco, the majority considered it loathsome that so many had sunk so low. Most students this morning had been eagerly awaiting Draco’s appearance at breakfast, morbidly curious as to what he looked like after being wailed on by five guys at once. They were to be disappointed… most of the superficial wounds had faded and whether he was in pain or not, Draco had walked into the Great Hall tall and confident and without any trace of difficulty. It was just the way Harry would have faced them all had he been in that position and he realized they may have underestimated just how tough Draco could be. He smiled as he remembered being told that morning about how Crabbe’s hand would take a few painful days to heal and that Liam would have to eat through a straw for about a week. And even Denny had suffered a concussion from the one blow Draco had dealt him… if Harry and his friends had underestimated Draco in the past, his new enemies had done so on a more lethal level.

Pushing aside his concern about yesterday’s events, he focused on the scenery outside. He was just as curious as everyone else to see what remained of Hogsmeade, what had been rebuilt and what the villagers thought of them coming back… him and his friends in particular. Sure they had helped the people win, but they, well mostly he, had been the reason a battle had happened at all. Of course the part of him that was starting to see the whole picture of things understood that sooner or later, because of it’s proximity to Hogwarts alone, Hogsmeade would have been hit by an attack. It lessened his guilt but didn’t make it go away completely.

"There it is." Luna whispered as they all eagerly pressed their noses against the glass to get a better look.

It was nothing like they’d ever seen yet familiar all at the same time. In the distance, it seemed that Hogsmeade was still standing and going strong. But what was truly startling to behold was the long wall that had been built around the city and the large gates they now had to travel through. He turned a questioning gaze to Lupin who not surprisingly had been the professor that chose to ride with their group. "Hogsmeade was granted anti-apparation status, just like the inside of the school." He explained.

"Oh." Harry answered, thinking hard. It made sense after the army of Death Eaters that had invaded the village, but just how effective where the charms? After all, he and Luna had done what he’d previously thought impossible by apparating from Dumbledore’s office the first week of school. Was that a privilege reserved just for them, because of the ancient blood running through their veins? Having been told he couldn’t do it and not having the knowledge until that summer anyway, he’d never tried to apparate to or from the school before so he had no way of knowing whether it had been a fluke. He wondered if he and Luna would also be able to bypass the charms protecting Hogsmeade.

Crossing through the heavily guarded gates, they were able to see better that almost all the buildings had been repaired and/or rebuilt. Taking in the people on the street, none of them seemed upset to see the Hogwarts coaches. In fact, they were walking with friends, laughing, shopping, scolding their small children, or just out enjoying the day… all going about their lives as if nothing out of ordinary had ever occurred there at all. Harry supposed it was the way it had to be, it was certainly the way he was being forced to live his life… pretending nothing had happened in between tragedies and battles. But at the same time that doing so was saving his sanity, it was also driving him crazy. He found himself wondering what the good people of Hogsmeade really thought of the disruption in their lives and the more jail-like way they had to live now in order to gain a semblance of a sense of security but ultimately decided against sending his mind out. He wasn’t in the mood for the headache that could produce.

The carriages came to a stop and all students were given one last warning to be on their best behavior before being turned loose. Lupin turned to Harry and the others, regarding them with a wry smile. "I trust you all intend to be good, no trying to sneak out of the village, no fighting, nothing other than a lovely day away from the school."

"We’ll do our best." Ron grinned.

"I guess that’s all I can hope for." Lupin replied, rolling his eyes.

"Remus!" They all turned to find Tonks running towards them.

"Have fun guys." Lupin quickly forgot his lecture on their behavior, rushing off to meet his wife who he hadn’t seen since they’d left for school.

Turning to his friends with a wide grin, Harry led the way toward the train station. "Come on guys. Let’s let them enjoy their day, it’s almost time to meet Fred and Lee anyway."

(BREAK)

They had fifteen minutes before the train was supposed to arrive. Being the gentlemen they are (sometimes), the boys left the girls seated on the platform and went to get beverages for everyone. Hermione decided that even with Luna there, she had to take her opportunity and talk to Ginny about her outburst at Colton. She hadn’t mentioned it to the others and she knew Ginny hadn’t either. Hermione was unsure exactly what the other girl was thinking, how she believed the boy part of the plot to get Draco but she’d certainly seemed convinced.

"Hey, about what happened in the library yesterday…" She began.

Ginny turned to her. "Yeah, thanks for stopping me from doing anything stupid."

"Why do you think he’s involved?"

"Who?" Luna asked with interest, perceptive enough to know that whatever they were discussing involved Draco’s attack.

"Colton James." Ginny sighed angrily. "He’s the one I had to do that stupid project with. He came in and interrupted me and Draco while we were studying, insisting that we had to finish the potion right then… that’s why Draco was alone."

"I didn’t see anything about him in the vision." Luna offered.

"Yeah, well maybe he wasn’t one of the ones out there in the woods but he was suspicious none the less. He kept stalling, prolonging our work even though I made it very clear that I wanted to leave."

Hermione understood her reasoning, but was confused as to motive. "What does Colton have against Draco? I mean, why would he want to help injure him so badly?"

Ginny shook her head, either unaware or more likely unwilling to share her suspicions, instead providing vague suppositions. "Who knows… I mean we’re all aware that Draco wasn’t the nicest guy in the world before, maybe he did something that he didn’t consider all that horrible but Colton took it seriously. Maybe he figured that because Draco changed that meant he was weak and he decided to try to take revenge."

"Or maybe he likes you and wants to get rid of Draco." Luna suggested. From the look on Ginny’s face, Hermione knew her friend had hit the nail on the head.

"Maybe." Ginny replied shortly. "But if that is the case, I never gave him any indication that I returned the feeling."

"No one said you did." Hermione reassured her.

"I’m just tired of everyone doubting my feelings for Draco!" She said, rising to her feet. "It’s like everyone thinks it’s a phase I’m going through, or that I just don’t want to be alone or something."

"I don’t think that at all." Luna softly answered.

"Neither do I." Hermione insisted. In fact, she believed that whatever was going on between Ginny and Draco was very real and was changing them both for the better. It was almost as if they wanted to be better people for each other and though she’d had her doubts early on, Hermione was convinced that them being together was a good thing… no matter how Ron continued to feel about it.

"The train’s coming." Luna pointed out.

"It’s a bit early… there’s a shock." Ginny replied, checking her watch.

Hermione said nothing, not wanting to betray the excitement that had bubbled up within her. Patting her pockets in reassurance, she felt both the compact that she always carried with her now and the crystals from Rowena’s Cavern. Chalking up her emotions to the thrill of being one step closer to possibly creating a cure, she rose and went with the other two girls to greet Fred and Lee.

(BREAK)

Ron just wasn’t sure how he felt about Malfoy at all anymore. He still loathed the thought of the guy being anywhere near his sister, but he had to admit that time and again, Malfoy was proving himself not only a surprisingly trustworthy ally but a resilient one as well. The way the other boy carried himself now, after what he’d been through, was reminiscent of the way Harry had carried himself in past similar situations: strong and unshakable. Ron actually found himself admiring Malfoy… and the news of the damage he’d inflicted before being overtaken by his attackers had been equally impressive. Apparently when Harry had said Malfoy had his wolf up he hadn’t been kidding.

"So you excited about tomorrow?" Harry asked as they stood in line at the refreshment kiosk, waiting to order

"I just hope we find people good enough to replace you, Ginny, Fred and Parvati." Ron answered brightly. Being reminded of his new quidditch responsibilities had instantly brightened his mood.

"Hey you weren’t too bad yourself, Weasley… As long as you kept your head in the game anyway." Malfoy grinned.

"Yeah, way better than you ever were." He shot back.

"Poor Seamus, left on the team all alone." Harry shook his head.

"Well, I’m sure there’s someone out there waiting to prove they’re the next Gryffindor star." Malfoy replied in a joking tone. "You all were always so proud of yourselves."

"Heads up, we’re next." Ron said, stepping up to the counter at last.

Just as they’d purchased drinks for everyone in their group, they heard the train whistle, signaling it’s arrival. Harry led the way back to the platform, moving so slowly that Ron nearly felt they were going backwards instead of forward. He was about to say something when he glanced over and noticed Malfoy who was trying very hard to hide a wince of pain every time he took a step. Undoubtedly Harry had picked up on Malfoy’s struggle and rather than force the other boy to admit he was having trouble had simply adjusted his own pace to suit Malfoy’s. Suddenly he wasn’t in such a rush, knowing that if he’d been beaten up the day before, he’d also want to put on a strong façade and would be grateful to anyone who made it easier for him.

Finally making their way onto the platform, they saw the girls already waiting by the car Fred and Lee were in. He didn’t have to ask how they knew where the two boys were sitting- his brother was leaning out the window waving his arms like an idiot in order to amuse onlookers while the train staff prepared to unload their passengers. Shaking his head and smiling as he joined his friends, Ron debated whether he wanted to continue claiming kinship to Fred if he insisted on acting in such an embarrassing manner.

Their reunion was brief considering Fred had just been there the weekend before for Hermione’s birthday party. They filled him in on all the gory details of what had happened since they’d parted, though Fred somehow seemed to already know all about it, despite acting as if it where all news to him. Ignoring the suspicious behavior, Ron followed the others down the road towards Fred’s shop, the supposed reason he and Lee had come to Hogsmeade. As they walked, he couldn’t believe how ordinary everything looked, as if nothing had ever happened there at all and there wasn’t a large wall surrounding the village and Aurors patrolling the streets. Apparently life must go on, a lesson he and his friends had been learning for a while now.

(BREAK)

"Look." Ron stopped outside of Honeydukes as the others gathered around him. The building looked much the same as it always had, no trace or indication that it had been in shambles a few months earlier.

"I don’t want to go in there." Hermione said with a shudder. She unconsciously reached for Harry’s hand as memories of that day flooded her mind.

He squeezed her fingers in support. "No one said you had to. Come on, let’s keep going."

With everyone’s feelings on the situation pretty much wrapped up in that sentiment, they quickly moved on without another word.

As they approached Fred’s store, she glanced back at him to see how he was handling being there. She knew he hadn’t visited this location since George died, hadn’t even checked on the damage done to it after the Hogsmeade battle. As a result, it seemed to be the only building in the entire village that hadn’t been restored… though unlike most other buildings decimated during the fighting, The Weasley Bros. Laugh Emporium appeared to come out only slightly scathed. It even appeared in better condition than the Diagon Alley location after Elise had set fire to it. Hermione watched Fred take it all in, seeing a wide array of emotions play across his face.

"Well…" Lee came up and put a comforting hand on Fred’s shoulder. "If it makes you feel any better, I was expecting much worse."

"Thanks, you’ve made my day." He answered sarcastically. "Let’s just go see what it looks like inside."

"Wait." Hermione stepped forward to perform the spell she’d researched for this very occasion. It was meant to strengthen the walls should their intrusion knock anything loose. The last thing she wanted to re-experience was nearly being buried in building rubble.

"Good thinking, Mione." Ron said as he followed his brother into the store.

Carefully picking their way through the mess inside, they were able to determine that most of the damage was minor, hardly anything structural at all. "You’re really thinking of reopening here?" Ginny asked as she and Draco started gathering all the broken glass.

Fred was crouching in the corner, picking through his merchandise to see if anything was salvageable. "Not thinking, planning." He replied as he stood, dusting off his hands and moving to help Harry and Lee who’d begun clearing away the larger pieces of debris.

"Well when are you going to reopen in Diagon Alley?" Luna asked.

"Next week." Fred replied in a tone that quickly caught Hermione’s attention. He appeared extremely uncomfortable all of a sudden, almost as if he were trying to convince himself to do something he didn’t want to do.

"Wow, you must have been working like crazy on those quick cures." Ron marveled.

"It’s easier for him to concentrate without you all running around getting yourselves in trouble." Lee joked as he righted one of the turned over display counters.

"Guys, I have to tell you something." Fred interrupted.

"What is it?" Hermione couldn’t help but ask. She knew he’d been keeping her apprised of everything that had been going on back home the same way she’d been keeping him informed of everyone’s movements here. If there was something he’d held back from her, she was very curious to know not only what it was, but why he hadn’t told her before.

Everyone else stopped what they were doing, focusing all their attention on Fred, who for once didn’t seem to enjoy being the center of attention. "Well, about two weeks ago Lee and I were at the store testing products on our friend Zander when Elanya showed up."

"Elanya?" Luna asked in surprise before remembering herself and fading to the background. But Hermione had seen the reaction and was left to wonder what it was that Luna already knew.

"Yeah, Elanya. And wow has time been good to her." Lee added enthusiastically.

Harry ignored him and addressed Fred. "What do you mean she showed up?"

"She just walked right in the front door." He replied. "Was talking about how she wanted to separate herself from Voldemort as well as Sarah, Elise and Cho. She was pretty convincing about it, except I knew she was lying."

"You thought she was lying." Lee corrected.

"Hey if you want to take a chance with a potential black widow, go for it." Fred shot back.

"I wonder why she would bother… she couldn’t really have thought you’d believe her." Ron pondered incredulously.

"Who knows why any of those girls do anything anymore?" Harry sighed. "I mean why did Elanya visit Fred… why did Elise agree to help Lucius stop the Quibbler article by burning down the offices… why did Sarah team up with Cho in the first place? Nothing but questions and we’re not much closer to any answers."

Or where they? Hermione turned to Luna deciding that this may be too important not to try and get her to reveal some answers. Shielding her mind carefully, she made sure to act as if she weren’t trying to pry into any visions the girl may have had instead focusing only on what she’d observed that day. "Why did you look so surprised when he said it was Elanya? It was almost like you were expecting him to say someone else…"

Everyone’s attention now turned to Luna who appeared to be having a silent struggle with herself. Hermione was truly amazed when her friend raised her head to look them all in the eye and actually agreed to tell them what she knew.

(BREAK)

"I guess I have something to tell you all now too… since it seems to be starting." Luna said with a sigh. Though she hated being forced into sharing her visions like this, she couldn’t deny that it was becoming clear she couldn’t hold this one in any longer, no matter how the others chose to react. She could only hope calm heads would prevail and no one would do anything rash.

"What’s starting?" Harry asked quietly. She could tell he was angry with her… and himself… he was angry at them both for the distance now between them.

"Remember that vision I had right after we got to school? The one that showed me Sarah awake?" She looked around as they nodded at her. She took a deep breath before continuing. "It wasn’t just about Sarah… flashes of other things were there too, which usually means they’re related to the main vision but variables able to change. Well, Fred was one of those variables. I saw Sarah, and then a letter addressed to Fred and then the store. I figured it meant that they would intercept some kind of mail and find out information that they would use to get Fred to somehow be a part of their plot. But then Dumbledore changed the rules about mail, and I knew anything going to any of us would first be inspected by the ministry and since I hadn’t received any other visions about it, I figured the plan had changed."

"That’s a pretty dangerous gamble." Harry replied. "You couldn’t have just given a warning to Fred at least?"

She didn’t like the accusatory tone he was taking with her and she knew it was about more than not telling Fred about the possible danger he could be in… he was upset she was keeping something he believed equally dangerous about Tristan. "I was trying to be careful, to not scare anyone into doing anything stupid." She returned, crossing her arms.

"Well, was there any sort of mail you received that you weren’t sure about? Something that took just a little too long to get to you?" Draco asked to disrupt the sudden tension.

Luna caught the nervous glance Fred and Hermione shared before he answered, causing her to remember the last part of her vision… the glittering gold object she thought was the answer to reaching Fred and warning him if necessary. "Not that I can think of." Fred shook his head, not quite looking anyone in the eye.

Focusing on Hermione, Luna saw her absently pat her pocket as if there were something there she felt guilty about. The answer struck her instantly… the compact. Fred and Hermione had been secretly communicating with each other using the compacts he’d created to help them all stay in touch during the Azkaban fiasco. She wondered if Harry knew or suspected. Sneaking a look at him, she saw that if he did, he wasn’t yet fully aware of it. "The main point is that there was nothing about Elanya in my vision." She said at last.

"So where does she fit into all this?" Ginny wondered.

"Maybe she was serious about getting away from her friends." Lee mused hopefully.

Harry shook his head. "That’s highly doubtful unless it’ll help her get herself closer to whatever her personal goal is…" He trailed off, suddenly lost in his own thoughts as he struggled to remember something.

"Hey, a guy can hope." Lee muttered, going back to cleaning up the store.

"What is going on out there?" Ron asked suddenly, moving to the window. And then they all heard it, loud laughter and the roar of a crowd coming from somewhere down the street. They all rushed outside to see what was happening. "Looks like they’re putting on some sort of show in the village square."

Curious, they all looked at each other before heading down the street together to get a better view. It seemed a few of the more theatrical villagers had taken the opportunity of having a large audience and were trying out some of their comedy show on the Hogwarts students as well as the villager. Luna was pleased to see so many people together and laughing, having a good time. It was a rare event these days. They stood there getting into the spectacle for quite awhile before she heard Harry’s voice urgently invade her head. We need to talk in private.

We’re talking in private right now. She reminded him wryly.

Glancing over, she saw his frustration with her. You know what I mean. He angrily replied.

Now is not a good time. She sent back, more determined than ever to save him from himself. If he learned of what she seen Tristan do… of what she suspected… she couldn’t imagine the lengths Harry would go to in order to stop him.

Apparently, he wasn’t going to give her a choice. Careful not to alert the others to his actions, he walked over to her and without warning grabbed her hand. Before she knew what was happening, everything around her disappeared as he forced her into apparating with him.

(BREAK)

Luna and I have to figure something out. Could you please let everyone know we’ll meet you all back at Fred’s store? Hermione heard Harry’s silent request and eagerly gave her consent. Though he knew about her and Fred’s attempts at the cure for the werewolf curse while at his house, he didn’t know they’d been in constant contact still working on it and she’d rather he not be there when she handed over the crystals. And with him and Luna gone, all she had to do was figure a way to get Fred away from the others who were far less perceptive.

Before she could turn to see where Harry and Luna went, they were gone. Looking around for them, she met Fred’s eyes over the heads of the others and indicated he follow her away from the crowd. Whispering to Lee that he was stepping away for a moment, she felt happily satisfied when he immediately made to carry out her request. Keeping an eye on each other, they separately pushed their way into the open, meeting up and silently walking down the street toward the edge of town bordered by the mountains. At last satisfied that they were far from anyone else, she pulled the crystals from her pocket and handed them over to him. "So what do you think?"

He studied them closely before smiling. "I think I’m an idiot not to have thought of this before. I mean I knew that cavern was special the first time George and I stumbled upon it… the way these crystals made us feel… It’s funny Draco had the same idea."

"But they didn’t work alone, all they did was supplement the potion they’d already taken."

"Exactly. They’re amplifiers, and very possibly the ones we’ve been looking for. With the right potion I think they’ll absolutely work. Wolfsbane just wasn’t the right one." He quickly put the crystals in his pocket, eager that no one have the chance to overhear their plan. "Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Elanya." He said out of nowhere.

"Why didn’t you?" She’d been wondering and now she was even more curious as to why he felt the need to apologize for it.

"I just didn’t want you or any of the others to have to worry about me. Of course, I had no idea there was a vision concerning me at the time." He admitted with a sheepish grin.

She smiled back. "Would it have made a difference if you did know?"

"Not really." He shrugged. "I guess it was sort of like Draco yesterday, you know… I was taking a chance to prove I could take care of myself."

"I don’t why either of you took the chance at all." She replied with a shake of her head. "Who were you trying to prove it to?"

"Myself." He answered simply. "Just like Draco was probably trying to convince himself he didn’t need to be saved all the time. I’m sure you know what it’s like, Hermione… being in trouble and looking to Harry and Luna or my dad and the ministry or Dumbledore and the Order to come to your rescue. And they’re always there aren’t they? It’s what they’re made for, saving the day. And the rest of us… we’re basically just holding our own until the heroes arrive."

"I hope that’s not how you see yourself even more than I hope that’s not how you see me or Ron or Ginny." She said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "We all have our place in this or we wouldn’t be involved at all. Every one of us has our strengths and weaknesses, even Harry, Luna, your father and Dumbledore… none of us are invincible, right? What happened to Draco could have happened to any one of us, and Elanya and the others could have chosen anyone to try and play. But I’m glad they chose you…"

"Why?" He asked, taken aback.

"Because unlike Lee who lets his eyes and hormones make his decisions, you have the uncanny ability to see through bullshit." She grinned.

He gave a dramatic gasp. "Why Miss Granger! Such vulgar language! Oh, so unbecoming in such a lovely young lady!" He faked shock though underneath she could see that he appeared pleased by the compliment.

"Oh shut up." She laughed, giving him a playful shove.

He let himself be propelled backwards, falling to the ground in a gracefully grand gesture before grabbing his arm in mock pain. "And you’ve become abusive! What’s happened to you since coming back to this barbaric school!?"

She couldn’t help but laugh. "Maybe you’ve missed you’re calling, I think you should go back and see if you can join that theater troupe, get this act on stage."

"A little help?" He grinned wickedly, extending a hand towards her.

She suspiciously reached out, a large smile across her face as she took his hand to help him to his feet. Instead, he gave her arm a firm but gentle tug, kicking out his leg to knock her off balance at the same time so that she landed in a heap next to him. Though she’d seen it coming, she’d allowed it to happen, giving into the fun of the moment. Giggling through her attempt at anger, she tried to punch him but he caught her wrist and now laughing together they struggled for dominance as he taunted her about her strength.

"Excuse me?" They both stopped and turned to find Ron standing a few feet away staring at them with an unreadable expression on his face. "I hope I’m not interrupting anything." He added in an accusing tone.

(BREAK)

"Where’d everyone go?" Draco asked when the show finally ended. Looking around, Ginny realized the only ones left watching the performance where her, Draco, Ron and Lee.

"I don’t know about Harry or Luna, but Fred said he and Hermione were going to take a walk." Lee shrugged. "He said he wanted to work on some of his potions while he had her in person and he’d meet us back at the store."

"Well, let’s head back. It’s still awhile before lunch time, but if they don’t make it back in time we can just leave them a note to meet us at the pub." Ginny suggested.

"I’m going to go look for them." Ron insisted stubbornly.

"Wasn’t it you who was all big on no one going anywhere alone?" She pointed out.

"I’m not alone. There’s people everywhere." He returned with a very Fred-like response before walking away.

"Well, if they’re all going to take a break, I’m going to go take a look at the girls I’ve been missing since graduation." Lee said with a devilish grin. "Catch you guys later."

"And then there were two." Draco said as Lee walked up to a group of seventh year Ravenclaw girls.

She took his hand as they slowly made their way aimlessly down the street. She was aware that he was having trouble dealing with the left over soreness, but she knew better than to suggest they go somewhere and rest… he had far too much pride. So instead, she had concocted a plan, leading him without leading him to the tree where he’d basically saved their lives during the battle. "Does this look familiar?" She asked, walking up to the tree and sitting herself down under it’s shade, not giving him a choice about stopping.

He struggled to settle next to her, smiling to hide his pain. "I do believe this may be the spot where you started hating me just a little less."

"A very little." She joked. "But I guess you can’t completely hate someone who violently shoves you to the ground and clumsily throws himself down on top of you for your own good before fighting back to back with you."

"Hey, I knew that if I didn’t return you in perfect condition your brothers would kill me, I had no choice." He laughed as she gently shoved him.

"You can’t fool me now, you’ve already confessed all, remember? You did it because you liked me." She teased.

"Yeah, if I only knew then what I know now…" He shook his head in mock regret.

"Oh? And what do you know now?" She demanded, rising to kneel in front of him with her hands on her hips.

Despite whatever aches he was suffering from, he quickly reached out grabbed her around the waist, pulling her into his lap as she squealed in joyful surprise. "I know that it was all worth it." He smiled before leaning down and kissing her passionately, not caring who was around or what they thought. She gladly returned the kiss, happy that he wasn’t letting what happened yesterday defeat him completely, that he still had that newfound sense of confidence he’d been displaying with her if no one else.

She sighed as they broke apart, settling herself comfortably in his lap and resting her head on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her. It was doubtful that either of them had ever felt so normal before and so they savored it, sitting together in the shade and just watching the world go on around them.

(BREAK)

Perhaps he’d been a bit rash… but Harry wasn’t in the mood for the drawn out game it usually took to get Luna to admit to something she didn’t want to. Knowing that she’d kept the potential danger involving Fred to herself, he was horrified to think what she could possibly be keeping about Tristan. He brought them to the Shrieking Shack, only slightly surprised that he really had been able to apparate within the barriers. As soon as they landed right in the middle of the parlor, Luna turned to him full of explosive anger. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?!" She demanded.

"Trying to get to the bottom of everything!" He yelled. "Between Tristan and those horrible girls… the threats are hitting too close to home."

"And what, you think I can fill in all the blanks for you?" She argued.

"No, just the ones involving you and Tristan." He countered. "What happened Luna? Did he say something to you, threaten you? Did you see him doing something in a vision?"

"What does it matter? Nothing’s come of anything, you’re overreacting." She replied uncertainly.

So that’s why she didn’t want to tell him… "Are you worried that if you tell me, I’ll go do something stupid like go confront him?"

"No." She answered without hesitation.

He nodded. "Right, because if that were the case then that would mean whatever you’re keeping secret is pretty bad and you wouldn’t want me to think that, would you?"

"What does it matter? There’s no problem." She insisted.

"Of course there’s a problem! Whatever happened obviously scared you Luna! I can see it in the way you’ve changed your behavior this week. If it’s serious I need to know."

She shifted her gaze slightly, not quite meeting his eyes. "It’s not serious."

Harry had reached the end of his frustration, grabbing her by the shoulders and forcing her to look at him, to understand how dangerous the situation could be. "This isn’t a game Luna! Tristan has already set up a showdown with Draco, tried to intimidate Hermione, and…" He stopped, not wanting to scare her further. Releasing her, he turned and walked away, crossing his arms over his chest. "Please, just tell me what you know."

"What were you going to say?" she asked, taking a few steps toward him.

He shook his head, "Nothing." He answered steadily.

"Come on Harry." She moved around to face him. "You can’t expect honesty from me and still keep your own secrets. You can’t have it both ways."

"Fine! You want to know how I know that whatever you’re hiding is serious? Because after whatever happened between you and Tristan, he took the time to very specifically inform me that it was you and no one else he was after!" He threw his arms out in agitation before starting to pace, trying to burn off the angry energy he’d worked up. As he stalked around the room, he filled her in on every particular and the roundabout way Tristan had been sure to make his intentions clear. Looking at her when he was done he’d expected a certain amount of concern, but she simply looked tired.

"It was the first day it stopped raining, I got up early and went for a walk to try and clear my head… to just enjoy the day." She started without emotion or preamble. "I was around the lake, near where we found Draco yesterday when I realized they were there- Tristan and Troy. I was about to leave when I saw…" here she faltered, turning to sit on the couch. She shook her head, almost as if she didn’t want to relive what she’d seen. He sat next to her and took her hand, using his other to reassuringly brush a strand of hair out of her face and behind her ear. "I saw Tristan bite him." She whispered.

"Troy? He bit Troy?" Harry asked in shock, gripping her hand tighter.

"Not like he was attacking him." She quickly added. "After he caught me looking, he said that Troy had volunteered."

"He caught you looking?" He was suddenly nervous as to where this story would end up.

"It was awful, he was so nice yet so creepy and threatening at the same time. For a while there, I was pretty scared." She admitted with a far off look as she recalled how she felt in that past moment. He didn’t dare interrupt her now that she was on a roll. "He tried to convince me not to tell anyone about what I saw, that it was nothing more than Troy acting as a willing snack… and then… he said he was always looking for more volunteers… for a minute I really thought he was going to bite me too. I took the dirt in my pocket and threw it in his eyes as he came at me and then I just ran until I got to the castle. I thought for sure he was following me the whole time, but when I finally looked back he wasn’t there."

Harry didn’t bother to question why she had been carrying dirt with her, instantly attributing it to the oddness in her that he’d begun to find so endearing. "And so rather than tell anyone, you instead just stop going anywhere alone?" Harry felt himself getting angry again, frustrated with her and the situation. "How long were you expecting that to work, Luna?"

"I don’t know!" She cried, releasing his hand and once more rising to her feet. "I didn’t want to overreact… I just didn’t want to think…"

"What?" He urged, also rising to his feet. "You didn’t want to think what?"

"Harry, if Tristan had really only been snacking on Troy then he wouldn’t have made such a big deal out of it to the point of threatening me through you." She steadily replied. "You know what he was really doing just as well as I do, and that’s why I didn’t want to really believe it."

He looked at her as she silently begged him to open his mind and put the pieces together. It didn’t take long before he reached the same conclusion that she must have. "Tristan’s starting to turn people." He whispered, barely able to voice his fear aloud. Luna simply nodded in horror.

 

NOTE: So a few answers addressed and a few more questions raised… more to come soon!

Chapter 36: Starting to See the Bigger Picture

A/N: Moving right along! Read, Review and really Enjoy!

 

Ron looked from Hermione to Fred seeing the guilty look that crossed both their faces as they stared up at him from the ground where they’d been wrestling with each other. He felt like he’d just caught them in a very private moment and he didn’t like it one bit. "What are you two doing?" He demanded.

"Having a little fun." Fred answered stiffly as he rose and helped Hermione to her feet. "You know, enjoying the day out and away from our responsibilities."

"Lee said you two walked off to talk about your Quick Cure potions." He responded suspiciously.

"And we did." Hermione replied defensively though she wouldn’t quite meet his eyes. "And then we started talking and he teased me like he always does and it escalated into a playful fight. Everything is fine." She added quickly.

Ron merely nodded, not bothering to hide the fact that he didn’t believe her. "Where’s Harry?"

"Off somewhere talking to Luna about something. He asked me to let you all know they’d meet us back at the store." She shrugged without showing any sign she was upset by her boyfriend being off with someone else while she was here doing whatever she was doing with his brother.

What was going on? Ron had no idea but again he was sure he didn’t like it. He studied them both carefully before speaking. "Well, let’s wrangle up Ginny, Lee and Draco and head back. There’s still a lot to do there."

"Right you are." Fred answered, patting his pockets as if to be sure he was still in possession of something. "Let’s go get to work while I have the free labor."

(BREAK)

Luna watched as Harry slumped back into the couch, letting the realization of what Tristan was attempting under their noses sink in. "It can’t… he can’t… I thought the Macnairs never turned people!"

She shook her head. "Apparently what we feared earlier is true… Voldemort wants them to build him an army and even they won’t refuse him."

"And of course Troy would be the sort of idiot to want that sort of life." Harry grumbled. Then he sat up straight and looked her right in the eye. "What exactly did Tristan say about threatening to bite you?"

"He said he was always looking for new donors." She sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to let this all go lightly. Not that he should if they were right… and she was sure they were… but at the same time the amount of fear he would now carry with him on her behalf could cause him to become reckless. Her fear for him had certainly made her do some stupid things in the past. "I told him I wouldn’t be volunteering. He said he hadn’t expected me to, but that he couldn’t worry about me running to tell everyone what he was doing… I guess I figured if I didn’t tell, he wouldn’t do anything."

"Except keep trying to turn people." Harry answered as he stood and walked up to her. "He’s not like his parents Luna, he wasn’t made, he was born the way he is which we know makes him much stronger than the average vampire. Who knows the strengths he would pass on to those he changes?" He paused, considering everything now that he had more of the puzzle pieces. "Troy’s already different, he looks both sick and strong at the same time and he was more vicious in his attack on Draco than he had been when we found them bothering Ginny. Then he was more scared and ran away as soon as Tristan was gone…"

"But with Draco, he was the one leading the attack." She finished his thought.

"Exactly. How far along in the process of turning do you think he is?"

Luna shook her head. "I have no idea. I don’t know much about any of it, I don’t think many who aren’t actually vampires do. We could ask Lupin…" She suggested before taking a deep breath and softly adding, "…or Hermione. She would probably know since she knows about everything else."

He looked at her sharply. He’d obviously considered mention of Hermione to be off-limits when they were alone and she could see the hurt in his eyes that she’d unwittingly broken a rule she hadn’t really known existed. "We’ll go to Lupin." He finally answered carefully. "As much as the others need to know the danger, you were right… we can’t start a panic or set someone off to do something stupid."

She crossed her arms and smirked at him. "So you’re including yourself, correct? You aren’t going to go try and confront Tristan on your own?"

He looked away guiltily. "Okay fine, I won’t do anything stupid either. Not unless he forces me to."

"I guess that’s the best promise I’m going to get." She smiled before turning serious again. "That’s really the only reason I didn’t tell you. I know how important and dangerous this could be and I knew I couldn’t do it alone forever…"

"But I’ve given you no reason to believe I could control my reaction." He hung his head. "You know I wish I could be more thoughtful like you and… some of the others." Again he refused to actually say Hermione’s name. "I just can’t… If I’m being honest, even now I want to go find the jerk and curse him straight to hell before he can do it to any of us."

"You’re not the only one. You think Draco doesn’t feel the same? Or Ron who he also lightly threatened? Or me? I’ve thought about how much easier it would be if Tristan just weren’t around and all the ways I could make that happen." She revealed the dark thoughts she hadn’t really let herself think lest she decide to take action. "We just have to hold ourselves in check, to ensure that we remain better people than him or Voldemort."

Once more Harry sank into the couch, looking completely miserable. "What does it matter what kind of people we are if we’re dead?"

She sat next to him and reached out to rub his arm reassuringly. "Because what you do in life follows you through death. Think of everyone we’ve all lost… when this is over, their names will be celebrated in glory while those of the ones to take their lives will fade from memory, arising only to provoke fear and disgust as all great enemies in history do. Sirius, James, Lily, Neville, George, even Cedric… they are forever to be remembered as purely good, without sin though we both know the opposite to be true." She smiled, remembering the trouble George and Sirius alone had helped their friends cause when they were alive. Harry returned the smile, lost in his own memories.

Then he shook his head and turned to her. "But what if I don’t care how I’m remembered? What if I only care about getting everyone that’s left through this alive and well?"

"That’s the difficulty we all have to face, Harry. Whether it’s better to deal with what comes as it comes or take drastic action to ensure nothing ever happens in the first place. Believe me, I see the benefit in simply killing Tristan and dumping his body in the lake. But think of the chain reaction that would start! Do you really think the Macnairs will just let their son disappear without a trace? It’s almost certain they’d take their quest for revenge beyond their orders from their master. And what about Voldemort… He’d know who took out his newest Hogwarts spy and only send someone else, someone we’d probably never expect, someone who could take us completely by surprise."

"Like they tried with Cho." He said quietly.

"Exactly. At least we know Tristan and what he’s up to. And bringing Lupin in on this will ensure that more eyes are on what he’s doing so that the chances of him doing anything without being caught become near impossible. Wouldn’t you rather face an enemy you know?"

He placed his hand over hers and regarded her with a wry smile. "Okay, you’re right. I admit it wholeheartedly. It still doesn’t change how I feel."

"But will it keep you in check?" She asked seriously though she couldn’t help but smile.

"As long as he keeps himself in check too." He replied indignantly, though he was still smiling. Then he took both her hands and turned very serious once more. "And as long as you promise me something in return."

"What?" She asked breathlessly.

"You have to tell me when something important happens- in life or in a vision. We’re both supposed to be part of this coven, right? That means we’re supposed to be partners, you know, work together to fight against all this." He searched her eyes and she read the second part of his speech, the part he didn’t want to say. I know that can’t happen until we stop fighting each other. But lets pretend anyway.

"Okay." She agreed, also wanting an end to this stand off they’d been keeping. "And in the spirit of full disclosure I think that whatever is going on with Elanya and her plans for Fred, they have to still involve Sarah… Why else would I have seen her?"

"Maybe it was only meant to be a warning that she was going to wake up." He suggested before grinning sheepishly at her. "And in the spirit of full disclosure, Drake went to talk to Willem. They discussed Jayalina but Willem claims he knows nothing of her having a daughter."

"But when we were in Cho’s head, Elanya said she wanted revenge against her father for her mother’s murder… and she looks so much like Jayalina… plus she left school around the same time Jayalina died. It’s too coincidental not to be true." She argued.

"I agree. We can talk to Willem, really search his memory to see if there’s something he’s forgetting." He responded absently, he thoughts elsewhere. Apparently something she had said had struck a chord with him and he was struggling to make the connection.

"But you said Drake went to visit him, that means he’s still in prison."

Again he looked at her with a sheepish grin. "I really meant to tell you all… but then Draco got attacked and it kind of went to the back of my mind. Arthur found a way to get him secretly released. He’ll be out this week and staying temporarily at my house."

Luna gripped his hands more tightly in her excitement as a sudden idea struck her. "Fred’s store!"

"What about it?"

"He said he’s reopening next weekend, maybe we can get a pass to go home… tell them we want to attend for support, which of course we do, but we’d also get the chance to talk to Willem!"

He grinned wider. "I think you should ask Dumbledore for permission, since it’s your brilliant plan and all. Besides, at this point I think he’d be more willing to fulfill your requests than mine. He likes you better now."

"If that’s so it’s only because I have less of an attitude problem." She grinned back. "You really think they can keep Edmund from finding out his brother was released?"

"Drake seems to think so which means Arthur must be convinced…" He trailed off, once more struggling with himself to remember something. Then he released her hands and jumped up in excitement. "That’s it! That’s the link!"

"What?" She asked, also jumping to her feet while caught up in his emotion.

"He’s her father! Edmund, he’s Elanya’s father and he’s the one who killed Jayalina." He looked at her with an air of joyful determination as he finally made the connection he’d been struggling to find. "Now all we have to do is figure out why he did that."

"Do you think Willem knows… without knowing he knows?" She asked, instantly accepting what he said as true. It made too much sense to not be the case.

"Maybe. It’s all we can hope for without going to Edmund himself."

"So, Elanya decided to team up with those girls knowing they’d get her close to Voldemort and therefore Edmund, who is basically running the newspaper for the Death Eaters. But then how does Fred now fit into her plans?"

"Let’s hope it’s her plans and that she wasn’t just there running an errand for one of her friends." Harry replied with concern.

They were silent now that there was nothing more to do than ponder until they could attempt to go through Willem’s memories or until she had a vision. Harry shuffled his feet uncomfortably, trying to bite his tongue from bringing up the one topic they’d yet to discuss- each other. Luna decided to put him out of his misery. "We should get back to the store. There’s still a lot to do there and I’m sure Fred and Lee could use all our help."

He appeared both relieved and disappointed by her suggestion. "If you want to be all responsible about things." He said before smiling mischievously as they once more joined hands to apparate back to the store. "I guess you and I will never have to worry about anti-apparation charms."

(BREAK)

Fred felt horrible being under his brother’s intense scrutiny. Ever since finding him and Hermione goofing off a little while ago Ron had been glaring at them both and not bothering with trying to hide his disdain. Because of it, Fred had never felt more guilty in his life though he certainly hadn’t done anything wrong. The way Ron was acting, it was as if he’d walked in on something far more scandalous than two friends having fun together. Glancing at Hermione who was busy helping Ginny magically restore the shelves, he saw that she was also squirming uncomfortably under Ron’s gaze and Fred felt himself become irritated. "I think Lee could use your help in the back office." He snapped at his brother.

His reply was interrupted as Harry and Luna finally returned, walking through the front door and Ron immediately turned his suspicious energy on them. "Where have you two been?" he demanded.

They both appeared surprised by the attack and Harry glanced at Hermione in confusion. "We had some things to try and figure out. I told Hermione to let you guys know we’d be back soon."

"I did." She protested with a helpless shrug. Fred decided she must be silently telling them of Ron’s strange and accusatory behavior as she was nodding and giving small gestures of explanation. He decided to stay out of it and let her give Harry whatever version of the story she thought best.

"Hey, I’m starving after all this slave labor." Draco said, looking around the room as he took in the divisive tension. "Let’s head to the Three Broomsticks and get some lunch."

"Just bring something back for me and Lee. We have a lot to finish up here before we have to head back to London." Fred protested, not wanting to be anywhere near Ron at the moment for fear he might be cornered and forced to give answers to questions he hadn’t dared ask himself for a long time now.

"Oh come on, it’s social time now." Ginny scolded with a smile. Though glad she seemed to be in a brilliant mood, Fred suddenly wasn’t feeling so happy himself and was wishing for the visit to be over.

"Let him be. If he needs to work he needs to work. Let’s go." Ron replied decisively, walking out the door without waiting for the others.

"Ron!" Harry made to follow him, turning to shoot Fred a questioning look before chasing Ron down.

"Are you sure you guys don’t want to come?" Hermione asked quietly as she went to stand with Luna, Ginny and Draco by the door.

"Yeah, next time we’ll all sit down together… hopefully the store will be open by then and I won’t have anything to worry about." He assured them. Still looking regretful, she followed the others out as they puzzled over what was bothering Ron. With a sigh, he picked up his wand and finished clearing away the last of the rubble and dirt.

"Hey! Where’d everybody go?" Lee asked, coming from the back room.

"To lunch." He answered shortly.

"Well why didn’t we go? I’m so hungry I’m passing out back here." He replied, rushing to the window to see if the others were still nearby. "Plus another break to try and make a love connection would’ve been nice."

"They’re going to bring us back something to eat. As for girls… I think I’m doing you a favor by keeping you from being that guy who comes back to the school after he graduates to creep out all the girls by hitting on them with perverted or worse -stupid- pickup lines." Fred shot back as he made his way into the office.

"My lines aren’t stupid." Lee protested as he was handed a large stack of files to go through.

"Come on. We have to figure out how much we actually lost here and how much it’ll cost to get back in business." He sat at the desk to begin running figures.

"I never thought I’d see the day when you went dull." Lee grumbled as he sat at the other desk.

"Yeah, well seeing as how we can’t exactly be in the joke business right now, a bit more seriousness is required." Fred replied with a more mature answer than he’d intended to give. In truth he didn’t like having to do any of this either, no matter how much it needed to be done. But it certainly required a lot of his focus and therefore he found it the perfect distraction.

(BREAK)

As they all sat together and ate their meal, Ron couldn’t help continually glancing from Hermione to Harry to Luna. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for other than some kind of clue as to why everyone was acting so confusing. He wasn’t sure why he was so angry at finding Fred and Hermione in such a potentially compromising situation though he supposed he could believe their innocent yet highly suspect explanation. But he could also remember a time only a few short months earlier when the thought of Harry alone with any other girl would have caused Hermione to begin hyperventilating… and now here she was filling the void by happily spending time with Fred. And what about Harry and Luna who apparently couldn’t decide lately whether they were fighting with each other or not. At times they could barely be in the same room together and then suddenly they’re once more confidants, placing themselves together against the world. Luna’s insistence at choosing Harry’s confidence over his had been a major bone of contention when Ron had been with her, right up there with all her secret keeping. And now it seemed she and Harry still found it easier to trust each other than everyone else, even with the unexplained tension between them.

"What is wrong with you?" Ginny asked quietly while the others were engrossed in conversation. "You keep glaring at everyone."

"Nothing." He answered harshly.

"Hello everyone." Parvati and Padma greeted them as they walked up to the table.

"Hey." Harry replied for the group. "You two want to sit down."

"Sure, we’ve been walking around all morning, I could use some lunch." Padma replied, pulling another chair over.

Parvati however remained standing nervously. "Hey Ron, do you think I could talk to you for a minute? Outside?"

"Okay." He answered with a shrug. It truth he didn’t care what she wanted to talk about, the opportunity to take a few minutes from his friends was too good to pass up. He followed her out away from the delicious smells of lunch and down the street a bit. "Where are we going?" he asked as they headed toward the little tea shop.

"Well," She shyly turned to him outside the door. "I was hoping you would come have lunch with me here… you know just us?"

Something clicked in his head as he realized what was going on. "Are you taking me on a date?" He asked in shock.

"Well, I was hoping you’d pay since I spent all my money shopping with Padma." She answered with a dazzling smile.

"Why me?" He wondered, still not quite believing yet another girl seemed to be interested in him. Before and after Luna he had begun to believe he would never be viewed as handsome or as charismatic as Harry or Fred or even Draco. Those three always seemed to turn heads, even if it was by girls they had no interest in.

"Why not you?" She asked in confusion. "You’re sweet and funny, you care about your friends and family, and if I’m being honest, you aren’t so bad to look at." She teased.

Say something nice about her! His mind scolded him. "Well if I’m being honest, I’d rather look at you all day than myself." He wanted to bury himself in the ground and die of embarrassment. Flirting was not his forte and with Luna he’d never had to worry… anything that came out of her mouth was always more ridiculous than anything he’d said. But Parvati was different, she had both her feet planted firmly in reality and was probably expecting someone more normal and definitely more suave.

To his surprise, she smiled wider. "So lunch then?"

"I should go let the others know…" He hesitated.

"If we don’t come back, Padma will tell them where we are." She reassured him.

"Well, you certainly had this ambush all planned out, didn’t you?" He smiled back at her.

She shot him a confused and hopeful look. "Except for whether or not you’d agree."

"Well, since you went through all the trouble…" He opened the door to the tea shop and gestured her in. "Ladies first." She giggled and happily walked in to find them a table. He followed her feeling apprehensive and completely unsure. But at least he now had something in his own life to focus on so that he could stop obsessing over what all his friends were doing. Between Parvati and his new Quidditch responsibilities, he might just get through this semester at school.

(BREAK)

Hermione felt relieved when Padma informed them all that Ron and her sister wouldn’t be returning. Without him sitting there glaring and making her feel guilty, she was finally able to analyze her own feelings on the matter. And in her estimation, she’d done nothing to warrant her friend’s displeasure. Sure she and Fred were keeping their special cure a secret, but there’s no way Ron could know that and so the only thing he could be thinking was that they were doing something behind Harry’s back. The suspicion was unfair, after all she hadn’t been the one who’d actually gone and kissed someone else- twice. And upon further reflection, she found she resented Ron for trying to make her feel like it was wrong of her to spend time with any other male… and more than that, she was pretty sure he also planning on making Harry feel that way after spending time with Luna. Especially since Luna was his ex-girlfriend. But where any of them doing anything wrong? She didn’t think so. Oh how her head hurt as she dizzily spun all these thoughts through it.

They finished lunch and returned to the store with food for Fred and Lee. Ron came in shortly after and she hoped that his impromptu date with Parvati would put him in a better mood. Thankfully it had as he simply ignored her and Harry, instead speaking to Ginny and Draco while talking about what happened on his date.What’s his problem with us? Harry’s voice invaded her mind.

I don’t know. Like I said earlier, he found me and Fred goofing off and hasn’t been right since. She was careful to keep her real thoughts on Ron’s mood behind the wall she’d been building and strengthening to keep him, Luna and/or any other mind reader out.

Well, what exactly did he see? He asked with some suspicion. Rather than answer, she simply replayed the scene for him being extra careful not to include her emotions at the time. She could feel his smile and turning to actually look at him she saw that it had translated across his face along with a bit of amusement. She smiled back, glad that he wasn’t angry with her as Ron had seemed to think he should be. Once more his voice filled her head. I see… was he upset he couldn’t play too? Though his tone was joking in a way that told her he definitely wasn’t upset with what he saw, there was something else underneath- something almost like relief and maybe even hope.

"The coaches will be heading back soon." Ginny announced a short while later as she and Draco sat in the corner, helping sort through boxes of old inventory.

As everyone dusted themselves off and prepared to leave Fred caught her eye and they shared a brief smile before everyone started saying goodbye. He and Lee still had another hour until their train arrived and so they agreed to walk the others to their convoy. As soon as the carriage pulled away from the village Hermione felt lonelier. Looking at Harry out of the corner of her eye, she tried to see if he was picking up on her discomfort not really sure whether she wanted him too or not. He was absently staring out the window but suddenly turned to her, wearing that special smile of his… the one he only used with her. He reached out and took her hand, It’s going to all work out, I know it is. His tone was as certain as his words and she realized that she had been seeking his comfort, and he’d provided it. Keeping a hold of his hand, she sat back to enjoy the rest of the ride and reflected that loving Harry was both the easiest and hardest thing she’d ever been through… so far.

(BREAK)

As soon as they reached the castle, Harry and Luna made their excuses to the others and ran off to find Lupin. He hadn’t ridden back with them, instead he and Tonks had left the village early to go enjoy their day together and for once, his students had to cover for him. They weren’t even sure whether he’d returned to the castle yet. "What is wrong with Ron?" Luna asked as they walked towards the Defense classroom and Lupin’s chambers.

"Who knows." He answered, keeping his own thoughts to himself. Despite their pledge for full disclosure, he didn’t see a point in getting her upset because Ron couldn’t control his suspicions… even if he may have a reason to suspect.

Thankfully she let it pass as they both prepared themselves for the conversation they were about to have. Knocking on the door, Harry held his breath almost hoping Lupin wouldn’t answer. He didn’t want to believe what Tristan was trying to do, but there was no way to deny it now. Lupin answered, his smile quickly fading as he took in their faces. "What’s wrong?"

"Can we come in?" Luna asked.

"Of course!" He gestured them both into the sitting room, tightly closing the door before joining them. "So, what new calamity have you two discovered?" He asked with a nervous smile.

"It’s about Tristan." Harry answered, glancing at Luna who nodded in support. "We sort of were wondering if you could teach us about how vampires change other people."

Lupin was instantly on alert. "Why?" He demanded.

Taking a deep breath, Luna took up the narrative, filling their professor in on everything they’d both witnessed and heard throughout the week including both hers and his run in with Tristan. "And we’re sure he sent Troy and the others after Draco yesterday." She concluded.

Lupin sat back and nodded. "Of course he did, he’s probably got something planned for me as well. No offense to you two and your powers, but the blood feud between the werewolf and vampire species as well as a few others, has been brewing since both came into existence so it is no surprise his first real move was against Draco. My own aversion and hatred of vampires arose only after I was bitten and is an inherent part of the curse. I’m sure it is the same for new vampires and so Tristan who was born the way he is must have a higher intolerance for us than even his parents."

"But why?" Harry asked.

"Because we are both equal in our unnaturalness. We are just as strong, just as vicious and just as monstrous as they are and therefore the battle for supremacy has always been there. Both are dominant and territorial species, made more dangerous by the humanness they still carry."

"So based on what I described, would you say Tristan was in the process of turning Troy or was he really just ‘snacking’ as he said?" Luna waited nervously for his answer.

"That’s hard to say. As we’ll be learning in class in a few weeks, very little is generally known about the process. Vampires are very secretive with their rituals and while I’m aware that it’s all a bit more complicated than just getting bit as with my kind, I’m just not certain what is involved. There are of course theories, and I believe the muggles may have come closest to describing it in their fiction. Of course, the muggles have a stronger motivation to try and figure it out than witches and wizards. We know vampires exist and are better prepared to meet one, muggles only fear they do and therefore are usually defenseless."

"But they didn’t get everything right." Luna pointed out. Harry had no idea one way or the other… other than the books assigned back when he went to their schools, he hadn’t read many muggle books. And Robin Hood was the only fiction he’d ever read.

Lupin smiled. "Thus the muggle way of storytelling… mixing fact and fiction until no one knows the difference."

"So the only way to know for sure, without a single doubt, whether Troy is being turned is to ask Tristan?" Harry asked, not bothering to hide his disappointment in not being given a straight answer.

Lupin shrugged helplessly. "Or wait and see if Troy starts drinking blood."

(BREAK)

Tired out from the exertion of pretending he wasn’t suffering all day, Draco took his pain pills and practically passed out the minute his head hit the pillow after dinner. Ginny however decided she had something she needed to take care of before she could rest beside him. Waiting until well after everyone in the dorms turned in, she quietly crept from Draco’s room, down the Slytherin wing, through the common room to the Gryffindor wing. She strode right up to Colton’s door and knocked with the hope that she was waking him. He answered with sleepy eyes and tousled hair, looking displeased until he saw who was there.

"Hey, finally come to your senses?" He asked, leaning against the doorframe with a confident grin.

"I haven’t recently lost them." She answered before shoving her way past him.

"Hey, normally a girl waits to be invited into a guy’s room." Colton said before closing the door with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Of course, now that you’re in here…"

"Hold off the hormones, Don Juan. I’m here to find out exactly what you know about what happened yesterday." She crossed her arms and reminded herself that to curse him would only get her in trouble. Her wand was in her back pocket though, just in case she didn’t like what he had to say.

"Only what everyone’s been saying." He shrugged. "But hey it couldn’t have been too bad, I saw you and your little boyfriend walking around Hogsmeade today. And according to stories, he did a bit of damage to those guys himself."

She shook her head angrily. "Did you know about it before it happened?"

"Of course not." He answered looking insulted. "I think you’re cute and all and yeah, I’ll admit I was trying to make Draco mad in the library… but I’m not the kind of guy who sets up some girl’s boyfriend just to get him out of the way. I have some honor, you know."

"I don’t believe you." She said with conviction though on the inside, she wasn’t as sure.

"Well then maybe you have been hanging around the Slytherins too long because you can’t just go around assuming and accusing people of horrible things. Not everyone does bad things to people."

"There is only one Slytherin I hang around with and he’s not exactly typical of that mold." She replied through clenched teeth.

His grin returned as he saw that he was making her angry. "If you say so."

"I think you’re being just a little too defensive."

"And what exactly was it you were looking for me to say?" He asked, throwing his hands up in aggravation. "That I did it? That I somehow teamed up with those other guys to get Draco beaten up? And then what were you going to do? What was your big plan because I doubt it was to just turn me in."

What had she been thinking? Why had she felt the need to confront him? "I had wanted to trust you." She admitted. "Because I know I need to stop looking at everyone as a potential enemy, and you were in my class, in my house… we were assigned a project and could have maybe become friends though I find it doubtful. But all you’ve managed to do is prove to me that I just can’t trust new people. I don’t know anything about you and therefore I can’t believe anything you say."

"That doesn’t answer the questions at hand, Ginny." He replied bluntly. "Why did you come here and what was your intention?"

"I guess it was just to make sure, to see if I was wrong and you could somehow convince me you weren’t the kind of horrible person to be a part of that ambush." Once more she pushed her way past him and opened the door before turning. "You haven’t and so all I can say is to stay clear of me and everyone I care about or next time I won’t concern myself with the desire for actual proof and will do something about it." She slammed the door before he could reply, not wanting to engage him any further.

Rather than go straight back to Draco’s room, she first went into her own. She collapsed on the bed feeling like she’d run an emotional mile in the last two days. Her concern for Draco was as overwhelming as her hatred for those spineless boys who’d hurt him. She longed to go back to that moment they’d shared today in Hogsmeade, where they’d simply sat together under that tree and let everything else fade away. But those moments could only be savored because she knew they were going to be few and far between until the whole world settled.

With a troubled sigh, she went to her desk to write a quick letter. Putting in her bag, she decided she’d ask Dumbledore to find a safe way for it to be delivered before breakfast in the morning. Then wanting nothing more than to regain that feeling of comfort, she hurried back to Draco’s room.

(BREAK)

Waiting until well after his parents went to bed, Fred fired up his burners and began brewing several samples. Pulling the crystals Hermione had given him out of his pocket, he sat and studied them as his concoctions were brought to a boil. Could they really be the answer? Would they help him create what he was told was impossible? He hoped so, though Hermione’s excited certainty definitely boosted his own confidence. They had the right stone, now it was just a matter of finding the right potion to go with it.

Checking the cauldrons, he added different amounts of the sample of Wolfsbane that Drake had brewed for him. After a few more minutes, he added a few drops of Drake’s special mixture before adding his own special ingredients. All there was left to do was wait. He hoped one of these potions in the first round of trials worked but he knew better. Inventing potions was a grueling process of trial and error, rarely did one get lucky enough to find the right mixture on the first try. But thanks to Hermione, he was now sure he had all the tools, he just needed to figure out how to put them all together.

(BREAK)

Draco awoke to only a slight soreness compared to what he’d suffered through the day before. He was all the more thankful that Drake was at the school, knowing he’d added his own little special potion to the healing agents Madame Pomfrey had administered. The result of that and his own new werewolf ability of self healing made for a much faster recovery, making it much easier for him to pretend out in public that he wasn’t struggling. The last thing he wanted was for Troy, Crabbe, Goyle or those other two idiots to think they had gotten the better of him. More than anything, he wanted to rip their throats out for what they tried to do to him. He wasn’t sure what their intentions had been, how far they would have gone had Luna not had her vision and brought Potter to break up the fight. Had they wanted to beat him to death or simply into submission? Either way he knew they had wanted to humiliate him and on that front they’d succeeded.

Ginny stirred slightly next to him and he was careful to be still, not yet wanting her to wake- he was savoring these few moments to himself. He hadn’t talked about what happened out there in the woods…to her or anyone else. Thankfully they all seemed content to let him be and more than that, he was surprised to find that they didn’t seem to think any less of him. But that was because they thought the other boys cheated, though Potter and Weasley had seemed impressed with the damage he’d managed to inflict before Troy’s gang overtook him. Draco knew better… Potter, Ginny, Dumbledore and all the others could look at what those boys did as cheating, but they’d only been ensuring the win and a fair fight wasn’t always the best way to accomplish that. Once more he found that he was amazed at the difference in thinking between the two sides of this war. And if Potter really intended to go to battle playing fair, well, it gave him doubts as to if they actually could win- for the first time since he’d joined them.

Not for a minute did those doubts lead him to consider trying to go back. If this side was meant to lose, he was content to go down with them. But their rather naïve view of the world and human nature itself was getting to be irritatingly frustrating. They expected everyone to play by the same rules and were continually surprised when faced with someone who refused to even learn that there were rules in the first place. When would they realize that if everyone always acted morally, there would be no reason for this stupid war in the first place? Who did they think they were fighting anyway?

For the first time ever, Draco finally felt he had something to offer Potter and the others, something that would let him prove himself useful and start paying back all that they’d done for him. He could serve as a sort of cultural liaison- teaching them the true depth of wicked deviance their foes were capable of. He could help them understand why they had to start being proactive rather than reactive and why it would be in all their best interests to find a way to get rid of Tristan before he could really start making trouble. The guy had already started building his gang, his army of loyal student followers. Why let it get to the point where getting rid of him is near impossible? After all, that was the reasoning behind all the attacks on Potter over the years. They would just have to be more successful than Voldemort and his followers had been.

Stretching widely, Ginny finally woke fully and turned to face him with a sleepy grin, interrupting his thoughts. He decided he would put it all aside until he could talk to Potter and returned her smile, content to now focus his attention on her. "How’re you feeling?" She asked with a yawn.

"Much better." He kissed the tip of her nose before sitting up and reaching for his pain pills.

"If you’re feeling much better, why are you taking those?" She asked, concern in her voice.

"To ensure I stay feeling that way." He answered before gulping down the potion. He was thankful that as of yet she hadn’t tried to analyze how he felt about what happened, and to further save his shame, he hoped she’d continue to hold off. He didn’t want to have to admit to her of all people that his pride had been injured more than anything else. Of course, she probably already knew… she had a way of reading him.

Caught up in his thoughts again, her next words took him completely by surprise. "I went to see Colton in his room last night." She sat up and drew her knees to her chest.

"What?" He asked sharply, again turning his full focus on her. "Why?" He added wondering where exactly this admission would go.

"I wanted to see if he’d fess up to having some part in what happened Friday." She shrugged as if it should have been obvious.

He stared at her, waiting for more but she simply stared back. "Okay, and why would he have had anything to do with Friday?"

"He was just acting suspiciously while we were in the library, stretching out the project and forcing me to stay longer when I had made it very clear that I had wanted to leave."

"So what? You think he purposely kept you from coming to look for me, thus giving Troy and the others time to work their special brand of magic?" He asked, interpreting her statement.

"Something like that."

He grinned and shook his head. "Ginny, did it ever occur to you that the guy simply has a thing for you? He was probably just trying to spend more time with you."

"And that’s okay?" She crossed her arms and pouted, but he could see the smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

"Absolutely not and if necessary I can throttle the jerk later if you’d like. But it’s more reasonable than assuming he was ganging up with the Slytherins to attack me and then going alone in the middle of the night to confront him in his room."

"Well, when you put it like that…" Her smile grew wider, more sheepish as she realized she may have overreacted.

"One thing though… What exactly were you planning when you went to see him?" He teased, poking her in her side.

She laughed and hit him with her pillow. "Why I was going to seduce him of course!"

"If anyone could, it’d be you." He hit her with his own pillow, starting a fight that ended with them both on the floor laughing as they struggled to catch their breath. "So tell me, after you broke my heart by seducing him, what would you have done next?"

"That depends on what I heard." She teased, propping herself up so that she could rest her chin on his chest and look at him while they talked. "If he admitted to being involved I would have simply cursed him where he stood."

"And if he was innocent?"

She smiled. "Well, I don’t know… I guess that would depend on how well the seduction went." She squealed as he rolled over, reaching to poke her in her sides where he knew her to be extremely ticklish. At last she begged for mercy, tears in her eyes from laughing so hard. "Okay! Okay! I give up!"

A sudden scream tore through the dorm, interrupting their fun. They looked at each other a moment before scrambling to their feet and rushing to the door and out into the common room where all the other students were gathering. Taking Ginny’s hand and keeping her carefully corralled behind him, they made their way closer to see what the fuss was about.

Padma was sitting on the ground and they were quickly able to tell that she was the one who had screamed. Having been the first one to enter the common room that morning, she’d also unwittingly been the one to discover the gruesome sight of two little house elves lying on the floor, their throats slashed. "I… I just walked in and they were lying there… the poor things." Padma sobbed as her sister came forward to comfort her.

Draco was surprised to find that he was actually relieved to see that Dobby wasn’t one of the victims, these two he wasn’t sure he’d ever even seen before. Looking across the room, he was able to tell that Potter, Granger, Weasley and Luna were completely horrified by what had happened. "Who could have done this to an elf?" He wondered out loud.

"Yeah, aren’t they supposed to be super magical and super hard to kill?" Some Ravenclaw boy asked.

"Well anything with it’s throat cut would find it hard to go on living." Tristan answered casually, throwing himself down on the couch unconcerned with what was going on.

"Shouldn’t someone go get McGonagall or Dumbledore?" one of the Hufflepuff girls asked.

"Already taken care of." Luna replied. Draco figured she and/or Potter must have already used their mind powers to alert the headmaster.

Sure enough, Dumbledore entered a few seconds later with McGonagall, Flitwick and Drake right behind him. As always, the old wizard seemed unflustered though Draco could see the sadness and regret weighing heavily on him as he stared down at the small victims. "All of you go down to breakfast." He commanded, turning to face his students as the professors covered the bodies. "And you are instructed to tell no one of what occurred here this morning. We will make an announcement about it once we have determined what exactly has happened. As students in our accelerated program, I expect you all to adhere to this request. Anyone found to be in violation will be expelled from the program and returned to their regular classes." He told them sternly.

(BREAK)

Harry had woken up that morning completely excited for his day. Now he was unsure what to feel… while he’d been as relieved as the others to realize they hadn’t known either of the house elves, the sight of their sad little bodies wouldn’t leave him. His affection and empathy for the little guys had never been as deep as Hermione’s, but the fact that even after receiving their freedom these two elves had been made victims left him in total shock. He’d certainly seen a dead body before… two Weasleys among them… but this was something completely different… more unfair somehow. As wizards and witches, vampires and werewolves, giants and demons, even some squibs and muggles, they all knew what they were getting into with this war. But the more pure creatures like the elves… this wasn’t their fight, they didn’t deserve to be used anymore than the merpeople, fairies, centaurs, sprites or any of the other ageless creatures just trying to keep going in this modern and violent world.

He and all the other students housed in the accelerated dorms went to the Great Hall and sat quietly as their fellow students continued to enjoy their Sunday. They waited all through breakfast for Dumbledore to appear, to end their mandatory silence on what they’d seen. But the headmaster never came and as they all rose from the table to begin their day, he could tell his dormmates weren’t pleased that they had to continue to keep the secret. He and his friends settled themselves outside at their tree by the lake, all sitting silently and engrossed in their own thoughts.

A few minutes later, Seamus came running up to them, Parvati hot on his heels. "Hey, guys! You ready?"

"For what?" Harry asked, reminding himself that Seamus hadn’t been in the dorm that morning and therefore his excitement was due to the fact that he didn’t know what had taken place.

Parvati who had been there was staring at the ground and shuffling her feet, not quite as enthusiastic. "Gryffindor tryouts." She explained, looking confused. "Seamus asked me to help and Ron said he was going to ask you and Ginny."

Everyone turned to look at Ron who appeared flustered. "Oh yeah, right. Sorry, I forgot. Last night Seamus and I decided it would be best to have those trying out fly against a team and so we thought about asking you guys to come help out and play a bit. I was going to ask you this morning, but…" he trailed off, looking at them helplessly.

"Right." Ginny nodded. "Well, I could certainly use some time up in the air." She stood and brushed the grass from her pants.

"Me too." Harry agreed, knowing how much better, freer he felt while playing Quidditch.

"Then let’s go! Everyone’s probably already down at the pitch waiting!" Seamus replied with urgency, determined not to screw up his position as team captain… and the only player currently on the team.

Ron stood also and seemed to hesitate before turning to Draco. "So, Malfoy. You interested in helping out too?"

He looked as surprised by the invitation as the rest of them, but Harry was happy that Ron was trying to include the other boy more. "Sure." Draco shrugged also rising to his feet.

"I guess we’ll go do something useful." Hermione replied sourly as she moved to stand with Luna.

Seamus grinned at them. "Well, do you two lovely ladies think you could handle yourself on a broom? We could use the extra help."

"I could." Luna said simply. "Not like the others, but I don’t think I’d fall off or anything." Remembering how well she’d rode with him at Lairmore, Harry believed her more than capable… Hermione however wasn’t happy to have her feet leave the ground and her athleticism was nearly non existent.

"Isn’t there something that’s safely on the ground I could do to help?" She asked nervously, making Harry smile.

Seamus laughed, they all knew how anti-flying Hermione was. "Well you at least know the rules right?" She merely crossed her arms and glared in response. "Okay, stupid question, the great Hermione knows all. Well, I guess you could help me watch everyone, see who plays well and who can barely stay on a broom." It seemed Seamus was desperate for help, not caring who it came from.

With that settled, they all went down to the pitch. Harry, Ron, Ginny, Draco and Parvati all grabbed their brooms while Luna borrowed one of the school's older models. Stepping out onto the field, they were greeted by nearly every Gryffindor- from first years all the way through the seventh years that hadn’t made it into the accelerated scholastic program. Looking around at all their faces, Harry wondered which one was going to wind up taking his place as seeker and whether they’d be better at it than he was. Part of him wanted to believe he was the best there ever was and would be- though he knew it wasn’t true even today. There were far better players out there and one of them could be sitting before him, he had to remember that- he never wanted to be as prideful as everyone who didn’t know him thought him to be. And so he stood and faced them all, determined not to care who replaced him so long as they continued to keep Gryffindor on top.

(BREAK)

Ron sat back and let Seamus run the show, as he’d done with Ginny and Angelina before him. But he couldn’t help but feel superior, knowing he was there because McGonagall didn’t have faith that they could do it without his guidance. And so despite the horror of what they’d all seen that morning, he stood before the large group of students unable to do anything but smile in encouragement.

At last they were sent in the air. Ron took up his position as Keeper while Luna and Parvati played as the Chasers. Not needing a Seeker at the moment, both Harry and Draco were put in as beaters while Seamus put together a team for them all to scrimmage against. As play progressed, Ron felt proud of himself and slightly worried for their prospects. They were only able to take the quaffle from Luna and not one was able to get it past him to complete the play and score points. Worse yet, many nearly fell off their brooms when Harry or Draco sent a bludger at them, unable to maintain a solid flight path.

At last it was time for the hopefuls to attempt defense and they were all sent up in teams to try and protect their goals from the experienced players – well experienced except Luna who was actually doing well for her lack of experience. Thankfully Seamus gave her a break and took her place in the air as she and Ron grounded to watch with Hermione from the sidelines. "They don’t seem to be doing very well." Luna said after awhile.

"Well, they are playing against Ginny, Draco and Harry who are very good." Hermione answered. "Plus Seamus and Parvati aren’t bad either."

"It shouldn’t matter." Ron replied, disgusted with his options for a new team. "They should be able to play against anyone and still win. Harry and Draco weren’t even Beaters when they played! They shouldn’t be showing up anyone!"

Luna and Hermione looked at each other before bursting out laughing. "You’re taking this awfully seriously." Hermione said. "Besides, we all know Harry will be good at almost anything he does and the only thing Draco was ever bad at was being a bad guy."

"Plus Ginny’s been playing with you and your brothers since before she could walk." Luna added. "Not to mention she’s driven by her own desire to prove herself as is Seamus."

"Still! It’s like trying to pick out the best of the worst down here!" He complained as one of the guys placed as a Chaser dropped the Quaffle altogether.

"Dean’s doing well." Luna replied.

"So is Colin Creevey." Hermione added, pointing as the boy blocked a goal from being made.

"We’ll see." He shook his head. "The biggest problem is going to be replacing Harry. If these guys are having trouble with Quaffles and Bludgers, how are they ever supposed to handle the snitch?"

At last everyone had gotten a chance to show what skills they had and they all grounded, tired yet eager to see how they did. "Well, what do you think?" Seamus asked him.

"I think we’ve got our work cut out for us." Ron replied.

"Unfortunately, I think you’re right." Seamus said unhappily before turning to the others. "Hey Harry, you wanna help us out with one last thing?"

"What?" Harry asked cautiously from where he’d collapsed on the ground with Ginny, Draco and Parvati. Unlike the hopefuls, they’d been in the air playing the whole time and Ron could see they were tired, especially Draco who was also still recovering from Friday’s events.

"Maybe we should wait… set up a special time for this one." Ron suggested.

"No, it’s okay. I just needed to catch my breath a minute." Harry insisted, rising to his feet. "What do you need?"

Ron shook his head and smiled, Harry was never one to show weakness of any kind. "Seamus wanted you to do what you do best, find the snitch." Seeing the gleam in his eye, Ron knew his friend would instantly agree.

"Okay everyone, here’s what’s happening." Seamus turned to face the group. "Try-outs are over for anyone not wishing to go for the Seeker position. Thanks for coming and Ron and I will have a list up in the common room by tomorrow afternoon letting you all know who made it and when we practice. Thanks for coming! Anyone wanting to try for Seeker, please stay just a little longer."

Most everyone left, only four had the gumption to try and take the place of one of the best players the team had ever seen and Ron was amused to see Dean was among them. Dennis Creevey also decided to stay and his brother Colin took a seat in the stands to watch and offer support. Seamus smiled at the four. "Okay, what we’ll do is put you all up in the air with Harry. Then were going to release the snitch and simply see who gets to it first."

Dean, Dennis and the other two looked at each other nervously before Dennis raised his hand. "And Harry’s actually going to try? He’s not just up there to watch us?"

"I expect Harry to act as if he were actually playing the game." Seamus grinned at the uncomfortable looks on their faces. "Just imagine how much more impressed we’ll be if one of you gets to it before him."

Of course, that wasn’t to be the case, Ron had never expected it. In the three times they’d set the snitch loose, Harry had not only caught it first, he’d been the only one close to it at the time. Though on the last pass, Ron saw him pull away and attempt to give Dean who was close a chance, but even then Dean hadn’t seen the glittering golden ball and so Harry had simply given chase and caught it again. Seamus called them all back in and the four hopefuls landed, grumbling to themselves. "It just isn’t fair with him up there!" Dean complained.

"Why don’t we let them try against each other now?" Ron suggested to Seamus. "I think you’ve made your point."

"I guess you’re right, we won’t know if they can even do it otherwise." Seamus laughed. They sent Harry, Hermione, Luna, Ginny, Draco and Parvati to the showers and turned to the four kids still red-faced and eager in front of them. "We know none of you are Harry, but we expect you to play like him. Seeker is a very important position, the one that could win or lose a game. We want you catching the snitch quickly every time you’re on the field, whether for practice or a game. So get back up there and show us you can do it."

(BREAK)

Not bothering to dry her hair, Ginny stepped from the locker room freshly showered and feeling great. She and Draco had never played on the same team before and so she’d never taken the time to notice that he was actually very good at the game. Of course when he had been playing, he’d been positioned a Seeker specifically so he could go against Harry and he hadn’t stood a chance. Luna and Hermione had already returned to the castle, one to do homework and the other to go through the ministry documents since her homework was already done, but Ginny had stayed back, waiting outside the boys’ locker room for Draco. When he finally emerged, she saw him rubbing his shoulder and wincing in pain. He was limping slightly, unable to fight the soreness he was obviously feeling. She knew he shouldn’t have played, he was still recovering… but she also knew that to have suggested as much would have only made him feel bad and very possibly started a fight.

When he looked up and saw her, all the suffering she’d seen on him disappeared and he was once more walking straight, wearing a wide smile. "Hey, that was fun, huh?"

She didn’t know what to do. He was in pain and for her sake he was hiding it, which only made her feel horrible and even angrier with Troy and the other boys for putting him in this position in the first place. Of course, they’d all let Harry walk around after being hurt and push himself to the point of death… why not also grant Draco that freedom. Between the inherently rapid healing powers of the werewolf curse and Drake’s potions, he was already recovering much faster than anyone else beaten up so badly. "It sure was. I knew you had some good moves off the field, but who could have guessed you could translate them on the field as well?" She returned his smile as she teased him. "I guess you’re a pro at everything."

In response he merely grabbed her up and kissed her deeply. "And don’t you forget it." He whispered, causing a shiver of desire to go down her spine.

"Hey, why don’t you two get a room?" Someone called.

Turning they found Colton standing a few yards away, about to head toward the castle. "Why don’t you get a life." Ginny angrily replied.

"I have one, and it doesn’t involve me pretending to be something I’m not just to stay in a relationship." He shot back.

"What is your problem with me?" Draco demanded, stalking up to the other boy. "Until the other day I didn’t know you were even alive, so I never did anything to you."

"No, just my brother." Colton stonily answered.

Draco appeared taken aback for a moment. "Excuse me? I have no idea what you’re talking about."

"Of course not. Everyone’s all the same to you, aren’t they?" He answered, stepping up closer to Draco who made himself stand even taller, refusing to be intimidated.

Ginny quickly shoved her way between them before things could go worse. He may still be sore, but this time there was only one boy who wouldn’t pull any dirty tricks and she knew Draco would probably destroy him. She shoved Colton back. "Why don’t you just tell us what your problem is instead of continuing on like an idiot?"

"Carter James." Colton said quietly. "Do you remember him? He was a couple of years older than us."

"Like I said before, I have no idea who that is." Draco answered steadily. Glancing at him, Ginny could see he was telling the truth. Whether or not he did anything to this Carter kid, it was apparent he didn’t remember it.

"He’s my older brother, was a prefect in Ravenclaw when he was here." Colton kept trying to prod Draco’s memory. "It happened during our third year, don’t you remember?"

"Oh spit it out already!" Ginny yelled, growing frustrated. "Say whatever it is you think he did and go away already!"

"He’s the reason my brother is blind!" Colton yelled back. "Nearly killed him, luckily the only thing they weren’t able to fix were his eyes." She turned to Draco, waiting to see the moment of recognition… surely if he’d blinded and nearly killed someone, he would remember. But his face remained a mask of anger and confusion and Ginny felt herself becoming confused. Surely Colton wouldn’t be mistaken about something like this and turning to try and read him, she saw that he was becoming desperately angry with Draco’s inability to recall the incident. "You really don’t remember, do you? How many people’s lives have you destroyed that you can’t even remember them all."

"Hey!" Draco finally spoke. "I remember every horrible thing I’ve ever done and every person I did them to! This Carter kid was not among them. So why don’t you go find the one who really hurt your brother? I will say that your best bet is to ask Crabbe and Goyle, otherwise I can’t help you since I had nothing to do with it. So why don’t you let whatever it is that you really have against me go and leave me the hell alone."

"I already told you what I have against you." Colton replied coldly.

"And he already told you, he didn’t do anything to Carter." Ginny returned.

"Yeah, and I had already told you on Friday that I had nothing to do with what those guys did to him but you didn’t exactly believe me." He returned.

"I still don’t." She replied darkly. "Especially now that you’ve let me know you think you have a reason to hate him."

"Did you know she came to my room in the middle of the night?" Colton grinned at Draco.

"Of course." Draco replied easily, crossing his arms and looking smug. Ginny breathed a small sigh of relief. The moment she’d gotten back into bed with him, she knew she had to tell Draco what she’d done, so that this very situation wouldn’t arise. She knew Colton would try to find a way to use it against her.

"There wasn’t exactly anything to hide." She sneered. "Look, I’m very sorry for what happened to your brother, but as far as Draco knows, he had nothing to do with it."

"And if you believe him you’re more pathetic than I thought." Colton answered before walking away.

She turned to Draco, wanting to be sure. "You did tell the truth didn’t you?"

His eyes narrowed a bit and she could see he was hurt by her light accusation. "Would it matter if I didn’t? Would it matter if I had been the one and then lied right to his face about it?"

Ginny hesitated, wanting only to give him the truth. "Maybe. It would definitely start a fight between us at the very least."

"I didn’t do it. As far as I know, I wasn’t involved at all." He said evenly.

"So who do you think did do it?" She asked, no longer choosing to doubt him. She was sure that he wouldn’t lie to her… at least not about something like this, not when she’d been able to get past the other things he’d done before switching sides.

He shrugged. "Like I said, Crabbe or Goyle would be the best ones to ask. They weren’t just my little lackeys you know. They were stupid enough to be used by all the Slytherins. My guess is Carter James stuck his Prefect nose in where it wasn’t wanted and nearly got it blown off as a result."

"Well… is there a way to find out?"

"Why would we care to do that?" He asked sharply.

"So that Colton will finally blame the right person and leave us alone."

Draco scoffed. "Ginny, even if we handed over the culprit wrapped in a bow, he won’t leave us alone… or rather he wouldn’t leave you alone."

"Well that’s his problem, not mine and not yours." She replied steadily.

"And so is finding out what happened to his brother." He argued.

"But it is your problem. You were already falsely accused of Neville’s death and only by completely betraying everything you’ve known were you able to set the record straight. Do you really want to remain the only suspect in his mind and quite possibly make it worse for yourself later?"

He stared at her for a long time. "You and your damn logic." He finally said, sighing in aggravation. "Okay, come on. I know exactly who we can talk to… besides, he and I needed to have a little talk anyway."

(BREAK)

Luna sat down to lunch absolutely starving. She hadn’t realized how much energy and endurance it took to not only stay on one’s broom, but to also have to concentrate on a game as well. She began to realize why Harry had been able to keep them safe up in the air for so long at Lairmore while dodging spells and Dementors, he’d been practicing flying like that for years on the quidditch pitch.

She and Hermione were the first of their friends in the Great Hall, but Harry, Ron and Seamus joined them shortly much to Luna’s relief. She hadn’t liked the way Tristan and Troy had been looking at them and knew that had the guys not shown up, the two troublemakers would have surely come over to harass them… she’d seen it in Troy’s mind which was difficult to breach but far less guarded than Tristan’s.

"Where’s Ginny?" Ron asked after filling his plate.

"Where do you think?" Seamus grinned. "Draco’s not here either."

Ron made a face. "Like rabbits, those two." He grumbled, obviously unhappy to think of his sister being intimate with anyone, let alone Draco.

"So did you guys decide on anyone for the team yet?" Hermione asked, quick to change the subject.

"Yeah, did anyone catch the snitch?" Harry added with eager interest.

"Dean certainly didn’t catch it, nearly fell off his broom trying." Seamus laughed as Dean himself walked up to join them.

"Only because that Creevey kid got in my way." Dean grumbled.

"And caught the snitch as a result." Ron pointed out. "And he was the only one able to find it twice."

"Fine, Dennis Creevey is amazingly average." Dean consented.

"Leaving you amazingly below average." Seamus teased his friend.

"Hey, I did okay as chaser." Dean protested as both boys took their bickering to another table.

Once they left, Harry caught Luna’s eye and she knew he wanted her to take the opportunity to try and convince Ron to go to Dumbledore on their behalf. "So, Harry told you guys that Willem is being secretly released this week, right?" Hermione and Ron both nodded. "Well, since Fred is planning to open the store this weekend maybe it would be a good idea to try and get a weekend pass for us all to go support him. And in the meantime, Harry and I would be able to talk to Willem, go into his head if we have to in order to find out what he knows about Edmund’s connection to Jayalina."

"Other than that they both may be Elanya’s parents you mean." Hermione added. Apparently Harry had filled them in on everything they suspected. Luna found herself wondering if he’d also shared their suspicions about what Tristan was up to.

"And that he may have killed her." Harry reminded them. "Maybe Willem knows why without knowing he knows."

"Sounds like a great idea." Ron shrugged.

Luna turned to him with a wide smile. "I’m so glad you think so, because we need you to pull it off."

"Me? What do I have to do?" He asked suspiciously.

"Go to Dumbledore and convince him to give us all a weekend pass home." Harry replied.

"Why me?" Ron whined. "Why can’t you guys do it? Just tell him why you really want to go home-"

"They can’t." Hermione interrupted, having quickly picked up on what was happening. "They don’t want Dumbledore or anyone else knowing they’re still involved in this, especially if their little trip to Azkaban could be discovered. But if you ask, then it looks like you’re just being a supportive brother."

"Exactly." Harry said with a nod.

"So will you go ask him?" Luna persisted. "Not today of course, he’s dealing with the house elves… but in the next couple of days?"

Before he could answer, Dumbledore himself entered the Hall and made his way to the front before calling for all of his students’ attention. "I have a sad announcement. This morning it was discovered that two of our friends, house elves living here with us in the castle were murdered." A gasp of fright went up around the hall. Even those not partial to house elves were wondering, if someone here not only would but could murder an elf… what would stop that person from moving on to humans. "From this moment on, all students are responsible for the cleaning of their own dorms and common rooms. Our elf friends are no longer allowed around students and any student found harassing them will be expelled immediately from this school. Letters have been sent home to your parents, explaining the situation and our plans to continue keeping you all safe. If anyone knows anything about what happened, please come see me- you will not be judged or named if you do have information to provide. Anyone with any questions or concerns is also encouraged to seek me or one of our fine professors out and we will handle your concerns as best we can. This is a sad day, one I will not soon forget." And then with one last look around the room, the headmaster simply walked back out of the room, leaving McGonagall and the others to handle the rush of students eager to know more. Luna reflected that she’d never seen the great man look older or more defeated.

(BREAK)

Feeling uncertain, Draco waited in the shadows while Ginny went to seek out their prey. He’d led her down to the Slytherin dorms after ensuring their man hadn’t yet gone to lunch, which was just starting. He watched as she knocked insistently on the door. Some young kid answered, a first or second year that Draco didn’t recognize. Still, even in small packages he knew these kids to be dangerous and tensed up, readying himself should he need to intervene. "What do you want?" The kid sneered as he eyed Ginny with disgust. Even newer students could recognize the red head of a Weasley and knew she shouldn’t be anywhere near there.

"I’m looking for Crabbe, send him out." She demanded.

"Why should I do anything you ask?" He spit in her direction and Draco had to hold himself back from going out and showing the jerk just how rude a habit that was. But he knew that if Crabbe had any idea he was out there waiting for him, he wouldn’t chance leaving the dorm.

Ginny pulled her wand and grabbed the kid up by the front of his shirt. "Because if you don’t do it on your own, I’ll make you."

"Oh, I’m terrified." The kid shot back though he did actually look quite scared. "Wait here." He ordered, pulling himself from her grasp before slamming the door in her face.

"And I thought I was the only one scared of you." Draco joked from his hiding place.

"And you still should be." She grinned.

Then they both grew silent, waiting for Crabbe. Draco had his doubts that the other boy would actually show knowing the guy had no courage when alone. Of course, Crabbe was probably only expecting Ginny’s wrath while hoping Draco was still laid up from his injuries. Although he knew going alone against Ginny wasn’t a guaranteed victory, Crabbe would certainly think it was… Draco knew his former friend had some very outdated views about what a girl was fully capable of. After spending time with Ginny, Luna and Granger and after witnessing the damage Cho, Sarah, Elanya and Elise were so far able to accomplish, Draco knew better- girls could be just as vicious.

At last the door opened again and Crabbe came out into the hallway careful to close the door behind him, making Draco curious to know what they were hiding that they didn’t want to chance Ginny seeing. "What do you want?" He asked.

"We need to have a little talk." She replied evenly.

"Do we? About what? You expect me to say sorry for what happened to your new boyfriend?" Crabbe let his irritation show.

"Only if you expect him to apologize for breaking your hand into a million pieces." She shot back. Draco grinned, amused by her moxie. "Come on, I’d like somewhere a little more private."

"Yeah, right. Like I’d go anywhere with you… why, so you can set up some kind of ambush and have all your friends get even for Draco?" Crabbe scoffed.

"Well, well. When did you grow a brain?" She taunted. "Relax, Harry and the others aren’t down here waiting to get you. This is between us." And then she turned and walked away, down into the dungeons without waiting to see if he’d follow.

Draco watched Crabbe look around uncertainly before licking his lips and stalking after Ginny. Seeing the devious look in his eye and knowing what the other boy thought he was about to try and get away with only made Draco angrier and he instantly went to follow, careful to not yet wake the wolf… not unless he needed to.

Ginny led them all the way down, past the Potions classroom, Drake’s office, and Snape’s private quarters. At last she came to a stop, turning to face Crabbe. "This is far enough I think, to ensure we won’t be heard."

"I’ll say." Crabbe answered dangerously as he took a few steps closer to her. "So what is it exactly that you want? What is it you think is just between you and me?"

Ginny faked surprise. "Oh, you thought when I said us that I meant only you and me? See, I guess your brain didn’t grow too much after all."

"What are you talking about?"

Rather than reply, Ginny allowed Draco to take the lead. He took the opportunity to step from the shadows, blocking the exit. Crabbe turned nervously to see what Ginny was staring at and Draco took a large amount of pleasure in seeing the boy’s nervousness give way to all out fear. "Draco… look it was nothing personal, right?"

"Lucky for you, that’s not why I’m here." He answered.

Suddenly Crabbe made his move, attempting to barrel his way past and flee. Allowing the wolf to awaken slightly, Draco grabbed up the other boy and slammed him into the wall. "We aren’t done yet." He growled.

 

 

NOTE: So again we get more answers and a few more questions but we’re starting to put this whole puzzle together… stay tuned to find out what happens next!

Næst er Kafli 37.
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